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02 April 2011 | 14742 words
1 Cermië (again).
Aragorn and I avoided each other today. It was hardly surprising in the early part of the day, for if my head was bad, I can only imagine how his must have been. However, as the day wore on, I became aware that we were performing an almost comical little dance to avoid being together in the dining room, or the Hall, or the study, or the library.
Eventually it happened anyway, and not by chance. I was alone in the Inner Reading Room of the library, leafing through a Second Age history, when I heard Legolas’ unmistakable tones asking his companion to come in and settle their argument using a dictionary of Quenya. To my annoyance it was Aragorn’s voice that answered. I stayed out of sight.
The next thing I knew there was a startling thump, followed quickly by three more, along with an angry exclamation from the King. “Legolas!” he bellowed.
I emerged cautiously. To all appearances, Legolas had bolted all four doors of the Inner Reading Room from the outside leaving us prisoners. Aragorn looked over at me and rolled his eyes, and I can’t blame him: I wasn’t being much help. I checked the doors for myself, while Aragorn went to the two narrow windows that overlook the main courtyard of the castle. He turned back to me and shook his head.
“It seems we are the victims of a conspiracy of Elves, Faramir,” he said wryly. Ah, so he too had heard Arwen’s distinctive low giggle in the hallway. He paced down the well-worn carpet between two sets of shelves and then back again before saying, “I am not in much of a temper to indulge them, are you?”
I was in a fair state of annoyance myself, so I answered instantly, “Indeed not.”
“Right then, that’s settled.” I wasn’t quite sure what, in his mind, was settled, but I was feeling sufficiently wary not to argue. “What were you working on?” he asked, obviously changing the subject.
I explained, giving him the short version since I could see his attention wasn’t really on what I was saying. After he had managed to come up with a couple of fairly intelligent if distracted questions, I took pity on us both.
“Ana allows me to keep my own private supply in here,” I said, pulling open a cabinet door and fetching out a carafe and a couple of glasses.
Aragorn quirked an amused eyebrow. “Are you sure that’s wise?” he asked.
“It’s only wine,” I told him. “Would you like a glass?”
He accepted one, and we moved together to where a pair of large armchairs are set in front of a fireplace. There’s no fire at this time of year of course, but it’s still a comfortable place to be. I plumped myself down in one of the chairs, but to my surprise he ignored the other and sat instead upon the rug in front of me, his back against the broad right arm of my chair, not touching me. I wondered at this until I realized it meant he could speak without meeting my eyes.
He looked into the empty fireplace and sighed quietly.
“Something is troubling you,” I said.
He tried to pass it off. “Lots of things are troubling me,” he said flippantly. “There is no such thing as a King without troubles.”
“But there’s something in particular today,” I pressed. And, just to clear the path, I added, “and I don’t mean that drunken nonsense between us last night. That’s best forgotten.”
He put his head back to look at me, then nodded. “All right.” He took a long, slow swallow of wine then, and I knew he was thinking about what to say next.
“I heard today that Ganiton of Rohan has passed from this life,” he told me.
“What? But he is a young man!” I exclaimed.
Aragorn smiled. “He was two-and-seventy, Faramir.” He sipped his wine again. “We are outliving our friends, you and I,” he added sadly.
Aragorn is more than fifty years older than I, though it is easy to forget that. Indeed, to look at us, you would swear he is by far the younger, for the blood of the Dunedain runs stronger and truer in his veins than in mine. I look twenty years younger than most men of my age, and I expect that I will have a long life for a human, but Aragorn will outlive us all, except the Elves: of that there can be no doubt.
“You…” I began, and then bit back the tactless remark I was about to make. But he knew anyway.
“Yes, I have outlived a couple generations of friends already. It doesn’t get any easier, ‘Mir.” He was leaning his head against his hand. “I don’t think you knew Ganiton, did you?”
“Not well,” I responded.
