Wars and Rumours of Wars

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. - Matthew 24.6 – The Bible.

These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.

With grateful thanks to Deandra.

Dedicated to Cairistiona, Ellynn and Lily Baggins as a belated birthday gift.

Aragorn struggled to concentrate on the report he was supposed to be studying. He felt restless this afternoon. Arwen had an engagement and he missed the comfort of her soothing presence nearby. More than that, he was worried. There had been another incursion of rebel Haradrim across Gondor's borders and Faramir and his men had ridden out to repel them. That had been three days ago and there had been no news. The King was certain he would sense if any ill had befallen the Steward he loved dearly as a son, but even so he fretted.

The King had hoped that the defeat of the Dark Lord would ensure peace, but sadly it was not always so. The Great Khan of Harad abided by the treaty he had sworn with Gondor, but various rebel factions led by one or another of his countless relatives or relatives of the former Khan enjoyed causing trouble.

Ambassador Tahir had explained that the former Khan's tribe still worshipped Sauron and believed he would be able to inhabit a body again if sufficient blood was shed. Khan Janab and his tribe worshipped the benevolent moon god and goddess, but some of his many kinsfolk thought they should rule instead and tried to stir up trouble. One of their favourite ruses was to attempt to incite war between Gondor and Harad. Tahir had also explained that Khan Janab had taken twenty wives and fifty concubines, and had sired many sons, most of whom were at loggerheads with each other.

Aragorn's reverie was interpreted by a servant tapping on the door. Aragorn bade him enter. "Lord Faramir has just arrived, sire," the man announced.

"Tell him to come to me at once," said Aragorn. "Bring food and wine for him and quickly."

A few moments later, Faramir entered the study. He had obviously come straight from the battlefield as his armour was splattered with blood and grime, as was his face. Great dark shadows were under his eyes, giving him a haunted appearance. Aragorn rose from his chair to embrace his friend. For a moment, Faramir clung to him like a drowning man clutching at flotsam.

"I am sorry to come before you like this, but I rode straight from the field, stopping only to change horses," said Faramir.

"No matter. What news, ion nîn?" Aragorn ushered his friend to the couch at the side of the room.

Faramir sat down heavily. "We won the day, but at a cost. Six men fell and a further twenty were sore wounded. They are on their way to the Houses of Healing. Two hundred of the enemy were slain. We offered them terms, but they would not surrender. They preferred to fall on their own swords. The few prisoners we did succeed in taking told a grim tale. One of Khan Janab's sons has joined the Sauron worshippers. He claims to have had a vision in which Sauron told him he would rise again and grant immortality to his followers if they slew at least twenty thousand."

"These are grave tidings indeed," said Aragorn. "It threatens our alliance with Harad if Khan Janab's heirs are returning to the old ways. It was difficult enough to get the Council to agree to treaty and the trade agreements when we thought the ruling clan had utterly denounced Sauron worship."

Just then, the servant brought the refreshments. Faramir took a swallow of the wine. "I sent a messenger to tell Éowyn that I am safe," he said, "then rode straight here to tell you these tidings. They are too sensitive to entrust to a rider. Tahir needs to be told too. He will wish to inform the Khan of these grim developments. I thought I would go to my apartments and make myself more presentable, then go and see him."

"The servants shall prepare a bath for you and I will invite Ambassador Tahir here to partake of an evening meal with us," said Aragorn. He went to the door to give the orders to the servant who had brought the refreshments.

"Will your lady not mind?" asked Faramir.

"She is dining at the Embroiders' Guild Hall," Aragorn replied. "Lady Adiva is there too, telling the members about styles of embroidery in Harad, so no doubt Tahir will be happy to accept the invitation."

"Good," said Faramir. "Thank you. Truth to tell, I will be glad not to have to travel on further errands tonight, for I am sore weary." He drained his glass and rose stiffly to his feet.

"Are you injured, ion nîn?" Aragorn's voice was filled with concern.

"'Tis naught but a few shallow cuts and bruises. Others have fared far worse." Faramir shrugged.

"I have salves that should help," said Aragorn. "I will bring it when you have bathed."

"Thank you, your salves are most effective. But am I not taking you from your work?"

"I can finish this report while you bathe," said Aragorn. "The rest can wait until tomorrow."

When Aragorn visited Faramir's rooms, carrying towels and his satchel of healing supplies, he found his friend hunched over his desk writing. "You should be resting, ion nîn," Aragorn chided gently.

"I was writing to the families of the men I lost today," said Faramir bleakly.

"I have brought my healing supplies," said Aragorn.

"Thank you, if you leave some salve on the table, I shall use some before I go to bed," said Faramir.

"By the look of you, you need it now," Aragorn said firmly. "Éowyn has told me that you always forget salves and potions that she or I have told you to use."

"I am well enough," said Faramir.

"My eyes tell me otherwise," said the King. "You are obviously in pain and your muscles are as tight as a drawn bowstring. Come and lie down and I will apply the salves, and use my healing arts to ease your pain."

