Dies Irae

 Dies Iræ! (Day of wrath)










The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.

 Warning - This story is rated PG13 and not suitable for young children.

With grateful thanks to Raksha and Deandra


Dies iræ! dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla
Teste David cum Sibylla!


(Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets' warning,
Heaven and earth in ashes burning!)  - Thomas of Celano 13
th Century Latin hymn used in the Requiem Mass





Trailed discretely by two Guards, Aragorn walked briskly through the market place. He paused to acknowledge with a nod or a smile the many greetings called out to him. He stopped only when he reached a stall which sold jewellery made from rough-cut semi precious stones. Since he had delighted his Queen with a simple amethyst necklace some time ago, he often bought her similar trinkets when he visited the market.


“Do you have any necklaces of lapis lazuli?” Aragorn asked the trader.


“Indeed, my lord, I do!  I have bracelets and necklaces and rings of the very finest quality, imported from Khand.  They arrived only yesterday. Or would my lord perhaps like to see my new rose quartz collection, which I just unpacked this morning?  Rose quartz would surely suit the Queen’s colouring, like the pink clouds of sunset around the evening star.” 


The two Guards, Meneldil and Cirion, exchanged bored glances as the trader prattled on about the perfection of his baubles. Cirion, new to his post, yawned. Both were unwed and deemed their lord's habit of personally searching out gifts for his lady to be a task beneath the dignity of a king. 


As they watched their King talk with the merchant, they noticed a cloaked woman who walked with odd, stumbling steps, shuffle up to the stall.  Bent beneath a burden of years, grey tresses straggling from out the hood of her cloak, the woman seemed fragile as she stood near the tall, strong form of King Elessar.  Her wrinkled hands carefully fingered a pearl necklace.  Meneldil wondered idly if the old lady had a granddaughter, for she was surely too old to want to wear one herself.  He focussed his attention on a young lad who was weaving swiftly and purposefully through the stalls, and would soon pass close to the King.  Was the boy a messenger, a cutpurse, or simply a lad on an errand for his mother? 


As Aragorn handed over some coins to the merchant, the cloaked woman staggered, and gasped as if in distress.  With the instinct of a trained healer, Aragorn reached out to help her.   The woman grasped his arm with one hand, reached inside her cloak with the other, and with sudden, terrible speed, drove a dagger into Aragorn's shoulder. 


The King stumbled and cried out while the youth and other passers-by screamed in horror. More Guards rushed to the scene. Cursing, Cirion and Meneldil pulled the assassin off of their lord and hastily subdued her. 



Aragorn was the first to collect himself. “Stay calm!” he cried. He slowly pulled the dagger from his shoulder. A merchant selling cloth at the next stall thrust a piece of linen into Aragorn’s hands. The King briskly staunched the wound with it. ”The wound is but slight,” he reassured the bystanders.


The woman gave an evil grin. The Guards tore the hood away from her face revealing the swarthy skin and tattooed cheeks of a native of Far Harad.  ”You are doomed to die, Elessar!” she spat in heavily accented Westron. “As you killed my husband, so I have killed you. My blade is coated with a deadly poison, which will slay you before twenty-four hours have passed!”


“You will pay dearly for this!” cried Meneldil, his young face fierce with rage.


The woman laughed maliciously. “There is nothing you can do to me, Elessar, for I have even less time left than you!” She raised her arm, so that her sleeve fell back to reveal a small cut on her arm. “A few hours ago, I cut myself with this poisoned blade that I might go to join my husband in the underworld. Then I thought, why not take you with me on my long journey as an offering to the spirits of the dead?”


“Take her to the Houses of Healing!” Aragorn commanded. ”See if the Healers can learn what venom she has used. Her dagger should yield traces of it.”


The Guards tried to march the woman off, but she seemed hardly able to place one foot in front of the other. ”See!” she cried in hideous joy, “Already the poison consumes me. Soon it will be your turn, Elessar!”


“Shall we escort you to the Houses as well, my lord?” Cirion enquired of Aragorn.


The King shook his head. ”If I am to die, I prefer to do so in my own bed!” he said grimly. ”Send a messenger to Lord Faramir in Ithilien on the swiftest horse that can be found and bid him come to me at once,” he ordered. “And summon the Warden of the Houses of Healing to my quarters once he has examined the woman.”


Refusing all offers of help from the Guards and concerned passers by, Aragorn made his way back to his apartments. His mind raced in turmoil. Was the woman telling the truth or was she simply mad? There had been a Southron incursion on the marches of Ithilien a few weeks past.  Aragorn and Faramir had fought and killed those who had refused to surrender.  He had slain their aging leader with his own hand. Those they had taken prisoner claimed their fallen leader was a venerable warlord. Could the slain Southron captain have been the woman’s husband?


Aragorn subdued a tremble.  Could he truly be doomed to die within twenty-four hours? He had so much to live for! What of Arwen and his son? He did not want to leave them. And what of Faramir, his best friend and Steward?  How could he leave those he loved so soon? Then what of Gondor and Arnor? Eldarion was scarcely more than a baby. What would happen to his kingdoms if he died now? Apart from the pain in his shoulder, Aragorn felt perfectly well.  Surely his doom was not come so soon!


