The Price of Duty
"Faramir! No, you will not take my son from me! Faramir!" Wizened hands reached towards him even as hot orange flames overcame his father's face. "My son!" Denethor's cry ended in a tortured sound. The heat seared his face as he instinctively recoiled from the fire.
"Father!" Faramir's eyes flew open, straining to pierce the darkness of the third watch. He sat up trying to catch his breath as his heart continued to pound. His nightshirt clung to the sweat on the back of his neck. The newest Steward of Gondor slowly slid out from under the bedcovers, thankful that on this night, his intended was in Rohan. He wrapped a robe around himself and padded barefoot out onto the balcony over looking Emyn Arnen. The late night breeze was cool on his sweat-beaded forehead. Across the valley, Ithil sank slowly, its full face silver against the darkness of the night. Faramir trembled slightly as he recalled the vividness of his dream. He still wondered at times if the images were actual memories stored in his unconsciousness or if he was simply reacting to the story he had been told shortly before he had taken up his authority in the white city. His eyes closed as he brought to mind the events surrounding his learning of the truth of his father's death.
"Please, Mithrandir. I must know. How did my father die?" Faramir's grey eyes showed both the depths of his pain and the intensity of his desire. "I walk amongst gardens that should bring me peace but my soul cannot find rest. The healers avoid my presence and refuse to look me in the eye. When I ask of my father, they suddenly find other matters to occupy them." He paused to take a deep, shuddering breath. "I do not know if the pictures that haunt my dreams are real or just horrid images."
The wizard sighed softly. "What do you see Faramir?"
"I don't actually see anything. It is more of a sense that everything around me is aflame. I feel the heat searing my face and I cannot escape it. I hear my father calling my name yet I can neither see nor touch him. The flames grow more intense and Father calls my name once more before everything goes black and I awaken in here in my bed." The young man's words were soft and hesitant. His eyes were bright with unshed tears and his hands shook as he gripped the sheets, obviously fighting for control.
Gandalf sighed again, knowing that he could no longer hide the truth. "When your father learned of your injuries, he finally lost his wits. He sat by your bedside until at last, convinced that you were beyond hope, he ordered you carried to the Silent Street. He intended to burn both himself and you on a funeral pyre. Pippen, Beregond and I were able to save you, but Denethor succumbed to his madness and died by his own hand in the fire of his making." He gripped his friend's shoulder in support as the wounded man began to weep.
Faramir felt fresh tears sliding unhindered down his face as his thoughts returned to the present. In the few months since the coronation, his dream had plagued his sleep no less than five times. Something though was different in this waking. He felt a strong pull towards the Morgul Vale; a pull that he could neither explain nor ignore. He turned his gaze toward the silhouette of Minas Tirith, wondering not for the first time if Aragorn was a man in whom he could confide.
Early morning's light found him saddling his horse, the captain of his guard at his side. Beregond glanced over at his friend, noting both the weariness of his shoulders and the dark circles under his eyes. "What troubles you, milord?" His voice was gentle and quiet in the stillness of the stable. "I know that this trip was not intended until later in the week."
Faramir shook his head. "I do not wish to burden you with knowledge that I myself do not understand."
Beregond straightened up from where he was checking his mount's girth strap. "Faramir, you are my prince and yet you are more than that. You are my friend. Please know that I would gladly help you carry this burden. You are not walking through this life alone." He placed a gentle hand on the prince's arm. "Share your concerns with me." The muscles under his touch trembled as Faramir fought to maintain his control. He raised tortured grey eyes to meet the concerned ones of the White Guard Captain.
"I cannot explain, my friend. I simply ask you to trust me." He whispered hoarsely, his voice thick with emotion.
"I trust you with my life, my prince." Beregond said firmly as he mounted his horse. "Now let us make haste to Minas Tirith."
Aragorn was relaxing in his study, enjoying a few moments of much needed privacy, when a soft knock intruded on his thoughts. "Enter." He called as he looked up from his book. A look of surprise crossed his lean face as his steward hesitantly stepped across the threshold.
"May I speak with you milord?" Faramir murmured softly, his eyes lowered in deference to his lord.
"Certainly, Prince Faramir." The king matched the younger man's formal tone. "Please have a seat." He gestured to a nearby chair. "Would you care for a draught of wine or some refreshment?"
