Hunter and Hunted |
Disclaimer: The characters and prose of “Lord of the Rings” were created by J.R.R. Tolkien, I make no claim otherwise. I make no financial gain from this work.
“It has been a good hunting trip.” Faramir sighed contentedly.
“We were wise to make no rash promises to our ladies concerning restocking the larders,” said Aragorn.
“They know full well when we go hunting it is not for the thrill of the chase, but to return to the wilds of our Ranger days,” said Faramir. “We are blessed that we can savour the sight of a fine buck without being compelled to kill it else go hungry.”
“And to be able to ride out together and enjoy the touch of the breeze on our faces,” said Aragorn. “Not to mention the pleasures of spending time on horseback together.” He affectionately patted Roheryn’s neck as he spoke. “We should be home ere nightfall if we keep this pace up.”
“I hope you and your family can stay here in Ithilien a few days longer,” said Faramir. “I am certain my Uncle Imrahil will not mind remaining in the City until the end of the week. He told me he had business to see to in the Citadel.”
“Arwen and I are happy to accept your hospitality,” said Aragorn. “She enjoys escaping from the City in summer as much as I do. Eldarion loves being in the country with all your animals. He now cannot make up his mind whether to be a Ranger or a farmer!”
Faramir smiled a trifle wistfully. “Maybe, unlike us, in these days of peace he can try his hand at both. He reined in his horse and looked around. “Every year sees the return of more farming folk to these lands,” he remarked. “Ithilien is truly the garden of Gondor once more.”
Aragorn brought Roheryn to a halt and surveyed the landscape. “Strange,” he said. “That farm over there looks inhabited, but the gate is wide open and the corn is trampled.”
Faramir followed his gaze. “There is something wrong,” he said. “Let us investigate.” He urged his horse forward and the two men galloped towards the farm. As they drew nearer, they drew their swords and slowed to a more cautious pace.
A sorry site met their eyes, the fields had been brutally trampled, and there was not a single grazing animal to be seen. A few agitated looking chickens flapped aimlessly around the farmyard and a grey striped tabby cat fled at their approach. As they rounded the bend to the farmhouse, they could hear crows squawking. It was soon all too obvious what had attrackted them. A man, his throat cut; lay lifeless on the ground, beside him, likewise slain, lay a great hound.
“Bandits,” Aragorn said grimly. Hr swung himself from his horse.
“I heard reports that some farms had had livestock stolen and I sent Rangers to investigate, but they found no traces of the bandits,” said Faramir. “The miscreants have sunk to new depths of infamy. They will pay for it, I swear.”
Aragorn was already kneeling beside the lifeless farmer. “He has been dead for several hours,” he pronounced. “See the pitchfork beside him? He must have tried to defend his land, and was slaughtered for his pains, poor man. We must see he is properly buried. Can you help me move him inside, mellon nîn? I would bury him myself, but I promised Arwen I would try to return ere sundown tonight.”
“Éowyn envies your lady her ability to watch over you in thought,” said Faramir. “I know, despite that she frets about you as does my lady, but they understand full well how it drives us to distraction being followed everywhere by guards. We need a few days freedom every now and then, however much our advisors try to stop us. Once a Ranger, always a Ranger.”
Aragorn nodded. “We will send men to bury this poor fellow on the morrow. Now, if you could just….” He stopped craning his neck in the direction of a weak mewling cry. “What was that?”
“A kitten, maybe. I saw a cat run off when we arrived.”
“It does not sound like a cat to me. It sounds like a new-born infant’s cry.”
“How could a baby survive the carnage here? We should investigate, though.”
Aragorn snatched up a sack from a heap that were lying on the ground and threw it over the dead man to try to keep the crows away. He then stood, listening, his head cocked to one side. Then the cry came again, a piteous mewling sound.
“That is no kitten,” said Faramir. “It sounds like a new born babe!”
“It came from within,” said Aragorn.
The two friends approached the open door of the farmhouse, which had almost been torn from its hinges. A scene of utter devastation greeted them as they entered. Furniture had been overturned, and the stuffing pulled from a cushion and scattered across the rush matting that covered the floor. They searched the room thoroughly as well as an adjoining bedchamber, which was in a similar state of disarray to the living area and kitchen. Aragorn and Faramir searched the two rooms and then climbed into the hayloft, but there was no sign of any child.
