Salt in Wounds
by Laura Mason
G-rated, this story is a remix of Rubbing Shoulders with Nobility by Holdur, originally written for Remix Redux III.
Faramir was adamant. He wanted his life back, but that was impossible, so instead he was determined to salvage whatever he could from the upheavals of the War.
"My lord Faramir, your body is barely healed, and you have done no soul-healing," Sehin insisted. "Such blows as you have endured take time to absorb and accept."
"If you are waiting for an exhibition of grief, Sehin, you wait in vain. Such weakness was trained out of me before I'd lived ten years." The healer nodded and let Faramir pass, but Sehin's unhappiness was clear.
Imrahil was still ordering the City, fulfilling the duties of the Steward which should still be Denethor's, or should have passed to Boromir. Certainly Faramir himself was woefully unprepared to assume them, despite his insistence that he was sufficiently healed.
Thoughts of his father and brother led Faramir through the many-roomed maze of injured citizens and onto the streets of the sixth level. Much of his self-pity melted in the glare of the weak sunlight. It was one thing to know others had suffered great losses, and another to see the devastation of his beloved City. Many families were decimated and the empty houses, half-buried in rubble, might remain deserted for years to come.
The scars of war endured, no matter how the world had changed when Sauron was overthrown. Faramir himself was proof of that.
Old Amehtir was still at work in the archive, though, and Faramir took comfort in the familiar sight of him bent over a long table. He peered up from his scroll, squinting a little in the always-dim light. It took only a moment before his face lifted in a welcoming smile.
"Young master Faramir. My lord Steward, I should say, but for a moment there I thought you'd been sent to dust the shelves as punishment again."
Faramir smiled but couldn't summon a laugh for the joke. "I'm searching for information, my friend, and I know you'll be able to put your hand on it. I require Mardil's chronicle of the last king's coronation."
Amehtir looked sad for just a moment. "Then the rumors are true. I didn't believe it at first, despite seeing he's a fine warrior. That man is Elendil's heir?"
"He bears the sword that was broken, now re-forged by the elves. They say there are other proofs, but I need nothing beyond the skill he displayed after the battles were done. Only the true king has hands of healing."
Amehtir patted Faramir's arm almost absently, but he was sure the old man understood him. "Then you'll be needing that scroll. Come along, don't dawdle." Faramir felt thirteen again as he was led through the dimness, winding among the tables and past long shelves full of papers. "Here we are. The chronicles of the kings. No one has referred to these in many lifetimes, but they've been kept clean and ready, should the king return." He fussed with the scrolls for a moment, reading titles. "Hmm. Coronation in the time of Earnur. Here, and here. And this one, too, should be helpful." Amehtir placed them on the table and used the lamp he carried to light another.
Faramir tried to smile as he thanked him. "You've done your duties faithfully and the king will hear of it."
"Many generations have been faithful."
"Yes," Faramir agreed. "And now we find ourselves living in the time when prophecies are fulfilled and legends walk our streets."
"Who could have foreseen it, my lord?"
"Please, my friend, you must always call me Faramir."
"Then enough of this daydreaming. To work, Master Faramir. You've many duties to research." With a final encouraging touch to his arm, Amehtir left Faramir alone with the records he'd selected. Faramir sat and carefully unwrapped the first, then began to read.
Perhaps an hour had passed in silent study when Faramir heard Amehtir's voice again. "You there! What are you doing here? This is no place for your children's tricks."
Faramir had turned back to his scroll, ready to ignore the interruption, when a high, clear voice made him freeze. Was that the Ringbearer his old teacher was scolding, demanding he repeat himself?
When Frodo was brought to the Houses of Healing to continue his recovery, he'd been almost unrecognizable to Faramir. He still wasn't sure if the change was from Frodo's ordeal or merely a change in his own sight. The wounded darkness and pain in Frodo's eyes matched Faramir's feelings. The minstrels, singing of Frodo's deeds, only confirmed what Faramir already knew. He'd clearly seen that Frodo had once faced the same enemy who'd bested him, the Witch-King who wrought evil that endured despite his own destruction.
"But we call ourselves hobbits." Yes, it had to be Frodo. The voice was too cultured to be his companion, Samwise. But Faramir might have recognized it had their accents been identical to his ear, because of the pervading melancholy in Frodo's voice.
What was Amehtir about? He was behaving as if he was forgetful, almost simple-minded. Yet Faramir knew the old man was sharp as a tack despite his years. Hadn't he recognized Faramir immediately, and not only remembered where the records Faramir sought were filed, but also recalled the circumstances when they'd first met nearly twenty years before?
"You just keep your fingers out of the oldest scrolls and call out if you need anything."
Faramir winced, imagining Frodo's face at being treated thus. Amehtir must have heard the tale of the Ringbearer's deeds in Mordor. For that matter, Amehtir's rank would have placed him among the nobles who'd traveled to the field of Cormallen with Meriadoc the hobbit. Faramir rose, leaving his scrolls and lamp behind, and walked toward their voices, ready to demand an explanation. But he stopped in the shadows when he saw Frodo, smiling slightly despite the dark circles still under his eyes, listening as Amehtir spoke.
Amehtir knew this was Frodo of the nine fingers, knew the voice meekly answering him was that of one who'd willingly walked into the Dark Land to save them all. Yet he continued questioning the hobbit, prattling like one of the wash-women of the Citadel.
"A Halfling? Really? What an extreme coincidence. You folk keep popping up everywhere, when one least expects it." Faramir stared at Frodo, trying to imagine what he'd faced in the dark land. Frodo and Sam both were still quite painfully thin, but only Frodo seemed so pale as to be transparent. To Faramir's eyes it seemed there was a light inside the Ringbearer, burning brightly despite his frailty. The light called to Faramir, but it was not a soothing call. Somehow it disturbed him, bringing back memories of being lured to surrender and leave the land of the living.
But Amehtir couldn't see that, could he?
"You had something to do with the war, didn't you? Now what was it that you did again?"
Frodo blinked and Faramir nearly groaned aloud. Amehtir was playing some horrible game here, prodding at raw wounds. Faramir wanted to put a stop to it, but he feared that revealing he'd witnessed this odd interrogation and Frodo's discomfort would only add to the Ringbearer's distress.
Faramir looked away from Frodo's white face and really saw Amehtir at last. The old man was watching the hobbit with sharp eyes, eyes filled with understanding and sadness. Faramir was reminded of what a good friend and companion Amehtir had always been to him, gently teaching him lessons that went far beyond the organization of the archive's records.
Frodo haltingly stammered, "I... I did my best." Amehtir smiled and nodded, patting him on the head.
"Well, that's all we could ask of you, isn't it?" He turned away, reaching for an armful of scrolls, but Faramir saw Frodo's mouth fall open as he stared after him.
"But... But what if your best isn't ... good enough?" Frodo called after him, agony in the question. Faramir's heart pounded and his breath sped as if he'd been running. It never was good enough; Faramir had known that all his life.
Amehtir looked back at the hobbit. "Your best is all you can give." Then he turned and his eyes unerringly landed on Faramir's shadowy figure. "It is always good enough," Amehtir finished before vanishing among the shelves.
Frodo stood staring at his hands, his face thoughtful. Faramir crouched down where he stood, his stomach twisting as the tears he'd lacked for so long finally, painfully, demanded to be shed.
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