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Crossing Borders - Part 1

Title: Crossing Borders
Pairing: Éomer/Faramir
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Whipping (punishment, not bdsm)
Genre: Slash

AN: For Liz
Beta: Half Elf Lost


Faramir ran. He tore across the plains beyond the walls of Edoras, his booted feet catching and stumbling over the tough, knee-high grasses as he sought to put as much distance as possible between himself and the city of the horse lords. Sweat streamed into his eyes and flew from his hair as he ran over the dark plain, his only light that of the full moon and hordes of stars that rode above him like warriors wielding swords of flame.

He ran on, gulping the damp night air, panting like a hunted beast, the sound of his heart galloping in his ears growing steadily louder, louder. . .

The sound of hoof beats, as swift as his pounding heart, were coming behind him and he stifled a cry of alarm, glancing back to see the massive steed of his pursuer almost upon him. Fear gave speed to his feet as he tried to push himself faster, to dodge the snorting animal. Suddenly his legs were kicking at nothing, his lungs emptied of air as he was seized, hoisted onto the horse, and thrown face down over the beast's shoulders. The rider dropped the reins, steering the horse into a turn with his knees, as he pulled Faramir's hands behind him and bound them tightly.

Afraid of falling from the charging horse, Faramir held still, closing his eyes against the dizzying whirl of the dark plains below. Horse and rider galloped back to the city, the gates opening at the rider's call. Up the hill they went, the horse slowing only a little on the steep grade that led to the Golden Hall. When they reached the stairs at the foot of the palace, the rider reined in his mount and slid from the saddle, dragging a dazed and terrified Faramir with him. Servants moved forward to take the horse to the stables as the rider forced Faramir up the stone steps.

"Captain, please. . ." Faramir gasped.

"Be silent or I will gag you," Éomer growled. "You will have plenty of time to spout your lies to those who will listen, but I will not hear them now."

"Captain, if you will but let me speak. . ."

Éomer stopped and spun Faramir to face him, slapping him so hard his head buzzed. "I said, silence!" he snapped.

The two continued up the steps, the only sound the scraping of their feet and Faramir's panting as he both tried to pull away from Éomer and keep his balance on the stones. Once inside the Great Hall, Éomer was joined by several of his men and they surrounded Faramir and marched him into a smaller room off the main Hall where King Théoden and Gríma Wormtongue were waiting.

Éomer shoved Faramir onto his knees before the king, seizing his hair in an iron grip to prevent him from falling on his face. Faramir moaned in pain, his eyes searching for a sympathetic face among the Rohirrim and finding none.

"You come to us as a representative of your people and of your father the Steward, you accept our hospitality, garner our trust, only to betray us," Théoden said coldly. "Did you think you could run all the way to Gondor before the truth was found? Did you think to arrive at the gates of Minas Tirith with your treachery intact?" He held aloft a sheaf of papers and the faces surrounding Faramir hardened.

He looked at the papers the king brandished and his heart caught in his throat to see the damning words, written in his own hand. His personal papers he had secreted within his rooms. Papers he had planned to destroy before returning to his homeland.

"Your majesty, I can explain. . ."

"Yes," Théoden cut in, "entertain us with why you had hidden information containing our most guarded secrets - our troop numbers, our supply lines, the passages in and out of the city walls that only three people in all of Rohan know, one of which you used for your escape tonight."

Faramir swallowed, his mind racing, knowing how the possession of such information must look but more worried about what else his papers contained. "I. . . it. . . it is not a report, it is a journal," he stammered. "My personal papers, your majesty."

"Your 'personal' papers," Théoden said skeptically, "containing information that could bring this city to its knees, which could leave us vulnerable in war."

"Yes, Théoden King, just so," Faramir said, though he was unable to meet the king's eyes. "These are only my private musings, to be seen by no one."

Gríma leaned over and whispered something in Théoden's ear and the king nodded, his eyes glittering dangerously.

"And you expect us to believe that you wrote this with no intention of sharing the information with Denethor? The Steward of Gondor has coveted our lands for many years."

