Part Three – Elessar.
With thanks to Raksha and Virtuella.
"The Lord of the Rings", its characters and settings are J.R.R. Tolkien's marvellous idea. No offence is intended nor will money be made.
Aragorn sat alone in his tent, having dismissed the well intentioned offers of his friends and foster brothers to help him divest himself of his armour and remain with him. He buried his head in his hands. He wanted to weep, but dared not, fearing that if he permitted himself to do so, the tears would never stop flowing.
Halbarad was dead. Never again would he ride beside the kinsman he had loved dearly as a brother, never again would they lie side by side beneath the stars when out on patrol, discussing their hopes and dreams for their people while Eärendil journeyed across the night sky. It was his dream of being king that had killed his cousin. Bearing Aragorn's royal standard aloft, Halbarad had presented all too easy a target for the Southron who had cut him down.
They had won one battle, but the throne seemed further away than ever, and with it the prospect of Arwen's hand in marriage. What dreams he had shared with Halbarad! Aragorn had often told his cousin how he planned to rule with both justice and mercy. With Arwen as his wife and Halbarad as his chief advisor they would make both Arnor and Gondor great once more. Not only would he be a king, but a healer too, using all the Elven arts that Master Elrond had taught him, together with all he had learned on his travels to succour his people's ills.
Aragorn laughed bitterly. Was he even a worthy healer, never mind a worthy would be king? He had been powerless to heal Frodo, and had barely been able to keep him alive until Master Elrond could remove the shard of the Enemy's weapon that had wounded him. What use had his healing arts been to Halbarad today? He fingered the green gem that he wore on his breast. How his heart had soared when Lady Galadriel had given it to him as a bride gift. It was said that the hands of the one who rightfully held it could bring healing from all hurt. Little good had it done Halbarad when he received the Southron's mortal blow! Maybe it was better to concentrate on being a warrior? Andúril could be better trusted to deal death to his foes than his healing abilities to give life to those he loved.
Halbarad had believed in him and encouraged him to believe that one day he would wear the crown of both Gondor and Arnor and win Arwen's hand in marriage. Halbarad had faith that Aragorn would restore the lost glory of their people. Those dreams now seemed to be turning to dust and ashes.
"Aragorn!" Gandalf's voice roused him from his reverie.
"I am sore weary, old friend, and would be alone," Aragorn replied.
The Wizard ignored his request and entered the tent. "I know you are weary and heart sore," said Gandalf. "I would leave you to your rest, save that the lives of two dear to me are ebbing away even as we speak."
"Gondor has many fine healers, unless matters have changed greatly for the worse since I was last here," said Aragorn. "Why do you come to me?"
Gandalf regarded his friend gravely. "Only the healing hands of the rightful King can cure the Black Breath," he replied. "Faramir, son of Denethor, Meriadoc the Hobbit and Lady Éowyn, as well as many others lie stricken with this foul malady. Their only hope of life lies with you, Aragorn."
Aragorn laughed mirthlessly. "The rightful heir I might well be, but I am far from being king! Should I even attempt to enter the City, Denethor would send me packing unless I resisted him by force of arms!"
"Denethor is dead. He chose to take his own life by fire and attempted to take Faramir with him," Gandalf said grimly. "There is none left to oppose your entry into Minas Tirith."
Aragorn received the tidings in stunned silence. "I had little love for Denethor," he said at last, "But never would I have expected this of him. He was a skilled warrior and a master of lore."
"The Enemy destroyed his mind," said Gandalf. "But there is no time for speech. I beg of you to come, or Faramir will most surely die, albeit of the Black Breath rather than by his father's hand. Faramir is one of the finest men who dwell upon Arda and Gondor has need of such men, as do you. And would you let Meriadoc perish, or the unhappy Lady Éowyn?"
"I will come, but only because you beg me too, old friend," said Aragorn. "I will try to help the sick, but I know not if sufficient power over the Black Breath lies within my hands."
Within the hour Aragorn had swiftly examined Faramir, Lady Éowyn and Merry. He ascertained that they were indeed suffering from the Black Breath. His heart desired to first aid Merry, but although the Hobbit was grievously ill, he was not yet close to death, unlike the Steward's son, Faramir. There was something strange about the case, as the young man burned with fever, which was most unusual for sufferers from the Black Breath, who usually were cold and silent. Neither did the fever come from Faramir's wound, which showed no sign of infection or poison. It had been inflicted by a Southron arrow and was the type of injury that Aragorn had treated many times. Shoulder injuries were rarely mortal, but could cause lifelong pain if not treated properly. At present, that mattered not at all, though, for Faramir's life force was almost spent. His pulse was weak and rapid and his breaths were becoming less frequent with every moment that passed. To make matters worse there was no athelas to be had anywhere. Aragorn wondered just how low the healing lore of Gondor had fallen if they did not keep athelas in store. It was as essential a healing herb as dandelion, comfrey, or foxglove.
