Burden of Guilt

Whither Thou Goest

These Characters are the property of the Estate of J. R. R Tolkien and New Line Cinema. This story has been written for pleasure and no profit has or will be made from it.

And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; Ruth 1.16

There was a mass of tracks outside the city gates but they soon thinned out as few travellers ventured further than the outlying villages in November.

Aragorn had lost none of his old tracking skills and Damrod proved an able companion as the two former rangers soon picked up the tracks of a lone rider heading away from the city.

As the hours passed, Aragorn became more and more worried, his concern mirrored in the increasingly grim set of his features. Never in his worse nightmares had he ever imagined that Faramir would flee like this to seek death in the wilderness.

Yet he must have planned it carefully as his air of resignation the previous day now seemed an all too obvious indication that he had made a fateful decision. Ioreth's visit would have been the perfect opportunity for him, as he would know the garrulous midwife would keep Eowyn occupied for hours.

The rain was coming down harder than ever now and the King feared they had not much time left if Faramir was to be found alive. His heart was now so weakened that the slightest exertion or agitation could easily kill him. If Faramir had not carried the heritage in his veins of Numenorean vitality, he would have surely been dead long ago

He briefly closed his eyes remembering Faramir as he used to be, his grey eyes sparkling with enthusiasm and intelligence, his steadfast loyalty, and the comfortable companionship they had shared when Faramir would freely seek the affection from him that Denethor had always denied his younger son. He had seen how Faramir had blossomed even shaking off his shyness sufficiently to tease his King and engage in mock fights with him.

He knew that if they found him, this would be his last chance to save his Steward and save him he must, or his heart would surely break to lose him in such circumstances! Then there was Eowyn and her unborn child. Faramir needed to be restored to them as both husband and father. Eowyn appeared strong and yet his heart feared for her, knowing the depth of love she bore for her husband.

Devastating though Faramir's letter at been, in one respect, it had heartened him as there was no doubt from his anguished words that Faramir still loved his wife and his King

He was startled from his reverie by the agitated whinnying of a horse. A fine chestnut mare saddled and bridled but devoid of a rider was galloping towards them.

Even before she reached him and frantically nuzzled his arm, he knew it was Iavas.

Faramir must be nearby! He broke into a run and followed the horse, which made off down the path and halted a few hundred yards ahead.

He discovered Faramir sprawled in the mud by the side of the path, with Iavas nuzzling her master, trying vainly to make him get up.

Aragorn rushed to his Steward's side and knelt by him, oblivious of the muddy surroundings, overwhelmed with a feeling of sick dread and fearing the worst as he felt for a pulse.

Unable to find one, he tore open Faramir's tunic and laid his ear to the Steward's chest. The heartbeat was there, far too slow and ragged, but his friend was still alive.

Faramir's flesh was icy to the touch but he still drew breath. The King gave an audible sigh of relief that at least he still lived though he feared what new injuries he would uncover on the reed thin body, once the sodden clothing was removed.

It appeared that he had fallen from his horse .At least he had not broken his neck but he could have sustained multiple fractures lacking any flesh to cushion his fall. Then there was the risk of lung fever from lying out in the cold and rain.

Damrod finally caught up with him and for a moment stood catching his breath and looking in amazement at the sight of his Sovereign kneeling in the mud beside his former Captain

"How is Lord Faramir?" he asked.

"Alive but only just .He is injured, cold and soaked to the skin. We need to get him to shelter and quickly." Aragorn replied, his voice choked with emotion," I do not think he could make it back to the City."

"There is a hovel nearby the rangers would use .It used to belong to a shepherd, but he fled as Sauron's forces encroached and he never returned." Damrod informed him.

"Lead the way! It will have to suffice." Aragorn replied.

Aragorn pulled off his cloak and wrapped it round his Steward then carefully lifted the unconscious Faramir and set him on Roheryn's back. Damrod held him steady while he settled on behind him and held him close, trying to warm him with his own body. Faramir was now so emaciated ;he was hardly an extra burden for the Elvish mare to carry.

The hovel Damrod spoke of was less than a league away and they arrived there within minutes.

It was dilapidated and bare, yet watertight and with a fireplace that would suffice for their needs.

Aragorn carried Faramir inside and sat cradling him to keep him warm; all the while checking him for injuries.

He ordered the men to get a fire going and carry the supplies of bedding, clothing and medicines inside and then make camp and erect their own tents outside.

He next took a blanket from one of the packs and put it by the fire to warm, while the soldiers covered the dusty floor by the fireplace with animal skins and placed lighted candles round the small room. He then told the men to heat some water.