"It is the truth, your majesty," Faramir replied.

"We may not be able to put you to the sword when the truth is uncovered, as we might like, but uncover it we shall," Théoden said, his eyes cold. He looked at Éomer. "Take him and find out what else he knows and if his father put him up to this. Then report back to me. His fate will be decided when everything is known."

Éomer seized Faramir and dragged him from the room and down the long halls of the palace. They passed through a set of massive double doors and down a breezeway into a smaller annex. The building contained a wide hallway with doors on both sides, doors to cells, and Éomer unlocked one of these and shoved Faramir inside. The Gondorian stumbled but kept his feet. He turned just as the key turned in the door, locking him in.

"Captain, please listen to me!" he shouted. But there was no reply.

Faramir wondered why Éomer did not begin the interrogation at once, but was relieved for the respite nevertheless. He worried what would become of him, feared what his father would say when the accusations reached him, but most of all he was terrified of what Éomer would do to him when the rest of his journal came to light.

His hands still bound behind him, Faramir looked around the cell. The walls were thick logs, the floor bare planks of wood over packed earth. A thin layer of straw was piled in one corner, probably to serve as a bed, Faramir surmised. The feelings that twisted him inside brought back the memory of the first and only time he had visited the dungeons of the White City.

When he was a child of ten, Denethor had taken him along as he went to inspect the prison of Minas Tirith. Two prisoners were present and Faramir had been terrified to see the hardened despair staring from the men's eyes as they watched him from behind the bars of their cells. He looked away quickly and Denethor had not seemed to notice the effect his inspection of the torture equipment and descriptions of what had been done to the men in the cells had on his son. When the captain of the guard had pointed it out to Denethor, he had become angry and sent Faramir back to the palace. Faramir had run all the way, vowing never to set foot in that awful place again.

Later at dinner, Denethor berated him in front of Boromir and the servants, telling him he must harden himself to such sights if he was to be of any use to his family and his people. Faramir had not eaten that night; Boromir took bites of food from his plate when Denethor's attention was upon his own meal.

When they retired to their rooms, Boromir told him matter-of-factly that the dungeons were always scary the first time and that he would get used to it. But Faramir had no desire to "get used to it". After that, Faramir had always managed to be elsewhere when it was time for the inspections and the topic had never been broached again.

Now he was a prisoner and now he wished he had taken his father's advice, inured himself to the starkness and discomfort of such places so that he would not now be so frightened.

The door opened suddenly to reveal Éomer and two other men. Faramir was taken from the cell and down the hall to a large room filled with chains and other equipment Faramir remembered all too well. Without a word his bonds were cut and the men stripped him to the waist, removed his boots, and chained him spread eagle in an open area of the room. With great difficulty Faramir forced himself to remain calm, breathing deeply and focusing inward as Boromir had taught him, while the men locked the shackles about his wrists and ankles.

When he was secured, the men stepped back and the Master Torturer entered. He was the biggest man Faramir had ever seen, half again as tall as Éomer, with uncharacteristically dark hair and muscles of granite beneath his clothes. The man's long hair was pulled away from his rugged face and tied behind with a strip of leather. His hands looked as big as shovel heads to Faramir and the Gondorian quailed to see that one of them held a many-tailed flogger of braided hide.

He stepped behind Faramir, who struggled to turn his head to keep the man in sight. Faramir jumped and snapped his head forward when he heard Éomer speak.

"Faramir, keep your eyes on mine. I will ask the questions and you will answer. If you do not speak truthfully, you will receive one lash. Do you understand?"

"Yes, captain," Faramir tried, his voice failing him. He cleared his throat and repeated his words. He looked into Éomer's eyes with as much bravery as he could muster, blinking nervously.

"If, after three lashes, you fail to tell me what I need to know, I will ask you another question and this will be repeated until I have my answers. Any question you fail to answer, or do not answer truthfully, will be asked again after you have been given time alone with your pain. After three sessions, methods other than the flogger will be used. Do you understand?"

