Chapter 2: Ailing
"Lie still. Do not move!"
Faramir stiffens at the words. As before, he becomes keenly aware of frigid water around him and squelching mud beneath him. He surges upright, forcefully knocking aside the elven hand pressed against his chest. Three dreams in a single night is three dreams too many. "What—"
"Hush! If you voice your fear, they will kill you!"
"So you have said before!" Faramir says heatedly as the shadows retreat enough to reveal his elven companion. "Who are they? Why do they concern themselves with my fear?"
"There is time. You can still confront your fear, but you must do so in silence."
He changed at least a part of the dream with Gimli. A small part, admittedly, but it felt significant. He is determined to do likewise with Legolas. "What will silence gain me? You are not silent! Why—"
"They come! They must not see you with me. You must face them alone!"
Surging forward, Faramir catches hold of Legolas's arm. He braces against the elf, tightening his grip when the other starts to run, and for a moment, he believes he has succeeded. He believes Legolas will turn, the cycle will break, and he will learn the meaning behind the madness. But then his hands close upon empty air; Legolas literally vanishes. Off balance, Faramir falls backward into the frigid water.
"Legolas cannot help you."
Shivering against more than the cold, Faramir pushes himself to his knees. He stares at his hands, barely able to see them in the gloom. "It is as though he was never here," he whispers. He waits, knowing Gimli has more to say, but there is only silence. Lowering his hands, he struggles to his feet and peers into the night. "Gimli?" he calls.
He hears a sigh, and the darkness lifts enough for him to see the dwarf. "So near," Gimli says, shaking his head, "yet understanding still eludes you."
"Then aid my understanding!" Faramir says, wishing he understood the why and when behind the dreams' changes. "Earlier, you said I could not see the warning because I refused to believe. What do I refuse to believe?"
Gimli watches Faramir for a long moment, his face expressionless. "Legolas was never here," he says at length.
A chill courses down Faramir's spine. "Is this dream a warning for Legolas?"
"Still you do not understand!" Gimli exclaims, eyes flashing. "And until you do, he will not return! There will be no help!" The dwarf shakes his head, his arms rising and falling at his sides in frustration. "You must not voice your fear. If you do, there is no hope. Do not voice your fear!"
"No!" Faramir protests. "I know these words! You need not repeat them! What more have you to tell me? What must I—"
"Who are you?" the dwarf demands.
"Faramir!" Faramir shouts.
Gimli's shoulders slump, and he shakes his head. "No," he whispers. "Not yet."
Confused and shaking, Faramir wakes with a gasp. The tent glows with the light of the rising sun. In the camp beyond, he hears the sounds of men preparing for the day. Morning has come.
Faramir pushes himself up on trembling arms. His intent is to stand, but he barely manages to sit upright. The simple effort drains him, and he shakes his head, wondering at his weakness. He also wonders why he is alone in the tent. Aragorn seemed intent on watching him the previous night, yet the King is nowhere to be seen.
Counting this a boon, Faramir decides to collect his strength and ponder the dream. Though it has the weighty feel of foresight, it is like no foresight he has ever encountered. The presence of both Gimli and Legolas baffles him, and he cannot fathom why Legolas reacts to nothing while Gimli's portion of the dream changes. Nor has he any idea of what answer he should give Gimli at the dream's end. Sighing heavily, Faramir pulls one leg up to his chest and rests his brow upon his knee. Perhaps he is asking the wrong questions. Or searching for the wrong answers. Perhaps—
The sudden voice at his side causes Faramir to jump. Clutching his chest, he looks to his left and inwardly groans. He is not confident of his ability to converse with one who has been haunting his dreams.
Kneeling beside Faramir, Legolas offers a smile that does not reach his eyes. "My apologies. I thought you heard me enter."
Faramir waves a dismissal and struggles to achieve an indifferent air. "If you apologize for entering, I must apologize for inattention. I am distracted this morning."
"So I noticed." The elf's sharp eyes rake over Faramir. "Are you hungry? I can send a guard to fetch breakfast."
Faramir's first impulse is to decline, but his stomach betrays him with a loud rumble. Startled, Faramir looks down at his belly.
"A fair answer," Legolas says wryly. "I will see to the arrangements."
"Far be it from me to gainsay such a beast," Faramir says, surprised to find that he is indeed hungry. "You have my thanks."
"Thanks are unnecessary," Legolas answers, rising to his feet, "for I also desire a meal."
While Legolas speaks to someone just beyond the tent flaps, Faramir struggles to order his mind. Aragorn kneeling at his side the previous night was bad enough. Legolas kneeling at his side this morning is almost too much to endure. It is as though the dream is coming to life in bits and pieces around him.
"What tidings from the elves?" Faramir asks. He prays the tremor in his voice will go unnoticed.
