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30 September 2010 | 88324 words
Chapter Thirty-Six – Joy
There was clamour in the courtyard anew. Stable boys ran hither and thither with luggage and sooner than Faramir might have liked, the horses were brought and made ready.
“We will reunite with the rest of the Rivendell company down by the Road,” Arwen told him as they watched the commotion. Sunlight was playing in her hair and Faramir thought the blue in her eyes was the same as that of the sky above. “I will part with Aragorn and Eldarion there and journey forth with my kinsfolk to see Legolas.”
He wondered if he imagined the slight deepening of colour in her cheeks when she spoke the name. “You must pass on my blessing to him then, for a bright summer and a good harvest,” said Faramir. “No doubt he will be glad to see you,” he added, trying his best to sound casual.
She smiled, and the smile was that of a young girl’s. “So I hope.”
He opened his mouth to ask but then he hesitated and lost his courage. He chose a different path instead. “Lady… I owe you much.”
She shook her head. “No, Faramir, you do not,” she said firmly. “You have brought light to Aragorn’s heart and I think my son has found a new… home, if you do not mind me saying so.”
“I am honoured.” He bowed slightly, still not entirely able to shake the feeling that he was somehow addressing a Queen when he spoke with her.
“These woods know how to tell those with Eldar blood apart,” she said softly, and Faramir finally understood why he had not been able to name the new flicker of emotion that now lived among the trees. “And yet it loves you just as much as it would any Elf. This is indeed a fair, and curious, land.”
“Aye,” agreed Faramir. “It is.”
Aragorn and Eldarion, in travelling cloaks, came walking across the courtyard. They were speaking quietly and there was a smile playing on Aragorn’s lips and suddenly Eldarion laughed. The King laid a hand on his son’s shoulder and steered him towards the stone steps where Faramir and Arwen were waiting.
Throwing caution to the wind, Faramir caught one of Aragorn’s hands in one of his own and twined their fingers together. The older man met his gaze and his smile faded somewhat.
“I shall miss you,” Faramir said quietly.
Aragorn moved a few inches closer and there was a question in his grey eyes. Faramir quickly scanned the yard, seeing the escort he would lend Aragorn lest the King should ride alone to his City, seeing the stable boys and then Nena, fastening Eldarion’s saddlebags to his horse. He took a deep breath and willed his heart to beat steadily. He leaned in and pressed a kiss to Aragorn’s mouth. For a terrifying moment, he was sure Aragorn would pull back, but then the King wound his free arm around his waist and parted his lips. Melting against him, Faramir dipped the very tip of his tongue into the wet warmth and felt softness envelop him. He claimed all of Aragorn then, letting their tongues slide together and the rising energy wander freely between them. He felt Aragorn’s hand tighten in his tunic and he wished they were alone and had time. But as it were, he must draw back and they ended the kiss gently, trading a few shallow brushes of lips against lips.
When he opened his eyes again, he saw that Arwen had deliberately turned away from them and was now speaking with one of his men. Heat rushed to his cheeks when Faramir realised just what he had done, but Aragorn’s glittering eyes quickly convinced him it had been worth it. Eldarion had sunk down to sit on the stairs and he was doing everything in his power to ignore them both.
“So we part,” said Aragorn softly, “for a while. I thank the Star Lady for you.”
“Yours…” Faramir left one last kiss upon his lips, “Yours, my lord, my love, I am yours.”
The sunlight soaked the courtyard in a golden glow as he stood to watch the horses disappear through the gate. One by one, they rode away, and Aragorn must turn to face the road at last, leaving Faramir to silence. His lips still burned, his body ached to be touched and not even the Sun could chase away the shadow that fell upon his heart when he was once more all alone. For some time, he stood staring at the open gates, as if he expected Aragorn to come rushing back, proclaiming himself forsworn and casting his rule aside. And maybe even a part of Faramir hoped that would happen.
He sighed and stirred at last. His gaze landed on the great oak, towering over the gates. He dragged up a smile for it, turned and went back up the stone steps and into the house.
