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10
Tat Avam Asi

Chapter Ten - Tat Avam Asi

Tat Avam Asi - That Thou Art - Chandogya Upanishad

Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there.- The Bible. Job 1.21

With grateful thanks to Raksha.


~~~



Aragorn stole a sideways glance towards Faramir who was retreating some way back towards the path. It seemed the Steward was determined to keep his distance. There was more to Faramir's recalcitrance than his Steward's insistence on modesty. He knew what troubled the younger man.

“Faramir, look upon me!”

“You are undressing, my lord," Faramir protested, “You need your privacy."

“I have been foolish. I think it is high time that you looked at my shoulder. Come!”

Faramir walked back up the bank towards the King then partially turned his head and fixed his eyes on a point somewhere on Aragorn’s brow.

The King grabbed Faramir’s hand and placed it against his shoulder, forcing him to feel the oblong of raised and puckered flesh where the brand had disfigured the once smooth skin. “Now look at me!” he said with an unmistakeable tone of command. “We must face what was done to both of us!”

Faramir studied the King’s shoulder for a moment then looked away, as if stung. Aragorn touched Faramir's face, and then gently but inexorably turned his Steward's head back so that he had no choice but to see where his own hand rested.

“I know you carry the scar as much in your heart as I carry the brand above mine.” Aragorn stated. He moved his hand and rested it over Faramir's heart, which beat wildly, like the wings of a terrified bird. "The grief and guilt of the deed has festered within your loyal soul,” the King continued, releasing him. ”Do not let this brand be burned into your heart forever!”

“I will try,” Faramir replied doubtfully, amazed that the King should again speak of loyalty in connection with him. ”Whatever has happened to you, my lord?”

“The One told me to follow my heart,” Aragorn replied. “I see now that I was blinded by my pain and my pride.”

“I beg you to have a care about bathing here,” Faramir pleaded, more unsure than ever about the mysterious One. “It is not so long since you were close to death; you could take a chill. There could be hidden currents or other dangers lurking for the unwary! You do not even have a towel with you!”

“Fear not, I have swum in lakes and rivers far colder than this and been dried only by the sun's rays many times in my travels." Aragorn laughingly brushed aside Faramir's objections. It seemed almost a sacrilege to disturb the lake's still blue surface, yet he felt compelled to bathe here. The Creator had told him to let go of his burdens and then guided him to this place. Maybe, if he surrendered himself wholly, he might wash away the cares that lay heavy on his soul. A sudden breeze stirred up ripples, almost as if inviting Aragorn to come and immerse himself in the waters.

“As your Steward, it is my duty to protect you, you cannot swim in there alone!” Faramir protested. “There could be hidden currents or jagged stones poised to harm the unwary!"

“Then come with me!”

“I am not worthy,” Faramir replied. “I beg of you, my lord, do not take the chance of endangering yourself.”

“I have no authority to order you to join me, but I invite you to do so, Faramir. If you come, you must come freely and offer yourself completely!” Aragorn entreated him.

“No, thank you,” Faramir said firmly. Despite his longing to take his place once more at his King's side, he feared to offer himself to the unknown. Had his father not tried to offer them both up in fire, as if in some heathen rite?

Aragorn paused while unfastening his belt, and knelt on the ground. He gestured towards the delicate white flowers, which grew profusely along the banks. “Do you know what these are?” he asked Faramir.

“No, I have never seen flowers quite like them before,” Faramir frowned. “I know that the blue ones are sage, yet I have never before seen these fair white blooms. I am surprised, since thought I knew all the flowers of Gondor.

“They are niphredil!” Aragorn’s tone was filled with awe, “No evil can lurk here. This is the flower of the Elven kingdoms, which bloomed to greet my foremother Lúthien at her birth. It also blooms in Lothlórien. When I plighted my troth to Arwen, niphredil blossomed beneath our feet at Cerin Amroth. I never thought to see it in bloom elsewhere! I must try to preserve a few blooms to show to my lady. There is athelas here too, so my ancestors have visited this place before.”

Awestruck, Faramir reached out to gently caress the delicate white niphredil petals. He had read the old stories. He knew and loved the legends, especially that of Lúthien the Fair. It seemed today that the Quenta Silmarillion had come to life before his very eyes. He knew now that no harm would could to his King if Aragorn entered the lake. The very presence of anything connected to the Eldar conveyed a blessing.

Aragorn’s breeches were added to the scattered pile of clothing. Then, somewhat to Faramir’s surprise, Aragorn started to unlace his drawers. This lack of decorum was unusual, for the King always retained his undergarments when bathing anywhere save in his private chambers.

Aragorn noted his Steward’s shocked expression and said; “I must offer myself to the waters as I came from my mother’s womb, devoid of outward trappings.” He removed the leather ties he used to keep the hair out of his eyes and then took off his rings. He stowed them carefully within his clothing.

Shaking his head, Faramir retreated behind the ridge, pleading a call of nature, and desiring to leave Aragorn alone if he were so determined to take off all his clothes. The previous day's events still were painfully fresh in his memory and he had no desire to repeat them by joining his lord.

Aragorn felt almost in a trance as he undressed. The cool breeze, instead of biting at his exposed flesh, seemed rather to be caressing his skin. He felt no chill, even when the sun ducked behind a cloud. There was only ease in this hallowed place, and a sense of belonging, of welcome. Here he was more than a lord; he was a son of Arda, part of the trees and the wind and water and open skies. Gone was all trace of his usual shyness at being unclothed in front of others. Faramir’s presence did not perturb him. Nor did he feel troubled by the mark he bore upon his shoulder.

He waded confidently into the lake, his feet stepping on cool sand. The water met him, warm and inviting; drawing Aragorn into what seemed like a close embrace. When he launched himself outward in a steady stroke, the water burned like fire when it touched his shoulder, as if he were being branded anew. Yet, he cared not, as he swam towards the centre of the lake.