From the doorway, Legolas gives him a searching look and then moves to the plank table. "We found several paths we might take into the Nindalf," he says as he begins stacking maps and scrolls. "My scouts were able to travel a good distance along each, but I do not know what men will think of these roads."
"To begin with, we will probably not think of them as roads."
"A poor choice of words," Legolas concedes with a smile. "The scouts are now acquainting Beregond, Mablung, and other captains with these…trails, if that term suits you better. We will soon learn if they are acceptable."
"Where is the King?"
Legolas stills, his body poised over the growing stack of maps. "His services as a Healer were required this morning."
"Someone is sick?" Faramir asks, moving the blankets back and easing himself to his feet.
"Several are sick."
"Several?" Faramir echoes. "Sick enough to need the King? That does not bode well. It is not uncommon for illness to be shared among men on the march, but we have only been here two days. What symptoms are there?"
"I am unable to say much," Legolas answers, though something in his voice suggests he is not unable but rather unwilling. "If you are concerned for your men, I am happy to report that the White Company and Rangers are hale. You may take heart in that."
"I will," Faramir says, concerned by the elf's avoidance, "but I will also ask for what little you can tell me about those who are sick."
Stacking the last of the maps, Legolas looks up at Faramir, his face blank. "You would do better to ask Aragorn."
Faramir's jaw tightens. When Legolas does not wish to speak, he is as tight-lipped as Denethor used to be. An image from a different dream flashes through his mind, and for a moment, Faramir smells the smoke of a funeral pyre.
The memory fades, and Faramir shakes his head as a guard enters with a platter of meats and breads.
"My lords, I come with your morning meal. Do you wish me to attend you?"
"Leave the plate. We will see to our own needs," Legolas says, picking up the maps and depositing them on the sleeping pallet. "Our thanks for your service."
The guard does as instructed, but Faramir scarcely notices. His stomach is rumbling again, and the burnt smell of the meat—these soldiers seem unable to differentiate a cooking fire from a beacon fire—is strong enough to overcome the smell of the swamp. Indeed, it is even strong enough to overcome the memories of the swamp, and Faramir seats himself with a smile. Years ago, time and shelter enough to char a meal in Ithilien meant the Rangers had found safety.
Legolas joins him at the table, and both turn their heads to the West for a moment of silence, Faramir does so in honor of Númenor. Legolas… Faramir has never asked what Legolas sees when he looks to the West. For now, it is enough to believe that he does so out of respect for his dining companions. Afterward, he and the elf give their attention to the food, and Faramir quickly discovers his hunger is unfeigned. He all but forgoes proper decorum in his rush to eat.
Faramir does not know how much time passes, but eventually he becomes aware of a steady, measuring gaze. Pausing over a chunk of bread, he looks up and catches a flash of both amusement and concern on Legolas's face. "It seems your stomach has spoken again."
Faramir glances down at the remnants of breakfast, surprised by how little remains. He also receives the distinct impression that Legolas has not eaten much. "My apologies," he begins, but Legolas immediately shakes his head.
"Save your apologies for those deserving them. Clearly you needed the repast more than I." Legolas pauses, as though uncertain of his next words. "I understand your sleep was less than restful. During the night, the men say you were…distressed."
Faramir does not doubt this. If he has learned anything in his service to Gondor, it is that soldiers spread rumors faster than do old spinsters. Legolas puts little stock in rumors, though, and Faramir suspects the elf has spoken with Aragorn. "I swooned in this tent late last. Aragorn was anxious for a time."
"More than a time," Legolas corrects, confirming Faramir's suspicion. "When I returned with the scouts, he was at your side and loath to leave, even when he was called away."
Faramir frowns. "Did he sleep at all last night?" The other's silence is answer enough, and Faramir shakes his head. "I should have returned to my own bed."
"He would not have allowed it," Legolas says with quiet conviction. "He was—and still is—greatly concerned. As am I. Is there aught I may do? I know little of mortal illness, but I can send for more food if you are yet hungry."
The Legolas before him is so different from the Legolas of his dream. Different, yet not different. This Legolas offers and reassures while the Legolas of his dream demands and frightens. But the concern in this Legolas is akin to the terror in the other. Faramir leans back in his chair and rubs his brow, wondering if there is a connection. "What do you fear?"
"I fear for your well-being. More specifically, I fear you may be—"
"No," Faramir interrupts, "I do not mean now. I mean…I mean the question in a general sense."
Legolas cants his head to one side. "What do I fear?" he echoes.
"Yes. What frightens you most in this world?"
"Must it be in this world?"
By elven standards, Faramir has not known Legolas long, but he has known him long enough to recognize a stalling tactic. He also recognizes that Legolas is not avoiding the question. Rather, he is gathering his thoughts. "From this world, in this life, beyond the circles of both, I care not," Faramir says. "I simply wish to know what you fear."
