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A Time to Reap
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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7
All men are equal before fish

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


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

All men are equal before fish. - Herbert Hoover


~~~

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


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

All men are equal before fish. - Herbert Hoover

Aragorn could feel Faramir's pulse increase rapidly as he tightened his hold. The ugly reddened patches extended from the Steward’s shoulders down his right arm. Aragorn was hit by a wave of sharp, unexpected self-loathing. He had not faced Faramir as King and friend, but as a judge condemning the lowest of miscreants. He had never subjected even enemy warriors to such humiliation! Rather than strike back, Aragorn drew the angry Steward into a fatherly embrace, knowing full well that the contact might enable Faramir to sense all his thoughts and the darkness therein. Better though, that all should be revealed than that they should come to blows, which they would forever regret.

Faramir tried to break free. He was restrained by his King's firm yet gentle grip. Aragorn held him tightly, guiding Faramir's head against his uninjured shoulder.

“What have I become?” Faramir whispered, blinking back the tears as he continued to struggle.

“What you always were, you still are,” Aragorn whispered. Despite his reluctance, he was sensing Faramir’s thoughts. The heart of the man he had loved as a son was unchanged. Faramir's mind held no hint of treachery, only sorrow at his own deeds and intense pain and frustration at Aragorn's coldness.

“I was about to strike you, my King!” Faramir said brokenly. The urge to resist left him as suddenly as it had come, and he went limp in Aragorn’s arms.

“You did not, though,” Aragorn said, releasing him. Much as he realised they needed to lay bare their souls to one another, still he sought to delay what was bound to be a trial for them both.

The Steward turned to stare at the water, its silver clarity seeming to mock his own confusion. “You do not understand! Why did you come looking for me?” he asked. “Do you expect me to run away?” he asked bitterly.

“You would never run from anything, I know you too well.” Aragorn replied ignoring his tone. “I came to tell you not to dress before your hurts were treated. What is there to understand? You know that I have forgiven you.”

“You forgave me because you loved me once, not because you understand why!” Faramir protested.

“You are talking in riddles! This conversation is foolish!” Aragorn said sharply, remembering Arwen’s words with a pang of guilt.

“I am sorry,” Faramir’s tone was contrite now. How could he expect Aragorn to understand?

“Come then back to the camp site so your hurts can be tended! There is no point in finishing dressing now.” The King said, forcing himself to sound cheerful. Still clutching Faramir’s shirt, he marched ahead leaving Faramir to follow.

Once he reached the clearing, Aragorn sat down heavily upon the ground and buried his face in his hands. He had gone too far. What had he become to treat his Steward so poorly? He had directed his warriors to treat Easterling enemy prisoners more gently, and yet he had humiliated the man who had saved his life...the man he loved as dearly as his own child.

Arwen had been right. He had badly failed Faramir. It was vital that they both come to accept what had happened, however painful.

Faramir donned his stockings and boots and picked up his tunic. He desired to wear it to cover himself, but his skin felt far too sore. He made his way back to the campsite, his footfalls heavy and his entire body feeling loathsome and uncomfortable, as if it belonged to a stranger. Faramir could not understand what he had done. Did some evil spirit possess him, or had he always harboured such treacherous rage? Whatever had caused his attack on his lord; he was deeply shamed by his furious outburst.

He found the lord of the Reunited Kingdom sitting against a great log, his face dejected and his eyes shadowed.

“I fear I have neglected to cook our breakfast,” the King said in an expressionless tone. “Porridge will have to suffice, this morning.” As he spoke, he placed a pan of water on the fire to boil.

“I have no objection to porridge,” Faramir said in an equally emotionless tone. It almost hurt to talk, but he had to ask: “Please may I have my shirt back?”

Aragorn hesitated for a moment. Athelas would be the best remedy for Faramir’s raw skin. Yet how could he spare any of his precious leaves? He had brought a supply sufficient only for his own needs. However, at present, he felt a need to inhale some to calm his agitation. The infusion could be used to treat his Steward at the same time. “Let me see how you might be eased first,” he said, reaching a decision and taking a few leaves from his pouch; “I think this will lighten both our hearts.”

