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A Time to Reap
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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5
I am no longer worthy to be called your son

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

I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ‘- Bible: New Testament, Luke 15:17-19.

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


~~~

Arwen was delighted at the result of her plan to send Estel and Faramir forth together. To avoid alerting the servants to the King’s imminent departure, she herself helped pack what few processions her husband would need; clean linens, his sword and a hunting knife, a few cooking utensils, and healing supplies. Apart from what seemed an excessive amount of athelas, Aragorn was loth to pack the latter, insisting he was a healer no longer. He relented only when Arwen pointed out he might well need healing herbs and other sundries for himself, especially such items as salves. It had been so long since Aragorn had ridden more than a short distance, saddle soreness was a distinct possibility.

Aragorn and Faramir decided to leave at sunrise when most people were still abed. They would hopefully slip out of the City unnoticed. Faramir had suggested they use the secret tunnels but Aragorn had curtly refused. He had already endured enough of dank enclosed spaces to last a lifetime when imprisoned in Dervorin's dungeon. The King had ordered that Lamrung, a Guard he could trust, be posted at the gates at the time they intended to depart.

“I have changed my mind about visiting the Mountain, I would rather abide here with you,” Aragorn announced after another restless night.

“It will do you good to leave the City,” Arwen said calmly. ”You will feel better when you can feel the cool mountain wind in your hair.”

“I shall miss you too much, and I like not the thought of being alone in the wilds with Faramir,” Aragorn protested.

“I shall miss you as well, but I still think you should go,” Arwen replied firmly. “Once you would have rejoiced at the opportunity to ride out into the countryside with Faramir. Now go, and do not return until your heart is eased! I love you too much, Estel, to see you suffering thus day after day.”

“Very well,” Aragorn sighed. “I shall return before Eldarion’s birthday.” Thus saying, he tenderly kissed the still sleeping child and then did likewise to his wife, clasping her as tightly as one might a tree to avoid being blown away by a storm.

Arwen stood watching at the window while Aragorn made his way across the almost deserted Court of the Fountain. Faramir awaited him beside the White the King. The Steward was plainly dressed in Ranger garb and carrying his pack. The King nodded curtly to his Steward and they disappeared from view, Faramir keeping a respectful few paces behind his lord.

The Queen brushed away a few tears as her husband and his Steward disappeared from her sight. She could only hope and pray that she had made the right choice in sending them away together like this. A wave of cold fear suddenly assailed her. What if Estel were waylaid again? Or what if he and Faramir ended up gravely wounding or killing each other? How would the realm fare, much less herself and Eldarion?

She firmly pushed such unwholesome thoughts aside. The mental bond she shared with her husband had shown her that Aragorn still loved Faramir. She was also certain that Faramir’s devotion to Aragorn had never wavered. The same bond that allowed her to sense how her husband was faring would alert her immediately should any danger threaten him. Much as she would miss Estel and fret over him, this separation was necessary. She knew all too well that only when, or if, his bond with Faramir were mended, would he be whole once more.

Arwen decided she would write to Éowyn and invite her to visit while their men folk were away, but first she would sleep. She could not remember when she had last enjoyed a full night of untroubled slumber. It drained her energy, for even of one of her kind could not go without peaceful sleep for months on end without becoming weary. Much as Arwen adored her husband, it had taken her time to become accustomed to him sleeping at her side. He had been in the habit too, of sometimes sleeping in his own room. Gondorian custom encouraged a wife of high status to sleep alone when troubled by women’s courses or crying babies. A husband would do likewise if he needed to rise early, or simply craved solitude.

These past months, however, Estel had been at her side constantly, both day and night. At times he became even more demanding than her child. The sight of her proud, self-reliant husband clinging to her as tightly as a babe had torn at her heart even more than Eldarion's occasional and easily soothed tears.

Surmising that Eldarion would not awaken for at least another hour, the Queen climbed back into bed and fell into a deep slumber.

***

Silently, Aragorn and Faramir made their way down to the stables on the Sixth level. A bleary-eyed groom asked if he could assist them. The King curtly bade him to return to his interrupted rest. There was still barely enough light in the stables to see clearly, but eventually Roheryn and Zachus were saddled. The King and Steward mounted and rode towards the City gates.

The few people up and about in the performance of their early morning business ignored the two plainly dressed horsemen riding down the City circles. They were accustomed to seeing their King and Steward richly clad and accompanied by guards, so they would never have taken these two hooded and cloaked figures for Gondor's lords.