Faramir has been asking himself the same question. "I do not know," he confesses. "A feeling of foreboding is upon me, but it is taking a strange form. I believe it may play into fears."
"And thus you wish to know what I fear." Legolas sits back and folds his arms across his chest, his expression pensive. "I do not know if I can explain it in a way you will understand. In a general sense, I suppose one might say I fear a divide."
"Elves are not as Men," Legolas says slowly, his eyes becoming distant. "And contrary to what others might tell you, even those of us who have never seen the light of the Two Trees are aware of a great division in this world. Of a schism between seen and unseen. Creation and machination. Fëa and hröa. Such division is necessary and natural, but our awareness of it renders us sensitive to other divisions not as natural. My mother's Silvan blood makes it impossible for me to ignore the call of the Sea, but through my father, I also hear the voices of the Sindar who stayed their march and rejected the Valar's summons." Legolas bows his head, his eyes closing. "A part of me longs to answer the Sea's call. To take the journey my people once refused. And this part of me fears the bonds of these hither lands. The trees. The realms. The voices of those I love. But another part of me fears the Sea. The power. The command. The sundering of all I will leave behind. Two fears, different yet the same for they grow from the same division. Thus I fear that to which I also cling, and thus I fear the divide."
"I…think I may understand," Faramir ventures.
The slight huff of air may be either a sigh or a laugh; it is difficult to tell. "Nay, you do not," Legolas says, opening his eyes. "Even my own people do not understand. Their hearts have not been stirred so as to deepen the divide, and as such, they do not know how much they should fear it. Or even that they should." Legolas is silent for a moment, distant again. At length, he turns a curious look upon Faramir. "Does that answer your question?"
Faramir rolls Legolas's words over in his mind, wondering how—or if—a divide might pertain to his dream. "What of the dwarves?" he asks, thinking of Gimli. "What do they fear?"
"The dwarves?" Legolas smiles, and for the first time this morning, there is true mirth in his face. "What do dwarves fear?" he muses, seeming to speak to himself. "It is well we do not have a dwarf here to ask, for in the presence of an elf—and in particular, a son of Thranduil—many dwarves would claim they fear nothing."
"And what would they say when not in the presence of such an elf?"
"Depending upon the dwarf, some would give you the same answer."
"Then what of those who would give a different answer?" Faramir presses, suddenly impatient. He suspects Legolas is gathering his thoughts again, but the evasions are too similar to the way the dream ignores his questions.
Legolas tips his head back, his eyes on the roof of the tent. "Dwarves fear what the mountains fear. They fear the crumbling of foundations and the loss of heritage. They fear they will never recover the old ways. The old glory. The old families. Dwarves believe the gifts of Aulë— the gifts of language, home, and tradition—tie them to the Valar. As these gifts erode and fade, the dwarves cannot help but do likewise. Or so they believe."
Versed somewhat in dwarven lore, Legolas's answer is familiar to Faramir. But he is more interested in what one particular dwarf believes. "Does Gimli share this fear?"
Elven eyes cloud. "Once," he says softly. "And I believe it lurks still in his heart. But the darkness of Moria awoke in him a greater fear, one that divides him almost as much as the Sea divides me. His fear may prove the more grievous, though. My fear divides me from myself, but I still have the support of my people. Gimli faces his fear alone, for it divides him from his kin."
"How?" Faramir asks, struggling to unravel the cryptic words. "Are you saying Gimli fears his own people?"
"Say, rather, that he fears the power and heritage of his people. More accurately, he fears the twisting of that power and heritage. The dwarves are a strong race. Aulë made them so, for he knew well the evil they would endure at Morgoth's hands. But the dwarves' strength can been turned against them, and Gimli fears the desire to regain what was lost will cause the dwarves to repeat past mistakes. He fears the corrupting of their strength and the darkening of their hearts. He fears their ties to the Valar will prove their undoing, and he fears the dwarves are now too few to recover from another loss." Legolas leans forward and places his folded arms upon the table, absently flicking at crumbs. He seems about to say more, but his eyes sharpen and his head turns toward the tent flaps.
Following the other's gaze, Faramir realizes the noises outside the tent have changed. He still hears the shouts and activities of the camp, but they are muted and the guards around the tent speak in lowered voices. "The King returns," Faramir realizes, and seemingly cued by the words, Aragorn enters.
"My friends," Aragorn greets, scowling when both Faramir and Legolas start to rise. "Sit!" he orders, casting his cloak atop the maps on the sleeping pallet. "I would not have it said that I interrupted your meal!"
"I believe we have finished," Legolas says, his eyes darting to Faramir.