Faramir kicked off his boots and dropped down onto the grass. It tickled his bare feet and he stretched out on his back, content to just breathe; the weariness of many days’ labour finally taking it’s toll on him and he closed his eyes and let his senses slide…
He knew not for how long he had been dozing when someone called his name. Opening his eyes, he first saw only a slim form bending over him, dark against the blinding sunlight.
Faramir rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. “Maelir?”
“Yea, ‘tis me. You asleep?”
“I guess I was…” As his eyes adjusted to the light, he could make out the younger man’s ink-black hair, now shorn close to the nape of his neck, and the dark eyes peering down at him.
Maelir grinned, “I never thought I would see you thus in the middle of the day.”
Faramir pushed himself into a sitting position. “I’ve been working on the fields for the past fortnight… Where have you been?”
“Visiting my cousins further north. One of them is recently married and she took her younger sister in when my mother’s sister died. I returned here some four days ago.” He sank down upon the grass, but at a proper distance. “I was certainly glad to discover that that dreadful mist is now gone from here!” He looked pleased. “But how are you, Faramir?”
“Well…” He raked a hand through his hair. “I am well. You should have come to see me sooner.”
“You lonely?” Maelir raised his eyebrows suggestively but his smile did not reach his eyes.
He was. “I have missed your company…” Sleep refused to release him completely and his thoughts were jumbled. When he heard his own words, he grimaced. “No, listen… I am not saying that…” He sighed, “We were good friends too, were we not?”
“We were…” avoiding his gaze, Maelir toyed with a blooming yarrow. He sounded hesitant. “There is this rumour running about… you know – ‘tis an odd one, really – of this man whom you kissed in front of your entire household, and how you also asked for a lady’s hand in marriage, but that she went away from here…”
Faramir stared at him. “What?”
“Yea… and they say… well, they say the King visited you – the King, of Gondor, you know – though no one knows why. And they say also that there were Elves come here to take you away to their lands…” He tried a bleak smile. “I guess in times of peace people have nothing better to do than gossip…”
“But…” Faramir did not know whether to laugh or scream. Maelir’s revelation had a curious effect on him: he wanted to summon all the people of Emyn Arnen and tell them of his love for his King… and he wanted to run. He chose the easy way out. “Why do they think that I asked this lady to marry me?”
Maelir shrugged. “Apparently you were seen alone with her… holding her, here in your own gardens.”
Faramir winced and dropped his head into his hands.
“If you have not changed your ways, I am assuming there is no truth to this?” Maelir asked, not managing to hide all of his budding doubt.
Faramir looked up at him. “This Lady is a friend, I hope,” he said firmly. “She was distressed and I did my best to comfort her. But no, we are not betrothed.” He had to smile at the image that slid through his mind. “You know I would not wed a female.”
“Not even for political purposes? That is what people are assuming since they also think the King came hither.”
“No… no…” He wondered how much of the truth he ought to divulge. “If you ever hear that rumour again will you say that you have it on good authority that the Steward of Gondor does not intend to marry.” He hesitated, then added, “And you may say also that he takes no female lovers.”
Maelir’s brown eyes narrowed. “But that would be implying that..?”
“Aye it would be,” said Faramir resolutely. “It would also be telling the truth and to me it sounds like there is a need for that.”
A grin was slowly painted across Maelir’s features. “Well then,” he said with a small informal bow, “it will be my pleasure to enlighten them.” He shifted a bit closer. “Faramir… I do miss you.” In an instant, his whole demeanour changed: his smile grew warmer and he seemed to somehow soften in the sunlight.
Faramir reached out and ran his fingertips down the smooth-shaven cheek. “There is more to this truth of mine,” he said quietly. “I could not bed you for I am pledged…”
Maelir sat very still before him and Faramir dropped his hand to the grass.
“I have found love when I thought I was headed for misery,” he continued. “It is not easy, but… I could ask for nothing more.”
“Those… Elves?” Maelir asked at last and Faramir smiled.
“No, no Elves… It is a regular Man… sort of.”
“It is complicated…” Faramir shook his head. “You will know soon enough… Judging by the pace by which those rumours of yours spread, it is not likely to remain a secret for much longer.”