"Just some wine." Faramir accepted the goblet handed him, still not meeting the king's eye.
"Now, what brings you to the city early? I wasn't expecting you until two or three days hence." Aragorn sat on the edge of the couch, elbows on his knees, his gaze focused on the younger man before him.
Faramir turned the goblet in shaking hands. His breath quickened and his heart pounded as he contemplated how to speak to the king. The room painfully reminded him of another time when he had brought a dream before his father. He forced himself to take a deep calming breath, focusing instead on the fact that this man had never treated him with anything less than respect. "I have been having disturbing dreams of late." He spoke with more confidence than he felt. "I see my father burning before my eyes. He calls my name but I cannot see him." He felt the grief welling up in his breast and he clenched his jaw to maintain a grip on his emotions. Suddenly, there was a gentle hand on his shoulder and he looked up into the concerned eyes of his lord. There was encouragement and pity in Aragorn's face. Faramir swallowed hard before continuing on in a hushed voice. "This time when I awoke, I felt a dire need to ride to the Morgul Vale. I do not know what draws me there nor do I know what awaits me. The last time that I felt this strongly was when my brother and I had dreamed of Imladris."
"How long has this dream plagued you?" Aragorn asked, his left hand remaining on his steward's shoulder as his right drew a chair closer so that he could sit down.
"Five times since your coronation, milord but it did not start until after I began to restore Emyn Arnen. It is as though my ancestral home has had some adverse affect on me." He couldn't look away from the king's face. "I'm not sure whether this is a vision of sorts or if I am somehow reliving my father's death."
Aragorn felt his heart would break from the despair and pain that colored the younger man's voice. "Faramir." He spoke without using the formal titles of state hoping to show the other man that he desired to help. "Your brother oft spoke of your abilities. He held you in the highest regard. If you are sensing something this strongly then I do not believe that it should be ignored. This vision is calling you for a purpose and we must discover what that is." He leaned back in his chair and looked intently at his steward. "I wonder if you have a sensitivity that could be used to bend a palantir to your will."
Faramir blinked. "But the seeing stones are what enslaved my father and led to him losing his wits. How can I use such a thing?" He protested quietly then frowned. "Why do you draw that particular conclusion from my dream?"
"Because what you are describing is the image that is initially shown in the stone that your father had in his possession at his death. If it is calling to you, then you might be able to use it."
"Use it to what end, milord?" The younger man's brow furrowed in confusion.
Aragorn steepled his fingers as he regarded his steward. "I have heard rumors from some of the Southrons that one of the seeing stones may have been lost along the edges of the Morgul Vale. Now you come before me speaking of a dream that leads you to the very place those men have mentioned."
Understanding dawned on Faramir's face. "You think that I can use the one my father had to find the missing one."
"I believe that it might be possible, yes. Even if we don't use the missing one for any purpose, I do not relish the idea of it falling into enemy hands." He leaned forward again. "Of course if you are not comfortable with the idea, I would never force you to look into the stone."
"I need some time to think on this milord." Faramir said softly. He felt shamed that he did not share the king's confidence and refused to meet the other's eyes.
He raised his head. "Pardon?"
The king's lips quirked into a warm smile. "Call me Aragorn. In this room, we are not steward and king. We are simply two friends."
The simple statement both stunned and warmed Faramir's heart. "You wish me to be your friend?"
Aragorn laughed surprising him with its rich sound. "Of course, why would I not?"
"I am the son of the man who would rather take his own life than surrender his office." The steward answered simply. "I would not blame you if you were to distance yourself from me."
"Faramir, that was your father's choice not yours. I would never blame you for his actions any more than you would blame me for the actions of my forefathers."
"Thank you…Aragorn." Faramir pronounced the name with great care. It sounded strange on his tongue.
"You're welcome, mellon." Aragorn replied. "Now, I have business to attend to and you look like you could use some rest before the evening meal. You shall dine with Arwen and me tonight."
"Until tonight milord." Faramir bowed as he left the study. He moved stiffly as he wandered down the corridor to the chambers that had belonged to him before his return to Emyn Arnen. He closed the door behind him as he allowed himself to relax in the familiar surroundings. He was far wearier than he wanted to admit. Sinking down onto the edge of his bed, he removed his boots before falling back across the mattress. His eyes closed and he sank into slumber.