"We have," Faramir confirms, sinking back onto his stool. "But if you have not eaten—"
"I ate ere sunrise," Aragorn says, pulling a third stool up to the table. "And it was well I did, for I was called away shortly thereafter and have had little time since."
Aragorn's voice is casual, but as he speaks, his eyes stray to Legolas. Answering an unspoken question, Legolas shakes his head. It is a small movement. So small that another man would not have noticed. But Faramir was trained from youth to watch for small things,. "Legolas tells me there is illness in the company," he says, studying his companions. "Legolas also tells me I should ask you about their symptoms. Do we face a crisis?"
"Every inch the Steward," Aragorn smiles. "Though stricken yourself in the night, your first thought is for the men. But ere he looks to others, this Steward should look to himself. How do you feel?"
"Weary," Faramir admits, knowing Aragorn will be able to discern the truth. "And I dreamed again just before waking."
"What of after waking?"
Faramir shakes his head. "Legolas and I enjoyed breakfast together. Beyond that, naught of note has happened."
Aragorn glances again toward Legolas, and the tent fills with unvoiced words. After a moment, Aragorn turns back to Faramir. "If weariness is your only complaint, I am grateful. And I apologize for my absence this morning, but it could not be helped. I trusted Legolas to provide adequate company."
Though Faramir tries to give no outward sign of his feelings, his brow furrows at the admission that he was assigned a minder. With effort, he pushes aside affronted dignity. "Legolas has been a most courteous companion, my liege, but if we have concluded the subject of my morning, I would return to the subject of your morning. What sickness has befallen the men?"
Hesitation flickers across Aragorn's face, and he gives Faramir a long look. Then he leans forward, seeming to make a decision. "If sickness it is, then it is a sickness of the mind."
"Those afflicted have no physical illness I can discern," Aragorn continues, his gaze steady but his voice soft. "Rather, the malady appears in their actions. Or in some cases, their lack of actions. Those stricken are slow to respond to others. Their sleep is restless, filled with strange dreams and strange voices. Some of them hear these voices even in their waking moments, and while in the thrall of dreams, they speak and act as though unaware of where they are. It is difficult to pull them from such dreams, and when they do rouse, they are dazed and confused. Only a few have been able to tell me of these things. The others will speak to none and lie abed in silence, staring at that which only they can see."
"This all began this morning?" Faramir manages.
"No," Aragorn says, and now his voice is no louder than a whisper. "I believe it began two nights ago with restless dreams. But it went unreported because the men first afflicted did not feel their dreams were of any significance. That changed early this morning when dreams began to intrude upon their waking hours."
"My scouts and I found a guard wandering into the Nindalf," Legolas adds, his eyes dark with concern. "He did not respond when we hailed him, and even when touched, he gave no sign that he knew we were there. We turned him about and brought him back, but we were forced to guide him every step of the way. Though he did not fight us, he was persistent in trying to enter the swamp. Had we not seen him, he might now be counted among the missing."
"I have heard tales of this happening before," Aragorn says. "There are lands where the air or water becomes marred by some foul plague. Those susceptible lose their wits and fall prey to strange sights and omens."
"Then…mayhap there are no brigands in the Nindalf," Faramir says, struggling to speak past the lump in his throat.
"That thought crossed my mind also," Aragorn says quietly, "but not all have been afflicted. Legolas and I agree we should still enter the swamps and conduct a search."
"Then mayhap there is a pattern concerning those whom this illness strikes," Faramir continues. "Something we may guard against."
"Would this pattern apply to you?"
Faramir presses his lips into a thin line, not ready to count himself a victim. "I meant it would behoove us to explore all possibilities."
"True," Aragorn agrees, resting a hand on Faramir's shoulder. "And we must also consider the possibility that this illness, whatever its source, might best be treated in the Houses of Healing. Removing the stricken might even be enough to restore them to health."
Alarm sparks in Faramir's heart. Aragorn's suggestion is reasonable, but if Faramir's dream is foresight, he cannot afford to be sent away. The Nindalf has woven itself into his dreams for a reason. If he is to uncover the dream's meaning, he feels he must remain near the fens. "What of contagion?" he asks. "We are all but isolated here. If you send the stricken to Minas Tirith, the illness may spread throughout Gondor."
The hand on his shoulder squeezes gently. "I have taken note of who is sick and who is hale. This illness does not seem to spread the way other illnesses spread. And if the sickness is caused by the land itself, you will not take it back to the City."
Faramir shakes his head. "Even so, will you risk the possibility? And what if this is not illness? What if this is the work of sorcery? Or foresight?"
"The afflicted still able to speak tell me they are not given to foresight," Aragorn says. His eyes narrow. "With one exception."
"Then it cannot be ruled out," Faramir argues. "Not entirely. Nor have we discounted sorcery. If the afflicted are removed, the sorcery may find new victims."
