A note about capitalization: Apparently Tolkien was as confused about what to capitalize as I am. (He'd have "hobbits" in one line, and "Hobbits" in the next.) I chose to treat most things as common words, except in those places were the context suggested otherwise.
This story is book-based. Well, probably.
"Legolas, step forward."
He did, moving deliberately to the center of the cavern hidden deep in the lower recesses of Henneth Annun, lit only by flickering torchlight. Dark, damp, and ancient was how this place felt to the elf. He disliked being underground, the weight of untold tons of rock and earth suspended above him, the walls leaning over him, but he was here nonetheless. He could leave, he knew, but would never be allowed to return.
"Remove your clothes."
Still showing the outward confidence all elves seemed to possess, he stripped off shoes, belt, tunic and leggings, and, after an almost imperceptible hesitation, his softer undergarments. He stood revealed in the shifting light, glowing faintly himself, a being of purity and radiance trapped in the amber illumination. Even his golden hair seemed to rival the flames. Ten men stood around him, not one failing to appreciate the sight of such wild beauty, though only two had the perceptiveness to read the woodland being's increasing unease.
This was harder. Nudity was unremarkable among elves, and it was not overly difficult for them to tolerate or even dwell below ground when circumstances dictated, as within his father's palace, but to kneel before strangers was an intimate gesture of submission which did not come easily. Even before lord and king, protocol demanded the supplicant bend but one knee. Both knees lessened dignity and sapped strength, spoke of implied inferiority and need. The soft dirt of the cavern floor was little consolation.
One of the men came forward and whispered softly in the elven archer's ear: "You need not do this. The Firstborn submit to no one."
"And if I do not? Will you think me craven?" Sharp words told of his anxiety, for elves are nothing if not gracious. "I will do what is necessary; earn my place as any other. Do you think it beyond me?" Golden head lifted, blue eyes flashed, challenging the man to deny it.
"Nay, of course not." The figure sighed, ran a hand through his midnight hair, pulled something dark from his belt. "Do you trust me, Legolas?" This was important. The ritual depended upon it, could not proceed without the elf's unconditional faith. "I will go no further in the face of your doubt."
Legolas closed his eyes and dipped his head briefly, whether in impatience or apprehension was unclear, then nodded once. "Aye, I have trusted you from whence I first looked upon you."
With a gentle smile, Faramir proceeded to secure the blindfold, plunging the Wood-elf into even greater darkness.
Five days ago, Legolas had been traveling through the forest, jumping from branch to branch, laughing with his escort, heading towards the newly-constructed home of Ithilien's first prince. He knew Faramir only in passing, but was already impressed with the depth of his learning, his perceptiveness, his inner strength and quiet compassion. Few men could attract the attention of the Eldar in such a way; Aragorn, of course, and one or two of his rangers. Prince Imrahil was an interesting man, and there had been something of Theoden that made one look again, but Faramir was special. Perhaps it was his tragic upbringing, the loss of his brother, of his father's love even before that, or the untimely death of his mother in early childhood. Or perhaps simply growing up in the shadow of Mordor. So much pain and loss. Instead of turning him bitter as it would so many, it seemed rather to have tempered his soul as finely wrought mithril; delicate, yet deceptively strong. Legolas decided he would like to know more of him.
He found the King in attendance when he arrived, visiting his steward, he said, but all knew he was really just escaping the stifling heat of the city in midsummer. Not without cause was Ithilien called the Garden of Gondor. No matter; Legolas was happy to see both men, one an old friend, the other simply a friend about whom there was much to discover.
The more Legolas observed Faramir, the more fascinated he was by him. Black hair, grey eyes, the same basic physical form as his kin to the north, tall, without bulk, but not thin either. He took after his father, they said, in intellect and book learning, and in his ability to see into the hearts of others. Strange then that Boromir, who by all accounts was surprisingly little like his father, should be the favored one. Perhaps, as the heir-apparent, Denethor thought to invest more of himself in his oldest, but it made little sense to neglect the younger son so completely. Accidents were not uncommon, the 'spare' almost as likely to rule as the first in line. And word had it Denethor's neglect was not only long-term, but even occasionally abusive. It was clear Legolas understood little of the ways of Men. To elves, all children were precious.
