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03 April 2004 | 7021 words
Title: Revelry by Night
Author: Annie Harris (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Pairings: Aragorn/Faramir; Legolas/Gimli
Summary: Some time between the coronation of King Elessar and his marriage, Aragorn and Faramir investigate rumours of celebrations, but end by finding their own entertainment. Disclaimer: The usual: No claims, no pack drill – and of course no profit: just living in the cracks and round the edges.
Warning: Unfashionably cheerful?
Author's note: This is a revised version of 'Revelry by Night' which I made for Axe & Bow as part 11 of my Legolas/Gimli piece 'For Continuing Strange'.
Higher up in the city, Faramir, still not out of convalescence, but weary of resting, put on his cloak and slipped out of the private door of his apartments in the citadel, having heard second-hand rumours of the parties at the companions' lodging, and resolved to see what, if anything, was really going on.
As he walked quietly through the almost empty streets and alleys, he soon realised that something was indeed happening, for the sounds floated up clearly on the still air - music, laughter, talk and song, a clamour of celebration. He climbed up onto the parapet of the level above the guest house, and could see something of the events in the torchlit court far below and hear the powerful resonance of men's voices singing. The men of Ethir Anduin were singing the tale of a seaman's love for his captain's daughter. The voices were somewhat strident, the ensemble ragged and miscellaneous, yet the harmonies were so rich, the tone so strong and thrilling that the very stones of the city seemed to vibrate in sympathy.
He hurried down a steeply-stepped tunnel between the houses, lit only by a few oil lamps, unaware of a tall grey-clad figure not far behind, on the same errand.
When he reached the lower street and came to the entrance, the song had given way to the driving rhythm of another dance, and as he was about to step out from under the archway he was almost bowled over by something - someone - that flew at head height across the gap between the two tables flanking the entrance. Faramir staggered back and was caught by somebody behind him, somebody very strong, whom he could not see in the shadow of the deep arch when he turned to offer his thanks.
He stepped forward again, and saw that the rumours were true: a wild wood-Elf dancing on the tables, girls and women singing and dancing; musicians from, it seemed, all parts of the kingdom; Gandalf ordering ale and hot pies for all and sundry; a happy, noisy, friendly, overwhelming confusion.
Faramir edged cautiously round the wall, unnoticed in the shadows, and managed to find a seat on a bench in a dark corner. After the quiet of his confinement, first in the Houses of Healing and afterwards in his own rooms, all this resounding joy made him dizzy: so may different songs, dances, melodies; so many voices, accents, dialects - even other languages. He had never seen, heard, or imagined anything quite like this, and it seemed that he had never before encountered such happiness, for all his life had been lived in the growing shadow of a dreadful enemy, in the house of a grim father.
At once the thought came to him that even in victory Denethor would have disdained this joyfully vulgar surge of life, and Faramir realised that he himself scarcely knew how to be glad, while among this crowd, his own people and all the strangers, was a wealth he had never seen: fiddles and flutes, voices and dancing feet - all were instruments of joy - even Sam's spoons! He looked at the little Hobbit, sitting a few tables away, joining in the music with a strange expression on his homely face: the faintly malicious glee of the virtuoso, who makes the difficult look easy, the easy impossible, and can outdo any rival. Faramir smiled in the shadows and felt a little less lonely.
The miscellaneous band, augmented by anyone who felt able to join in, now burst into a popular melody of such headlong gusto and abandon as seemed likely to reduce the gathering to total chaos. Merry, Pippin, and two of the short-skirted girls had taken refuge from the crush on another of the tables, shaking their bells vigorously. Faramir was just able to hear Sam declare to Gandalf that the white petticoat frills were like the petals of the Gaffer's prize carnations. He smiled once again.