"If this is sorcery, it is strangely selective. And it is…cautious in its selection."
"But until we are certain of answers, it would not be prudent to send away those who might still be of service to you. Only they can relate the particulars of their affliction."
Reluctance darkens Aragorn's eyes, and after a moment, he turns to Legolas. But Legolas's face is unreadable, the elf apparently taking refuge in his people's time-honored tradition of withholding counsel when the course is unclear. With a huff of annoyance, Aragorn turns back to Faramir. "You argue for prudence," he says, "but I cannot see the prudence in allowing the afflicted to remain."
"You are not proposing to move the entire camp, my liege," Faramir notes. "Clearly you do not think more will be affected. At least, not many more. Might I ask how many are currently ailing?"
"I visited with fourteen before returning this morning. That includes the sentry who wandered into the Nindalf."
"And what is your gravest concern for these men?" Faramir presses. "That they will wander also into the Nindalf? Now that the illness is known, we can guard against that."
"I worry that their affliction will increase and that they may become a danger to themselves and to others," Aragorn answers, his eyes never leaving Faramir's.
"Coming here was a risk. The stricken understand that," Faramir says evenly. The words leave a sour taste in his mouth, but this is not the first time he has condemned men to unknown danger. Moreover, the danger is shared, for he is asking no more of others than he is of himself. Leaning forward, he continues: "We came here to protect those whom we have pledged to serve. To solve a mystery that is preying upon Gondor's people. With respect, my liege, it would be unwise to dismiss those who might have fallen prey to a vital clue."
Heavy silence descends upon the tent. Faramir can feel Legolas's concern, but he refuses to look away from Aragorn. Countless thoughts seem to chase one another across the King's face, but they move too quickly for Faramir to guess what the otheris thinking. At length, Aragorn sits back, his jaw tight. "I still see little prudence in your request," he says slowly, "but we know better than most that prudence is not always the path of wisdom. So be it. For now, the sick will remain. But," he adds, and his eyes glint with warning, "if conditions worsen, I will revisit the matter and send the afflicted to the City. All of them."
"So be it," Faramir murmurs, satisfied with the compromise.
Aragorn nods briskly. "Now, let us speak of other matters. The captains returned from the Nindalf as I was making my way here. They approve the paths discovered by the elves, and I propose we set out the maps and make plans for this afternoon. If possible, I would have advance parties move into the swamp before evening."
"Lie still. Do not move!"
The darkness encompassing Faramir is nothing compared to the darkness in Faramir's mind. With the light of morning filtering through the sides of the King's tent, it was easy to attribute his nightmares to foresight, not illness. But caught again within the dream, doubt is quick to rise. "Legolas—"
"Hush! If you voice your fear, they will kill you!"
The shadows lift. Fear does not. "Your words are too vague," Faramir whispers, pushing himself up. "I do not know what you warn of!"
"There is time." The dream continues its relentless march, and Legolas does not take his eyes from the surrounding dark. "You can still confront your fear, but you must do so in silence."
"This is folly!" Faramir hisses. "No matter what I say or do, you—"
"They come!" Legolas whispers harshly, whirling to face Faramir. "They must not see you with me. You must face them alone!"
The elf flees, disappearing into the night. This time, Faramir makes no move to stop him. He does not even try to stand. Rather, he folds his legs beneath himself and bows his head, doubting his mind.
"Legolas cannot help you."
A bitter laugh escapes Faramir. "No. He can only tell me that which I already know and then flee into this murk." He lifts his head and stares at the darkness. "During our last meeting, you claimed Legolas was never here. If that is true, what of my own place in this madness? Or yours? Are either of us truly here? And if not, then what will it matter if no one can help me?"
The shadows ease, and Gimli appears, his mouth set in a firm line. "It matters because you must do all you can to ensure his return."
Faramir frowns, feeling the onset of a headache. "You said Legolas cannot help me. Why, then, should I ensure his return? And how can he return if he was never here to begin with?"
"And still you do not understand!"
"Nor will I until you cease to speak in riddles!" Faramir snaps.
"Then know this: you must not voice your fear. If you do, then there is no hope. Do not voice your fear!"
"So you have said before! I still do not know what—"
"Who are you?" the dwarf demands.
"Who are you?" Faramir counters.
He expects the dream to proceed as it has before. He expects Gimli to bow his head, shoulders slumped in defeat. He expects to wake more confounded than ever. But instead, the dwarf stares at him, and in his eyes, something sparks. "What would you learn from my name?" Gimli asks. "Your own name still eludes you."