“He was a kind man, a full-hearted man. A soldier, not a statesman — he was always the first to acknowledge that he had no talent for soft, clever words, and he never claimed to be a scholar. But he was loyal to a fault, and would go to the ends of Arda for his friends. Not unlike your Beregond.”
I felt an old pain in my heart at those words, for though it is a decade or more since Beregond left us, he was very dear to Éowyn and me. “Tell me more about Ganiton,” I urged him, for I know from experience that talking of those we grieve helps ease the pain a little.
Aragorn rested his head back upon my chair and said, “I took him with me, once, on a quiet visit to the borders of the Shire. As you know, I have decreed that the Hobbits are to be left strictly on their own to flourish, but I dearly wished to see my old companion Samwise Gamgee. I remember how at first Ganiton took the Hobbits for children, though he followed my example and treated them with respect. But then when the Hobbits’ actual children appeared, overcame their timidity in the presence of such a mighty warrior, and began to clamour for his attention – well, I have never seen the like. He was captivated by them, and sat down on the ground to play with them, teaching them finger-games and silly songs and letting them clamber over him however they pleased. It was a sight to see, Faramir.”
“You will miss him,” I commented quietly.
“Aye, greatly. But you know, Faramir, I have been thinking how fortunate I am nonetheless. Those devoted to me… Well, unless the Valar are very cruel, I will not have to bear the loss of Arwen or Legolas, and my children are all strong and healthy. Then again, Éomer, I hear, is not in the best of health.” I nodded, though he probably did not see me. It was too true. “And Éowyn… that was a terrible loss to me too, Faramir, though I never found a way to tell her she was dear to me. She was always a little prickly about the past.”
“She knew,” I reassured him. “She knew.” I put my hand on his shoulder.
He put one of his hands over mine, holding it there. “Worst of all,” he said, swallowing hard, “worst of the losses I will likely have to bear, by far… Faramir, when you disappeared five years ago, you left such a terrible hole.” He let me go and reached for his wineglass, drained it, then turned on his knees to face me, seizing both my hands in his. “Promise me you will never do that again!”
“I promise,” I said immediately, fervently, and it was not a hard promise to make at all. But I was embarrassed by our emotion, so I made a small joke. “It is hardly fitting for a King to be on his knees in front of a loyal subject though, is it?”
Aragorn bit his lip and pushed himself to his feet; still, I knew he understood why I said what I did. “More wine?” he asked.
I accepted and we moved of one accord to a nearby sofa. “There is more to this sadness, is there not?” I prodded him gently. “What is it? Arwen?”
He looked at me in surprise. “How did you know? Yes, every time we hear of another death, my thoughts go to Arwen. Faramir, I fear… I fear she does not understand her mortality.”
“Does any of us, really?” I asked gently. “She will have to learn her own path through that last dark mystery, as all mortals do.”
“But she was not born mortal,” said Aragorn. “She has lived almost three thousand years – can you fathom that? I cannot. But for most of that three thousand years she knew beyond a doubt that she would live until the End of Days, whether here or in Valinor. And then, just a moment ago in Elvish reckoning, she threw it all away in a grand romantic gesture.” He fended off my comforting hand. “No, no, I am not asking comfort for my guilt; Arwen and I are far beyond that now. She has long ago made me understand that it was her gift to give, and that I am not responsible. But I fear for her, Faramir. I fear she will not be ready. I fear that the bitterness of it, when I die and when she faces her own death, will drive her mad. I wish – oh, by the Valar, how I wish I could spare her that pain!”
I didn’t know if there was anything I could say that would help. My own circumstances have been very different. But I tried. “When Éowyn and I found out that she was dying,” I said slowly, “I was frantic. I wanted to kill the healer. I wanted to die in her place. I wanted her to try all sorts of horrible medicines and remedies if only they would prolong her life by a few months… a few days! But eventually I stopped raving and listened to her, for she too had been weeping and thinking, and had arrived at a place of more wisdom that I.”
Aragorn was listening intently.
