7. False Victory
Notes and warnings: see end of chapter
"The people of Gondor are stiff-necked."
The Steward had stalled the law of widows and unmarried women, claiming that too many lay dead on the field to give an accurate account of all the dead; that too many had not yet returned to the City to say for certain whether the men had fled or not; that the women were needed to rebuild. And the Mouth, testing the Steward's resolve, had let his excuses pass for a time, slowly adding pressure to find the Steward's breaking point, until he had the King whipped. By then, Faramir had managed to modify the law, so that the women would work only by day. He hoped that would serve as some protection, as it was later proved to do.
But the Mouth did not let him savour this victory for long.
In truth, it is uncertain whether it could be called a victory, for the Steward could no longer deny the Enemy, and he knew it even before the King was whipped. Still, the punishment of the King both served the purpose of the Enemy, and thwarted it.
Faramir relented, but the Mouth decided to press him, now that he had yielded once, and further humiliate both Steward and King with new demands. Acting quickly, he sought to embitter the King against the Steward, and test the bond the Steward had shown towards the King, if it could be of use. Therefore, Faramir was called back to the prison the next day.
No other prisoners were held with the lord Elessar. His cell was small and dark with no windows. Three walls of stone, and the fourth was the bars separating the cell from the corridor.
The king did not know this, nor did he know what image he presented where he lay curled against the wall. A bloodied back where torn flesh bled slowly, and the crusted blood had not been washed away. Though open to the corridor, the cell stank of stale air, of illness, and of filth.
"The people of Gondor are stiff-necked."
Aragorn lay still. He could feel eyes watching him, pricking at the back of his neck, but he could do nothing to hide. His hands and legs were chained so closely to the wall that he could not turn, and pain flared whenever he tried to move.
It gave him something to fight against.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Soft movements. Footsteps felt through the ground. A sharp drawing of breath, then nothing. He inched his head to better hear.
It was the Mouth of Sauron; Aragorn knew his voice.
"Yesterday you were taught the cost of disobedience. Now you must learn the cost of sloth."
And Aragorn knew then that the Mouth spoke not to him, but to Faramir.
"Take light inside so that my pupil can see better."
And he could feel the steps of the guard, could sense him stand over him. Oh! to be able to shrink into the dirty straw! But he held, waiting.
"You have not tended his wounds."
Faramir's voice. It was rough.
"I have learned, the law is passed: this serves no…"
"You have not learned to keep your tongue, I see," the Mouth said. Aragorn tensed, but the Mouth merely spoke on. "You, Steward, are but a servant. You must learn to obey, not question, and to obey quickly. I have a new task for you, and when that task is done, I will send a healer to see to your would-be king."
Aragorn nearly spoke then. What law? What task? The words hovered on his tongue, waiting to spill over his lips. He hesitated. He did not trust his voice. Nor would he trust the answer the Mouth might give. If answer he would.
"And what does the lord order?"
Faramir's voice echoed his own mistrust.
"It is a simple task of cleaning. The Citadel court have fallen in disarray; you will have it set to its proper state before midsummer."
"At once." Faramir answered too quick, skirting the edge of interruption. Aragorn could hear him standing posted to leave before the Mouth could reveal his true test.
"You will take what men you need," the Mouth continued. "And make sure to clean away all the dead plants that clutter around the fountain."
"Nothing grows in Court of the Fountain."
There was a silence.
No. Aragorn saw the Mouth's meaning an instance before Faramir's "No!" echoed his thought.
"Not the Tree." Faramir's voice was but a whisper, a child pleading that his fear be not true.
The Mouth did not speak, but Aragorn arched away from the sudden blow. The chains rattled and he bit of a cry. There were voices and movement from the door, but the words were swallowed and drowned. He curled back in on himself and hid his head as best he could; pressed against the wall, his breathing quick, he made himself small and steeled himself against the next kick.
It did not fall.
