Burden of Guilt

Pain and Confusion

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 for pleasure and not for financial gain

Warning – This chapter contains gory descriptions of injuries. Please only read if you are unlikely to be upset.

Aedred rushed into the room to find the King of Gondor and Arnor apparently lifeless on the floor beside his Steward.

Feeling for a pulse, he could detect none. Frantically he tore open Aragorn's shirt, trying vainly to detect a heartbeat.

Imrahil watched ashen faced as the Rohirric healer attempted to resuscitate the King. Remembering how the athelas had revitalised effect on Aragorn before, he thrust the still steaming bowl in front of his face.

Aedred took an involuntary step backwards as Aragorn suddenly began to convulse as if in agony, then almost as suddenly he appeared almost to glow with some transcendent inner beauty, and it seemed as if a star adorned his brow, which faded even as Imrahil and Aedred gazed in wonder.

Aedred cautiously approached the King again "His life signs are almost completely normal now and yet I could have sworn he was dead a moment ago!" he gasped, as he examined him "I have never seen anything like this before and he displays none of the usual symptoms after such a collapse!

"My Liege, drink this!" Aragorn opened his eyes to find himself lying on the floor. Imrahil was bending over him, holding a glass, while Aedred knelt beside him feeling his pulse. He sipped the drink tentatively, finding it contained the restorative Elven cordial, miruvor.

"Faramir?" he gasped, draining the glass.

"He lives. But whatever happened to you? We feared for your life!" Imrahil's usual ruddy features were as white as a sheet.

"The Valar be praised!" Aragorn exclaimed, looking at Imrahil and Aedred in bewilderment. " What happened? I cannot remember anything after calling Faramir in the darkness. Where is he?"

"You were in some sort of trance and then you collapsed," Imrahil explained, "Faramir is here, lying on the couch!"

"I must get up and tend his wounds!" Aragorn pronounced, trying to stand but finding his legs felt like jelly.

"My Lord, you should rest!" Aedred protested, "Lie down on the bed!"

"I cannot as Faramir needs me! Help me get up, I will be well in a moment!"Aragorn demanded in a tone that brokered no argument.

Part of him wished he could take Aedred's advice, as he felt overcome with weariness mingled with grief and guilt at Faramir's condition. Yet he knew that he alone might be able to save his Steward, as there was none other available, either with his natural abilities or trained in Elven healing techniques, which were far less painful for the patient. It had hurt Faramir far more when Caranthir had touched him and he was the most experienced Gondorian Healer.

Imrahil and Aedred helped Aragorn to his feet so he could see for himself that Faramir was now conscious and awake, an expression of total confusion in his haunted grey eyes. His wounds were bleeding again and the blood had seeped through his nightshirt and the blanket covering him.

"My Lord, will you not sit down?" Aedred asked anxiously as the King swayed slightly.

Ignoring him, Aragorn turned to Faramir. "How could you do that to me?" he demanded. "And have you no thought of Eowyn?" His tone was harsh as the shock and distress of the past few hours had affected him deeply.

"You have caused us great distress!" Imrahil added. "The King, he almost…"

Aragorn shot him a warning glance.

"I am sorry." Faramir whispered. As consciousness returned to him, so did the pain, and the memory of the past few hours. No wonder Aragorn was angry; he had killed the King of Rohan!

His arm throbbed painfully, he could hardly breathe for the pain in his chest and belly and he felt as if his back had been flayed open. A jumble of confused images crowded his brain. Eomer falling lifeless, the mob demanding war, Mahrod leering at him and then a wonderful dream that the King was snatching him from the very clutches of the executioner's knife, then holding him in his arms and telling him how much he was loved. Then he had been floating and could hear his mother and Boromir calling to him. But that was just a dream from which he had awoken to the harsh reality of the pain of his injuries and his betrayal of his King.

"We need to put you back on the bed now. Your wounds need tending." Aragorn said more gently, now the shock was starting to subside. He bent to lift Faramir from the couch but Aedred stopped him.

"My Lord, I accept your concern for your Steward, but you are in no fit state to lift him!"

Imrahil had already grasped Faramir's legs and Aedred took hold of his arms and together they carried him back to bed.

"Lay him on his uninjured side!" Aragorn ordered, conceding defeat as he moved over to join them. I must tend his wounds and quickly!"