Faramir shoots upward, his breath coming in short gasps. Blankets are twisted about him, and he wrestles them off, restricted by their tangle. He is in his own tent, and he is blessedly alone. The shadows on the walls indicate it is early in the afternoon, but Faramir's last memories are of midday. He took the noon meal with Aragorn and Legolas after which Aragorn instructed him to rest. Knowing the King still wanted to send him to Minas Tirith, Faramir obeyed without protest and returned to his tent. He remembers that much, but he does not remember falling asleep. He cannot even remember lying down on his sleeping pallet. Perhaps he collapsed. Again. If so, he is fortunate none saw it.
Shaking his head, Faramir turns his thoughts to his latest dream—or illness, for he is too wise to ignore the possibility—and calls to mind all that was different from the other dreams. He is convinced the differences are a key. If he can uncover what he says or does to inspire them, he may learn answers. But try as he might he can make no sense of the bizarre conversation concerning whether or not Legolas could return, whether or not Legolas could help him, and whether or not Legolas was even there.
The headache pounding behind his eyes escalates, and he moves on, turning his attention to the last portion of the dream. Here he thinks he may be able to make progress, for Faramir is fairly certain a challenge was issued: He is to learn something of Gimli's name and something of his own name. The latter could be difficult, for Faramir already knows the origin and meaning of his name. He does not know what more there is to learn. Gimli's name, by contrast, is something he can explore. Suiting thought to deed, he rises and pushes through the tent flaps.
The camp is filled with activity, and Faramir pauses to let his senses adjust to the din. If he reckons the time aright, Aragorn and Legolas will soon depart for the Nindalf, along with a fourth of the encampment. Faramir is to stay behind with the remainder of their forces. The situation reminds him a bit too much of Boromir departing for Imladris while he remained in Gondor. Forcefully setting aside his misgivings, Faramir returns the task at hand. He needs Legolas, but where to find him? The men around his tent seem to be engaged in preparing for departure, and those not leaving are sorting supplies. Faramir hopes this means there is a bit of time before the company gathers and decides Legolas will probably be among the elves. He sets out toward the western edge of camp.
When the elves first came to Ithilien and crafted a home in its fair trees, Faramir was initially amazed at the elegance and grace that seemed to attend their every effort. Then he and others joined them on patrols in an effort to purge the Ephel Duath of orcs. He learned quickly that dust and dirt did indeed cling to elves and that when removed from the niceties of society, elves could be as trail-worn and rough as the most seasoned Ranger. Moving into the elven camp, Faramir sees evidence of that now, and he smiles in silent amusement. The ladies of Gondor's court constantly primp and preen if elves are sighted in the Citadel, but he wonders if they would be as quick to do so if they saw those same elves mired in the Nindalf's mud.
Turning at the sound of his name, Faramir counts his search fruitful. "Legolas!" he calls back, spying the elf in the company of several scouts.
"You were told to rest," Legolas says. He dismisses his scouts and gestures Faramir toward a nearby tent.
"So I was and so I did," Faramir answers, ducking into the tent ahead of the elf. "I even slept."
"Did you? That is more than I expected," Legolas admits. "But you are neither sleeping nor resting now. What brings you here?"
"A question," Faramir says, and he suddenly wonders how he should phrase this question in a way that will not convince Legolas he has fallen to madness. "A question about Gimli," he adds, casting about for words. He should have planned the course of this conversation, and he curses himself for not looking ahead. Perhaps illness is indeed at work.
A prickling on his skin interrupts his musings, and looking up, he finds himself the subject of sharp elven scrutiny. "You dreamed again," Legolas says.
The statement takes Faramir by surprise, for he has said nothing to Legolas about the specifics of his dreams. "What has Aragorn told you?"
"Only that there are dreams," Legolas answers. "But my ears are keen enough to hear both what is said and what is left unsaid. I know your dreams leave you weary and restless. I know they are a source of concern for both you and Aragorn. And I know they have somewhat to do with myself and Gimli."
"True on all counts," Faramir concedes, opting for the direct approach. "And yes, I did dream again. This time, my dreams have raised a question you might be able to answer."
Unease colors the elf's face. "Rest may be a better cure for—"
"If my dream is a product of illness, then rest is certainly a worthy remedy," Faramir interrupts. "But so long as my dream might be a product of foresight, I must try to learn its warning."
The unease remains, but Legolas slowly nods. "Your question?"
Faramir releases a slow breath. "Gimli's name: What does it mean?"
"Gimli's name," Legolas repeats, his tone flat. "Are you certain that resting is not—"
"Legolas," Faramir pleads softly, "I beg your indulgence in this as a friend. Please."
The elf looks away, muttering something in elvish that Faramir elects not to translate. "Gimli's name," Legolas sighs, shaking his head. "I assume you do not mean his true name, for such things the dwarves reveal to few."
"I do not know. For now, let us consider the name by which he is known among us. From my study of the northern languages, I would guess that 'Gimli' has somewhat to do with fire."