"Faramir! No, you will not take my son from me! Faramir!" The flames rose around his father's hands, obscuring his face. He could feel the heat of the fire as it burned his clothing and singed his hair. The inferno rose higher and he spun in circle looking for a pathway to safety. He felt himself being pulled deeper into the blaze. He choked on the smoke and fell to his knees, his vision going black.
"Faramir! Faramir, wake up." The command was firm as was the grip on his shoulder. Someone was shaking him, rousing him from the depths of his dream. "Faramir." The voice repeated.
Faramir's eyes snapped open as he involuntarily jerked back from the touch. The light blanket that he had pulled over himself was wrapped tightly about his body and his chest was heaving as if he had been fighting. Sweat drenched his shirt and soaked his hair. Aragorn was leaning over him, a look of concern in his grey eyes. The scent of athelas filled the room. His throat was parched and painful as if he had been shouting. He tried to sit up but a wave of weakness washed over him and he fell back against the pillows.
"Here, drink this." The king handed him a mug of tea that smelled faintly of oranges and lemongrass. "It will make you feel better."
Faramir took the mug, mildly embarrassed to see his hand was shaking so much that Aragorn had to steady him. "Thank you." He whispered hoarsely.
The man before him sighed in obvious relief. "I wasn't sure I could get you out of that dream. You wouldn't respond until I used the athelas."
"I couldn't escape this time. The flames were all around me and there was no way to safety. Father was calling me. I couldn't find him. I couldn't save him. I couldn't…. I couldn't…. I…" His words trailed off as the lump in his throat suddenly grew. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut trying to hold back the tears that sprang behind his lids. A part of him wondered belatedly how he must look to his liege yet before the thought was even finished he realized that he was being held in a comforting hug. All coherent thought fled as his grief overwhelmed him and he wept, finally allowing his heart to begin to heal.
Aragorn simply held him, letting him release his pain. As the wrenching sobs began to abate, the king rose and dampened a cloth in the water pitcher before handing it to the younger man. Faramir took it and wiped his face, a soft chuckle sounding from him.
"What is it?"
"Boromir used to do the same thing. He was always making me wash my face or change my shirt when we were growing up."
Aragorn laughed as well. "Yes, I know the feeling. My brothers did the same." He paused then sobered. "Your dream was worse this time." It was a statement, not a question.
"Aye. I couldn't wake up. I felt like I was burning." Faramir shuddered at the memory. "I am sorry for losing control."
"Do not apologize. You simply needed a release. I would never begrudge another for that." Aragorn sat on the edge of the bed, facing his steward. The fatigue and weariness etched into his face reminded the king of a former time and place when he had encouraged another to take some rest.
"My lo…Aragorn?" Faramir's hesitant tones jolted him from his musing and he blinked to bring his thoughts back to the present.
"Forgive me mellon. My thoughts wandered away. What were you saying?" Aragorn refocused on the young man before him.
"I do not believe that I am strong enough to look into the palantir. What if my mind is twisted as my father's was?"
Aragorn regarded the other for a moment, weighing his words. "First, there is no evil inherent in the stone itself. Now that Sauron has been destroyed the influence that drew in your father no longer exists. Second, I believe that your will is stronger than you give yourself credit for. By all rights, you should have died from the black breath during the war. Instead you persevered and you lived. Third, I have had much time to learn about you. Your uncle speaks very highly of you and your abilities, just as Boromir did. Your gifts of judgment and foresight are much stronger than those of your father. The stone will hold no sway over you. However, as I said earlier, I will not force you to look into the stone and whatever decision you make I will support you in it."
"You would not condemn me as weak for not looking in it?" Faramir asked as one eyebrow lifted in surprise.
"Certainly not." Aragorn replied firmly. "I am not like your father. I will never treat you in the manner he did and I will not condemn you for making a decision that you feel is best."
Faramir trembled as the truth of the king's words struck him. "Thank you Aragorn." He murmured his words nearly inaudible. Suddenly he felt completely drained and the need for sleep swept over him. Despite his best efforts, his eyes slid shut as Aragorn gently laid the blanket over him and departed from the room.
Sometime later, he awoke feeling greatly refreshed. He sat up and stretched, noting that someone had brought his saddlebags into the room while he slept. "I must have been more tired than I thought." He muttered to himself. He pulled out a clean silver blue tunic and black breeches before ducking into the bathing chamber to prepare for the dinner with the king and queen.