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8
Climb every mountain

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.

Chapter Eight – Climb every Mountain

Climb every mountain, search high and low
Follow every byway, every path you know.
Climb every mountain, ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow, 'til you find your dream! - The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Psalm 51:17

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. Genesis 22. 7-8


~~~

Aragorn made a half-hearted move as if to break away.

“Can we no longer share thoughts?” Faramir asked sadly. “Will we never again be in sufficient accord?”

“I believe we still have the ability, but fear it would wound our souls too deeply!” Aragorn replied.

“Can we cause each other any more pain than we have already?” Faramir replied, trying to control his emotions. Already he sensed Aragorn’s feelings of pain and betrayal.

“Let it be then!” Aragorn conceded. ”I would have more light first, though.”

Faramir threw several more logs on the waning fire, coaxing the waning flames to flare up brightly with new hunger. He then settled again beside his King, sitting close enough for their heads to touch. A flood of powerful emotions assailed both men as their troubled souls opened to each other.

Each man found the other's pain nigh unbearable to experience. Aragorn became aware how Faramir felt befouled for all time by his deeds. At times, his Steward had even questioned whether it was worth it to sacrifice his honour and beliefs; all that had made him the man he had been, in order to save his King. Cursed as a traitor he was, sullied by word and deed! This idea filled Faramir with revulsion, that he should even think such a thing. Yet it was not remorse for his actions that caused Faramir's deepest anguish, but rather the loss of his bond with Aragorn, which had meant everything to him. It made him feel as if he had once more lost both father and brother.

Aragorn still seethed with anger at Faramir’s seeming betrayal. Whatever the reason, he had been scarred for life by Faramir’s hand. That terrible moment continued to haunt him. When he could think calmly about the matter, Aragorn knew his anger was both ungrateful and unreasoning. Had Faramir not come to the lodge and found him under the pretence of joining his tormentors, the conspirators would have undoubtedly subjected Aragorn to further, even worse tortures, and then a humiliating death. They would have eventually slain Arwen to lay bloodstained hands on Eldarion, and most likely killed the child too in time, or raised him to be as perfidious as they were. Recalling the pain of that time, together with his fears for his lady and their beloved son, scored his heart, throbbing like an infected wound. And Faramir had saved them all. Yet Aragorn could not cease from blaming Faramir, believing that his Steward could have found another, better way, a clear and good path to the rescue of his King. Could not Faramir have summoned hundreds of Rangers to hide in the hills beyond the lodge, and then have signalled them to storm the rebels' den to free him? Could Faramir not have located him more quickly by using the palantír to observe the suspected rebels comings and goings, instead of playing the traitor for all those weeks while he lay in the dungeon under torment?

“I am sorry!” Aragorn and Faramir spoke at the same time.

They broke the bond quickly, unable to further endure each other’s mingled grief, pain and anger.

In his heart, Aragorn wanted to comfort Faramir with a fatherly embrace. Yet, his mind recoiled, for it seemed that Faramir regretted the loss of his love rather than his actions.

At the same time, Faramir wanted to comfort his King, but the hurtful knowledge that Aragorn could not wholly forgive him, made him fear to try. Faramir knew from the sad experience of Denethor's last years that it was better to keep a respectful distance than to be pushed away.

Just then, the storm broke, blasting the sky with flashes and forks of lightening. The thunder crashed overhead, so the very mountain seemed to be shaking.

Unable to think of any suitable words to console one another, Aragorn and Faramir could only watch nature vent its fury. The rain poured down at last, but only for a short time. The droplets splashed the ground until the storm ended and left a clear moonlit sky in its wake.

“At least we have finally had some rain,” said Faramir, trying to sound cheerful.

“Thunder rain does little good,” Aragorn said glumly. “It does not last long enough to nourish the thirsty earth. The air does feel fresher, though. We should try to rest now.”

He settled on his bedroll and rolled on his side, away from the Steward.

Emotionally exhausted, they slept, untroubled by further nightmares.

***

Aragorn and Faramir woke early the next morning and breakfasted on the remainder of the fish they had caught the day before.

