Too Long a Sacrifice

Tree and Flower Awards, Post-Lord of the Rings, Third Place
2014 Tree and Flower Awards

Too Long a Sacrifice

Rating: T, for adult themes and mild violence and battle scenes.

Disclaimer: These characters( apart from my original characters) all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.

With thanks to Raksha and Deandra.


When the battle's lost and won. – Macbeth. Act 1. Scene 1 - Shakespeare


Aragorn patted Roheryn reassuringly before wiping the blood from the blade and carefully sheathing Andúril. Again, a band of rebel Haradrim were routed. Their mangled bodies littered the battlefield while those that survived were fleeing into the distance.

The King sighed at the folly and useless waste of life. Most of Gondor’s former enemies now desired peace, but there remained factions of fanatical Sauron worshippers who refused to concede defeat or abide by the treaties sworn by their leaders. It was only a few short months ago that Faramir had repelled a similar incursion. This time, the rebels had attacked in greater numbers.

Aragorn instructed his men to seek out the wounded that they might be tended, then bury the dead where they had fallen.

He then looked around for Faramir, but could not see him. Aragorn called to Beregond, Faramir’s captain who was heading towards him. “The day is won and at little cost to Gondor. Have you seen Lord Faramir?”

Beregond shook his head. “No, sire, not for some time. He was in the thick of the fight when I last saw him, but was holding his own. A group of Haradrim attacked me, I was forced to defend myself, and I lost sight of him. I am looking for him now, sire.”

A sudden feeling of dread came over the King, but he simply replied, “I will come with you.”

Beregond urged his horse towards the far side of the field that bordered woodland. Aragorn followed, his keen eyes scouring the field for any trace of his Steward and friend. With each moment that passed, his anxiety increased. Was Faramir badly wounded or worse?

Suddenly a horseman approached them at a gallop. He reined in his mount once he caught sight of the King. “My lord!” he cried. “I have just come across an injured riderless horse. I know the beast well. It belongs to Lord Faramir!”

“Damrod!” Aragorn cried now that he could see the rider’s face. “Quickly, show me where!”

“Over here, sire!” Damrod turned his mount around and headed back in the direction whence he had come. Ithilien was heavily wooded and the battle had been fought in a cleared area, which was now used for sheep rearing. The shepherds had fled with their flocks into the surrounding woodlands, which was where Damrod was now heading.

A great grey horse, instantly recognisable as Faramir’s, was pacing beneath the trees in an agitated fashion. Its fine coat was covered in blood. Of its rider, there was no trace.

“Wait here with Roheryn,” Aragorn told Damrod. He slid from his great war stallion’s back and crept towards the injured horse with the stealth that only a former Ranger could possess. Lunging towards the beast, he grabbed the dangling reins. The horse reared up, neighing frantically. Aragorn hung on grimly, speaking soft words until the horse quieted.

“What happened, Fain? Where is your master?” Aragorn said more to himself than to the horse. He could see now that the steed had a deep and ugly wound on his hindquarters. Faramir must have been unhorsed when Fain reared in pain from the wound. Aragorn studied the injury carefully; it puzzled him. Sadly, injured horses were all too common a sight upon the battlefield, but their wounds were usually to their heads and necks. And where was Faramir? There were dead Haradrim in plenty scattered around, but he had seen no man either living or dead in Faramir’s armour and distinctive gear.

Crouching to the ground, he looked around him carefully. Faramir’s great sword lay trampled into the ground. Aragorn picked it up. There were hoof and footprints a- plenty in the mud, but only one set of horseshoes with the pattern used by Faramir’s smith. He followed the hoof prints. To begin with, they were random and blood dotted the ground between them, obviously made after Fain was wounded. Aragorn followed the trail to the edge of the copse. There were two especially deep marks here and a pool of blood. This must have been where Fain was injured and reared up, taking all his weight on his two back hooves. There was also an indentation in the ground where his rider had fallen and many more prints from men and horses. The King rose to his feet and called Damrod over. “Look,” he said. “It seems that Lord Faramir fell from his horse here and was surrounded by Haradrim who bore him away!”

He turned to Beregond who had now caught up with them. “Ride with all haste to gather reinforcements,” he told the Captain. “Lord Faramir has been captured. Damrod and I will track his captors and leave clear signs for you to follow. Also, send a message, together with Lord Faramir’s sword, to Lady Éowyn and tell her what has happened. Tell her to remain in the city with her children. Ithilien might not be safe at present.”

Beregond blanched at the tidings as he took the sword from the King’s hand. “Should you not wait and gather more men, sire?” he suggested.

“Two may follow tracks more easily than twenty,” said Aragorn. “Every moment we delay puts Lord Faramir in greater jeopardy.”

Beregond did not look entirely convinced but simply replied, “At once, sire,” and galloped away.

Aragorn swung himself back into Roheryn’s saddle and set off in the direction of the tracks he had found. “Keep a look out,” he ordered Damrod. “I hope you have not forgotten your old ranger skills.”

The two former Rangers painstakingly followed the tracks along a woodland trail, Aragorn frequently dismounting and studying any signs that his keen eyes perceived. He deduced that Faramir had been dragged a short distance to a large clearing, where a group of men and horses had been waiting and put on to a horse there.

“I know this area well, sire,” said Damrod. “We are not far from a little used road. During the war, the Haradrim would sometimes wait to ambush us near it. Maybe they plan to take Lord Faramir to Harad?”

“Maybe,” said Aragorn. “Their Kha Khan, Janab, has signed a treaty with Gondor, though. He would not look kindly on any of his subjects waging war upon us, much less kidnapping Gondor’s Steward! These men we are fighting against are rebels against their own leader as much as against us.”

“But surely they have taken Lord Faramir that they might redeem him for ransom?” said Damrod.

“I do not know,” Aragorn said grimly. “I do know, though, that we must get him back with all haste.”

The two did not speak again until they reached the road. Aragorn dismounted and examined the tracks. There were wheel marks, which had left deep indentations, suggesting a cart had been left there for some time, and other marks that suggested that someone, or something, heavy had been dragged towards the cart. The two men followed the tracks until they came to a crossroads.

“Look,” said Damrod. “I can see hoof prints clearly here and the horses are heading south towards Harad.”

“The cart tracks are heading east towards Mordor,” said Aragorn. “It seems that the riders parted company with the cart.”

“Why go towards Mordor?” asked Damrod. “There is nothing there save rocks and ash, or so I have been told. Which tracks do we follow, sire?”

“Why indeed?” Aragorn replied grimly. “I like this not at all. We will follow the cart tracks as the signs tell me clearly that they placed Lord Faramir within the cart. If he were on horseback, he would surely have tried to escape or left some token for us. Come, Damrod, we ride East.”

Chapter Two- An offering by fire.

“An offering by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering” – The Bible – Numbers;15.3

Bound and gagged, Faramir was tossed around the covered cart like a sack of grain as it travelled along the rough road. Every bone in his body ached from his rough treatment at the hands of his captors and his mouth felt drier than parchment. The air inside the cart felt hot and oppressive and it was difficult to breathe through the gag. His armour had been removed and was tossed in a heap a few feet away, leaving him clad only in his shirt and breeches.

Worst, though was the humiliation of being captured thus, drawn into an ambush and carried off from the battlefield while his men were distracted. He flinched at the memory of poor Fain’s cry of agony. Did his noble steed still live? Fain had been a Yuletide gift from Éomer, but a few short months before. He was the finest horse the Steward had ever ridden. The panicked horse had reared and thrown Faramir. Before he could remount, he had been hit on the head from behind and the next thing he recalled was waking up in this cart, trussed up like a chicken for market.

Cautiously, Faramir opened his eyes and examined his surroundings. The cart was full of logs, upon which two Southron warriors were sitting, watching him like vultures observing their prey. One was obviously a veteran of many battles; he bore a livid scar down one cheek and was missing an eye, while the other was little more than a boy: his nut- brown skin unmarked and the contours of his  beardless face still rounded. Both bore the emblems of the serpent and the lidless eye upon their scarlet robes.

Faramir tried to calm his pounding heart. They were men who had abducted him, not Orcs. No doubt they planned to hold him to ransom; a ransom that the King would gladly pay. These men were rebels against the rule of the Kha Khan. His men would free Gondor’s Steward once they knew of his whereabouts. His captors must be lunatics to risk the wrath of both Aragorn and the Kha Khan. It was not a comforting thought that he had been captured by madmen. What did they want with him? Was it as simple as gold?

A cloud of dust blew through a gap in the side of the wagon into the confined space. Faramir started to cough. He could not clear his throat properly, though, because of the gag and started to choke. He started to flail around like a fish out of water as panic seized him.

The youth looked at him with startled brown eyes then got up and removed the gag. Faramir coughed and spluttered before thankfully breathing in lungfuls of air.

“You young fool!” the older man said to the boy with a curse. “We are still within Gondor’s borders. What if he cries out?” He drew his dagger and waved it in front of Faramir’s face. “Call for help, tark, and you die!” he said in heavily accented Weston.

Faramir nodded. He was still coughing too much to speak.

“I thought he would choke,” said the boy in his own tongue.

