Burden of Guilt

The Mystery of the Missing Steward

These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien and New Line Cinema with the exception of Caranthir who appears by kind permission of Evendim. This story was written purely for pleasure and not for profit.

My Lord?" Caranthir asked in bewilderment.

"I must go to my Steward as soon as I can safely leave Lord Eomer." Aragorn explained, inwardly cursing himself for not sending someone to check on Faramir's welfare sooner, but the seriousness of Eomer's condition had pushed all other considerations from his mind.

"I hope Lord Faramir was not badly injured as I believe he and King Eomer fought, or so I am told." Caranthir remarked. "He is very dear to me as I have known him since he was a child."

"He is very dear to me too." Aragorn replied, wondering however could he have forgotten all about his closest friend.

Returning to Eomer's bedside, he carefully examined him. The athelas treatment appeared to have worked as his dreadful pallor had been replaced by a more healthy colour, the previously weak and fluttering heartbeat, was now stronger and steadying, while his skin no longer felt cold and clammy to the touch. However he was still deeply unconscious and failed to respond when Aragorn softly called his name.

"He is still seriously ill, but I believe he has a good chance of survival as long as he regains consciousness within a day or two and is able to take food and water." Aragorn pronounced, allowing himself to heave a small sigh of relief. "We should make him as comfortable as possible now."

The healers agreed and together with Aragorn they bathed Eomer in the water in which athelas had been steeped and clothed the King of Rohan in a soft linen nightshirt, one of Aragorn's own, and then placed pillows under his head and shoulders to ease his breathing, hampered as he was by a collapsed lung and damaged ribs.

Aragorn gently wiped Eomer's face and moistened his dry lips with a cloth soaked in cool water.

"Get well, dear friend!" he murmured, so softly that Eomer alone might hear. He bent and gently kissed his brow.

Eomer lay unmoving and it tore Aragorn's heart to see his friend, the vibrant King of Rohan, looking so vulnerable and much younger than his thirty years.

"Stay with him constantly, keep him comfortable and inform me of any change at once!" he instructed the healers as he made for the door and thanked them for their help.

"I believe you have saved his life." Aedred informed him. "Now you should rest yourself, my Lord. We will care for King Eomer."

Aragorn wished he could take the advice but first he had to find out what had caused Eomer to attack Faramir and see how his Steward was faring.

Imrahil was waiting for him outside the door, pacing the corridor anxiously.

"How fares my son in law?" the Prince of Dol Amroth asked anxiously." I need to send word to my poor daughter!"

"He lives and I hope he may yet recover, but he has not yet awakened." Aragorn told him." Have you heard any tidings of my Queen while you were in Council?"

Imrahil shook his head. "No more than in the message, you sent, my Lord. And what of my nephew? Matters have gone very ill this day! The Council are calling for war to avenge the attack on Gondor's Steward. I told them they must await your decision. The Rohirrim are confined in the barracks for the time being, both for our safety and for theirs."

"You did well, I sincerely hope war may yet be averted ,as long as Eomer survives and we can learn the reason for his actions." Aragorn clapped the Prince on the shoulder as a gesture of gratitude. "I am going to speak to Faramir now to try and find out why Eomer attacked him. War must be averted at all costs with our friends and allies in Rohan, but first I need to know what was behind Eomer's strange accusations."

Imrahil coughed. "Should you not bathe and change first, my Lord? You look, um, somewhat alarming!"

Aragorn glanced down and noticed for the first time that his tunic was stained with copious amounts of Eomer's blood, as were his hands and arms. His sweat soaked clothing clung damply to his skin as the strain of trying to save his friend had exerted him heavily.

"You have a point!" he said ruefully. "I could alarm the servants like this! Luckily we are near my apartments."

Imrahil followed Aragorn into his spacious rooms and sat down to wait while the King changed.

Aragorn pulled off the blood stained outer tunic in the main room and flung it aside. He was not squeamish but found being soaked with the blood of his friend a highly unpleasant experience. A piece of parchment fell to the ground as he tugged the garment over his head.

Imrahil stooped and picked it up as Aragorn disappeared into his dressing room.

"Whatever is this?" he exclaimed.

"Eomer was waving it around just before he attacked Faramir," Aragorn replied, emerging from the room with a handful of clean garments, "I had forgotten about it until now as I have been so preoccupied."

He took the now blood splattered parchment from Imrahil, unfolded it and read aloud; "Dearest brother,

I beg you to come and take me home. Faramir does not love me and cares nothing for my honour. I can endure it no longer.

Your loving sister Eowyn!"

"Eowyn!" Aragorn groaned as he let the parchment slide on the table "I should have guessed Eomer was angry on behalf of his sister! But why? Faramir would never ill treat his wife .He is the most honourable of men!"

"I thought my nephew and Lady Eowyn were happy, they seemed overjoyed to be expecting a child!" Imrahil looked bewildered.

Aragorn disappeared into his bathing chamber and carried on the conversation through the door, which he had left slightly ajar.

"They are happy now but it was very different when they were first married! I suspect Eowyn switched her affections to Faramir rather too quickly." Aragorn replied, pouring water from a pitcher into a bowl untroubled that it was cold, "Do you remember when I took them to Duilin of Morthond's hunting lodge last spring?"

"Of course, as you left me in charge of the City. Faramir seemed much more happy and confident when you returned but he never told me why."

