19 December 2010 | 6199 words
Title: A Walk in the Woods
Author: Erfan Starled
Pairing: Faramir/Aragorn FCS
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Tolkien; the story is written for enjoyment only.
A.N. I’ve enjoyed doing this; I hope it gives some pleasure. Happy Holidays to all. Thanks for organizing the swap, Iris and Minx.
Written for the 2010 Midwinter Swap.
Request by Eora: A Faramir/Aragorn love story, please :) I would love a lovely, warm, happy story to chase away the chills of winter! Post-war; the trials and endless obligations of ruling a recovering realm have made for a very austere and uptight Aragorn, who basically spends most of his time either holed up in his study or in endless council meetings with no time for social engagements. Faramir decides that his Steward’s duties also include the loosening-up of the King, and comes to the conclusion that what Aragorn needs is an evening in his excellent company (and in the company of wine!)
You decide the rating, though I would like to see something that goes a little deeper than PWP if that’s okay, and you get to decide on the end result of Faramir’s plan; perhaps it takes a little while for Aragorn to warm up to our favourite Steward’s charms? Or perhaps they are both rather secretly smitten with one another but of course, neither knows how the other feels? ;)
I’m a big fan of the romantic aspect (and awkward moments!) so go wild with the fluff if you feel the need, but I also like to see the confident side of Faramir, and his sense of humour, so make him as forthright as you dare! :) (Please no angst, non-con, violence, etc. This is a happy story! Also I must insist on the wine!)
He and Aragorn were a pair who worked well in tandem, mused the man who, at heart, remained a ranger of Ithilien. He still thought of himself as such, even after all this time: Denethor’s second son, Boromir’s brother, a ranger, albeit risen to command – but now the long awaited King had returned and he was Aragorn’s Steward.
He stole a look sideways. Aragorn was looking more careworn of late. This ride was something of a rarity these days, even when purpose beckoned. Aragorn delegated. He delegated everything, except those tasks he disliked most; those he took to himself, rather than ask others to do what he found unpleasant or wearing. Faramir took inventory of the lines around the fine, grey eyes, and the set mouth. Even now, there was little of joy in his liege.
He set his mount caracoling and challenged, “See? She proves my point. With just of a little of the Mearas heritage, she’s easily the equal of your Elven-bred blood-lines.”
It took a moment, but Aragorn did lighten his expression enough to smile a little wolfishly at this old argument, and retort, “So you say. But handsome is as handsome does…” He sat his saddle with ease and just the slightest gathering of the reins, the merest lean forward and gentle hint of shin had his mount gather powerful haunches under him and leap forward, happy at the permission to give himself over to the speed of the wind and rush of ground underfoot.
Faramir hung back a moment, upright in signal to his own sweetly intelligent mare. He wanted to watch the grace of the pair for a precious moment. Then he leaned over his grey’s withers and as one creature they followed.
Folk stared as they swept over the Pelennor and slowed not one jot for the crossing of the wall – they made for a lowering of the stones, where only wooden rails held the height of the barrier. So much had changed in peace-time in the years since the war was won. Then they were over it and grey stone fell behind. The bridal path was safe at speed, known to riders and horses alike and kept free of pitfalls left by careless rabbits, moles and all the other underground woodland life.
The race degenerated into common joy, as if Númenóreans had no kingdom’s honour to guard and no ceremony to uphold, and no peace to keep, or emissaries to impress. They let their mounts run as they pleased until they settled by mutual agreement into a slower pace, slowing to walk beneath the thickening trees beyond the agricultural lands. The warm air could still cool man and beast in the Autumn sun, downing beyond the hills to the west.
Aragorn looked more relaxed, and the stiff marks of tension lines had melted into a grin. With a toss of his head he quipped, “As I said, there is life in the old blood-lines yet,” but included both of the horses in his glance as he patted his colt. The Elves were gone now, all save Legolas, gone into the West. Only reminders of them remained – and their blood which ran still in the Men of Gondor and Prince Imrahil’s folk.