Aragorn paused briefly before the White Tree, wondering if he looked upon its beauty for the last time. The Tree of the Kings was still a slender sapling. He had hoped to watch it grow through the years, to see the Tree rise high and strong, its still fragile branches thicken and stretch out with new leaves over the Citadel where Isildur had once walked. He had hoped by the time he passed the Silver Crown to Eldarion that the roots would have grown deep and the trunk thick and sturdy.


Arwen hastened out to meet him at the entrance to his private apartments. Her beautiful face was pale and drawn. ”Estel, I have heard grave tidings!” she cried. ”Tell me it is not true that you have received a deadly wound?”


Aragorn clasped her tightly in his arms. ”I do not know, my love,” he said sadly. ”I need to examine the injury.” He made his way to his private chambers, closely followed by Arwen. Gathering his healing supplies, he spread them on the bed, then removed his makeshift bandage and pulled off his cloak, tunic and shirt.


The wound was small, less than an inch in length and scarcely bleeding. Hardly alarming to look upon, but already the wound felt hot, almost tingling, to Aragorn’s careful touch.  The edges of the cut were a curious greenish shade. “Alas!” cried Aragorn. ”It is indeed poisoned, and not the usual venom favoured by the Haradrim, which is easy enough to treat with the right knowledge. I have never before come across this poison!”


"It is such a tiny cut to be so deadly, Estel!"  Arwen exclaimed softly, carefully studying the wound.  The horror in her eyes chilled Aragorn. “Could my father's books hold the answers you seek?” she asked with sudden hope. “If only my brothers were here!”


“Your father would have shared the knowledge with me, had he possessed it,” Aragorn said sadly. ”He taught me all that he knew of the poisons used by the Dark Lord and his minions.  I must proceed with the knowledge I already have, and the implements and medicines available here.  Now I have need of hot water.”


While Arwen sought a servant, Aragorn plunged a knife into the fire that burned in the grate and waited for the blade to grow white hot. Retrieving the knife, he allowed it to cool then gritted his teeth and sliced into his shoulder, opening the existing wound wider and forcing it to bleed.


“Whatever are you doing?” Arwen asked in horror, returning with the water and hearing his stifled groans.


“Trying to flush out some of the poison,” he told her. ”‘Tis but a slim chance it will help, but any chance is better than none!” He took two athelas leaves from a pouch in his healing supplies, breathed on them and cast them into the hot water. “Will you bandage my shoulder, please?” he asked Arwen, pressing the leaves into the wound. “Athelas is the most potent weapon I know of against deadly venoms. Even as he spoke, Aragorn feared it was already too late. The tips of his fingers were beginning to feel numb, which he recalled Elrond once warning him to be aware of as an early symptom of poisoning. He stifled his rising feelings of panic and tried to calmly recall his healer’s training. How else might he slow the deadly venom? Fluids might help flush some of it from his body. He found he craved tea, such as the Hobbits drank. He asked Arwen to send a servant to bring it. While they waited, Aragorn donned a loose robe, struggling to tie the sash around his waist.


Arwen noticed how he was fumbling, and knew why. The anguish in her eyes almost caused his heart to break there and then.


Aragorn could do nothing but await Master Tarostar, Warden of the Houses of Healing and what tidings he might bring. He could only hope that Faramir would arrive while he was still conscious. There was so much he needed to tell his friend and Steward  in the little time he had left. He could only wait and conserve his strength as best he could. Arwen sat beside him on the vast bed frantically searching through her father’s books for any clue how she could save her husband. There was none.


An hour or so later, Tarostar arrived. ”The woman refused to speak, not even to give her name,” he informed the King grimly. ”She is very near death now. We have dosed her with the antidote to every known poison, but alas, nothing is having any effect.”


Arwen buried her face in her hands.


“Keep on observing her,” Aragorn said, somehow maintaining a calm composure as his last hopes faded. ”Perhaps you will yet learn something of use.”


“Yes, my lord,” said the Warden, trying to mask his own emotions. “Is there any other assistance I may offer?”


“Not yet,” said Aragorn. ”I would be alone with my wife now until Lord Faramir arrives.”


As soon as the man left, Aragorn slumped back against the pillows. His hands now tingled up to the wrists and his fingers felt stiff and clumsy. “To think that I should die like this!” he cried in fury. “I fought many battles, knowing I might easily fall in combat, or that I might be killed by agents of the Dark Lord while I was in hiding. Now, just when I felt I could finally enjoy the fruits of my labours, I am doomed to fall at the hands of a madwoman! Why, why?”


Arwen could only shake her head, having no answer or comfort to offer him.


Farewell, my son, I am dying....

This day you’ll reign here in my place – Mussorgsky – Boris Godunov



“Arwen, vanimelda,” Aragorn said after a few moments silence. “I should like to see our son while I can still embrace him.”


The Queen summoned a servant to fetch the little boy.


“I would see Eldarion one last time, before the poison advances so far that my condition will frighten him. If only he were older! I hope that Faramir will be able to give him the same loving paternal care that your father gave to me.”


Arwen looked as if she were about to burst into tears, when a knock on the door heralded the arrival of Eldarion and his nurse. The Queen bade the woman wait outside. The three-year-old boy ran joyfully into his father’s room and scrambled up on the bed.


“Ada!” he cried “Will you and naneth play with me?”


