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A Time to Reap
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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14
Summertime and the livin' is easy

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

Summertime,
And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high – Gershwin

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass. – Walt Whitman

With grateful thanks to Raksha for all her help with this chapter, parts of which were written by her.


~~~

“Try to relax,” Aragorn said gently, “There is nothing to fear.”

“I know,” said Faramir, ”It just feels so strange sitting here wearing so little!” There was something more, a tingling of foreboding, that he could not understand. Probably he was just being foolish, it had been so very long since he had even thought of lying down half naked on the ground.

“Did you never sunbathe even with your brother, then?” Aragorn enquired.

Faramir shook his head, and answered: “When I was very young, and we visited Dol Amroth with our mother, Boromir and I would run all over the sands and through the grasses, by the sea, barefoot, clad only in our breeches. But later, after she died, Father forbade such disregard for the customs of our station. We would bathe in the Anduin sometimes, but were called out and made to dress and return home straight after our swim. Once we came of age, we could no longer swim for pleasure, except on rare visits to Dol Amroth. It was just too dangerous. As the days grew ever darker, my dreams that the King would one day come and restore our land, grew ever more fervent. But I imagined that a king would be more remote than my father - not someone who would encourage me to sunbathe with him!”

Despite his sympathy for Faramir’s shadowed youth, Aragorn was unable to stop himself from bursting out laughing. “I am sure you could never have imagined a wild Ranger from the North as your King,” he managed to say. ”I used to sit in the sun on rare occasions between pursuing Orcs in Arnor with Halbarad, but always we had to watch our backs. Just lie and take your ease in the grass, ion nîn, and hold yourself less stiffly, or your back will pain you again!”

Faramir obeyed and gradually became more comfortable. To his surprise, it did indeed feel good to lie there in the partial shade of a weeping willow and feel the dappled sunlight on his skin. “This is indeed quite pleasant,” he conceded.

“Poor Faramir, you never had much chance to be other than formal,” Aragorn said sympathetically. “Of course, we can only act thus with close friends or kin. I look forward to taking Eldarion swimming with us once he is old enough,” said Aragorn, “ I would have my son respect but not fear me, he should be at ease with his own father.”

“My father often said I was so puny and scrawny compared to my brother that everyone would laugh if they saw me unclothed,” Faramir suddenly confided.

Aragorn raised his eyebrows. “ That was a cruel and unjust thing to say, “ he said, eying Faramir thoughtfully and then himself, “You bear a true Númenorean form; tall, lean and muscular, built for speed and stamina as well as strength. You are too thin at present, but then, so am I. When I look at you, I could almost be looking at myself. Even our faces have a likeness, both cast in the Númenorean mould as well, with carven features. I am slightly taller, but otherwise, we could almost be twins, for there is little difference between us. These bodies have served us well enough, I think. We have proven ourselves as warriors, wooed and won fair ladies and sired children with them.”

“You truly think we are so alike?”

“You cannot ignore the evidence of your own eyes. You closely resemble your father and myself. Boromir was like your father in face, but not in build. At least, you no longer have to carry numerous battle scars like your father did.” Aragorn looked Faramir in the eye with compassion.

“My father was always too swathed in robes and armour to notice much about him, other than that he was tall. How do you know so much about him?” Faramir asked.

“When I served your grandfather, I was sometimes called upon to serve as a healer,” Aragorn explained. “It was not easy, for I had to conceal both the abilities of my line and the Elvish skills I had learned from Master Elrond; at least as best I could. I tended your father once when we rode together on patrol and he was badly hurt. The company's usual healer had been killed, so it fell to me to stitch up Denethor when he took a sword slash down his side, from shoulder to hip. He had little enough love for me before; and he liked me even less after I had cut away his clothing and tended him. Denethor was too proud to be beholden to any man. It must have annoyed him all the more that I was the one to save him in such a humiliating fashion. And I often wondered if my healing skills made him guess my true identity.”

“The hands of the King are the hands of a Healer,” Faramir murmured. “My father was a very proud man, I fear.”