They rode home quietly, the horses at an easy walk, home to tall stone and high walls, home to where the fires burned in anticipation of their coming, and rich wine and expensive food awaited them. Sometimes Faramir thought that Aragorn was never so happy as when they travelled, camping out along the way, where no luxury could intrude on him, and where all he needed was a fire and a bow, and a clean, clear stream besides.
Looking out the next morning from the largest window his chambers afforded, Aragorn wondered at himself. This business of rule was nothing like his erstwhile watch over the Shire border, wind-swept, wet and cold in winter, and insect-bitten and hot in summer. Nor was it like riding far and fast, urgent in Gandalf’s service, his body’s every effort strained to the utmost. Wearing this crown, day after day, had nothing in common with leading a desperate army in a feint against the enemy that could not succeed, but must. Nor did it come close to the dangers of fleeing in the dark from the oldest of ancient evils, Morgoth’s dread remnant, the Balrog.
No, this life was all talk and comfort and local concerns. Ordinary human needs, trades and rivalries occupied the man who ruled Gondor. He worked to restore Arnor, make safe the roads, and establish the all the peoples hereabouts into peaceful co-existence with post-war settlements designed to last far into the future. Nothing vital threatened, only the business of a Kingdom and the comforts of his Kingship.
Surely, then, he should be happy?
He shrugged in irritation, the heavy finery dragging at his shoulders. Only the crown sat lightly on him, of all the accoutrements of this life of rule. Destiny had lain in wait for him before he was born, before he was conceived. The ring of Barahir sat his finger as if birthed along with him among the welter of pain and triumph his mother had disgorged in the form of her son.
He cursed himself for self-pity and shrugged again. Early, as ever he made sure to be, he betook himself up and up and up to the very battlements of the Citadel itself, there to gaze down on a life forbidden him – fresh air, at least, the labourers had in abundance and sun and wind to tell them they were alive and not buried under the stone grandeur of the Kings of old. Had he never thought what it would entail, to be King of Gondor and Arnor? Had he really only thought to restore what was good to the world and rid it of the old enemy?
They were coming, and their coming interrupted his self-indulgence. Dimly aware that he had not used to think like this, he distracted himself in the figures arriving below. The stocky men of the hills, bearing their crude staffs and cruder blades, strode along in their short-legged determined fashion. At a tangent, away more northerly, he saw the faintest of dust rising from the hooves in the grass: Rohan was come, or at least the Horse-lord’s representatives. And there was the green and brown of fair forest garb, the tall bows carried by tall men, in their fast loping walk, epitomy of grace, bid hence at their own lord’s behest. Faramir had requested some of his captains attend to assist in speaking for Ithilien, leaving him more attention for his duties to Aragorn and Gondor.
Aragorn bethought him of his Steward, watching their advance.
Faramir he could have drawn in the dark, with his unassuming smile, his long legs, his heavy fall of black hair. Aragorn could as easily have drawn him ahorse, leaning over the tangled, flying mane of grey, one with the animal under him, both glorious, both breathless in their wild beauty, both elemental.
He could have drawn him at rest, serene and – complete somehow. Faramir seemed at one with his world, and seemed to ask nothing more of this peace than care for the green tracts of Ithilien, and to serve his King.
Faramir was fortunate indeed he could so easily be pleased.
Grimly, Aragorn noted the contingent from Dol Amroth, nobles to the last man, emerging from their grand housing on the level below where he himself stood. The fine door was flung open by their servants, their trains barely cleared the ground, and their jewellery shone in the sun.
He glared down at his own agate-adorned breast and scowled. Had he ever wanted to exchange the marches of the Shire for a crown?
Yes, common sense rejoined. Yes, a thousand times. His blood cried out for this, and he belonged here as nowhere else, and yet he yearned for less trammelled times – or times less trammelled by the indoor regimen of trade and communication.
He cast a further look abroad and sighed: the small, miserable figures that were their neighbours across the river were in sight. It was time to go down.
After all, he had not yet told Dol Amroth that he had had enough of argument and prevarication, enough of avoidance when peace must depend on agreement not old resentments. They would not take kindly to the news. The orcs of what had been Mordor needed the means to live, and not everything could be grown there. The Men of the Western Hills must have grain in exchange for their pelts and wood honey and the truffles that Rohan prized. And they must keep their self-respect, as well.
