The breeze in the garden was chilly. Not with quite the bite to it as the wind in Rohan, but cold enough for Gondor. It ruffled Faramir's hair as he stood at the wall, overlooking the rooftops of the sixth level. The view from the Steward's garden wasn't the most spectacular in the city, but it was peaceful enough.
This morning, Faramir felt anything but peaceful. He sat on the nearest bench and fingered the withered rose on the shrub nearest to him. It was still soft, but limp, its edges brown and beginning to curl. It seemed an appropriate metaphor for his life.
In the week he'd been home from the Houses of Healing, he had been gaining strength daily, and his aches and headaches were fading to mere trifles. His wrist was still splinted, of course, but his shoulder was less painful. He was eating properly again, and if he still tended to take a nap in the middle of the day, at least he could stand being up and about for more than an hour or two without fatigue.
He had engaged Penil, the young Healer's apprentice, to be his personal assistant, and the young man was proving to be as bright as he was stalwart and gentle. They would spend part of every day in exercises designed to help Faramir regain his strength. Yesterday, they'd ventured to the training yard of the Guards and he'd even tried a bit of sparring. He was far from fit yet, but it felt good to feel his former strength returning. And in exchange, he was teaching Penil how to wield a sword in his left hand.
Penil had also been instrumental in helping Eowyn find her own assistant, as his sister was a maid in the King's kitchen and yearned for something better. Pelia was as small as her brother large, and sharp and quick where he was methodical and quiet. But she was proving to be an excellent companion for Eowyn. Together they were going through the other long-abandoned rooms in the Steward's apartments, setting them to rights. Eowyn intended them to move out of their small bedroom and into the Steward's chambers once they were decorated to her liking. Faramir was both anticipatory and uncertain about the move. Part of him wondered about staying in a room that had been his father's, although he used his study readily enough. Though, as he'd very seldom visited those chambers, not once his mother had died, he really didn't associate them with his father. The other part of him looked forward to abandoning his too-small space with its old memories.
And its new failures.
He looked down at the blossom in his hand and discovered he had crushed it. He let the petals fall to the ground.
He loved his wife. Sometimes it took his breath away how much he loved her. How all she had to do was enter into his presence and he was filled with awe and delight. It killed him to know that he was destroying what they had, and that there was nothing he could do about it.
She pretended she didn't mind. She reminded him he was still recovering. She would put her arms around him and hold him close, whispering endearments to him.
But he still saw the pain on her face when he turned away from her in the night, heard her sigh as she rolled over to go to sleep. Yesterday, she'd barely looked at him all day, and their conversation after dinner was more awkward than anything they'd ever experienced. When they went to bed, it was she who turned away from him, and when he woke this morning, he was alone. Eowyn, Penil told him, had gone riding.
Faramir plucked another withered blossom from the shrub, ignoring the stab of the thorn. Whatever had made him think he could live happily ever after with Eowyn? With anybody? Wasn't he Faramir, son of Denethor, descendant of a long line of cursed men?
"I was told I could find you out here, my brother." A voice behind him interrupted his gloomy thoughts.
Faramir didn't turn around, didn't acknowledge the other man–a horrible breach of etiquette, he knew, but just now, he really didn't care.
"He kept her caged," he began, staring at the withered rose, "a beautiful thing to be admired but not touched. And she withered away and died. Perhaps he loved her too much and she was smothered by his love. At least I don't have to worry about that." His laugh was bitter.
There was a short silence. When the King spoke, his voice was soft, moderated. "She worries about you," he said.
"She has no cause. I recover my strength, day by day."
"Recover your physical strengh, perhaps. But I do not believe it is the physical that has her concerned."
That made Faramir raise his head. "No? Well perhaps it ought to be, for it is certainly the physical that has failed her."
"Your wife fears you no longer love her," Aragorn stated.
"She confides in you now?" Faramir asked bitterly.
"She confides in my wife," Aragorn said. "And anyone can see that you are both unhappy. She does not know what she has done to lose your love."
"She has done nothing!" Faramir cried, turning toward the other man for the first time. "It is me who has failed her!"
"How have you failed her?"
There was a long silence and Faramir looked back at the withered rose in his hand. "It seems I am my father's son after all."
"You are his son, not his twin."
"We both failed the women we loved best," Faramir said miserably.
"Faramir, how have you failed her?" Aragorn asked again.
"I cannot be a husband to her!" he exploded. "She takes me in her arms, she loves me and...nothing!" He jumped up from the bench and paced away, wishing there were more than half a dozen paces in the small garden.
"Do you desire her?" Aragorn asked.
"Yes. I desire her. But there is no...desire."
"You do not stir?"
"I stir. But that is all."
"I...see. And you have explained this to her, of course."
"There is nothing to explain; she can see it with her own eyes."
"What she sees is that her husband does not want her. If you have not explained it, then she cannot know why."
"And what can I say to her? I'm sorry, my love, but you've burdened yourself with a man who is impotent?"
"Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of ‘I'm sorry, my love, but my body has not fully recovered from my illness'," Aragorn said mildly.