“I doubt it, but we need him alive if the sacrifice is to succeed,” said the older man.

Faramir started in horror. He was to be a sacrifice? He tried to maintain his composure. These men had no idea he could understand their language, albeit with some difficulty. It was a quite different dialect than the elegant tongue used by ambassador Tahir.  Maybe that knowledge would help him.

“Why have you captured me?” Faramir asked, or rather croaked, once his coughing had finally subsided.

“We need you as a sacrifice to the Lord of Gifts, tark,” said the older man. He smiled for the first time.

“His spirit was carried away on the winds, he is no more in Arda,” Faramir croaked in reply.

The young man stared at Faramir again then fumbled at his belt and produced a water bottle, which he uncorked and held to Faramir’s lips. The water was stale, but tasted like nectar to the parched Steward.

The older man glared at this gesture of mercy before saying. “The Lord of Gifts was only vanquished because the sacrifice, which would have given him measureless might, was not completed, thanks to the accursed wizard’s meddling. Your father, tark, was obedient, for it is written in our lore that the Lord of Gifts will reign supreme when a father of high lineage offers himself and his son to him.”

“My father was no worshipper of Sauron!” Faramir retorted. “He chose the pyre so that the Orcs could not give him a worse death!”

The scarred warrior struck Faramir across the face. “Silence, tark! Did they not tell you that your father followed the sacrificial ritual that the Lord of Gifts used on the Star Island?”

Faramir did not reply. It was useless to argue with a madman. He tried to look defiant as he licked the blood from his lips.

Time passed slowly, yet at the same time too quickly. The cart rumbled onwards towards its destination. Faramir kept his eyes closed, pretending to sleep, partly because of a pounding headache and partly in the hope that he might avoid further abuse from his captors. When they finally stopped, the scarred man called to the driver asking him why.

“It grows too dark to see the road and the horses can go no further,” the driver called.

“Very well, but we resume our journey at first light,” said the scarred man. “We shall spend the night here in the wagon.” He prodded Faramir with his foot. “Wake up, tark!” he snarled in the common tongue, before addressing the younger man in his own language. “You had best take the tark in the wood to relieve himself. We don’t want him to stink. He should be kept clean for the sacrifice. Don’t let him escape, these tarks are cunning rats.”

The two men half dragged, half carried Faramir from the cart, adding to his bruises in the process. The older man then loosened the Steward’s bonds sufficiently for him to move his hands and to place one foot in front of the other. They dragged him to his feet. Faramir could hardly stand while the sudden rush of blood as proper circulation was restored to his limbs was excruciating. He gulped in great lungfuls of fresh air.

Faramir looked around him to distract himself from the pain. They were still in Ithilien. He recognised the forest of great trees that his forebears had planted long ago. He had assumed his captors were taking him to Harad, but this way led into Mordor. It seemed that they were planning to sacrifice him in Sauron’s former realm. Aragorn had garrisoned what was left of the Black Gate, but Ithilien shared miles of border with Sauron’s former realm, which it had not seemed either needful or practical to patrol.

The young man urged him forward into the trees and allowed him a little privacy behind a huge pine. Faramir toyed with the idea of using this brief moment of solitude to attempt to escape. He could hardly walk, though, impeded as he was by his bonds and stiff limbs.

“You are highly honoured, tark,” said the young man as he grabbed Faramir’s arm to usher him back to the wagon.

“Honoured?” Faramir could not help but sound bitter.

“You will be forever remembered as the great sacrifice that recalled the Lord of Gifts to life,” the young man said, in the kind of tone used to comfort a child.

“How can you be so certain?”

“The Lord of Gift’s high priest has pronounced it so.”

“What gifts did he bestow on you?”

“My prowess as a warrior and my very life.”

“It is the One who gives life,” said Faramir. “The Lord of Gifts no more created you than Mithrandir created me. What is your name, boy?”

“I am called Fikri,” said the young man. “You lie, tark. The Lord of Gifts gave us everything.”

“My name is Faramir,” said the Steward. “You could have even more if you accepted peace. Most of your folk have done so already. How many are attending this ‘sacrifice’?”

Fikri’s boyish face hardened. “We do not surrender to tarks. Our comrades in arms and the elders of the faithful will all come to witness the rising of the Lord of Gifts. Do not think that you can escape! ”

They had reached the bend in the road where the wagon was parked. “Kneel!” Fikri ordered. “I must tighten your bonds again before Lord Zafir returns.”

By the time the older warrior reappeared from amongst the trees from the opposite direction to where Faramir had been taken, the Steward was again securely trussed up, though his bonds did not cut as tightly into his flesh as they did before.

Faramir was dragged back inside the wagon. His captors pulled food from their packs and ate, but they did not offer him a single bite nor a further swallow of water from their skins. When darkness fell, they wrapped themselves in their cloaks and slept. Faramir was left with his thoughts. They were far from comforting. Ever since his father had tried to burn him alive, Faramir had especially feared death by fire. He had been mercifully unconscious at the time, but for a long time afterwards, he had been haunted by nightmares filled with the stench of smoke and burning flesh. A horrible, slow, and painful death. He often wondered just how much his father had suffered. To think that he had been spared once from death by fire, only to meet the same fate years later! Faramir was no coward, but he was terrified. His stomach churned and his heart thumped at the very thought. He shivered and not only from the chill night air.

He did not want to die yet. He was not ready to leave Éowyn or his children, nor the King he loved and served. He would gladly have given his life to defend those he loved or his beloved land, but to be sacrificed to a false god was a cruel fate indeed!

Then what of his father? Despite his defiant words, the Steward was troubled by his captors’ certainty that Denethor had offered himself as a sacrifice to the Dark Lord. Denethor had hated Sauron and all he stood for, but what if in his madness, he had turned to his old adversary. Would his soul ever find rest if he had?

The Steward shifted restlessly wishing that every bone and muscle in his body did not ache so. He needed to escape, but how? He was tightly bound and had no weapon. If only he could have left some sign for Aragorn to follow! It was futile to hope for rescue, though. It would be some time before anyone noticed he was missing in the heat of battle, and Aragorn and Beregond would first scour the field for his body. Then they would no doubt assume he had been carried off to Harad for ransom and send pursuers in the wrong direction. With that far from comforting thought, Faramir finally drifted into an uneasy slumber.


Aragorn reined Roheryn to a halt. “We will rest here by this stream for a few hours,” he told Damrod. “Loth though I am to stop, the horses can go no further and we cannot see the trail in the darkness.”

“Shall I make a fire, sire?” Damrod asked. He slid from his horse and patted the sweating animal.

“Yes, our quarry is still way ahead,” said Aragorn. “I had hoped we would have caught up with them ere nightfall.”

“Maybe our reinforcements will arrive in the morning,” said Damrod as the two men tended to their horses.

“It takes time to gather men and supplies,” said Aragorn. “Faramir’s best hope of rescue lies with us.” He patted Roheryn and left the great stallion to graze.

“What do you think his captors want with Lord Faramir?” asked Damrod.

“I can think of several things, none of them pleasant,” Aragorn replied grimly.

Damrod soon had a cheerful fire blazing. The two former Rangers ate a meagre supper of dried biscuit washed down with water. They then wrapped themselves in their cloaks and settled down for the night.

Damrod almost immediately fell asleep, but rest was slow to come to Aragorn. He lay looking up at the stars. Could Faramir still see those same stars? Did he yet live? Aragorn shuddered then chided himself. Surely he would sense it if his friend were dead. How were his captors treating him, though? Was Faramir being put to torment? Aragorn could not bear to dwell on the thought. Inwardly he vowed to save his friend and Steward whatever the cost. With that thought, he slept.

Chapter Three - Threat'ning to devour me

Infinite wrath and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep,
Still threat’ning to devour me, opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven. – Milton – Paradise Lost

Faramir was awakened by the cart juddering to a halt. He had been lost in dark dreams of his father lighting a pyre on which he was lying. Denethor had cried out, “Sauron, take the son that is left to me as a gift!”

He could hear his captors talking about unharnessing the horses. Faramir realised they had reached their destination. The reality was even worse than the nightmare from which he had awakened. This time there could be no last minute reprieve from the flames.

A few moments later, some men whom he had not seen before, started unloading the logs from the cart. Faramir shuddered. They were building his pyre!

A few moments later, Fikri and Zafir dragged him out of the cart and laid him on the grass beside it. Faramir blinked in the bright sunlight. A grim sight met his eyes. A group of about twenty men were gathered. Most of them appeared to be Haradrim, but one or two had paler skin and grey eyes. Faramir assumed these were Black Númenoreans from Umbar.

A rough cart track formed a part of the long border between Ithilien and Mordor. On the Mordor side of the border, several of the men were occupied piling up logs on a makeshift stone altar. One pale- skinned man stood apart from the rest. He wore flowing robes of black and scarlet embroidered with images of a gigantic eye. He caught sight of Faramir and strode over to where he was lying. He stared at the Steward for some time with cold grey eyes devoid of any expression. At last, he addressed Zafir. “So this is the tark who caused our glorious lord’s defeat?”

Zafir bowed low. “Yes, master. He is the son of Denethor, snatched from the flames by the cursed white wizard.”