“Where can the baby be?” asked Faramir.
“Let us listen for the cries again,” said Aragorn. The two stood still and listened. After what seemed an age, they heard the cry again. It seemed to come from beneath their feet. “There must be a cellar!” Aragorn exclaimed. He began to roll up the rush mats.
Faramir began to do the same at the other side of the room. “Here!” he cried. “There is a trapdoor.”
The two men pulled the door up by its ring and peered into the darkness within. A low moan of terror greeted them. “Do not be afraid,” Aragorn called. “We mean you no harm.
Faramir managed to find a candle amidst the debris and lit it from his tinderbox. Sheltering it with his hand, he peered into the cellar. Amongst an assortment of dusty barrels and farming tools, lay a young woman, her gown stained with the detritus of childbirth. In her arms, she clasped a tiny new-born babe, wrapped in a shawl.
At the sight of the strangers, she gave another moan and clutched the baby more tightly.
“Have no fear, mistress, we are here to help you,” said Aragorn in his most soothing tone. “This cellar is no place for a new born baby.”
Faramir moved away from the trapdoor and started to clear away some of the debris in the living room. A sturdy wooden settle had survived the carnage unscathed and he took off his cloak and folded it into a makeshift pillow.
The woman simply stared wide- eyed in fear at Aragorn and clutched the whimpering infant more tightly to her breast.
“We mean you no harm, mistress,” Aragorn repeated in the same soothing tone. He reached for his sword and dagger and unbuckled them, and laid them down together with his bow. For a moment, he toyed with the notion of offering her his dagger, but decided against it. In her state of fear and confusion, she might harm herself or her child. “See, mistress,” he said. “I am unarmed. I am a healer who would help you.”
“You are a man with greater strength than I!” she almost spat the words at him. “If you touch me, though, I swear I will kill you!” She produced a small kitchen knife and brandished it in an unsteady hand. It was bloodied and Aragorn surmised she must have used it to cut the birth cord.
“Indeed, I have killed many enemies with sword, but my hands are those of a healer. I am sworn to protect the weak and innocent and defend them with my last drop of blood.”
“My husband will protect us.”
Aragorn shook his head sadly.
The woman gave a low keening moan and swooned.
Faramir ran back to join his lord. Aragorn jumped down into the cellar and prised the child from the young woman’s limp grasp. He handed it up to Faramir. The Steward promptly tucked the infant under his tunic.
Aragorn half dragged, half carried the unconscious young mother out of the cellar, then laid her on the settle. He swiftly checked her pulse and briefly examined her. “She has swooned from shock, I believe. I do not think anything ails her that time and care cannot heal. There is not a great amount of blood on her clothing and she is a good colour, so it appears she has survived the birth unscathed, though a midwife should examine her and tend to her as soon as possible.”
“We should take her to Éowyn,” said Faramir. “She knows of such matters and would care for her and her babe.” He gently removed the infant from beneath his tunic and gave it Aragorn. “How fares the child?”
“It looks to be a little early, but appears healthy,” Aragorn pronounced after a few moments. “It is good that it is a girl child. They are often more robust.”
The young woman stirred and opened her eyes. “My baby!” she cried.
“She is here,” said Aragorn. He pulled a clean shirt from his pack then removed his cloak and wrapped the infant in the garments. “How do you fare, mistress?” He handed the child to Faramir then placed a supporting arm round the young woman’s shoulders and helped her to sit up.
She gave a deep sigh. “I am so very tired.”
“You have suffered a much grievous shock as well as having faced the ordeal of childbirth alone. Aragorn turned to rummage in his pack and brought out his water bottle. The woman took a draught then demanded her child.
“You have a healthy daughter, mistress, “Has she suckled yet?”
The young mother nodded. “We were hiding for many hours. The raiders came at dawn. My Basgorn told me to hide in the cellar, as I was great with child and could not fight to protect my home. He went out with his faithful hound to drive the ruffians away. I heard a dreadful cry then shouts. Soon afterwards my child was born. I was too afraid to come out.”
“Your husband died bravely, mistress, his hound at his side.”
