4. The last straw
But such is life, the silliest proverbs prove to be true, and when a man thinks, now it's all right, it's not all right by a long shot. Man proposes, God disposes, and there's always that last straw to break the camel's back. - Alfred Döblin (1878–1957)
The next morning when Faramir returned to his friend and lord's rooms feeling barely refreshed, he found the Queen was laying out the chessmen on the board in the bedroom.
His gaze brightened when he beheld Faramir. "Oh, there you are, Faramir; you have been gone a long time!" he said.
"I was just suggesting that a game of chess might amuse Estel," Arwen explained.
"I do not want to play," Aragorn protested. "My head aches too much, and I itch everywhere! Faramir, you could play chess with Arwen? I shall watch you both. You should be a fair match for her, though you lack my experience."
"Very well," Faramir conceded without a great deal of enthusiasm.
The Steward took his place at the chessboard opposite the Queen somewhat apprehensively. He was a good player, and a fairly even opponent to the King, but the idea of playing someone of Arwen's age and experience was a trifle daunting. He was not a vain man, but hoped he could at least entertain his lord and not look foolish.
The two sat facing each other, Faramir having drawn lots to start.
"Hurry up," said Aragorn, scratching at a blister on his face.
"Stop scratching, Estel!" Arwen chided.
Faramir began rather nervously and quickly lost two pawns.
"Be careful or you will lose your knight!" Aragorn cautioned as the Steward made to move another piece. "Watch your queen too! Move the rook into play!"
Faramir did as he was bidden and waited for Arwen to make her move.
"No, use a pawn and protect the king, "Aragorn told his wife. Humouring him, she followed his instructions and promptly lost the piece to the Steward. Faramir, eager to press his advantage, was about to bring his queen into play when Aragorn interrupted. "No, play the knight instead!" he instructed.
Faramir did so and was immediately captured by Arwen's queen.
Now, much more alert, Aragorn was sitting up in bed watching the game intently.
Arwen moved to attack Faramir's king. "Take the other knight with the king's pawn!" Aragorn instructed her. "Then in two moves you will have check."
"Am I playing this game or are you?" The usually placid Queen finally let her annoyance show.
"You are, my dear," Aragorn said meekly. "Now Faramir, move the rook in front of your queen!"
Faramir took a deep breath. "Why do you not play instead? You seem a little better now," the Steward suggested desperately. "We can move the game on to the bed. Alas, I have just remembered that I have a meeting with some trade representatives from Dale."
"Cannot one of your secretaries negotiate the deal in your stead with them?" Aragorn looked far from happy.
"I fear not, capable though my staff are," said Faramir, ignoring a pleading look from the Queen. "If neither King nor Steward attend the meeting, rumours will spread that you must be seriously ill."
"Very well then, but return soon," Aragorn conceded.
As soon as he left the sickroom, Faramir took a deep breath and clenched and unclenched his fists. Patience was a habit both inborn and schooled; he was a patient and mild mannered man, but he had felt like hurling the chessboard across the room. Aragorn was a wonderful healer, but a truly dreadful patient. Truth to tell, the meeting was not due to start for another two hours, but it had served as an excuse to escape the sickroom. He returned to his chambers and busied himself with the neglected paperwork of the past days.
Never before had a meeting seemed so enjoyable to the Steward. The sometimes heated negotiations over tariffs on imported crockery seemed blissfully peaceful after trying to entertain the ailing King. He only concluded the meeting after three hours had passed, and the visitors were starting to stifle their yawns.
Feeling like a schoolboy playing truant, Faramir took a short walk in the gardens before returning to the King's apartments. Arwen came out of the bedroom to meet him, her finger raised to her lips. "The Valar be praised! Estel is sleeping," she said, leading the Steward into the sitting room. "Would you sit with Estel, while I spend some time with Eldarion? I should like to get some fresh air with him before giving him his lunch."
"Of course, my lady," said Faramir, wondering when he would be able to eat his own meal. If he ordered it to be sent to the bedroom, Aragorn would most likely complain that sight of food made him nauseous.
Arwen sighed. "I shall be very glad when Estel is back on his feet," she said. "I fear grown men differ very little from small boys when they are unwell!"