"Captain. . . Éomer . . . you have extended to me your hand in friendship since my arrival. I would not betray you or your people. Please, believe me," Faramir begged, but Éomer's sharp brown eyes remained dispassionate.

"Do you understand?" he repeated.

"Yes, captain," Faramir answered. 'All I have to do is tell the truth and all will be fine,' he said to himself, looking earnestly into Éomer's eyes.

"Where did you get the information you wrote in your 'journal'?" Éomer asked.

"Various places: from your libraries, from people I have met during my stay, from you. But my intent was never to share all I wrote, it was. . ."

"Enough!" Éomer cut in. "Just answer the questions, nothing else."

Faramir nodded.

"Did your father send you here to gather this information?" he pressed.

"No, captain," Faramir said.

Éomer looked at him closely, then his gaze swept past Faramir's shoulder and he nodded.

Faramir's eyes went wide, then clamped shut, and he gave a shout of pain. The chains rattled in his ears as his body was forced forward by the blow. It was worse than he could have imagined and when he looked again into Éomer's eyes it was with dawning fear.

"Did your father send you among us as a spy?" Éomer asked.

"No, captain."

But Éomer was not convinced. The next question earned him another lash and the next another. Faramir continued to answer unwaveringly, meeting Éomer's hardened gaze without hesitation or evasion. Sweat sheened his body and ran into his eyes and he shook his head to clear them, struggling to focus on Éomer and questions that seemed ever more complex and confusing.

And then it happened. . .

Éomer approached and peered at him, standing directly before him and looking into his eyes. So close was he that Faramir could feel the heat of his own tormented body reflected back to him from the horse lord's broad chest. Despite his pain and fear, or perhaps because of it, Faramir felt the heat within him rise, felt his cheeks flush with the knowledge of it. Éomer's eyes narrowed and Faramir dropped his gaze at once. Had Éomer noticed?

Éomer stepped back and looked again over Faramir's shoulder.

"That is enough for now. Lock him up and we will continue later, when he has had time to reflect on his lies," Éomer said. He turned on his heel and left quickly.
The men released Faramir from the chains and dragged him back to the cell, tossing him inside like a sack of grain. Faramir tried to catch himself and felt something within his wrist give. He cried out in anguish, rolling onto his back and cradling his wrist. As soon as his torn flesh touched the rough wood he screamed and rolled onto his side, moaning and shaking uncontrollably. Too wounded to crawl to the bed of straw, he lay in his pain for hours, drifting in and out of consciousness.

Faramir blinked and whimpered as harsh light suddenly struck his eyelids. Full consciousness brought with it a reawakening of his pain and he groaned and struggled to crawl away as the two guards caught his arms, dragging him again to the torture room.

Faramir was taken aback to see that his interrogator was not Éomer, as he had expected, but Gríma in his stead. As the guards raised his arms to chain him, he sucked a shaky breath through clenched teeth and moaned. One of the men noticed his swollen wrist and hesitated.

"He is injured, Lord Gríma. How shall we proceed?" the guard asked.

Gríma came closer to examine him, none too gently probing the swollen purple flesh of his wrist. Faramir hissed and tried to pull his hand away but it was held steady by the guard. The wounded Gondorian tried, and failed, to suppress a scream. Gríma looked into his eyes, a smile of satisfaction quirking the corner of his mouth, and gave the wrist one last squeeze. Faramir convulsed and trembled, nearly passing out from the pain.

"Put him in the stocks." Gríma said.

Faramir was forced to kneel before two wooden uprights that supported a set of stocks resting horizontally atop them. His head and wrists were positioned in the forward half and then the back was swung closed, trapping him inside, leaving his welted back exposed for further punishment. Faramir's whole body throbbed like an open wound as Gríma, pacing before him, began to speak.

"Éomer tells me you were. . . less than forthcoming during your last session. I know you are hurting. I know you are injured." He spun to face Faramir and the concern in his blue eyes pierced the young Gondorian's soul. "Tell us what we want to know and you will be spared more pain. You will be cared for by our healers and allowed to take your rest before you are sent home."