Rohan – Rohan needed to be assured that all was well, on all their borders to West and East. Rohan had been overrun, and suffered grievous siege. Rohan had not forgotten the ills of recent times, and staunch though they be, the men of the rolling grasslands, they would not lightly accept the words of murderous tribes of men, or orcs.
Dol Amroth would have been angered to be omitted from these conferences but they were offended by being seated among their inferiors. Nobility in war rendered them allies of immense value; nobility in peacetime, Aragorn sometimes regretted, made them almost a liability. Well, they had fish to spare from their rich fleets and fish they would trade, for honey mead from the hills and for the surprisingly flourishing vinefruits that the orcs were developing on the far south eastern slopes just outside their lands.
The volcanic, infertile slopes had favoured some fine grape varieties, and not slow to seize on a new venture, the orcs had experimented. Their success might be a surprise, but it was unmistakeable.
Aragorn hated spending time with them, but they had once been elves, he told himself, and they all had to co-exist… and he was going to make sure they did.
Faramir watched Aragorn straighten in his chair as he listened to the next speaker; his hands opened slightly on the table before him in their loose clasp, his head tilted as if considering. His thin face spoke of a man composed to listen and attend, not unduly stern. Faramir saw all these signs of a man at ease with the meeting’s ebb and flow around the table and was not fooled for a moment.
The King leaned forward in his chair as one of the Knights of Dol Amroth protested.
“Aragorn, it’s one thing to have us sit at the same table as those – creatures,” the indignant man swelled like a toad as he spoke, “but to bid us enter into trade! It’s just not possible!” He sat back as if he had said all that needed to be said.
The orcs sneered and muttered, but had already learned that at the King’s table no-one interrupted those whose turn it was to be heard.
“Perhaps it is not possible,” said Aragorn, as if musing something quietly. “Of course, that is for you and yours to decide. We will send you records of our gathering, signed and witnessed before any leave here –” He glanced at a scribe, who nodded while still furiously making notes, feather waving madly in the air like a demented dancer. “You will not, of course, complain in any way at a later date if we hold meetings here limited to those who do wish to partner each other to their mutual benefit.”
The hill-men, slow of speech, looked puzzled, the quicker-witted orcs as if they had won a victory, pettily and vaingloriously showing satisfaction without restraint in their subdued squeals and gabbling. Rohan’s tall riders pushed their chairs further back from the table, as if they could barely bring themselves to remain in the same room. The Dol Amroth knights looked rather put out, not used to being gainsaid, but gradually looked more doubtful, as Aragorn was now passing them over for the next to speak.
“Rohan?” He asked.
“What we want is an end of petty thefts and trespass – traps are not our way, it’s no clean death, and we want an end to it on our land. We dealt with such in our own way before,” the speaker sent a respectful look toward the King, but Faramir could easily see that it was only Aragorn’s status that prevented it being a darker glare at others of their guests, “but now we must keep the peace. That is our need.”
Now the swarthy, squat men from the hills muttered angrily while their leaders protested the truth of this with lowering stares aplenty for the Rider. Eventually, they did heed Aragorn’s nod and upraised hand, asking them to pause, as the King spoke to the Rohan delegates.
“And trade?” said Aragorn, mildly. “Are you so self-sufficient in wood-honey and warm furs that you want nothing from the hills?” The hill-men brightened at this reference to their own few goods of quality to trade.
One of the riders began to speak and then paused when one of their party murmured, “Not so hasty, brother. Éomer King has charged us to listen to all that is suggested.” To Aragorn, with a courteous nod to the roughly clad hill-men, he added, “‘Tis true that furs of the finest warmth come from the southern hills. We will talk about what we would pay, or trade in kind. Our brewers often need more honey for their mead, you are right, and they like the stronger tang the woods produce.”
And so it went. Faramir was fascinated, glad he had only the internal matters of Gondor to occupy him, and his beloved land of rill and wood to watch over. Keeping this peace was harder than winning the war, he sometimes thought, wondering how they would get through the meal to come.
He need not have worried. Ill at ease in the company, the only ones who stayed to be entertained were the old allies, Dol Amroth and Rohan. Aragorn saw the others off, with proper civility, and if he sagged in relaxation it was so slightly that Faramir though only he would have noticed it.