"You are not wrong, though if you were to say 'little fire,' you would be more accurate."
Faramir blinks and considers what he knows of Gimli. The dwarf might be small in stature, but in all other things… "How came he by the name 'little'?"
"I asked him that once." A smile teases the corners of Legolas's mouth. "Once was all I was allowed. I did not ask as…politely as you have asked."
Faramir feels the tug of an answering smile. "I marvel that you escaped unscathed. Did you learn aught from the experience?"
Legolas's smile grows. "That dwarves move quickly when angered."
"No doubt the lesson has served you well," Faramir retorts. "But did you learn aught that might benefit me?"
Legolas inclines his head, eyes twinkling. "It is common among dwarves to name children in a way that ties them to their kin, and so it is with Gimli. His father's name means 'glowing one.' Thus, Glóin is the fire and Gimli is the spark that shoots forth from that fire." Mirth fades, and concern takes its place. "Is this of benefit to you?"
"Perhaps," Faramir murmurs. He falls silent, aware again of a watchful elven gaze. Paying Legolas little heed, he wonders what type of knowledge he should be seeking and if it should relate to his own name. 'Little fire' and 'sufficient jewel' do not seem to have much in common. Perhaps the names' origins? Gimli's name stems from his father while Faramir's name was given as a compliment to Boromir's name. To Denethor's more 'faithful jewel.' A bitter taste creeps into Faramir's mouth, and he presses his thoughts onward. What would the dream have him learn from this? What—
A horn cry startles him out of his musings. The blast echoes throughout the camp, stilling the din beyond the tent. Faramir recognizes it as a summons for the men and elves who are to enter the swamp, ordering them to rally beneath the King's banner. Turning to Legolas, Faramir offers a small smile and says, "I will see you off."
Legolas, however, makes no move to leave the tent. "Are you certain you wish to remain here with the camp?"
Faramir blinks. "I thank you for the offer, but given what has happened, Aragorn would never give me leave to enter the swamp."
"I meant that perhaps you should depart for Minas Tirith. I can arrange an escort—"
"No," Faramir interrupts quickly. "My place is with this company."
"So you think, but can you trust your thoughts?" Legolas challenges.
Weary of the concern, Faramir takes Legolas by the arm and ducks through the tent flaps, pulling the elf with him. "Legolas, there is no help for me in the City that cannot be found here."
"If leaving will make you well—"
"That would assume the swamp is making me ill," Faramir interrupts. "We are not yet certain of that. Besides, the whole of the White Company is to remain with me, as well as many of the Rangers. And I have no doubt but what the King will inform Beregond that I must be watched closely. Fear not for me. Rather, fear for yourself. You are the one entering the source of the disappearances."
"And as you noted earlier, your malady might be responsible for the disappearances."
"It is not my malady, nor are we even certain that it is a malady," Faramir says, falling in with the stream of elves and men. "Moreover, you assured Aragorn that I was hale this morning."
"Aragorn assured himself," Legolas corrects. "I said nothing."
"Like you, I can hear both what is said and what is unsaid," Faramir answers, but then he stops, thinking over his words.
As he is still holding Legolas's arm, the elf also stops. "Faramir?" Legolas prompts.
"One moment," Faramir says, his mind spinning around something simple. Something absurdly simple. But could it be that obvious? Could fire be the answer? A fear unvoiced but in plain sight? Indeed, a fear represented by Gimli's presence in the dream?
"Faramir?" Legolas asks again, his tone sharpening.
Faramir shakes his head. He will think more on this later. "I am well," he tells Legolas firmly.
The call prevents further questions. Judging by Legolas's scowl, the interruption is not appreciated. "Captain Beregond," Faramir greets, stepping around Legolas and ignoring the elven glare.
"The King requests your presence and sent me to find you. But that was some time ago, and you were not in your tent."
"Then we should not keep him waiting," Faramir says, gesturing for Beregond to lead the way. "Lord Legolas?" he calls over his shoulder. "Will you permit my good captain to escort us? I believe you recommended an escort only moments ago."
"An unkind twisting of my words," Legolas murmurs, his voice pitched so only Faramir can hear. "Tread lightly, Lord Steward. You know that Aragorn and I will confer about you ere we move into the Nindalf."
Ignoring the warning, Faramir turns away and follows Beregond through the crowd. For the most part, he is unconcerned. With departure eminent, Aragorn will be reluctant to orchestrate moving the stricken to Minas Tirith.