"That is true, my lady," said Faramir. "Tell me, though, do Elves fare any better?"
Arwen laughed. "If anything, they are worse, but unlike Men, they do not succumb to infectious illnesses. I recall when Glorfindel was confined to bed with a severe wound my father was driven to distraction!"
Faramir went into the bedroom and settled on a chair. The King lay in the centre of the vast bed, snoring loudly.
The Steward felt his own eyelids growing heavy after his disturbed night. Faramir shook himself. It would not do to fall asleep. There was a small writing desk in the corner with quill and ink. The Steward decided he might as well prepare some notes concerning the next Council meeting. Taking up the pen, he started to write and was soon engrossed in his task.
"You woke me up! The scratching of the pen is making my head ache!" Aragorn said accusingly, raising his head from the pillow.
"I am sorry, but I do have a kingdom to run in your name while you are unwell!" Faramir retorted, unable to conceal the irritation in his voice. "I will go elsewhere if you prefer!"
"Go then!" Aragorn said crossly. "Maybe I can get some rest without either you or my wife hovering!"
Deeply hurt, Faramir gathered up the papers and left the room. Mindful though of his promise to the Queen, he went no further than the sitting room. He tried to resume his work, but could not concentrate. When Arwen returned, he would tell her to ask one of the healers to assist her in looking after her husband. He would leave the ungrateful Aragorn to his own devices.
The Steward was tempted to ignore the call from the next room. Aragorn had everything he needed at hand and could get out of bed if necessary.
"Faramir! Are you there, mellon nîn? Do not leave me!" Aragorn's voice was pleading. Faramir wavered. A loud crash, followed by a cry, came from the bedroom. Faramir immediately ran back inside. At the doorway, his eyes swept the room, noting a glass lay shattered on the floor.
"I am sorry, mellon nîn. The glass fell when I reached for it. I seem to be causing a good deal of trouble," Aragorn said miserably. His face was now almost completely covered with livid red spots, and he looked on the verge of tears. Faramir felt a sudden surge of compassion for him. It could not be easy for a man like Aragorn Elessar, who had spent most of his life fighting the forces of the Dark Lord to be brought low by a common condition most usually suffered by small children! Nor could it be pleasant for a great healer to be unable to heal himself. Faramir then recalled the times he had been ill and Aragorn had patiently cared for him. He had not been the easiest of invalids to deal with either. Faramir inwardly chided himself for judging a sick man too harshly.
"It is nothing, just a broken glass," said Faramir, making to pick up the pieces.
"I am sorry too for what I said earlier," said Aragorn. "I did not mean my harsh words. I am truly blessed that you and Arwen are willing to stay by my side. It is just so frustrating to be confined thus to bed!"
"I know," said Faramir understandingly, placing a comforting arm around Aragorn's shoulders. "This will pass soon. I should not have lost my temper either. Let me get you some more water. Do you wish for anything to eat?"
"I am not hungry, though I suppose I should try to eat. I would imagine you must be ravenous, given the lateness of the hour," Aragorn replied, squeezing Faramir's hand gratefully with his own spot-covered one.
When the Queen returned she found Faramir devouring a large plate of stew, while Aragorn sipped a mug of tea, and nibbled at a poached egg on toast. If the Queen were surprised at Aragorn's sudden improvement in temper, she did not say.
The days passed slowly, but with each sunrise Aragorn's spots faded and his strength slowly returned. Arwen stayed beside her husband, often with Eldarion, when the little boy could be persuaded to play quietly with his toys. Every moment that he could be spared from his duties, Faramir spent with his lord, telling him how the day's business had gone and asking his opinions.
At last the day arrived when Aragorn's blisters had all healed over.
"You are no longer infectious, sire," pronounced Master Aedred, knowing full well he was not telling the King anything Aragorn did not already know. "You may resume your duties so long as you do not overtax yourself."
"I may have had chickenpox, but I was still King of Gondor these past days," said Aragorn dryly. "Thank you, Master Aedred. I hope we shall not meet again under these circumstances! I prefer to work beside you."
"Indeed, my lord," said the healer. "So do I."
"We healers have by far the easier task," said Aragorn thoughtfully, examining the hands on which the spots were almost faded "Being a patient is far harder."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.