Some of the merrymakers were now amusing themselves by building little pyramids of tankards on the tables to challenge the dancing Elf, while others cheered him on. Under the influence of music, he seemed to have thrown all traces of elvish restraint to the winds, but neither missed a beat nor touched one tankard, and, carried along by the vital stream of melody, concluded his progress by leaping higher than ever and executing a compete turn in the air in a manner feared likely by Faramir to bring disaster on himself, or his fellows, or the tables and tankards, or all together - but the crowd, more alert than they seemed, stood back and made sufficient space for him to alight safely on the pavement in front of Gandalf and Frodo amid general applause, while the music crashed to a sudden, but evidently expected, halt.
Faramir felt happier at the ensuing reduction in noise, and wondered if the party was about to break up; but no, the lull merely allowed the wizard to call for more refreshments, and Faramir watched the beautiful Elf, eyes sparkling with laughter, drinking wine and sharing a joke with Frodo, who was describing his dancing as 'better than my efforts at Bree!' The Elf's long golden hair reminded Faramir keenly of the absent Éowyn, and he sighed and felt his loneliness return. He looked away to find some distraction as the piper started to play a slow reflective melody and the noise in the courtyard subsided further, to a sociable hum and a clatter of mugs and dishes.
His glance fell first on the unusual (to him) and diverting sight of the large Dwarf, who had been one of the King's companions, holding in one hand the gittern he had been playing (Musical dwarves? Yes, he suddenly recalled that instrument-making was one of their crafts, and some dwarvish work lay neglected in store rooms of Minas Tirith, forgotten since the arts of peace fell out of use and favour after the death of his mother) and in the other hand a large mug of foaming ale.
The froth naturally attached itself to the Dwarf's remarkable moustache when he drank, and he licked most of it off afterwards with evident relish, swiping the rest away with his broad hand. Faramir saw that the Elf was now standing in front of the Dwarf, saying something that made the latter smile broadly, showing very white teeth.
Between the recent uproar and his own still uncertain health, Faramir could not remember the name of this unique being, whose bushy mane of hair, as unusual in Gondor as his forked and braided beard, gleamed bright brown and red-gold in the torchlight, almost matching in colour the wood of the instrument he had been playing.
Faramir reflected that he, and his brother, and doubtless many others of their people, had been fighting so long to defend their land that they had forgotten, or never learned, much of what they were protecting - never learned because their lives had been dedicated to that one task. He stirred uneasily, his body echoing his mental skirting round the bitter question: what if things we thought to defend are there no longer when we return to look for them? And yet, there before him were the Elf and Dwarf, the Hobbits, and most of all his own people, who seemed to have been able to fight and come back to enjoy the peace they had won.
Now he saw that the grey-haired old woman who helped run the guest house was approaching the Dwarf rather shyly, with a worn leather bag in her hands that could only hold a small harp. The courtyard, though crowded as ever, was now relatively quiet, with only the piper playing very softly, and Faramir felt better able to take in the scene around him, and as the Dwarf spoke kindly (to judge by his expression) to the old woman, he became aware of another man sitting in the shadows to his left, in the darkest corner of the court. This was curious: another who wished to see the cheerful gathering and yet keep apart. A quick turn of the shadowy head showed Faramir that his observation had been noted, and a second movement in the next instant seemed to beckon him towards the corner. He hesitated, and another tilt of the head said 'Come'.
While the Dwarf examined the harp, found where the key was hidden in the base, and began to tune it, he left his place and moved towards the dark figure.
The light seemed to fall differently when he reached the furthest bench, and he saw, faintly illuminated, enough of a lean, fine-boned face to recognise his new King. A half-seen gesture invited him to be seated. Aragorn said nothing, but sat watching with his arms resting on the table. Faramir adopted a similar position beside him.
The piper stopped playing now to enjoy his share of the food and drink, and in the lull that followed, one voice began to sing alone, a man's voice, rich and even in tone, raised suddenly in lament in the middle of the feast, recalling all that had lately passed away like the May morning dew.
The man was singing in Westron with an accent that Faramir did not recognise immediately. But when he had picked him out in the uneven light he saw that the singer was one of the remnant of Westfold men, left behind to recover from their wounds when Erkenbrand marched out, who were waiting for King Éomer to return. He was not a young man, with shaggy greying yellow hair cut short, and with thick bushy eyebrows, standing among his comrades, singing one of their own songs, to a slow melody with strange grace-notes and unexpected intervals, odd but beautiful to Gondorian ears.
