These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.

Nicht send' ich dich mehr aus Walhall;
nicht weis' ich dir mehr Helden zur Wal;
nicht führst du mehr Sieger
in meinen Saal:
bei der Götter trautem Mahle
das Trinkhorn nicht reichst du traulich mir mehr;
nicht kos' ich dir mehr den kindischen Mund;
von göttlicher Schar bist du geschieden,
ausgestoßen aus der Ewigen Stamm;
gebrochen ist unser Bund;
aus meinem Angesicht bist du verbannt. Wagner – Die Walküre. Act 3

(No more shall I send you from Valhalla; no more shall you to choose heroes in battle; nor shall you lead the victors to my hall; no more will you hand me my drinking horn at the feasts of the gods; no more shall I kiss your childish mouth; from the Host of the Gods, you are now parted, expelled from the family of the eternals, broken is our bond; you are banned from my sight.

Lo, here I lend thee this sharp-pointed sword;
Which if thou please to hide in this true bosom.
And let the soul forth that adoreth thee,
I lay it naked to the deadly stroke,
And humbly beg the death upon my knee. – Shakespeare – Richard III. 1.2

With thanks to Raksha her help in writing this chapter and to Laerien for the suggestion, which I used.

The next few days proved increasingly gruelling. Aragorn tried and sentenced the remaining, miscreants and unfortunates who had been entangled in the web of treason.The armed retainers of the rebel lords, who had refused to surrender when Aragorn had returned to the City, were sentenced to hang.

Evidence was found that Delos, Faramir's sly secretary, had been in Dervorin's pay and confidence as his spy in Faramir's household. Deloshad covertly read Eowyn's furious letter to her brother, resealed it and then hidden it away, before she could destroy it. Delos, who had quailed under Aragorn's relentless gaze and finally confessed all, revealed that he had thought to spur the Horse-lord to attack Faramir, in an effort to shake the loyalty of both Faramir and Imrahil to the King and weaken his authority if outright war broke out between the two close allies.

The lives of the traitor lords' tenant farmers were spared, as they showed apparently genuine contrition. They were sentenced to life in exile for their part in the rebellion, as were those of Dervorin's servants who knew Aragorn was their lords' captive and concurred in his ill treatment.

The King was determined to show that treason would not be tolerated.

He attended all of the executions together with Eomer, Imrahil, the Captain of the Tower Guard and the Chief Warden of the prison.

Dervorin went screaming to the gallows, convinced from the moment that the sentence was pronounced, that he would die a slow, agonising death from the executioner's knives. Despite the mercy that Arwen had obtained for him, Dervorin's death was far from swift. The hangman was not sympathetic to traitors and took his time.

Despite having seen his tormentors despatched from the face of Arda, Aragorn found neither satisfaction nor peace of mind. With the lesser lords and their pawns sentenced, he could no longer put off deciding his Steward's fate. He had sent Aedred to examine Faramir. After days of interrogating the accused, he felt far from eager to add Faramir to that gallery of faces, some defiant, some enraged, some pleading for mercy, whose fates had hung on the King's judgment. Aedred had found that the Steward's wound was healing well enough for him to leave his sickbed.

Aragorn's nightmares grew worse. Almost every time he closed his eyes, he found himself chained back in Dervorin's dreadful cellar, watching Faramir approach with the hot iron in his hand, pinning him with his narrowed, cold eyes. He would wake trembling, the wound on his shoulder throbbing painfully.

He knew Faramir had undoubtedly saved his life, but the law was clear. To raise a weapon,or otherwise lay unlawful hands upon the King was death. Yet, he had spared Eowyn when she had raised his sword against him. However, Eowyn had struck no blow and a light of madness had been in her eyes at the time.

Faramir's actions had been carried out in cold blood, revealing a side to the Steward that Aragorn had never suspected could exist.

If only he knew whether it had all been an elaborate pretext, as Faramir had claimed, or had his Steward briefly thrown in his lot with the rebels and then thought the better of it, as had Fontos? Arwen and Tarostar had spoken of Faramir's intention to save him by feigning treachery and then freeing him. But Faramir had never, by so much as an unseen wink, or a word when they were alone, given any sign of such a plan. There had been neither sorrow nor kindness nor mercy in the eyes of Denethor's son. In fact there had been very little feeling at all.

He could try to read Faramir's thoughts but it was most unlikely to work. A Thought Bond was only possible between two in complete harmony, when Men rather than Elves were involved. And if he could do it, did he dare to try? What if he found undeniable proof that his Steward were guilty? Despite all that had happened, he still loved Faramir.

Aragorn had toyed briefly with the idea of bringing him to trial, but Dervorin's revelations had made that impossible now for a fair trial to be held. The Lord of Ringlo Vale's evidence had been damming to say the least and Imrahil had refuted none of it that Aragorn had not already known.