In the silence, he heard movement. At least two or three more people entered his cell. The guard withdrew; another took his place and knelt behind Aragorn.
Aragorn's breath came in shallow, short bursts. He could sense the kneeling man, could sense there were others around, but they were silent. He could hear his own breath, could hear the torches burn, could feel the warmth from the flames on his skin, but nothing else happened. He turned his head slightly, trying to hear the guards better, trying to judge how many they were and what they would do.
A hand on his shoulder. Light, barely there. A familiar touch, but it brought no comfort. He flinched and turned his face back to the wall.
The Mouth slid his hand down around his throat and under his chin. He tried to twist away from the grip, but the Mouth held him and slowly turned his face back towards the room.
"Look at him," the Mouth said. "So proud once. Now he is filthy and weak and flinches from my touch. Tell me, little king," he whispered into Aragorn's ear, "how dost thou like thy kingdom?"
Aragorn did not answer. The Mouth slipped his other hand into Aragorn's hair, then clenched and held his head still while the first hand slithered back across his shoulder and down his spine. Aragorn hissed and strained away. Clenched his teeth and fists.
The Mouth laughed. "Poor little Elessar." He pressed down on a welt. "What is this? Infected already? All because thy Steward is slow. Slothful and unwilling. Poor, uncrowned king." He pulled Aragorn closer. A hand stole back around his throat. Fingers dug into the sinews underneath the ears, too hard to be a caress. Too soft to strangle. Aragorn swallowed against the pressure. He could feel the breath upon his face when the Mouth spoke again.
"Perhaps the Steward should be replaced? The Great Lord has many servants, willing and quick. Or would mayhap a king do better? Mordor does not ask much of its tributaries." His grip softened to soothing strokes; comforting, if it had been other hands, other places.
But Aragorn laughed at the words, and the laugh was bitter. His voice was hoarse and rough when he spoke. "Didst thou think that I would break that quick? That I would believe thy lies? Sauron will never make me king. I am a hostage, and that is all the use he will get from me."
"Our lord needs no other." Ever so slowly, the Mouth once more tightened his grip. "Do not think he needs thy good will, brigand; the Great Lord's will is always done. Now wert thou a good hostage. Cry. Beg. Scream. Let thy Steward know what his useless resistance has brought."
Aragorn was silent.
The Mouth did not speak again. He kept his grip, and Aragorn could feel him turn, could hear the clang of a bucket, and the slosh of water. Could hear the startled reaction of Faramir.
Aragorn kept still. He knew that he could not avoid whatever they would do next, and in some way, he was almost relived. There would be pain. He did not doubt that there would be more pain, but pain was merely pain. It was simple. Against it, he could fight, and he could endure. The weeks– was it already weeks? – alone in the cell, waiting, never knowing when they would come, never knowing what would happen, what they'd do, never knowing what was happening outside, were somehow worse.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Taking his time, the Mouth trailed his fingers over Aragorn's back. That touch, Aragorn thought, was harder to endure than had the whip. And he could not avoid the hand. The Mouth seemed to sense this, felt his tension perhaps. That soft laughter again, so close that he could feel it more than hear.
"Beg," his captor whispered. "Cry. Weep."
… breathe out.
Aragorn said nothing.
The Mouth laughed again. "Thou willt. In the end all Men break, and weep. But whether thou cryest now or later, maters not; he weeps now." Aragorn could feel him turn and strain, reaching for something. "I will be merciful, Steward," the Mouth said. "I will do better than give fresh straw; I will treat his wounds."
Salt! At the first touch of it, Aragorn tensed. Water ran down his back, stinging with salt: it was brine. He fought to escape the hand that rubbed it into his skin. In vain. He could not lift his head. His hands and legs were bound to the wall; the chains clinked and rattled, but did not budge. He hissed in pain.
The Mouth let go of his head, removed his hand.
Aragorn breathed hard. The salt stung his shoulders just as bad as at the first touch.