“He shall not escape this time. Our glorious lord will be reborn in splendour from the flames in which this tark burns. A pity he is so scrawny, the fat ones burn better, but he will have to do. Mark him with the sign of the Lord of Gifts.” He turned away again and called out more instructions to his followers.

“You heard the high priest, do as he says!” Zafir told Fikri. “Do not incur his wrath.”

The boy knelt beside Faramir. One of the others handed him a brush and a jar of blood coloured liquid, with which he began to paint on Faramir’s forehead. It burned like fire. The Steward said not a word, but his eyes searched out Fikri’s. The boy faltered slightly in his task.

“Hurry up, boy!” Zafir snapped impatiently.

“I’m sorry,” Fikri muttered. He tore open Faramir’s shirt and daubed more of the substance across Faramir’s chest. The burning was worse than ever against the more tender skin. Faramir glanced downwards and shuddered to see that the symbol of the eye now adorned his skin together with runes, the meaning of which he could only guess.

The pyre was now complete and one of the Haradrim poured oil from a jar over the wood.

“Place the sacrifice upon the altar,” ordered the high priest.

“Shouldn’t we knock him out first?” asked Fikri.

“Foolish boy! Do you wish to join him!” snapped the high priest. “The louder the tark screams, the more powerful the magic! His cries will be as music to the ears of the lord of Gifts.”

Fikri looked decidedly queasy but made no further protest. Together with Zafir and two of the other men, they picked up Faramir and lifted him on to the pyre. They then piled more logs around him to enclose him like a cage.

 The Steward vainly tried to struggle, but his bonds and the grip of his captors rendered his struggles futile. He could not even roll off the pyre to attempt to break his bonds or even try to stun himself into a merciful oblivion He could only watch as the followers of Sauron gathered around him in a circle. A small fire had been kindled. One of the men took up a torch and stood waiting to kindle the pyre.

The high priest raised his arms and intoned. “Lord of Gifts, mighty ruler, Lord of Arda, hear us and harken unto us! We offer you this sacrifice, the tark that rightfully is yours that you might return to us and rule resplendent for eternity!”

“So be it!” cried the others. “Let it be!”

Faramir’s stomach churned violently. He was about to die in the most horrible manner, sacrificed to a false god. “Valar, give me courage!” he muttered, more to himself than in any hope of his prayer being answered. He doubted he would be able to bite back his cries of agony for long, cries that would delight his captors. He could only hope that Éowyn and his little ones never learned of the manner of his death. He had wanted to grow old with her and see his children grow and thrive. He had wanted to help rebuild Gondor at the side of the man he had come to love and admire so much. Alas, his dreams were in ashes. He could not even bid his loved ones farewell and tell them how much he loved them one last time. Faramir laughed bitterly at the choice of word. All he could hope for now was that his death would not take too long.

The high priest began to chant in the Black Speech of Mordor. His followers took up the chant. When it reached a crescendo, the man holding the now lighted torch approached the pyre.

Faramir closed his eyes and prayed for a speedy death. 

Chapter Four - And to the Rescue came

O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came - John H. Newman

A loud cry rang out followed by a thud. Faramir opened his eyes again and saw that the torchbearer was lying face down upon the ground; an arrow with Gondorian fletching protruding from his back. The torch was entangled with his robes, which were now burning. Fortunately, the man was still some distance from the oil soaked pyre.

Faramir’s captors were thrown into confusion, looking wildly around them to see from whence the arrow had come.

“We are under attack!” cried the high priest. These proved to be his final words. Another arrow whizzed through the air and struck him through the heart. A man brandishing a sword, then raced out from behind a rocky outcrop. It was Aragorn.

Faramir regarded him with a mixture of joy and horror. His lord had come to his aid! The King was heavily outnumbered, though. The Steward yearned to live, but not at the cost of Aragorn’s life.

A dozen or so Southron warriors rushed towards the King, scimitars in their hands. Aragorn cut and slashed with Andúril, but he was surrounded. As soon as he felled one, another took his place. Arrows started to fly, picking the warriors off before they could approach the King. Faramir took heart; knowing his King had not come alone. Maybe he would not die trying to save him.

Another group of warriors raced towards the rocks from whence the arrows were flying, trying to stop the archer.

Fikri, who had been standing at one side, suddenly ran towards Faramir and clambered up the pyre, knocking aside the logs that surrounded the Steward. Faramir’s heart soared. Then Fikri drew his dagger. The Steward groaned inwardly.

To be so close to rescue only to have hope snatched from him again! The archer was preoccupied in defending Aragorn and could not help him.  This boy was after all an acolyte of the Dark Lord. It was futile to expect help from him. Fikri’s blade flashed, but instead of cutting into Faramir’s flesh, it cut through the ropes that bound him. Before Faramir could thank Fikri, an arrow flew through the air and hit the boy. He fell forward with a sickening thud as he hit his head against the stone altar.

Faramir slowly and painfully sat up, his head reeling at this sudden turn of events. He was saved from the fire! Fikri had aided him, but the unknown archer had concluded that the blade in his hand was for some sinister purpose. Now the boy was most likely dead for showing mercy. The Steward’s heart ached. He tried to see if Fikri was still breathing or not, but before he was able to, Aragorn cut down the last of his assailants and ran towards him.

Aragorn snatched him from the altar and half dragged, half carried him back towards the track that marked the border between Mordor and Ithilien. The surviving Haradrim gave pursuit, but the archer kept them at bay with a constant volley of arrows.

“You risked your life to come for me, ada,” said Faramir as soon as he could draw breath for speech.

“Only just in time,” Aragorn replied grimly. “Are you much hurt, ion nîn? Would that we could have found you sooner!”

“I am stiff and have a few bruises,” Faramir replied. “Nothing worse.”

“The horses are waiting in the woods,” said Aragorn. “Damrod will cover our retreat. Those archery lessons you gave him were put to good use. He was telling me that you spent hours improving his proficiency with the bow.”

“Maybe I taught him too well,” Faramir said sadly. By now, they had reached the clearing where the horses were tethered.

“How so?” asked Aragorn. He helped Faramir mount Roheryn before leaping astride the horse himself.

“One of my captors cut my bonds, but Damrod thought he was attacking me and shot him,” said Faramir. “He is most likely slain.”

“We dare not go back,” said Aragorn. “The Haradrim are still pursuing us.”

“I know.” Faramir’s tone was both sad and resigned. He slumped against Aragorn as the pain shot through his limbs with the returning circulation.

Aragorn urged Roheryn forward and the great horse sped on his way. Soon afterwards, they were joined by Damrod. His quiver was empty. “There are still some of them alive,” he said. “We should be able to outpace them as our horses are swifter.”

“Let us leave Mordor far behind us!” said Aragorn.

They rode onwards until the sun was almost overhead, visible through the leafy canopy of Ithilien woodland. Every muscle in Faramir’s body ached, but he spoke no word of complaint. Suddenly they heard the sound of approaching hoof beats, as if a large company were coming towards them. Aragorn gestured that they take cover amongst the trees. To their great relief, once the men came into sight they could see that the riders wore the uniform of Gondor. Beregond was at their head.

“Well met, my friend!” Aragorn emerged from cover to greet the Captain. Faramir straightened up in the saddle.

“Valar be praised, sire!” cried Beregond. “You have Lord Faramir safe!”

Aragorn swiftly recounted all that had happened then asked Beregond to divide his men into two troops; one headed by the Captain to pursue any remaining Haradrim and the other to accompany them to Emyn Arnen.

“Beregond!” Faramir called as the Captain prepared to ride away. 

“Yes, my lord?”

“There was one amongst the Haradrim who was little more than a boy. Grant him a decent burial if you find his body.”

“I will, sir. What if he yet lives?”

“It is most unlikely, but have the healer treat his wounds if he still draws breath. And take care, my friend, these Haradrim are a savage bunch, dedicated to the worship of Sauron. ”

Beregond nodded and spurred his horse forward.

The others continued their journey to Emyn Arnen without further incident.


“You have been fortunate, mellon nîn,” said Aragorn as he finished examining Faramir’s injuries in the privacy of the Steward’s bedchamber. “I fear you will ache for a while, but your bruises and sore muscles will soon heal. I will apply a salve to help the hurts heal and mix you a draught for the pain.”

“What of these fiendish markings?” Faramir gestured to the mark of the eye standing out scarlet against the skin of his forehead and chest.

“Whatever dye was used burnt the top layer of your skin off,” said Aragorn. “It should heal without scarring, though. I will bandage the wounds so you do not have to look upon them.”

“I would not have my lady and my little ones distressed by the mark of Sauron when they return,” said Faramir. “I would rather tell Éowyn first than have her walk in and behold me thus.”

“She is strong and possesses the heart of a warrior, does your lady,” said Aragorn. “All that will matter to her is that you are home, safe and almost unscathed. Now lie still, while I apply these healing salves.”

The two lapsed into companionable silence. Faramir lay back against his pillows, thankful beyond measure to be back in his own bed. He closed his eyes and tried to drowse, but harrowing visions of his father and himself engulfed in flames whirled around in his mind.

“What troubles you, ion nîn?” asked Aragorn. “You are tense as a drawn bow string.” He paused in applying a comfrey salve to Faramir’s bruised ribs.