And the world might just turn upside-down…
He had meant to say no more but suddenly there was a flash of understanding in Maelir’s eyes and he gaped at Faramir. “No?” He leaned back a little as if he could not see Faramir properly when he sat so close. “No..? You cannot mean… But they said… The King?” he hissed as though the whole population of Gondor eagerly crowded behind him.
Some heat rushed to Faramir’s cheeks. “Aye, the King…”
“But…” Maelir’s already large eyes had never been wider. “But he is King!”
“Yes, that is what Damrod said too…”
Maelir snorted, “Damrod! What does he know?”
“I thought you shared the same opinion on loving a King?” Faramir ventured, grateful that the ground still felt solid underneath him and gaining some courage from this discovery. “And you need not try to change my mind for that very same Damrod has done so thrice already – to no avail, I might add, and now he is… accepting.”
“By the gods, Faramir…” Maelir nodded slowly. “Well, you could have done no better, I guess… I have never seen him but they say he is handsome.”
Faramir only smiled as the image of Aragorn’s face rose in his mind. Three weeks had passed since they took their leave in the courtyard and though he had meant to conquer his fear of Minas Tirith he had been called away to the remaining repairs needed after the rains, and then the sowing and tending to the fields had overwhelmed him. Now he counted the days to Midsummer when Aragorn and Eldarion would come to him again.
“Look at you!” cried Maelir. “Smiling like a lovesick fool!” But he was grinning. Then he sighed and the grin faded. “I confess… I am a bit jealous – I had hoped…. I know it has been ages since I last came to your bed but I enjoyed it the last time. The last time indeed, I suppose now.”
Knowing it would be too confusing, Faramir refrained from touching him, even by way of simple comfort. “Damrod said you were spreading the news that you had slept here… after that time.”
“Then he lies,” said Maelir fiercely. “I told only my friends, but if he overheard me and interpreted it that way, the blame is not mine to bear.”
Faramir pondered this. “Perhaps it is so…” he said finally. “You were never close and he cares greatly for me…” he ignored Maelir’s snort and grumbling assent, “perhaps that is how he saw it.” He knew Damrod well and did not find it wholly unlikely that his friend should choose to see it from his own angle. Well, whatever the truth of the matter, it lay now in the past. He shook himself and smiled. “No harm done, in any case. Will you join me for dinner?”
“For dinner only?” Maelir shook his head. “Nah… I confess I was hoping for a better offer.” His smile was rueful. “Another day I will… just… not today.”
He rose to his feet and Faramir followed him. “If ever you need anything, you know… A place to stay or…”
“Money or food? Yea, I will come to you.” The young man grimaced with distaste. “That really sounds terrible.”
“As long as you know that I mean it,” said Faramir. “But as you wish, I will speak no more of it, though the offer stands.”
Maelir nodded. “Good.” then he leaned in and dropped a quick kiss to Faramir’s cheek. With a faint smile he started across the grass but after a few paces he stopped and turned. “Shall I tell people also of your new lover?”
Faramir watched how the sun skidded across his former lover’s hair and face. It felt so long ago that he had kissed him, lain with him… and yet it was little more than a moon ago. It was a wonder how the world had changed so dramatically, and yet so much was still the same. He wondered if it was still possible to go back, to allow time to curl around itself and for Faramir to disappear into a little fold of it and emerge as he had been before: bound solely to his land and occasionally exploring freedom when it suited him best. So much easier it would be, so much safer… so predictable.
“Yes,” he said, “speak of it as you seem fit.”
He picked up his boots and chose another direction, mindful of where he placed his feet, but a smooth path was cleared for him and the grass grew soft and rich around him. A teasing giggle sifted out from behind a group of young rowans and reclined upon a patch of particularly thick moss covering the stump of a forgotten tree.
“Oh, be quiet,” he half-heartedly admonished, but was perfectly unable to chase the silly grin from his face.
The slender saplings from Rivendell were planted not far from the narrow path. Birds liked them, and he wondered if they would bear fruit for they were already in bloom. Many things that had once been fostered in Rivendell had thus come to his doorstep, and the door was wide open. He found that he was walking this new path with nothing but joy in his heart.
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