Estel and Legolas thought to bring aid and comfort to Faramir when he failed to appear at the break of fast but on reaching his quarters they found only Tamir.
"I'm sorry, Sire but if you wanted Lord Faramir you have missed him," the young Adjutant explained after offering a salute.
"I am surprised he is even conscious yet, given the state he was in last evening," Legolas commented.
"Was my Lord ill, Sir?"
"Not ill, but by the time I dragged him from the Ancient Mariner he was all but senseless," the Elf explained.
"He was there last night!" Tamir exclaimed in disbelief, checking the previous day's entry in the Stewards diary. "I don't understand. . . ."
"How did he seem this morning?" the King asked the worried youngster, kindly.
"Rather pale and quiet. . .and when I asked him about this. . .well, he was clearly rather shocked," Tamir picked up an arrow from the desk and held it out to them. It appeared to be a standard arrow except that it was fletched with pure white feathers.
"And this was all?" Legolas asked, examining the arrow but finding no other marks upon it.
"It had a piece of ribbon or cloth tied around it. . .Lord Faramir looked at it and then tucked it into his sleeve. . .I'm afraid I didn't manage to see what was written on it, Sir."
"And where is Lord Faramir now, Tamir?" the King enquired.
"He asked me to cancel his morning engagements and said he had something important to do."
It was midmorning before Faramir requested an audience with the King but rather than being shown into the audience chamber he was ushered into Arwen's solar.
"Forgive the intrusion, Sire but may I speak with you," Faramir asked formally.
Faramir, you look dreadful!" Arwen exclaimed before Estel could reply, pushing him down into an easy chair by the fire. "Unless this is a matter of life and death then it must wait. Have you eaten?" she asked, noting his pallor and the slight tremor of his hands.
"My Lady, please. . ." he begged but she was adamant and neither Estel nor Legolas seemed keen to interfere.
"Legolas would you ask the Page to organise a tray for Lord Faramir and, Estel, do you still have that draught you prepared for our young friend earlier?" Faramir was powerless to evade her ministrations; she had tucked his arm through hers and held him in place.
"My Lady, there is no need. . ."
"Hush, Faramir. Whatever is afoot will wait until we have seen to your ease." Faramir admitted defeat in the face of her determination. He swallowed Estel's potion and did indeed feel better for a cup of tea and a snack of warm bread and honey.
"Now, Faramir, would you like to tell us what has occurred to cause you such unease," Legolas began, "for it is only two days ago that you were expressing to me how happy you were and now that contentment has vanished."
It took Faramir a moment before he was ready to answer and when he finally spoke his response surprised his audience. "I am beginning to fear for my sanity!" he explained.
"Oh, Faramir," Arwen hugged the subdued Steward, "you are the most sensitive and astute man I have ever met! What has happened?"
"I have seen a dead man walking. . .and I fear it is no benevolent spirit!"
"Have you been threatened?" Estel demanded.
"Not in so many words but I have seen the phantom twice and he or it gained access to my study."
"Start at the beginning, Faramir and let us try to unravel this mystery."
"I saw him first in the crowd at the memorial ceremony. . .I recognised the face and the stance but when I looked back he was gone. . .and I realised that I must have been mistaken because the man I thought I recognised was dead."
"And that night?" Arwen queried.
"That night I dreamt of Henneth Annun and I saw him as he was when I first joined that brigade."
"And the man who knocked you over?" Legolas asked
"Him again. . .at least I thought it was, though I never got to see his face clearly. . .and he spoke to me. . .he told me to 'remember the rangers'. He also tucked an unfinished arrow into my boot."
"So last evening you slipped away to see your old Rangers to see if they could help you to unravel this mystery."
"Yes, but they only confirmed what I had thought. One of them had seen him fall at Osgiliath. . .he was not amongst those who joined the retreat. He is listed as dead. . .that's where I went today, to check the honour roll with Lord Hurin. Anborn is dead, he was killed at Osgiliath . . .and yet. . ."
"And what about the arrow you found on your desk?" Arwen asked.