“Not today, I fear,” said Aragorn. ”I want to tell you a story.”


“I like stories!” Eldarion snuggled against his father’s broad chest, blissfully oblivious of the bandages concealed beneath Aragorn’s robe.


“Once upon a time a little boy lived with his ada and naneth,” Aragorn began. ”His ada wanted to stay with his son until he grew to be a man, but he could not, as the wicked Orcs killed him. The little boy was sad, but he still had his naneth who loved him very much. He found a new father to love and care for him.”


“I know that story!” Eldarion interrupted. ”That was you, Ada, when you were a little boy!”


“It was indeed, ion nîn. Now I might have to go away like my ada in the story, even though I love you so much. You must not be afraid, for you will have your naneth and Uncle Faramir to look after you.”


“I don’t want you to go away, Ada!” Eldarion protested, his lower lip trembling.


“I would never leave you willingly, dearest child of my heart,” Aragorn said solemnly. ”Yet it seems that I must depart. I want you to be very brave, take care of your naneth, and work hard at your lessons when you are old enough, so that you will be a good king. Will you promise me that?”


Eldarion stared at his father, his grey eyes wide and solemn. ”Yes, Ada, I promise, but I don’t want you to go!”


“Neither do I wish it, ion nîn,” Aragorn whispered, holding the child close and kissing him tenderly. ”Go now with your nurse.”


Aragorn’s eyes never left the child as Arwen took him to where his nanny waited outside the door. His heart was breaking. How could he leave his beloved little boy, the apple of his eye? He wanted so much to protect his son and watch over him as he grew into manhood.  Now Eldarion was doomed to grow up as he had: without a father.  Even the kindest, best of foster-fathers, such as Elrond had been to him and Faramir would be to Eldarion, could not completely fill the gap, or answer all the questions that Eldarion would have.  And Arwen; what would befall her, alone in a land filled mostly with Men, far from her remaining kindred?  Would she die from sorrow?  Then would the Thought Bond he shared with his Steward cause Faramir to fade when it was sundered by his untimely death? Arwen had her brothers, but until his daughter came of age, Faramir had no one else, with whom he could share part of his soul in these latter days, when so few Men possessed the mental abilities of Númenor and the Elves.


Arwen came back into the room, dabbing at her eyes. ”We have had so little time together after waiting so long!” she cried. ”I wanted to bear you many more children.”


“I wanted nothing more than to grow old with you, vanimelda,” Aragorn replied. ”I did not take you from the life of the Eldar and the bliss of the West to leave you so soon.  Forgive me!” Arwen reached out to take his hand, but he could not feel her fingers clasped around his own.


Another hour passed, each minute seeming both an eternity and too short. Aragorn drank more tea, this time with his wife needing to hold the cup for him. His feet were starting to tingle too. The poison was spreading. He wished Faramir would hurry. He could only hope that the messenger would have found him at home. “Please, would you sing to me?” he begged his wife. “I should like to hear ‘The Lay of Lúthien’ one last time.”


Arwen started to sing the familiar melody, but her usually clear tones were choked with emotion.


There was a sudden knock at the door.


“Who is it?” Aragorn asked.


“It is I, Faramir.” The Steward entered, his noble features creased with anxiety.


Thinking the two men might wish for a few moments alone, Arwen excused herself saying she wished to go to see how Eldarion was faring.


“My friend, you have come!” Aragorn cried. His eyes briefly lit up.


“I met your messenger on the road,” said the Steward. ”I had a feeling something was terribly wrong and had already set out towards the River. The messenger rode on to inform Éowyn, and will then travel to where Legolas dwells. They tell me you were attacked, mellon nîn, with a poisoned dagger!”


“Alas, it is true,” said Aragorn, rising to sit up against the pillows. “I am dying. Today you will reign here in my stead as Karma-kundo, Crown-lieutenant of Gondor until Eldarion comes of age. I beg you to care for him, as a father would, and to protect my wife!”


Faramir paled and sat down heavily on the side of the bed. ”No!” he protested. ”This cannot be! You cannot leave us! Gondor needs you, I need you!”


“I hoped that as a true son of Númenor, I could choose the hour of my passing,” said Aragorn quietly. ”Alas, that is not to be and I am struck down in my prime. Gladly would I stay with you, mellon nîn, but I am not granted that choice.”


Aragorn summoned his strength and took Faramir’s hand in his own, though he could barely feel his own fingers.  “Please swear to me that you will care for Arwen and Eldarion so I might rest easy. You must be strong and not allow yourself to fade from your grief, for there is no one else who can be so close a shield to my son.  My foster-brothers have their own realms, and could not take this office, though they will help you in raising him. The same is true for my kindred in the North.  Protect my son from harm, Faramir; and teach him to be a good man and a good king! 


“Your lady and Eldarion are as my own kindred!” said Faramir. ”You have my word I will protect them with my life while I yet draw breath! Surely, though, there must be some remedy for this poison?”


“The healers can find none,” Aragorn replied sadly. ”And neither the poison nor an antidote is mentioned in Master Elrond’s books.  Already my limbs grow numb. I would beg your assistance to change into my nightshirt and to visit the bathing chamber, for I can no longer walk unaided.”