'The house I was raised in is but a stone on a stone ... '
The words spoke for all that had been swept away by the long wars.
Someone brought a fresh torch and stuck it in a wall sconce not far away, and Faramir glancing round saw the King's face more clearly and was shocked by the gleam of tears falling slowly down the weather-beaten cheek, but in the same instant the pain of his own losses awoke and he did not think the grieving strange.
Aragorn caught his glance, and making no attempt to hide or brush away the tears said softly;
'Much will be ended by this new beginning, and the day when Imladris where I was fostered will be no more than a stone on a stone is not far off.'
Faramir gazed at him with little understanding, though he had heard from Gandalf that Aragorn had been brought up by the Elves. The King was speaking again;
'Once Arwen is here, Lord Elrond's work is almost done; in a year or two at most he and his people will take ship into the West and return no more, and with his power gone, his house, great and fair as it is, must fall.'
'It is grief indeed, my lord, to know that the fair folk must leave us when we have scarcely seen them.'
He looked across at Legolas, still standing near Gimli and listening to the singer.
'And will this Elf leave us too?'
'Ah! He is of another kindred and will stay longer. It is his wish to bring some of his woodland people south into Ithilien to speed the healing of the land, and to help restore the gardens here in the city.'
'A generous wish' said Faramir, as the song ended amid a rustle and murmur of approval.
Very soon the Westfold men began to sing again, this time in their own 'impenetrable dialect' (as Éowyn had named it) but it seemed clear that this song was more cheerful than the last, with each man singing a declamatory verse in turn above a drone provided by a hurdy-gurdy, and all joining in a lively and rhythmical refrain. Faramir saw the Dwarf resume tuning the harp, and then play softly with his head bowed close to the strings so that only he could hear during the song.
'I am ashamed to say that I have forgotten the name of the noble Dwarf, even though he was kind enough to visit me with his companions when I was in the House of Healing.'
'He is Gimli, son of Glóin, a Dwarf of Erebor, though he was born in Ered Luin in the days of the dragon Smaug. His father was one of the company of Thorin Oakenshield who helped free the northlands of the dragon.'
It seemed that Gimli had now tuned the harp to his satisfaction, for the clear ringing sound of its metal strings joined the harmony of the Westfold chorus. The men's voices, harsh yet tuneful, filled the courtyard and echoed among the buildings. Aragorn tilted his head, listening intently to the words.
'It seems to be about wild goats' he said doubtfully.
'That could be right. Éowyn says they can be like a plague in parts of the Westfold. So you know the language?'
'I have learned something of many tongues in my years of wandering' Aragorn replied, and smiled inwardly at the way Faramir suddenly sounded as if he had been married to the Lady of Rohan for years.
The song ended with a final loud chorus and was met with warm applause, even though few, apart from the singers and Aragorn, had understood much of it.
Gimli was still playing the little harp, to the evident delight of the old landlady, and eventually struck up a measure so odd that more and more of the company turned their attention towards it. The notes rippled light and fast, with swift upward runs like darting flames, and the toe of one dwarvish boot clicked the beat on the flagstones, a rhythm that Faramir found hard to catch. The Elf seemed fascinated too, and stood by Gimli swaying unevenly, as if his whole body were trying to grasp the music. Suddenly it seemed to take hold of him, and as he moved Faramir also picked up the five-count measure - something he had never heard before.
'Is that dwarvish music?' he asked.
'I think it must be, though I have never heard the like.'
They watched fascinated, as, with remembered and invented steps, the Elf made a circling dance to suit the music, raising his arms high with such grace that the curving movements seemed to flow out through hands and fingers into the air as sparks fly upwards from the flames. The embroidery on his emerald green coat glinted gold in the torchlight, and his calm, absorbed, unsmiling face made him seem lost in the music, a figure of remote enchantment. But the Dwarf's eyes never left him, and gave the tiny signal to warn of the end of the music, and the Elf saw it and finished his dance with a low bow to the musician.
