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30 March 2004 | 60419 words
Title: The King and The Ranger
Disclaimer: LOTR and all its characters belong to Tolkien
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Warnings: Violence, slash, angst
Summary: Life after the war of the ring is not all roses, as Faramir discovers while trying to come to terms with the changes, losses and his own insecurities, while everyone else around him is celebrating.
Note: Definitely AU, set some months after RoTK, Boromir is alive, Aragorn is betrothed to Arwen but not married yet.
Pale sunlight streaked its way across the skies above Minas Tirith as the city began to arise and face a new day. Inside one of the rooms of the king’s palace, a slumbering figure stirred the moment the first shaft of light pierced its way through the open window. Grey eyes gazed dully up at the ceiling of the bedchamber, out of a haggard face, as Faramir, captain of the Ithilien rangers sighed soundlessly. Another day was here.
He rose from bed slowly and wearily, for yet again he had had little sleep at night. He went over to the mirror and bowl of water placed in a corner of the chamber and stared dispassionately at the visage reflected back at him. The lack of sleep over so many days showed clearly in the redness tingeing the eyes encircled by dark circles, and it occurred to him rather mirthlessly that he probably had more lines creasing his face than his elder brother Boromir did. From there his thoughts took their natural progression of late. Boromir was alive, something he would remain eternally thankful for. How he had feared when his brother had left on the dangerous quest, how they had come across his broken horn, and assumed him dead, how he dreamt of seeing Boromir floating down the Anduin, how his father had grieved and grieved till his death at the purported loss of his eldest son, not even surviving long enough to confirm with his own eyes the rumour that his favoured son was indeed alive - injured but alive, the second person Faramir had set eyes upon awakening at the houses of healing after falling in battle. The first had been King Elessar.
The king! Faramir hurriedly splashed water on his face and rapidly changed into a fresh set of clothes, grimacing as he realised he had dozed off in the same clothes he had worn all day the day before, not even bothering to change for the night. His books lay strewn over the bed, on the table, everywhere. Ever since he had realised he was having trouble sleeping, he had turned to his books for solace, as always, but unlike earlier he had found none forthcoming this time. Hurriedly he piled them up on the table, and then running a comb quickly through his hair pulled out the tangles. He had no time to tarry for the king had called a council early that morning.
He glanced at his face frowning yet again, and splashed some more water on to it, cursing the dreams that kept him awake. He seemed to be fighting a losing battle. If he slept, he dreamt, terrible dreams that woke him up each night without fail. Dreams of the fire that had consumed his father and almost consumed him alongside, of his brother falling to orcs, of that terrible interview with his father after they had thought Boromir dead, of his ride on the Pelennor to hold out against the forces of darkness, and all compounded by his one recurring dream of the fall of Númenór. He wondered if he should simply take a sleeping draught every night. At least it would banish the strange despair that overtook him every time he woke up, drained and exhausted by his nightmares. Drying his face, he hurried to the council immediately. He still had the same room, far away in one of the lonelier parts of the palace, which he inhabited till the rehabilitation work in Minas Tirith could be finished. Then Boromir would move to the steward’s house, near the citadel, and he would either move to a smaller place, or as seemed more likely simply billet out with his men in Ithilien, where the re-building was to start in earnest soon.
He decided not to bother to get anything to eat. He did not feel very hungry, and had quite forgotten that he had not eaten dinner the previous night, having found himself caught up with paperwork for his troop’s supplies.
He had not minded so much, having found that to him mealtimes now had begun to seem as much a bother as they had when his father had been alive. Then meals had been eaten mostly in an uncomfortable silence. If Boromir had been home, which was seldom, father and elder son would talk, the younger remaining silent and not venturing to speak unless spoken to, and even then carefully so as to not cause offence inadvertently. And when Boromir was not around, silence would prevail, a tense, fragile silence, with Faramir wishing Denethor would say something, anything, even if in rebuke. The rebuke would invariably come, a snap about toying with his food, or some other equally caustic remark, that would always cause a familiar pricking in his eyes. Even the rebukes had stopped as he’d grown older, and any talk between Denethor and Faramir had reduced to just the level absolutely necessary.