The handle of the bucket rattled, then the hands were back. One snaked up his chest and closed softly round his throat under the chin, gripping his jaw.
The other brought more saltwater.
He would not scream. He would not scream. That thought he clung to when the Mouth continued to scrub his wounds with brine.
He did not scream. That thought he clung to when they had left and he lay there alone in the dark. He had not screamed or begged, and he had only shed a few tears. Those did not count; they were the body's tears of pain, not tears of defeat and despair. As were the croaking sounds he'd made.
He did not scream. That much control he still retained. He could not rise or turn; he could not stop his body fighting in vain. He could not stop them, could not avoid the pain. He could not even brush away the hair that stuck to his face. But he did not scream!
It was a meagre comfort.
It was all he had.
"The people of Gondor is stiff-necked, my Lord, and the fisherfolk of Dol Amroth more so."
Dol Amroth and its people proved themselves hard to subdue. By the middle of May, the Lieutenant of Barad-dûr sent prince Imrahil there, to force the surrender of his people, which his soldiers had not been able to force. Under guard, the Prince was brought to the walls of his home, but he refused to order his men's surrender.
Up on the walls surrounding Dol Amroth, the sentinels stood. The fasthold lies high on the cliffs overlooking the bay, and they could see far. The village below lay empty, and beyond the enemy camp, out of reach from bowshot, teemed with soldiers. New troops had arrived the evening before, and the people prepared themselves for a new attack.
Soon, horns and drums were heard from the enemy camp. The sentinels gave their own warning, and the remaining defenders gathered on the walls. Up through the village, the enemy advanced. Tall men from the south marched with large shields in front, and behind them came orcs and evil men. They bore banners of black and red, and their shields covered them from any arrows the people of Dol Amroth could send. They halted within sight of the walls, and from behind the shield-wall, a voice rang out.
"Who inside speaks for all?"
From the walls of the stronghold, the answer came:
"Your demands and offers will not be heard. Begone! You have no need to ask for names, for whoever will answer, will all speak the same."
At that, the shield-wall opened, and a captain of the Corsairs stepped out. With him came also great Uruks, dragging with them the Prince of Dol Amroth. They forced him to his knees and held him there. From the walls came a murmur, and shouts of dismay, and the captain held up his hand to speak.
"Other prisoners we have beside, but until you open your gates, and the banners of your insolence no longer fly from your walls, the torment of your lord will not cease, and you will bear witness to it."
And the orcs strung him up in view of the walls until the gates were opened.
It took days before the people wavered. Imrahil — had he been able — would have prided himself of their perseverance.
The Prince's daughter and grandson were not found among the people, to his relief, and though the enemy searched, they were not found. It is thought that the people held out longer than they would, for their sake. The lady Lothíriel escaped with her brother's son, but four years of age, and none heard of her for five years thereafter.
The Lieutenant of Barad-dûr was not pleased.
"The people of Gondor are stiff-necked."
How long he lay there while he fought the pain, Aragorn did not know. The salt stung and stung and stung and did not let up. He could not hear any sound above his own breaths, stuttering and short. He was alone. The guards were gone; the sting remained.
Then he cried. He screamed. He wept and raged. Alone in the darkness of a blindfold fitted too tight, he let himself voice the pain. When none would see and none would hear.
But some did.
Hands. Hands on his shoulder, his arms. He flinched away. He fought. He snarled. Like a beast, trapped and wounded, he snarled and fought against the touch of those hands.
They did not let go.
"My lord! My lord, be calm." A voice broke through his darkness. A voice, but not his guards'. Faramir.
"Lord," Faramir said. "Be calm. The guards are gone, the Mouth… they are gone."
"Faramir." His voice was rough, but he stopped fighting. "Faramir."
"Sire." The hands moved, fumbled with the blindfold. "What can I do?"
Aragorn blinked. The light was dim, but still too bright. "Water…"
Faramir was gone and then back again just as quick. Aragorn twisted his neck around to see him; he had a bucket and was about the dip the blindfold into it when Aragorn spoke.