The evening meal came and went and Aragorn, no less lean now than of yore when he spent years striding the wilderness, ate but little before taking his leave of the gathering after staying a seemly while; still he left earlier than most. The musicians covered his absence, and a serving of more wine and oat-cakes and cheese made the rounds. Faramir stared into his own wavering red cupful at the dance of the candles’ reflection.
He sipped the stuff, astonished at the taste, although he should not have been so surprised – thin soil had always grown fine-tasting grapes. He grimaced. The orcs had certainly made an effort, sending their least offensive-looking trio, and even trying to turn themselves out neatly. Kingship of Gondor and Arnor made strange bedfellows.
Duty done for another day, he rose to his feet, his mind made up. Aragorn was too thin, too tense, and trying too hard. He laughed too little, and took too little time for himself. The indoor life chafed on him as duty alone would not have done: it was time for his Steward to go to work. On his way out of the hall, he swept up the last three unopened flagons of wine from a serving table. He only needed to collect his cloak and his King to see if he could not lighten Aragorn’s heart and see him smile with all his old, ready merriment.
Faramir did not find it hard to gain access to the rooms Aragorn kept for his own. They were neither overlarge nor overfilled; it proved an easy matter to find in one scant cupboard an old pair of boots, and a cloak of indeterminate colour, just as old. Perhaps it was black, perhaps it was dark green, or even grey. The two candles were all that lit the room against Aragorn’s return and they gave little light to tell. Like the boots, however, the cloak was sturdy, heavy even, and though worn, the thick waxed wool held warmth in it yet.
He laid the cloak across the counterpane of the simple bed, and the boots below. Then he sat down to wait.
Aragorn paused in the doorway when he arrived, not wary, but questioning.
“There is one who needs you,” said Faramir quietly. “Will you come?”
“What has happened?” came the rapid reply, as Aragorn, hands needing no thought for the task, already busy in donning boots and cloak, shedding present light-weight finery with coolly efficient indifference to their costly make. He drew a pack from the bottom of the same cupboard, a small affair, and containing little enough. Faramir guessed that what lay within were the most useful of long-lasting supplies, and perhaps a cup or flask for water, too, a flint for fire, maybe a little of the precious dried herbs of healing.
“If you are ready, I will show you. It’s hard to explain. But if you will come with me?”
Aragorn measured him, King to Steward, assessing his demeanour as he might a petitioner from his throne – or a Councillor from his own seat at the head of that august table that had so recently been ill-graced with squabbles and petty dignities in the business of wresting true peace from old offences. Lines of tiredness showed in the wake of that struggle. This present chilly distance spoke of those efforts, going on for so long since the war was won and the Elves lost to them. All was changed in this new world Aragorn strove to make good, as if his own high honour could inspire the same in others.
Faramir knew for a fact that it could – in some – but Aragorn tried so hard and there were so many people under his rule in the lands hereabout and so varied in kind. Faramir bore the scrutiny with his chin up, and a faint smile on his face, not in the least intimidated. He knew his duty in this and had no qualms about his means.
Aragorn nodded after a moment. “Very well,” he conceded. “Lead then, and I will follow, Steward mine.”
Faramir’s smile broadened at this familiar endearment, a joke made early in the king’s reign, poking gently ironic fun over their high states of office. He nodded in return, in the almost, not-quite bow that served between them, all Aragorn ever would accept as outward sign of Faramir’s allegiance.
“You owe me a duty of fealty. To aid and support,” said Aragorn, flatly, in tense displeasure, “not to lead me on a wild goose-chase in some game of your own devising.”
They stood in a thin drizzle in a wooded fold of the high hills around Mindolluin, and Aragorn had given up looking around for someone awaiting his aid. There were only the two of them in this clearing, and the night-decked trees for company, whispering their old, slow secrets to each other in the lightest of breezes. Faramir had just told him there was no-one there but the two of them, no-one else who needed him.
“And do you not owe it to your Crown, your Kingdom and yourself to listen to me at least?” said Faramir, soberly without taking offence.