“Wynnie told me that she knew that she would have to face the end of her journey alone, even though I would accompany her as far as I could. The healers could not tell us whether she would know the people around her till the end, or be travelling in a distant place for a long while, but it is certain that when we make that last slide into the dark, we do it alone. She told me that she was afraid – of course she was – but she took with her as talismans sure and certain knowledge of my love, of her brother’s love, and of the love of her son and grandchild. And she believed that this knowledge, deep within her even should her wits flee, would help her keep the fear and despair at bay until what must happen happened. I have always hoped and believed that is how it proved for her, Aragorn. She had a peaceful death.”
Aragorn said nothing, but he was visibly moved, and bowed his head a little.
“And,” I went on, “Wynnie also believed most fervently that we will be reunited by Eru at the End of Days, and I know that gave her comfort.”
“So Arwen and I believe also,” said Aragorn. He turned to face me squarely, and though he was grave, the sadness seemed to have lifted a little. “Faramir, I could not have spoken of these things to anyone in the world but you. No-one.”
And as I took him into my arms and hugged him, I realized it was nothing but truth. I hold a most important place in this man’s life, whether I deserve it or not, and it is up to me to treat that with the seriousness it deserves.
Aragorn clutched me tight for a few seconds, then pressed his lips lightly to my cheek and murmured, “Thank you for the flowers, by the way.”
“Oh!” I said in surprise, feeling my cheeks flaming. “That was sheer silliness.”
Aragorn smiled warmly. “Yes it was,” he teased. “But very lovely. Was it Legolas’ idea? I noticed one of his roses in there.”
“No,” I said. “Entirely my own notion.”
He pursed his lips a little, and seemed pleased though not entirely convinced.
“Aragorn,” I said desperately, “I am completely beyond my depth here.”
He was watching me closely, those grey eyes glittering. It was not at all a comfortable feeling. I ploughed on recklessly.
“I know you desire me,” I went on. It sounded twice as ridiculous as ever, said aloud like that, and I could scarcely believe I had said it.
But Aragorn replied, “Yes. I have told you that, albeit I let it slip in a most undignified way. I do desire you.” He held himself preternaturally still, conceding nothing.
“But you… are you pushing me away?” I sounded wretchedly plaintive in my own ears. “What do you want from me?”
And all of a sudden, Aragorn relaxed, releasing the breath I hadn’t realized he was holding. His face lit up. A puzzle had been solved.
“Yes!” he said, and his hand landed upon my shoulder in the old warrior’s grip. “That’s it. There’s something I want from you, nay, something I need from you. And until I get it, not one inch will I stir towards you, Faramir son of Denethor, heir of the great line of the Stewards of Gondor!”
“What is it you want?” I asked, not unreasonably.
But after a moment’s hesitation he shook his head. “I cannot tell you,” he said. “If I did, there is the chance you might feel you have to pretend, and there would be a lie between us.”
My frustration must have shown in my face. “You will work it out though, ‘Mir,” he said, and with every passing moment he seemed more gleeful. “I know you will. You know me. You know what I feel and how I think. We will make a happy ending of this yet!” He seized me exuberantly into another hug, and I ruffled his hair in forgiveness for his obscurity and gratitude for his warmth.
“And now,” he said, pulling himself with obvious reluctance out of my arms, “I have a pair of conniving Elves to scold.” He ruffled my hair in turn as he went briskly behind the sofa to one of the two narrow windows, opened it, and slid elegantly down a drainpipe to the courtyard below.
I snapped my mouth closed. So the window had been open all this time, and Aragorn had neglected to tell me. He had wanted – no, perhaps he had needed that talk with me.
But what was the further thing he wanted and needed from me before he would – what had he said? “Stir one inch towards” me. I had a grumbly thought that close hugs and kisses on the cheek, if not an inch, were nonetheless stirring – but no, I knew exactly where he had drawn his line. And though I tried to frown and puzzle out why, I discovered I had an enormous smile on my face that just would not go away. And as I write this, it’s back again.
I’ll work it out.
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