"No!" Faramir moaned.

"I am sorry as I know you are in great pain." Aragorn replied. "I cannot just let you lie there and bleed though. Your arm must be stitched, as the wound is deep. I will try not to hurt you."

"No, please!" Faramir writhed in agitation.

"My Lord, you should rest!" Aedred fretted, "We feared for your life just then and any further exertion could damage your health."

Aragorn shot an anxious glance at Imrahil and then sat down on the bed and took Faramir's hand. He was taken aback when Faramir tried to pull away.

"Would you rather someone else did it for you, Aedred perhaps?" The King said gently, accepting it was small wonder that Faramir recoiled from him after all that had happened.

Faramir shook his head. "No, no one."

"Well just let me look then." Aragorn coaxed as he started easing the nightshirt from Faramir's battered frame. "I will be as gentle as I can."

Faramir struggled feebly. "Mercy, my Liege!" he cried, trying to evade Aragorn's hands.

"Peace, Faramir! I just need to see your hurts." Aragorn tried vainly to soothe him.

Aedred then joined him and tried to gently remove Faramir's nightshirt, only for the semi conscious Steward to become increasingly agitated as he slipped in and out of consciousness. He stepped back, knowing that in Faramir's weakened condition, any exertion could prove fatal.

Baffled by his Steward's reactions and not knowing what else to do, Aragorn gently massaged his head and neck with the Elven relaxation technique which usually calmed Faramir.

Aedred still hovered, looking anxious.

"Could I not at least mix whatever medicines you need?" he offered, "I would show Lord Faramir that not all Rohirrim mean him harm!"

Aragorn smiled weakly, "I very much doubt that he thinks that, Master Aedred. It is just he is very uncomfortable to be unclothed when others are present and some treatments I plan to use work only in the hands of the King!"

Aedred laughed, though not unkindly, "A typical man of Gondor then! We Rohirrim have no such inhibitions yet there is something rather endearing about the people here! Now may I mix some herbs for you?"

"I am treating him with rosehips and hawthorn berries, and also some poppy juice for the pain and liquorice for the shock, if you could mix them into a tea, please. The ingredients are on the table over there." Aragorn explained, finally excepting some help would be welcome. "Also bring me water and a towel so I can wash my hands between treating each injury."

Aedred set to work, keeping his back turned to Faramir.

Faramir finally lay limp and unresisting, allowing Aragorn to remove his nightshirt and replace it with a towel to preserve his modesty. Imrahil, still looking rather pale, sat beside his nephew and clasped his hand for comfort.

Amazingly, although Faramir's wounds still looked very serious, it appeared that bruising had faded a little and the flesh on his back seemed less brutally torn.

Faramir opened his eyes and saw how tired and drained the King looked. He was increasingly puzzled as why so much trouble was being taken merely to keep him alive for his execution.

He could not understand why Aragorn would not just let him die, as he had never considered him to be cruel. He could only suppose that Aragorn was bound to see the punishment carried out as the law demanded but his healer's instinct made him tend his wounds. But why was the King tending him himself as he was a traitor and a criminal? He wanted to ask but talking was as painful as everything else.

"Here is the herbal tea, My Lord, "Aedred said, handing it to him.

Turning towards the bed, the Roherric Healer had to bite back a gasp of horror now that the Steward's injuries were bared to his gaze. Even on a battlefield it was rare to see so many hurts that hardly any undamaged flesh was visible

"Open your mouth!" Aragorn instructed, as he tried to see where the earlier bleeding had been coming from and greatly pitying his Steward, as he now seemed to be the one taking his last shreds of dignity, as he lay with his mouth agape like a horse at a market.

Faramir's lips were badly bitten and a splinter of wood had pierced his tongue, which could account for the blood. Aragorn could only hope that he could still swallow.

The King supported his Steward's head with one hand and with the other held the cup of herbal tea. He was dreadfully thirsty and swallowed it obediently, followed by a cup of boiled water.

Meanwhile Aedred prepared a needle by lighting a candle and passing it through the flame to sterilize it.

"Why?" Faramir managed to croak, as Aragorn threaded the needle and began stitching the gaping wound in the muscle of his upper arm.

"Keep still!" Imrahil cautioned, still holding his hand, while Aedred held him still.