Tarostar and Arwen could perhaps speak in his Steward's defence, but he was loath to drag his wife before a Court to give evidence and a trial would imply that he believed Faramir was guilty and forever destroy what was left of the Steward's reputation, whichever way the verdict went.

He could exile Faramir but then what mischief might such a clever man foment away from Aragorn's watchful eyes? A flogging was out of the question as he had sworn never to punish Faramir in that way. Also, it would most likely kill him, as would imprisonment, so soon after Mahrod's assault

It further complicated matters that Faramir was married to the King of Rohan's sister, though Eomer had made it clear he would support whatever decision he reached. He still lingered in Gondor, waiting to see if he would be needed to take on the careof his sister and niece, as well as supporting Aragorn throughout the grim days of the executions. And if Faramir were tried, and more evidence appeared to support his guilt appeared, and Aragorn had to convict him... Aragorn shuddered.

If Faramir were spared, Aragorn feared that the lives of his own wife and child might be imperilled. Yet to slay Faramir would be akin to severing his own right hand. How had it come to this, that he must pass sentence on one he loved as his own son? He could delay no more. Tomorrow, the Kingwould pronounce his Steward's doom.

0000

Faramir received the summons calmly that tomorrow he was to present himself before the King. He told the messenger to inform his lord that he would be there at the appointed hour.

"At last, I will know what will be my punishment," he told Eowyn. "If it goes ill for me, I am glad that your brother is here in the City. He will care for you and our daughter."

"Surely Aragorn will not harm you?" said Eowyn. "He owes you both his life and his throne! Is it not a good sign that that he has not summoned you to a public trial?"

"It is his prerogative to kill me himself in private, should he so wish, to give me a more merciful death given my rank," Faramir replied bleakly. "In the eyes of the law and indeed all of Gondor, I am a traitor. I did deeds that I shudder to recall, in order to save him. Thus doing, I forfeited that which I hold most dear; my honour."

"You are the most honourable man I have ever known!" Eowyn exclaimed. "Aragorn is a fool if he cannot understandthat! He will face my wrath should he dare to lay a finger upon you!"

"Hush, beloved!" said Faramir pulling her close. "He is our liege lord and we must accept his will. From the moment, I accepted the Queen's commission; I knew that I might face a charge of treachery at its end. Though I never thought that her errand could have sent me down such dark paths as I have travelled. But if I had it to all over again, I would take the same road to save Aragorn. He is more than a King to me, he has been friend and father. More than that, he saved my life!"

Eowyn trembled with as much fear as anger. Stroking her hair, Faramir continued: "If I should not return tomorrow, I ask that you see the families of Anborn and his men are provided for, seeing that they most likely died in order to save me. Remember how much I have always loved you and tell our daughter, when she is grown enough to understand."

0000

Despite his calm demeanour, Faramir found sleep came slowly to him that night. He lay quietly as not to disturb Eowyn and wondered what the morrow might bring. Although he did not wish to be parted from his loved ones, life without honour was no life at all. At times he wished fervently for death, though he was determined not to follow his father's example in taking his own life. To saveAragorn, he had fallen into such darkness that he wondered if he could ever truly behold the sun again with his head held high. He felt unclean and no amount of washing seemed to cleanse him of the taint he bore.

If Aragorn were to kill him tomorrow, he hoped only that he might die bravely, his life given in final sacrifice for the King he loved but had been forced to betray.

0000

Faramir arrived promptly at the appointed hour for his meeting with the King. He dressed plainly and bore no weapon or sign of rank. A servant showed him into the Tower Hall, where Aragorn sat regally attired on the high seat, with Anduril lying across his knees and surrounded by the Tower Guards

"You may go," Aragorn said, dismissing the Guards and servants. "I would have speech alone with Lord Faramir."

"But sire," the Captain protested," should we not at least search him for weapons? "

" I bear none," said Faramir, " You have my word."

"Go!" Aragorn thundered in a voice that allowed no argument.

"You sent for me, my lord," Faramir fell to his knees on the steps before the throne and knelt there withhis head bowed, a lonely, desolate figure.

For a fleeting moment, Aragorn was tempted to descend from his throne and clasp his once close friend in his arms, tell him to rise and then sit on the steps beside him. Instead, he simply asked in a voice devoid of emotion, "I trust your wound is healing now?"

"Yes, my lord, it is closing and Master Aedred thinks it will leave but a faint scar."

"Did you know that you have scarred me for life with a brand intended for a bullock? My wound may never heal! What you have done may never be undone."

Aragorn voice changed abruptly and his words made Faramir's blood freeze. What little colour he had drained from his face and he swayed slightly, feeling light-headed.

"My lord, I am so sorry," he whispered, " I wish it had not been necessary."

"Was it truly needed?" Aragorn asked relentlessly. "My Queen ordered you to infiltrate the conspirators, not to join them in torturing me!"

" I did what I must to save you," said Faramir.

"Were there not other ways than by so readily raising your hand against me?" Aragorn demanded. "Once you knew who they were, you could have commanded troops to search for me."

