I have become rather too used to sleeping in, the Prince of Ithilien reflected blearily as his eyes registered the pale morning light creeping into his bedchamber in his house in Minas Tirith. The autumn had come and he'd left the window open last night. Now it was decidedly chilly and he snuggled closer to Éowyn, grateful for her warmth.
"It's dawn, my lord. You asked me to wake you," his manservant called through the door after knocking.
"Thank you," he called mournfully back in acknowledgement.
"Do you require any assistance, my lord?" came the question.
"No, I can manage."
"Very well then, my lord," and there was a sound of departing footsteps.
Sighing, Faramir snuggled in even closer and was just contemplating going back to sleep when his wife's arm reached back and slapped him on the hip.
"Oh no you do not. Get up. You'll miss the whole practice."
"Now. You didn't get any in yesterday when we rode here. You know what your Uncle Andrahar says."
"Yes, yes, no more than two days off the field. This could be my second day…" he wheedled.
Éowyn rolled over to face him and began to pull her knee up in a manner that could only be called threatening.
"Go. Now. You need this. She needs this. I will see that there is a nice breakfast waiting for you when you get back."
"If I come back…"
Éowyn was remorseless. "GO!"
Having taken up his sword once more in emergency, Faramir had decided to retain it and had spent the better part of the summer letting the King of Rohan use him for a pell. Towards the end of things, he'd begun to give back almost as good as he'd gotten, but he still was nowhere near what he'd been during the Ring War. He did not know if he would in fact ever achieve that level again-he was not as young as he had been and unlike Andrahar, he'd stopped training for a considerable length of time.
Uncle Andra is here right now, so I could always ask him to give me a going over. Rehabilitating fighters is something of a specialty of his-he could and would get me going in a hurry. And it might not even hurt all that much…
Andrahar, peerless warrior that he was, had never faulted Faramir for his decision to lay his sword down. To Andrahar, the matter was simplicity itself-if you hadn't the nerve or desire to carry through with it completely, then you were better off not taking a sword up in the first place. No, this morning was about someone else entirely.
"I would lay my sword down as soon as I could…", "That is Damrod's job now and he's welcome to it…" These remarks and more he'd said over the years, thinking only that he was merely being honest, never considering that the obvious eagerness to lay down his sword and Captaincy could be construed as a reflection upon the men and the one woman who had served under him. It had never been his intention to belittle his Rangers' valor or loyalty and he didn't honestly believe that any of them truly took it in that way. But the flashes of surprise and hurt that had crossed Hethlin's face when he'd said those things, back in the days before she'd been schooled to hide her thoughts a bit better, told him that such thoughts might have at least crossed her mind.
Though she never faulted me either. Of course, she understood better than most what I'd been through. She was the only one with me at the worst moment in my life. Which was not, though others might have believed it so, the retreat across the Pelennor, though that had been the event that had broken him in the end. No, the worst moment had come before that, in the surgery at the Causeway Forts, when he'd had to mercy the men who were too wounded to be taken on the retreat, lest the Enemy torture them. His mind still shied away from most of the particulars of that event to this day, fixing instead upon Hethlin's defiant, faithful words -"If you have somewhat to do here, then be about it, and I will bide here and guard till you be finished!"-the memory of her standing straight-backed in the doorway, and the tears on her face afterwards.
For that buffer against horror, for the gift of his life and for the sake of a long friendship which had never failed, he would do this.
They were sparring in the courtyard of the Citadel this morning, which was at least convenient. The Tower Guard was out in force, as were the Swan Knights. It was not hard to find the snow-white hair peeping out from beneath of the helm of the fighter sparring with the…King? And holding her own? He'd known intellectually that Hethlin had become a great swordswoman, but that was not the same as watching this skirling, furious battle with Aragorn. Much of the fighting she'd done after the Ring War had taken place far away from Faramir. And he'd thought that the injury she'd taken in Dale must surely have slowed her down, though there was little sign of that now.
The sheer persistence and grit it had taken to overcome that leg wound and return to the standard he was watching now was humbling. And very characteristic of Hethlin.
