04 January 2008 | 2396 words
Characters: Faramir, Aragorn
Warnings: First of all, there is one mention of movieverse – though it’s actually a refutation of movieverse, so don’t be afraid. And the mention is so slight as to be insignificant – I just couldn’t think of a better transition than to use it. Second, the word “Saturnalia” is a Roman word, that I didn’t bother trying to translate from Latin into Sindarin, so we can just pretend it’s Númenorean or something like that. Third, it’s a bit rushed, if that counts as a warning. Other than that, it’s fine. ;)
Inspired by the Roman feast of the Saturnalia, held December 17-23, during which social statuses were reversed, with masters serving slaves and slaves enjoying leisure time.
“Of course, Aragorn, I will have it ready for you by tomorrow,” Faramir said, adding another few sheets of paper to the stack already in his arms.
“Are you sure? I hate giving you so much work to do,” Aragorn replied, holding the last papers above the stack, hesitant to add them to the pile.
Faramir took the papers from him and placed them atop the stack in his arms. “Really, it is not a problem.” He bowed and left the room.
Aragorn sighed as he watched Faramir leave his office, a few pounds heavier than when he had entered, due to the massive amount of work he had taken with him. Faramir had been taking on more work in the weeks since Éowyn had returned with her brother to Rohan. It was understandable that he be unhappier in her absence, yet that was no reason to overwork himself in a vain attempt to distract himself from his sorrow. Clearly, the younger man needed someone to give him a healthy dose of reality, and make him realise that there were healthier ways of dealing with loneliness.
And the someone he needs is me, Aragorn thought protectively. After all, he felt very indebted to Faramir, for both serving so diligently, and for allowing him to take the Crown in the first place. Another man would have seen the opportunity to seize power for himself; but Faramir saw only the opportunity to serve his King. Truly, the man was remarkable.
Yes, he would talk to his Steward tomorrow, and make him see sense.
The next day found them once more in Aragorn’s office, making plans for the approaching holiday.
“Tell me, Faramir, what did your father usually do for the Saturnalia feast?” Aragorn asked. “It has been some time since I was last in Gondor for the holiday, and I hardly know what is appropriate anymore.”
“Well, we set up tables in the Great Hall and assembled all the servants a little before dinner. My father would always make a speech, thanking them for their service, and then we would all help serve them. Rather poorly at times, I must admit.” Faramir smirked at some distant memory, and Aragorn had to smile back in amusement, wondering what Faramir was remembering.
“And who is we? Surely the three of you could not serve the entire Hall yourselves?”
Faramir laughed. “No, certainly not. Other lords do help us – usually those who are in the City on business, since they are not home to celebrate the festival then.” He smirked once more. “That way, they cannot flee to the City in hope of escaping the celebrations or their serving duties at their own manors.” Aragorn had to chuckle at that.
Faramir continued, “Army officers serve their units in the barracks, and those who volunteer for duty on the Saturnalia are paid bonuses, to reward their dedication and provide a little – incentive – for giving up part of the holiday.”
Aragorn laughed. “Blackmail?”
“Please, sire, do not use the word! We here in Gondor prefer ‘strong motivation.’”
They laughed for some time, and then Faramir, somewhat sobered, continued his explanation. “But to return to my point, we always took the festival very seriously. These people dedicate their lives to making ours easier, so that we do not even have to cook our own food or wash our own clothes. The least we can do is repay them one day of the year.”
“You are quite right, of course, Faramir. I wish to do something especially good for them this year, to thank them for all their help in welcoming me here and supporting my claim to the kingship. If they had decided not to serve me, I do not know how I would have been able to maintain my claim.”
Faramir nodded in agreement. “Indeed. Besides, there are so many who are no longer here to enjoy the celebrations. Those who are here should be especially honoured, in memory of those who served Gondor by giving their lives for her.”
Aragorn watched Faramir shuffle through his stack of papers, all too aware of those who had left Arda and those who were still here, and he was reminded of his intention to talk to Faramir.
“Well, I can think of at least one special thing to do for them. I find it slightly odd that the cooks should have to cook their own feast. We cannot cook the whole thing, but perhaps if we try to fix a small dessert on our own, and have our visiting lords provide some small dessert as well, then between all of us we should have enough for us to add at least a little something to the feast by ourselves.”
“An excellent idea. I’ll have my scribe write a notice to all the lords who will be attending our festivities.” He scribbled a reminder to himself on a list of reminders that was far too long for Aragorn’s liking. He sensed an opportunity to bring up this rather sensitive topic, and seized upon it.
“It’s a good thing that Éowyn is not here to help us in the cooking,” Aragorn joked, trying for a lighthearted approach.
Faramir looked up at Aragorn from his paper and smirked again. “I have it on good authority that the meat was rotten, and it was that which spoiled the soup, not the hand of the cook.” Aragorn was surprised that Faramir even heard of the incident, and clearly his surprise showed on his face, for Faramir’s smirk grew wider after seeing Aragorn’s reaction to his reply.
Aragorn then tried the more direct approach. “Speaking of Éowyn…” He paused, struggling for the right words, but then noticed how Faramir’s back had straightened and his eyes had become guarded. Too late, he realised that having this conversation while sitting imperiously at his desk in his office was probably not the best of ideas, but the damage was already done. Realising that the silence had become too prolonged, he plunged ahead.
