29 March 2008 | 2204 words
DISCLAIMER: All belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m just borrowing them to do things with them he surely wouldn’t have approved of. Sorry.
SUMMARY: “Tell me, what could I have done to make you stay?” – “You could have simply asked me to.”
CONTENT: Faramir / Aragorn
NOTES: For the sake of the story Arwen and Éowyn don’t exist. It’s too damn hard to include them.
FEEDBACK: Will make my day.
The Fool, The Tower And The Hanged Man
The great conference chamber in the Tower of Ecthelion was slowly emptying of councillors and representatives even though it was barely nine o’clock in the morning and only a few matters of the voluminous schedule had been discussed. But Aragorn, newly crowned king of Gondor and Arnor, had dismissed them all for the day. All but one.
The man whose name had been called out with an ominous edged composure did not show a reaction to this exclamation coming from the chair at the head of the long conference table behind him; he merely strode towards the open wooden door through which the richest wool merchant of Minas Tirith had just disappeared. He could feel a mixture of anger and tears constricting his throat and impatiently wiped over his tired eyes with his shirt-sleeves, so as if to prevent them from spilling over.
“If you do not stay still right now, I will put you in a holding cell for as long as it takes for you to regain your senses!” That carefully kept composure was beginning to come apart at the seams. The sound of carefree chirping summer birds from outside the open windows contrasted oddly with the steadily rising tension within the chamber.
Faramir finally halted his brisk pace in the middle of the huge door frame and took a deep anguished breath. He closed his eyes for a moment, and then, with a curt gesture, he slammed the door shut with a sound that reverberated through the whole tower, and leaned with his back against it. “Yes, my lord?” He pronounced every single world very carefully, for fear his voice might falter in the middle of the short sentence.
Aragorn rose and walked sedately along the table towards the steward, his fingertips brushing the rough wooden surface all the way. “I am uncertain where to begin with what I need to speak to you about”, he said slowly with a dark and hooded gaze levelled at the other man, “quiet frankly because I am concerned that I might start yelling at you somewhere along the line, or worse – hit you.”
“I appreciate your candour, my lord.” Faramir swallowed hard, finally realising the full extent of the king’s fury, belied by his seemingly calm exterior. It was the first time that the two men had come to a head like this, and the situation was deeply unsettling.
Aragorn made a brusque gesture with his hand when he came to stand in front of the other man, indicating that he wanted him to stay silent. “Is that what it is all about, Faramir?” He studied the steward inquisitively. “Angering me so much that I will lose control over myself? Is that why you continuously disobey my orders and openly oppose me in council as you have just done? Are you aware that I could have you punished for that disloyalty alone?”
Faramir watched the king with narrowed eyes, a hot flush starting to spread over his cheekbones. “That is not the only thing I am aware of, Aragorn. You raised a rather interesting topic, did you not. Let us speak about disloyalty, then.” He cocked his head and stared directly at the other man, challenging him, knowing that he was treading on dangerous territory.
“What are you talking about?” Aragorn turned his back on Faramir to look outside, momentarily unsure of whether he had lost control over the conversation. He felt uncomfortably cornered. “I was never disloyal to you.”
“Were you not?” The steward’s voice rose slightly, stepping between Aragorn and the window, forcing the other to look at him. “How about betraying me, if that word seems more appropriate to you?” He breathed in deeply, trying to calm himself again, and cast his eyes down for a moment before looking up again imploringly. “Why did you remove me from Ithilien without even giving me any say in the matter, just presenting me with your final decision? What have I done to deserve this kind of treatment from you?”
Aragorn frowned, disturbed by Faramir’s harsh and pained words, and slowly realising what this confrontation and the incidents during the last weeks were all about. “I did not remove you…” he started to justify himself, but Faramir cut him short by shaking his head violently, for once reasserting his right to speak.
“Yes, that was exactly what you did. You put Mablung in charge of the Rangers, you ordered me to stay in the city until further notice from you and you never bothered to give me any explanation as to the reason of your decision!” His voice had turned from anger to cold bitterness and disappointment while he had spoken. “Have I displeased you, have I not performed my duties as was expected of me? What am I supposed to think of this… degradation of my person?” He paused uncertainly, clearing his throat. “I was under the impression that I was your friend…”
The room fell into thick silence for long moments while they considered one another, seemingly trying to wrest an answer to a question from their opposite’s eyes, a question that had not yet been asked. Aragorn felt Faramir’s solemn gaze resting heavily on him, still with so much trust and the honest wish to understand that it ached him. Suddenly he knew that he would have to tell the truth or lose everything.
“It was not my dissatisfaction with your performance that made me keep you in Minas Tirith”, he began slowly and walked along the table once more to settle down on a chair some feet away from the steward. He pushed a silver goblet and some papers left by one of the councillors away to rest his elbows on the table top. “If nothing else you need to understand that. I could not have wished for a better steward, a better Ranger or a better advisor than you.”
