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A Time to Reap
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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13
For the beauty of the earth

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

For the beauty of the earth,
for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies,
Refrain:
Gracious God, to thee we raise
this our sacrifice of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light, Refrain

Folliot Sandford Pierpoint, 1864

With grateful thanks to Raksha who wrote a considerable portion of this chapter.


~~~

“I know very little of your Ranger days either,” Aragorn replied.

“You must have far more adventures to relate,” said Faramir. “I spent most of my time at Henneth Annûn chasing Orcs and Southrons. Between the skirmishes, we had naught but endless patrols, with hours of tedium watching and waiting for the next attack.”

Sensing that the younger man yearned to hear a story, Aragorn relented. “I was a Ranger for more years than the span of your life,” he said. “All my stories would take many nights to relate; so tell me what you especially want to know.”

“About the very first time you joined your people,” Faramir requested.

“Our people,” Aragorn gently corrected him. ”I think I was but sixteen years old when my foster brothers asked if I would like to go on patrol with them. I knew I was no Elf, but one of the Dúnedain. My mother had told me something of our people without revealing my true identity. I was eager to meet them and see how they lived. Sometimes there were Dúnedain women and children sheltered at Rivendell, but I saw little of them. My days were filled with lessons in history, art, music, literature, healing, diplomacy and endless practising with the sword and bow.”

“You were lucky to be tutored in so many subjects and for so long,” Faramir said with a touch of envy.

“I realise that now, but at the time I yearned to be old enough to hunt down the Orcs that harassed our people and drove them to shelter at Rivendell,” Aragorn replied, inwardly vowing to share more of his Elven acquired knowledge with his Steward. “I was so excited when Master Elrond gave his consent to my going out on patrol. My poor mother was horrified. I think she feared I would fall like my father. We set out and rode until we came to a Dúnedain village. I can still remember how shocked I was at how poor and lowly the village seemed, especially when we were invited into a home to partake of refreshments. There it was that I first met Halbarad, who was my elder by fifteen years. He looked at me suspiciously, as if he knew who I was. I was introduced only as a stray orphan, Lord Elrond's fosterling. I later learned I was very like Arathorn in appearance; and that Halbarad had known and remembered him. We spent the night there and then rode out on patrol early the next morning, joined by some of the men from the village.”

“How many of you would ride out together?” Faramir asked.

“There were usually twelve men in each patrol, and about sixty altogether who patrolled the Northern Borders at that time.”

“And how does the land differ from Gondor?" Faramir enquired.

"The North has a more rugged and untamed beauty, with high rolling hills covered in heather; great forests and vast swathes of wild moor land. I hope to take you there one day.”

“I would like that very much!” Faramir’s eyes were shining as he spoke.

"The country that borders the Shire, though, is quite cultivated, green and lush. That first patrol seemed like a great adventure until I saw an Orc for the first time. I had never before seen such a creature, and the sight of him was worse than all the stories I had been told. And never before had I been so afraid!”

“You, afraid!” Faramir looked at him wide eyed.

“Very much so, I fear,” Aragorn confessed ruefully. “The Orc was hideous, a monster with a man's cunning. You could smell its hideous stench from two leagues away. Elrohir sent me to warn the village we had just left. When I arrived, I found the main troupe of Orcs was already attacking. One was chasing a little girl. I forgot my fear and plunged into battle, thrusting my sword through the ugly brute, then another and another. The Elves had trained me well; though after the battle was over, I was violently sick and my legs felt like jelly.”

Faramir nodded sympathetically. “I felt much the same after my first battle,” he said. “The first time you thrust your sword into living flesh…I remember it all too well. In time I became accustomed to it, but never could I take pleasure in the act of slaying.”