Then, his words took on a tone of such compassion that Faramir found tears falling from his eyes before he even realized it was happening. "You have nothing left to hide and no reason to hide it," Gríma crooned. "You want to return to your family, and we want nothing more than to send you back, but you must tell us what you have done. You must help us so that we may help you."

By the time Gríma finished speaking, he was gently stroking Faramir's hair while the young man looked up at him with streaming eyes, his chest hitching with barely restrained sobs.

Gríma was right, Faramir thought. If he told them what they wanted to hear; they would stop with the questions and the flogging. He knew the pain would eventually break him, he feared that his wrist might already be broken and if it was not treated he might never wield a sword or bow again. If that happened, he might as well go into exile, for Denethor would banish him if he was unable to fulfill his duties with the citadel guard. He was still in training and had two more years of service before he would be allowed a command of his own.

Yet how could he lie to them and say he was spying for his father? Théoden had judged Denethor's covetous eye correctly, and confirmation from him might doom his country to war. Faramir had begged his father to allow him to visit Rohan and learn the culture of the horsemen, but it was not until Boromir pointed out the advantages that might be gained from Faramir, a quick study, learning their ways and strengths, that Denethor had relented.

After living with the horse lords, Faramir had come to admire their traditions, their ties to this open, untamed land. He knew he would never give his father cause to want to absorb these proud people into the Steward-ruled lands of Gondor. His journal, just scribbled notes on matters that had taken his interest, he had planned to destroy before he left Rohan. But when he had heard Théoden and Gríma discussing the discovery of his journal, the punishment that awaited him should the charge prove true, he had unwisely fled in fear.

Faramir reasoned that if he allowed this fear to rule him now, he could never convince the Rohirrim of his sincerity. Yet if he stayed strong and did not give in, they would have to know he was telling the truth. Just one more session, he told himself, and perhaps this would all be over.

"I was honest with Éomer and I will be no less honest with you, Lord Gríma," Faramir said. "I pray you will see this and stop this madness. Ask of me anything, and I will answer."

Gríma's false air of sympathy instantly crumpled into a scowl of displeasure which as quickly again transformed into a smile of condescension. "I will ask of you many things, young Faramir, and if you are innocent I will know."

Faramir suppressed a shudder as Gríma stepped back and the questioning began.

Within moments Faramir found himself lost in the maze of Gríma's cunning words, earning himself lash after lash as he contradicted his previous statements without realizing he was doing so. His welted back opened to the blows, the whip cutting the blood from him at last, and he screamed and writhed within the stocks, his wounded wrist sending lightning strikes of pain through his arm.

As he neared his breaking point, Gríma suddenly switched his line of questioning, asking him about the people he had met and his opinions of various members of the court. Faramir thought himself on firmer ground and answered readily, sparing his flesh from the whip for several blessed minutes as he babbled about the commonplace conversations he'd had with the Rohan nobles.

Gríma paused for a moment and then delivered the death blow to Faramir's dismantled will. "Tell me how you feel about Éomer."

In his fragile state, Faramir blurted out, "I feel nothing for him, he is only a friend!"

Gríma looked at him in mock surprise. "I meant, how do you see him in his capacity as Théoden King's Guard Captain? Why, is there something else?"

Faramir's eyes filled with terror as he realized Gríma had tricked him. He stammered incoherently and Gríma gave a nod to the torturer, causing another lash to cut into his bleeding back.

The young Gondorian screamed and thrashed helplessly as Gríma came to him and leaned over, hissing in his ear, "Have you not wondered where the rest of your papers are? I have them and I will give them to Éomer if you do not confess - end this now!"

Faramir's battered defenses broke and crumbled around him and he cried out, "It is as you say, Lord Gríma, I am guilty of betrayal! I wrote down all I could in order to share it with my father. I wanted Gondor to have the advantage over Rohan. But my family did not know of my plan, I swear it. I cannot write but I will give a full confession." He closed his eyes tightly and clenched his good hand into a fist. It was over, all over. His doom was sealed.