With a sudden flash of insight, Aragorn realised he had been in grave danger of allowing himself to become like Denethor, by letting his feelings of humiliation at being cared for like a baby by his Steward poison their friendship. Not that he and Denethor had ever been friends, the heir to the Stewardship having rebuffed all his attempts at camaraderie.

“It was not only old Ioreth who knew the saying. I realised then I had to leave. Had it been made widely known who I was, civil war could have broken out, which would have played into Sauron’s hands. I could not put Ecthelion, who by then was old and frail, in the position of choosing between his son and me. He was a good man and I grew to love him dearly. His greatest, and perhaps only folly was to sometimes favour me above your father. It was never true that Ecthelion had no love for Denethor; he did love his son too. Gandalf once cautioned Ecthelion not to show his favour so openly to the people of Gondor, for fear of hurting Denethor. I was beside him, in the room, we three were having a private council over dinner.”

"What did my grandsire say to that?" Faramir questioned eagerly. All his life he had heard hints of the tension between Denethor and Captain Thorongil, and the love that his grandfather had bestowed upon the northern stranger who became Gondor's hero. He had never dared to ask his father: Boromir had been too young to remember Thorongil at all, while his Uncle Imrahil, although he remembered the northern Captain with great affection, had most of the time been away from the Citadel. He had wondered how his grandfather could have scorned his own son in favour of another man, no matter how brave, until he had come to know Aragorn, who had been called Thorongil. Aragorn was very easy to love, far easier than had been his own father.

Aragorn smiled warmly. "He laughed, and said it would do his son good to see that there was more than one bright star in the heavens. I think what Ecthelion truly meant, was that it would do Denethor good not to be the only bright star in Gondor, but I said naught. Gandalf just smiled. They both looked at me approvingly, as if I were a child who was coming along well in his lessons."

"Ecthelion had not invited my father to that council? He was the heir to the Stewardship!" Faramir wondered aloud, remembering how often he too, had felt excluded.

"Actually, he had,” Aragorn replied. “There had been a number of such dinners over the years, when both Denethor and I were in the City at the same time. And on each occasion, your grandfather treated us both fondly, and more and more as time went on, he treated me as a son rather than a valued Captain. Your father was not pleased. He kept quiet, and would barely answer either his father or me. Your grandfather was hurt, in his heart, he had never forgotten that Denethor was his son and heir; and Denethor was pained also, he felt that his father was trying to displace him. Denethor stopped coming to dinner when I was present, unless ordered. It was your mother who finally intervened, after Boromir was born, and spurred Denethor and the Steward to reconcile. In deference to her wishes, Denethor and I managed to maintain civility when we were with your grandfather."

Aragorn took a deep breath. There was more he needed to tell Faramir. The tangled web woven by Ecthelion and Denethor and which had later ensnared Denethor's own sons, was not of Aragorn's making; looking back, though, he feared neither had he been a fly caught helplessly in its strands. " I never sought to supplant your father, Faramir," he admitted. "At first I held back, and played the soldier, the Captain invited to his lord's table. But I grew to love your grandfather. I was lonely, far from what kin I had left. In my heart, I would feel almost as if I were Ecthelion's son and Gandalf's grandson. Not that I loved Elrond less, but I had not ever known a mortal father who so resembled me, and I also loved the wizard."

"As did I,” Faramir remembered. "I too, used to dream of Gandalf as a kinsman, so great was my trust in him. We were always at ease together."

"That is not all, Faramir." Aragorn continued. "I would also wish, especially when we were on campaign together, that Denethor and I could be friends, true brothers in arms. I admired his learning and valour in battle greatly. But on a few occasions, when I found myself basking in your grandfather's love, your father and I would vie for his favour like foolish boys. I did not want to behave in such a fashion, but I would try to best him with a word or two, sometimes even before he had goaded me. And then I would catch myself, and stop my tongue, remembering that such strife would serve only to benefit the Dark Lord.”

“Do not fault yourself for wanting the love that my grandfather freely offered,” said Faramir. Aragorn noted that his friend's eyes were shining, a fey look in them, as if part of Faramir were far from this place. "Maybe my father had so little love for me as I resemble you, then?” Faramir mused.