Lamrung, assisted by two young recruits, opened the Great Gate at their approach and wished them a pleasant journey without betraying he knew who they were. The young man had become a worthy Guard, and Aragorn had never regretted his decision to offer him a better post than that of a prison warder.

Aragorn's spirits rose as they cantered along the Pelennor. They had shed their cloaks and stuffed them into their saddlebags the moment the gates closed behind them. Now Faramir and Aragorn sighed with relief and gave the horses their heads.

“To be free at last!” exclaimed the lord of the Reunited Kingdom, “I felt I would suffocate if I spent another moment caged by those stone walls! The Valar be praised we managed to escape undetected! Arwen has promised to tell the Council and the Guards that we have gone hunting for a time.”

Faramir pondered whether he should speak deferentially or proceed in a less formal fashion now that they had left the Citadel. “Thus speaks the Ranger from the Northern wilds!” he countered, trying the latter choice. “Our walls are a protection, not a prison, built to guard the fairest place in Middle-earth!”

“Thus says a Man of the South, who knows not of what he speaks! It is apparent that you have never seen Rivendell or the fair mountains of the North!” Aragorn retorted sourly. “There is true beauty there, hard-won but free, of a sort you could not imagine.”

“You know I cannot argue, since I have never seen the Northlands,” Faramir replied mildly. “We of Gondor should be thankful that you have so well concealed your aversion for the City that the sons of Elendil founded.”

“It is hard to share your love for Minas Tirith, especially in the summer months.” Aragorn said coldly. “I am too accustomed to the wild beauty of Northern climes.”

“You have seen many lands,” Faramir said simply, for lack of a better reply.

“That is because I have lived long years without a home for a wife and family.” Aragorn replied. “I may not love the confines of stone walls, but it is now my doom to make that home in Minas Tirith.”

Faramir bit back the retort on his lips and concentrated on swatting at the insects that circled Zachus’ head, tormenting the placid gelding. “I cannot say that I love the flies in summer! The cattle must attract them.” He bit his lip, wishing he had not spoken that word to the man he had burned with a cattle brand.

“The heat of the City more likely!” Aragorn glared at him, but said no more.

“Where exactly are we going?” Faramir asked, eager to change the subject. It would only make things worse to quarrel now. He and Aragorn tended to be equally stubborn about the climate of Minas Tirith. Once he would have been horrified at the very thought of disagreeing with his King. But their friendship had grown so strong that they had argued as easily as he and Boromir had done, spending hours in sometimes heated, but always friendly bantering. Now, such arguments were as fraught with tension as all matters between them had recently become.

“You will see,” Aragorn replied curtly. “Let us remove our tunics and at least be cooler.”

Faramir looked taken aback at the suggestion. “It is discourteous to for a lord of Gondor be less than fully clad in the presence of others.” He looked across at the fields surrounding the road, where the peasants toiled. Most of the men were bare to the waist, while some of the women wore only loose linen shifts. It seemed that the country folk had little regard for Court etiquette, especially during a time of such severe heat. Faramir sighed softly, and continued: "But as none here know who we are, and the people are too busy working in the fields to notice our apparel, I suppose that we could.”

Aragorn had not waited for Faramir’s verdict and was already in his shirtsleeves. He stuffed the tunic in his saddlebag before Faramir had finished speaking. The Steward hesitated for a moment, thinking how his father would have disapproved of such casual dress. Deciding that he no longer cared, Faramir consigned his own tunic to rest beside his clean underwear.

“Is that not more comfortable?” the King asked.

Faramir nodded reluctantly. Secretly, he agreed with Aragorn that it was far too hot for comfort, though he was in no mood to openly disparage his beloved White City.

“To reach Mount Mindolluin, we will double back along the Rammas Echor and approach it from the South,” Aragorn informed his Steward. ”We are taking a more roundabout path than did Mithrandir and I, so that we can ride in the shade.”

The lower slopes of the Mountain were densely wooded, providing a welcome respite from the heat. The City already seemed far away here under the canopy of trees. The air was heavy with the refreshing scent of larch and juniper intermingled with sweet honeysuckle blossom, which grew profusely in the clearings and attracted industrious bees and colourful butterflies to its scented blossoms. The birds chirruped in the treetops and a lone thrush sang melodiously from one of the highest branches.