"It was there when Tamir reported for duty but none of the house staff nor the guards can account for how it got there. . .and this was tied around it," Faramir drew a ribbon of cloth from his sleeve and smoothed it out until they could all see the word 'TRAITOR' scrawled across the grubby fabric.
"Faramir, while I have no difficulty in believing in ghosts, especially given our encounter with the Army of the Dead, I do not believe that your stalker is a phantom. The man who knocked you down was of flesh and blood. . .Do you believe it to be Anborn?"
"My head tells me it is impossible but my heart. . . Why, if it is Anborn, has he only now revealed himself to me? Why has he not sought out his friends? The Rangers were the only family he had, he lived for Gondor and the Rangers. . .and why does he accuse me of being a traitor? We were friends. . .he taught me all I know about being a Ranger."
"The war damaged many things and many people in ways we cannot even begin to comprehend. We need to find this man, whether it is Anborn or not, and seek out his intent," Estel explained.
"He has, as yet, offered me no harm, but if I am his target and he holds a grudge against me then I endanger you all by my presence," Faramir asserted
"You are well guarded, Faramir and now that we know to be on alert, the security in and around he citadel will be strengthened," Estel assured him.
"He got into my chambers without detection! . . .I would request your permission to remove myself from the city, Sire."
"Out of the question. No!" Estel's response was unequivocal
"Where would you go, Faramir?" Arwen asked, attempting to diffuse the sudden tension in the room
"To Osgiliath. That is where my search must begin and if I find no sign of him there then I will extend my search to the refuges in Ithilien."
"Why not begin your search in the city? Surely that would be a better place to start," Arwen offered.
"If it is indeed Anborn, or any other of the lost Rangers, then I do not believe they can have been resident in the city for the past year, undetected. Anborn's home was Ithilien and he was lost at Osgiliath. . .I will start my search there."
"I will not allow it, Faramir. You are too important to Gondor to risk on such a mission. There are others who can take on the task. . .Beregond or Damrod could easily lead such a mission. I can not risk you," Estel asserted, his voice sharpened by his concern.
"And I cannot allow others to take on a risk I am not prepared to face!" Faramir answered, equally sharply. "Besides, I know those lands better that anyone and he is more likely to reveal himself to me. . .it is obviously me he has an issue with . .though I cannot imagine what I have done to warrant his wrath."
"Regardless, I still say no. I will not countenance such a scheme," Estel asserted, giving Faramir no option but to let the matter drop, though it was clear to all present that he was unhappy with the ruling.
"If you will excuse me, Sire, I have neglected my duties for far too long this day." He bowed to Arwen and nodded a salute to the King before turning on his heel and leaving.
"Perhaps there is another option," Legolas offered to break the awkward silence that settled over the occupants after Faramir's frosty departure. "Why do you not permit me and your brothers to accompany our Steward on his quest for this man? Between us we will be able to keep him safe if the man's intentions do turn to violence."
"But Elladan and Elrohir are planning to travel back to Arnor to rejoin the Dúnedain," Arwen explained.
"I'm sure they would delay their departure for a week or two, especially if they sense this venture offers them some action. They have been fretting about lacking a role now that the lands are no longer threatened by the enemy's minions."
"I will put the matter to them when they return for supper and if they agree we will discuss the matter with Faramir and decide how to proceed." Estel conceded.
Osgiliath was a ruined shell; the destruction had gone too far to be repaired. The only structure to have been rebuilt was the bridge that spanned the river. But there were still many workers employed to clear away the rubble and to salvage whatever could be utilised in the renovations of Minas Tirith and the ruined dwellings on the Pelenor and in building the new garrison in Emyn Arnen for the White Company. Faramir and his Elven escort stayed the night on the outskirts of the worker's encampment but their enquiries elicited no positive information of the man they sought. Nor did the ruined city give up any secrets; even a year after the battle bodies were still being discovered as piles of stone and rubble were cleared but the foreman's records were of no help.