Faramir bowed his head reverently, one shoulder leaned against the wall next to the window, facing the other man. “Thank you, Aragorn, for your kind words, but… that still does not answer my question. If I am the best Ranger you could wish for, then why not let me stay in Ithilien and do what I am best at? There is still so much rebuilding needed, I doubt anyone knows that patch of land better then I, and even though I am aware that this should not figure in your considerations, I still want you to know that- I am happy there…” He shrugged and fell silent, aware that he had not told the full truth and unsure whether he had said something inappropriate. He anxiously watched Aragorn, awaiting his response. When the silence stretched for too long he finally asked, “What say you, my lord?”
“You are happy there.” Aragorn nodded, Faramir’s last words echoing in his mind again and again. He spoke quietly as if to himself. “Yes, that is the most important thing, is it not?” He abruptly stood and turned towards the steward. “Forgive my selfishness, my friend. I hereby reinstate you as Captain of the Rangers. You can leave for Ithilien as soon as your duties here allow.” He wiped his hand wearily over his face. “Please, forgive me.” He looked at Faramir for a last time, a deep frown creasing his forehead. Then he walked towards the door and was gone.
Faramir stared at the open entrance, dumbfounded incredulity written all over his features. This was certainly not how he had expected this conversation to end. Though thinking about his permission to go back to Ithilien lifted a little the dark mood he had suffered from for weeks, Aragorn’s odd behaviour still tainted that small pleasure. There had been something almost… tortured about the other man, and the part of Faramir that cherished their friendship could not prevent itself from being concerned.
While he slowly walked out of the room, now bigger and emptier than ever, it occurred to his somewhat muddled mind that the king had still not revealed to him why his command had been taken away from him in the first place. And a tiny part of him wondered why, after he had gone through this whole confrontation, the thought of leaving Minas Tirith did not seem so desirable anymore.
His horse was saddled, his affairs in Minas Tirith put in order as much as possible, his courtier’s robe exchanged for the greens and leathers of the Ranger’s garb… all was ready to set out for Ithilien for months if necessary, but still something kept him from leaving the city. He had lingered in the stables for over an hour now, talking to Beregond for a while, one of the few people he would miss. After the guard had gone he had checked his horse’s sattle, bridle, stirrups and what little provision he needed for the trip for at least the tenth time, and when he finally realised that Aragorn would not come to say goodbye, he led the horse out into the sunshine of a beautiful summer’s day. Judged from the position of the sun it was high time to get going if he did not want to reach Cair Andros after dark.
The walk through the winding streets made his heart heavy for reasons he did not want to examine any further, and with every gate he passed his steps seemed to slow down even more. Everywhere he went he was greeted with reverence, but he knew that his absence would still go widely unnoticed due to the fact that he almost never left the Citadel when he was in Minas Tirith. While he passed the Old Guesthouse on Lampwright’s Street on the way to the Great Gates he could not think of a reason why that was so. Yes, many meetings had taken up his time after the war had been over, so many things had to be dealt with that he mostly delegated the legwork to others. Now he wondered, had their been another reason to stay at his king’s side?
Still his heart ached for the wilderness of Ithilien where there was nothing but he and his Rangers and the endless green. No politics, no administration, none of the things that made life in the city so complicated sometimes. Strengthened by that thought he resolutely mounted his horse and rode through the last gate, meaning to leave Minas Tirith and all its inhabitants behind him for the time being. A last look back over his shoulder – and he could not keep a delighted smile from slowly spreading over his face. There was the king galopping up behind him. The guards at the gate stood at attention once again, but Aragorn paid them no heed. He reigned his horse alongside Faramir’s and produced a roll of paper from inside his shirt.
“I meant to give this to you this morning in council, but it slipped my mind up until now. These are Mablung’s orders to relinquish command to you.” He shrugged and smiled a little bit askew. “I doubt, though, that he has ever been really comfortable with his posting. I do not think I have ever seen any one man as loyal to someone else as he is to you.”
Faramir took the paper and stowed it in one of his saddle-bags. “Do not be too sure”, he laughed shakily and pointed at the now hidden roll, “without this I would have probably had to wrest the command from him.” He turned serious again, patting his shying horse on the side to calm it down. A long moment passed with neither of them saying anything. “I will go, then”, the steward finally said, a regretful smile on his lips while he reluctantly encouraged his horse to move forward.
“Yes?” He halted, his mouth quicker than his thoughts, unckecked expectancy in his voice. Aragorn was fixing him with a gaze that made him blush just a little.
A shaky breath as the king fell away and all that was left was the man. And then: “Tell me, what could I have done to make you stay?”
While Faramir was looking into Aragorn’s all-revealing clear grey eyes it slowly dawned on him that this was perhaps the resolution to the question that had not yet been answered. He smiled and shook his head with gentle self-mocking when suddenly it all became clear to him. He dismounted and stood before Aragorn’s horse, motioning for him to come down as well.
When the king was at eye-level with him, smiling uncertainly, Faramir took the other man’s hand, gently kissed it and very quietly said, “You could have simply asked me to.”
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