'A strange pair' said Faramir; 'The first of their kindred to be seen in the city in my lifetime.'
'Much longer than that, I think' said Aragorn; 'Yet I trust you will see more of both peoples in future, for Gimli has said that his folk would undertake the forging of new gates for the city, and such works of masonry as may be needed.'
'This is good news indeed. I shall be glad to see the free peoples work together in peace as well as in war.'
Now it seemed that some of those present were calling on the men of Ethir Anduin for a repeat of the sailor's love song. There was a general stirring and movement, and some people seemed to be leaving, but the leader of the seamen gathered his group and again invited Gimli to join them. The Elf went with him as he moved to a bench beside the seamen, having returned the harp to the landlady.
After the liberal serving of ale and the high good humour of the evening, the song began at a greater volume than before, and quickly grew louder, especially when they came to the words: 'For when I'm drinking I am thinking, And wish the skipper's daughter were here.'
This performance was such a success that an encore was called for immediately, and given yet more loudly, with the Dwarf's tremendous voice unrestrained, and the others rising above it as if taking extra strength from the deep notes.
Faramir saw that the Elf was now standing close behind the Dwarf, hands on his shoulders under the rich mane of shining hair, and understood at once that he did so to feel as well as hear that unique voice. His words to Aragorn reflected what the Elf had felt;
'It is as if one should hear a mountain sing!'
The song master was directing some of the men to take each verse of the song alone in turn, and the different voices soared into the night, higher or lower, rougher or sweeter, and the noise of the choruses seemed liable to fetch the mortar from the joints of the masonry with its powerful resonance. Even the Dwarf was given his turn, and got the verse that said;
'"I'm so in love, I'll not deny it,
My heart lies smothering in my breast.
It's not for you to let the world know it;
A troubled mind can know no rest."'
He seemed to lean his head right back against the Elf's chest as he sang, and Aragorn smiled in the shadows, wondering if he knew what he was singing, or had merely learned the words by rote, complete with the accent of the men of the Ethir, so that 'know it' sounded more like 'naw et'. Frodo, Sam and Gandalf were exchanging smiling looks with raised eyebrows - that much the King could see. And he could see the look of shining tenderness the Elf turned on the Dwarf, the easy acceptance of hands on shoulders: that was new, and he was pleased to see it. If Boromir saved the Quest at Parth Galen, he thought, These two saved me. When I had to choose, full of doubt, they followed, when they would have gone after Frodo. I was right, but their faith kept me to it. He smiled again at the pair. Gimli looked as if he meant all the words he was singing, except the 'troubled mind'. There was no sign of that. This friendship had moved on, the seeming opposites united: Elf and Dwarf, both children of the One, the first generation and the adopted ones, ancient and undeniable wrongs set aside at the end of elvendom on earth.
As the final chorus was given one last rousing repeat, Aragorn thought over what he knew about the two. He was aware that Legolas shared the fate of the last-born, who had become a barren stock, though he also knew that it was not unheard of for the last-born to marry; and he knew that Gimli was a Dwarf who had found a mate and lost her: both were therefore suited for the Quest in that they had no wife or family to leave behind. He concluded that they had been destined to find all they needed in each other. He smiled again. Perhaps they were even a sign of promise for the new age.
As the applause for the song subsided, Faramir felt suddenly dizzy and leaned forward, head in hands.
Aragorn touched him gently on the shoulder.
'You have stayed long enough, I think.'
'Too long, you should say! Yes, I must go back.'
'And the way seems long. I shall go with you.'
'Thank you, my lord.'
With one hand on his elbow, Aragorn soon steered him round the edge of the courtyard to the archway. Already the band was tuning up again and the proceedings were showing ominous signs of gathering speed as the two paused in the double archway and were aware of others at the far side in the darkness. The Dwarf's voice said:
'Those wretched Hobbits will dance all night!'
'Unless they get up to some other tricks with their ladyfriends!'
'Those girls are little more than children, and the Hobbits are grown men beside them!'