"A great deal happened during that time, which would take me all day to tell you." Aragorn explained, as he bathed his upper body vigorously. "Suffice to say that a misunderstanding about the reasons for their marriage was making them both unhappy, especially Eowyn, who was furious about being invited to the lodge. I invited her, rather than commanded, but Faramir taking it to be an order, insisted that she come. I would guess the letter dates from that time but why Eomer has suddenly acted on it, I have no idea!"

"You had better ask the lady!" Imrahil replied, as the King emerged, clad in a clean linen shirt and woollen breeches. He was pulling a tunic, which was lavishly embroidered with the White Tree, over his head.

"You forget, she is attending Arwen during her confinement and may not be disturbed on pain of death!" Aragorn replied grimly. "All we can do is ask Faramir if he knows anything about it and keep the Rohirrim apart from him until Eowyn can speak!"

"Where is Faramir?" Imrahil asked as they prepared to leave.

"I had him taken into my custody for his own safety so he will be in 'The Hospitality room'", Aragorn explained." I fear I may have seemed harsh, but Eomer's men would have torn him limb from limb had I not appeared to punish him. The situation was very ugly."

"You did your best and I am sure he will understand. "Imrahil said calmly. "You had no other choice."

Aragorn still looked worried. "He was wounded too, though only slightly it seemed, but I would like to tend him myself, though I am sure the men will have done their best for him. I fear though, he may be upset or believe that he really has incurred my wrath and some dire punishment might await him. I should have gone to him before, but Eomer was dying and it took all my skills to revive him."

"I fear my late brother in law has a lot to answer for." Imrahil said bitterly." He destroyed Faramir's confidence but he has thrived since you came to the throne."

"It has gladdened my heart to see him blossom." Aragorn said sincerely, as they made their way to the euphemistically labelled 'The Hospitality Room' room used to detain everyone who caused trouble to the Royal Household, be it foreign diplomats suspected of spying, Lords drunk at banquets or Counsellors who caused disruption at meetings.

To Aragorn's surprise, there was no guard outside the door of the detention chamber, as was customary when it was occupied. As the key was in the lock, Aragorn turned it and went inside closely followed by Imrahil.

It was a small room, furnished simply but comfortably with a bed, table and chair, illuminated by light from a single high window. At the far side of the room, a door led into a bathing room and privy. Of Faramir though, there was no sign.

Aragorn looked puzzled as he called "Faramir, where are you? I apologise for taking so long to fetch you!"

Imrahil looked carefully round the room as if to assure himself that Faramir was not concealed somewhere as Aragorn rattled the door of the bathing chamber.

" I do not wish to disturb you if you are bathing or in the privy, but please tell us you are inside!" Aragorn called.

There was still no answer and Aragorn pushed open the door, expecting to reveal a blushing and maybe unwell Steward within, but the room was empty.

Aragorn looked anxious. "I was sure he would be here," he said, shaking his head slightly in bewilderment.

"Maybe he is in the Guardroom?" Imrahil suggested. "He will know many of the men there from his days as a ranger. Maybe they disliked the idea of locking him up and took him to have a drink with them and remember old times? They would know you would not be angry if they did that."

The King looked relieved. "Let us go and find out if you are right!" he said with a smile. "Not that they will thank us for interrupting their reminiscences!"

They walked together down to the bustle of the Guardroom, where the soldiers were milling to and fro, some talking, some drinking, others sitting and polishing their weapons. Half of the Citadel Guard seemed to be there but Faramir was not amongst them.

Aragorn espied the men who had held him back that morning and made a mental note to see they were demoted. If he had only been able to reach the combatants and throw himself in front of them, he was sure that bloodshed could have been averted.

The level of noise gradually lessened as the men realised the King was amongst them and they stood to attention.

"Has anyone seen the Lord Steward?" Aragorn enquired in a loud voice.

"You told us to arrest him, Sire." A young Guard, whom Aragorn now recognised from earlier that day, replied nervously.

"I did, so why is he not in the Hospitality Room?" Aragorn replied. There was a hard edge in his voice.

The men stiffened. The King did not often use that tone.

"We took him to the prison, my Lord" the young Guard said, gulping hard.

"You did what?" Aragorn's tone was like ice.

"We took him into custody like you told us to." the young man stammered, flushing scarlet.

"I told you to take him into my custody, which meant the Hospitality Room, not the city prison!" Aragorn roared, his eyes flashing. He raised his hand as if to strike the offender and then thought better of it. Instead he said coldly. "You and your companion from this morning are suspended from duty while I decide what to do with you! Do not expect to escape lightly!"

The Guard looked as if he wished the floor would open and swallow him. Aragorn turned away from him dismissively much to the man's relief, as he did not think he could endure the King's fierce gaze for much longer.

"I need two men to accompany me to the prison!" Aragorn snapped, as he selected two burly guards." You will do, Captain, and you too, Sergeant!"

Followed closely by Imrahil and the Guards, Aragorn all but raced through the deserted city streets, his features set in a grim line.

He did not know who to be more angry with, the Guards who took Faramir to prison, or himself for not making the order clearer, as now he had had a moment to think he realised that 'my custody' could have easily been misheard for 'custody' during the commotion.

He was assailed by a sense of dread, for the prison housed dangerous criminals and a man of Faramir's gentle and highly-strung nature could be in grave danger there.

TBC

A very grateful thank you to everyone who has reviewed. I enjoyed reading your comments very much and will bear many of your points in mind while continuing the story.

I was very sad to hear that one reader had a friend who suffered a similar injury to Eomer and did not survive it. I hope the chapter did not cause too much distress as it was not intentional and am glad you are still able to enjoy the story.

The circumstances surrounding Eowyn writing the later are in 'Shadow and Thought' chapter 6

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