As they moved into Ithilien the Elves gave Faramir the lead as he was the authority on the territory. As they had agreed with Estel, they planned to base themselves in the abandoned refuge in Henneth Annun and from there to search the land for the phantom Ranger. Faramir half expected the man to be
using the refuge himself as it was the most well equipped of all the Ranger's hideout; they checked every cavern within the refuge but there was no sign that anyone had been using the base.
While Elladan and Elrohir set about coaxing a blaze in the central fire pit, Legolas and Faramir scavenged the supply caves.
"Have you thought about what to do if we find this man, Faramir?"Legolas asked as they watched the last flashes of the sunset through the waterfall.
"I hope that a discussion will be enough for there to be an understanding between us. I wish him no harm and, if it is Anborn, then I would wish to restore him to his comrades. . .he was a good and loyal friend to me and a fine soldier, I would like to understand what has happened to him and why he has not come home. He is owed an honourable pension and he deserves recognition for his services to Gondor."
"And if it is not Anborn?"
"Then I still need to know who he is and what his grievance is with me."
Over three days they checked out a dozen sites used by the Rangers; some were caves, some flet-like platforms set high amongst the foliage of forest trees and two were little more than tumbled boulders piled together by rock-falls in ages past. They also searched the ruined farmsteads that littered the land. They found no sign of the man they sought.
On the fourth morning Elladan and Elrohir left the refuge before dawn to fish downstream from the Forbidden Pool to supplement their dwindling supplies. Leaving Faramir to sleep, Legolas climbed the long stairway out of the refuge to attend to the horses.
The Ranger had not lost his skills nor his cunning, though his mind was mired in dark thoughts and imaginings. He knew little of the passage of days or weeks; he functioned mostly on instinct, scavenging
and hunting just enough to keep himself alive. He had brief flashes of lucidity but mostly all he knew was despair.
Pain was his only constant companion. Pain and a growing hatred of the one who had betrayed him. . .who had betrayed them all.
He had planned well. For three days he watched the comings and goings of the Ranger and the three Elves from his hiding place overlooking the entrance of the refuge. He waited patiently until he could get the traitor alone. He watched as the three Elves left the refuge and grasped the opportunity to implement his plan. He crept from his hiding place and descended the long flight of steps, allowing the pain in his crippled leg and his simmering anger to keep him focussed on his task. He closed in on his quarry, finding the traitor asleep, cocooned in blankets by the embers of the fire. The sound of the waterfall masked his approach.
Faramir stood no chance against the assailant; by the time he was fully awake he found himself pinned on his front with a knee in his back and his hands tied behind his back. As he opened his mouth to call out a wad of cloth was forced into his mouth, gagging any sound and making it a struggle to breath. His panic increased as a hood was pulled down over his face and his ankles were bound together. The assailant dragged his subdued prisoner by his heels through the refuge in to a storage cavern and thence into a tiny niche, the entrance to which was concealed by shadow. On the initial search of the caverns, Faramir had checked this cavern; the Elves were unaware of its existence. Bound and gagged and dazed Faramir was unable to struggle and his assailant left him briefly, returning to the main cavern to pack up and remove Faramir's pack and weapons and scuffing out the drag marks on the sandy cavern floor. When he returned to his prisoner he squeezed in beside him and waited.
The three Elves made no attempt at stealth as they returned to the cavern. At the sound of their voices Faramir felt the edge of a blade pressed against his throat. He heard the playful calls of the Elves turn to concern as the realised that he was missing. From beneath the stifling hood Faramir couldn't see the flare of torchlight as the Elves searched the caverns for him but he did feel the bite of the blade pressed more firmly against his skin and he forced down the panic that made his breathing a struggle.
After what seemed like an eternity he heard the Elves' discussion as they concluded that he was not in the caverns and had slipped past them to continue the search on his own. They gathered their own belongings and left to search for their errant Steward in the woods of Ithilien.
When he was sure the Elves had departed the assailant dragged Faramir from his hiding place and into the main cavern. He forced Faramir up onto his knees and retied his hands above his head, securing his bonds to a hook in the wall before frisking the Steward and retrieving the small dagger from his boots. Only then did the assailant remove the hood and allow Faramir to see his face.