Gríma growled in frustration. Faramir's words had explicitly cleared Denethor of any culpability, and in front of witnesses. He knew he could have the young Gondorian whipped senseless but it would do no good now. All present could see he was broken and anything further wrung from him would now be suspect.

With a wave of his hand, Gríma sent one of the guards to fetch a scribe and Faramir dictated his confession from within the stocks. He wept as he poured out his tale of how, through deception and in violation of the King's law, he had obtained information which could be used against Rohan. He told of how he had hidden his motives from everyone, including Denethor, while laying his plans and how he had befriended members of the court only to betray them. He told them how he planned to report the information to his father upon his return to Minas Tirith to curry his father's favor, and in the end, when he had run out of lies and all was duly inscribed, he signed with his uninjured right hand, his non-favored hand, in shaky, illegible script.

Gríma was highly unsatisfied with the whole affair and tersely ordered him to be taken to the house of healing, his interest in the young Gondorian utterly depleted. Sick with shame and self-loathing Faramir was escorted under guard to the healers.
The guards laid him face down on a bed and reported his injuries to the Master Healer who assigned two young apprentices to tend him. If they felt aversion to be ministering to a criminal and spy they did not show it, but rather set about their assessment with quiet, gentle efficiency.

The young woman probed his wrist, more carefully than Gríma had, though it still caused Faramir to flinch and cry out. She declared it unbroken, to Faramir's relief, and the young man said that with immediate treatment his back should have only minimal scarring. Then, while the young man left to prepare the potions and unguents they would need, the young woman bathed Faramir's sweat-and-tear-streaked face and dabbed the blood from his back. Faramir gritted his teeth and groaned loudly, though she was very gentle and the cloth was laid on with a light touch.

He rolled an eye to watch her work and a blush of shame rose to his cheek to see how pretty she was. Her hair beneath her white hood was the color of ripe wheat, her eyes cornflower blue, her smooth cheeks and lips carried a touch of pale rose. She was as lovely a maiden as he had ever seen - and he felt nothing for her. Why could he not feel the desire for her, for any woman, nature commanded? Why was his desire for Éomer, and not for his shield maiden sister or for this pretty young healer?

Faramir closed his eyes and licked his dry lips. He wished he had never come to Rohan, never tried to show his father that he could handle himself as well as Boromir. He knew Denethor loved Boromir as his heir, but he also respected his natural ability to lead, and admired his tenacious spirit, things he saw as reflections of himself. Faramir admired his brother also for his kindness, his confidence, and the loyalty he inspired among his men. All his life he had shadowed his brother's footsteps, trying to live up to his ideal, and all his life he felt he had fallen short.

The young male healer returned and helped raise Faramir's head so that he could drink the potion he had prepared. Faramir sipped it and made a face, turning his head away and coughing slightly, which caused a shudder of agony to ripple through him. The young woman stroked his hair as the young man encouraged him to try again.

"I know it tastes terrible," the healer said apologetically, "but you must finish it. It will ease your pain and let you sleep."

Faramir swallowed and nodded, allowing the young man to feed him the rest, taking bigger sips to finish it faster. 'Yes sleep, blessed, oblivious sleep.' he thought. He wanted to sleep and never awaken.

When he finished, the young woman set about cleaning the welts on his back with cloths soaked in herb-infused water. Faramir flinched through this latest ordeal and the young man set about wrapping his sprained wrist and adjusting it more comfortably upon the pillow. By the time they finished, Faramir's eyes were growing heavy and distant.

Thoughts and images chased through Faramir's ever cloudier mind as the healers left him to his rest. Images of his life, seen through the prism of his experiences and distorted by his perceptions, flitted past his mind's eye as he lay on the threshold of dreams. His father gifting him with the livery of a Guard of the Citadel tailored in every detail to his six-year-old frame, of Denethor telling him of his mother's death and breaking down - the only time Faramir had seen his father cry. He saw himself at age eight, Boromir offering to teach him swordplay with the wooden weapons used for practice, then cruelly besting him and nearly breaking his arm in the process. He thought on Boromir's apology and how good he had felt when he forgave him and his brother had hugged him.