“If you ever delight in killing, the enemy has stolen your humanity and emerged the victor,” Aragorn said sombrely.

“Did anything else happen on that first patrol?” Faramir enquired, not wanting to dwell on the last time he had taken human life.

Aragorn sensed that his friend was remembering all he had been forced to do to save him from the traitors. Eager to distract Faramir, he said: “There is a much better way to share our stories! Come, lean your head against mine.”

”We could use Thought Sharing to tell stories?” Faramir sounded surprised.

“It is a much better way of sharing old memories than trying to describe them in words,” the King explained. “Our people can use the Thought Bond for far more than overcoming misunderstandings, summoning aid, and reassuring one other. You have barely touched yet, upon the many joys it can give. We should be able to actually relive each other’s adventures! Come, let us try it!”

Faramir leaned his head against Aragorn’s and found he could see the countryside; the village and its people that his King was trying to describe to him, and in turn share his own memories. It was much easier to share thoughts of the distant past than of recent events. They could still sense the lingering pain of the past in each other’s hearts and Aragorn sensed Faramir was still too disturbed by some memories to yet be ready to fully open his heart and did not seek to pry. However, their bond of companionship had become far stronger as had their mutual love and loyalty.

The twilight birdsong died away until only the occasional hooting of an owl and chirruping of crickets broke the night stillness.

Still Aragorn and Faramir sat shoulder-to-shoulder sharing their past adventures while they watched the moon rise over the forest.

At last Aragorn yawned. “Shall we sleep now?” he suggested. “I sense your thoughts are of curling up under your blanket! It looks as if it will be another fine day tomorrow.”

“It is sad a wonderful day like this must end, but I am weary too,” Faramir replied. “Can we continue sharing our memories tomorrow night?”

“Of course!” Aragorn smiled, ” I want to know more about the time Damrod pushed you in the river!”

“He said I needed a bath!” Faramir replied sheepishly, ”I was standing in the wrong place when a horse …”

“I think words will suffice in this case!” Aragorn chortled, getting to his feet.

They placed their bedrolls so that they could sleep side by side, and as it grew chill, huddled together in their sleep. No dark dreams troubled the sleepers, who slumbered soundly throughout the night.

It was dawn when Aragorn was awakened by the sound of falling rain. Little of it touched them under the thick canopy of trees. Faramir remained sound asleep with his head curled against his lord’s shoulder. This time, Aragorn felt no revulsion at their closeness, but rather pleasure that his Steward was again so at ease in his company. He did not have much in the way of family, or even close friends. Halbarad was dead, as were many other Northern Dúnedain friends and kinsmen. Elrond had sailed; and the twins made their home far away. Éomer was a worthy comrade and brother-king; but he also lived too far away for Aragorn to see him more than once or twice a year. As much as he enjoyed Legolas’ friendship, they could not spend much time together; the demands of their domains usually took them on different paths. But Faramir he loved in a different way than those others. As his Steward had worked alongside him to set Gondor to rights, he had become as much a son to Aragorn as a friend. Aragorn felt blessed that the Valar had seen fit to grant him this companionship. As much as he loved Eldarion, his fair little son was still an infant, far too young to serve as a companion to his doting father. It would be many years yet before they could go camping and hunting and share the other simple pleasures that a father and son should enjoy.

It was Faramir's age, perhaps, that had sparked the paternal affinity Aragorn knew he could never lose for him. Faramir had been born only three years after Aragorn and Arwen had finally plighted their troth; as might their own son have been if they had been allowed to carry out their hope of an early wedding. And Faramir resembled Aragorn, as had Denethor. The folk of Minas Tirith used to call Thorongil and Denethor 'Ecthelion's twin eagles' when the two rode out together. Aragorn remembered how the bonds of affection could bind as tightly as those of blood. He had been deprived of the chance to sire a son until he was ninety years of age. Faramir had been deprived of a father's love in full measure. Aragorn would gladly give him what Denethor had so sadly withheld. He realised that he had been in danger of making Denethor's mistake in his treatment of Faramir. He shuddered at the thought, but in truth, he had nearly followed Denethor's example of casting this jewel aside. Aragorn sighed, and went back to sleep, his arm curled protectively around the younger man’s shoulders.