“My captors told me that my father intended both himself and me as a sacrifice for Sauron,” said Faramir. “I cannot believe such a thing and yet….”

“Your father hated Sauron and all that he stood for,” Aragorn said firmly. “His mind was twisted at the end, but it was fear of Sauron and what he and his minions would do that influenced his actions. So Gandalf told me and his words are to be trusted.”

“Yet I am told that he desired to burn like the heathen kings of old,” said Faramir.

“He meant only in the manner of his death,” Aragorn replied. “He feared bowing to me almost as much as bowing to Sauron.”

“What greater honour could there be than to return the White Rod to the King returned?” Faramir exclaimed.

Aragorn laughed bitterly. “I believe the Valar destined that honour for you, Faramir. To your father it seemed as ignominious as falling captive to some tyrant!”

“Never did a captive have more freedom!” said Faramir and smiled. His eyes soon became grave again, though. “My heart grieves for that boy who fell trying to help me. I put no blame on Damrod, though. He believed the lad was trying to kill me.”

“Do not trouble yourself overmuch,” said Aragorn. “The lad was a devoted follower of Sauron, as much a thorn in the side of the Kha Khan as in ours. It was he who placed these fiendish markings upon you.” He lightly touched the bandage on Faramir’s forehead as he spoke.

“I believe he knew no other way of life. He did say he was sorry and tried in his own way to be kind.” A sudden thought struck Faramir. “You were there when they prepared me for the fire?”

“I was, and gaining more grey hairs by the moment. Damrod and I had to wait until your captors were distracted before we could rescue you, outnumbered as we were.” Aragorn replied.

“You risked much for me,” said Faramir. “Thank you.”

“I would not be without you, ion nîn,” said Aragorn. “Neither would I face the wrath of your lady should I return without you! Now drink this herbal tea I have prepared and try to sleep.”

“I am weary,” said Faramir. “I only hope I can sleep without dark dreams.”

“I shall stay with you,” said Aragorn. “I will rouse you if you are troubled by dreams.” Now drink this.” He handed Faramir a cup.

“You need rest too,” Faramir protested.

“And I will get some,” said the King. “Do not forget that during my years in the wilds, I learned to sleep with one ear open. I will give you an Elven treatment while the herbs take effect.” Thus saying, he began to lightly massage Faramir’s neck and shoulders with his fingertips until the younger man relaxed beneath his touch. He did not stop until Faramir was sleeping as soundly as a contented cat.

Aragorn settled himself beside the younger man, wondering how long this restful slumber could last.

Chapter Five - To sleep: perchance to dream

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come – Shakespeare- Hamlet

Faramir suddenly cried out in his sleep while his limbs began to flail wildly.

“Awake! Come, ion nîn, wake up!” Aragorn cried. On getting no response, he lit a candle and then shook his friend awake, reaching swiftly to grasp Faramir’s hands before he could lash out.

The Steward’s eyes flickered open. They were wide with terror and he was trembling.

“Easy now,” Aragorn soothed. “T’was but an evil dream.” He placed his arm around Faramir’s shoulders and held him as he so often held Eldarion after some nocturnal terror had disturbed his slumbers. In the candlelight, Faramir looked paler even than the bandage wrapped around his head.

“What darkness troubles your sleep?” Aragorn prompted, his own mind sensing the turmoil of the younger man’s thoughts. “Were your dreams about the fire?”

Faramir nodded. “I dreamed that I was in Númenor of old and the White Tree had just been chopped down to make a great pyre, save it was our own fair tree. The priests, together with my father, were about to offer a most dread sacrifice .To think of it turns my blood cold!”

“They were about to sacrifice you?”

“Far worse than that!” Faramir shuddered violently. “They had you bound upon the pyre, together with Éowyn and my little ones. The boy, Fikri, was already burning and he cursed me for his fate. Then the logs around you, my sweet lady, and my little ones caught alight. I was begging them to burn me instead. Then you woke me, Valar be praised, but I can still see the terrible sight in my mind’s eye.”

“I am here beside you,” said Aragorn. “Éowyn and your children are with Arwen in the City guarded by my best men. No one can harm them, they are safe and well.”

“The boy lies rotting in the ground, though; that is, if Beregond was even able to give the poor child a decent burial. I fear he will trouble my dreams for a long time.”

“It was not your fault what happened, ion nîn. Sadly, we cannot save every young fool from their folly and that of their elders.”

“Born into a family of Sauron worshipping fanatics, the poor lad never stood a chance,” Faramir said sadly. “I had hoped the destruction of the Dark Lord’s power would have meant no more lives destroyed on his account.”

“Sadly, human folly was not destroyed with the One Ring,” said Aragorn. “Now let me call for some hot water and I will make some tea.”

“Thank you.”

Aragorn pulled on a robe over his sleeping attire and called for a servant to bring a jug of hot water. He poured some into a bowl, into which he crumbled two athelas leaves. At once, a living freshness filled the room, banishing all traces of any phantoms that dark dreams might leave behind. He set the steaming mixture down on the bedside table. Faramir breathed it deeply. Aragorn busied himself mixing a mug of herbal tea for his friend to which he added a few drops of poppy juice.

“I feel so foolish!” Faramir said after a few moments. “You should be resting not caring for me!”

“Many men would be driven to madness after what you have endured,” said Aragorn. “That you are sane and whole speaks much for your strength. Better that you should have the nightmares now while I have athelas at hand to cleanse the demons from your mind. Now drink this, it will help you pass the rest of the night peacefully. I shall not leave your side.”

“Thank you. It grieves me to cause you so much trouble.”

“Think nothing of it,” Aragorn soothingly patted his friend’s shoulder.

Faramir slowly sipped the mixture and soon his eyelids grew heavy. He soon drifted into to sleep, his head resting against Aragorn’s shoulder.

Aragorn remained wakeful for a little while longer, watching over the son of his heart. He too took deep breaths of the refreshing athelas vapours. They were balm to his soul after the horrors of the day.

As Aragorn had hoped, the draught proved effective and Faramir was still sleeping deeply when the King awoke the next morning. The remainder of the night passed peacefully. He was just debating whether to order breakfast to be sent to him when a servant entered.

 “Captain Beregond is here, sire,” said the man. “He has an injured Southron with him, though the fellow looks more dead than alive. The captain awaits your orders.”

“Have Captain Beregond and the prisoner taken to one of the guest chambers,” Aragorn commanded. “I will join him in a few moments.”

With a heavy heart, the King went to collect his healing supplies, all the while wondering why ever Beregond had brought the prisoner here. Faramir’s would-be murderers were miscreants of the worst sort who deserved the heaviest penalties that the law allowed. Death on the battlefield was the best they could have hoped for, once their plot was discovered. Now Faramir would face the added ordeal of giving evidence at this fellow’s trial, should he survive his wounds.

The Haradrim were  also by far the hardest captives to treat. Warriors wounded in battle preferred to fall on their own swords rather than be taken captive and would often try to harm themselves or refuse to eat while recovering from wounds. The healers usually dealt with them by leaving them alone with tempting food until their desire for it overcame their death wish. Those that did recover, seldom went home, though, as they were considered outcasts amongst the warrior tribes for allowing themselves to be captured. They generally made a new life for themselves amongst the more pragmatic merchants. Not that this prisoner would be going anywhere save the gallows if he lived, Aragorn thought grimly.

The King strode into downstairs chamber where he had directed Beregond and the prisoner be housed. He found Beregond pacing beside the bedside of an unconscious Southron. He was no man, but a beardless boy. One glance at the prisoner was all it took for Aragorn to recognise him as the lad Faramir had been grieving over, the boy who had tried to help him.

“We slew every Sauron worshipper we could find,” said Beregond. “Then I noticed someone stir near the altar. I raised my sword to strike the death blow; then I saw it was but a boy and I recalled Lord Faramir’s words. He had an arrow in his back, which the healer we had with us removed. By some marvel, it had missed any vital organ. The healer said the boy had a serious head wound too, caused by hitting his head on the altar.”

“You did well to bring him here,” said Aragorn. He went to the door and called for a servant to bring hot water. “Help me undress the boy and put him to bed,” the King told Beregond.

Together, they cut off what remained of the scarlet robes decorated with the emblems of Sauron. Both men eyed them with distaste,  and when the servant brought the water, Aragorn ordered him to take the garments and burn them. The boy’s skin was little better than his clothes; for in the fashion of the Haradrim warrior tribes, he was covered in ritual gashes and tattoos. Aragorn recognised the Great Eye and other symbols used by Sauron’s followers, tattooed on the boy’s chest and arms. The ritual gashes were more numerous than the ones Aragorn had seen on Ambassador Tahir’s back. The boy also bore the healed scars of wounds that appeared to have been inflicted by a whip.

Beregond gasped at the elaborate markings, but Aragorn ignored them, and concentrated on the boy’s wounds. When he had removed the bloodied bandages that covered them he found that the lad had a deep gash on his head, which had bled profusely, but his skull appeared intact. The arrow wound was far worse, the arrowhead having torn the muscles and tendons in the boy’s right shoulder and been far from expertly removed. Should the lad live, he would most likely never have the proper use of the arm again.