He remembered following Gandalf around on one of his visits, listening to the old wizard's tales of adventure in far off lands and dreaming of someday traveling and having adventures of his own. He thought of how his constant questions and his studies of Elves, Dwarves, and other cultures of Men seemed to irritate his father and annoy his brother, who thought his time would be better spent learning Gondorian history and battle strategy.

Faramir sighed gently in his half-dream state. He had always felt like an outsider, even within his beloved city and among his own people. It was Gandalf who had told him there was no shame in being different, but he had not believed him then or now. For even Gandalf did not know what it was that set him apart. Faramir had always understood on a fundamental level that he was not like Boromir, or his father, or like any others of the citadel guard, but he did not know why. All his life he had tried to fit in, tried to deny the part of himself that had led him to his current circumstances, and now it had all blown up in his face.

'If only I could have known his touch but once. . .' Faramir thought, as he slipped into his herb-induced slumber.
When he at last began to awaken, he fought to hold onto the darkness of sleep, trying to force his mind back into the dreamless abyss in which he wanted to remain. But the pain in his body would not allow it, and he found himself groaning in frustration as he reluctantly blinked his way to consciousness. When he moved, the young man came to him and helped him sit up. Faramir sat on the edge of the cot, gripping the frame unsteadily with his good hand, trembling, his breathing short and ragged. His mouth was dry once again and he hung his head and closed his eyes, waiting for the room to stop spinning.

The young healer offered him a cup of water. Faramir took a few sips, sighing gratefully as he handed it back. "Thank you," he rasped.

"Do you need to relieve yourself?" the young man asked softly, and Faramir blushed and nodded.

"I don't know if I can. . . manage by myself," he admitted, shame flushing his cheeks and chest.

The young man looked upon him sympathetically. "It is all right. I will help you."

Faramir was humiliated beyond words, but he had no choice. The young man brought him a chamber pot and helped him unlace his leggings. Faramir managed to get himself situated, but the awkwardness of using the wrong hand and the pain caused by even the smallest movement caused his aim to go awry, splashing both the healer and the floor.

Faramir had thought he had sunk to his lowest point but this latest degradation was without equal. He mumbled an apology and stuffed himself hastily back into his leggings, his head falling forward onto his chest as he fought back his tears.

"It is all right," the healer said gently as he cleaned up the floor and wiped off the hem of his robe. "Your hand is injured and until it heals you will need help with many things you are used to doing on your own. Do not be ashamed to ask. We are used to helping our patients with these things."

Faramir nodded quickly but did not open his eyes until he heard the young man move away. He looked despondently around the room, seeing the house held few other patients and no other prisoners. Two guards stood at the doorway and, when Faramir looked out the window at the end of the room, he saw there was another guard beyond it. 'How many are there?' he thought. 'Do they truly think I could escape after what they have done to me?'

He saw the young woman moving about the large room, checking the others and offering them drink or comfort. When she approached him, Faramir looked up at her, but found he could not hold her gaze.

"Will you let Théoden King know I am awake, please? I doubt if he will want me to remain here any longer than necessary."

The young woman touched his shoulder gently. "Yes, I will let him know. Is there anything I can get you? Would you like to lie down again?" she asked.

Faramir shook his head, wincing as he did. The young woman went to speak to the guards and he watched her make her report. Concern crossed her features at something the guard said and she shook her head adamantly as she replied. The guard responded and she spoke firmly, her tone clear even to Faramir, though he could not hear her words. When she returned her face was strained and she bent to look in his eyes.

"They say you are to be moved immediately. I told them you are not well enough, that there is a risk of infection and permanent injury to your wrist if you do not remain here for at least another day or two."

Faramir looked at her, gratitude and despair filling his eyes. "It is good of you to want to help me, but do not waste your time. My fate is in the hands of the king. I deserve no leniency, nor your kindness." He averted his eyes, feeling himself unworthy of her compassion.

"Everyone deserves a chance to heal," the young woman said, brushing a strand of hair from Faramir's face, which immediately fell forward again as he looked up to watch her move away.