"My lord prince?"
Andrahar had appeared at his elbow, silent as a phantom. His dark eyes flicked over Faramir's person, at the gambeson he was wearing and the sword at his waist.
"Are you fighting this morning, my lord?" The question was thankfully matter-of-fact. The Steward's presence was beginning to register upon nearby soldiers, who were turning and staring, muttering with speculative curiosity. As others finished their matches, his audience increased. It was the main reason Faramir had not been looking forward to this morning. It seemed almost an official rite of passage, the change in status from noncombatant back to combatant.
"How long have you been?" Andrahar's hand came up and felt the muscles in his arm and shoulder and wrist. A familiarity he would suffer in this, Andrahar's kingdom.
"Since this summer. I sparred with Éomer every day he was here."
"Éomer. Hmmmph." The King of Rohan was dismissed as of no consequence. Faramir found himself grinning.
"I will warn you, Uncle, he was having his way with me pretty regularly."
Andrahar's eyebrow arched. "We can fix that, if you'd like."
"I would like it indeed. But I had thought to spar a bit with Hethlin first, if she'll be up to it after the King gets through with her."
"She'll be up to it."
"Would you be kind enough to watch and give me your opinion afterwards?"
"Of course, my lord."
Faramir looked about the field. "Where is Uncle?" He had thought to spar with Imrahil, were Hethlin not present.
"It's morning. He's in bed, of course." Andrahar's voice was dry. "Says rank has its privileges." The Steward cast a pointed look at his King and then back at Andrahar, who grinned wolfishly.
"Imrahil says he gets to pick his privilege, as does Aragorn. The King has his pipe-weed and the Prince of Dol Amroth sleeps in."
"He still keeps his hand in, does he not?"
"Of course. He just does it in the afternoon, with the second squad."
Not for the first time, Faramir reflected upon the immense wisdom and acumen of Imrahil of Dol Amroth. A return to proficiency with the sword might not entirely be a bad thing. I could shift my schedule, do an afternoon sword practice, make those annoying petitioners get up at the crack of dawn to see me. It might cut down on their numbers somewhat!
Applause came from the spectators who'd been watching the King's fight. "Kill, your majesty," Hethlin called, conceding the bout. Aragorn's sword was at her throat.
"Well fought, Heth!" he declared, panting, clapping her on the back. A couple of pages in black and silver ran forward to take their swords in exchange for cups of water and towels. She took a deep draught, mopped her brow with the towel and turning away from the King, spied Faramir. Her eyes widened in pleased surprise and she walked over to him. She still favored the leg a bit when she was not fighting, he noted.
"Come to watch, Faramir?"
"Come to fight, Heth." As had Andrahar's, her eyes flicked to his waist and the sword there, then rose to meet his gaze forthrightly as ever.
"Really?" came the soft question.
"Really and truly, Heth. Will you spar with me when you've caught your breath?"
The thing he'd gotten out of bed for that morning happened then, the joyous smile that made her beautiful for just a moment.
"Of course! Warm up a bit and I'll be ready by the time you're done." He had no doubt of that, she was catching her breath with dismaying speed.
Andrahar helped him warm up. By the time they were done, a number of folk had come over to watch this new curiosity, the Steward of Gondor taking up a sword once more. Faramir hoped he would not make a total fool of himself, but that was of little concern beside the joy and pleasure he'd give Hethlin. And at least if I do there is always room for improvement…
"Ranger fight?" he asked Hethlin as she came over to him, practice sword in hand. She nodded, barked, "Daggers!" and held out her hand as imperious as Imrahil. A Dol Amroth esquire materialized out of seeming nothingness, as was their wont, and handed her and Faramir two practice daggers. He followed her to a relatively open patch of courtyard. Their spectators followed them, as did Andrahar. Faramir fell into stance and Hethlin followed suit. She looked, he thought, depressingly eager and ready to trounce him.
"Be gentle with me, Heth?" he suggested. His former Ranger shook her head, grinning like the girl she'd once been.
"Lay on!" Andrahar commanded.