Faramir did as he was bidden in silence. The Steward seemed lost in thought. “Tell me more of the woman who stabbed you,” he said at last, as he almost carried the King back to bed..


“I would guess she came from Far Harad,” Aragorn replied. ”She claimed I killed her husband. I can only think it was in the recent border skirmish.”


“Southron poisons are designed to torture, not to kill,” recalled Faramir, a sudden light gleaming in his grey eyes. “Two of my Rangers were captured by a small force of Haradrim during the War. We re-grouped and tracked them, then attacked the camp and found our men.  They had been poisoned, and told that they would be given an antidote in return for the location of our refuges.  Fortunately, the Southron interrogator survived our assault, and provided the healing potion in return for his own life; and our men lived."


“The Healers would know of the antidote if this poison were of that kind,” Aragorn said doubtfully.


“The Haradrim developed new poisons constantly during the War,” said Faramir. “I am going to see the ambassador and see if he can tell me about this new one.”


“I should like to think there is yet hope,” said Aragorn. “But surely, there would be some record in the Houses of Healing if this poison had an antidote? This is one problem you cannot solve, son of my heart. Please stay with me for what little time I have left! I would die with those I love best at my side.”


Faramir stood by the bed looking at the anguished features of the man he had come to love as a father, the man who had saved his life. In the short time since he had arrived, Aragorn had grown visibly weaker. It tore Faramir’s heart asunder to leave him thus. “I will return,” he said simply. “You have my word.” Before his resolve could falter, or Aragorn could further plead with him to stay, Faramir bent and kissed his lord on the brow, then hastened from the room.



Fly away on the wings of wind
To the homeland, my dear song,
To the land where we can sing you freely,
Where it was so carefree for you and me. - Borodin - Polovetsian Dances – Prince Igor.


Faramir ran all the way to the Harad Ambassador’s residence, which was in the sixth circle. Somewhat surprisingly, he had formed a good friendship with Tahir, while Éowyn had befriended his wife, Adiva. Adiva was a horsewoman second only to the White Lady of Rohan. She often went riding with Éowyn. Like Faramir, Tahir had lost a brother in the war, and like Faramir too, he was essentially a man of peace, devoted to learning. He was an excellent chess player. Ambassador and Steward often enjoyed a game together when their duties permitted. The recent border skirmish had not damaged the friendship between them. Faramir knew there were different factions in Harad, not all of which followed Khan Janab’s wish for peace with Gondor.

A servant showed Faramir into the colourfully tiled hallway of Tahir’s home, offering the Steward the traditional guest mantle and slippers to don.

“Welcome to my humble abode, Lord Faramir, most exalted one!” intoned Tahir in perfect Westron, coming to greet him with a bow. “Permit me to offer you some refreshment?”

Despite the urgent need for haste, Faramir was forced to partake of the traditional rituals of hospitality. To refuse refreshment, or even hurry through the greetings, would be taken as an insult of the very worst kind.

“I have heard grave tidings of the esteemed Lord Elessar today,” said Tahir when together with the ambassador’s wife, they were seated on vast cushions drinking mint tea and eating dates. “Is it true that he lies close to death? The loss of such a great lord would diminish all the peoples of the world, not only Gondor.”

“Alas, it is indeed true,” said Faramir. “He was stabbed with a poisoned dagger by a woman we believe may be one of your people. She said she desired to avenge her husband.”

“A woman of so little honour would not be of my tribe,” said Tahir. ”I would wager that she came from the Eastern border region. Their women have a custom of following their husbands in death.”

“Fools!” snorted Adiva who sat at her husband’s feet. Although she followed the traditional customs of greeting, she tended to companion her husband rather than remain in the women's quarters. And unlike most of the women of Harad, of whom Faramir had learned, Adiva freely voiced her opinions. ”Much as I love my lord, I should do no such thing. My children need me too much, as do my horses!”

“I came to ask your help, my friends,” said Faramir. ”The poison this woman used on her dagger is unknown to our healers. I gained some knowledge of your venoms during the war and believe that their victims are not always beyond mortal aid.”

“To every poison there is an antidote,” said Tahir. “Or so I have heard it said.”

“Usage of poisons is a woman’s art,” added Adiva. “You need to consult with a darwisa.”

Despite being fluent in the language of Harad, Faramir was puzzled by this term.

“I think you would call her a shaman or a healer in your tongue,” Adiva explained. “A darwisa is both revered and feared, as such women both harm and heal. They never marry, as they give their lives to their arts and are set apart from others of our people.”

“Where might I find such a woman?” Faramir asked. “Do you know of a skilled one who might be able to help my lord?”

Adiva looked troubled. ”A darwisa is hard to find,” she explained. ”They fear authority and move from place to place. Should I require one, I would discreetly let it be known. A few days later, one would either visit me or I would receive a message telling me where I might find her.”

“I do not have a few days!” Faramir cried. “My lord will die within hours if I cannot find a means of curing him!”

Tahir stroked his beard thoughtfully. ”I think I know where you might find one,” he said. “Those of our people who now dwell in Minas Tirith, frequent an inn in the first circle called ‘The Coiled Serpent’. I have heard it said that a darwisa might be found there. Understand that our women do not frequent taverns, but as my wife ventured to explain, the darwisa places herself outside the bounds of usual custom. My head groom's cousin sought help there from a woman called Zafirah when his wife failed to bear him a son, or so I heard.”