'I was not speaking of the little sisters, my friend. It's the elder ones who find the idea - or the reality - of Hobbits - er - intriguing.'
There was a mingling of dwarvish and elvish chuckles, and then two dark shapes merged into one. A moment later there was a muffled exclamation and:
'Legolas! What in Middle-earth have you been eating?'
Faramir was aware of the tall man beside him stifling an undignified splutter with his fist and backing hastily to the far wall of the archway. There followed a pause for consideration.
'Oh, a variety of things, all good. Perhaps it was the fish.'
The voices faded a little.
'And I cannot say that ale improves your beard!'
'I don't think they'll ever change - in some ways!' said Aragorn.
Two shadowy figures moved off down the street.
'Elves! What are you like!' said the Dwarf's voice in the distance.
The words of the Elf's reply were incomprehensible, though the tone of mock reproof was not.
A louder burst of noise propelled the two men towards the dark street, and Faramir breathed more easily away from the crush. Aragorn looked after the retreating figures of Elf and Dwarf.
'Their bed will be a happy one tonight - when they resolve the matter of the fish!'
His deep voice sounded warm with affection and amusement. Faramir stopped in mid-stride.
'Their - ? You mean they are lovers?'
'Oh, yes. But they set their love aside on the Quest, almost unknowing, for the greater love of Middle-earth; and now they are free, and will be happy, I trust.'
Faramir realised that the King saw nothing amiss in such a love, and his mind darted over what he himself knew: some men who seemed to have an outright aversion to women; some, like Boromir, who were courteously indifferent and simply preferred the company of men; some who took things further, to exclusive devotion. In Gondor it was not so much the fact, but rather the character, of such a friendship that counted: was it true, faithful, decorously conducted, or not? Then he arrived at the heart of the matter.
'But Elf and Dwarf?' he said, astonished, for he was not unversed in the lore of past ages.
'Yes! Wonderful, is it not? And good that a new age brings something as new as that! Though no doubt not all will see it in such a light. There will be frowns, anger, and perhaps mockery. But their faith in each other is strong now, and will endure.'
'A new age must bring new ways' said Faramir;'And some will reject the new merely because it is new. But trust earned in battle forges the strongest bonds.'
'You say well, Faramir. And it is not Elf and Dwarf alone who are new here!'
The music and foot-stamping of a furious jig pursued them into the street, interspersed with yells and screeches, some of them clearly uttered by Hobbits.
'Tallywhack and tandem!' Faramir exclaimed suddenly, laughing.
'What language is that?'
'Hobbit language, I suppose. Something Master Meriadoc said when they came to visit me, and things got to such a pitch that my Lady Éowyn turned them all out like a farm wife shooing chickens. He said that his grandmother would be scolding them for "raising tallywhack and tandem"'.
'I never heard even Hobbits use such words before, but no doubt the Bucklanders have their own expressions, and that seems well enough suited to describe the noise in there.'
They walked slowly up the street, followed by the fading sounds of revelry by night. Faramir tried not to think of the long steep climb to the citadel ahead. They passed through the lamplit tunnels in the rock, to the eyes of the few others abroad just two more benighted merrymakers going home in cloaked and hooded anonymity. Eventually, when Faramir stumbled on a broken paving stone, Aragorn's right arm came quickly round him, and was not withdrawn once he was steadied, for the King sensed immediately that the younger man had not yet recovered his full strength. They moved on slowly, in silence, until an owl flew out of a deserted turret, passing low over their heads with a shriek that made them both jump.
'So there are owls in the city still' said Aragorn, with a smiling note in his voice.
Still? thought Faramir How does he know?
He paused in his stride and turned towards Aragorn, still supported in the curve of his arm, but before he could speak, the other said:
'Do you remember? Two young boys watching for owls from a high battlement in the moonlight, when they should have been in bed?'
Then Faramir did remember: two young boys and a tall kindly stranger, a visitor soon gone, but, they had learned, a man once well-regarded by their grandfather Echthelion, if not by their own father.
'Thorongil?' he asked faintly, wondering.