" I feared they would not find you or come too late. They would have seized you before help could have found you. It would have only taken a few seconds to cut your throat, even with my men pounding at the very doors of the dungeon."

"You could have used our bond to guide you, bent the palantir to your will to observe their comings and goings."

"I did not know how, my lord, I could think of no other way." Faramir raised his head and looked at Aragorn, but the King refused tomeet his gaze.

"What then am I to do with you?" Aragorn demanded. "What have you to say in your own defence?"

"What I did can have no defence." Faramir said bleakly, his grey eyes full of pain.

"I cannot allow treason to go unpunished," Aragorn said sternly." You swore oaths of loyalty to me. I should like to trust you but I cannot. There were many opportunities for you reveal your true intentions, if true they were, but you did not. Instead, you left me alone in dark despair."

"I am yours, sire,sworn to you body and soul. Do with me what you will!" Faramir replied resolutely.

"I would be within my rights to kill you where you stand," said Aragorn, suddenly drawing Anduril and levelling it at his Steward.

"Then I bare my breast for your blow!" Faramir's voice betrayed only a sorrowful resignation. He calmly unlaced his tunic and shirt. "I am no coward and would die your loyal subject." He briefly closed his eyes to collect himself, and felt the cold steel of the Flame of the West above his heart.

His eyes full of pain, the King sheathed the sword, trembling at his own weakness.He could not raise his hand against Faramir. Against his will, he was deeply moved by Faramir's complete obedience and acceptance of what he decreed, even death by his hand.

"I have decided to exonerate you," Aragorn said after a long pause, then extended the sheathed blade toward his Steward, hilt first. " I shall issue a proclamation clearing you of treason. You will keep your lands and titles and continue to serve as my Steward."

"My lord, you are most gracious!" A fleeting spark of joy was kindled in Faramir's eyes only to be quenched bythe King's next words.

"However, I think that in future you should spend far more time in Ithilien with your family. You can do most of your work there. I do not expect to see you in Minas Tirith, save only when the Council is in session or at official functions at which you and your lady are expected to attend. I have placed Elbeth under my protection, but if you wish to take her with you, when you depart, I have no objections. Now, go! I dismiss you from my presence!"

The Steward made to kiss Aragorn's hand, but it was not extended to him.

Faramir stumbled from the Hall.He knew he was lucky, so very lucky as any other lord would at the very least exiled him, or more likely had him killed. He had known and accepted that from the moment he had agreed to join the rebels. He was free, and permitted to keep his lands and titles. His wife and daughter were not doomed to spend their days in disgrace dependent on Eomer's charity.

Yet, his heart was broken. No proclamation could restore the honour he had lost or undone the deeds he had done. He had lost the respect and friendship of his beloved King, a prize he held far dearer than lands or titles. No longer, would they work together to rule Gondor in anything save name, no more would they share thoughts, eat and drink together or share long conversations. He had lost a father's lovefor the second time. Aragorn was alive, though and restored to his rightful place. That would have to suffice.

0000

A little later, Aragorn joined his wife in her sitting room. He stood looking out of the window, the lashing rain outside only serving to deepen his despondent mood.

"I have pardoned Faramir," he told his wife in answer to her questioning gaze. "He will keep his lands and titles and I will have it proclaimed that he is not and never has been a traitor."

"You have done the right thing, " Arwen came to stand beside him, Eldarion lying half-asleep in her arms." Had you tried to kill him, I would have thrown myself in front of him rather than permit it!"

"I wish I could share your faith," Aragon said sadly, absently ruffling his son's curls. "I dare not even touch him lest some dark secrets of his heart be revealed. I have banished him from my sight."

"You are both hurting badly. It will take time for you to heal," Arwen said gently, kissing him on the brow.

They stood together looking out at the rain.

"Look," said Arwen, "a rainbow!" She pointed towards the western sky where the clouds were clearing and a perfect rainbow adorned the sky.

"Some of the colours are missing, " Aragorn said bleakly moving away from the window. A sudden throb of pain coursed through his shoulder.

"They are still there, only hidden," the Queen replied, and gently took her husband's hand. "See, the storm has ended. You will soon walk in the sun once more."

-The End-

A sequel that will deal with the tension between King and Steward will begin soon.

A very big thank you to everyone who has supported this story, especially those of you who have reviewed regularly .I would love to know which chapters were your favourites or liked the least and also to hear from those who have been reading but have not yet commented.

Especial thanks to Raksha, without whose help; I fear this story would have turned out very badly. She advised me to take it in an entirely different direction and offered unlimited support and advice when I was struggling. Were this story, a baby, Raksha is the midwife who safely delivered it.

Also thank you to Julia for her constant support and Laerien for her helpful suggestions.

I was thinking of the music, which accompanies the quote from "Die Walküre" while writing this chapter. In the opera, a father banishes his beloved daughter.

"The White Tree" came second in the MPA awards. Thank you to everyone who voted for me.