Faramir leapt to his feet. “I will summon my men and go there to find this Zafirah at once!” he cried.

“That is not the way, my friend,” said Tahir, gripping Faramir’s arm to restrain him. ”She would have vanished ere you entered the tavern. A darwisa would flee from a man of Gondor.”

“Then how shall I find the woman?” Faramir demanded desperately.

“Disguise yourself as a man of Harad,” said the ambassador. ”I will lend you some clothing. Then you can approach Zafirah by stealth.”

“Your skin could be darkened with henna,” Adiva added. “I will ask my maid to prepare some to darken your hands and face.”

Tahir clapped his hands and a servant appeared. The ambassador issued rapid instructions in his own tongue. He then turned to Faramir. “I hope you will forgive me, esteemed Prince, for clothing you as a servant, but my robes would be too noticeable in a common tavern. Aban here will help you to dress in suitable garb."

The servant led Faramir to a bedchamber, which contained a low divan and a clothes chest. From the chest, Aban took out two robes, one that reminded Faramir of a woman’s plain gown, a seamless garment with long sleeves and a piece of clothing that resembled a bathing robe, which was open at the front and wrapped round the wearer.

The servant started to undo Faramir’s clothing. The Steward shook his head. He pulled off his outer tunic, and then pulled the seamless robe over his head. He was unfamiliar with the material and could only assume it was what the Haradrim called ‘cotton’. The outer robe was of a striped, thicker material. Faramir permitted Aban to tie a sash around his waist, but shook his head at the sandals he was offered. It would take too long to colour his feet. He rolled up the legs of his breeches so that they would not show beneath the robes, which were a little short for his tall frame.

A knock came at the door and a maidservant entered, carrying a small bowl of dark liquid. “My illustrious mistress bade me colour your skin,” she said in heavily accented Westron. “If the great and noble Prince would deign to sit while I apply the tincture?”

Faramir sat on the divan, trying not to ponder the strangeness of having his face painted. Only women usually did such a thing, but whatever it took to save Aragorn, he would do, and gladly. The mixture smelt slightly of vinegar.

“My esteemed lady bade me tell you that we usually use a paste, but the liquid darkens the skin much faster,” said the woman. “Come, I will apply some to your hands now.”

She worked swiftly, though to Faramir the procedure seemed to take hours. When she was finished, she handed the Steward a mirror. He gazed in amazement at his reflection and wondered if even Éowyn would recognise him now.

The manservant escorted Faramir back to the audience chamber. Tahir was waiting for him. ”You will need a man of our people to escort you to the tavern,” the ambassador said. ”Please allow my man Aban to be your guide.” Tahir reached inside his elaborate robes and produced a piece of parchment. “Take this with you,” he said. “Should the darwisa refuse to help you, this is my order as elder of our tribe, that she must give you aid. And here a letter to tell any of my people you encounter that your mission has my approval. I will lend you one of my horses. May the Moon God and Goddess smile on your mission!”

“Thank you, my friend, may you be showered with many blessings!” said Faramir, taking his leave. He mounted the waiting horse and with Aban riding beside him, set off at a gallop for the first circle.

When Faramir was a boy, the first circle had always seemed a somewhat menacing place, and he had often been warned against going there. Even now, it was an area that few lords would visit unless they had no other choice. Since the war, Aragorn had ordered extensive rebuilding and repairs. Even so, away from the main street, half derelict buildings remained. Most of the dwellings were shabby and crammed together. The older houses were small and built of crumbling stonework, while refugees and foreigners mostly occupied newer houses. During the day, the lower circles of the City bustled and thrived. Citizens scurried hither and thither while small shops and taverns plied their wares. The bright robes of Southrons, flaxen locks of Rohirrim, Dwarves with elaborately braided beards and fair Elves combined to create a colourful air to the streets of Minas Tirith.

It was late when Faramir and his escort set out, and dusk fell by the time they reached their destination. The first circle seemed almost deserted. Mist from the distant river shrouded the darkened streets, turning the White City into a grey and somewhat sinister place. Aban led the way through a maze of winding streets until they came to an old inn brightly lit by lamps. The sign outside proclaimed the establishment to be ”The Coiled Serpent”.

Aban hesitated at the threshold. “May I be excused from meeting the darwisa, esteemed Prince?” he asked.

“Why?” asked Faramir brusquely. The stakes were too high for hesitation.

“It is said her very gaze can render a man unable to please his wife!” Aban said whispered with a shudder.

“If I can brave her gaze, so can you!” said Faramir. ”Come, there is no time to lose!”

To Faramir’s surprise, the inn was crowded with men. Most of them were gazing at a woman who danced between the tables with sensuous, swaying steps. She wore only a filmy garment and an assortment of veils that made her appear almost to be floating. The room smelt of spices and something else, which reminded Faramir of Aragorn’s medicinal potions, though here they seemed less wholesome.

A man dressed in garishly striped robes approached and bowed low. ”Greetings, esteemed masters!” he said. ”Be welcome to my humble inn. How may we serve you? Tonight we have mutton roasted in olive leaves for our guests.”

Faramir bowed in return. “Thank you, most gracious host. We come not to eat, but to see the darwisa, Zafirah. Can she be found here tonight?”