"My lord?" Faramir stopped, his hand hovering above the bucket. Whether on purpose or not, he too changed his speech into the Elvish tongue.
"Is it fresh?" Aragorn asked. He formed the words with care; his mouth was dry and stiff. "The water: is it fresh and clean?"
"Yes, it is fresh," Faramir answered, "and clean enough."
"Give me to drink first."
"Not that clean."
"Then it is not clean enough to use." Aragorn grit his teeth. His eyes had grown used to the light and he could see Faramir more clearly. He was pale and drawn, but no shadow had returned yet.
"The salt will sting a while longer," he told him, "but it will keep the wounds clean. I need water, though. If the water is too dirty…"
"What can I do, lord?"
"Can you free my bonds?"
Aragorn closed his eyes. The floor moved beneath him and the world span. The chains clinked as he tugged on them in frustration.
"Speak, then." Aragorn forced the words out, clipped and short. A few deep breaths to regain control, then he continued. "Tell me what tidings you know. I… I do not even know whether it is day or night."
"It is day," Faramir said. "The twenty-eighth of May; one month and nineteen days since our defeat."
"Since you surrender," Aragorn answered. "If this is the twenty-eighth, our defeat was two months and three days ago."
Faramir fell silent but he did not move away, and when Aragorn grasped in pain he took his hands and held them. Aragorn latched on and gripped tight. A few deep breaths, and then he loosened his grip.
"Is the pain easing?"
Aragorn shook his head. "No," he said. "But I can bear it better, for a while." He paused, and Faramir let go of his hands. He sat in silence, watching Aragorn.
"What would you order me to do, sire?" he asked at length.
"I bear no crown, Faramir, and I am a prisoner."
"And the men that followed you from the North, would you not still order them?" Faramir asked. "What would you have me do? You did not choose me to be your steward—"
"I would," Aragorn said. "If the choice had been mine. And I would have you do what is best for Gondor."
"Sire, you are Gondor."
Aragorn shook his head again.
"You are the king."
Aragorn closed his eyes. For a time he was silent, and when he spoke again his words were slow with many pauses. His hands were fists, and his knuckles white.
"I would not make any claim until it be seen whether we or Mordor should prevail. We did not; I am no king."
"Sire," Faramir said, "The claim has been made for you. Made and accepted."
"Then speak. Is all of Gondor lost or is there still some place that resist? Has any? How great is the army of the enemy? Have they moved on to Rohan, or is the whole army here?" Aragorn swallowed, and before he could continue, Faramir answered.
"Dol Amroth resists. Many of those that escaped before the enemy arrived chose to follow King Éomer to Rohan, but some sailed south, to warn the Southern fiefdoms."
Aragorn's hands unclenched, a little. "Éomer escaped the battle, then. I dared not trust that hope. Is Merry, the Halfling, safe?"
"He is with lord Éomer, as is the King's sister."
Even through the pain, Aragorn could hear a note in Faramir's voice at the mention of the Lady. "Éomer would not have left the Lady Éowyn behind," he said. "I was not sure whether he could convince Merry to leave or not. I am glad he did."
"Neither he nor Éowyn wished to leave."
Aragorn sighed. "I hoped she would have time to heal."
Aragorn turned to look at Faramir. A long time, or so it seemed, he held his eyes, searching, and Faramir met his gaze and held it. Aragorn smiled.
"It is good," he said.
Faramir did not answer, but he looked away. A strip of white cloth was bound around his arm.
"Why did you stay, Faramir?"
"To hold the enemy as long as I could, and give Éomer King time to escape. The vanguard arrived shortly after; the enemy would have given pursuit had Minas Tirith not been held. It was my duty to stay, and hers to leave."
Aragorn nodded and asked no more. He closed his eyes and lay resting for a time, but the smile was still on his lips. Faramir said nothing and for a while, the room was silent. No sound breached the walls, for a time they could forget. Forget the world outside; forget demands and sorrow and pain.