It seemed so long ago, yet would explain so much, explain why he had seemed already to know the King when he was called back from the deadly sleep of his wounding.
'Yes, Thorongil. So you remember.'
Faramir sighed. He remembered a warmth and kindliness in the strange warrior that he had scarcely known from his own father.
'Did Boromir know?'
'No; the question never arose.'
'If he had come home with you, he would have known. He rarely spoke of Thorongil, but I knew he did not forget.'
They moved on slowly.
'Faramir, it was not his fate to come home; it was his part to take a great step on the road to victory and so leave us. Do you truly understand that when he seemed about to fall victim to the power of the Ring, he saved us all from it, and saved himself?'
'How can this be?' asked Faramir.
They had spoken of this before, and yet the darkness that had clouded his mind seemed to have allowed only partial understanding. He knew that his brother had died a hero's death, for he had seen the light around him in the mysterious boat, but the true nature of the victory eluded him.
'By trying to take the Ring, he forced Frodo to action in the nick of time, and that in turn forced me. Any longer delay, and the Ring would either have fallen into the hands of Saruman's orcs, or been revealed at once to the Dark Lord, which would have ended both our Quest and our world. And once the Ring was gone, once Frodo left, Boromir became himself again. Without Boromir, we would most likely all have been brought to nothing: never forget that.'
Their steps halted again. In the cloud-veiled moonlight Faramir saw the King lean towards him, and received a firm kiss on his brow.
'And who can say to how far a shore the elven boat may have borne him?'
They walked on, unnoticed in the shadows. Then the King spoke again:
'You seem very weary, Faramir, and it troubles me.'
'I am weary with idleness, weary with waiting; but it will pass.'
'Weary with waiting! Yes, indeed. Here we are in the slack water between the departing tide of the old age and that of the new which does not yet flow. We have been schooled to action so long that to do nothing is a burden.'
'You speak truly' Faramir replied.
When they came at last to the narrow iron grille and inner wooden door in the wall of the citadel, Faramir took the keys from the leather wallet at his belt, opened the locks, and paused on the threshold, reluctant now to take leave of the one whose very presence seemed to give him strength. Since Aragorn had kissed his brow, he had scarcely felt the length and the steepness of the way home.
'My thanks for your company; he said; 'Alone, I would have fallen, been taken up as a vagabond - and been severely treated by Gandalf and yourself for risking my health!'
'It is as well that I too was curious concerning the Hobbits' celebrations.'
Faramir could hear the smile in the King's voice in the near-darkness. They stood so close in the narrow gateway that he fancied he could feel a faint brush of warm breath.
'And like you I am weary with waiting' Aragorn continued; - 'I would ask you to help me bear that burden a while.'
There was no reply but a brief indrawn gasp.
'Please understand whereof I speak, and say yes or no as your heart guides you. I would have that comfort that warriors may give each other, lying together before or after battle: but I would not have you consent as if to an order.'
Faramir found his voice at last.
'I understand well enough, for I have not lain with another since Boromir went away and I was given his command, for I reasoned as you concerning orders. But I owe you my life, and will not grudge my bed or my body - and would not even had you never saved me.'
He drew back against the side of the deep stone arch, allowing Aragorn to step past him into the little courtyard beyond, while he barred and locked the grille and the thick, iron-banded door, shutting out the last pale glimmer of reflected moonlight from the marble-paved street.
Then they were in a tiny courtyard, filled with the scent of night-blooming flowers and the music of a little fountain. Faramir led Aragorn towards another archway, where the faint light of a small lamp showed clearly in the darkness. The lamp hung by another narrow door which opened onto a winding stair within the thickness of the massive walls, leading to Faramir's apartments. He took the lamp from its bracket and led the way up the stairs in silence until they came to the southeast facing room that was his bedchamber. He took of his cloak and from the lamp lit a couple of the candles that stood ready on a little marble wall shelf by the bed, then blew out the lamp and turned to face Aragorn in calm acceptance.