“Indeed, esteemed master, many have come to seek her advice. Would you care to partake of refreshment while you wait?”

“I fear my errand cannot wait,” said Faramir. “Ambassador Tahir has sent me to fetch her on a mission of great importance!” He reached inside his robes and brought forth the Ambassador’s letter. The mere sight of the seal wiped the ingratiating smile from the innkeeper’s face. ”Come this way,” he said hastily.

Faramir, trailed by the reluctant Aban, was led through the main hall. On the way, he almost collided with the dancing woman; there was so little room between the tables. Faramir could hear a feminine but deep voice coming from a room at the back, command: “Take this on the night of the full moon and your wife will love you again and bear you many sons!” A moment later, a somewhat embarrassed looking man scurried from the room, clutching what looked like a small bag of herbs. The Steward groaned inwardly. Was the woman nothing better than a purveyor of so-called love potions?

Chapter Four

Three times now the owl

Has sighed from on highScribel/Verdi – Ulrica’s Aria


The Innkeeper gestured for Faramir and his escort to go inside. After bowing low again, he left them.

“Who seeks my counsel?” asked the darwisa, emerging from the shadows. Her husky voice was oddly compelling. She was a tall woman, dressed in faded scarlet robes. Her long grey hair was wild and unkempt and she was missing her front teeth. Aban shrank behind Faramir.

“You are not what you seem to be!” said the woman. She raised a large hand that looked capable of easily wielding a weapon. Her sleeve fell back to reveal a serpent tattooed on her forearm.

“I am Faramir, son of Denethor, Steward to King Elessar, esteemed Lady Zafirah,” said Faramir. “I have come to seek your aid for my lord, laid low by a poisoned blade.”

“You are a bold one, Faramir, son of Denethor,” replied Zafirah. ”Why should I aid a man who defeated my people and killed many of my own kin?”

“With respect, lady, my lord defeated your people in fair combat; combat that the Haradrim brought to our very gates,” said Faramir evenly but firmly. “Your ambassador himself commands that you aid my lord.” He handed the woman the letter.

Zafirah studied the parchment and frowned. “His order bids me to come with you on pain of death,” she said. ”It does not tell me why I should use my healing arts on a man I despise!”

“Lord Elessar is the noblest and best of men!” said Faramir fervently. “All who know him come to love him. He is as a father to me. Should he die, part of my own soul would perish with him! He has a wife who loves him and a young son who would grow up fatherless."

Zafirah suddenly grasped both of Faramir’s hands and stared into his eyes. Aban gave a cry, then turned and fled. The darwisa suddenly smiled, her gap toothed smile strangely beautiful. “I will help you, if my powers permit, Man of Gondor,” she said. ”If your lord can inspire such love, he is worth saving, if the Powers on High will it. Tell me of the poison! Do you have the weapon that caused the deadly wound?”

“I thank you, most esteemed wise woman,” said Faramir. "Our healers still have the poisoned blade. The venom is slowly paralysing my King. The woman who attacked him said he would die within twenty-four hours.”

“Akuiniama!” exclaimed Zafirah. ”A rare poison unknown to men, but the women of our people know its uses well. It is powerful magic!”

“Is there an antidote?” Faramir demanded.

Zafirah smiled again. “Of course. What use would it be to us, if we could not control the powers of life and death the plant holds!” She seized several jars from the crowded shelf behind her and wrapped them in a cloth, which she placed in an already laden large basket. ”Come, Lord Faramir, take me to your master!”

The Steward found Aban waiting outside with the horses. The man’s eyes widened in fear at the sight of Zafirah. ”Mercy, great Prince!” he cried. “This woman will place the evil eye upon us! Do not make me go near her!”

“You can lend her your horse and walk home if you prefer,” said Faramir. “Tell your Master how we have fared and that I will return his horses in the morning.”

“Thank you, noble Prince!” exclaimed Aban. He hurried away without a backward glance.

Zafirah laughed mirthlessly. ”They fear me, as I am not like them, yet they seek my wisdom,” she said.

“My lord will give you high honour if you can heal him, said Faramir, helping her mount and securing her basket to the saddle. ”He is a great healer himself.”

The Steward urged his horse into a gallop. Fortunately, Zafirah was plainly a horsewoman skilled enough to keep up with him. He kept checking to ensure that the woman was still following. Yet something in his heart told him that she could be trusted to keep her word. Whether she could heal Aragorn was another matter entirely.

Night was full upon them now. They rode swiftly through the silent streets lit by a crescent moon and the occasional lamp.

“Who goes there?” A guard loomed out of the darkness issuing the challenge. “It is late to be abroad, and do you not know that horses are forbidden beyond the sixth circle?”

“Let me pass, Sergeant. It is, I, Faramir, Steward of Gondor. My companion and I are on an urgent errand for the King!”

The Sergeant bellowed with laughter. ”You will not fool me so easily! Since when did our Steward have swarthy skin and Southron robes? You are no Man of Gondor, though you speak like one!”

Hastily Faramir dismounted and threw off his borrowed garb. ”Let me pass, man, the King’s life may depend upon it!” He reached in his pocket and slipped on a discarded ring. ”See, here is my seal of office!”