"Damrod, you are with me!" Aragorn said, as the ranger was about to join his colleagues outside. "I need your assistance while I tend Lord Faramir. We need to get these wet clothes off him and quickly!"

" I am at your service, Sire," Damrod replied obediently.

Aragorn unrolled a bedroll in front of the fire and together they lifted Faramir on to it.

"I was a ranger for many years." Aragorn explained to Damrod, as he unfastened the lacings securing Faramir's tunic.

Damrod looked at him wide eyed as he removed Faramir's boots.

"I will not eat you, Lieutenant!" Lord Faramir has spoken highly of you, you tended the wounded when you served together, did you not?" Aragorn asked, aiming to put the tense young man at his ease, as they needed to work together if Faramir were to be saved. Faramir was suffering from exposure and they might yet need to use body heat to warm him, a method far more effective with two than one. He wondered not for the first time, what it was about being King that made so many of his subjects appear so terrified.

Damrod merely nodded in reply to his question.

"Did you ever tend Lord Faramir's wounds?" Aragorn persisted, anxious to draw him out of his shell.

"Twice during the year before the Ring war, my Lord, once when he took a Southeron blade in the hip and once when an Orc arrow caught him in the back." Damrod replied shyly.

"That cannot have been easy, unless Lord Faramir has changed a great deal?" Aragorn asked a hint of humour lighting his troubled features as he envisioned the struggle Damrod must have had with his shy and stubborn Captain.

"No, it was not, Sire, Lord Faramir was most embarrassed by his wounds and it took a great deal of persuasion to allow me tend them, the poor Lord has suffered a great deal." Damrod confided.

" I fear that is so," Aragorn said sadly.

"Lord Faramir was the best Captain I ever had and the others thought the same, my Lord." Damrod said as the rain soaked and muddy breeches were removed.

"Ihat does not surprise me,knowing the man." Aragorn replied as he finally managed to ease Faramir's sodden tunic and shirt over his head. At least his Steward did not appear to be bleeding apart from a few scratches.

Damrod then gave an involuntary gasp as Faramir's wasted and scarred body was finally revealed.

"Aragorn grabbed the warmed blanket and covered his Steward with it to protect his modesty before his drawers were consigned to the heap of sodden clothing.

"Your Captain was cruelly beaten when he was wrongfully imprisonedafter the incident with King Eomer," Aragorn explained, "You were telling me about when you served with him?

"He never asked us to do anything he would not do himself, was always the first to face the enemy and he really cared about us." Damrod replied, now eager for the opportunity to praise a man he greatly admired, "When I was sick with fever after taking an Orc arrow, he sat beside me day and night and was most caring. He was a stern Captain; yet we obeyed him because we loved him, rather than because we must and he rewarded our loyalty by treating us fairly and with great kindness. Only once did he order a flogging and that was for a most heinous offence!"

Aragorn's ears pricked up, wondering if Damrod might have some information that would help for the forthcoming trial, but now he concentrated on swiftly examining Faramir as best he could. He first felt his head and neck, looking for any sign of injury and then quickly checked his body and limbs for signs of fractures. A more through examination would have to wait until he was warmed and hopefully conscious.

To his great relief, the only new injuries he could find were three damaged ribs, the ones which had failed to heal properly before, and severe bruising down one side, obviously caused by the fall from the horse.

Dark bruises disfigured Faramir's chest and side, which spread downwards across his hip and tapered down his leg culminating in a badly sprained ankle. These were but minor hurts though, compared with the deathly chill of his flesh, his weak and erratic heartbeat and the despair that permeated the Steward's soul.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Aragorn could not suppress a wry smile as he observed that Faramir did indeed have a scar on his hip, which he had obviously been too shy to request the Elven treatment for when he had the chance.

Instinctively, Aragorn tried to heal the latest hurts by placing his hands over them, but even in his current state, he could still sense Faramir's will resisting.

Damrod tried to watch impassively as the King attempted the healing, but Aragorn could see the curiosity in his eyes, as like many in Gondor, he had heard the stories circulating about the King's powers.

"It is an Elvish technique which can heal the sick." Aragorn explained, "However they have to wish to be healed for it to work. Now help me bathe Lord Faramir, the water should help warm him!"

Damrod shouted to those outside to bring water and waited for more instructions while the King tested the temperature with his elbow. Elessar was proving to be totally unlike anything he had expected a King to be!

TBC

A/N

A very big thank you for your greatly appreciated reviews.

Aragorn's grief and guilt have hampered him so far in helping Faramir.

I agree Faramir is a perfectionist, which makes things far worse for him.

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