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11
Singing in the wilderness

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

Chapter eleven – Singing in the Wilderness

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Omar Khayyám (d. 1123), Persian poet. The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám of Naishápúr (l. 45–48). . .

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


~~~

The wind had grown stronger and whipped through the men’s damp hair, blowing it across their faces. “It grows chill. I think we should return to our camp site.” Aragorn said, noticing the cooler air as he finally released Faramir.

“I thought you liked the cold,” Faramir teased. “You must be getting old!” He felt somewhat unsure exactly how to proceed after the recent exchange of strong emotion. Yet the habit of banter with his liege lord felt easy and natural once more, like stepping into a comfortable pair of boots after wearing stiff, tight new ones.

“I do not feel the cold like you do!” Aragorn retorted with welcome good humour. “A brisk walk down the mountain will soon warm you up!”

King and Steward started down the mountainside at a brisk pace, helping each other over the most difficult terrain.

They paused to catch their breath at the Hallow where they had admired the view earlier, sprawling beside each other on the grass.

“Thank you for bringing me to this sacred place, after all that has happened,” Faramir said quietly. ”I admit that I did not want to come, but now I will always remember this day with joy. I cannot wait to tell Éowyn about it!” His eyes searched the horizon until they rested upon Ithilien. He shut his eyes trying to picture Éowyn sitting in her herb garden with their daughter and niece.

Aragorn placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I am sorry!” he murmured. “I should never have blamed you; you gave everything for me; far more than I could ever have demanded or expected of you.”

“I would do it again,” said Faramir with total sincerity, leaning his head against Aragorn’s hand. “There will always be dark hours of the night when I will be troubled by my actions. Yet in my heart I know I would hazard all again to save you; even my very soul or what remains of it!”

Aragorn turned to look at him directly. “Your soul is as intact as it was on the day I first knew you, mellon nîn,” he said firmly. “You lost your innocence mixing with traitors, but never your soul! I have met many on my travels, who did indeed lose their souls to the Dark Lord. The loss of light is easy to see in their eyes, where there is nothing save emptiness. You can only lose yourself when you seek to gain, not when you risk all for another.”

“I perceive it all differently now,” Faramir mused. “I wonder what really happened to us at the lake?”

“The One bestowed a blessing by allowing you to find it. That is all we need to know,” Aragorn replied. ”Arwen would probably understand better. I know only, that never before had I felt so at peace. It was like being born anew.”

“I felt I could somehow understand clearly,” Faramir said. He gestured into the distance. “I knew that you and the land are one. Yet, I cannot find the right words to explain how I knew.”

Aragorn laughed. “Maybe, we should not try to. I felt as one with all creation and yet I am just one man! Come on; let us get something to eat. I am suddenly very hungry!”

“Then let your friend provide you with supper!” Faramir promised. He then swallowed hard as this was the first time in months that he had called himself his lord's friend. Since Aragorn did not contradict him, Faramir did not correct himself.

000

Faramir was as good as his word and shot two conies with his bow. He was about to prepare them for supper on his own, but tonight Aragorn insisted on helping him. They ate in companionable silence, then washed the dishes and prepared to lay out their bedrolls as the shadows lengthened.

Aragorn started to hum softly to himself.

“What is that tune?” Faramir asked, ”It is vaguely familiar and yet I cannot place it.”

”You know the words I am certain. It is ‘The Lay of Lúthien’” Aragorn told him, smiling.

“Will you sing it to me please?” Faramir entreated with an almost childlike eagerness.

“I thought you were a little old for bedtime stories!” Aragorn teased.

“I know, but this is the first I have been on a camping trip like this,” Faramir told him.” When I was a child, I yearned for my father to take me with my brother when they went camping together. I was never allowed to go with them. My brother was after all, the heir. The years passed until I joined the army and all thoughts of camping out for pleasure were banished from my mind. Yet, always I dreamed of sitting around the campfire, singing the old songs.”

His friend’s calm recitation wrung Aragorn’s heart. He had spent many happy hours in his youth camping out in Rivendell with his foster brothers. Together with Lord Elrond, they had tried very hard to make up to him that he was fatherless. More than ever, he wanted to make it up to Faramir for all the bleak years his Steward had known. It might have been better for Faramir to be fatherless than to have had a living but unloving father. Aragorn moved closer to Faramir, patted him on the shoulder, and then began to sing the familiar words in a deep resonant voice.

The Steward listened rapt at the power of his King's voice. He had heard the Lay of Lúthien before, at his uncle's court in Dol Amroth, and, very rarely, in Minas Tirith. Sometimes it seemed to him that he had also heard the Lay sung by a woman, in a voice distant yet familiar. But he had never heard it sung so movingly. “That was wondrous!” he exclaimed.