“That is possible. On the other hand, maybe Denethor saw in you what he could have been, had he less pride and more humility! He knew how well you could read the hearts of men, and the love you inspired in all who knew you.” Aragorn replied. ”Maybe sometimes we have inadvertently hurt each other too, because we are so alike in soul as well as appearance. I hope as the years pass we will learn to search our hearts first before we speak or act rashly, or rather I need to learn to do so.”

“You have given me all that he denied. He would never have spent time with me like this, even had he been able to spare so many days!” Faramir said softly.

“I am enjoying myself in your company!” Aragorn briefly reached to pat Faramir’s shoulder, vowing inwardly, that never again would he treat Faramir as coldly as Denethor had done. He was bitterly ashamed of himself now. “Had I started to become like him?” he asked. “I am sorry.”

Faramir shook his head. “You were never so harsh towards me, and you had good reason to be angry.”

”You have inherited your mother’s forgiving and gentle nature,” Aragorn commented.

“I am glad to have something of her in me too.” Faramir replied rather wistfully.

“I see a good deal of Finduilas in you,” Aragorn told him, “She had beauty of spirit as well as that of the body. You take your form and powers of the mind from your father, but are very like her in other ways. When I look at you, I can see her gentle eyes and slender hands. She gave you her Elvish traits: her dreams of other places and times, her warm and kindly nature, her love of music, her imagination. That is why we can Thought Share especially well.” He deliberately failed to add that Faramir also shared his mother’s sensitivity, and with it the danger of fading were his spirit sufficiently wounded. Everyone admired your mother for her beauty and kindness; and your father loved her deeply.”

“Now I am married, I can understand better just how cruel her loss must have been to him,” Faramir said thoughtfully.

“Those in whom the blood of Númenor run true are like the Eldar,” said Aragorn. ”They usually fall in love but once. Their passion burns brightly until their child rearing is complete, after which they spend a companionable old age together. To lose a mate during those years is sorrowful indeed, as it is rare for our people to remarry. My mother never married again either. Your father also shunned close friendships, which would have greatly eased his burdens. Your grandfather was very different for he opened his heart far more freely to those he loved. He was a man of wisdom and great kindness.”

“It gladdens my heart to learn more of my kin,” said Faramir. “I never knew my grandfather, and can scarce recall my mother. I have a new family now, but I still think of those who went before me.”

They lay in comfortable silence for a few moments, staring up at the sky, a clear azure blue dotted with a few high fluffy clouds.

“My sweet girl’s eyes like azure skies!” Faramir began.

“If that line refers to Éowyn, she will not be pleased at your lack of observation. Her eyes seem green in some lights, in others grey!” Aragorn cautioned.

“I was thinking of Elestelle and wondering if she would resemble my mother!” Faramir retorted. “It surprises me that you are you so familiar with Éowyn’s eyes!”

“I never forgot how she looked at me when I first met her at Edoras, there is no need to be jealous!” Aragorn replied good naturedly,” I had never seen such sad eyes in one so young and fair. I noticed then how they change colour in the light. Surely, it would please Éowyn more than Elestelle to have a poem written for her? You daughter will only appreciate your skills when she is older, by which time her eyes will be as grey as yours!”

Faramir frowned, and then began again. “ Behold my lady’s wondrous eyes, fairer far than summer skies. Her sun-gold hair, beyond compare, her lips surpass the poppy’s hue, she wears a gown of cornflower blue, my Éowyn, wife so fair and true!”

“I am sure Éowyn will appreciate the rhymes,” Aragorn commented dryly. “It is the thought that counts.”

“It is too hot to think. Can you do better?” Faramir challenged, stretching himself lazily. Much to his surprise, he now felt reluctant to dress once his clothes were sufficiently dried. It was oddly freeing to be devoid of outward trappings and the wind and sun felt pleasant against his bare skin.

Aragorn too, lay stretched out as luxuriant and contented as a cat sunning itself. “Fairer than the sun by day; the star of evening’s glorious ray, bathing me in radiant light, making morn and evening bright! Arwen, fairest evening star, watching o’er me from afar. My love, my Queen, my lady fair, wondrous wife beyond compare!”