Aragorn stepped close and took him in a gentle embrace, and Faramir slid his arms around the taller man's neck. Their kiss was soft and Faramir knew that this would be no fierce battlefield coupling, to blot out fear or memory. It would be love, though fleeting. But no - rather the brief celebration of a devotion that would endure. He uttered a little sigh of contentment as a strong hand caressed his head and then moved to unfasten his surcoat. When he was stripped to the waist, Aragorn ran both hands down his sides and said softly:
'Still too thin - but when you are wed, happiness will put flesh on your bones sooner than feeding.'
Aragorn also noticed the tiny hiss of breath as his fingers passed over the scar of Faramir's wounding, but he said nothing then. By morning he would have determined what salve or remedy he should prepare.
Faramir sweated up suddenly under the touch, and Aragorn lifted him in the practised grip that had carried many wounded men to safety after battle, and laid him on the bed. Then he stood back, and with an unhurried neatness that made Faramir smile, removed his own clothes and folded them on the clothes-stool at the foot of the bed. When he stood before Faramir naked, fair skin gilded by the candlelight, the young man's first thought was that like him his King was also too thin, and awaited a like cure.
Then Aragorn turned his attention to removing Faramir's boots and the rest of his clothing, and though his body showed he was ready for their coming encounter, he moved without haste, or shyness, until Faramir was naked, and then sank down beside him, drawing him close until they comforted each other for the weariness of waiting.
Afterwards they slid under the covers and talked softly of hopes and plans for the future, until words gave way to caresses again, and then talked more as the candles burned down.
After a long moment of silence, Aragorn uttered a little short chuckling sound.
'What is it amuses you, dear lord?'
'I was merely wondering what conversation it could be, between yourself and the lady Éowyn, that would encompass the wild goats of Westfold.'
'Oh! Yes, I remember. It was only the second time, I think, that I had been allowed out into the city, and Master Peregrin took me to see the house where the Companions were staying. I was walking with a long staff then - you'll understand later why I mention it - Peregrin said it made me look like a wizard. We met the others leaving the house as we came in, and I sat talking with Peregrin on the balcony overlooking the street and watching the comings and goings. Then we saw Éowyn walking along all alone: she had met the others, who had said I was at the house, and had decided to come down. So Peregrin ran and brought her up to the balcony, and the next thing was, we heard the Westfold men marching down from the citadel, where they had just taken leave of you, on their way to the stables to their horses. They were singing a marching song, and Éowyn began to smile and laugh when she heard it. So I asked what song it was, and she said it was one where the men make up scandalous rhymes about their captains, and the better liked the captain, the ruder the verse.'
'I have heard such things' said Aragorn, laughing again.
'Then, as they were passing below, she stood up and hailed them, in a voice like a silver trumpet, and they halted in some disorder - the Rohirrim are not much given to marching - and turned and cheered her. Then she was speaking to Marshal Erkenbrand and others in their own tongue for a while, and then one bolder than the rest, seeing me with my stick beside her, spoke in Westron and said 'He who marries a lady of Rohan should need no staff', or some such words, which did not sound well, and there was a silence. Then Erkenbrand spoke to the man, who replied in the tongue of Rohan, and I felt the mood change as Erkenbrand called to my lady, and as he spoke, she took the staff from my hand and gave it to Peregrin. Then she took my hand and laid it upon her shoulder, and then spoke in Westron herself and said 'Is this what you meant, Wolfram of the wayward tongue? He who marries a lady of Rohan will need no other staff!' Then they all cheered again, and the one called Wolfram looked like a man reprieved from a grievous sentence. I put my arm around her shoulders, and they cheered ever louder, until Erkenbrand brought them to order, and she bade them farewell. They marched off and someone started another song, which made my lady laugh again, and she told me it was a wedding song from the Westfold, that weddings in the Westfold can be very remarkable events, lasting many days in the noble households. And after that we asked and answered many questions about our lands, until we came at length to the wild goats of Westfold: and that was the conversation.'
'It is good to hear of her laughter' Aragorn said; - 'I hope I may often hear it for myself in days to come.'