The evening was pleasantly spent retelling their various parts in the Ring War, the triumphant conclusion of which Faramir had most grievously missed. The Steward was particularly interested in the Fellowship's interludes among the Elves. He could not hear enough of the Lady Galadriel, whose name was not unknown in Minas Tirith, nor the house of Elrond. What was it like coming of age in the Hidden Valley? Was it the Peredhil sons who taught him swordplay? Did he really know Glorfindel the Balrog-slayer? Why was Lothlorien called the Golden Wood? What of the Elven-rings of power, now that the One was destroyed?
Oh, he'd seen many lordly and noble elves at Aragorn's wedding, of course, but was so over-awed, he'd been unable to take much advantage of the great opportunity presented at that time. Aye, the Lady of Light was indeed magnificent (although privately he agreed with Eomer that the Lady Arwen was more beautiful); Elrond's wisdom shone from his brow as a beacon, his sons standing behind him like avatars of the Valar; and Celeborn, deep and mysterious, watched gravely as his granddaughter gave herself to a mortal king. It was a time out of legend, and deeply intimidating to one who had always lived in the shadow of his oft-celebrated brother.
But now, in this intimate little gathering of royalty, was his opportunity to discover what his reticence had denied him earlier. When he had exhausted all that lay within the Fellowship's journey, he turned then to Mirkwood, an elven realm little spoken of these past centuries. Thranduil's reputation was both terrible and great, almost as if the men of the South could not decide whether to revere or vilify him. It was known that to ride beyond the Gladden Fields was to invite death, although whether this was due to the Elven-king or the various inhabitants of Dol Guldur was never made clear.
Legolas took some time detailing the wonders of his home, how the Wood-elves had fought a ceaseless war with unsleeping evil to keep at least the northern reaches clean and bright, and how his father fought the forces of Mordor, Easterlings and Orcs, at the same time the Dark Lord struck with even greater malice upon Rohan and Gondor. Had it not been necessary for Sauron to fight both Lorien and Mirkwood, it is unlikely the world of Men would have survived, despite the Ringbearer's best efforts.
It was on the second day, while the friends were taking a late dinner and speculating on what a glorious future might now be dawning, that the messenger came. He bowed briefly to the king and his lord's elven guest, then begged Faramir for a moment alone. It was not long before their host returned.
"My Lords, a matter has arisen which requires my immediate attention. I will be gone some days, but please continue to enjoy my hospitality as long as you wish." Despite his words, Faramir looked more upset than contrite, prompting the king to ask if there was anything they could do.
"It is a Ranger matter, Sire. We generally keep such things between ourselves."
Aragorn frowned. "I would know what transpires within my kingdom. And I am a ranger, albeit from a different 'house,' if you will."
"Aye, but Lord Legolas is not. This is a thing for Men." Faramir look apologetically to Legolas as he spoke, not wanting to offend his new friend, but knowing his own followers would not allow an outsider to witness their inner mysteries.
Legolas tried to stifle the sudden disappointment and sense of rejection he felt. He was surprised by the strength of his own feelings. Of what importance was this ranger matter to him? He could feel Aragorn's knowing eyes upon him and resisted the urge to scowl in response. Aragorn had seen his old friend's interest in Denethor's youngest son and could now tell that despite Faramir's visible discomfort, the elf still felt somewhat snubbed anyway. After spending a great deal of his adulthood being considered little more than a puppy by his adoptive family, especially his brothers, he couldn't help feeling slightly smug. Aye, my friend, we have secrets, too.
Faramir easily sensed the prince's affront. It saddened him to think this affair might now come between them. The Elf was wondrous beyond the young man's wildest imaginings. Many hours had he spent reading in his father's library, dreaming of the Fair Folk, of discussing ancient lore and the history of his own people with beings who had actually borne witness, but now what had just begun might be lost already and Faramir did not know how to warm the sudden chill he felt in the air. Reluctantly, he allowed the king to draw him off into a corner for a quiet word. Legolas left to check on his horse, which was quite well of course, but any excuse would do.
"Be not dismayed, my Steward, for Legolas is young among his kind and quick to feel the sting of exclusion." Aragorn smiled sympathetically. "I think perhaps he wishes to know you better and sees this as a barrier, both to your newly-forged friendship and his desire to share the burdens of leadership with you."
"But what can I do? My men would object strongly to one of the uninitiated at our trials. The man in question would be humiliated."
The king pondered this a moment before meeting the grey eyes.