The window smiled sadly. “Basgorn named him Huan. He always claimed the hound was a valiant beast. It seems he was indeed.”
“What is your name, mistress?” Aragorn asked.
“I am called Andreth.” Just then, the infant began to wail lustily. Andreth gave the two men a pointed look.
“We will try and find you clean clothes, Mistress Andreth,” said Aragorn and fetch water so that you can wash.”
“There is a well outside.”
“Thank you, mistress. We will return anon,” said Faramir.
Aragorn went outside and filled a pail with water. He then kindled a fire in the grate and put the water in a pan to heat. Meanwhile, Faramir managed to find a crumpled but fairly clean dress and shift in the bedroom as well as some blankets and towels. He tidied the room as best he could. It seemed that the raiders had left Andreth’s clothes as well as the bedding. Most likely, they were only interested in money and valuables as well as clothing they could wear. Faramir was filled with rage. Only the lowest of the low would prey on poor farming folk.
Aragorn put his head around the doorway and on seeing that the bedchamber now bore few marks of the raiders, suggested that he carry the water within. They then helped Andreth up from the settle and helped her into the bedchamber.
“We will leave you to wash and change your gown, mistress,” said Aragorn. “We shall be outside within earshot should you need us. We will help you bathe your daughter if you wish.”
“What do men know about bathing infants?” said Andreth.
“We are both fathers, mistress,” Aragorn said with a smile as he left the room closely followed by Faramir.
The two men wandered out into the yard. “We need to take Andreth and her child to Emyn Arnen as soon as we can,” said Aragorn. He glanced towards her husband’s body. “We must make sure she does not see this. This is one of the few times that I wish we had guards with us; more manpower would be very useful. We need a cart too; there is no way that Andreth can ride so soon after giving birth.”
“What if I were to ride to the next farm?” Faramir suggested. “They might have something we could use. Then there is a Ranger outpost but a few leagues away. I could summon the men to bury Basgorn and they could escort us back to my home.”
“Wise counsel, mellon nîn,” said Aragorn. “We are more than capable of taking care of ourselves but if the raiders are still nearby it would be dangerous for Andreth and the baby to travel without a sizeable escort.”
“I cannot help but blame myself for this!” Faramir exclaimed bitterly. “These are my lands. I encouraged folk to settle and farm here, telling them that it was safe to do so. I should be able to protect my people. I have failed this family dismally.”
Aragorn gripped his shoulder tightly. “Do not forget the ultimate responsibility is mine as their King. We try our best, but we cannot predict where evil will rear its ugly head once more.”
“The miscreants come from Harad most likely,” said Faramir. “There are still Sauron worshippers a plenty who would wage war on us however many peace treaties their king signs. Or they could be deserters from amongst our own men, who now live as outlaws.”
“Or they might hail from Mordor,” Aragorn said thoughtfully. “Many have made new lives since Sauron fell, but others are still steeped in evil and harry our borders. Whoever they might be, though, we shall hunt them down so that no more innocents suffer at their hands.”
Faramir nodded his agreement and looked towards the West. “I should reach the Ranger outpost ere sunset if I set off now,” he said. “We cannot expect Andreth to travel through the night with her child, so I will bid my men be ready to leave here at first light. On my way there, I will call at the next farm I come across and ask if we might borrow a cart.”
“May the stars light your path!” said Aragorn by way of a parting benediction. The Steward mounted his horse and rode away. The King lingered outside a little longer, tending to Roheryn and ensuring the noble steed had sufficient grazing. Only then did he go back inside, whistling loudly to alert Andreth of his approach.
He found her decently clothed with the blanket swathed baby asleep in her arms. Aragorn took the bucket of bloodied water outside to empty it then put water in a pan on the fire to boil to make an herbal tea and boil some eggs he had found in the farmyard for a meagre supper. Andreth regarded him listlessly. At last, she said, “Where is your friend?”
“He has gone to fetch help. We will escort you to a place of safety in the morning where our wives will care for you.”
“This is my home,” Andreth said bleakly. She laid the sleeping baby down beside her and picked at the boiled egg Aragorn had prepared for her. “The land belonged to Basgorn’s kin for many generations. Then they were driven out by the Dark Lord’s forces. We were told it was safe for us to return only for my love to be slain.” Anger suddenly flashed in her dull eyes. “A curse on those who failed to protect us! The King and the Prince of Ithilien sit in their well- guarded palaces while we poor folk are left for any passing rogue to prey upon!”
