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A Time to Reap
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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21
We are here to help each other

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

We are pilgrims on a journey And companions on the road; We are here to help each other Walk the mile and bear the load. - Brother, sister, let me serve you - Richard Gillard

With grateful thanks to Raksha


~~~

Far too wearied to prepare something for their own supper, let alone catch it: the King and Steward gladly accepted the farmers' invitation.

The meal proved a surprisingly cheerful affair. Young and old country-folk gathered at rough tables set around a large fire, and spoke between hungry mouthfuls. There were far more women in the prime of life than men, a condition that was sadly prevalent over most of Middle-earth since the Ring War's end.

The women carried in platters heavily laden with food: tomato soup, a salad of cucumbers and beans, fire-grilled chicken, ample loaves of the thick bread they had served earlier in the day, and sweet, juicy pears. To Aragorn's amusement, Tasariel fussed over him and Faramir, piling their plates with food and refilling their cups with the strong red wine that had been made in Lossarnach since before the coming of the Sea-kings. She seemed to think they both needed looking after, and took special pleasure in watching them both eat. Aragorn had to admit that the plentiful food satisfied a raging hunger. Faramir also ate well, his pale cheeks reddening with the glow of good food and drink.

At first the talk centred on the harvesting, which was evidently proceeding well. Then, gradually, the farmers' conversations turned to Fontos, the Lord of Lossarnach.

“It was unfair of the King to send our lord into exile,” remarked a broad-shouldered youth who looked to be eighteen or nineteen, and quite proud of his newly adult status. “He only wanted what was best for us, a future king we could call our own, rather than one with only Northern roots and Elf blood.”

“Lord Fontos was very lucky that the King had mercy on him,” contradicted a greybeard with a sere countenance, who from the amount of respect afforded him, was probably the village headman. “Lord Denethor would have sentenced him to a traitor’s death without hesitation.”

“What’s a traitor’s death? Surely dead is dead?” a little girl of about nine enquired.

“That’s something you are fortunate not to know about,” a woman, whom Aragorn and Faramir guessed was the child’s mother, replied. ”King Elessar is a good and kindly man, who hasn't decreed such a punishment even when he had just cause.”

“I still think it ain't right that our lord was sent off like a beggar into exile, while the Steward got off free and clear!” the young man persisted.

“Thoron, take care what you say when strangers are present!” the old man cautioned, glancing anxiously in the direction of Aragorn and Faramir.

“The King does not mind what people say. He would only punish those who raise their hand in rebellion against him,” Aragorn said seriously, though he looked troubled.

Faramir, though furious at the boy Thoron's impertinence, felt a surge of joyous relief at further proof that the King he knew and loved was restored. Faramir remembered their dark days at the farmhouse, when he had heard Aragorn bitterly rail against all who might oppose him, and threaten dire punishments for even speaking against him.

“And how would you know that?” demanded the belligerent young man, before gulping down a cupful of wine in one noisy swig.

“We have heard him say so when he has spoken to his troops and instructed us how to treat people who speak ill of him,” Faramir replied, trying to keep a straight face.

“Well, he'd better tell his soldiers not to touch our crops or our women then!” the young man declared, ending the demand with a loud belch.

“What?” Aragorn’s indignation rose with such great haste that he almost let his disguise slip.

“The King has strictly forbidden such outrageous behaviour in his men-at-arms!” Faramir said angrily. “If anything like that were to happen, you should send a message telling the King what has happened. The King’s soldiers are under orders to pay for any food they need, and not to molest women.”

“Even if the King did give such orders, he could hardly watch every all his soldiers wherever they roamed,” Thoron replied scornfully. “Our Lord Fontos was our only shield; without him, we're defenceless!”

“The King cares for your welfare just as much as the Lord of Lossarnach,” Faramir said firmly, trying to control his anger.

The youth snorted. “And would he listen to poor people like us if we were oppressed? I don’t think so! Where was the King when Gondor faced the Enemy alone for all them long years? In the North, no doubt, tending to his own folk in Arnor, or hiding with the Elves.”