A crystal stream ran down the hillside. Seeing the welcome rivulet, the King and Steward swiftly dismounted to let their horses drink. Then they eagerly refreshed themselves with the cool sweet water, splashing it freely over their hands and faces.

“Is this place not fair?” Aragorn exclaimed, a faint smile lighting up his grim features. He sat down, sprawling lazily across a moss-encrusted boulder.

“Indeed it is, my lord,” Faramir replied, pleased Aragorn seemed to finally appreciate something about Gondor. He settled himself a few feet away and they sat in silence for a time, listening to the birdsong.

“I think it best we make camp here for the night,” Aragorn said after a while, clambering to his feet. “Take your bow and catch us something for supper!”

Faramir meekly did as he was bidden. Fortunately he managed to shoot a buck rabbit quickly and cleanly. He swiftly prepared it for supper; Aragorn built the fire but otherwise did nothing to help, making it very clear that he expected Faramir to act as his servant.

Steward and King then settled down for the night, laying out their bedrolls on opposite sides of their campfire. Their weapons lay within easy reach and a fire burned to deter any wild animals that might approach. They spoke little while they prepared to sleep, each man lost in his own thoughts. It occurred to both that this time should have been happier, since they had long wished to ride out into the countryside together and relive their days as Rangers.

Aragorn found it much easier to fall asleep under the night sky than within his own room in the Citadel. He was soothed by the stars overhead, and slept soundly, mercifully free from the nightmares that had tormented his sleep for months now.

Faramir was less fortunate. When sleep finally claimed him, he was transported back to Dervorin’s Hunting Lodge, again preparing to brand his King. This time, Aragorn remained conscious as Faramir pressed the brand to his shoulder, and cursed Faramir to find no peace until the world’s ending. He cried out; “No! No! I must do it! Forgive me, lord!”

Faramir's screams woke the King. Aragorn watched the son of Denethor uneasily for a few moments. He finally moved to Faramir's side, fearful that the Steward would writhe too close to the fire and harm himself. The bright moonlight shone clearly on the younger man's anguished features.

“No! I have to do this!” Faramir’s hands lashed out at some unseen horror.

“Peace! All is well now,” Feeling a sudden surge of pity, Aragorn grabbed the thrashing hands, instinctively noting how rapid the pulse was.

Faramir did not awaken, although he seemed to be calmed somewhat by Aragorn's words.

The King remembered that these hands had driven a brand into his own skin and released them with a shudder of revulsion. Still, he could not utterly abandon the other man. Aragorn reluctantly moved his bedroll alongside that of Faramir. It seemed as if it were going to be a long and sleepless night.

To his surprise, Faramir’s restless head found his shoulder and settled there. The Steward sighed contentedly. Then, almost immediately, he relaxed and fell into an apparently dreamless sleep.

Aragorn’s immediate reaction was a desire to push him away. However, if he did so, he would be unlikely to get any further sleep that night and he was already exhausted. Yet, how could he allow the one who had branded him to curl up against him as innocently as a kitten nestled among its littermates?

Faramir moaned in his sleep, almost as if he sensed Aragorn's thoughts. A wave of compassion overwhelmed the King. Maybe Faramir was not a heartless, calculating traitor. Could it be that the Steward’s sleep was troubled by memories of the actions that had, however painfully, saved his King’s life? Maybe Arwen was right, as she so often was. What if he had wronged Faramir? These thoughts were too painful to dwell upon. He resolutely pushed them to the back of his mind. Wearied by the day’s events, Aragorn slipped back into slumber.

When the King opened his eyes again, it was already dawn. The pink tinged clouds heralded another fine day. Already feeling too warm, Aragorn threw off his blanket.

The sudden movement disturbed Faramir, who awoke with a start. Shamefaced, he immediately pulled away from Aragorn's shoulder.

“I am sorry,” he mumbled.

“Someday we will bring Eldarion along, and I can have one of you on each side of me,“ Aragorn said with forced cheer. To his dismay, he could sense the pain emanating from Faramir’s thoughts and found given his own troubled state of mind, it was more than he could endure.

“I am no longer worthy to be treated as your son!” Faramir declared miserably.

Aragorn neither replied nor made any move to draw Faramir to his side again.

Faramir rolled over on his side and pretended to sleep, hoping Aragorn would not notice the silent tears that trickled down his cheeks.

TBC

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