Aragorn cleaned, salved and bound the injuries then gave the boy a thorough wash. Still unconscious, the lad looked very young and vulnerable. The King took more notice of the tattoos as he bathed him and was surprised that some of the markings appeared to be tattooed on top of earlier ones, a phenomenon he had not noticed before. He was just about to bathe the boy’s feet when Faramir came into the room.

The Steward took one look at the boy on the bed and exclaimed, “Fikri! Why did you not tell me that he lived?”

“Beregond brought him but an hour or so ago while you were resting,” said Aragorn. “He is very ill. I did not wish to raise your hopes in vain until I had a better idea of whether or not he might live. If he does recover he will be maimed.”

“Do all you can for him, please,” said Faramir.

“But he is a follower of Sauron who did you great wrong, my lord!” Beregond sounded bewildered. “He even covers his skin with the mark of the Eye!”

“There is good in the boy and he tried to help me,” Faramir replied. He walked to the foot of the bed and caught sight of the soles of Fikri’s feet. “Those are not marks of the Eye,” he exclaimed. “They look like the moon!”

Aragorn looked for himself. “Strange indeed,” he remarked. “I thought the Sauron worshippers despised the old religion of the moon and all that it stood for.”

“We should send for Ambassador Tahir,” said Faramir. “ He might be able to explain the markings to us. He ought to know about the activities of the Sauron worshippers as they threaten Kha Khan Janab as well as Gondor.” He went over to the writing desk in the corner of the room and scribbled a note to the ambassador. “Beregond, my friend, will you see this message is despatched with all haste,” he said. “Then go and take food and rest.”

“I will, my lord,” said Beregond. He hastened from the room clutching the letter bearing Faramir’s seal.

Aragorn finished tending the boy and clothed him in nightshirt. “I have done all I can,” he told Faramir.

“Thank you. Will Fikri live?” the Steward asked.

“I do not know, maybe it might be better if he succumbed to his wounds,” Aragorn said gravely. “His future is bleak if he recovers.”

“I will not let him be harmed!” Faramir said fiercely.

“You should know me better than that, ion nîn,” Aragorn replied. “The boy will take no harm from me. He has paid for his crimes with his grievous wounds. But what will become of him? We cannot send him back to Harad where the Kha Khan would have him executed for siding with the rebels, while his former associates would shun him for being captured alive and being unfit to fight again. I would send him to labour in the North, but I could not treat a crippled boy thus. He will be alone and friendless.”

“I will provide for him,” said Faramir.

“Éowyn would not be happy for a young man who could be a danger to dwell here,” said Aragorn.

 “Maybe he could live in the City and help me translate trade documents?”

“Could you trust him, though?” asked Aragorn. “He is very young and was no doubt led astray by his elders, but he has been raised from birth to venerate everything we have spent our lives fighting against. Most likely, it was a Sauron devotee such as this boy, who wounded Tahir a few months ago. Will it not anger Tahir if we invite such folk to dwell beside him?”

“Most of our former enemies opposed all we hold dear,” Faramir replied. “Tahir is not a vindictive man. He would pity one who is little more than a child.”

“I can only trust that Tahir may have wise counsel,” said Aragorn. “We must hope that he will arrive before nightfall. You should still be resting after your ordeal, ion nîn.”

“I think too much if I lie abed,” said Faramir. “You should rest too. You rode hard to rescue me.”

“I will rest once I have written a letter to Arwen and broken my fast,” said Aragorn. “Have you eaten yet, Faramir?”

The Steward shook his head.

“I will have some breakfast brought,” said Aragorn. “I must ask one of the guards to sit with the boy. If he awakens, he could be a danger to himself until he comes to terms with his situation. I will ask them to call me should he wake up.”

“I will stay with him,” said Faramir. “I will call you when he awakens.”


Several hours passed before Fikri’s eyes flickered open. He groaned and licked his parched lips. Faramir held a cup of water so that the boy could drink. He then called for the guard at the door to bring Aragorn.

Fikri blinked, looking around him in confusion then groaned again.

“You are safe,” said Faramir in the tongue of Harad.

Fikri struggled to sit up and became aware that his robes had been removed and that his sword arm was useless. He let out a high- pitched wail.

“Easy now,” said Faramir.

“Kill me now!” cried Fikri. “I am shamed.”

“I would not kill a helpless boy,” said Faramir. “That is not our way.”

“Your vengeance is bitter indeed, tark!” cried Fikri.

Just then, Aragorn strode into the room, Andúril was buckled at his side. Fikri started to scream curses at him. “Misbegotten mongrel tark, may the sun burn your eyes!”

“You will not goad me into killing you,” Aragorn said calmly.

Fikri screamed again then was suddenly and violently sick. “It hurts, it hurts!” he cried between retching.

“The pain will grow less,” said Faramir. He gestured towards Aragorn. “This healer will help you.”

“You speak our tongue, tark!” Fikri cried as his wits became less addled. “You knew what we were saying all the time!”

“I did,” Faramir said calmly.

The boy’s eyes then rested on Aragorn and sudden recognition dawned in them. “You are no healer but the tark warrior with the bespelled sword!”

“I am both and more,” Aragorn replied.

Fikri glared at Aragorn and Faramir as they changed his bedding and nightshirt, but said no further word. Aragorn mixed some poppy juice, which the boy was too thirsty to refuse to swallow. They were both relieved when the drug took effect.


It was late afternoon before Tahir arrived. The Ambassador was shown into the study where Faramir was sitting at his desk working.

“It is good of you, to come, my friend.” Faramir stood up and embraced the ambassador. He invited Tahir to sit down and quickly narrated the events of the past few days.

“Esteemed friend, how do you fare? It grieves me greatly that you have suffered at the hands of my countrymen. How might this unworthy one amends make?” Tahir was agitated and as a result, his usually flawless Weston suffered.

“I have escaped almost unscathed,” Faramir replied. “This bandage is just to cover the mark of the Eye until it heals. I know what happened is neither your fault nor the Kha Khan’s. I am writing a detailed report of what happened for you to send to him, but first I would welcome your counsel concerning a wounded boy we have here. I would like you to see the markings on his skin. They are curious for a follower of the Dark Lord.”

“I will help gladly, esteemed friend,” said Tahir. “I fear I have but a limited knowledge of what evil runes the accursed worshippers of the dark one bear. May they never rest in shade!”

“This boy bears the signs of the moon god and goddess on his feet,” said Faramir.

“What?” Tahir looked appalled. “These Sauron worshippers come from the tribe of Suhayb who have turned their backs on our beloved Lord and Lady.”

“Come and see for yourself,” said Faramir. “Could the boy be a captive? “

Tahir shook his head. “The hatred between the tribes who are true to our Lord and Lady and the sons of Suhayb runs too deep. They have slaughtered many of my kinsmen. They never take captives. Their slaves are folk from their own tribe who have fallen on hard times.”

Faramir led Tahir to the guestroom where Fikri lay; Aragorn was dozing on a chair beside him, but was immediately awake and alert once the two men entered.

After Aragorn had greeted the Ambassador, Faramir asked how Fikri was faring.

 “He sleeps deeply,” said Aragorn. “His body might well heal, though he will most likely lose the use of his sword arm. I am less hopeful, though about his mind.”

“Esteemed friend Faramir told me he carried the marking of our Lord and Lady of the moon,” said Tahir.

“Indeed. Let me show you.” Aragorn pulled aside the blankets that covered Fikri’s feet.

Tahir stared at the markings in astonishment. “How can this be?” he exclaimed.

 Chapter 6 - He was lost and is found

For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. - Bible – Luke 15.24

 “Let me see the boy’s arm, please, honoured friend.” Tahir’s usually calm voice was trembling.

 “Very well.” Aragorn recovered the boy’s feet. He then pulled the blankets aside that covered his upper body, and rolled up the sleeve of the over-large nightshirt Fikri was wearing to expose his uninjured arm.

“This is the mark of my tribe!” cried Tahir. “See, some villain tried to obscure it with  the accursed mark of the eye! And look at the boy’s skin. It is too dark for him to be a son of Suhayb.”

In Aragorn and Faramir’s eyes, the Haradrim all shared the same dark olive skin, but as it seemed there were close ties between the Suhayb tribe and the Black Númenóreans, they might well be paler if there had been considerable intermarriage.

Tahir was now staring at Fikri as if he had seen a ghost.

“Are you well, my friend?” asked Faramir. “Come, sit down.” He ushered the Ambassador to the chair that Aragorn had just vacated. Meanwhile, the King poured out a glass of water and felt Tahir’s pulse. It was racing.

Tahir took a long drink of water, his eyes never leaving Fikri while he drank. Aragorn and Faramir waited patiently for him to speak. “I believe this boy my kinsman to be,” he said at last. Then he started to weep.

Faramir placed a comforting arm around the ambassador’s shoulders. Aragorn turned his attention back to the still sleeping Fikri, tucking the blankets around him and feeling his brow.

“Your pardon, esteemed friends,” said Tahir once he had recovered his composure.

“Do not trouble yourself,” said Faramir.

“You know this boy? ”asked Aragorn.