"You expect, do you not, to allow King Thranduil's only son to share in the rule of Ithilien?" At Faramir's quick nod, he continued, "Then it would be wise to grant him access to all matters within its borders. It is inevitable as time goes by, perhaps sooner rather than later, the doings of Men and those of Elves will touch upon one another, even conflict." Aragorn tilted his head admonishingly. "It will fall upon you both to work together to resolve these issues."
"But, Sire," Faramir began anxiously, "my men…."
With a wave of his hand, Aragorn cut him off. "Aye, well I know the hidebound secrecy of rangers! There is but one thing for it -- you shall have to initiate him yourself."
It was fortunate the northern ranger was somewhat mature in years else he should have been unable to hide his amusement at his steward's suddenly purple tinge. Or was it green? Long was it since the men of Gondor had dealt with any other race save orcs. The other Free Peoples of Middle-earth were the fables of olden times, or at the very least inhabitants of far-off places not likely to intrude upon the affairs of men. But how that had all changed! The new king had marched into the White City with an Elf and a Dwarf by his side. The kingdoms of the West had been saved by Hobbits. Wizards and Ents and Eagles were the commonplace talk of every man. How then to maintain divisions between races which had fought and died together against the Darkness? Faramir quickly saw the ludicrousness of his half-formed objection.
And his men were a cut above the average Gondorian trooper, after all. One does not blunder about the wilds with sword and shield and expect to purge an enemy which, nine times out of ten, outnumbers you greatly. Rangers were ambush fighters, bow and arrow their greatest assets, along with the ability to melt into cover as naturally as a deer. They had no reinforcements, no supply train, no fortified position to defend. Rangers had to be tough, smart, and above all, unquestioningly loyal, to each other and to their leader.
Such men were not recruited on the street. Many of Faramir's rangers were long-serving soldiers looking to contribute more; some were willing to sacrifice all to avenge a brother or father lost to the Enemy; and some were the lesser sons of noblemen, knowing they would not follow in their fathers' footsteps yet still wanting their lives to count for something. Strong men with flexible minds were what Denethor's son had drawn into his service. It was with them that the future of Legolas, the unborn ranger-elf, was about to be decided.
Two men came forward carrying a length of light chain. Faramir took it in silence, indeed not one word had passed since Legolas spoke of his trust, and stepped behind the softly glowing prince. Carefully he lifted the silky hair, indicated to a third man to tie it loosely out of the way, then drew the middle of the chain across the front of the long, slender neck. Crossing it once at the nape, he trailed it down the middle of the elf's back, then pulled his hands back and up, binding them in the chain just below the shoulder blades. Legolas arched back slightly, lifting his head and hands to take the pressure from his neck. It was not greatly uncomfortable, but required constant attention lest he relax and constrict his breathing. Faramir looped the ends of the chain about Legolas' ankles, preventing him from leaning forward.
The Wood-elf found the darkness disconcerting. He couldn't see what was coming next, had to stop himself flinching at each unexpected touch and the cold hardness of the chain, found himself straining his ears for clues, but the rangers were almost silent. Faramir in particular seemed almost undetectable. Normally he could at least hear the breathing of other races (dwarves especially!), even hobbits, stealthy though they be, but Faramir, like Aragorn, was too skilled to provide that kind of reassurance. Legolas wondered briefly if he was doing it on purpose or if it was simply second nature to him now. Regardless, he felt a thin trace of sweat break out on his upper lip, aware he was the focus of many pairs of unseen eyes.
After not many minutes, two more men came forward carrying another length of chain, but this one was heavier, the links bigger and less flexible. Faramir had one man help him drape it about the elf, over the shoulder, back up between the legs, over the other shoulder, down through the legs, pulled tight enough to rub, not to hurt. Then they stepped back into silence again.
Once more the darkness claimed him, made him focus on the sensations of his body, not the audience he knew was still there. The metal was warming slowly, pressing into the tops of his shoulders, rubbing against his groin, clinking against his chest and bound hands when he shifted slightly. The silence was heavy, isolating, making him lose positional awareness and sense of time. Every little discomfort magnified; the chain about his torso seemed to drag at him, keep him from straightening although he had not slouched during its fitting. His shoulders ached from holding his hands high, the front of the chain seemed to tighten across his throat, although again he knew it had not. How long was he to remain thus? The endurance of elves was legendary. He could, if necessary, maintain this position throughout the night. Would they leave him? Would he even know? The idea of being left bound and alone in the depths of the earth played to some of the deepest fears of his kind.