He took Aragorn’s arm before he could step away, to stride back to the city of white stone that the King loved and yet which had so petrified the breath in him that he was a statue of his old self, a statue that could not be warmed by the sun but only cast a shadow…
Aragorn was strong, but so was Faramir, and Faramir had the edge in height over him, for all Aragorn’s heritage. The blood of Númenor ran in the Steward’s veins no less than Aragorn’s, albeit less royal withal. Faramir held on, and felt like he was striving to anchor the man within, the friend, the warm heart that yet beat in Aragorn’s breast.
If only Arwen had stayed… They did not speak of it. She had not been able remain. With all her strength bequeathed to Aragorn for his own survival as he lay dying, when the rings’ powers’ waned, her span of adopted mortal life was fully spent. Only in Valinor might she yet live on, and Elrond, who would have given her up for her great love, had borne her there as Aragorn had begged.
Aragorn was at peace with that decision, though the Kingship of Gondor, once won, had been intended to cement his marriage, not doom it. Still, Faramir knew that if all Aragorn gave himself to was duty, to rule, to the city’s good and other peoples’, and to peace, it would not be enough, for this warm and vital man was stifling himself.
Just as Aragorn tensed, as if to break away and depart in some impatience, if not ire, their eyes locked and he hesitated to shake himself free. His face changed, as if he had focused anew on Faramir, or as if he had refocused on something deeper than his Steward’s questioning expression.
Faramir felt as if his own features displayed his questions transparently – could he reach him? Could the King give up his crown to be Strider for a few hours? Would he give even a few minutes to Faramir to persuade him to sit awhile and drink with a friend, to take breathe and with it renew his heart’s vitality?
Faramir knew, knew as if he stood himself in those worn walking boots, their leather softened with beeswax and shining in the softer light of the moon, that cloak and comradeship and cup might grant what the cold meetings of Council and the colder dance of politics could not bestow.
“Look around you,” he said. “There is someone here who needs you. I told you truly, if you can but hear me.”
Aragorn stared at him, and withdrew his arm, expression all concern, not sure of his meaning but perhaps beginning to think something was amiss with his friend.
Faramir almost laughed aloud. “Look up. What do you see?”
“I don’t have time for this, Faramir!”
“Aragorn, you have a few minutes, even if you decide this is a waste of your time.”
Perhaps it was the acerbic quality of Faramir’s voice that gave Aragorn that puzzled look of reassessment, and gave him pause. He glanced at the sky, and at the scatter of trees around them. The rain still fell, but so lightly it made little impression on them other than to kindle all the night smells of tree and earth and shoot, of litter and mould and the lingering scent of flowers, now folded inwards until the sun should touch them in the new morn.
On a little huff of exaggerated patience, the damp King stood on the damp earth and answered his importunate Steward as if humouring a favoured fool. Faramir smothered a grin.
“Clouds. Clouds and between them the moon, waxing bright, and the clouds closest by thinned to transparency in the light.” He glanced further around, and despite himself, he smiled to see a constellation long familiar from childhood, when two elves took him up, first to teach, and then as their true-hearted brother and companion: Faramir knew the tale, the little boy learning the stars, and then, one night, lost through some adventure in the woods, finding his way home by the light of those stars. Elrond had not rebuked him for that truant walk, but had praised him for his acuity and adventurous spirit, and learning his lessons so well from his brothers.
Aragorn did not speak for a few moments, and Faramir used the time to set down the sack over his shoulder, and to withdraw its contents. Three bottles, and sacking to cushion them.
An oak lay by, the same that in its fall had measured out this clearing with its length, not yet overtaken by the tall growth of years. The giant had been undermined, perhaps, in some great rain at the end of its life, not brought down in some premature violence of storm. Some gentler end had at the last brought its magnificence to earth, spreading a great V of broad branches that beckoned with more comfort than the ground would offer them. Faramir swept a part of the bark free of debris with the sacking and then spread it for a seat less damp and rough. His sword he placed alongside, and the bottles.
More thoughtful now than impatient, Aragorn was watching him, and then shrugged in resignation. He added his sword to Faramir’s, twinned shining lengths of bright steel, for a time at rest. Faramir bit out a cork from one of the bottles and dashed a libation on the ground to rid the wine of cork-dust.