“The King and the Prince will see the bandits brought to justice and send men to tend your farm and protect you and your child, mistress,” said Aragorn.
“How can you promise that?” Andreth said bitterly. “Who are you anyway? A healer? A soldier?”
Aragorn thought quickly. He knew he would have to tell her his identity before they arrived at Faramir’s home on the morrow, but he had been putting off the moment for as long as possible. He felt poor Andreth had suffered enough shocks for one day already, but there was no help for it. He had to tell her the truth now she had directly asked his name.
“The King and the Steward do care, Mistress Andreth,” he said gently.
“And how might you know that?”
“I am the King.”
Anger flared in Andreth’s dull eyes. “You jest, sir, in order to frighten me. I suppose you will next claim that your friend is the Steward.”
“He is indeed Faramir, Prince of Ithilien.” Aragorn held out his hand. “Behold, I wear the Ring of Barahir, and here, see is the Elessar stone. He reached inside his tunic and unpinned the brooch so that she could study it.
Andreth turned even paler than she already was. She looked as if she were about to swoon. “Spare my child, lord!” she cried. “She is but an innocent babe.”
“What do you fear?” asked Aragorn. “You and your daughter are both under my protection. No harm shall come to either of you.”
“I threatened and cursed you!” Andreth said wildly. “Under the law my life is forfeit.”
“You had no idea who I was and you have every right to defend yourself against intruders. You had no way of telling that I was not another ruffian,” Aragorn said calmly as he pinned the Elessar back on his tunic. “Stars forbid that the King should use the law to oppress frightened women and babes in arms!”
Andreth visibly crumpled then burst into tears.
Aragorn hesitated for a moment. He then pulled her against his shoulder and held her, as a father would a frightened child. He reached in his pouch and crumbled an athelas leave under her nose then murmured soothing words and gently stroked her hair, all the while using healing touches to calm her anguish.
He knew not how long he remained thus, but eventually she quieted and fell into a deep sleep aided by his healing powers. He carefully laid her down upon the bed. He then picked up the baby and settled himself into a chair to wait until Faramir returned.
It was about two hours after sunset when Aragorn’s keen ears heard his friend re-entering the house. An hour before, the baby had awoken, hungry and crying to be fed. Aragorn had handed her to her mother and retreated to the kitchen to allow Andreth some privacy.
Instantly alert, the King leapt to his feet, his hand reaching for Andúril.
“It is I, mellon nîn,” Faramir called in a low tone. “I have brought help.”
Aragorn went to the doorway to join him. In the moonlight, he could make out a group of Rangers who were digging a grave for the fallen farmer.
“I bade them bury Basgorn now,” said Faramir. “Better that Andreth remembers him as he was and sees a peaceful resting place for him.”
Aragorn nodded. “The body was in no fit condition for her to see. The faithful hound shall be buried at his master’s feet. The men can raise a cairn over their resting place. How many have you brought?”
“Half a dozen seasoned warriors. I have sent another dozen to scour the countryside and warn all the farmers in the area that there are brigands abroad. I rode to the next farm and found the folk there most helpful. They seem to be good neighbours to Andreth. The farmer’s wife had planned to come and help deliver the child. I was able to reassure her that mother and baby are both well and tell them that my men were now protecting them. They will have a wagon prepared for Andreth and her baby in the morning.”
“You have done well, mellon nîn. Once Basgorn is interred, we should set a watchman then snatch what rest we can.”
The two men lingered while the farmer and his hound were laid reverently within the freshly dug grave. Aragorn stood beside it and intoned solemnly “May you be blessed to find your peace beyond the circles of the world, son of Gondor.”
The group stood with their heads bowed for a few moments then two Rangers filled in the grave while the others gathered stones for a cairn. They then made camp for the night in the farmyard.
Aragorn and Faramir had retrieved their cloaks earlier. They now wrapped themselves in them and stretched out on the rush matting to snatch what sleep they could.