Except that they could not.
Aragorn's breaths were harsh and quick, even at rest. The air was rank, and outside the Enemy waited, secure in their defeat. And Aragorn had questions yet.
"Has the Mouth sent any troops in pursuit of Éomer?"
"No," Faramir answered. "All troops have been used to secure Gondor. Many of the men from the Southern Fiefdoms used the ships you brought up the Anduin to escape down the river again. They were to spread words of our defeat, and the coming threat. That fleet have disappeared, it seems. Many of the men have returned to their homes, but some must have fled further, out to the sea, or to seek safer harbour north along the coast. Dol Amroth was warned; the messengers and soldiers found the castle closed against them.
The Mouth sent Imrahil there– some weeks ago– to force the castle's surrender. I have not heard tidings of the siege yet, but the Mouth is impatient. If the sons of Imrahil fell at the Morannon…"
"They did," Aragorn said. "Or so I heard, but the Mouth also claimed that Éomer had been slain."
"They were not in King Éomer's company, and Imrahil believes them dead. One of the Swan-knights who did escape, claimed that he had seen them fall, protecting the body of their father. But King Éomer believed the Prince dead, and yourself as well."
"If any of them lived and had been captured, the Mouth of Sauron would have brought them with us, I believe. A surer coin to buy Dol Amroth than a king they do not know. And Lord Imrahil would have been told, if only to torment him." Aragorn shifted, before he stilled again.
"Alphros is the heir then, Elphir's son. He is but a child; the Enemy will want him to shape him for his rule, or end the line."
"His other sons fathered no children?" Aragorn asked.
"No," Faramir replied. "But Alphros is far too young to rule yet; unless they have escaped when the warning came, the people would see to the Lady Lothíriel. She is both brave, and strong of mind, but I would not have though she would hold out this long with her father held hostage against her.
"I surrendered far quicker."
Faramir fell quiet. Aragorn's breaths were short and shallow and he shivered, but he said nothing. He could feel Faramir shift beside him.
Aragorn cut him off before he could say anything more. "What freedom do you have, Faramir?"
"Little," the answer came. "Guards follow all my movements, but I am not locked in. I am Steward still, in name, and am charged with the duties of that office, but it is the Mouth that gives orders. If I fail to obey…" He paused. Aragorn's breath came faster. Uneven. He gripped the hand Faramir offered him and held it until his breath evened again.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Aragorn shook his head. "I know this part of it only," he said. "What is the other?"
"None, so far." Shadows flickered on Faramir's face, hiding his features.
"Faramir, you did not surrender for my sake alone."
Faramir did not answer. Silence filled the room, broken only by the rattle of chains. Aragorn turned his head to look at Faramir.
His voice was hoarse and rasping, all gravel and deep earth. The name, whispered through walls and stone, echoed in Faramir's ears and tugged at the heartstrings of his soul. The memory of another darkness pressed around him, and at the voice of he who called him back, Faramir's resolve strengthened.
"You know the answer, sire."
"Do I, Steward?" The King's voice was stern, but not with anger. "Has my trust failed?"
More silence followed. Faramir moved, avoiding the King's eyes.
"So far no other consequences," Aragorn pressed. "But if you were to refuse now?"
"My guess," Faramir hesitated, "no – I do not guess, I know: the Mouth would rule himself, or appoint one of his captains should I refuse." He paused before he spoke again.
"I do not know whether my choices have been right."
Aragorn breathed, and some of the tension left him. "Choices," he said, and repeated the word. "Choices: you have some freedom then. You can still offer some protection to the people of Gondor."
"Did you not hear me, sire? I can do little; one step too far…"
"I will suffer, and if that does not help, you will be replaced. By one that will not do even little." He swallowed. "Faramir, you can slow evil; perhaps hinder that worse be done. Did you not surrender for this reason: that worse would not happen. Imrahil and I…"
"Would be dead had I not," Faramir interrupted.