“You might be the Steward, but I don’t know, I must fetch -”

Unable to wait any longer, Faramir remounted. He gestured to Zafirah and suddenly urged his horse to a gallop, forcing the guard to jump aside. He was relieved that the next guard they encountered was a man he knew well, who stared at him, but let him pass.

When they reached the King’s apartments, everyone was still abroad despite the lateness of the hour. The servants with no duties to perform stood in groups, some talking quietly while others were weeping. Healers were bustling to and fro, their faces grave. Everyone looked up and stared at Faramir and his companion.

“How is the King?” Faramir asked a passing healer.

“Alas, my lord, he grows weaker by the hour,” said the man. “He cannot move his limbs at all. Soon the venom will reach his vital organs. Master Tarostar is about to insert a tube in his throat, in the hope it will help him breathe for a little longer The assassin died a few hours ago. But, whatever has happened to your face?”

“Henna dye,” Faramir said shortly. “I must go to the King. I require the dagger that dealt him the deadly blow.”

Grasping Zafirah’s arm tightly, Faramir hastened towards Aragorn’s room, knocked, and entered.

Aragorn lay motionless upon the huge bed in a stiff, unnatural position, his skin whiter than his nightshirt. The room smelled strongly of athelas, but the herb seemed to have no effect. Arwen sat on a chair weeping quietly, while three healers were bustling around, and a fourth was sharpening a knife. The Queen looked up as Faramir entered, her red eyes widening as she saw him and his companion.

“Estel was asking for you before he lost consciousness,” Arwen said reproachfully.

“My lady, I left him only that I might search out an antidote for what ails him,” said Faramir. "I bring Mistress Zafirah, a darwisa, who knows the secrets of deadly venoms.”

“I fear you are too late to help my Estel,” said Arwen. “He cannot swallow, and can scarcely breathe.”

Faramir hastened to the bedside and clasped Aragorn’s hand. It felt cold and lifeless much to his dismay. “Can you aid my lord?” he asked Zafirah urgently.

“It may already be too late, but I will try my best. You must all  leave. I do not share the secrets of my healing arts with outsiders,” the darwisa said sternly in her deep, husky voice.

“Certainly not!” protested Tarostar. “We must stay with our patient! He is very seriously ill!”

“Can you cure him?” asked Arwen bitterly.

“You know we cannot, my lady,” said the Warden, “But we should -”

Arwen rose to her feet and drew herself up to her full height, every inch a queen. ”Go!” she said in a voice that allowed no argument.

Chapter  Five

Du weisst,
wo du mich wiederfinden kannst!

(You know where you can find me again!) Parsifal Act 2. – Wagner.


“We will be outside if you need us,” Tarostar huffed.

“I shall stay with my husband,” Arwen told Zafirah in the same queenly tones.

“And I shall not leave my King,” Faramir said equally firmly.

“Very well,” said the darwisa. “But do not interfere. First I must see the dagger that caused the wound.”

Fortunately Tarostar had brought it to the sickroom, in an attempt to diagnose what the poison might be from one of Elrond’s books that Arwen had produced.

Zafirah took the blade and sniffed it. “It is indeed Akuiniama!” she said. “When was he stabbed?”

“It was about three hours before noon,” said Arwen.

“Time grows short,” declared the darwisa, glancing at Aragorn’s motionless form. “I need hot water, then strong tea, red wine, vinegar, and charcoal to make a potion.”

Arwen looked doubtful, but summoned a servant to fetch what was needed.

The darwisa rummaged in her basket and took out several packets and jars, together with a selection of sharp knives and some goblets and bowls.

Faramir called Aragorn’s name, desperately trying to rouse him. The King made no reply and hardly seemed to breathe.

The servant brought in a bowl of steaming water and placed it on a table by the bed. Arwen told her to wait outside. Zafirah approached the bed holding a sharp knife and a piece of what looked like bark in her hand. ”Bare the wound!” she demanded.

Faramir and Arwen lifted the King, unlaced his nightshirt and slid it from his shoulders, a process made difficult by the stiffness of Aragorn’s limbs. They unfastened the bloodstained bandage that covered the wound.

After washing her hands, Zafirah studied the wound critically. ”At least it has been opened, though not sufficiently,” she said. To Arwen and Faramir’s bewilderment, she circled the bed thrice, chanting in some strange tongue, then threw her arms in the air and gave a loud cry. Taking the knife, she widened the gash and inserted the bark into the wound. Aragorn remained motionless, but gave a low moan at what must have been an excruciatingly painful procedure.

The darwisa spread the bottles of ingredients she had ordered on a table, and mixed a little of each, together with some herbs she produced from a pouch she had brought. She divided the mixture between a small bowl and a large goblet. Taking the bowl to the bedside, she removed the bark from the wound and poured the mixture into the wound, before replacing the bark and demanding a clean bandage. Faramir and Arwen could only watch and hope she knew what she was doing.

Zafirah then fetched the cup. ”He needs to drink this medicine,” she explained. ”It is the antidote to the poison.”

Arwen instantly began trying to rouse her husband. As a healer’s daughter, she knew he must be conscious to drink or the mixture would choke him. “Estel, beloved!” she cried. ”Please awaken and drink what may heal you!”

But Aragorn did not stir.