Had anything at all changed, he wondered as he strode down the long winding corridors towards the part where most of the household dwelt. Now he found himself excluded from most of the talk at meals with the king, Boromir, Legolas and Gimli for the fervour of the ring war, and the destruction of the one ring was yet to die down. Talk always centred around either the travels of the fellowship of nine, although not so much now that their halfling friends had returned to the shire, or the battle at helm’s deep, or the final battle against Sauron’s forces. And Faramir had not been present at any of those. He had not even been present at the battle of Pelennor fields. He had fallen trying to help the white city hold out until Rohan came to their aid. And that was something he had no desire to talk about, for while they might have held out, he had lost many of his men. He simply maintained a stony silence all through. And as he realised later, it only added to the others’ perception of him as extra-serious.
It appeared no one else shared his predilection regarding food. He was the first to appear at the council room, and had to wait a while before he was joined by Aragorn, who entered looking refreshed and relaxed, and smiled gently at him before proceeding to his place at the head of the table.
“Sire,” Faramir bowed.
“Faramir, you are early,” came Aragorn’ s amused reply, as he poured himself some mead from the jug placed on the table.
Faramir did not know whether to reply to this or not but was saved reacting when the door opened yet again, to let in more people, including Boromir, Legolas, the elven prince of Mirkwood, and his dwarven friend Gimli. The discussion was to centre on the re-building of the land of Ithilien, and proceeded mostly along leisurely lines, barring a little bickering between Gimli and Legolas about the proportion of forest cover to be left intact. Legolas had plans to move some of his people there, and they were already in the process of beginning the resettlement. Faramir, who was there in his capacity as the captain of the Ithilien rangers found little to say, and so sat back contemplating the strange group around the table.
The king, the elf, the dwarf, the councillors, his brother all seemed to be earnestly interested in the discussion. In his father’s day he had had little experience of council meetings, Denethor seeing no reason for his presence in one, unless it was to report on his troops. Even now, after being snubbed badly at an earlier meeting, he found he preferred to remain silent, and not volunteer an opinion. Things had definitely not changed greatly since his father’s day he decided. Boromir sat across him, and looking at him, he realised with a start that they had spent barely minutes in each others presence each day, and the pang in his heart deepened as he noticed the quiet looks of amused resignation exchanged between his brother and the king, as the arguments between elf and dwarf became more vocal and even caused some of the council members to take up cudgels on behalf of one or the other. It was obviously a usual occurrence, one that Aragorn and Boromir both seemed to anticipate and now treated as a bit of a joke, that he was yet to understand. He felt the stirrings of resentment as he realised that there were now others in this world who were as close to his brother as he was.
Faramir sighed silently, wishing he could spend some more time with his brother. He had missed him so much earlier. But Boromir was busy with his duties as steward nowadays, indulging in much hated paperwork, while at the same time keeping up his duties as captain general of the white tower, and what little free time he had he seemed to spend catching up with the young ladies of his acquaintance. After all, since the king was engaged to the enviably beautiful Arwen, daughter of Elrond, the next catch in the market was the tall, well-built, handsome steward of Gondor. Boromir looked extremely happy and as fresh and energetic as the rest of the group.
Was he the only one who felt tired to his bone and weary beyond imagination? And why did everyone else look so happy? What was he missing out on that the happiness refused to overtake him? Was that why he had heard Gimli referring to him as dour and grim, and suggesting to the halflings when they were here, that they play a practical joke or two on him? He still remembered how everyone had laughed at that. Aragorn had smiled, the halflings and Legolas had grinned and Boromir had literally roared with laughter, while he himself had bitten his lip, and then tried to smile it away, but all that had come out was a weird grimace, that had made everyone laugh even more.
He hated what he had become, unable to find pleasure in anything he did, but try as he might, he could not help it. It had annoyed him greatly that Boromir had joined in the laughter. Until that point he had considered telling Boromir something of his worries but after that he had decided against it. Boromir had returned home after long, and he would not bother him with his own stupid nameless worries.