His arm throbbed with a slow, painful dullness. Faramir scrubbed at the two day old growth of beard on his face and looked over at the sun shining on the garden beyond the window. The dust swirled within the light and Faramir felt like one of the tiny motes, borne about powerlessly on the currents of chance.

He heard a bustling outside the door and Éomer swept into the room, the anger in his eyes changing to horror when he saw Faramir. Faramir refused to look up, fearing that meeting Éomer's eyes would again reveal his shameful desire.

But Éomer would not settle for standing over him, staring down. He squatted before Faramir and grasped his jaw, lifting his head to look into his eyes. Faramir felt himself blush again and cursed his inability to control his feelings when the horse lord was near.

"Is your confession true?" Éomer asked, glaring at Faramir as if daring him to deny the veracity of it.

Faramir was struck speechless by the sudden onslaught of those intense brown eyes. He stared, his heart battling his mind over whether to tell Éomer the truth or continue the lie. He wanted Éomer to know he was no traitor, but he feared Gríma would make good on his threat to show Éomer the rest of his journal. He could not bear the contempt he was certain to see in the horse lord's eyes should Éomer read the entries about him. And, Faramir reasoned, even if he told the truth, would Éomer believe him? He had certainly failed to do so when he had him so callously put to the lash.

The memory of Éomer's gaze going to the torturer ever more frequently decided the matter for Faramir. He lowered his eyes in defeat and whispered, "Yes."

"Bah!" Éomer snorted in disgust releasing his grip on Faramir's jaw. "Have you no interest in saving yourself? You cannot even look me in the eye when you admit your treachery!"

Faramir felt his temper flare for the first time. How could Éomer say this to him after all he had endured? Why did these bull-headed Rohirrim insist on hearing him damn himself again and again? He glowered at Éomer, his eyes flashing, his good hand balled into a fist.

"You want me to look you in the eye and condemn myself?" he all but shouted."What would that prove? You think to read my moods as you do your horses? You think me as easily broken to your will? Very well, then, look at me, but look well. Look upon what your refusal to see the truth has done. If you could read my eyes, you would have known the day you questioned me that I spoke the truth, yet the lash kept falling on your command. Then you sent Gríma to finish your dirty work because you could not face me. Why? Look into my eyes and speak your own truth, if you dare!"

Faramir sat trembling with rage as Éomer stared back at him, his cheeks red as a blood-sun. The horse lord said nothing for a long moment then he turned away.

"I have wronged you, Faramir," he said, clearly shaken. "I knew you spoke the truth but I could not let the others think I was being soft. Much is expected of me as Théoden King's sister-son and Captain, and I thought if they saw I spared you not, and if you did not break, the matter would be settled to the king's satisfaction. But when I neared you to see how well you held, what I saw in your eyes -- what I thought I saw -- I did not know what to do and I left."

He paused and Faramir swallowed hard. Faramir knew he had to ask the next question, though he flinched inwardly at what must surely be the reply.

"What did you think you saw, when you looked into my eyes?" he asked quietly, barely managing to keep his voice steady.

Éomer turned to look at him and Faramir saw his body stiffen a little as he spoke. "I thought I saw. . . desire," he said, searching the Gondorian's eyes closely.

Faramir met his gaze, his voice strained with apprehension, "And what if it were true?"

The horse lord's eyes grew cold. "Then you would be a disgrace to your people." Faramir's heart was slashed at these words, but Éomer continued. "As I would be a disgrace to mine."

The young Gondorian looked at him questioningly, hopefully, but the coldness in the horse lord's eyes did not wane.

Faramir's shoulders slumped. "You were mistaken," he said softly.

"I thought as much," Éomer said. "It seems we have both made mistakes these past days."

Faramir lowered his eyes and nodded. "I am ready to pay for my crime," he whispered. "Tell your King I will accept his judgment, but if he wishes me to suffer, no punishment he can devise will match that of my father when I am returned to Gondor."

Éomer hesitated for a moment as though there was something else he wished to say, then turned and left.

Continue to Part 2



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