Faramir awoke early. The rain had passed and dawn was painting the sky in beautiful shades of pink and purple, promising another fine day.

He was just uncurling his head from the King’s shoulder when he realised that Aragorn was awake and watching the sunrise. “I am sorry!” he said self-consciously.

“You will have the stiff neck not I, ion nîn!” Aragorn replied smiling.

Faramir’s response was to playfully head-butt him, another proof that their old comfortable friendship was restored.

“You obviously envy my fine Númenorean nose, as you have tried to knock it off since the day of my coronation!” Aragorn teased.

Faramir flushed slightly at the memory and then joined in the older man’s laughter.

“Amazing, that after all our misadventures, our noses have still remained intact!” Aragorn mused as he threw off his blanket and rose to his feet. He stretched like a cat and then brushed the grass and twigs off his hair and garments.

“There is a spider on your tunic!” Faramir warned.

Aragorn calmly brushed it off, shedding more leaves from his clothing.

Faramir laughed.

“What is so funny?” Aragorn demanded.

“I was just wondering what our wives would say if they could see us now!” Faramir replied.

“That we were old enough to know better!” the King replied. “Are you planning to lie abed all day?” He made a grab for Faramir’s blanket but the Steward was too quick for him and clung on grimly.

“You promised to make breakfast!” he reminded his friend.

“I will once you get up!” Aragorn retorted.

Faramir slowly sat up and stretched. To his delight, his pain and stiffness had disappeared. He felt better than he had done in months.

Aragorn hovered in case Faramir needed a helping hand as he got to his feet. “You look much better today,” he commented.

“I feel well and strong, thanks to you,” Faramir replied, “I shall be ready to ride once we have eaten.”

“Allow me to treat your back again first,” Aragorn asked. "It is just a precaution, to ensure that the pain will not return.”

Faramir nodded his agreement before striding off into the trees.

They splashed cold water from the stream on their hands and faces prior to eating. After breakfast Aragorn examined Faramir’s hurts and gave him further treatments. He was delighted and surprised how well they were healing. He pronounced his Steward fit to ride.

Aragorn and Faramir broke camp, leaving the heights of Mount Mindolluin as they had found them, careful that little trace of their visit remained to sully its wild beauty. It seemed likely to be another hot day. They were eager to set off ere the sun rose too high in the sky.

Despite the early hour, Anor blazed down upon them once they left the shelter of the woods. They were relieved when they found a shady lane heading towards Lossarnach.

After riding for about two hours through increasingly more settled countryside, Faramir and Aragorn saw the lands brighten into lush meadows and cornfields emblazoned with a riot of scarlet, blue and gold. Impudent poppies, cornflowers and buttercups reared their brilliant heads amidst the furrows of ripening corn. Faramir drew Zachus to a halt and sat drinking in the beauty of the fields before him. Butterflies and bees fluttered across the meadows while a scent of blossom hung on the summer air.

“Never did I dream, when I last passed this way that I would live to see these lands in the days of peace and plenty!” he exclaimed. “I had no time to stand and stare at the beauty around me, which makes it all the lovelier now! When Elestelle is older, I must bring her and Éowyn to show her just how fair and blessed our land is!”

“The rain will have brought all the flowers out, we are fortunate to see them at their best,” Aragorn said smiling at the younger man’s enthusiasm. He appreciated the loveliness himself, but having lived mostly in the North, which had been less touched by Sauron’s evil, he had seen many scenes of similar beauty.

They rode slowly, to better appreciate the view, by following a series of meandering pathways until the cornfields gave way to untilled land and the water meadows, which had been left fallow for hayfields in case of unseasonable flooding, the farmers not wanting to risk the precious wheat.