He studied the sick man's face. How like Denethor he was, as he remembered him from his time here long ago! When he had examined the young man he had half expected to hear Denethor's proud voice protesting at his presence and see the dark eyes smoulder with fury that Thorongil had returned, but Faramir made neither sound nor movement and was oblivious of his presence.
Aragorn realised that Faramir's spirit was wandering and he would have to enter a healing trance to try to bring him back. Over the years he had used this skill of his forefathers many times, but never without athelas. He thought wistfully of the first time he had deliberately attempted a healing trace and wished he were back with Halbarad in that dark and quiet room in his Aunt Inzilbeth's cottage.
In the Houses of Healing the oil lamps burned brightly and Faramir's chamber was crowded with eager watchers. Some like Gandalf trusted his abilities, while others either expected him to perform some sort of magic or to fail dismally. If truth be told, he had little confidence in his own abilities at this moment. Éomer alone, despite his fears for his sister, seemed to understand just how weary and heart sore he was. A severe case of the Black Breath needed a healer with the skills of Master Elrond, the eldest of their race. Master Elrond had taught his pupil how to treat the Black Breath, but Aragorn had limited experience of it, as it was mercifully far from a common malady.
Aragorn took a deep breath, trying to ignore the weariness that threatened to overwhelm him even before he had begun. He knelt beside Faramir and took the dying man's limp hand his own and placed his other hand on Faramir's brow and prepared to enter a healing trance. "Faramir!" he called, "Faramir!"
The room started to spin and a thick mist swirled before Aragorn's eyes. When it cleared he was no longer in the crowded sickroom in the Houses of Healing, but in a hideous dark vale, more fearsome than any place he had travelled to before, either in the real world or the spirit realm. The air was foul and hot. An eerie black sun gave off a sickly glow. No stars shone in this place. He seemed to be in some sort of thorny labyrinth, strewn with the bodies of the slain. Foul monsters hovered, seeking to pounce on anything that appeared to move. It took all of Aragorn's considerable courage not to leave this land of nightmares while he yet could and abandon Denethor's son to his fate. Instead he drew Andúril and cut down the creatures that assailed him, all the while calling Faramir's name. There was no sign of any living man in this dreadful place.
Aragorn clutched at the green gem secured to his cloak, trying to call upon the power that he had been told the stone held. Then the mists swirled again and cleared and he could see a man a little way ahead of him, stumbling painfully through the thorns towards a bright light that had appeared. Quickening his pace, he caught up with him and grasped his hand. "Faramir!" he cried. "I have been seeking you."
Faramir started as if fearful some fiend had caught up with him. He then turned and looked at Aragorn and appeared reassured.
"Come with me," Aragorn said. The path beneath his feet suddenly became steeper.
"I should like to, lord," said Faramir. "I fear I am sore weary, though, and I do not know the way. Boromir is waiting for me yonder."
"I will lead you safely home if you will come with me," said Aragorn. "Lean on me, I will not let you fall or lose your footing."
"Why do you trouble yourself over me, lord?" asked Faramir. "Who are you that shines like a star in this foul place? Are you one of the Valar?"
Aragorn could not help but laugh. "I am no Valar, but Aragorn, son of Arathorn," he said.
Faramir looked at Aragorn again and exclaimed. "I know you, lord! Long have I dreamed of your coming that the White Tree might blossom anew! Now I can die content."
"You shall not die," said Aragorn, wondering as he spoke how he could keep that promise. The path grew steeper by the moment and with his free hand, he was forced to defend them both against more and more shadowy fiends. He grew ever more weary and his strength ebbed from him. He needed athelas if they were to leave this place alive. Why was it taking so long to find it?
Then a boy's voice called "It is kingsfoil, Sir!"
Recalled to the waking world, Aragorn stood up and took two leaves in his hands and crushed them into a bowl of steaming water one of the healers had ready. At once the scent filled the stuffy chamber. Refreshed, Aragorn smiled as he held the bowl in front of Faramir's face. Almost at once Faramir's eyes flickered open and he gazed at Aragorn, his eyes full of love and awe.
"My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?" Faramir asked.
Renewed strength and resolve filled Aragorn. He had succeeded in his hardest task yet as a healer! He had successfully bent his will to heal after a day of killing. Faramir had hailed him as both healer and king. Maybe it was indeed his destiny to be both? Today he had dealt death to many and watched many die, including Halbarad. How much more satisfying it felt to be able to save lives, rather than see good men die! How blessed he was that the power of healing ran in his bloodline just as surely as skill on the battlefield. He was the rightful bearer not only of Andúril, but also of the Elessar. And how fortunate he was that he had been taught his skills by the greatest healer of the Age.
He smiled encouragingly at Faramir and love sprang between them. "Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!" he told him. "You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return."
Aragorn took his leave of Faramir and went to heal lady Éowyn and Merry. Then as word spread around the City of Faramir's miraculous recovery others begged him to heal them and the word soon spread, 'The King is come again indeed."
Aragorn's journey as healer was complete. His journey as king was just beginning.