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A Time to Reap
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A dinner of herbs

These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. – Proverbs 15.17 – The Bible.

With grateful thanks to Raksha for all her help with this chapter.


An uncomfortable silence reigned in the King’s private dining room that felt almost as oppressive as the heat of the waning day. At the head of the table sat Aragorn with Arwen to his right. Faramir sat beside the Queen, who could not decide whether the Steward or her husband looked the more ill at ease. Despite the excellent food, finely crafted tableware, and comfortable furnishings, it seemed that the lowliest peasant would tonight dine with more ease than Gondor’s King and Steward.

“Did you have a pleasant journey from Ithilien this afternoon?” Arwen enquired of Faramir, in a desperate bid to break the silence.

“Yes, my lady, I thank you for enquiring. It was most pleasant,” Faramir replied, crumbling the bread in his hand so hard that it disintegrated before he could dip it in to the bowl of tomato soup set before him.

“How fares Éowyn?” Arwen asked, determined to make further conversation. She looked pointedly at her husband, silently willing him to say something.

“She is well, thank you, my lady,” Faramir said without looking up from his meal.

Arwen nudged her husband with her elbow, almost causing him to drop his spoon.

Aragorn glared at her, then cleared his throat noisily. “And how is your daughter, Lord Faramir?” he queried.

“She is well too, thank you. I trust Eldarion is also in good health.” Faramir replied without meeting Aragorn’s eyes.

“He is very well and growing by the day.” Aragorn replied, briefly regarding his Steward with an unreadable expression, before returning his attention to the soup. “How is Elbeth faring?” he enquired.

“She is well, thank you, sire. She did ask me to convey her greetings to her dear Strider and tell you that she now has a ginger kitten of her own.”

Aragorn managed a faint smile at these tidings. “You must convey my greetings to her on your return,” he said.

Silence ensued.

“Is Elestelle not cutting her teeth yet?” asked Arwen sweetly; hoping another question concerning their beloved children might draw forth more of a dialogue between the two men. ”Eldarion already has eight teeth and I think my poor babe has another coming, for he is fretting a good deal at present.”

“I believe my daughter has four teeth. Éowyn informed me that she had bitten her while she was feeding and that they were very sharp!” Faramir suddenly flushed scarlet at the realisation of having revealed such delicate information.

Arwen winced involuntarily at the memory of a similar incident. She smiled reassuringly at the Steward. “I believe all babies try out their teeth on their mothers at least once!” she said.

“Éowyn said that too, my lady,” Faramir replied.

A further and increasingly uncomfortable silence ensued.

“How are your horses?” Arwen enquired desperately, wondering if she would be forced to enquire after the mice in the barn to keep the conversation flowing. “I heard that you rode Zachus today rather than your mare.”

“Éowyn suggested that Iavas should mate with one of the stallions this summer in the hope that she will produce a foal,” Faramir replied, again looking uncomfortable.

“It is good to have you back in Minas Tirith, Faramir. We have missed you, have we not, Estel?” Arwen said, after several more minutes of silence and again digging Aragorn with her elbow.

“Many matters needing your attention have arisen while you were away from the City,” the King said, deliberately evading her question.

“I assure you, my lord, that I have been working hard during my time in Emyn Arnen.” Faramir sounded a trifle hurt. ”Have you heard aught of Anborn and my other men, sire? Surely they did not disappear without a trace?”

“Nothing has been heard,” Aragorn said curtly. “A message would have been sent to you, were there any tidings of their whereabouts. You would do best to presume them dead and see that their families are provided for.”

“I already have,” the Steward replied. “I just hoped that their loved ones could at least have their bodies to bury. I wish that…” His voice trailed away.

“Such are the fortunes of war,” Aragorn said curtly. “I enquired of Fontos of Lossarnach ere he left to go into exile, and Dervorin of Ringlo Vale prior to his execution, but they could tell me nothing. I have done all I can concerning your men.”

“And you accepted those traitors' words?" Faramir protested. “My lord, Anborn and his company were good men!”

“Indeed they were, good men under your command, “ Aragorn retorted. “I shall have their names recorded as having died for Gondor.” He pushed his still half full dish away and lapsed into silence again.

Arwen gave her husband a look, warning him that if he failed to make conversation, he would hear about it from her later.

“We must discuss the new structure for the Council, that you have been working on,” said Aragorn. “I have studied the documents you have been sending to me. I think we should offer more seats to the merchants, though.”

“Indeed, my lord, “ Faramir replied, sounding a little more animated. “I believe they could share an equal number of seats with the Captains of my Rangers and your Tower Guard but we should not forget the craftsmen either.”

“The healers should be included, “ said Aragorn. “I must also decide whether I may appoint folk who are not born in Gondor or Arnor but now dwell within our borders.”

Usually, Arwen would have frowned at the notion of discussing matters of state over dinner. Today, she heaved a sigh of relief.

As the final course was brought to the table, her husband and Faramir were still discussing whether or not anyone born in born in Rohan could be invited to serve on the Council. At least the men were speaking to each other, though in a way better suited to a meeting than a quiet dinner for supposed friends. Arwen surreptitiously studied both men as they picked at their food, eating little. She noticed sadly how their handsome carven features, a sign of the shared blood of her uncle's race, seemed far more careworn. They were, nay, are; she corrected herself firmly, deeply attached to each other. But the horrors of the past months, when Aragorn had been imprisoned and tortured, while Faramir had pretended to join his tormentors in order to rescue his lord, still lay heavily upon them.