Faramir recognised Anborn at once; though the sad wrecked figure held little resemblance to the friend he had last seen at Osgiliath. For the briefest of moments their eyes met but the moment was shattered as a hand flashed towards him and his head was knocked sideways by the strength of the blow.
It was the word more than the blow that made his eyes water. He shook his head both to clear it and to deny the accusation, unable to voice his denial by the gag that kept him mute.
Faramir lost track of how long he knelt there as Anborn raged at him. As the former Ranger prowled the confines of the cavern with pained, agitated steps Faramir caught a glimpse of his ruined features, the bubbled scarred contours made more grotesque by the flickering torchlight. Faramir could make out little of the man's incoherent raving but the threat of violence was always present; several times Anborn forced the knife up against his throat.
Unable to communicate with his assailant, Faramir was rapidly losing hope of ever escaping his tormentor. Behind the gag he was desperately thirsty and when Anborn took a swig from his canteen Faramir could only plead with his eyes for relief.
"A last drink for the condemned man!" Anborn hissed, even as he removed the gag and tipped the container. Most of the water sloshed down Faramir's chin but enough went into his mouth that he could swallow and ease his parched throat.
"For what am I to be condemned, Anborn?" Faramir croaked. "How have I offended against you, my friend?"
"Traitor! Traitor! TRAITOR!" the man yelled, punctuating each repetition with a stinging slap.
It was at that moment that Faramir caught a hint of movement from the shadow of the stairway behind Anborn's back. With an almost imperceptible shake of his head and a silently mouthed 'hold' he hoped to delay his Elven rescuers until he had elicited Anborn's motivation for his assault.
"Anborn," Faramir focussed his attention onto his captor, "Anborn, even a condemned man has a right to know what he is convicted of?"
"Steward's orders. . .Killer. . .hold Osgiliath. . .Our duty. . .Hold the River. Steward's orders. . .mad man's orders. . ." Anborn raved. . ."So many dead. . .Steward's orders!"
Faramir could have wept but he held back his grief. Now he understood Anborn's delusion. . .the broken man thought Faramir, The Steward, was the one who had sent the Brigade to it's doom, had deliberately sent the men to their deaths, that his friends and Captain had fallen to the enemy to avenge the Steward's spite. His poor, demented mind did not recognise Faramir, he could see only his title.
"Anborn, who am I? What is my name?" Faramir asked
"Steward!" Anborn spat, " You sent us to die!"
"Anborn, look at me," Faramir ordered, his voice taking on the authority of command. When the man returned his gaze Faramir continued more gently. "Anborn, I am your friend, your commander. I am Faramir."
"You Lie!" Captain Faramir fell to the enemy. . .He called the retreat when we were overrun. . .he tried to save us. . .I heard the enemy cheer when he fell."
"I fell to an arrow as we retreated but I was rescued by the Swan Knights, by my Uncle. I am the Steward now, Anborn but I am Faramir, who you once nicknamed 'Cub'. My father, Steward Denethor is dead, Anborn, he died during the siege."
"You are the Steward. . .traitor."
"I am Faramir, your friend," Faramir asserted as Anborn dropped to his knees and began to tear at his hair. "Brave Anborn, do you know me now?" Faramir asked gently and as the two men locked eyes Anborn, in a brief moment of clarity echoed 'my friend'.
The Elves moved in swiftly. Legolas released Faramir as the twins took charge of Anborn. But he put up no resistance; all the fight had gone out of him in that moment of recognition.
Legolas anxiously checked his friend for injuries but he had taken no great harm; his face and wrists were bruised and there was a thin rivulet of dried blood on his neck. Impatiently shaking off the concern of his friend, Faramir moved to crouch before his kneeling assailant but his former comrade had retreated back into the darkness of his shadowed mind. The ruined features were blank and the eyes dead. Faramir looked to Elladan for explanation.
"He is a sick man, my friend. He is fevered and malnourished and in great pain and I can only hazard a guess as to what ails his mind," the Elf explained sadly.