The path petered out before they reached the river. Aragorn and Faramir dismounted and tied their horses to a tree. By now, despite their best efforts to remain in the shade, they felt hot and sticky. By unspoken agreement they made their way down to the water’s edge to swim.

Aragorn looked around cautiously; “This seems a good place to bathe,” he said. “I think we are certain not to be disturbed. There are no buildings for miles around, and the grass is quite short which means the hay has been harvested.” He pulled off his shirt as he spoke.

Faramir looked around cautiously too and satisfied they were unobserved, added his own shirt to Aragorn’s on the grass.

Quickly, they undressed down to their drawers. They dived thankfully into the blissfully cool water and swam around contentedly, playfully splashing and ducking each other, more akin to schoolboys than the King of Gondor and Arnor and his Steward, the Prince of Ithilien.

Once they were sufficiently cooled, they reluctantly left the water before they began to tire.

“We forgot the towels!” Faramir lamented,” I will have to walk back to the horses and get them.”

“Why bother?” asked Aragorn, throwing himself down on the springy turf, made all the more lush by the recent storm. “We will dry soon enough in the sun.”

“But we cannot sit around wearing only our drawers!” Faramir protested, looking shocked.

“Why ever not?” Aragorn replied, “Who is there to see besides ourselves? We could wash our shirts now and hang them on a tree to dry at the same time.” He picked up the sweat soaked garment from where he had left it. Kneeling on the bank, he ducked it in the river, rubbing it vigorously.

Somewhat less enthusiastically, Faramir made to follow suit. He had become accustomed to removing his shirt for the King's treatments, but was used to donning it again immediately upon the completion of the treatment. It broke every rule of etiquette for a member of the Gondorian nobility to appear in public less than fully clothed. His father would have been outraged at such behaviour.

Seeing Faramir's hesitation, Aragorn snatched the garment from his hand and proceeded to wash it together with his own.

”When I was a child growing up in Rivendell,” Aragorn told him, “I was taught to enjoy the feel of nature’s gifts like the Eldar do. The sun, the wind, and the grass against my skin instead of only the feel of cloth.”

He wrung out the shirts and hung them on a tree to dry. Then he sprawled on the bank, luxuriating in the feel of the soft grass against his back and legs while the sun, cooled here by the river with a soft breeze, caressed the exposed skin on his chest and belly.

Faramir sat beside him, carefully positioned to be on the other side of the scar left by the brand, bolt upright with his arms crossed defensively. “This is the first time I have seen you do so,” Faramir replied, “I remember the occasion when the goats ate our clothes but we never intended to wander round wearing only our drawers. “

“When I left childhood, I lost my pleasure in the feel of the elements against my skin,” the King explained. “I developed the body of a man, imperfect and very different from an Elf's fair form, a body which I wished to conceal. Thus, I spent the next seventy years and more. Yet, when I lay in Dervorin’s dark cellar, there was nothing I desired more than to touch sweet grass beneath me, see the clear sky overhead and feel the sun and wind against my skin instead of stones against my back, coarse cloth and the blade of a knife! They had stripped me, so that I wore only my drawers, when they dragged me across the stone floor after they first captured me…” His voice faltered slightly as he recalled the dreadful memories. “Since you are hardly likely to tease me for being less perfect than an Elf, I thought I would indulge that wish today!” he concluded, smiling at Faramir.

“I am sorry, I did not think, …” Faramir flushed scarlet. “Would you rather I left to sunbathe in private?”

“How could you know? I only told you that you might understand,” Aragorn replied gently. ”I would much rather that you stayed to keep me company. We are comfortable together again now, I hope? Now, I know that you are no Elf, but could you not try to relax and experience the sun and the breeze like Elrond taught me to, while our linens dry? I will treat your back again later before you get dressed.”

Tentatively, Faramir uncrossed his arms and gingerly lay back on the grass as if he expected it to bite him.

TBC

~~~

A/N

In Britain, corn is wheat, not maize or sweet corn.


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