Faramir watched Legolas from the side of the cavern. It was obvious to him the elf was slowly becoming agitated, imagining things that might happen or weren't there, the chains becoming more burdensome than they would otherwise be in different circumstances. Indeed, the weight was nothing to one such as him, his enforced position merely awkward, not painful. That would come later.
He glanced briefly at a man standing towards the back of the chamber, but his attention was entirely upon the archer, his friend. If at any point Faramir failed to judge the situation correctly, caused too much harm to the one kneeling in wavering trust, his king would end it immediately. Elves were strange creatures, amazingly strong and resilient, but with weaknesses unguessed by men. Aragorn was the only one with the necessary experience to chaperone something like this.
Faramir smiled silently. It would probably comfort the elf to know his best friend was here with him, but then, that was not the point, was it?
Legolas felt the beginnings of an irrational fear. He knew nothing of these men, even Faramir, whom he instinctively liked, was little more than a cipher. The history between Men and Elves had been sketchy at best during this last age; many had cause to distrust, even hate, the Aftercomers. Some of them made alliance with unspeakable evil to war upon their own kind! Where was the sense in that? And here he had willingly (stupidly?) placed himself at their mercy. Maybe this was not a rite at all; maybe it was only a sick game. Maybe Faramir tricked him into this perverted amusement and all men were as his father said. For the first time, Legolas began to think of serious resistance as his intellectual understanding of the situation faded.
From across the room, Aragorn saw the subtle shift in Legolas' posture, signaled Faramir to move things along. Faramir nodded and stepped forward. More men joined him.
A heavy clanking came to Legolas' ears as he heard suddenly-shuffling feet and labored breathing. What are they doing? He startled slightly when he felt a hand on his right shoulder. It was replaced a moment later by a thick pad of some soft, woven material.
"Brace yourself," was the only warning he received before a short length of the thickest chain he'd ever imagined came down across his shoulder. He guessed it to be of a sort similar to those used to raise the portcullis of the main gate of Minas Tirith (before Grond smashed it down). This section couldn't be less than 80 lbs, making him grunt softly in surprise. Fortunately for his balance, if not his back, it was joined shortly by its twin on his other shoulder. Now the dirt of the cavern did not feel so soft to his knees and the pads did nothing to cushion the first set of chains now digging into his flesh. Genuine pain quickly drove the darkness-driven fears from his mind, to replace them with an uncertain will to endure. Ai, but he would not give in to these men! They had all withstood this, had they not? Knelt where he did now? He would not shame his forebears with a display of weakness. He would show them the mettle of elves.
Faramir could have told him the chains used on men were considerably less substantial, but did not.
The new chains tried to drag him down, but the one across his throat forbade it. As his back bowed, the chain from his ankles to his neck tightened, forcing him to straighten or choke. Blood rushed to his head as the chain cut both air and circulation, and with his back and shoulders screaming in protest, he straightened enough to gasp away the spots beginning to form behind his blindfold. Instinctively he tried to twist his hands free to help support the added weight, but succeeded only in bruising his wrists. At one point his feet left the floor and he felt himself toppling helplessly forward, convinced he was about to smash nose-first into the not-soft-at-all cavern floor, when a hand on his forehead pushed him upright again. He did not know whether to thank or curse the man.
Faramir watched the elf struggle with increasing concern. It tore at him to be responsible for the straining, trembling, agonized form before him, and one of the Firstborn at that. It was hard enough doing this to a man, but men seemed somehow made for it. Elves were above such baseness, such trials. An elf should be cherished, protected, not crushed beneath almost two hundredweight of cold steel. But Legolas had agreed to this, made it clear he would do whatever it took to join in full partnership with his neighbor, so there he knelt, suffering, because of men, his men. Faramir felt his stomach tighten and was glad supper was so long ago. Thankfully, there remained only one more chain.
Legolas finally managed to find an inner balance that allowed him to weather the pain, remain relatively still, and breathe all at the same time. It would not last long, he knew, but for now he was enduring. So focused was he on his own state of being, he did not hear the words spoken into his left ear. Only when Faramir repeated himself, did he listen.
"Legolas." Faramir spoke clearly, with intent, like one who reads marriage vows. "Do you trust me?"