Aragorn laughed in mid-stroke, raising his head, but not stopping. He had always enjoyed a good swim, for in the water, he was almost as graceful as most Elves. But this; this was even better. He had rarely felt such utter joy in simply being alive. And for the first time since his ordeal in captivity, Aragorn knew peace of mind. The burden lifted from his heart. The pain, humiliation, and fear were leaving him, washing away, falling far into the deep or wafting up into the clouds, shot up by his kicking feet, he really did not care where. This place had magic, like the Elven realms before Beleriand's fall, or Rivendell under the protection of Vilya and Elrond.

He yearned to share this unfettered bliss and use it to ease Faramir’s tortured soul. Aragorn reversed course and started back to the shore.

When Faramir returned, he saw that the King had waded into the lake and now stood in the shallows, immersed up to his waist. Aragorn turned and beckoned to him.

Just then, the sun emerged from behind a cloud to bathe Aragorn’s body in its bright golden rays. Never had he looked so kingly, not even on the day of his coronation. The King’s eyes shone like stars, and the sun crowned him with glory.

A great eagle flew from a nearby peak and circled above his head. Aragorn stretched out his arms and stood rapt as its mighty form hovered dark against the sun. Tall and kingly Aragorn stood, a lord of the waters like his forefather Elendil, carrying his majesty in his own unadorned form.

Faramir fell on his knees, seeing Aragorn Elessar for truly what he was, as much a living legend as the White Tree, the wind lord, and the niphredil surrounding him. He sensed the presence of the Valar, perhaps even the mysterious One, conferring blessings upon his lord.

Although Faramir could still see the brand upon Aragorn’s shoulder, the flesh scarred by his hand no longer seemed capable of disfiguring so great a man. He knew then that whatever the cost to his own soul; he would hazard it again for Aragorn.

“Come!” the King called, his voice kindly and compelling. He beckoned towards his Steward, as he stepped backwards, deeper and deeper, until he was treading water some fifty feet from the shore.

Faramir could no more resist his call than he could have in that fateful hour in the Houses of Healing when they first met.

As if in a dream, he started to remove first his tunic, followed by his shirt, then the rings from his fingers. He placed the rings in his pocket and neatly folded his clothing into a tidy pile.

The icy wind seemed to bite the Steward’s exposed and still tender flesh. His boots and breeches consigned to the bank, he stood shivering in his drawers, wondering what madness was this for the Steward of Gondor to contemplate stripping to his skin on Mindolluin's heights. Yet this place must be hidden completely from the City, since not even a rumour about it had ever reached his ears.

“Come,” Aragorn called again, lifting one arm to wave. “Join me, Faramir!”

Faramir stared for a moment at the lake, and realised, as Aragorn had; that he need not conceal anything here. Before so pure and beauteous a lake, the idea of wearing drawers, indeed any clothes, to bathe in therein, felt almost like sacrilege. He shed his final garment and tentatively stepped into the lake.

His mind made up, Faramir waded out swiftly. He felt the skin of his upper body sting painfully for a few moments. His incessant scrubbing now seemed very foolish. It was not his body that needed cleansing, but his soul; and that was for the grace of the Valar alone to achieve when they chose.

The pain subsided and the water seemed to rise up to caress him, as natural as a soft breeze on his face, as he swam out towards his King.

Suddenly the guilt and misery that had plagued Faramir for months retreated, replaced by a wellspring of happiness that surged strongly within him, invigorating his weary soul. He laughed out loud, caring not that he took in mouthfuls of water and then sputtered it back out like a fountain. Aragorn swam forward to meet him and clasped Faramir's hand in greeting, a warm smile lightening his carven features.

They swam for what could either have been minutes or hours. Time seemed to have no meaning in this enchanted place.

Splashing and diving like the dolphins of Belfalas, their bodies felt as light as their hearts. The sunlight that sparkled on the surface of the water seemed to reflect their joy. Their arguments, even their rank, seemed petty now. All that mattered was this moment, and the great good fortune that they were both alive to share it. They were part of something greater now, their own limbs flowing into the water that enfolded them, and the skies that embraced land and lake: One world, one great source of water, and one exultant heart beating in two bodies. They were at one with each other, at one with air and water, earth and sky: at one with all of creation and its Creator.

Both men knew when it was time at last to return to shore, though no word was spoken between them.

Faramir and Aragorn clambered together from the water, their earlier unease forgotten and washed away. They shook their hair like wet dogs to help dry it, and then hastened into their sun-warmed garments.

Aragorn found tears coursing down his cheeks, though whether from joy or sorrow, he could not say.

He turned to look at Faramir, who was just finishing lacing his shirt, and saw that he was weeping too.

Then they were embracing each other, clinging together as easily and naturally as a beloved parent and child, the bitterness of the past months washed away with their tears.

“We are blessed indeed, ion nîn!” exclaimed Aragorn. Then he kissed Faramir on the brow for the first time in many long months. He gazed out once more across the lake. It had been so long since he was truly glad to be alive, but now he could have sung for the joy he had lived to see this day. “I think you were meant to discover this place!” he murmured, his arm still around Faramir's shoulders.

Aragorn and Faramir lingered on the shore, damp heads touching and sensing each other’s thoughts. This time, they sought no explanations but only reached out to sense the depth of love they felt for one another; a love, which like grass had been trampled and bruised, yet grew back all the stronger. They knew their full recovery would take time. They had, however taken the crucial first step towards healing.



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