Aragorn had issued a proclamation to clear Faramir of all wrongdoing and retained him as his Steward. Still, there had been a high price to pay. Aragorn no longer trusted Faramir, his friend's seeming betrayal and actual cruelty weighing heavily on his scarred soul.

Faramir fared little better. Rumour abounded that the King had only cleared his Steward's name in order to secure his own position. The Southern Kingdom had been ruled by Faramir’s long fathers for nigh on a thousand years. Faramir was wed to the King of Rohan's sister, a union that strengthened the alliance of Rohan and Gondor originally woven by their ancestors. The execution or exile of Faramir could not help but tear the threads in that alliance, or so the gossips thought. And though they were malicious, they were not wholly wrong. Éomer had sworn to support whatever decision Aragorn made on Faramir's fate, but the young Horse-lord would have surely been at the very least saddened to have his sister and niece shamed, and the proud House of Eorl sullied, by kinship to a named traitor.

The Steward looked wretched and Arwen realised all too clearly that Éowyn’s fear of her husband fading seemed all too real. She knew Faramir loved Aragorn; not only as his liege lord, but also as a close friend and the kindly father Denethor had never been to his younger son. She had never met the late Steward, yet Denethor's demeanour could hardly have been colder was Aragorn's mien tonight.

Once the meal ended, Arwen excused herself briefly to feed her son. The men left the dining room when she stood up and withdrew to their private sitting room. She left them and went to the nursery. When she returned some time later, having settled Eldarion to sleep in the care of his nurse, Arwen found Aragorn seated on the couch sipping a goblet of wine. Faramir sat stiffly on the chair opposite, doing likewise. The tension could hardly have been sharper had Thranduil Oropherion and Thorin Oakenshield themselves sat before her discussing the rights to Smaug's treasure. Both men rose to their feet when she entered. She settled herself on the couch beside Aragorn. The men both sat down again.

“We are having pleasant weather, are we not?” Faramir said turning to his hostess.

“I find the heat wearisome,” said Aragorn. “We badly need rain.”

“I am fortunate as the clime does not trouble me,” said Arwen. “I can only hope that Eldarion will grow up to be the same.”

”Is he sleeping yet?” Aragorn enquired.

“He was sound asleep when I left the nursery,” she replied. “His tooth does not seem to be troubling him tonight.”

“That gladdens my heart,” said Aragorn, sounding relieved.

Silence again ensued.

Faramir rose to his feet. “I will take my leave now, if you will permit me, my lord, my lady?” he said.

“Of course, Faramir, I expect you are weary from your journey, I bid you a restful night,” Arwen said, smiling at him kindly and rising from the couch. He took her extended hand and bowed.

Aragorn rose a moment after his wife. He took a step towards Faramir and made as if to extend his hand then froze. “Goodnight,” he said curtly.

Faramir, his eyes unable to conceal his pain, bowed stiffly to his lord and swiftly took his leave.

Aragorn slumped in his chair and buried his face in his hands once the door shut behind his Steward.

“You were a poor host tonight, Estel! You showed our guest but meagre courtesy,” Arwen chided.

Aragorn sighed; “I am sorry,” he said, “I am so tired, it must be the heat. Bid a servant bring hot water that I may inhale some athelas.”

The Queen sighed, but summoned a maid without further comment. By now, the servants were accustomed to this request and the boiling water arrived almost at once. The girl placed it on the table, curtsied and left.

Aragorn feverishly reached inside his tunic and almost threw the leaves in the bowl, then inhaled deeply of the refreshing odour. Arwen could see that he was trembling slightly. The Queen moved behind him to wrap her arms around her husband and kissed him lovingly. He relaxed slightly at her touch. “What is wrong, beloved?” she asked. “I know that your heart is troubled.”

“I have you and our son. The land is at peace and my throne restored. What more could I need?” Aragorn turned his head to meet her gaze, the deep sorrow in his eyes belying his words.

“You need Faramir’s friendship too,” she said simply.

“He has my goodwill,” Aragorn said curtly. “He should be content that I allowed him to keep both lands and titles.”

“He looks neither well nor happy.” Arwen insisted. “Lands and titles do little to ease an aching heart.”

“He should see a healer while he is in the City then,” said Aragorn, careful to avoid looking at his wife.

”I thought you were his healer,” Arwen reproached him.

“I am no longer a healer. That gift brought me nothing but sorrow,” Aragorn retorted. “Am I to spend my days draining my strength and laying my hands upon those that seek to overthrow me?”

“I do not recall the Lords of Lamedon, Lebennin, and Ringlo Vale ever having sought your skills, “ Arwen said dryly. “Yet there are hundreds in this City alone who owe their lives to you, and love you the more as result. Surely you do not regret all the children you saved from the fever?”

“Of course not, but as I cannot save everyone, it is better that concentrate on being King. I am so weary!”

Arwen looked at him intently, wondering if he feared he lacked the ability to heal, rather than the desire to use it. Healing was so great a part of her husband that he hardly seemed the same man when he was not enthusing about herbs or Elven techniques and then rejoicing over those he had cured.

“Come to bed, my love!” she coaxed. “You should rest now it is cooler.”

“I will only dream!” Aragorn protested, a haunted look in his eyes.

“I will be beside you, there is nothing to fear!” Arwen reassured him. Taking his hand, she led him from the room.



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