" Shush, do not try to talk now, save your strength!" Aragorn sounded choked and Faramir wondered why the compassionate grey eyes were moist as he carefully stitched the diagonal line of cuts tapering across Faramir's arm and side. The beatings had greatly worsened the injuries caused by Eomer's sword.

The King then steeped more athelas in water and bathed Faramir from head to toe in the mixture, hoping it would ease his pain and the scent refresh his wounded spirit.

Aragorn carefully bandaged the gashes after smearing them with honey to ward off infection before turning his attention to the other injuries, which necessitated turning the Steward on to his back to examine and treat him properly.

Faramir was by now weeping silent tears of pain and it took every ounce of Aragorn's self control not to weep too and concentrate exclusively on the task at hand.

He first laid a hand over Faramir's heart and was relieved that by some miracle the beat was slightly stronger than before.

Turning his attention to his Steward's ribs, he detected at least two broken and a further three cracked. Asking Aedred to prepare a poultice of comfrey, he gently applied it to the injuries as Faramir tensed with pain beneath his hands.

Moving down he gently probed and pressed the bruises disfiguring his belly, desperately trying to discover the true extent of the damage. As Faramir still lived, he dared to hope that no internal organ was crushed or bleeding heavily, but he almost certainly was badly bruised inside. The swelling was still too bad to properly judge how much damage was done, though he knew from experience that even 'mere' bruising when inside, could mean weeks or even months of severe pain.

Faramir followed Aragorn's every moment with sad haunted eyes. He cried out with pain at the slightest touch and Aragorn had to look away to concentrate on what he was doing, as he knew much as he wanted to comfort his Steward, first he must heal him. He wished he were not so weary, as he would have liked to use his abilities to ease Faramir's pain but he was totally drained.

As gently as he could, he applied a salve of arnica, comfrey and sweet clover to the bruised belly. Faramir still seemed barely aware of what was happening to him, but when Aragorn tried to move the towel aside to examine the bruises to the groin area, he clutched at it frantically.

Aragorn gestured for his helpers to stand back as he tried to reason with his semi conscious friend.

"Peace, Mellon Nin, I am sorry but I need to see your hurts." Aragorn said gently, hating himself for all he was having to do.

Faramir finally let go, resigning himself as far worse awaited when he was taken to the scaffold.

Not wanting to agitate him further and remembering how he had reacted to hearing of Legolas' rash in a similar place, Aragorn applied the salve as quickly and discreetly as he could, moving the towel just a few inches at a time.

He also applied goose grease to Faramir's hip, where he would be lying, to keep the skin supple and prevent pressure sores. This whole procedure must be a cruel torture to one as shy and modest as Faramir and he was all too aware how deeply humiliated he must be feeling.

Washing his hands again, Aragorn beckoned his helpers. "We are just going to turn you on your side to treat your back now." he explained to Faramir, " I will try to be gentle but I fear this will hurt." If Mahrod had stood before him now, exhausted though he was, the King would have killed him with his bare hands for the damage he had inflicted with the cruel whip.

All Aragorn could do was apply a special mixture of calendula, honey and garlic to the raw stripes on his back, which would hopefully prevent infection and aid healing.

By the way in which he clenched his fists and bit his teeth hard down on his lip while silent tears ran down his cheeks, it was obvious Faramir found the process excruciating as the mixture painfully stung his raw back.

The King would have liked to strap his ribs to support them, but that would cause unspeakable pain in his back, so for now, he could only wait and hope.

After Aragorn had done all he could to ease Faramir, painfully little though it seemed, the Steward lay sleeping fitfully on his side, heavily dosed with poppy juice and surrounded by pillows to cushion every movement. Even in sleep, pain and despair contorted his pallid features

A soft linen sheet was draped around him, on top of which were light but warm blankets. It would have been pointless to clothe or bandage him just yet as he would need further examinations and more salve applying at frequent intervals. Instead a fresh towel was draped over his hips to give him some semblance of dignity.

Imrahil looked at the King questioningly

"His fate lies with the Valar now." Aragorn sighed. " He seems a little stronger but after such severe injuries combined with shock and blood loss we can only wait and hope."

TBC

A very big thank you for your very kind reviews. I will need a bigger hat! I was very touched to read that many of you found the last chapter as moving as I dared hope.

As I have not been able to post for several days, this is slightly longer instalment than usual, so I can return to Arwen in the next chapter.

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