The morning dawned grey and chill. King and Steward ate a meagre breakfast from the provisions in their backs and Aragorn brewed a tea for Andreth with herbs added to strengthen her. When Aragorn took it to her, he found her already awake and looking franticly around the room.
“They have taken everything we had of value!” she said bitterly. “What little money we had saved and my betrothal ring. I had a brooch and necklace my grandmother left me and they have gone too. Also some silver spoons that my mother’s family cherished for generations. But to have killed my Basgorn for such trifles!”
“Come,” said Aragorn. “Drink this and then we must make ready to leave. We will search for your property as well as the miscreants who took it.”
“I want to see my Basgorn,” Andreth said suddenly.
“I fear that will not be possible,” said Aragorn. “We have already buried him as respectfully as we can. Lord Faramir brought men last night to assist and they made his grave, which you can visit before you leave if you so wish.”
“I wanted to say goodbye to him, to look on his beloved face one last time and you have denied me that comfort, my lord.”
“To see him maimed and exposed to the elements would have brought you only nightmares, mistress,” Aragorn said gently. “Better that you should be angry with me than be haunted by your last sight of him. Remember him as he was and tell your daughter of the happy times you spent together as she grows to womanhood.
“I demand to see his grave.”
“So you shall, mistress, but we must make haste once you have drunk your tea. Do not worry about clothing and provisions. We will find you whatever you need at Emyn Arnen.”
Just then, the baby began to wail. “My daughter is hungry,” Andreth said coldly. “Please leave me.”
Aragorn left. He could hear a noise outside and when he went to investigate, he found that the neighbouring farmer had brought a straw filled cart, drawn by a sturdy horse. Faramir and the Rangers were clustered around it, arranging the straw to make it as comfortable as possible for Andreth and her child.
“One of yon Rangers said he’d stay watch my wife and little ones while I drive Mistress Andreth in the cart,” said the farmer. “Star here don’t like strangers handling her, though she be a good beast.”
“Thank you, friend,” said Faramir. “We are most grateful for your help.”
“Mistress Andreth be a good woman and she and Basgorn were right good neighbours. They ---”
Just then, a piercing scream rent the air.
“Something ails Mistress Andreth!” Aragorn exclaimed. He dashed back inside fearing that some ill had befallen the infant. He was unprepared for the fell sight that met his eyes. A wild- eyed, roughly clad man had seized the young woman, who was trying to fight him off while keeping hold of her baby. Her nails raked into his cheek and he yelped with pain and twisted her arm cruelly.
“Let go of her this instant!” cried Aragorn, drawing Andúril.
The man released Andreth then lunged towards her, snatching the baby from her arms. “Take one step nearer and I kill the brat!” he snarled.
Aragorn took a step backwards. Andreth shot him a glance of sheer terror. “What do you want with this woman?” he asked. “She has done you no harm.”
The man laughed shortly. “After I’ve had a bit of fun with her, she’ll fetch me a good price in the slave markets of Harad,” the man replied. “I told her husband as much ere I cut his throat.”
“You killed this woman’s husband? But why?”
The man laughed bitterly. “Why not? You Men of Gondor left Mordor in ruins with nothing to sustain us.”
“You could have applied to Gondor for help. Aid would have been sent to you.”
“Why should we believe the promises of tarks?”
“Because the Men of the West keep their word. Let the woman and child go and you have my word your family will be provided for.”
Silence fell. Outside a bird called for its mate.
“I prefer to believe in my sword and dagger. Come with me, wench, or the child is dead.” He raised his knife.
Andreth screamed again, Aragorn lunged towards the man, but never reached him; for at that instant, he was felled from behind by Faramir’s sword. There was a cold gleam in Faramir’s eyes as he withdrew his blade. “No one slays my folk and goes unpunished,” he said as the assailant writhed in his death throes.
Aragorn caught the infant before she could hit the ground.
Andreth collapsed on the bed and burst into tears. Aragorn knelt beside her and placed an arm around her shoulders. “You are safe now. He will trouble no one ever again.”
“I thought – I thought I-” Andreth swallowed hard, unable to continue. She took a deep breath “He came through the back door. He said his friends were waiting nearby for they had drawn lots who was to come in first and he had won.”
“We will get them!” Faramir shouted out a command for his men to follow and raced outside in pursuit of the ruffians.