“Hmm, I see you know how to wax lyrical at a moment’s notice,” Faramir conceded, “You did have the advantage of being taught by Elves though, so you should be a better poet than I!” He rolled over on his belly to allow his back to dry properly and propped himself up by his elbows. The grass tickled the more sensitive skin and he bit back an impulse to giggle at sensations he had not known since he was a young child.

Regarding Faramir with a healer’s eye, Aragorn was pleased to see that he looked so much better. The last of the red marks had disappeared, leaving the scar from the arrow wound as the only mark still disfiguring his skin. The King found his hand moving again to his own scar; unable to repress the urge to scratch. It looked slightly less angry today, and was no longer painful. However, the pain had been replaced by an annoying itch. To his surprise, he no longer felt anger or bitterness about the disfigurement. Today was the first time he had spent any length of time without brooding over it. In fact, until it itched, he had quite forgotten that it was there.

Faramir rolled over on to his back again and stretched, curling his toes round the soft grass. He sighed contentedly, glancing across at the King as he did so. To his astonishment, a beautiful swallowtail butterfly had alighted on Aragorn's chest and remained there with wings open. He blinked hard, unable to believe his own eyes. Butterflies rested with their wings closed. Maybe there was something wrong with it?

Yet, when he put out his hand, it swiftly fluttered away, only to be replaced by an equally resplendent scarlet and black beauty, followed by one that appeared to have eyes all over its wings.

Aragorn lifted his head to contemplate the colourful creatures and smiled at them with an almost childish delight. More and more gathered until they fluttered around him like a bouquet of exotic blossoms.

Faramir watched enthralled.

“How Arwen and Eldarion would love to see those!” Aragorn sighed, settling his head back on the grass again.

“I have never seen the like!” Faramir exclaimed in awe, looking at the King almost as if he expected him to spout wings and join the butterflies in flight.

“They must be attracted to the warmth of my skin or the salt on it,” Aragorn suggested.

Faramir leaned across and placed a finger upon his friend's chest. “Your skin is no warmer than mine!” he announced, “They must somehow know who you are!”

Aragorn laughingly shook his head. “It must just be the taste of my skin. It felt rather pleasant when their feet tickled, though.”

Faramir realised that again, he had been privileged to witness something of the usually veiled majesty of this remarkable man. A quality that both set him apart, while at the same time drawing all who knew him to love him; including even butterflies so it seemed. He felt he should be on his knees before him rather than at his side.

“We are in the 'Vale of Flowers', ” Aragorn said reasonably, apparently having sensed Faramir's thoughts and not wanting anything to disturb this interlude of comfortable companionship. Just then a single butterfly landed on Faramir's shoulder and stayed for a brief instant before fluttering away.

“See, they like you after all!” Aragorn teased.

“We should bring our wives here when the children are older,” Faramir said, ”Éowyn loves flowers and Elestelle already appreciates bright colours.

“She will be as wise as she is fair, and win high renown!” Aragorn suddenly pronounced.

“As her father, I hope she will, but how can you be so certain?” Faramir asked.

“A flash of foresight,” the King told him. “One that I am certain is true!”

“It is too warm for seeing the future, though I hope you are right!” Faramir yawned.

“Am I not usually?” Aragorn retorted smugly, sitting up as he spoke. He was dry now and reluctantly reached for his breeches and pulled them on. A king always be mindful of his dignity, however unlikely it was that he might encounter anyone.

Faramir followed his example and then reached for his shirt and boots. “I suppose we should get dressed and leave soon,” he sighed. “A pity, I was enjoying lying in the clover.”

“Truly? I thought you disliked being unclothed,” Aragorn teased.

“I do. It is just that the sun feels pleasant on my skin. There are none save ourselves to see,” Faramir admitted rather hesitantly, echoing Aragorn’s words earlier.

“We can stay here a while longer if you feel at ease,” Aragorn said, “It still feels too hot to dress properly. We can always don our shirts quickly in the unlikely event of anyone approaching.”