“Faramir, I’ve noticed that you have been taking on more and more work ever since Éowyn left. I understand that in her absence, you must feel lonely, especially since you are still dealing with the loss of your brother and father.” He paused to gauge Faramir’s reaction, but the younger man’s face was a closed book. He sighed, and continued, “I just want you to know that Arwen and I are here for you. You should not try to hide yourself in work – it will not help you face your demons.”
“Aragorn, I –”
Aragorn cut him off. “Please let me finish.” Faramir paused, but soon nodded. “You are very dear to me, and not simply because you are the brother of a friend of mine. You are my friend in your own right, Faramir, and I say this to you out of concern for your wellbeing. Now please, do not work yourself into the ground in a vain attempt to run away from your grief. I know from experience that such an action is only harmful, and will never help heal you.”
Faramir looked speechless, but after a few moments he recovered himself. “Aragorn, you are very dear to me as well, and one reason for that is your caring nature. I am – I am very touched by your words of friendship, and I am very grateful for them. But in this matter you are wrong. I thank you for your concern, but –”
Faramir cut off Aragorn back. “Now let me finish.” It was Aragorn’s turn to nod. “I would be lying if I said that I am not somewhat lonely, or that I did not miss Boromir and Father, or that Éowyn’s absence does not bother me. But I’m not saying that at all.”
He took a deep breath. “While Éowyn was here, I spent more time with her than I probably should have. But knowing that she would be leaving for Rohan soon, I decided to only do what work needed to be done while she was here, and then to make up for the smaller workload by doing a little –” as Aragorn’s mouth opened to protest he spoke slightly louder “– a little more after she left, since I have the time to do more than is necessary. If it seems that there is a large discrepancy in the amount of work I do, it is because I did less before Éowyn left, and then more after.”
Aragorn sat in stunned silence for a moment, unable to believe that he had read the situation and his Steward so incorrectly. “I am sorry,” Aragorn finally replied slowly, “for making assumptions that I had no right to make.”
Faramir smiled softly. “There is no need to apologise. It means a great deal to me to know that you care that much about me.”
Aragorn could not help but smile in return, though his relief at Faramir’s own smile faded as yet another thought demanded attention from his mind. “But you need do no more than is necessary at all! You do more than enough by merely completing your basic duties – nothing more is required.”
Faramir’s unreadable smile finally revealed to Aragorn just how enigmatic his Steward could be. “Aragorn, it is in my nature to do as much as I can. I can hardly stand aside and let others do work that I can do. And besides –” here Faramir’s smile faded somewhat “– this is my duty now. This is now my only way to serve my country and my King. I will fulfil my duty gladly, and to the fullest of my ability.”
Aragorn could think of no suitable response, and so he merely choked out, “Thank you.” Once more, his Steward had stunned him into silence – an event becoming more frequent, as more and more of his assumptions concerning his Steward were thrown to the wind.
Faramir deserved so much more than Aragorn had given him. Money and titles meant nothing to his Steward, he could see that – Faramir would be the same man if he were Prince of Ithilien or a farmer in Lebennin.
Though it was easy, he supposed, to assume that Faramir was suffering from loneliness. Once more, he had underestimated the man’s strength and ability to cope with whatever life dealt him. Faramir inspired a protective streak in him, akin to what he felt towards the Hobbits. He gave Faramir friendship, yes, but perhaps not the respect that was due him.
Faramir’s hard work was simply the product of the man’s innate sense of selflessness and loyalty, combined with a healthy dose of kindness and strength. And Aragorn took it to be weakness and frailty! He was no better than Denethor in reading Faramir – indeed, the only difference between them was that Faramir’s weakness created feelings of pity in Aragorn rather than resentment.
I must make it up to him – I must give him the respect that is due him, and show him how much I appreciate him. And what better time to do so than now? The Saturnalia was a feast in which roles were reversed – lord and servant, parent and child, master and apprentice – why not King and Steward?
Aragorn sat with Faramir at the desk, but his mind was far away, making hasty plans to alter the Saturnalia feast just enough to ensure that some things were put right.
Aragorn gave the grateful speech that was expected of him, with his usual eloquent tongue. Yet when he seemed to have reached the conclusion of his speech, he did not sit down, much to the disappointment of all servants seated at tables piled high with food, who were eager to begin the feast.
“I would ask you all to delay the beginning of tonight’s festivities for one brief moment, for there is something else I must say.” He glanced over at Faramir, who stood, as always, behind him, slightly to his left, and continued only once he was assured of the younger man’s attention. “I would like to honour someone special tonight, someone who works just as hard, if not harder, than anyone else in Gondor. He is not my servant, yet he serves me every day. He is not my guard, yet he defends me every day, on the field or in the council chamber. He is not my child or my brother, yet he gives his love to me freely every day.”
Aragorn turned to face Faramir. “On this feast of the Saturnalia, my dear Faramir, roles are reversed. You offer me respect, service, and love every day – tonight I offer it to you.” Aragorn watched realisation dawn in Faramir’s eyes, which grew progressively wider as his mouth opened in shock. The expression made Aragorn laugh merrily, and the sound of his laughter mixed with the applause of the hall to create a joyous cacophony that echoed through the very stones of the Citadel.
“Now come, dear friends – feast, and be light of heart!” He took Faramir’s elbow, and together they helped serve the servants. When they had finished, Aragorn took Faramir up to the high table, and sat him at the head of the table, and served his Steward, just as he had served his servants.
Faramir was too moved to trust himself with words, but his expression spoke clearer than words ever could. And Aragorn had learned how to read the younger man’s eyes well enough to know all that he dared not say.
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