He found himself assailed by memories all the time, and none of them good. His thoughts kept returning to his father, and as each day passed, he felt more and more to blame for his death. If he had not fallen, his father would not have gotten so desperate as to end his own life. If he had only trusted him and not doubted his love. And then he would wonder how his father would have reacted to Aragorn’ s return as king, and feel angry with himself for thinking such thoughts.
In the background the hum of conversation continued, and he simply decided to ignore it. Why was he present here at any rate? He had no role here, among people like the king, or even his brother, the steward, or Legolas soon to be the lord of the elves of Ithilien. He was merely a captain of rangers who should be out captaining his men, but that he had been pulled out while the rebuilding effort went on.
He felt superfluous. When they were growing up, and Gondor had been kingless, he and Boromir had always had an understanding that when the elder one became steward, the younger one would be his chief councillor. For no one could question Faramir’s sharp intellect. But they had a king now. Boromir was the steward, and not only that he had happily offered to continue as captain general, for with a king in place, the steward’s office held little to it but name. Aragorn hardly had a need for councillors; he had more experience than anyone amongst them, and had travelled more widely than anyone else in Gondor. He was not only an excellent warrior but also had a sharp tactical brain, and at the same time, like Faramir, an interest in lore. Growing up in the house of Elrond, he had honed all these skills to perfection, and Faramir had figured out that in front of his king he would rank a poor country cousin in all these matters. He wished he could sit with him, and talk to him of lore, literature, and poetry but after all, Aragorn was king, and he was merely the brother of the steward. Aragorn had a realm to govern, and he could not possibly ask him to take time out of that to spend with him, and cater to what Denethor in a fit of anger had referred to as his foolish pursuits, despite the fact that he himself had been accomplished in all these matters.
Why could he not be happy for the rest of the people? Why was he being so self-centred? After all, the king had returned. That was what they had wanted all these years, hadn’t they. And the steward and the king got along famously; things could only get better for Gondor. Why then did he feel like this?
He should have been happy. Instead he found himself constantly on the edge. Nothing had changed. Instead of having to prove his worth to Denethor, he would have to prove his worth to his king. After all Elessar had never really seen him in action. He knew Aragorn respected Boromir tremendously and loved him like a brother. They had fought together, and Boromir’s opinions held a weightage with the king. The same went for the elf, and the dwarf and even for Éomer , king of Rohan, whenever he visited. Aragorn had fought with all of them, and had even known the elf from years earlier. It was the same thing all over again. The same fight for respect, the desire to be heard and to be heeded. Would it happen? Aragorn usually heard out what he had to say patiently and encouragingly, for Faramir usually spoke slowly and never without thought. But he had spent too many years being snubbed in council meetings, and most of the councillors had spent years watching his opinions being scorned. Old habits died hard. Silence was his only refuge and he welcomed it gladly.
The drone of the conversation got louder, so Faramir tried to stifle his growing disquiet, and pay more attention to the council proceedings. He would not give in to self-pity he told himself.
“When you have the time, Lord Faramir!’ came a sarcastic cry that pulled the young man reluctantly out of his reverie. Reddening slightly, he realised that everyone was looking to him to answer something, and he had no clue what it could be. Looks of scorn and resignation met him from around the table. Lord Eredil, the council member who had called out to him, looked impatient, while Gimli and Legolas seemed to be awaiting his reply, and across the table, Boromir was shaking his head half in resignation, half in disappointment.
Faramir felt the familiar poundings of an intense headache set off in his temples. Unconsciously raising a hand to his head, he bit his lip.
“I’m sorry, I did not –“ he began, and then his eyes fell on the king’s face. Aragorn was looking at him with a strange expression on his face, that Faramir could not entirely decipher. Suddenly the room whirled in front of his eyes, hunger and exhaustion combining with the embarrassment of the situation to make him nauseous.