“I sang it to the Hobbits when I took them to Rivendell, but only Frodo understood the words,” Aragorn told him. “This song is very special to me. I have only to sing it to be reminded of my fair Arwen. I was a mere lad of twenty, and had just learned of my true name and lineage, when I first beheld her, as I walked through the birches in Imladris, singing the Lay of Lúthien. I thought she was Lúthien herself, reborn even more beautiful than her legend!” The King stared dreamily in front of him for a few moments, lost in memories.

“I can believe the Queen is as beautiful as Lúthien the Fair,” said Faramir.

Aragorn chuckled. “I certainly think so, but do not let Éowyn hear you praise another lady thus!”

“Éowyn is the fairest of all mortal women,” Faramir said firmly. “Your lady is of the Eldar. Éowyn would be the first to admire her beauty.”

“Lúthien was unique as a child of Eldar and Maiar,” said Aragorn. ”Yet, somehow I cannot imagine Arwen as being any less fair than her foremother. Strange to think we are both children of Lúthien, though Arwen is far closer in kinship than I.”

Faramir wondered if his ancestry was why Aragorn could appear in such glory and majesty as he had done earlier that day, or whether it was simply a quality of the man himself. To look at him now, there appeared nothing very remarkable about him. He was privileged to know that the glory and majesty was always there however veiled. “You have restored the glory of the line of kings!” he exclaimed.

Aragorn chuckled again. “Only history will relate whether or not that is so!” he said.” I can only try my best. You know the words of the Lay of Lúthien. Shall we sing it together? The tune is a northern one but I would think it well within your range.”

“My voice would not do justice to the song!” Faramir protested.

“What does it matter if you sing like a frog? Singing should be for the pleasure of it and what better place than here in the wilds.” The King replied.

“But surely not the Lay of Lúthien?” Faramir said uneasily.

Aragorn said naught, merely threw him a gentle question in his grey gaze. Faramir spoke again, quietly: "My father told me not to sing it before him; that the Lay was too important to our people to be sung by anyone less than a trained bard."

"Ah." Aragorn looked sad. "Faramir, would it surprise you to know that I heard your father sing the Lay of Lúthien to your mother, and once heard her sing it to Boromir when he was but a babe? He had a fair voice, your father, and I could see the love in his eyes as he sang the verses and looked upon your mother. Perhaps when Denethor heard you sing the Lay, your voice reminded him of her, and he could not endure such a reminder of her loss."

"Perhaps..." The woman's voice in the deep places of his own memory; was it that of his mother, wondered Faramir. He would have to ask Imrahil. How strange to think of his father singing!

Aragorn began to sing again and this time Faramir joined in; at first tentatively and then with increasing confidence.

The Steward was gifted with an expressive baritone voice, which blended well with Aragorn’s rich bass. The two voices were well matched as they mingled in the clear evening air, singing the greatest story of love and courage in all the Ages of the Sun.

As their voices died away, Anar sank low over the horizon, her dying rays shooting glorious shades of pink and crimson into the western sky. Faramir and Aragorn savoured the Sun's beauty as she faded in the West, sinking over the horizon, even as Númenor had disappeared from sight.

Aragorn thought of his lady. Did the Evenstar's thoughts travel with the setting sun to her kin in Valinor and the immortality she had relinquished? Often he wondered what it must be like to watch the sun set for so many hundreds of years? Surely the swiftness of mortal life made each magnificent sunset like the one they had seen this eve seem all the more fair, all the more wonderful.

They banked up the fire and prepared for sleep. “The air is growing chill, let us place our bedrolls alongside each other,” said Aragorn. ”I would have you at my side. We should both sleep more soundly thus.”

Joyfully Faramir complied.

Despite their weariness, the two men lay awake side by side awhile looking up at the stars and pondering the day’s events. It felt as if a great weight was slowly lifting from their hearts and being replaced with an inner peace.

000

During the night by the rain pattering down on their faces roused them from slumber. Luckily, the fire was sheltered and had not gone out.

Aragorn blinked in surprise. After such a clear and brilliant sunset, rain was unusual. Unlike the storm of the previous night, this was a gentle refreshing rain, which was soaking and reviving the earth. Aragorn licked the drops from his lips. It tasted sweet and refreshing.

They quickly moved their bedrolls under thicker cover to provide more shelter, and then promptly fell asleep again.

***

The sun was already high in the sky when Zachus’ neigh rudely awakened them.

“He wants a fresh place to graze,” Faramir groaned. “He truly has the appetite of a carthorse!”

“Well, he does look rather like one. A worthy steed though!” Aragorn conceded, as he sat up and threw off his now sun dried blanket.

Faramir tried to do likewise but to his dismay found he could hardly move. He grimaced in pain, and then quickly tried to disguise his discomfort.