“My father, may his soul forever dwell in the celestial oasis, had many concubines as well as many wives,” said Tahir. “I have so many brothers and sisters that some I hardly know. One of my father’s lesser concubines bore him a daughter, Dima.  Once she came of age she was married to Badar, a good man of our tribe . They had not been wed long when she bore him a son, whom they named Fathi. Before our boy children are fully weaned, we dedicate them to the Lord and Lady of the Moon by tattooing the markings on the soles of their feet, together with the sign of our tribe on their arm. It is our custom.”

Aragorn and Faramir nodded. They had learned to respect what often seemed very strange customs of other lands.

“I saw the boy but once. It was at the wedding of one of my brothers,” Tahir continued. “He was a comely child, well worthy of our tribe. During that time, the Dark Lord’s power was at its height and war was looming. My tribe lived in fear of the then Kha Khan who was a son of Suhayb. His men harried our tribe without mercy. They came one night to where Dima and her husband dwelt and slew the whole household without mercy. I know not exactly what torments they endured before they were slain, for I was serving with the great army at that time. I know only what I was told. My kinsfolk buried my sister and her household, but of the child’s body, no trace was found. We believed he had been taken to sacrifice on Sauron’s altar. It seems now that they let him live. I am certain that Fikri is Fathi, my sister-son!”

“One of the soldiers must have taken pity on the boy,” said Faramir, who had listened in amazement to the story.

“Maybe it was a man who had no son of his own,” said Tahir. “If a man did not give sufficient boys to Sauron’s host, he could be punished. We lived through dark times. Alas that my sister-son should be bearing arms against you! What do you plan to do with him, esteemed friends?” Tahir slid from the chair and dropped to his knees. “Please, of you I beg not to slay him!”

“Please, my friend, you have no need to kneel!” Aragorn gently raised Tahir to his feet. “We sent for you because we seek your counsel what to do with the lad. He has suffered enough already for he is sore wounded and may never use his sword arm properly again. I am at a loss, though, as I cannot send him back to Harad. I would be happy to deliver the boy into your keeping. ”

“Fikri has good in him and tried to help me,” said Faramir. “I believe he was led astray, especially now I learn that he was as much a captive as I was.”

“May you forever dwell in a peaceful oasis, esteemed friends!” said Tahir. “I shall take Fathi into my household and teach him to turn towards the light of the Lord and Lady of the Moon.”

“It might be a hard task,” Aragorn warned.

“Fathi is of my tribe so I must succeed,” said Tahir.


The last rays of the setting sun were streaming through the window when Fikri next opened his eyes. He groaned and glared at the occupants of the room. Aragorn was immediately at his side. The King raised a cup of water to the boy’s lips. Fikri swallowed, then turned his head away and closed his eyes tightly.

“I have someone here for you to meet, lad,” said Aragorn. He beckoned Tahir to come forward.

“Leave me be, tark!” Fikri muttered without opening his eyes.

“Do not speak so disrespectfully to my chosen brothers, kinsman,” said Tahir.

Fikri’s eyes opened wide at the sound of his own tongue spoken by a native speaker. “You are no kinsman of mine, tark friend!” he protested.

“You are wrong, boy,” Tahir said sternly. “It ill befits a young man to show so little respect for the elders of his tribe.”

“Who are you?” Fikri repeated. “You cannot be of my tribe if you mingle with these enemies!”

“I am Tahir, son of Nasih, of the tribe of Wakil; Ambassador from the Kha Khan of all Harad to Gondor,” said Tahir. “And you are my sister- son, Fathi.”

“No!” screamed Fikri. “I am Fikri son of Aaghaa, of the great tribe of Suhayb.”

“That is what they wanted you to believe,” said Tahir. “You were taken by men without honour when you were very young. They slew your true mother and father.”

“Lies!” cried Fikri. “Lord Zafir was my kinsman who took me in when my parents died of fever. These tarks have slain one who was as a father to me. He will be avenged!”

“Zafir most likely slew your true sire. You bear the mark of our tribe on your arm and of our Lord and Lady on your feet. Just like I do and all the brothers of your tribe,” said Tahir.

“You lie!” Fikri repeated. “No man knows another’s markings unless he be a brother of their tribe.”

Tahir turned to Aragorn and Faramir. “Could you stop any other from entering this room for a little while, esteemed friends?” he asked.

“Of course,” said Faramir. He went to speak to the guard at the door then came back inside, turning the key in the door behind him.

Tahir was already pulling off his boots and stockings, swiftly followed by his robes until he stood before them wearing only his drawers. Fikri gaped at him in astonishment.

“There, boy!” cried the Ambassador, thrusting his upper arm towards Fikri. “Behold the mark of our tribe.” He sat down and stretched out his feet. “And there are the signs of the Lord and Lady who protect us both! I bear too, many other markings showing my allegiances.”

Aragorn again pulled aside Fikri’s sleeve, revealing the identical tattoo to Tahir’s. Fikri burst into tears.

“It is not so bad, lad,” said Tahir, pulling his robes back on. “You are kin to the Kha Khan, as well as to me. His father's uncle and your grandsire, were brothers, may their souls dwell forever in the shade of the celestial oasis.”

“I have nothing left, nothing!” Fikri sobbed. “I possess not even a stitch of clothing and you tell me even my name is not mine own!”

“You have a family who will welcome you and a chance for a new life.” Tahir drew Fikri into his arms. “Welcome home, sister- son. Long did we believe you were lost to us.”

Fikri continued to sob piteously, but he neither struggled nor pulled away.

Aragorn and Faramir looked at one another, then at Tahir.

“We have work to do,” said Faramir. “We will leave you two to become better acquainted, but will be within earshot if you need us.

The two left the room and went into Faramir’s study.

“Fikri might well have a future now,” said Faramir.

“I hope so,” Aragorn sounded far from convinced. “Tahir will have to watch the boy like a hawk, or he might well take his own life. He will find it very hard to become accustomed to a completely different way of life, a new name, a new family, and a new faith.”

 “Tahir is a patient man and will help him. I believe he will succeed,” said Faramir. “Strange indeed are the ways of the Valar that my capture led to the discovery of Tahir’s kinsman.”

“It gladdens my heart you are both free now,” said Aragorn.

In a sudden change of mood, Faramir laughed and gestured ruefully towards the heap of papers on his desk. “These documents will now hold me captive,” he said. “I had better ensure that I am free of them before Éowyn returns on the morrow. Yet, after believing I was about to burn on the pyre even perusing state papers will feel like bliss!”

“I still would prefer fighting Orcs to reading trade agreements!” said Aragorn, but he was smiling. “You have more patience than I, ion nîn.

Too Long a Sacrifice

 The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.- Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963 

Several Weeks later 

“Greetings, my esteemed friends,” Tahir smiled as Aragorn and Faramir were shown into his home. He gestured for the King and Steward to sit on the large cushions in the spacious living room then called for a servant to bring sherbet tea and dates.

“My fair blossom regrets that she cannot be with us today,” said Tahir once Aragorn and Faramir were seated. “Our sweet Ithiliel is teething and she had no sleep with tending to her.”

“Well do I understand,” said Faramir. Éowyn and I have suffered many sleepless nights without our little ones. Tell me, my friend, how is Fikri, um, I mean Fathi faring?”

“Better than I had hoped, esteemed friend, though he is much troubled by nightmares, and sometimes seems sullen and distant,” Tahir replied. “ I decided to let the boy keep the name he was accustomed to as I thought it might make it easier for him to settle in his new life. I have hired a trusted man of our tribe to be constantly at his side, both to care for Fikri and to protect my fair blossom and my little ones until I know he can be trusted.”

“A wise move,” said Aragorn.

“Fikri does at least appear to be loyal to his tribe like most of our people. He is respectful towards me and my fair blossom.”

“I know that the Haradrim value loyalty to the tribe above all, even above their own lives,” said Aragorn.

“You understand us well, esteemed friend, but then you dwelt amongst us for a while. Fikri seems to accept that he is of our tribe and wants to know about his parents. The boy is lamentably ignorant in the most basic knowledge, so I have hired a tutor for him as soon as he is strong enough for lessons. My personal healer is tending to him daily and reports he is making a good recovery. His arm and shoulder remain weak, though. He cannot even lift a spoon in his right hand.”

“The arrow tore the ligaments and muscles badly as well as damaging the bone,” said Aragorn. “The healer who removed it was not the most skilled of our physicians.”

“Or maybe he took less care over an enemy combatant,” Tahir observed shrewdly.

“Sadly, that could be so,” Aragorn agreed. “We tell our healers to treat every patient with equal care, but my men were angry over the abduction of Lord Faramir.”

“You were gracious indeed to spare Fikri, esteemed friend,” said Tahir.

“You have Faramir to thank for that,” said the King. “Maybe the Elven arts I know might help your nephew regain more use of his arm, if he would consent to my treatments. I warn you, though, it is unlikely he will ever hold a sword again.”

“Maybe that is as well, esteemed friends,” said the Ambassador. “It would be good if he could hold a spoon though.”

“I will see what I can do if he will see me,” said Aragorn.

“He will obey the elder of his tribe,” said Tahir. “I have explained to him that you are a brother of our tribe through our friendship and sharing of the hamam.”