“He would listen and take action.” The people looked in surprise at the fervour in Aragorn’s tone. “I have severely punished looters during the war. Noticing that the farmers were looking at him curiously, he added, “I was a Captain of the Rangers.”

“I have heard Ar- um Ada deal most harshly with any soldiers who oppress the King’s folk,” Faramir added.

“Should we be impressed having a Captain in our midst?” sneered Thoron. “I suppose now you will tell the King everything I said?”

“The King will hear nothing from me,” said Aragorn, fervently wishing he could give this impudent lad the scolding he richly deserved.

“I have not yet properly welcomed you to our village, Captain Morrandir, and your son, Master Falborn,” the greybeard spoke up suddenly, eager to prevent a threatened argument. “Forgive my lack of courtesy. I am Borlach, headman of this village. We are grateful for your aid.” He nodded at the two strangers.

“My son and I are pleased to help repair the damage that we unwittingly caused,” Aragorn replied, nodding his head slightly to answer Borlach's greeting.

“You must find it very dull here compared with Minas Tirith,” said Borlach. ”Still, the air is fresh and sweet out here, I reckon, and 'twill help cure your son, Captain Morrandir.”

“The fool was drunk, not sick!” said the youth.

Aragorn now recognised the rude young man as one of the group who had confronted him and Faramir.

“Silence, Thoron!” Borlach chided. “Show some manners to our guests!”

“We find your village far from dull, Headman Borlach,” Aragorn replied truthfully. "As for my son, he was suffering from the effects of a kind of poison, and was certainly not drunk!” He placed a comforting hand on Faramir’s shoulder, seeing that the younger man had flushed uncomfortably at the mention of his nocturnal escapades. “I thank the Valar that my son is gradually regaining his health and strength.”

“It gladdens my heart to see a father and son so devoted to each other,” said Borlach. ”I lost my own younger son on the Pelennor with Lord Forlong, and my sister-son as well.” The greybeard quieted for a moment, his eyes distant. Then he struggled to stifle a yawn. “It grows late; we should seek our beds. Thoron, you will take the first watch tonight!”

The youth scowled at him but said nothing.

Plates were scraped and cups hastily drained as the villagers prepared for the hours of darkness ahead. A barefoot little boy who looked be about eighteen months old began to wail his weariness, and was swiftly taken up by a young woman with a gentle face and grey eyes.

“You can stay here for the night,” Borlach offered. “We have an empty hut which belonged to one of the men who died recently.”

Aragorn looked doubtful. “By the time we have crossed the field to get our bedrolls, we might as well stay at our campsite,” he said.

“We can lend you some bedding,” the old man replied, “There is no need for you to walk so far and further weary yourselves. More hard work awaits us all on the morrow.”

“Well, I am not certain if...” Aragorn tried to find a valid excuse but none came to mind. They had their packs with them and the horses were well provided for with fresh water and grazing.

“It grows cold at night, so at least you will be under cover,” Borlach persisted. “Then in the morning, you will hear the cock crow to rouse you.”

Reluctantly, the King consented. It seemed churlish to refuse because of his dislike of confined spaces. Also, he was so weary; he felt he could happily go to a roadside ditch, if only he could lie down there. He desperately needed to sleep and rest his aching back and shoulders. He nodded to Faramir that they should accept.

Aragorn rose, intending to follow the old man, only to find that his back was so stiff that he could hardly move. He stilled a groan as Faramir helped him to his feet.

“Are you in pain?” Tasariel enquired from the far side of the fire.

“A little,” Aragorn conceded, ruefully rubbing the small of his back.

“Wait a moment!” called the farmer’s wife, disappearing into her hut. She returned a moment later, clutching a jar, which she handed to Aragorn. ”We all use this balm on the first few days of the harvest,” she explained. “It works wonders for sore muscles. Get your son to give your back and shoulders a good rubbing with it.”

“My thanks, Mistress Tasariel,” said Aragorn.

“Assuming Master Falborn can get his father to remove his shirt!” Beleg said dryly.

Tasariel and her daughter in law tittered.

“Maybe I should help you?” Emerwen suggested. "I know well how to soothe a man's weary muscles.”

“I am sure my son and I can manage,” Aragorn said hastily.