The question he had answered so quickly and easily when it was asked little over an hour ago made the elf want to laugh now, were he able. Trust? This demented little clique of torturers? Was he mad? Aye, he must have been, to have agreed to this. Did he trust Faramir? Did he? He had no idea now.
Faramir waited uncertainly, convinced Legolas would beg to be released from his torment, only to hope silently it would not be so. He had not known the elf for long, met him only in passing at Aragorn's coronation, the king's wedding to Arwen, his own wedding to Eowyn, but now this was upon him, he realized how very much he wanted Legolas' friendship and trust. An Elf! Not one year ago, they were known only in legends and history books, and now here was one ready to live with him in Ithilien, establish a colony of the wonderful beings right here, and what was he doing? Asking this ethereal creature for a leap of faith as he knelt before the Steward of Gondor in pain and fear.
Aragorn waited as well, curious about Legolas' impending answer. In his place, Aragorn would have demanded Faramir release him and then go to hell, but he also knew the son of Thranduil was far from reaching his breaking point. Aragorn did not think he would give up, not in front of all these men. Still, as any leader learns, 'tis not the body that breaks first, but the mind.
Legolas longed to see, needed to look into Faramir's eyes to judge his intent, whether he wished his victim to succeed or was merely enjoying his pain. But he could not. Sight, judgment, were denied him. He could only trust to his own instincts and those, he was beginning to fear, were not worth a wooden penny in the marketplace right now. Upon what should he base his answer? Had Aragorn stood in Faramir's place and asked for trust, Legolas would have given it unstintingly, right up to the point where Aragorn killed him, but Faramir had earned no such loyalty from him. Elves were faithful unto death, but not to just anyone.
He thought again of the man whose breathing still sounded in his ear, waiting for an answer. He remembered how those depthless grey eyes had shone with interest at his arrival, sparkled with joy when the elf welcomed his offers of friendship, shadowed with worry when he suggested to Legolas the possible need to undergo this trial. Had not Aragorn already accepted him as some sort of long-lost brother? If they truly meant him harm, surely he would already be badly injured, if not dead by now? And they would hardly need ask his permission to continue.
As Legolas adjusted further to his position and the pain in his shoulders and knees, his ability to think and analyze reasserted itself. Just because he was buried in the bowels of the earth, surrounded by strangers, helpless and in pain, was no cause for panic, was it? He almost laughed again. What would his father say? Call him addled, most like. And perhaps he would be right. Still, there was no backing down now. The choice was simple really, when one considered the alternative: run away or go on. Orcs ran away; elves did not.
Through clenched teeth came his answer. "Aye, Faramir. I trust you… because I must."
Not surprisingly, Faramir found such a lukewarm declaration not particularly reassuring nor gratifying. Aragorn almost smiled at his somewhat crestfallen expression. Perhaps he would feel better if Aragorn told him of the lengths to which he himself had gone to secure the elf's friendship, but that would have to wait for another time. Legolas was taking this to its conclusion, for reasons that weren't entirely clear to him, but which were definitely fascinating to watch.
"Very well." Faramir signaled another of the men forward.
This last chain was rather fine and quite short, not two feet, and at each end was a small ring. Faramir pulled the chain through one of the rings to make a loop, as one might to collar a dog, then slipped it over Legolas' head. He wound a length of soft cloth about his neck, then tightened the loop over it, leaving the tail to hang down the back.
Turning around, he retrieved several small, one-pound weights from the man, then motioned him back to stand by the wall. Faramir hung the first weight from the ring lying partway down the smoothly-muscled back.
One pound of pressure does little to either man or elf, but the tightening band about Legolas' throat carried its own significance. Again, he was reminded of his helplessness before these people. They could do anything to him, absolutely anything, and he was completely unable to resist. Certainly he could thrash about a bit, fall over perhaps, even beg for mercy (Valar be damned if he'd do that!), but ultimately, he was theirs. It was terrifying.
Faramir hung another weight, and then another. It was not long before every man in the cavern could hear the elf's strangled breathing, his growing panic becoming obvious to all. This was always the hardest part of the ritual. Pride carried many to this point, as it had today, but few were able to go further against such a life-threatening test. Truly was this a demonstration of faith, not courage or endurance. Any man could be brave and strong; indeed, Gondor was full of such men, and while there was much to admire in them, a Captain of Rangers required more.