“Come, mistress, let us leave,” said Aragorn once the young woman’s sobs had subsided. “Your neighbour is waiting outside with a cart to take you to Lord Faramir’s home. There you will find rest and care with his lady and mine. Do you have any family we could send for to comfort you?”
Andreth shook her head. “My parents are dead, my brother was slain in the war and my sister married a Rider of Rohan. I do have a good friend who dwells in the City, though. She and I have known each other since childhood.”
“We will send for her to come and visit you,” said Aragorn. “Now come.” He picked up the baby and walked towards the door.
Andreth rose to her feet and belatedly realised that her gown was still unlaced. She flushed scarlet as she fumbled with the laces. Aragorn tactfully pretended not to notice and busied himself wrapping the blanket more closely around the infant.
As Andreth passed her assailant’s corpse, she kicked it and spat out a curse. “May you know no rest while Arda endures!”
At a sign from Aragorn, one of the Rangers came and supported her as she slowly walked outside. Wordlessly, Aragorn indicated where Basgorn lay buried. Andreth stood for a moment with her head bowed, then plucked a rose from a bush that grew near the door and placed it on the grave.
Aragorn was anxious to leave. As soon as Andreth was helped up on to the cart, he handed her the baby and mounted Roheryn. Faramir had left two of his best men behind to serve as guards. Aragorn gave the order and they set off towards Emyn Arnen. He was confident that Faramir would soon follow.
The journey passed slowly and much to Aragorn’s relief, without incident. He rode beside the cart ensuring that Andreth and the baby were as comfortable as possible. One Ranger rode on in front and the other followed behind, keeping a constant watch for enemies.
As soon as they neared Emyn Arnen, they encountered some of Beregond’s men out on patrol. Aragorn sent one of them with a message to Éowyn to prepare for their unexpected guests. Of Faramir, there was no sign. Aragorn was certain that his Steward would not return until all the bandits were either captured or killed. It was rare Faramir was angered, but once he was, his wrath was almost an elemental force. The Steward took any attack on the folk of Ithilien as a personal insult. He would not rest until justice was meted out.
He glanced towards Andreth, who was staring fixedly in front of the cart as they travelled. Although, her brown hair and eyes showed little evidence of Dúnedain heritage, she reminded him in many ways of the women of his Northern homeland with her fierce courage. He could only hope she would have the same resilience as the women of the North and be able to build a life for herself and her daughter. Surely, it was harder to lose a loved one as result of senseless brutality than as a casualty of war? His musings were interrupted as Faramir’s home came in sight.
Éowyn came out to greet them accompanied by several maidservants. She immediately turned her attention to Andreth. “Greetings, mistress and welcome to my home. If you will come with me, I will do all within your power to make you and your baby comfortable.”
Andreth curtsied somewhat clumsily. Éowyn immediately took her arm and supported her. Aragorn fell in step beside them, carrying the infant.
“Where is my husband?” Éowyn asked the King.
“He took the attack on Andreth’s home hard and has taken men and gone in search of the ruffians. I wager the mission will not take him long.”
Éowyn nodded her understanding of these tidings. As soon as Andreth was shown into a downstairs guest chamber, Éowyn offered the young woman refreshments then ushered her away for a much needed warm bath.
Aragorn noted that Éowyn had placed a cradle for the infant in the room and found a selection of suitable clothing for Andreth, some of her own linen nightgowns and shifts and some plain dresses of the kind she kept for tending the sick or working in the gardens. They would need to be shortened, but even as the thought came to him, a maidservant bearing a sewing basket entered to begin the task.
Aragorn went in search of Arwen only to be told by her maid that she was assisting Lady Éowyn in caring for their guest. Aragorn was glad to hear this as Arwen was skilled in all manner of Elven healing skills as well as sharing his ability to utilise athelas to soothe a wounded spirit. Satisfied that Andreth could not be in better hands, he went outside to tend to Roheryn. Faramir and Éowyn employed excellent grooms, but Aragorn still liked to care for the noble horse whenever he was able. He relished the quiet time spent in the stable, checking Roheryn’s hooves for stones and his flanks for injuries, grooming him and seeing he was well provisioned. As Aragorn worked, he realised how hungry he was. He could not recall how many hours had passed since he had last eaten a proper meal. His hunting trip had been enjoyable but the spoils had been but a meagre rabbit or two. He was now looking forward to a bath, a change of clothes, and a good meal.