Faramir tried coaxing his lord and calling his name with no better result. Zafirah strode back to the bedside and slapped the King’s face. Arwen bit back a protest. Aragorn remained silent, far away from them all. “I was told you were stronger than other Men, Elessar!” Zafirah goaded the unconscious King. “Come; awaken and show me the strength of the Men of the West!”

Faramir could have wept. It seemed all his efforts to save his King had been in vain. Then he remembered that when he had lain close to death, Aragorn had reached him by placing a hand on his brow. Faramir himself bore high Númenorean lineage, as well as Elven blood. So did the Queen, though she held the greater share of high blood. Queen and Steward also shared a deep mental bond with the King. Maybe they could somehow reach Aragorn together? Faramir turned to Arwen and spoke softly of his idea, praying that it would bring their lord back to them.

“There is something we wish to try, unique to our people,” Faramir told Zafirah, who was now shaking Aragorn. ”We must concentrate.”

Zafirah shrugged. ”He must drink or die!” she said simply.

Arwen and Faramir each laid hands on Aragorn’s brow. Focussing all their strength of spirit upon the man they both loved, Queen and Steward silently pleaded with him to awaken. With every minute that passed, their task seemed more hopeless. Finally, Aragorn blinked and opened one eye a fraction.

“Hear me, beloved!” Arwen said urgently in Quenya. “For the love of me and our son, you must drink this potion to heal you.”

“Please, Father of my heart, do not leave me!” Faramir pleaded in the same ancient tongue.

“Will try.” Aragorn’s voice was a barely audible whisper, but he was awake.

Faramir supported the King while Arwen held the cup. The mixture looked vile, and doubtless tasted the same, but sip by laboured sip, Aragorn somehow managed to swallow it before sinking back on the bed.

Zafirah, who had stood quietly while they were trying to rouse Aragorn, began to stride around the room chanting incantations of some sort.

“He needs to digest it quickly before the venom paralyses his digestion,” Arwen said anxiously. ”My father would rub the stomachs of poison victims.” She pulled Aragorn’s nightshirt further down and started gently rubbing clockwise circles with her fingertips across his stomach. When emotion overcame her and her fingers faltered, Faramir took over the task.

Zafirah finally finished her chanting. “The Higher Powers tell me that they smile upon this strong one,” she announced. “He should live if he sweats out the venom. The fire needs making up and he should be wrapped in many blankets.”

Faramir summoned servants to bring extra blankets, and more wood for the fire. Together with Arwen, he wrapped the King in the two blankets already on the bed. The servants brought four more. Aragorn was soon sweating copiously. He groaned and struggled to move his limbs.

“The treatment is working,” the darwisa announced. ”Give him plenty of water and more of my medicine in the morning. He should make a full recovery in a few days. I would go now; I have stayed here too long.” She snatched up her basket and made for the door.

“Wait!” said Faramir. “If he does indeed recover, you shall be richly rewarded.”

“You have nothing that I want. Now let me be!” Zafirah snapped. ”You know where you can find me again,” she added in a gentler tone.

Loth to restrain her by force, Faramir reluctantly allowed her to leave.

Through the long hours of the night, Faramir and Arwen sat beside the King, mopping his brow and coaxing him to swallow water. When his sweating eased, they bathed him and changed his nightshirt and the bedding.

As dawn broke, Arwen left the room for a few minutes to see how her son fared. Faramir held more water to the King’s lips. He was overjoyed when Aragorn opened his eyes and asked weakly: “Faramir, whatever have you done to your face?”

“It is a long story,” said Faramir, his voice thick with emotion. Aragorn’s hand reached from beneath the blanket and his fingers weakly clasped Faramir’s.

Just then, Arwen returned. The sight of her husband moving his hands filled her with joy. She ran to the bedside and embraced him before bursting into tears.

“I had such dark dreams,” said Aragorn. ”I feared I was dying. Stay with me, vanimelda, ion nín, please. I am tired and so thirsty.”

“All is well, my love, rest now,” soothed the Queen, lifting a cup of water to her husband’s lips. ”We will both stay beside you.”

Faramir and Arwen both sat on the bed on either side of Aragorn. They each clasped one of his hands, delighting in their slowly strengthening grip, until he drifted into a natural sleep.


It was about three hours before noon when a servant tapped on the door. “Enter!” called Arwen, rising from the bed and smoothing down the dress she had donned the previous morning. Aragorn lay sleeping soundly under the covers, his chest steadily rising and falling. He moved his limbs as he turned in his sleep. He still looked pale, but had lost the ghostly pallor of the night before. On top of the covers, Faramir lay sprawled fast asleep, exhausted from his labours of the previous day. Arwen regarded him fondly. She knew that without Faramir’s determination, she would now be a widow.

The servant handed her a packet and withdrew. The Queen opened the packet, and found a lapis lazuli necklace and a note from the merchant  whom Aragorn had purchased it from the previous day. Arwen found herself shaking with emotion as she regarded the beautiful blue stones. It could so easily have been her husband’s final gift to her. Securing the gems around her neck, she went to find her son. A new day had dawned, and another twenty-four hours lay ahead.

The End

A/N A darwisa is a female shaman from North Africa


 The poison is loosely based on Strophanthus hispidus DC. http://www.aluka.org/action/showMetadata?doi=10.5555%2FAL.AP.UPWTA.1_398


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