Although the two men were still somewhat subdued and. ill at ease with each other, they both realized that they felt better in each other's company. The Sharing of Thoughts had eased the tension between them, at least to a certain extent. It had felt like bathing a raw wound with salted water, causing much pain, but thereby cleansing it and giving it a chance of healing without festering.

The air felt fresh and clean, but it promised to be another very hot day.

“Are you well enough to climb the mountain today?” Aragorn enquired of his Steward while they scoured the cooking pots in the stream. Already, the sun was hot and they had discarded their tunics.

Faramir nodded, silently hoping that Aragorn would neither suggest that they went swimming first, nor suggest another humiliating inspection of his skin.

“Good, we will begin our ascent as soon as we have finished tidying up here.” He shook the water out of the pan and put it on a boulder to dry in the sun. “We bathed yesterday, so there is no need to do so again.”

Faramir heaved a deep sigh of relief. Much as he yearned to scrub himself clean, even the thought of baring his body horrified him, after the experience suffered yesterday. He contented himself by scouring his plate clean, then placed it beside the other dishes and leaned back against a tree. ” Should I not remain at our campsite?” Faramir asked. “Since I am not worthy to enter the Hallow, I can await you here.”

“You are coming with me,” Aragorn sternly replied. ”We had this argument yesterday and I am not prepared to repeat it! The path there is steep and I promised my wife I would not attempt it alone.”

“Very well, my lord,” Faramir said without enthusiasm. “What do you intend to do when you reach the Hallow, sire?”

“I shall give thanks to the One and offer the first fruits as a sacrifice, as did my sires in Númenor,” Aragorn explained.

“ I cannot see anything to offer as a sacrifice,” Faramir looked puzzled. “We brought only the bare necessities with us.”

“An offering will be provided,” Aragorn said without offering to explain further. “Come! You had better bring your tunic with you. The higher we go, the cooler the air will become; and there will be a fresh, strong wind at the peak.” He was already rummaging for his own as he spoke. “We must leave the horses here; it will be too steep for them to climb the slope.”

Faramir did as he was bidden, shaking his head slightly. Much as he admired Aragorn, he found him highly unconventional at times. Sighing, he followed his lord as the King started to ascend the southern flank of Mount Mindolluin.

“Are you certain this is the right path?” Faramir groaned when the trail became noticeably steeper, forcing him to struggle to keep his foothold. He almost tripped and dislodged a shower of pebbles, which sent a startled mountain goat fleeing in panic.

“Yes, I have taken this way before with Gandalf,” Aragorn replied. “I remember it well, although we made far swifter progress!”

Faramir bit back a retort, as he grazed his palm on a particularly sharp rock.

Ignoring his Steward’s complaints, Aragorn continued to climb, looking for the point where the path turned aside.

Faramir could only follow, cursing under his breath at the King's sudden fondness for pilgrimages in such inhospitable places. He had to admit that Aragorn was right though about the weather. It had turned noticeably cooler and he was glad of his woollen tunic. Eventually even his hardy northern companion started to shiver in his shirtsleeves and conceded defeat. They climbed higher and higher until they had to stop to catch their breath.

“Come on!” Aragorn urged his Steward.

Faramir had by now developed a stitch in his side and was bent almost in half as he strove to breathe and climb while it seemed as if a dagger were stabbing him.

Aragorn doubled back and went to his aid. “Breathe slowly and deeply!” he told him, as the Steward tried to massage the right side of his ribcage. “Is that better?” he asked.

“’It would be if we were not climbing up this steep slope!” Faramir grumbled, still unable to straighten up.

Aragorn’s only reply was to sharply prod him in the ribs.

Faramir yelped but straightened up immediately. “Another of your Elven remedies?” he asked, still gingerly rubbing his side, though the pain had now gone.

“One that Elrond himself taught me,” Aragorn replied. “It has proved very useful on many occasions!”

“So you often climbed mountains for pleasure then?” Faramir asked incredulously, hoping for a little time to regain his breath.

“Not for pleasure, no, but I have climbed a great many mountains in my time, which you most obviously have not! Anyone would think you had lived twice my years, rather than not yet half of them! Let us go just a little farther, and then we shall rest.”