They moved to the log, and sat upon it in silence while waiting for the water to heat. Faramir sat with his arms crossed defensively across his chest, while Aragorn stared fixedly at the fire. The silence was uncomfortable, the air heavy with thunder seeming to crackle with the tension between them.

Once the water was hot, Aragorn lifted the pot from the fire and placed it on the ground between them. He crumbled two athelas leaves in his hands and breathed on them. At once, a living freshness filled the air and both their hearts were somewhat lightened. Aragorn swallowed hard and finally looked at his Steward. “I am truly sorry,” he said suddenly finding the words easy to speak, ”I did not mean to insult or humiliate you like that. Can you forgive me?”

“I humiliated myself and bear you no reproach,” Faramir replied, eyes and voice dulled with sorrow. “You did not tell me to cast my towel aside and stand naked before you. I did so of my own will, forgetting myself in my anger.” He remembered how Aragorn had tended his hurts many times before and had always tried to preserve his dignity.

“I do not deny that like all men you look far better clothed!” Aragorn observed wryly.

“Obviously the One reserved beauty for females!” Faramir replied, thinking longingly of how Éowyn looked in the white silk nightgown that outlined her every curve in a most appealing manner. The nightdress was a favourite of his, so soft and light and almost transparent.

“I think the mixture is ready now ” Aragorn remarked, breaking into his Steward’s reverie.

“Very well, “ Faramir uncrossed his arms and reluctantly submitted himself to the King’s gaze.

“You must stop this scouring, it does no good!” Aragorn chided. He knelt beside his Steward and handed him the bowl of steaming water and a cloth with which to bathe the raw patches in the athelas infused water. “Your King orders you to cease hurting yourself from this day forward! Bathe your hurts with this; it should ease them. I am no longer a Healer but I will give you my advice.” Although his tone was stern, his eyes showed compassion.

“I will try to obey,” Faramir answered bleakly. He felt desolate that Aragorn would no longer tend him. He knew from Sam that a patient could effectively bathe himself with the athelas infusion if the King had crumbled the leaves and prepared them. But to Faramir, it was Aragorn's own hands that had conveyed the King's healing power, with a special touch of grace that no other hands could ever give.

Aragorn mutely handed Faramir a towel and turned away while the Steward bathed his hurts.

Faramir patted himself dry, then reached for his shirt.

“Wait!” Aragorn commanded, “Your shirt might irritate your skin unless you apply a salve. The wounds are fortunately not deep enough to require bandaging, but if you keep on scrubbing like this, you could develop a dangerous infection.”

“I understand.” Faramir tensed slightly as he watched the King rummage in his saddlebag and retrieve a jar.

“Give it me back when you have finished,” he said abruptly, handing Faramir the jar of marigold ointment.

Faramir rubbed a liberal amount of the soothing cream on his chest and arms, but try as he might could not reach all over his back and shoulders.

“Give me the jar, I will do it,” Aragorn said curtly, steeling himself to suppress his revulsion at again touching his Steward.

Faramir tensed as the salve applied. Aragorn’s hands were quite gentle. However, his touch, although skilful, was completely impersonal. Somehow, that hurt far more than the damage to his skin. How could he expect it to be otherwise, though?

The Steward reached for his shirt and pulled it carefully over his head. “Thank you,” he said quietly. Once he would have embraced him, but the gulf between them now made such a gesture impossible.

Aragorn sat down beside him again on the log, shuffling his feet uneasily.

Faramir glanced towards his King, noticing that Aragorn seemed to have aged over the last months. Faramir was suddenly gripped by fear. Aragorn was now ninety-one years of age. The Northern Dúnedain were usually very long lived, and the King would still be considered to be in the prime of life. But could his ordeal in the traitors' clutches, including Faramir's own hands that had branded him, have withered the very life within Aragorn? What if the King's torment had shortened his natural span, and allowed the years to mark him? Faramir had seen his own father age before his time. Having lost one father, he was not ready to lose another.

“What troubles you? Are you still in pain?” Aragorn queried.

“I was concerned for you, my lord,” Faramir replied, “You look careworn. And you have borne the pain of your captivity, not I!”