"That particular part of my anatomy was not injured," Faramir muttered.
"The poison touched every part of you; we don't know what its lasting effects might be. It is only two weeks since you were hurt." He crossed the garden and propped his hips against the wall, crossing his arms.
"How often have you tried?" he asked.
Faramir took a deep breath. Part of him was mortified at having this conversation. It was the sort of thing he never could have imagined talking about with Boromir. On the other hand, he couldn't imagine a circumstance where they'd have needed such a discussion, either. Boromir's virility was a source of open gossip among the lower levels where the brothels were, and Faramir generally preferred to keep his own dalliances private.
"My first night home." He looked past the wall, remembering the scene. "It was like our wedding night, in a way, since I couldn't remember our first one. I felt a little nervous, but she put me at ease. We went to bed and it was as beautiful, she was as beautiful as I'd ever imagined. But when I tried to...and she tried...there was nothing. She told me it was all right, and she held me all night. But I was...I was angry and horrified and afraid. Not only could I not remember our wedding night, I couldn't perform on this, our second night together.
"The next night, we tried again, but I could tell very quickly it would be the same. I feigned exhaustion instead. She said it was fine, but she was disappointed, I know. Since then...." He sighed.
Aragorn looked sideways at him. "So because you were incapable the day you got home, only two days after having had a raging fever, you have decided that you can no longer service your wife."
"I know how my body responds, and it's not responding now," Faramir said angrily. "You make it sound like I am willing this!"
"You know how your body used to respond," Aragorn corrected. "You have been ill, Faramir. Your body will not behave the way you're used to. You need to be patient with yourself. And more than that, you need to trust Eowyn."
"Trust what? Trust that she will fall out of love with me? We have been married over a month and I have been a husband to her exactly once. And I can't even remember it!"
"You may not, but she does. You put too much pressure on yourself. It is not your wedding night, that is past. It is just a night, like any other night, with your wife, who loves you. You need to trust in her, trust in her love for you. I know you still have a difficult time believing that anyone could love you, but you need to just accept that you are loved. You need to talk to her. You need to tell her all of it–your fears, your desires, even your shame. And you need to trust that she will understand, because she will.
"And then you need to accept her help, in whatever form it may take. You try too hard and set yourself up to fail. You need to go easy on yourself. Let yourself be human, let yourself be vulnerable."
Aragorn took a deep breath. "Do you know how long it had been, before my wedding night, since I'd lain with a woman?" he said softly.
The question startled Faramir and he turned around. Aragorn was regarding him, his face calm, his eyes kind. Faramir wasn't sure if the question was rhetorical, so he shook his head.
"Since before you were born," Aragorn said. "To say my skills as a lover were rusty is putting it more than a little mildly. I'm afraid my problem was somewhat the opposite of yours and I embarrassed myself quite thoroughly. Fortunately, I have a wonderful and understanding wife who, through patience and love, saw me through my difficulties and put them behind us. Our relationship is very fulfilling now, but it did not happen overnight."
Faramir studied the other man, seeing the love he had for his wife etched in his face. "Easy to say," he said softly, "but what if I never–"
"You never will if you keep pulling away from her," Aragorn said. "Her vow to you at your wedding was to be with you through illness and health. She meant it."
"But I do not remember it," Faramir whispered, feeling the clench around his heart whenever he thought about how much he'd lost.
"Then perhaps you both need to repeat them, so that they are not forgotten," Aragorn said softly. "You have something good here, my brother. Something rare and fine. Do not throw it away."
Faramir closed his eyes. He felt so weary, so tired of everything being a struggle. But Aragorn was right about one thing: he didn't want to lose Eowyn. He opened his eyes. The King was watching him.
"She is riding," Faramir said.
"She will be home soon."
Faramir nodded. "And I...we will talk." He looked down, staring at the dying flower in his hand. His father had kept his love caged until she whithered and died. He would not make the same mistake. "I cannot lose her."
"Then you will not," Aragorn said, crossing the few steps to him and putting a hand on his shoulder. Faramir looked up at him. "If you need me, I am always here for you," he said softly.
"Thank you," Faramir whispered.
Aragorn pulled him into an embrace and he held on, perhaps more tightly than he might have otherwise. How blessed he was to have Aragorn in his life.
The hug broke and Aragorn smiled. "Go on, brother. Go find your lady."
Together they walked out of the Steward's apartments.
They separated at the door, Aragorn turning left to go to the High Court, where no doubt he had business to attend to, business more important than Faramir's insecurities. And yet he'd taken the time to deal with Faramir's insecurities, as if they were as important as where the next shipment of grain was coming from, or how to repel an Orc attack. Faramir went across the courtyard, looking over the wall, watching for a familiar sight, riding a horse as if she was an extension of the animal. No matter how long she lived in Gondor, she would always be a wild horsewoman of the north, and, Faramir realized, he would always love her for that.
He finally spotted her, just turning her mount and heading for the gate. He hurried down to the stable on the sixth level to meet her.
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