"That is not the worse I speak of."
"I know." Faramir shook his head. "But it was what I could not bear."
"And this?" Aragorn asked. "Can you bear this again, if need be?"
"I do not know."
Neither had words to answer.
Faramir began to clean away what he could of the filth and stink. He worked in silence, and Aragorn did not speak for a while.
"Faramir," Aragorn said at length. "I claim no man's oath or obedience, but if you want my counsel then I say: better you than one of the enemy. You can hinder or delay the worst of the Enemy's demands, or try."
Faramir stopped his work. "Is that your wish?" he asked.
"I think it will be the lesser evil," Aragorn answered. "For the people of Gondor, if not for you."
"Not for you."
Aragorn shook his head. "I think yours will be the harder part." He sighed. "Faramir, I have been chained in the dark for two months …" he tugged at the chains; they rattled and did not budge. " … and three days. I cannot … " He swallowed.
"Sire," Faramir said.
"They have left you free to act. Do what you can."
"Sire, you will bear the brunt, and in the end it will make little difference."
"Give me purpose, Faramir. You cannot spare me pain."
Faramir hesitated. "And should the Enemy offer you the throne in more than name? Would you bear ruling as a vassal to the Shadow, my lord?"
Aragorn did not answer, could not answer. The Mouth's words rang in his mind: Would mayhap a king do better? He repeated what he knew.
"Yours will be the harder part."
"Aragorn," Aragorn interrupted. "If I need be Elfstone to the people, let it be so, but that name is now a mockery. ' Aragorn' I was named at birth, and now that must sustain me."
"Lord, if I might delay evil, could not you do the same?"
"Would you have me?"
Faramir hesitated again. The chains rattled, and Aragorn gripped his hand again. Wordlessly he waited until the grip eased and the breaths softened, before he spoke:
"No, Lord Aragorn. You are right: my rule might be the lesser evil, but we do not know what demands the Enemy would place upon yours. But even if he would place no other demands on you, I would say no. I fear what despair would come upon Gondor should we have no hope to cling to. There will be mockery enough.
"Sire, I will obey you wish," he said. "But if you ask for purpose, let it be this: do not break, lest Gondor lose the last of her pride."
"Gondor knows me not, Faramir."
"Minas Tirith does, and you won her heart when you became a healer. You won the heart of those that followed you from the south, and their word will spread." Faramir paused once more. "Know you the story of Húrin, lord?"
"Need I ask which one?" Aragorn coughed, but Faramir did not answer. "His is not a happy one, Faramir."
"Nor are ours, lord. But it is said that rumours of his steadfastness, and refusal to bend to Morogth's will, spread among the slaves of Angband. Gondor will need a hope that will not bend."
Aragorn shuddered at Faramir's words. "And so your roles are already cast," he muttered. "May the end not follow the past: it as a fateful role you give me, Steward."
"You wished for purpose, lord."
"And yours is still the harder part; my duty and my will, shall be the same." Aragorn closed his eye. At least I have no child.
"Then it is good, if any good can yet be had."
Aragorn nodded and said no more, but he smiled. Thin and wan his mouth was, and chapped from thirst. Almost Faramir was tempted to let him drink, despite the muddied water. But he did not. Faramir spoke instead, soft-voiced, telling of the City and the Mouth's orders. Aragorn was weary, and much of it he could not discern; he took comfort in the voice none the less, and the warmth of Faramir's body. In hands that were soft and light and words that did not mock.
"The people of Gondor are stiff-necked, my Lord, and the fisher-folk of Dol Amroth more so," the Lieutenant of Barad-dûr wrote. "Their Prince leads them in this; he has refused to order their surrender, but his men falter and have grown reluctant to fight in the evidence of his torment. They will fall within the day. Still I deem that they will not bend easily to any ruler not of the House of Dol Amroth. Though Prince Imrahil has shown himself stubborn, it will be quicker to tame his people by breaking him to Your will, unless his heir or his daughter are still alive within the walls.