His mood sinking even further, Faramir followed his King as Aragorn beckoned him across a high field. His thoughts wandered to a tale that his father had been fond of telling his sons; how the Kings of old would lead political rivals up Mindolluin by dark and secret paths, never to be seen again. Faramir had always thought the story an old wives’ tale meant to scare children from trying to climb the mountain, or perhaps a distant memory of Castamir's tyranny. Today the old tale made him shudder. Surely Aragorn would never consider such a thing!

And yet… Faramir knew little of the worship of the One. Even the Creator's true name, was rarely used by the descendants of the land that Eru had destroyed. And what was the planned sacrifice? The rite was practised by the King alone and shrouded in mystery; its lore long lost in the mists of time. Eru Ilúvatar was the maker of all, whose will was law to the Valar themselves. Yet Ilúvatar had created Morgoth and Sauron, allowed them to wreak terrible evil for years beyond count. The One had required the sacrifice of all who remained in the Land of Gift after the Faithful had fled, even the children, to atone for the pride of Ar-Pharazôn, the last King. And Ar-Pharazôn had made sacrifices to Morgoth at Sauron's urging, sacrifices not of fruits but of the Faithful, his own ancestors. Kings making sacrifices. Sacrifices to pride: as Denethor had chosen him to be. Sacrifices made to punish pride and rebellion against the Creator's law: the dead of fallen Númenor. Could the One now require his life in sacrifice? Faramir sighed. If the King that he had wronged took his life, would his treason be expiated? He resolutely trudged onwards.

When they had neared the snowline, Aragorn stopped. “You may come no further, ” he commanded. “I must go on alone from here to offer the first fruits that Arwen chose for me.” He took a somewhat battered apple and pear from his pockets as he spoke. “Wait for me until I return!”

“Yes, my lord,” Faramir answered meekly, chiding himself for his dire fancies. He settled upon a fairly flat rock, glad for a chance to rest. Aragorn’s coldness had left him weary and heart sore.

Aragorn entered the Hallow and stood for a moment looking at the view across his kingdom. Last time he had stood in this place, its beauty had immensely moved him. Today he felt only sorrow and weariness. He placed the fruit on the ground and hesitated, unsure just exactly how to approach the One who had commanded the Valar to make music and bring Arda into being. The Wise had taught him, that he too was a child of the One, but he knew even less of him than he did of Arathorn.

Aragorn stood, lifted his eyes heavenwards and solemnly intoned; “Almighty One, I, Elessar Telcontar, Lord of the Reunited Kingdom, come here this day to offer you these first fruits, with my thanks and praise.

The King did not know what to expect but found himself feeling slightly disappointed when nothing happened. It was so quiet up here away from the noise and bustle of the City. A skylark soared overhead, filling the air with its rapturous song. Then all was silent once more. Aragorn suddenly felt very alone. Solitude had long been his custom; but here on this peak, it seemed as if nothing existed in the world save him and this mysterious One who created it.

He sank to his knees in awe. Suddenly, Aragorn was weeping and pouring out his heart to his Creator. “Help me!” he pleaded. “I have lost my way. Help me!”

He had no idea how long he remained there sobbing painfully. At last, he had no more tears left to shed. He sank back exhausted on the ground. A feeling of peace filled him. Sudden unbidden thoughts flooded his mind. It was as if some unseen presence was telling him,’ Lay down your burdens. Let go, simply follow your heart’!

With sudden resolve, Aragorn wiped his eyes and rose to his feet. He made his way back down the path to where he had left Faramir.

The Steward sat hunched and dejected. The reddened eyes he raised suggested that he might have been weeping too.

“Close your eyes and come with me!” Aragorn ordered.

“But why?” Faramir asked, his apprehension returning at this new turn of events.

“As far as I know, none of my sires ever threw anyone off this mountain and I do not intend to be the first!” Aragorn said dryly, reading Faramir’s mind.

“My lord, I did not mean to imply...” Faramir protested.

“I too have heard that old wives’ tale,” Aragorn interrupted. “You fear, yet still you follow me without protest!”

”It is my duty to follow where you lead, sire. I know you to be a man of honour.”

“I am glad to hear that you still think so. Come! It will be worth it, it, you will see,” Aragorn assured him, seizing Faramir by the wrist and leading him across the grass. Mercifully, it was much flatter here. Anxious though he was, Faramir still trusted his lord in his heart.



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