Then he drank, his eyes on Aragorn, before passing it on to him. “Well, my lord. My friend. Will you sit and drink with me?”
Aragorn drank, eyeing Faramir as if he might bite unexpectedly. Again Faramir wanted to laugh a little. Gently, he insisted, “There is one person here who needs you. Sit down and close your eyes, and listen. Smell the night around you. Tell me then, that you do not need to find Strider again, that you do not need to remember what you have been cutting yourself off from in all your hours sequestered with duty in the city’s keep.”
A stare met this, more perhaps of surprise than animosity, and a sharp intake of breath as if a prelude to protest, but it sighed out with a puff of fog as ephemeral as whatever objection had just died on those fine lips. Faramir smiled again, hiding it with an inelegant swig from the bottle. Whatever Aragorn’s momentary fears for his Steward’s well-being, or his momentary suspicion of some other motive, Faramir knew his liege would be surprised to know just how attuned he was to Aragorn’s expressions and features. He would never suggest, never ask for, the least token of interest between them, as a man would hint to another when both might be enamoured.
Looking, however, was free, thanks to a beneficent universe, and he took his fill. Sometimes he would be surprised (as now) by such a thought. Occasionally he found it apposite to some strenuous relaxation ahorse or, in the early days after the War, hefting rocks in repairs.
He’d found it odd that such fancies never felt burdensome to him; yet on reflection, why should they? He loved this man, as brother, friend and lord, and if he would have been willing to love him in other ways, to desire him in flesh and bone and murmurous delight, why should that seem strange to him? This was not a love that could ever weaken him, never would it find him out in any jealous pettiness or resentful clamouring for honours. The man, and the love he bore him, were both larger than that. So Faramir hid his smile, and enjoyed the moment’s appreciation, at peace with desire and with love alike.
With satisfaction he saw Aragorn’s brows rise in pleasure as a deeper draught was as mellow as his first trial of it. The man was all Strider as he caught his cloak and tossed it over his shoulder so deftly both for shelter and to give a comfortable lining to his throne of sackcloth as he finally sat down, legs asprawl and bottle in hand. Faramir might only have met the King when first he knew him, but the hobbits had told many a tale, and Gandalf, too, he had questioned closely. Strider was as important to Aragorn as Gondor’s throne, or so he judged, noting the body moulded to the seat of knobbled bark as easily as some soft-born lordling’s might to cushioned, carven wood.
He drank some more himself, taking up a second bottle, and then stood behind the other man. “If you don’t mind?” And he laid hand on him, on one shoulder and then on both, and rested lightly there.
“In all seriousness, I ask you to look around and consider this: what makes you a good King is the core of who you are. You cannot give that up to fulfil your duty. Rather it is the cornerstone of what you build upon: yourself, your leadership, your honour. Or wellspring, if you prefer.” He nudged the hard bone and muscle between his fingers. “You have grown so tense that I wonder you can sit a horse without aching for days afterwards…”
Aragorn shifted a little in unconscious admission. This time, Faramir did not hide his amusement, but laughed aloud.
“Oh, you cannot really have taken sore from the one ride? You have most definitely been working too hard if you have been so little in the saddle!” A small snort that could have been amusement came from the man in front of him. Encouraged, Faramir added, “If you permit – “ and with that, he set his hands to work.
After a moment, Aragorn once again started some intention to speak and abandoned it. He tensed, only to decide in some unvoiced hesitation not to refuse this attention straightaway.
Thereafter, Faramir spoke no more for a time, kneading away as easily as the wind exploring the nooks and crannies of branch and twig around them, nosing around the ground to chase the dried leaves from their lazy corners, then heaping them closely to warm a frog in hibernation or some mouse, grateful in its nest.
Aragorn, did eventually clear his throat a little and say, “Not to insult you if I am way off the mark, but – this is not some planned seduction?” He sounded uncertain of his ground, but the night was doing its work on him, for with each pass of Faramir’s hands over his shoulders, and with each imbibing he had subsided further into his meld with the ancient bough.
Strider was not so far from the surface, after all, thought Faramir, to let the King so quickly take to this peaceful, undemanding night and relax like this. He did not think his unknotting of too-tense muscles had as much effect, but it could do no harm.