“You shared it with me,” Aragorn admitted rather to his surprise. Perhaps the right moment was approaching to also share his troubled thoughts?

“Shall we have breakfast now?” Faramir asked, anxious to change the subject.

Aragorn sighed. Again, the moment had come and gone.

Within the next hour, it became hot even in the forest, as the sun climbed higher in the sky.

Faramir tidied away the breakfast things. ”I am ready to leave now,” he announced.

“I deem it wise to postpone my pilgrimage to the Hallow until the morrow, “ the King replied. He knew his thoughts were too troubled to approach the One this day. As for Faramir, he was in no fit condition to make the strenuous ascent. “Would you like to spend the day fishing?” he asked.

“Yes, I should enjoy that.” Faramir sighed with relief at postponing the climb.

***

“Where did you learn to fish?” Aragorn enquired some four hours later. They sat on the banks of the stream, a few feet apart.

“Boromir used to take me to the Anduin when I was but a small child,” Faramir replied, “We also fished in the Bay of Belfalas with Uncle Imrahil. Boromir would get a good catch while I rarely caught anything. It seems I have better luck against you!” He gestured to his two fat trout and the one rather malnourished specimen that Aragorn had caught.

“I would have caught those had I been upstream of you!” Aragorn retorted grumpily, “ I learned to fish at Rivendell during my childhood as well. Elrohir taught me, he had more patience than his brother. The best lesson he gave was to never take more than you need and to kill quickly and humanely. The Elves respect Yavanna's gifts too much to ever take her bounty for granted.”

“A wise precept,” Faramir agreed, drawing in his rod as he felt another fish bite. “I think we have enough for today!”

“So it seems!” Aragorn conceded as he watched Faramir expertly despatch another plump trout.

After a hearty supper of fried fish, apples, and wild raspberries, they bedded down for the night once again. The air had grown almost unbearably humid; the storm was surely imminent.

“We should remain fairly sheltered here under the forest canopy if it rains,” Aragorn commented. He drew his blanket around him and settled down for he night. “I hope it will rain and end the drought.”

“The rain usually falls in the City rather than up here,” Faramir told him.

“Given the extent of the greenery on the mountainside, I doubt it!” With that, Aragorn snorted, and turned his back on Faramir as a signal he was ready to sleep.

***

Faramir was awakened several hours later, not by the expected downpour but by piercing screams. He leapt swiftly to his feet and drew his sword, trying to get his bearings in the darkness. The moon and stars were overcast. Only the dying embers of the fire provided a very faint illumination. To his alarm, he recognised Aragorn’s voice crying his name. Hastily, he kindled a torch and hastened to the King’s side, fearing he was under attack. Only then did he realise that Aragorn was dreaming.

“How could you Faramir? Do not mark me!” Aragorn cried as he thrashed around wildly.

Faramir realized in horror that Aragorn was reliving the moment he had branded him. Remembering the King’s aversion to the dark, he swiftly threw more logs on the fire. Then Faramir knelt at Aragorn’s side. Capturing Aragon's arms in as gentle a grip as possible, Faramir said: “Wake up, my King, it is I, Faramir!”

Wild eyed and still half asleep, Aragorn tried to push him away. ”No, not you, no!” he cried, with a terror that tore at the Steward’s heart.

“Peace, dear lord, never did I willingly harm you!” The Steward was now near to tears, seeing his King so distressed. Months had passed since that dreadful night, but time had obviously not lessened Aragorn’s pain.

Aragorn opened his eyes abruptly, blinking in confusion. He quieted, and came fully awake. "Ah, Faramir,” he said softly. "I am sorry. It was a nightmare, nothing more."

Faramir, still gripping the King's arms, could feel him tremble, even through several layers of clothing.

Not sure whether or not it was the right thing to do or whether he would be pushed away, Faramir released his hold, helped Aragorn to a sitting position, and put his arms around his friend. He impulsively desired to comfort the one who had been both father and brother to him these past years. Tenderly, he smoothed the sweat stained hair away from Aragorn's pale face.

Without thinking, Aragorn, soothed by the touch, leaned his aching head against his Steward's brow. In that brief moment, their thoughts, long sundered, began to join together once more.



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