I will therefore test whether his loyalty to Elessar runs deep enough to use. For this purpose he will be informed that Elessar will be whipped for his refusal. This will make no difference to Your plans for…"
Here the letter breaks off. A part of the corner is missing, cutting the last word off at the letters 'th'. We do not know how many pages are missing.
The siege of Dol Amroth was broken on the last day of May. If the Lieutenant judged the waning resistance of the people of Dol Amroth right, then the letter was written on the 29th of that month. Prince Imrahil returned on the eleventh of June.
But the whipping of the king Elessar occurred on the 27th, witnessed by the lord Faramir, the Haradrim healer, and the Lieutenant himself, and no record of a second whipping has been found, though the Prince bore witness that he saw the healing marks on the King's body when he was returned to Minas Tirith.
Some argue that the second whipping must have taken place without record, and with no healer present. Others, still believing that the Enemy would have risked two such harsh punishments being carried out within a fortnight, argue that the record must have been lost, for the Enemy had his servants record all their doings.
There are, however, those that hold that there was no second whipping. They argue that the servants of the Enemy repeatedly misjudged the resistance of the Free Peoples, thinking they would bend far quicker than they did. The Lieutenant of Barad-dûr, they argue, could simply have been mistaken, and the letter written earlier.
While the fragment gives no other clues as to its date, it is my belief that they are mistaken. Other papers where found with the fragment, and though it can not be shown for certain that they are part of the same letter, I believe they are. While none of these papers speak of events later than the end of May, in one the rapport of the healer is mentioned. In another, it is noted that the law of widows and unwed women, had been passed, and so it is my belief that the letter was written between the 28th and the end of May.
It should be remembered, however, that the Enemy lied and deceived, and none should doubt that his servant, his Mouth and Lieutenant, followed his master also in this.
Aragorn learned the full extent of Faramir's disobedience when the guards at length returned. Faramir heard them before they reached the cell. He fumbled with the blindfold but woke Aragorn before he did anything else.
"The guards are coming back," he said. "There is not much time."
Aragorn mumbled something, still drowsy.
"Sire, forgive me; I have to put it back on."
"What?" Aragorn asked, confused by pain and sleep.
"The blindfold," Faramir answered. "I must put it back on; I was forbidden to speak with you, or let you know that I was here. If they find …"
He could not see where Faramir had gone when the guards came. Their footsteps were loud and the noise hid any sound the Steward might have made. They said little. Two entered his cell, but there could have been more; Aragorn could not tell. But more than one pair of hands loosened his bonds and hauled him up so he was sitting. He was given water, and he drank as much as they allowed him. The food was harder to swallow; old, dry bread and some stale cheese that was hard to chew. He ate slowly.
Afterwards they chained him down again and left.
He lay silent, listening to their footsteps disappearing, trying to hear whether they all had truly left this time.
He heard nothing but his own breaths. Faramir did not return and he dared not speak to find out.
Faramir was careful thereafter. The White Three was burned at the Mouth's order, but the burned stump could not be dug out from the ground. It remained, barely visible; a symbol of Gondor's defeat.
Notes on names and language:
Daro: (Sindarin) Stop/halt
"Aragorn I was named at birth": The only meaning of the name "Aragorn" that Tolkien has proposed, is "kingly valour". While it is not certain this was the final meaning, I have adopted it here. (See the foreword of HoME 12: The Peoples of Middle-earth)
A/N: My thanks to the people on The Garden of Ithilien and my beta JAUL for help with this chapter
I have experimented a bit in this chapter, with the repetition of the quote: "The people of Gondor are stiff-necked" and I wonder if this was something that worked well or not. Too many repetitions? Didn't notice? Confusing standing alone like it did so many times? I would be very happy to hear your reactions (if you has any).
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