“I will stay here unless you have need of me,” said Faramir. “Fikri might be even more uncomfortable with too many folk present.”

“He understands that you too are a brother,” said Tahir. “You show him great consideration after what he did to you, esteemed friend.”

“I may not have survived the ordeal without Fikri,” Faramir said gravely.

“I have some new rare maps you may enjoy, esteemed friend,” said Tahir. “I will show them to you once I have taken esteemed Lord Aragorn to Fikri.”


Tahir led Aragorn down a long corridor supported by marble pillars. “How fares esteemed Lord Faramir?” he enquired. “He still looks somewhat drawn.”

“To be almost burned alive a second time was a great ordeal for him,” said Aragorn. “It will take time for him to fully recover, but eventually he will. He is a strong man.”

“May the Lord and Lady of the moon smile upon him!” said Tahir. “How it grieves my heart that one of my blood should harm my esteemed friend!”

“Do not trouble yourself,” said Aragorn. “Faramir speaks well of Fikri despite the circumstances under which they met.”

The two men walked across a courtyard to the chambers where Fikri was housed. A guard was outside his door. When Aragorn entered, he found Fikri sprawled across a couch staring blankly at the elaborate tiles that decorated the wall. A man, dressed as a servant hovered nearby. Tahir dismissed him with a nod.

“The esteemed Lord King has agreed to tend your arm, my sister son,” said Tahir. “It is permitted, he is a brother of our tribe.”

“Please let me be, honoured kinsman,” said Fikri.

“It is my wish that the esteemed Lord King treat your arm,” Tahir said sternly.

“As you will, lord.” Fikri said in an expressionless tone.

“I require hot water and a blanket,” said Aragorn.

Tahir ordered the servant to fetch them. Meanwhile Fikri continued to regard them both with a somewhat sullen expression. Aragorn studied his reluctant patient carefully without the boy being aware of his scrutiny. Elven healing treated both mind and body and he concluded that Fikri was in greatest need of healing for the former.

As soon as the servant had brought the water and blanket, Aragorn asked Fikri if he might look at his shoulder and arm. Fikri fiddled with the fastenings of the dark blue robe he was wearing, obviously struggling to use his right hand deftly. Tahir assisted him. “It is well,” he said. “Lord Aragorn is an esteemed brother of our tribe. Were he not, I have would have preferred death rather than to remove my robe in front of him. To remove one’s robe in front of a brother will not bar you from the Celestial oasis. ”

“I dwelt amongst those whom I believed to be my brothers for most of my life and bathed with them. I suppose I am already barred from your Celestial Oasis?” Fikri’s tone was defiant but his eyes were fearful.

“Not at all according to our lore.” Tahir hastened to reassure him. “You were neither of age, nor aware of your true origins.”

Aragorn was grateful for his healer’s training to conceal his surprise when Fikri’s upper body was revealed to his gaze. Tahir’s tattoo artist had obviously been summoned, for the eye markings on the boy’s uninjured side had been skilfully changed into butterflies. He wrapped the blanket around the boy, leaving only his right arm and shoulder uncovered.

“Butterflies are an ancient symbol of our tribe,” said the Ambassador. “We believe that after death, our souls fly to the Celestial Oasis in the form of butterflies, watched over by the Moon God and Goddess.”

“A beautiful idea,” said Aragorn.

“Alas, Fikri would not watch the Goddess rise in the sky to greet her consort last night,” sighed Tahir. “It is my wish that he will attend the festival of their great union.”

Aragorn smiled at the memory of attending the previous year’s festival with Faramir. It had been held on the banks of the Anduin and had been both joyful and uplifting.” You should enjoy it,” he told Fikri, beginning to examine the injured shoulder and arm, “if only for the delicacies that are served. Lady Adiva and Mistress Falah make cakes flavoured with rose petals and a ginger syllabub. My Lady and I have never tasted better. Do not fear the wrath of the Lord of Gifts, by turning to your uncle’s faith, Fikri. I saw his spirit borne away on the wind with mine own eyes, as did many others. He cannot return to punish you.”

Fikri said nothing but Aragorn felt him tremble beneath his touch.

“Would you and your esteemed lady honour us again by attending the sacred festival?” asked Tahir.

“We would be delighted to,” said Aragorn. He took some athelas leaves from the healer’s pouch he had brought with him and cast them into the bowl of hot water. He inhaled deeply of the living freshness that filled the room and bade Fikri do likewise.

“It still hurts my ribs to breathe deeply,” Fikri said sullenly.

“The esteemed Lord Aragorn’s medicine is good,” said Tahir, as he inhaled the vapours with obvious pleasure. 

“He should breathe sufficient whether he will or not,” Aragorn said calmly. “He reminds me a good deal of a young farmer I once treated.”

“I am no farmer, I am a warrior!” Fikri snapped. “At least I was.” He lapsed into silence and Aragorn saw tears glistening on his lashes.

Aragorn said nothing and concentrated on the livid scar that stood out starkly even amongst all the others that disfigured the boy’s skin. It had at least healed cleanly and without infection. Aragorn wished to use both his healing senses and healing arts to help the injury mend sufficiently for Fikri to use his arm for non-arduous tasks, such as dressing and eating. The hand at least was undamaged. Given the boy’s continued anger and anguish, perhaps it was just as well that he could no longer be a warrior.

Using his  inherited healing senses and the power of the Elessar, he sensed that the damaged ribs were knitting together nicely and the bump on Fikri’s head had disappeared.

Aragorn bathed the arrow scar with the athelas mixture and then applied a comfrey salve to aid healing.

Fikri glared at him balefully each time he caught the boy’s eye, but said nothing. Every now and again, he sighed deeply and looked towards his uncle.

“I shall use an Elven skill to massage the damaged muscles to help stimulate the flow of blood,” Aragorn explained. “Could I have some more hot water, please, Tahir?”

Fikri gave an even louder sigh.

“You should treat the esteemed Lord Aragorn with courtesy, nephew,” Tahir chided.

“I did not ask him to come,” said Fikri. “You already have a healer who treats me daily.”

“Do not forget the honour due to a guest and brother of our tribe,” Tahir said sternly.”

Uncle and nephew glared at each other, locked in a silent battle of wills.

Aragorn cleared his throat loudly. “Faramir wished to discuss some diplomatic matters in private with you and I know you wish to show him your new maps. We need to leave soon after I have finished Fikri’s treatment.”

“You are certain I should leave you, esteemed friend?” Tahir looked troubled.

“I have dealt with a young farmer very like Fikri, as I have already mentioned,” Aragorn said dryly. “I am here to tell the tale!”

“I am no farmer!” Fikri said ever more furiously than before.

“Then behave like a man nobly born!” said Tahir. “For your shameful insolence, you shall be confined within your chamber for the rest of the day.” He bowed. “Esteemed Lord Aragorn, I will return with all haste.”

A servant brought the hot water Aragorn had requested just as the Ambassador was leaving the room. The King again cast two athelas leaves into the water. He began to lightly massage Fikri’s injured arm and shoulder, with slow circular movements. The boy felt as tense as a strung bowstring beneath his touch. “Tell me if I am causing you pain,” Aragorn told Fikri and then fell silent.

The refreshing athelas vapours filled the chamber. Aragorn continued his ministrations and as he had hoped, felt Fikri’s tension ebbing away beneath his skilled fingertips. He started working on the knots in the back of the boy’s neck, an art taught to him by Master Elrond, which usually soothed all but the most reluctant patients. Elven healing closely combined both body and soul and was only effective if both healer and patient achieved a degree of harmony.

“Does the law of your land forbid beating as punishment?” Fikri asked suddenly.

“A man may not strike a woman or infant and may not cause serious injury,” Aragorn replied.

“My uncle does not beat me.” Fikri sounded puzzled. “Neither does he beat his sons.”

“Ambassador Tahir is a good man, a man of peace,” said Aragorn.

“He is weak! Lord Zafir beat me often.”

“Ambassador Tahir is one of the bravest men I know,” Aragorn said gravely. “Not long ago, I had to cut an arrow from his flesh. Never once did he cry out, neither did he swoon. It takes an even braver man to try to bring peace between two nations that have been enemies for countless generations. Like the others of his tribe, he also clung to his faith in the Moon God and Goddess when it would have been death to him had he been discovered.”

“I had not thought of that,” said Fikri hesitantly. “The moon still shines brightly in the night sky.” He lapsed into silence again. Aragorn resumed massaging his arm. A few moments later, he spoke again. “Will I ever use it again?”

“I believe you should be able to do such things as fasten laces or feed yourself in time,” said Aragorn. “I am willing to continue to treat you, but only if you wish it.”

Fikri hesitated then gave a barely perceptible nod.

Aragorn continued his ministrations until the boy fell into a deep and peaceful slumber. He lingered for a few moments longer, holding his hands a few inches above Fikri and pouring healing energy into the damaged shoulder. He then held his hands above the boy’s head, trying to both sense what lay within his troubled mind and calm the turmoil and confusion he sensed there. The lad had been touched by evil, but Aragorn did not believe that he was inherently evil, simply a very troubled youth.

O Silver moon upon the deep dark sky,

Through the vast night pierce your rays.