"Is he battle sundered?" Faramir asked, "There are many men whose spirits were broken by what they experienced in the conflict. Is that what ails him?"
"The blow that caused his facial injuries may have injured his mind. . .but I believe you have personal experience of what ails his spirit," Elladan explained sadly. "I helped Estel with the injured in the aftermath of the battle of the Pelennor. I believe this poor wretch remains under the influence of the Black Breath."
"Can you help him?"
"Not here and not without Estel's assistance; only he has the gifts to counter the fell influence."
"Then we must take him back to the city with all haste."
"Faramir, this man would have killed you!"
"He is sick, Legolas. He spent all his life fighting for Gondor and I left him to die. I will not abandon him again. He is my friend."
The funeral for Anborn was a quiet affair; Damrod, Mablung, Forrel and the few former Ranger's who still resided in the city came to pay their respects as Faramir stood by the grave in the company of Estel and Gimli and the three Elves.
Estel and Elladan had battled for two days to save the stricken Ranger but the darkness afflicting his spirit was too firmly entrenched to be overcome, even by the King's healing skills or the potent effect of Athelas. When Elladan assisted an exhausted Estel from the sick man's chamber, Faramir knew that the battle had been lost. He slipped away to the Hallows to grieve for his friend and for all the other Rangers whose lives had helped to bring victory.
He grieved alone, too bereft to allow healing tears to fall or even to commune with Boromir and share the burden of another loss.
"He is at peace," Legolas whispered, his hands on Faramir's shoulders, turning the grieving man to face him.
"He deserved more! He deserved better!" Faramir ground out, bitterly.
"Yes, he did. But you are not responsible for his death, Faramir."
"I abandoned him and so many others. How do I live with that knowledge?"
"You did your best to save as many as possible. You could not save them all. . .you are but one man."
"Thank you for your company, Legolas, but I would like to be alone now," Faramir said stiffly, turning from his friend back to face his brother's tomb.
"No. You have been long enough alone. Damrod has organised a gathering in the Ancient Mariner to toast Anborn's memory and I have been tasked with seeing you get there and get home safely afterwards."
"Thank you, but I am not fit for company."
"Is that so!" Legolas had no difficulty in picking Faramir off his feet and draping him across his shoulders, his wrists secured in one hand and his knees in the other.
"Legolas, put me down." Faramir's attempts to struggle were totally ineffectual but he continued regardless.
"Aye, sometimes you stubborn humans do not know what is best for you. You must allow those of us who are older and wiser to guide you."
"Legolas , I demand that you put. . .me. . .down!"
"I will accede to your wishes when we get down to our destination."
"Please, Legolas. . .I'll behave. I'll do what you wish, I promise but please put me down," Faramir begged, accepting defeat in the face of his friends determination.
"Very well," Legolas conceded as they approached the gateway out of the Hallows. He dropped Faramir to his feet but kept an anchoring arm across his shoulders.
From the balcony of their chambers, Estel and Arwen watched as the two friends began the long descent down to the second circle.
"I fear this has been a major set-back for Faramir," Arwen said sadly.
"A set back, but I hope not a major one, not if he accepts the help and support of those around him," Estel offered. "It would have been easier for him if we had been able to learn something of Anborn's story but the poor man was too far gone into darkness. . .he never uttered a word and I could learn nothing of how he had survived for this past year," The healer King explained sadly.
Will Faramir be alright?" Arwen asked.
"No doubt he will require a hangover cure come morning but Legolas will keep him safe and it will do him good to spend some more time with his Rangers remembering their lost comrades. He will find it easier to accept his losses if he speaks about them."
Arwen nodded in agreement and then a sudden worry crossed her normally tranquil features. "And who will keep Legolas safe?" she enquired with a grin.
"Gimli is already down at the Inn and I heard him putting our Elven Prince on notice before he went to retrieve Faramir. The twins and I will wander down later. Between us we should be able to keep the youngsters in order."
Arwen's raised eyebrow gave an indication of her thoughts on the matter "In that case I will forewarn the duty guard and make up an extra large batch of that hangover cure!"