Legolas fought to maintain himself in the face of this mounting pressure. The blood was back in his ears, his breath rasping in and out of his open mouth. He tried to swallow and found it difficult, the chain moving over his throat as his adam's apple flexed beneath the constricting band. He felt Faramir fiddle behind him and the pressure increased. And increased again. He began to fight in earnest. He couldn't breathe. Big, bright spots danced before his closed eyes while blood rushed loudly enough to drown out all other sounds. His tongue was forced to the front of his mouth, almost over his lower jaw, as the space available to it decreased.
The spots became larger and brighter, his breath loud yet with little volume, his mind spinning as he swayed with dizziness brought on by the lack of blood to his brain. Images came to him of men, bad men, leering, jeering at an elf caught in their trap. Indeed, the men in the cavern could be laughing or shouting right now and he would not hear them. Foolish elf. Stupid, stupid elf. They would kill him now, enjoy his dying struggles, then brag of the deed later in one of those dank, smoky beer-holes they favored. Irrelevantly he remembered dwarves and hobbits also loved beer-holes. Did no one care for wine anymore?
Faster and faster his thoughts spun, disjointed, panicked, descending into darkness. If he could just topple over, he suddenly realized, the weights would hit the ground and cease strangling him. He tried to shift to one side, only to begin genuinely thrashing about in terror when he felt hands holding his upper arms, keeping him upright -- killing him.
Then unexpectedly he felt a touch on the side of his face, soft words breathed into his ear, "Trust me, Legolas. Please… trust me. I will not fail you." Faramir's voice, his words, so quiet, so calming. The flailing Eldar could barely hear him. Faramir? He was still here? For some reason that surprised him. Then he remembered the cavern, the rangers, his purpose this night. Despite the approaching blackness at the edges of his mind, he forced himself to still and listen.
"I am with you, Legolas," the voice continued, soft and intimate by his side, yet strong, powerful. "Never will I abandon you; never will you have cause to fear me. I will value your life as I do my own." Faramir stepped to the other side, trailing his hand across the finely-wrought chain binding the elf's neck. "Every ranger is your brother now. All will give their lives to protect you. Will you not do the same for them?"
Aragorn recognized the words of the Ranger's Pledge. His own trial in the North had taken a somewhat different form, but the aim had been identical: to bind like minds together in an unbreakable bond of brotherhood. In Aragorn's case, there had been overtones of kinship and fealty as well, but those were issues not relevant to this gathering. He found himself mesmerized by the sight of one barely-conscious friend kneeling before another at the crisis of this trial.
Faramir waited with baited breath. It all came down to this moment, this surrender of self and soul. He knew Legolas would do it for Aragorn without any hesitation whatsoever. It was easy to see the love his king shared with the elven archer, but Faramir had no comforting illusions regarding his own worthiness. He was no king of men to awaken such fond regard in a Firstborn prince. He was but a steward, of a rich and powerful land to be sure, but still of lesser blood, lesser stature. In the end, his family had failed in their trust to deliver the kingdom hale and hearty to its rightful ruler. Faramir considered himself more survivor than heir and thanked Aragorn's nobility and fair mindedness that he had a place in this new Gondor. Would that he managed to secure a place in his new friend's heart as well.
The light of the world was fading quickly for Legolas now as he knelt before his tormentor (savior?) and tried to understand what has happening to him. How had Faramir turned from killer to protector so quickly? Was he not about to die after all? And what was this about brothers? In his confusion and distress, he almost lost the significance of the moment, but then suddenly the choice laid before him became plain: Give his life over to Faramir, his ranger-brother, or take it back and sever completely the ties he could build between them tonight. Either way, he now knew he would not die; no one here was trying to kill him. To enter this brotherhood he must give them everything he was or remain forever an outsider. It all seemed so simple. How could he have lost his path?
Faramir was speaking again. "I know you cannot answer with words, but if you desire what is offered, remain still. Accept the darkness, knowing we will bring you back to us. If you do not wish to continue, fall to your side and we will release you. No one is holding you now."
It was true. Legolas could no longer feel the hands on his arms or even Faramir's breath on his cheek. He was isolated in the middle of the cavern while the men waited for his decision. They knew what it meant to be where the elf was now; the confusion, the pain, the almost overwhelming inability to think clearly and knowing you must trust yourself to react without due consideration. It was almost as much a trial of faith in yourself as faith in others.
Legolas knew how to have faith in himself. He bent all his will to remaining upright as long as possible, then slowly slid to the floor as blackness enveloped him.