He spun round as another entered the stable. It was Faramir.
“It is over,” the Steward said grimly.
Aragorn nodded and waited for his friend to elaborate.
“We caught up with them a few miles down the round and they surrendered, begging for mercy. We were marching them towards the garrison when they suddenly set upon us, so we slew them all save one, a lad scarcely out of childhood, who was acting as a herdsman for the stolen livestock. When he was the only one left, he was docile and ready to answer our questions. I have left in the custody of my Rangers, but after a stern reprimand, intend to pack him back off home to his mother ere long, together with a band of trusted men to find out what ails them in Mordor and how we can help the innocents there.”
Aragorn nodded his approval. “I fear we did not do enough to help Sauron’s slaves have a new beginning.”
“True, but had they asked for aid we would have offered it freely. There is no excuse to prey on good folk like Basgorn and Andreth.” Faramir sighed deeply. “At least we have recovered her livestock and valuables.”
Aragorn patted his shoulder. “You look weary, mellon nîn. Let the grooms tend your horse and come now to take rest and refreshment. Are you hurt?”
Faramir shook his head. “Naught but a few bruises and scrapes.”
“I will tend you later.”
The two men walked slowly back to the house and Aragorn went to bathe and change his clothing.
Faramir sent a maid in search of his lady before doing likewise. Éowyn soon emerged from Andreth’s chamber to greet her husband.
“How fares Mistress Andreth?” asked Faramir.
“She is resting now, somewhat overwhelmed by the softness of our bed linens,” said Éowyn. “Arwen is giving her some elven treatments to soothe her spirit. I was able to determine that she has suffered no harm from the birth and should in time recover from the shock she has suffered.”
“If she wishes eventually to go home, we shall send men to protect her and her child and the farm,” said Faramir. “What a beginning in life for that unfortunate infant though!”
“She lives, though and thrives thanks to you and Aragorn,” said Éowyn. “Without you, her life would have ended before it had even begun.”
Faramir nodded but remained in a thoughtful mood while he and Aragorn ate the food that Éowyn had ordered to be prepared for them.
“What troubles you, mellon nîn?” asked Aragorn.
“The events of the last few days. I am stiff and sore from fighting too.”
“I said I would tend you,” said Aragorn.
“It is nothing of consequence. I will be well in the morning.”
“I will fetch my healing supplies,” Aragorn said firmly. “Go and lie down on your bed.”
When Faramir pulled off his shirt, a long shallow cut on his arm was revealed as well as a large spreading bruise across his ribs.
“These hurts look painful,” Aragorn observed.
Faramir shrugged. “I have known far worse.”
“True, but there is no need to suffer needlessly.” Aragorn took up a pot of salve and applied it to the bruise. He then selected another salve and applied it Faramir’s arm and carefully bandaged the cut.”
“You are tense as a bowstring, mellon nîn,” said Aragorn. “Let me ease those knots in your muscles now.”
Faramir nodded and Aragorn began to use the healing Elven touches taught to him by Master Elrond.
For a while, there was silence in the room then Faramir spoke, so softly that Aragorn had to strain to catch his words. “I almost killed him.”
“Killed whom, mellon nîn?”
“The boy who was with the bandits. I was so angry that I almost forgot myself and killed a child as he was one of those scum, though I believe all he did was herd the livestock they stole!”
“You did not, though. You can sleep easy tonight.”
“You too saw the devastation those bandits caused yet you could contain your wrath.”
“That is because I have sadly seen it many times before in the North. When you fought in Ithilien, it had been abandoned by all save those who were fighting. “
Faramir nodded. He did not speak again until Aragorn had finished the Elven treatment. “Thank you, that feels much better.” He sat up and pulled on his shirt. “I suppose I should remember that these are still early days after the war.”
“They are, but remember, Faramir, that all over Gondor, folk are now beginning new lives now the land is at peace. We are here to see that the peace endures and protect our people as best we may. Now let us find our ladies and see how Andreth and her child are faring.”