"Should I be pampered when six of my men lie dead and twenty are sore wounded?"

"Your suffering aids them not at all," said Aragorn. "The wounded are being well cared for in the Houses of Healing. I will see how they fare on the morrow, but tonight I would tend your hurts."

Faramir laid down his quill and rose stiffly to his feet. "I cannot think of the right words to say to the bereaved families," he said. "Maybe it will be easier in the morning, but I doubt it. I will accept your offer."

"I brought towels to lay upon your bed," said Aragorn. "Comfrey salve is most effective but tends to stain the sheets."

Faramir made his way to his bedchamber and stiffly divested himself of the robe he was wearing while Aragorn spread the towels.

"Stars!" Aragorn exclaimed when his friend turned around to face him. Faramir's right arm and left shoulder and side were covered in angry purple bruises. They stood out lividly against his pale skin and the white drawers he was wearing. "I thought you said you had a few bruises, Faramir?"

"You must often have seen far worse," said Faramir. He lay down on the bed.

"I have," said Aragorn. "It always pains me to see you hurt, though, ion nîn." He carefully felt the bruises, satisfying himself that they masked no broken bones or other more serious hurts. He then opened the pot of salve and gently began to apply it to the bruises and scrapes. Faramir's muscles remained tensed beneath his touch. Aragorn began to use the Elven healing touches, rubbing his fingertips in soothing circles across Faramir's shoulders and the back of his neck, and then applying a gentle pressure to stimulate the vital organs.

"What troubles you, ion nîn?" the King asked, without pausing in his ministrations.

"I hoped so much that when the war against Sauron was won that it would be an end to fighting," the Steward replied, his voice hardly more than a whisper. "I hoped that my sword and bow would be used only for sport from now on and never again would I raise them in anger."

"You do not have to fight, son of my heart," said Aragorn. "There are captains in plenty who can lead the men in battle."

"How could I ask the men to do what I would not?" Faramir replied. "Fight I must if we are assailed."

"We are two of a kind," said Aragorn. "I expected no other answer from you. Neither would I ask my men to suffer what I would not."

They fell silent apart from a few winces from Faramir as the King teased out especially unyielding knots in his muscles.

"They were so young!" Faramir exclaimed suddenly, his voice full of pain. "Scarcely more than children!"

"Who ion nîn?"

"The Haradrim warriors. They were heavily outnumbered, but most of them refused to surrender, running themselves through with their own blades when we approached, or attacking us so fiercely that we were forced to slay them. Those that fell wounded, were slain by their fellows. So much blood shed and for nothing!"

Aragorn felt him shudder violently beneath his hands.

"I fear that is the custom of the Haradrim, to prefer death to capture or infirmity. It has been thus since the days of your grandsire when I first encountered them and no doubt for generations before that," Aragorn said sadly. "We shall speak to Tahir about what has happened. He will surely send a message to Khan Janab. No doubt he will deal with his son and put a stop to this new uprising."

"I know that, but it troubles me deeply that Khan Janab's kin have turned to the darkness," said Faramir. "Tahir told me that only one tribe, who happened to hold the reins of power during the war, were true believers in Sauron. Yes, members of Janab's tribe fought against us during the war, but they believed they were defending their lands. The last Khan lied that we sought to conquer them and ravish and enslave their women and children."

"I spoke to a woman from Harad soon after the war ended," said Aragorn. "She thought we were monsters who sacrificed her folk to a tree god!"

Faramir laughed mirthlessly.

"No more fretting now, ion nîn," Aragorn said firmly. "We have done everything we can to ensure peace, as has Tahir. We can do no more until he speaks to the Khan. Be easy now." He replaced the lid on the pot of salve and put it on the bedside table. "There now," he said, "that should help the bruises to heal. Now let me see if I can loosen the knots in your back."

Faramir rolled over without protest now. He knew he was fortunate to experience the healing warmth of Aragorn's hands, a touch both loving and soothing. Others might not be so blessed, as to experience Aragorn's treatments, but the King's words were wise and his Steward took them to heart. He needed to be at his best when Tahir arrived so that maybe between the three of them they could think of some way to deal with the latest threat from the rebels. He had said more than he had intended to Aragorn, which was often an effect of Aragorn's treatments, which his friend knew full well how to put to good use. He felt more at peace, though, now the burden was lifted from his heart.

He tried to put the events of the past days from his mind as Aragorn worked on the tight muscles in his shoulders. He tensed as the tightest knots were teased out then relaxed completely into Aragorn's soothing touch, which had the power to heal the mind as well as the body.

By the time, Aragorn had finished his ministrations Faramir was utterly relaxed, limp and sleepy. "I should be getting ready for dinner," he said, forcing his eyes open with a great effort.

"You have a few hours yet," Aragorn replied. "Sleep for a while, ion nîn. I will call you in good time. I shall tell the children a bedtime story while you rest. I promised Arwen that I would." He handed Faramir his sleeping garments then tucked the blankets snugly around his friend and silently left the room.

TBC.

A/n. This is the first story I've written in ages that wasn't for a challenge.