This sleeping world you wander by,

Smiling on men's homes and ways. – Song to the Moon – Dvorák/ Kvapil

Two Weeks later

It seemed that the very elements were on their best behaviour for the festival of the Great Union of the God and Goddess. A spell of earlier rain had given way to a perfect evening, the air felt fresh and clear without being chill. The vast shining orb of the moon lay low in the September sky.

All of Ambassador Tahir’s family were assembled on the riverbank, including his infant daughter, Ithiliel, who was cooing contently in her mother’s arms. There were only a few guests. Most of the folk from Harad who dwelled within Gondor, preferred to celebrate the festival with their closest friends and family. Aragorn, Faramir, and their ladies were the only Western folk who were present. Last year, their older children had attended too, but Aragorn and Faramir did not desire their little ones to witness any distressing display that Fikri might cause, since Tahir was still insisting that the young man attend. The two men had even suggested that their beloved ladies remain at home, but neither would hear of it.

The Ambassador was clad in a deep blue robe embroidered in silver with designs of the moon in its various phases, while his family were all clad in blue robes edged with silver in honour of the God and Goddess. Tonight, gold might have been more appropriate as the moon’s sphere was a golden orange rather than silver, the annual marvel of the harvest moon. Aragorn glanced at Arwen, who stood beside him. She looked even fairer than usual in a dark blue gown embroidered with silver thread and adorned with seed pearls and tiny diamonds. A silver filigree diadem adorned her beautiful hair. Aragorn and Faramir had cast aside their usual black and silver garb in favour of blue and silver. Aragorn wore the Star of Elendil upon his brow and Faramir the Crescent of Ithilien. They wished to show respect to Tahir and to honour their own heritage. Aragorn’s longfather had been named for the moon; while Faramir had spent many years defending the Moon-land and now reigned as its Prince. Éowyn wore a simple blue gown beneath the blue mantle adorned with stars that Faramir had given her during their courtship.

The golden moon, surrounded by a myriad of twinkling stars, reflected in the clear waters of the Anduin made for a scene of exquisite beauty. Arwen gazed upwards and murmured a prayer of gratitude to Lady Star Gatherer. Aragorn and Faramir did likewise.

Tahir then stepped forward and gazed upwards at the moon, raising his arms in supplication. “Gracious Lord and Lady of the Moon,” he intoned. “We come to ask your blessings upon us. May our lands be fruitful and un-scorched, may we be fruitful and our herds and horses! May we be guided at last by thee to the Celestial Oasis!”

“We come in gratitude, may it be!” cried Tahir’s household.

Lady Adiva then lifted up her baby towards the moon and said, “I come in thankfulness to present unto you the sacred child you bestowed upon me. I dedicate Ithiliel -Badra to her celestial father and foster mother. May she serve you  both in gladness all her days!”

“I swear to protect your holy daughter with my life. May she flourish beneath your rays as a tree beside an oasis! Hear my vow, gracious Lord and Lady of the Moon!”

The Ambassador beckoned to two of his servants, whom Aragorn recognised as Aban, Tahir’s body servant and Falah, Lady Adiva’s devoted maid. They both carried baskets, the contents of which they shared out amongst those present. Aban’s basket contained small boats made of parchment and Falah’s contained small flat candles and a mixture of flowers and sweetmeats. Everyone took a boat and candle and chose either a flower or sweetmeat to place inside the boat together with the candle.

Aban and Falah then collected all the little boats and took them down to the water’s edge where they lit the candles, one for every person present.

Tahir raised his arms skywards again. “Lord and Lady of the Moon, accept these sacrifices as a token,” he said.

Faramir shuddered and his head began to swim. Beside him, Aragorn gripped his arm and steadied him. “Easy,” he murmured. “This sacrifice is as benign as the First Fruits I offer to the One.”

“I know, and I am well,” said Faramir. “It is just the word, sacrifice, in the tongue of Harad freezes my blood still!” He took a deep breath and forced himself to concentrate on the ceremony. The little boats were bobbing along the river carried by the current, twinkling like the stars above them. The watchers stood transfixed by the sight.

Tahir began a hymn of praise to the moon in a deep rich baritone.

Aragorn glanced towards Fikri. The servant, appointed as his constant shadow was engrossed in the ceremony and seemed to have forgotten his charge. Meanwhile the boy was edging closer and closer to the water’s edge. The servant who was assigned to guard him was further down the bank utterly apparently deep in prayer.

The King’s heart sank. He could guess all too well what Fikri intended. Death was considered by far more honourable than defeat and captivity amongst all the tribes of Harad, whatever deity they venerated. Fikri was not only dishonoured according to his belief, but also a very troubled and confused young man whose most deeply held values had been overturned in the space of a few short weeks. The depths of the river must appear to offer a swift and easy death. Very few Haradrim could swim, given the dearth of water in their homeland. It would be easy enough to pluck Fikri from the water, but how would Tahir react? The Ambassador was a tolerant man, but to desecrate his holiest religious festival was a grave offence indeed. This year was especially sacred for Tahir and Adiva after the birth of their moon daughter, considered a special blessing from their gods. Anything that went amiss in the coming year would be blamed on Fikri’s sacrilege. Aragorn’s heart ached for the young man. He stealthily edged closer to him. Faramir realised too what was happening and crept alongside the King. Aragorn took off the Elendilmir and handed it to his friend. He moved to stand a few inches behind Fikri, poised to seize him if he made any move to jump. He feared, though that the boy would scream and struggle and prove difficult to restrain.

Tahir’s song finally ended. It was now Lady Adiva’s turn to lead the worship. She handed the baby to Falah and began to sing, repeating the words over and over again.

“Lady of the Moon, Gracious Goddess,

Shine your gentle rays, I plead,

Upon my precious children.

Keep them safe from every danger,

Hear a mother’s plea!

Lord of the Moon, Gracious God,

Shine your gentle rays, I plead,

Upon my precious children.

Strengthen them with celestial wisdom,

Hear a mother’s plea!”

 Unlike her husband, Adiva did not have a powerful voice, but her tone was sweet, gentle, and low. Fikri suddenly froze and turned his head slowly towards her.

Aragorn found that he was holding his breath.

Suddenly, Tahir and Adiva’s youngest son, Beren, a sturdy four year old, broke free from his nurse’s grip and ran towards his mother. Adiva never paused in her song, but bent to scoop him up in her arms.

“Mother!” Fikri whispered. Tears started to pour down his cheeks.

Aragorn and Faramir hustled him away from the crowd of worshippers and took him a little way along the bank. Fikri’s tears turned to great heaving sobs. Faramir guided the distraught boy’s head against his shoulder. He did not pull away but sobbed piteously for his mother.

“I remember,” Fikri whispered, once he had regained a little composure. “She sang this song beside the oasis near our home.”

“You have returned to your own people, Fikri,” said Aragorn. “These are their songs and their customs.”

“I have forgotten so much,” said Fikri.

 “Your uncle will help you remember and guide you in the ways of your tribe,” said Aragorn. “I was once much like you, as I lived apart from my tribe when I was a boy. I had to flee to safety with my mother after my father was slain.”

“Did you become accustomed to the ways of your tribe?” asked Fikri.

“I did, it took time, but soon they accepted me and it felt less strange to be amongst them.”

The singing ceased as the Haradrim shouted jubilant praises in honour of the moon’s beauty.

“Look!” Faramir exclaimed. “Here is your Uncle.”

“I wondered where you were, esteemed friends,” said Tahir as he hastened towards them. “Nephew, you will miss the sweetmeats I told you about. Then we offer our thanks to the honoured God and Goddess. I have much to rejoice for, the birth of  our sweet moon blossom, and the restoration of my dear nephew to our tribe!”

“I remember my mother now,” said Fikri.

“The Moon Goddess has blessed you!” cried Tahir. He embraced his nephew and Fikri hugged him back. Tahir then turned back to Aragorn and Faramir. “Come, esteemed friends,” he said. “But where is your bright jewel, esteemed Lord Aragorn?”

“I feared I might lose it and took it off,” said Aragorn. “It is safe.”

“That is most good, esteemed Lord Aragorn. As I have found a  precious jewel, I would not have you lose yours!” Taking Fikri’s arm, he led the boy back towards the others. A shaft of moonlight illuminated them both as they walked away.

“Anyone would almost think that the moon gods did truly bless them,” Faramir said thoughtfully. “Though Tilion the steersman is not amongst the most mighty of the Maiar. He would not have such power.”

“Maybe in truth the One has blessed them,” Aragorn said thoughtfully. “Perhaps the Haradrim are  in truth reaching out towards the One when they honour the moon? Who knows the mind of the One? I simply rejoice that two captives are now free. Now let us re-join our ladies before they think we have vanished like moonbeams!”

 A/n If you have enjoyed this story, look out for new story concerning Tahir and Adiva’s culture and the conception and  birth of Ithiliel, which I hope to publish very soon.



The importance of the ritual markings is further explored in “East is East” and “Brothers of the Tribe.” 


A/n This story began life for the 100th Teitho Challenge "Capture" where it was placed equal second.I have since extended and revised the story.

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...
end –> Flag Counter

Make a free website with Yola