Aragorn entered the council room mulling over the reports he’d been reading over breakfast. His couriers had come in from news from across the land as they did every few days. Opening the huge doors, he noticed the usual figure he’d come to expect punctually before time, standing by a window. He suddenly remembered the last time they had spoken in this room. After a meeting, he had asked Faramir to stay back and then as tactfully as possible asked him not to visit Ithilien for a few days since the dwarfs there found him getting in their way with the re-building efforts. Faramir had apparently offered perfectly innocently that he and his men could help them out with the rehabilitation work, an offer that some of the dwarfs had taken as an insult. Gimli had wanted to speak to the young captain himself, but Aragorn had rightly guessed that the dwarf’s gruff manner would only cause distress to the ranger and had taken on the job himself. And even his quiet explanation had not managed to keep the worry out of those clear grey eyes.
In hindsight though, it had amused him that Faramir could take such a simple request so much to heart, and he could not keep the smile out of his voice as he greeted the younger man. Faramir had glanced up at him then and with shock Aragorn had noted that he looked more haggard than usual. Compared to Boromir’s boisterous, good-humoured outlook, Faramir came across as the most dour of creatures, but closer inspection had shown the astute king of Gondor that the grimness seemed to be a front to hide a deep-rooted sadness. He never failed to note how often the strained face took on a look of puzzled bewilderment. Before he could inquire further, however, the other attendees had walked in. But it did not escape his notice that Faramir’s thoughts were somewhere very far away all through. He didn’t blame him. His friends’ constant arguments on the building efforts were beginning to get on everyone’s nerves and only the strong bond of people who have fought for each other, prevented him from saying anything. So he contended himself with secretly observing the wan face of his steward’s younger brother, noting with unease that he looked as bad as he had done the day he had seen him battling the fever that had been brought on when he had been injured during the siege.
Gimli’s question shook him out of his reverie. He seemed to be asking Faramir about the requirements for soldiers’ outpost. Faramir was sitting straight backed in his chair gazing blankly out of the window behind Gimli. If he had been an elf, he’d have been taken to be asleep. Heads turned towards the silent ranger who continued to stare out of the window unmindful of the others. Aragorn raised his eyebrows slightly as Lord Eredil repeated the question in a tone laced with sarcasm, in an effort to gain Faramir’s attention. He watched with concern as the young captain dragged himself back into reality, and flushed unbecomingly. The reddish hue turned slightly pale as Faramir raised a hand to his forehead and then stammered out something, the words fading away. Aragorn realised Faramir had caught his gaze, and the other’s grey orbs were now wide open with something akin to fear. Conflicting emotions flitted across a worn face, embarrassment paramount among them. The grey eyes blinked and dropped, and a slight tremor rippled through the hunched shoulders, as the eyes screwed shut.
Aragorn acted swiftly without even realizing what he was doing until he’d put out a hand and tipped over the jug of mead onto the table. All eyes turned away from Faramir to the king and the councillor sitting next to him, as they hurriedly rose, tipping back their chairs noisily, patting away the liquid dripping down the table onto their clothes. Aragorn sneaked a glance towards the young captain at the other end of the table. Faramir had finally opened his eyes and glanced up slowly.
“My apologies, Lord Mardinel,” Aragorn said courteously to the councillor next to him, a pleasing man, much younger than most of the other councillors, on whom most of the liquid had fallen. He himself had escaped with barely a few drops splashing onto his clothes. “I am aware all of us have a busy day ahead. I fear we will have to conclude this meeting at a later time.”
He could make out that his three friends were holding back remarks about his clumsiness with great difficulty, so he took his time with the councillors as they dispersed. When they had all left, his three friends rose. Faramir rose too, slowly, sluggishly, as the other three descended on to him.
“What manner of a ranger were you?” Legolas inquired, and the others followed suit with similar comments. Faramir walked towards him, his expression creased with worry.
“Sire,” he said bowing to take leave of his king.
“Stay, Faramir,” he commanded gently. The furrows on the weary face in front of him deepened.
“I may have spilt the mead, but there is still some good wine. Come, my friends, let us reassemble in the study, and drink to, well, whatever each one of us wants to drink to.”
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