“What is wrong?” Aragorn enquired anxiously.

“It hurts to move a little, I must be stiff,” Faramir replied, trying to ignore the spasms in his side, back and shoulders.

“You probably pulled a muscle when you prevented me from stumbling yesterday, “ Aragorn replied. He hesitated for a moment wondering what he should do. Healing had brought great sorrow upon him and he had inwardly vowed never again to try to heal anyone. Yet, here was Faramir, the man who had saved his life, the friend he loved, in obvious pain. How could he just ignore it? He could use his abilities again, just this once then suggest that Faramir see Tarostar or Aedred once they returned to Minas Tirith. He took a deep breath.” I will see if I can aid you after we have had breakfast, if you will permit me.” He rose to his feet and held out his hand to help Faramir to his feet. His own shoulder was burning and itching again. He determined to look at it as soon as he was alone.

“Thank you,” Faramir replied somewhat doubtfully, both dreading and desiring the King’s ministrations.

Aragorn built up the fire, put some porridge on to cook, and then wandered off amongst the trees to answer nature’s call. Before he returned, he pulled aside his shirt and inspected the brand. It looked rather angry and inflamed and in need of a surreptitious application of salve when Faramir was not looking or his friend would be distressed by it. Would he ever be free of this constant pain?

He went to the stream and splashed water on his hands and face before joining Faramir at the campfire. The Steward was rather awkwardly stirring the cooking pot, trying valiantly to hide his discomfort.

While he was distracted, Aragorn hastily applied some calendula salve to his shoulder, which eased it.

“What shall we do today?” Aragorn enquired while they sat side by side on the upturned log eating their porridge. “I am sure you know of more places to visit than I do.”

“I am loth to leave this mountain,” said Faramir. “But I know it will be lovely in Lossarnach at this time of year. We could make our way there by following the river if you wish. The fields will be ablaze with poppies and cornflowers.”

“That sounds a pleasant destination,” Aragorn replied. “A pity I have no drawing materials or I could sketch the flowers for Arwen.”

“You can draw as well? Is there no limit to your talents? Faramir exclaimed.

“Being raised by Elves, I was expected to learn drawing, poetry and music as well as the arts of warfare, government and diplomacy,” the King replied.

“I cannot help but envy you,” Faramir said with a sigh. "My father was furious when I wanted to study music and lore beyond the minimal standards of a lord's son,” Faramir sighed. “I learned to understand, when I was older; that the Steward of Gondor could not allow his son to lose himself in the gentler arts while other men's sons trained for war under the threat of Shadow. I intend Elestelle to have a more divers education, but I will try to allow her to focus on what most pleases her to learn.”

“She might most enjoy swordplay!” Aragorn laughed. ”I am sure Éowyn would like that!”

“And she shall teach her if she so wishes, though I hope she prefers poetry!” Faramir replied. “Naturally, I hope she will prove a good horsewoman or Éowyn will be heartbroken, especially as she has Snowdrop waiting for her!”

“A Mearh will be a horse fit for a Queen! Eldarion will envy her!”

“I shall ask Éowyn to persuade her brother to save the next Mearh foal for your son. It would only be fitting.” Faramir looked troubled.

“Peace, I was only teasing you, mellon nîn!” Aragorn replied, placing a placating hand on Faramir’s shoulder and noting how he flinched with pain at the light touch. ”Eldarion is not a child of the House of Éorl, whereas your daughter is, which entitles her to such a horse. Éomer has already promised me the pick of his herds for Eldarion when he is old enough.” He rose to his feet and picked up the empty dishes. “I will wash these and then see what I can do about your aches and pains.”

Faramir also rose, though very awkwardly. “No, sire, the King of Gondor should not wash dishes! I will wash them!”

“I have washed dishes in streams since before you were even a twinkle in your father’s eye!” the King answered, grinning. "You can hardly move this morning and at the moment I do not think you will get up again if you bend! Besides, the kingship does not render me quite helpless neither does my age!”

Faramir was left sitting on the log musing over the unfairness of the fact that a man more than twice his age seemed far more capable of climbing a mountain without pulling a muscle than he was. Perhaps the purer lineage of the Northern Dúnedain was responsible for Aragorn’s stamina.

Aragorn returned a few moments later, stowed the clean dishes in his saddlebag. He took out a blanket and spread it on the grass.

“Come!” he said, “we will sit here, while I tend you. The grass is still damp which will worsen the stiffness.”

“I am sure I will stop hurting once I move around more,” Faramir protested. It had been so good; to bask in the flow of Aragorn's renewed warmth. He feared the possibility his King might still treat him with the cold touch he had used since the dreadful day Faramir had branded him.

TBC



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