"Why must you do this to yourself, Faramir?"

crack

"How do you persist in being such a failure?"

crack

"What a waste. such a shame you're so worthless, Faramir."

A caress. Blood smearing.

"You must be taught, Faramir. I'm so sorry its come to this, but you just. won't. learn!

"We will teach you to listen to those in charge, Faramir.

"This is for your own good."

Underground, in a dark, damp chamber, Faramir let out a tiny whimper. Twin tears rolled down his cheeks as his body curled vulnerably into itself.

And the King watching over him felt his heart break.

Imrahil's face was set as he swept furiously down the corridors of the citadel towards his office. The White City had never felt so ominous. For the last five months, it had reflected the peace and prosperity brought to the land through the reign of King Elessar.

Now, it seemed as though every crevice and shadow concealed a potential threat.

Imrahil entered his office and swung the travelling cloak from his shoulders. He found his mind beginning to make contingency plans, plans for worst-case scenarios.

His musings were brought to a screeching halt, however, as he rounded the desk and found an unaddressed, tri-folded sheaf of parchment propped against the reading lamp.

Studiously ignoring the shaking of his hand, Imrahil reached for the note.

Lord Imrahil

I am sure by now you have realized your grave folly. Consider this a confirmation of such. Welcome to our little game, Lord Imrahil, and pray to the Valar you perform to expectations. Do so, and you might receive your prize.

I have the King and his Steward. Your Lord and your nephew. They are quite well hidden, so I would recommend not running off on a wild, perversely heroic chase; you would not find them, and who knows what might happen to them in the meantime.

Time is of the essence, Lord Imrahil; I will be in contact shortly. In the meantime, contemplate your options—I am sure you will make the right decision.

Imrahil slammed both palms on the desk in absolute frustration, then raged to his feet and began furiously pacing the room.

His nephew and the King. Taken. Gone. And now this blasted note, taunting him and his inability to act.

Imrahil made a particularly sharp turn and swept back to his desk, snatching the not up on his pass to the window.

Scanning the thing again, he attempted to look at it objectively, though it was next to worthless.

His gut was still screaming at him—whether or not this sheaf of parchment contained worthwhile information was inconsequential at this point in time. As it stood though, the only people who possessed the information or resources necessary for this involved a plot had to be in the upper levels of the government. And where better to begin the search for potential conspirators than with those the King was most wary of—the High Council.

The days blended together. In the lightless stone cell, time held no meaning and yet, far too much. For Aragorn and Faramir, all they could do was wait—for their next pseudo "meal," the next glass of water, the next beating and interrogation, for the other to regain consciousness after the fact. Yet even these markers came with no regularity.

And so king and steward were lost to all but themselves and their captors

Thus, neither was expecting anything different when the door slammed open and Ciaran came striding into the cell like basalt over water, wearing an expression like a cat that caught the canary; Nassur was on his heels and three soldiers blocked the open door.

"Gentlemen," Ciaran addressed them grandly as though they were in the throne room of Minas Tirith. "I am so pleased to inform you that you have now been guests here in excess of two weeks!"

Faramir and Aragorn eyed him warily from their positions against the walls.

"And what, pray tell, is the significance of that?" Aragorn demanded. His voice was still quite hoarse from when a soldier had held him against the wall by his throat, strangling him while he was beaten.

"Why my dear King!" Ciaran chimed, far more happily than the situation deemed appropriate. "It means we are now moving on to the next phase – rehabilitation."

Nassur and the soldiers closed into the room, and as one lethal unit, lunged from Faramir.

The next few moments were a blur of blinding panic. The soldiers were shouting, Aragorn crying out his protest, Faramir a blaze of manic energy as he first desperately tried to evade the four men, and then in trying to escape them.

But the soldiers were like a solid wall, unyielding in the face of either Aragorn or Faramir's struggles, weakened as they were by little food and cruel treatment.

Finally, Nassur simply hoisted a still-resisting Faramir over his shoulder and, as was inevitable, removed him from the cell.

Before the door slammed shut and timeless darkness returned, Aragorn paid witness to Faramir's desperate, terrified eyes, gazing hopelessly at him through the knot of soldiers.