He answered quietly, working away, “As it happens, it is not.”
Perhaps it was only the impetus of Faramir’s fingers which caused Aragorn’s grunted acknowledgement to sound slightly regretful. Surprise could account for it, as just at that moment Faramir’s deft hands were prodding the resistant bunched whip-cord with particularly persuasive effect.
Faramir, who had been breaking off now and then to diminish the level of his own bottle, found himself adding without prior intent or present thought, as if the words slipped across his tongue from some less cerebral source than his good intentions, “If it were, would you mind, in fact?”
Taken aback by his none too subtle revelation, his tongue, too late, fell still and with it, his hands fell away from Aragorn’s shoulders. The night seemed to close around them, velvety in its not quite chill, not quite warm, caress of lightly moving air and earth-laden scent. The wait for an answer in their mutual startled silence and stillness connected them as surely as any touch.
Rough as the first scraping rocks in a slide of mountain scree, Aragorn turned his head to say, “In fact, no.”
His words fell on Faramir as if his body received them without benefit of his ears, so instant was their effect on him. A wash of desire mingled with astonished surprise fixed him where he stood, until he managed to persuade his legs to move. Carefully, he slid over the girth of the branch, and then knelt in the leaves to look up at Aragorn.
“My liege?” Wonder coloured his tone, two small words full of question.
“Strider,” came the answer with the same roughened catch to the words. “You brought me here to summon him. Will you so quickly cast aside what your wizardry has wrought?” A hand touched Faramir’s crown, light as the rain’s drizzle. A finger wound around a lock of hair, and tugged – a hint, no more.
Obedient, still dream-like in astonishment, Faramir shuffled forward in the leaves but did not rise. Aragorn’s other hand rested on his shoulder now, a heavy weight to Faramir’s heated senses. The finger tugged again, more insistent, though the head bent toward him barely moved. Faramir had been staring at the leather of Aragorn’s braided cloak-edge, after his first search for some misunderstanding in Aragorn’s grey eyes. What he saw, lifting his gaze again, was nothing but shadows in the dark, but what he felt – what he felt was all heat as if bright fires blazed in his belly, heaped with tinder.
That tugging finger conjured those flames high and he leaned into its summoning, while Aragorn’s face above him waited pale against the darkness, tilted to one side as if in enquiry – or wonder – as slowly Faramir got his feet under him to rise. Aragorn’s hands drew Faramir to sit beside him, and then light as thistle-down, one cupped the back of his head.
It wasn’t a kiss that followed, but their foreheads gently met and there they held, breathing faster than two men at rest should breathe. Faramir’s hands found Aragorn’s thigh, and then his arm. They shifted and leaned to reach, and reached to embrace, entwined a little more with every move they made, like the honeysuckle and ivy which coiled and twisted their tendrils around one another on the old oak’s further portion.
The kiss, when it finally came, was a matter of the smallest of adjustments, the slightest bending together like leaves kissing in the wind. Two mouths, wine-sweet, met and savoured and delicately explored, as if a too-sudden move could dispel the blanket of their isolation in the dark, and lamp and candle in some cushioned room find them waking from their trance.
Aragorn broke off, and laughed in almost-disbelief, and Faramir stirred and shook off the sense of unreality.
In only a murmur he said all he felt the need to say. “We could find a more comfortable bed than this …”
“You want to wait no more than I,” came the answer, with a touch of a hand on Faramir’s ready proof. That was all either one of them needed, as they hauled each other close, hip to hip, with hands, lips, legs, all mutual in their sudden urgency.
There was little of quiet in the clearing after that, not for some time, though not all the noises were of passion. A muttered ‘ouch’ and occasional ‘ouff’ also punctuated the coupling of the two rangers: an oak tree, no royal bed, did not make the smoothest of pallets.
If, the next day, each bore scratches from twigs or red grazes from the bark, so too did King and Steward bear relaxed smiles. All who saw them knew the talks had concluded successfully indeed, with the King so buoyantly well-pleased, and their Steward’s beatific expression signalling such thoroughgoing contentment.
Clearly, all was well in Gondor.
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