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04 November 2016 | 11924 words | Work in Progress
Cautiously, seconds tiptoe by.
A minute falls away. Then another.
Faramir takes a breath.
“Don’t go,” he calls. “Please.”
The King replies without turning. “I am not certain it would prove to serve for the benefit of either of us should I do as you ask.”
Yet he does not take another step for the exit – not just yet, and Faramir ventures on.
“Then how, my lord, would it be for the worse were you to linger?”
“I do not know,” Aragorn answers nervously. “I have taken it upon myself to help you, my boy, and for that you may think me the stronger. But know that the portion of my life that bears on making sense to me is progressively withering, and I am afraid I can no longer count on knowing what to expect even of myself.”
“Well, that much is fine by me, if this be the cause of your lordship’s concern – seeing as being made sense to is hardly something that befalls me all too often these days,” Faramir points out. “And no, I shan’t imply that I hold any keys or answers that I could share with you, much as I wish that I did. But maybe – maybe…”
“Yes…?” Aragorn turns his head just an inch, as though to hear better.
“Maybe that’s alright?” Faramir entreats, spreading his hands in supplication even though his king cannot see him. “Maybe clarity is more than can be found in a time like this? Maybe that one can give solace and be blessed with some in return – maybe that is enough?”
At this Aragorn finally faces him – and the expression he bears, Faramir realises with a jolt, is that of fear.
“Enough?” the man echoes, and swallows. “You would never guess how much so it indeed is for me. I had thought you needed me—”
“And I do,” Faramir asserts passionately.
“Nay, you do not. You are not going to die, Faramir – you know that,” Aragorn states as one weary of pretence. “And I know that. Yet still I come to you. Because…” his fingers curl.
“Does the ‘because’ matter?” Faramir counters before the King can finish. “Or did I misunderstand your meaning and you in fact do have elsewhere to go for rest and comfort?”
To the Steward’s immense relief, his lord, albeit looking quite defeated as he does this, slowly returns to his former place, sits down exactly as before his attempted retreat – and only then gives his answer.
“Again, I do not know. I am a man married to one I had always desired – so the answer to your question ought to be beyond obvious. And yet it is not – for it is you, you, Faramir, I look forward, look forward through the whole damn day, to staying in private with, to sharing an unguarded word with, it is only you I could tell of what eats at me, no one else.”
“You have told me no such thing, your majesty.”
“Then let me set that aright,” Aragorn suggests sternly. “I do not sleep with my wife. Never have. There. How is that for a confession?”
“Don’t bother,” Aragorn says. “Not that there’s a correct thing to reply to that. Not that there’s anything to be done about that at all – ’tis a settled deal.”
“But…” Faramir searches for the polite way to put the inevitable question, then asks only, “Why?”
“Ah, see, I might have been a little self-indulgent in how I phrased it. ’Tis not that I don’t, but rather…”
“Yes.” Aragorn runs his fingers through his dark hair. “The naked truth of a Man’s body, especially that of a Man in need…” he grins ruefully. “The life my lady had led had left her unprepared for it. What Elven boys she may have chanced to inadvertently glance are far less uncomely beneath their clothes.”
Faramir blinks at his King’s back.
“I beg pardon – but what…?!”
“Do not take me wrong – there is great love between us,” Aragorn pronounces passionately, gently, almost dreamily, as a devout worshipper sensing the existence of his deity about to be doubted. “But this she could not step over – and who would blame her, if she had not known?”
But then he puffs his cheeks and lets himself fall backwards on the bed. The mattress springs under the weight of a tall warrior and gently prods him back up, but he remains splayed and unmoving.
“And sometimes it all feels fake. Just like that. Fake. A trickster’s gold. How can I say that? How can I be so ungrateful? ’Tis such a small thing, is it not? Is it not shallow to become fixated on it? And yet I cannot shake off the feeling that this isn’t my life. That I’m being mocked – not by her, of course not, but—” he waves his hand in the air.
“I understand,” Faramir nods.
“Aye, I reckon you do,” Aragorn muses thoughtfully. “But what now? Maybe I am just a naive idealist – but isn’t this supposed to be the part where everyone lives happily ever after?”
“Sure is,” Faramir attests with a snort.
“Tell me then – who is happy?”
“What of the Queen…?” Faramir inquires with caution.
“Oh,” Aragorn hums pensively. “I would think so. She tells me so herself nigh every day, without my asking. And once I did ask, and she said, aye, ’tis all exactly as she’d wanted. Being with me brings her peace and joy, I see that clearly – only to her… It is different, the degree of meaning a gesture has. She can sit beside me for any length of time, stroking my hand, or resting her cheek against my shoulder, and there is such quiet bliss written in her face…”
“Does the lady know…?”