Faramir made no protest and lay back on the grass again beside his friend in companionable silence. He found himself studying the various flowers that carpeted the water meadow, marsh marigolds, buttercups and daisies. He must have trampled over them many times during his time as a soldier but this was the first time since childhood that he had been able to enjoy their beauty.

He discovered a four-leaved clover and was about to call Aragorn’s attention to it when he realised the King had fallen asleep. He looked peaceful, and somehow much younger. The years seemed to have fallen from him over the past few days and Faramir rejoiced. There were times since Aragorn’s ordeal when he had looked as prematurely aged as Denethor.

For a moment Faramir felt saddened that he had never shared moments like this with this father, but that thought was quickly replaced with gratitude at how blessed he was in being granted a kinder lord and father by far. He loved Aragorn deeply, with all the devotion he tried to give Denethor. The lack of fatherly warmth had withered Faramir's childhood affection into little more than filial duty he owed unto his father and lord. He had always hoped that one day Denethor would look at him with the fond pride he bestowed so freely to Boromir, rather than the cool, measuring glances his father usually gave him. There had been times when Faramir could believe that his father loved him, a small smile would appear on the Steward's stern face; a word of approval would escape the Steward's lips almost grudgingly. But then his father would speak of Boromir or to Boromir; his grim face would soften and that look, which was for Boromir alone, would brighten the Steward's eyes.

Aragorn’s affection and companionship more than made up for his father’s coldness.It had almost broken Faramir's heart when he felt he had lost the King’s love. He was determined not to dwell on the past though, not on a day like today.

Faramir listened to the birdsong, which seemed to have grown more rapturous each year since Sauron’s defeat, then watched a family of swans glide lazily down the river. This idleness was strange to him, but he had to admit that he did not dislike the sensation of having nothing to do but drench his senses in the beauties of his land. He returned to his observation of the meadow, this time studying the grasses. At the water’s edge, some had escaped the haymaker's scythe and were quite long, the seed heads blowing gracefully in the breeze. These tall meadow grasses were so attractive that Éowyn often included them in the displays of flowers with which she adorned their home.

He plucked a tall strand of rough-stalked meadow grass and trailed it lazily across his skin, enjoying the tickling sensations as he ran it up one arm, down his chest and belly, then across the other arm. Aragorn was right. It was a pleasant sensation to feel something other than cloth against his skin. He then tried the feel of the silky fox-tailed variety against his bare skin. He thought back again to those blessed days of sunshine and sand and sea in Dol Amroth: romping with Boromir, playing in the waves, the faces of his uncle and grandfather. But he could not remember his mother's face; only the echo of her voice and the comfort of her hands. He did recall, faintly, the sound of her laughter. Those were joyous times. He and Boromir would tickle each other with the stalks of long grass, pelt each other with seaweed, and happily wrestle. Ah, Boromir, he thought; I miss you still.

Faramir lay back again, thinking perhaps he could follow Aragorn's example and sleep. He was somewhat wearied after their long ride. But for some unknown reason, he could not close his eyes here. Behind his tired eyes, Faramir kept seeing the image of the Haradrim's serpent banner falling to the ground in Ithilien during that last ambush he had led; the sinuous motion of it, a black snake on red, slithering in the grass as if alive. But there were no Haradrim here. Lossarnach, Gondor's vale of flowers, was as fair and free of danger as any Elven-wood. He just found it difficult to relinquish a Ranger's natural concern for hidden peril even in so lovely a place that was all. Aragorn would probably find such wariness amusing, and jest with him about his reluctance to relax and enjoy such rare time away from their duties.

He sat up and glanced across at his friend. The King was still lying with his eyes closed, snoozing in the afternoon sun. The regular rhythm of his breathing, the rise and fall of his chest, suggested that he was sound asleep, a fact confirmed a few moments later by the occasional snore.

Faramir could not resist. He plucked an even longer strand of grass and started to tickle his lord's chest with it.

Almost immediately, the King's eyes flickered open. Faramir dropped the grass and lay still, an expression of supreme innocence on his features.

Aragorn regarded him thoughtfully for a moment and then closed his eyes again.

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