Ahead of him, Beregond shouts for men to clear a path, and Faramir catches sight of the King's banner. The clamor of armed guards makes his head ring, but he steels his will and continues forward, weaving amidst the captains in search of Aragorn. A firm grip closes around Faramir's arm, and Legolas begins to guide him through the press, apparently having either heard or seen the King himself. Faramir takes a moment to marvel at this and wonders how the elf is able to distinguish one noise from another. If the commotion is loud to Faramir, it must be deafening to Legolas. It is a wonder that—
And then Aragorn is before him, his eyes studying Faramir's face. "My liege," Faramir greets, bowing his head both out of deference and to escape scrutiny. Sensing Legolas's restlessness and knowing the elf will speak if he does not, Faramir adds, "I dreamed again."
There is a pause, and then Aragorn gives a signal to his guard. A space clears around them. They might not be alone, but they can speak without fear of listening ears. "The same dream?" Aragorn asks.
"Yes and no," Faramir answers, pulling his arm from Legolas's hold. "The substance of the dream remains the same, but parts have changed."
Aragorn's eyes narrow. "Do you believe the changes to be significant?"
"Yes, but I cannot yet say how or why," Faramir admits.
The King's hand settles on the back of Faramir's neck as though in a friendly embrace, but his fingers wrap around the side of the neck where the heartbeat may be easily felt. "You are not feverish," Aragorn murmurs, his eyes never leaving Faramir's, "and your speech is clear."
"My mind also," Faramir says quietly.
Aragorn raises his brow at this.
"I am confused and weary," Faramir qualifies, "but my thoughts are my own."
Aragorn's hand falls away and he steps back. "You are intent upon remaining?"
"Then once again, we will defer to your wishes," Aragorn says grimly, and he looks to the side. "Captain Beregond," he summons, and the man is suddenly beside them. "I leave the camp to the White Company and the Rangers. The Steward commands in my absence, but his welfare and judgment I leave to your keeping. Bear in mind that which we discussed earlier. If he should falter, command falls to you and Mablung."
"It will be as you say, my liege," Beregond says with a low bow.
Aragorn nods and turns back to Faramir. "There have been no new afflictions since last night and no others have tried to wander into the Nindalf. Even so, be safe, my friend, and be well. Perhaps you are indeed caught in the workings of foresight, but do not tax your strength beyond what it can endure."
"You also," Faramir says quietly. "Safe journey."
"I will send messengers this evening to inform you of our progress. Look for them as night falls." The King backs away and motions to his herald. Three horn blasts signal the men to organize into units for the march.
Beside him, Faramir hears Legolas sigh. "Guard yourself, Faramir," the elf murmurs. "I do not fancy returning to Ithilien with an ailing Steward. The wrath of the White Lady is not to be ignored."
That surprises a laugh out of Faramir. "Éowyn thinks highly of you," he says. "Her wrath may be lessened by regard."
"Or heightened by it," Legolas retorts, "for she also seems to think highly of you. Nor is she the only one to do so." The elf takes Faramir by the forearm, clasping it firmly in a warrior's grip. "Elbereth keep you, my friend."
Faramir clutches Legolas's forearm tightly. "As I noted earlier, I am not the one venturing into the fens. Stay safe."
Legolas squeezes once, his eyes dark, and then he pulls away. Men swarm around them, and the elf steps back, threading his way into the crowd and disappearing as swiftly as he does in the dream. Unnerved by the similarity, Faramir gestures for Beregond to lead them out of the ranks.
The company orders itself quickly, and before long, a horn from the rear signals that all is in readiness. The herald at the front sounds the march, and with a splash of feet in dank, muddy water, the men set out into the Nindalf. Faramir parallels their march until the edge of camp, and there he stops to watch. Others also follow, and together, they look on as the King's company passes into the mists. The haze of the swamp seems to close around them, and Faramir cannot quite hold back a shudder.
"Lord Steward?" Beregond questions softly.
Faramir does not answer, his eyes fixed on the disappearing company. A few banners from the rearguard float briefly above the creeping mists, flapping in the breeze as though waving a farewell. Then they, too, are gone, and those around Faramir begin to disperse. Uneasy, Faramir also turns his back on the Nindalf. Though the majority of the men remain, the camp feels eerily silent. Even the flags hang still and—
Faramir freezes, his mind clearly recalling his last glimpse of the departing company. The banners waved. He is certain of it. But he does not recall a wind, and there is no wind now. "Beregond," he says slowly, never taking his eyes from a nearby flag whose limp folds obscure the White Tree of Gondor, "has there been a breeze today?"
"Not since early this morning," Beregond says. "The wind ceased about the time the elven scouts showed us the paths they found."
"There was no wind in the marshes?"
Beregond shakes his head. "None that I felt."
Faramir turns again to the Nindalf. The cloudy mists are as still as the banners in camp.
"Lord Faramir?" Beregond says hesitantly.
"If I am needed, I will be in the King's tent," Faramir whispers, wondering if his mind is still something he can trust.