“In part, yes. After a few months, I tried…” suddenly Aragorn looks ashamed, so ashamed that Faramir’s chest aches for him. “I sat her down and tried to reason her into it. Gently, of course, I never forced…” he passes his hand over his forehead. “She was… I will never forgive myself for the look in her eyes. I have not returned to the matter since, for obviously it is out of the question, and I may as well keep my would-haves to myself, for how is this her fault? If anything, only my ignorance is to blame. As it turns out, ’tis not an uncommon practice among her folk – have you never wondered how it is they have so few children in unions thousands of years old…?”
“Yet nonetheless, there are children,” Faramir indicates in a voice as tactful as he can muster.
“Ah, yes, we are seeing to that. No fear for the state of Gondor, my friend. See, I have been administered this little bowl which I am to fill on the propitious days of the moon, and – ah, just how pathetic is this?” Aragorn laughs.
“It is not—”
“Oh, please. I know some men resort to this practice, to dealing with their own tension, before they take a wife – just appreciate the irony of starting after you wed.”
Faramir’s brows go up. “You hadn’t—”
“Imagine that,” Aragorn confirms with another hollow laugh. “It seemed a disloyalty to my lady. Pretty much everything seemed a disloyalty to my lady. She was, in my eyes, perfection itself – not because I loved her and my vision was clouded, but because she was perfect – in the cosmic, absolute sense. Like. No. Other. And how I yearned to be worthy of her, to justify the price at which she would have to purchase a lifetime by my side, how much I burned to be faultless for her. Unlike all other men, whose women are likewise not without flaw, I did not see myself as having the luxury to ‘be only human’, even if only in thought. I had awaited the day for sixty-seven years – ’tis a long time, and I won’t say I’d never erred.”
He looks up, back at Faramir standing behind him, and grins at seeing the disbelieving confusion his last words have brought to his steward’s features.
“See? Even you have come to expect better of me. True enough,” the King admits, “the prospect of another’s love had never threatened to lure me off my path, for the love for my lady had safely locked my heart – not so my loins, however. Isn’t it funny how the desire of heart and the desire of the loins are not always prerequisites for each other? I never had welcomed these urges, they disgusted me; furthermore, I was horrified that my body was capable of lusting for something I would never actually want to commit. And yet…” he lets out a long exhalation. “I could not altogether rid myself of it. I… still can’t.”
“My lord,” Faramir begins gently. “But following this line of thought, do you not reckon your lady deserves a little better than a man who is made miserable by her company? Or do you think that such as she is, if indeed you were given permission to consummate your bond, it would serve to your joy? For you sound to me as a man who hungers for true ardour – and if our fair Queen had that in her, surely she would have bestowed the gift upon you already?”
Aragorn frowns stubbornly – not entirely unlike Boromir used to when outreasoned.
“If everything is as you say, then all has been in vain from the very onset – how can I accept that? This was the meaning of my entire life, Faramir, my heart’s only desire – don’t take it personally, but the prospect of becoming King of Gondor, in and of itself, did not exactly give me the chills. Mayhap,” he concedes, “I am being a fool grasping on to a convicted illusion, but ’tis easier for me to think that the fault is with me, even if it cannot be fixed.”
“My goodness, sire, fault?” Faramir asks, thinking that also not unlike his beloved brother at times, the mighty King Elessar is beginning to test his capacity to digest absurdity.
“See, Faramir, I can throw away my pipe so that my breath would be clear of the smoke, and I can scrape my stubble clean off so that my skin would be smooth like an Elven-boy’s – but the rest,” Aragorn gestured down along the length of his body, “is made the way it is made, and not a thing there is to be done about that.”
Faramir can no longer suppress himself: he is appalled like he has not been for a long, long while – and this is very refreshing. Outrage is such an alive emotion. On an impulse, he bends forth to stand on all fours above his lying liege.
“The rest is very beautiful,” he declares hotly – and when, startled, Aragorn once more looks up at him, upside-down as they are to each other, adds just as hotly: “As is your face. You are, all over, one of the most beautiful men I have ever laid eyes upon. And if the Lady in three thousand years has not learnt what is to be found beneath a man’s codpiece…”
Coming back to himself as one slapped, Faramir trails off. “I… am sorry, your lordship,” he utters tightly, overcome with a different kind of heat this time, “that was… unkind.”
“Well, I’d say,” Aragorn agrees in amusement – and lets out a hale, merry snort.
Faramir makes to move back, away, to resume an appropriate distance – but Aragorn catches him on the forearm and keeps him in place.
“But do you mean it – what you said?” the lord questions, his voice for some reason a notch hoarse, but his eyes alight with a sharp brightness.
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The following people read the story, enjoyed it, and would like to thank the author: alecia , ebbingnight