'Truly it is a wonder, and all owing to you, that she lives to be my lady of laughter, when once I thought I should never see her smile.'
'I healed her wounds, it is true, but it was you healed her heart.'
Then Aragorn kissed Faramir's brow and thanked him for his generous love, and Faramir said:
'I think you must know it was scarcely unselfish of me to keep you here, when your least touch renews my strength!'
Aragorn laughed softly.
'You are nothing if not honest, dear friend. May you always continue so. Let me tell you that you are not the only one to gain by this. But I think you will also understand that this night must be as a dream that may not come again, to be forgotten at morning, or a memory that is not spoken of.'
'My thoughts had not travelled so far, I confess; but I understand, and I am glad to have this treasure. As for forgetting at will, I cannot promise that, but all that passes here will be a memory folded away at the bottom of my mind, where none but I may come upon it.'
'Folded away! I like those words. At the bottom of your mind! You speak as poetically as any Elf; we shall always be brothers.'
'I could wish for nothing better. And my mother was of the line of Dol Amroth: your comrade Legolas seemed to find something elvish in their prince.'
'True. Then we are kin, if by forgotten lines. Now let us sleep, or we shall be weary again by morning!'
Faramir sat up briefly and pinched out the last candle. In the velvet darkness he enjoyed once more the King's kind words and gentle handling, and then rested nestled like a child in his firm embrace. After a while, Aragorn felt the other's chest heave with a deep sigh.
'Faramir? What troubles you?'
'My father .... '
His words trailed off in a breath.
'I understand more about Boromir; but my father, that is different ... '
'Yes, my dear Faramir, that is different.'
Now the King's voice was clear and uncompromising, the voice of one who would not offer easy consolation.
'Your father had courage and pride, for which we must honour him. He did not fall under the dominion of the Dark Lord, yet he fell into something as dreadful and dangerous in its own way - despair, the denial of the life of Arda - and he would have taken you with him into that darkness: you, and others.'
Faramir was silent for a long time, reflecting on this.
'Even the Hobbits did not despair' he said at last; - 'When they had more reason than any of us. That was why they succeeded, by going on, by hoping.'
'I believe that is so.'
'He was always so sure, my father, so certain: that he was right, that he knew, better than the rest of us. Now, of course, I understand why. Sure that the line of kings would not return - yet it was not lost, and here you are ... '
He turned in Aragorn's embrace, and slid down, so that his cheek rested against his chest.
'And then he was sure that Stewards could never become Kings; and sure that he was king, in all but name. He was sure that Sauron could not be overthrown, but sure that he would never yield ... '
'Call nothing sure that has not come to pass' said Aragorn; - 'And even then, not the wisest in Middle-earth can foretell all ends.'
There was silence for a while; then Faramir said:
'That must be so, for if all is foretold and ordained, what need is there for our lives?'
Aragorn drew breath to reply, then paused, almost as if he felt the thought forming in Faramir's mind.
'So my father did as he did, because he was sure, because he could see no need for his life - or for mine.'
'You are wise, my beloved Steward, grown strong in war to live in peace. And Gondor has need of you.'
'Then - then what will become of his spirit, since he caused his own death?'
'That I cannot say, but I will hope - as must you, for here is no end, but another beginning.'
Faramir sighed again. He was too tired to think further, and yet felt peace returning to his heart.
He woke alone in the brightness of morning, feeling that at last he had come back to life and health. Sitting up, he saw a chair moved aside from its place by the wall, and another memory came to him, of the two young boys, dragging by the hand the kindly stranger who had stayed so briefly in their halls, eager to show of their latest discovery of a 'secret passage'. So the King had used the knowledge gained as 'Thorongil' and sought his own apartments unseen. Then yet another memory revived, dim with sleep: a soft short beard brushed his cheek as a low voice said : Sleep well, gentle warrior! Keep safe your folded dreams, as I will keep mine. If he had made any reply, he could not recall it.
Faramir got up to re-lock the 'secret' door, whistling quietly to himself - an old habit long left off in the years of darkness - ready for the new age of his life.
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