“How goes the battle?” enquired the King. News had reached him that a large group of Orcs had been discovered heading towards Minas Ithil. Faramir and his White Company had been fighting the foul creatures all day amongst the ruins. Aragorn had decided to see how they were faring and had rode in at the head of a hundred fresh troops from the Tower Guard.
“It goes well, my lord,” said Beregond, who was nearby, checking Orc carcasses for signs of life. “The foul creatures are almost routed.”
Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien, espied his lord and came to greet him. ”The Orcs’ discipline fails now that the Enemy is no more, sire, “he said. “They cannot hold long against the Men of Gondor; half of them fled after we charged. ”
“Good tidings indeed!” said Aragorn. He narrowed his eyes, seeing the unusual pallor of his friend's face for the first time. He then noticed the blood- stained bandage around Faramir’s arm and frowned. ”You are wounded, my Lord Steward?” he asked with the careful formality that was required in public.
“’Tis but a scratch, sire,” said Faramir. "An Orc blade caught me a glancing blow.”
“Nevertheless, I would like to tend it,” said Aragorn.
At that moment, Faramir fell at his feet in a dead faint.
Faramir's next few hours passed in a hazy blur. He was dimly aware of being carried, his armour being removed, a stinging sensation to his arm, the King’s voice concerned and kindly. A familiar scent filled the air, sweet and green; or was it only a dream?
He slept; but dark dreams haunted him: dreams of clashing steel punctuated by the cries of the wounded and dying.
Faramir awoke to the comfort of a wet cloth placed on his forehead. “What happened?” he mumbled through dry lips. His arm throbbed painfully. He realised he was lying on a bed of soft furs and his arm was heavily bandaged.
“You were wounded, my friend, by a poisoned Orc blade,” Aragorn said gravely, holding a cup to the Steward’s mouth and supporting him as he drank. “I came in time to treat it with athelas, before the poison spread; but you have a fever and must rest.”
Faramir swallowed thankfully. Then he remembered. ”The battle?” he asked, unable to keep a commander's anxiety from his voice.
“The Orcs are vanquished; and those who did not flee died rather than surrender. You lost only two men while ten were wounded, but all will live. Go back to sleep now,” Aragorn said gently but firmly, tucking the covers more firmly around the Steward. ”You need have no more dark dreams.”
“I was dreaming of another battle,” said Faramir. He closed his eyes, then sighed. ”I can still hear the screams of our men as they died, the cries went on and on. I feared the screaming would not stop until I died as well.”
Aragorn took his Steward’s wrist and sighed. He lit another lamp and sat down beside him. ” Your heart races wildly, “ he said. “Tell me of this battle; then maybe you will rest easier.”
“It was the last time I fought beside my brother,” said Faramir,” and the first time I encountered the Nazgûl. I still recall the terror that seized my heart .I felt that dread again my dreams just now.”
“The Orc poison might well have been brewed to work in concert with the Black Breath,” said Aragorn. "As you suffered the Black Breath before, it has awakened dark dreams." He swiftly rose, moved to the tent's entrance, and there called for hot water. When it was brought, Aragorn took two leaves from his pouch, breathed on them and crumbled them into the bowl. A living freshness quickly filled the air as if a pleasant spring breeze had blown through the tent.
“Boromir and I tried to inspire our men, despite the dread we felt,” Faramir continued, “Terror overcame their hearts, though. Men and horses fled, only to be pursued and cut down by the Easterlings. Only a few remained and we feared that the Enemy would cross the river and overwhelm us. Somehow, we managed to destroy the bridge and confine the foe to the eastern banks. Only my brother and I, together with two other men, escaped by swimming. So many good men perished that day, some because they lingered to help me off with my armour. Some made for the river and were dragged down by their mail while others could not swim. To think that but four men remained of that great company! Many mothers wept and wives were made widows. I often wonder by what chance I was spared when so many died.”
“The Valar had a purpose for you,” Aragorn said. He wet the cloth again and pressed it once more to Faramir’s brow.
“I see now I was needed to help rebuild our land,” said Faramir. “I have found joy in your service and in my wife and children. I still think, though, of those who died.”
“So does any good Captain,” the King replied.
“My father was so proud of Boromir that day,” the Steward continued. ”It grieved him deeply when the western bank fell.”
“So you felt obliged to retake it and almost lost your life,” said Aragorn, thinking how sad it was that Denethor had never realised the worth of his younger son.
Faramir nodded. “You came then and saved me and all our people,” he said. “Today you saved me again!”
“Ruling Gondor would be somewhat onerous without you. You have a far better head for paperwork than I,” the King replied, his dry wit not disguising the affection he had grown to feel for this younger man who had become almost as a son to him.
“Ah yes, I was working on a trading agreement when news of the Orcs arrived, “ Faramir sighed. ”I shall be so behind with everything!”
“I will see that it is dealt with,” Aragorn promised. ”As soon as you are fit to travel, I am returning you to your wife and children. I would not wish to doubly risk Lady Éowyn’s wrath by both bringing you home wounded and expecting you to work while you recover! Now, go to sleep!” he lightly brushed his fingertips over Faramir’s eyelids, sending him into a healing sleep.
Aragorn remained watching over the Steward. Faramir’s collapse earlier that day had alarmed him more that he cared to admit. To lose Faramir would have been a grievous blow, not only for Gondor, but for her King who would sorely miss Faramir’s wisdom and friendship.
Satisfied at last that Faramir’s sleep was now dreamless, the King allowed himself to rest. Gondor again was at peace and in safe hands.