The King and the Steward followed the farmer to a thatched hut at the far end of the village.

Seeing them approach, Galador fetched a lamp, which he set on a small table inside the dwelling. It seemed that nothing had been moved since the hut's former occupant had died so suddenly. A heap of fairly clean straw with a blanked folded atop it served as the sleeping area. A single rickety chair stood by the table as if the owner had just arisen from a meal. The ashes still lay untouched in the hearth.

“There you are!” said Borlach, “There is room enough for the two of you. Tasariel is bringing some water for you. We’ll see you in the morning. Rest well, and be careful not to fall asleep while the lamp is burning!”

He turned and left, followed by the young farmer. Tasariel brought a pitcher of water and a bowl. She placed it beside the lamp. “I wish you a peaceful night,” she said before taking her leave.

As soon as the villagers were out of earshot, Aragorn flopped on the straw and groaned. “Whoever thought that cutting corn would be so hard!” he exclaimed. “My shoulders, my back! I have discovered muscles that I had no idea existed! What a day!”

“I did warn you!” Faramir said a trifle smugly, eying the chair with a view to sitting on it, and then deciding the floor looked a safer and more comfortable option.

He rummaged in his pack for a clean shirt and a towel; them peeled off his sweat soaked garment and splashed some of the cold water over his face and upper body. His ablutions completed, he made to don his clean shirt. ”Nothing to beat cold water and a clean shirt!” he sighed. “One forgets how good simple things can feel.”

“Come here before you dress,” said Aragorn “Let me see how the bite is healing and tend your bruises. How do you feel?” He rummaged in his pack, which was beside him and took out a jar. Next, he unearthed his cloak and spread it over the straw as a precaution in case the bedding was less clean than it looked.

“Not too bad,” the Steward replied. “I am just a little tired.”

“You had better let me put some salve on your hurts before you sleep,” Aragorn said.

Obediently, Faramir sat down beside the King. Yawning, Aragorn applied the ointment to the now purple bruises. It seemed that the previous day’s healing had worked, though, as they were far less painful to the touch. The bite was also healing nicely.

“You will soon be fit for a hard day’s reaping!” Aragorn told him.

“I do not mind doing it tomorrow. It seems unfair you should be working so hard, when I am just tying up sheaves.” Faramir replied, donning his shirt as he spoke.

“I was but jesting. You need time to recover.”

“Are you not going to bathe?” enquired Faramir. ”I left you some water. We can wash our shirts in what is left to have something clean to put on tomorrow.”

“I will wash if I can get my shirt off,” lamented Aragorn. ”I can hardly lift my arms!”

“Let me help you.” With Faramir's deft assistance, the sweat-stiffened shirt was eased over Aragorn’s head between the groans the disguised king could not help emit. He had spent countless long years in the wild bereft of any luxuries, but never had he yearned for hot water and a proper bath in which to soak his sore muscles as much as he did tonight. Even the Undying Lands would not have seemed a fairer prospect to him than the giant tub in his own apartments, filled with steaming water and fragrant with Elven healing potions meant to soothe an aching body. He washed quickly, the icy water only serving to accentuate his pain, then rinsed his shirt in the remaining water.

Aragorn uncorked the pot of ointment that Tasariel had left and sniffed it. “Comfrey, arnica, and lavender mixed with goose fat,” he pronounced. “It might be better than comfrey alone. It would be more effective if I drank a tincture of horsetail as well, but I ache too much to go looking for some tonight. I will do as the good woman suggests, if you would be so kind as to rub the ointment on my back.” Handing the jar to Faramir, he stretched face downwards on the spread cloak.

Dutifully, the Steward took the ointment and quickly applied it to Aragorn’s broad shoulders and down the length of his back to the base of his spine, where he assumed his friend was hurting.

Aragorn sighed then settled more comfortably.

“I have put on a thick layer of salve,” Faramir informed him, seeing that his lord had made no move to don his shirt again.

“I was hoping you would massage it in for me, please.” Aragorn replied, remaining where he was.

“But I lack your skills! I know nothing of the Elven laying on of hands,” Faramir protested, sounding very taken aback. “I am no healer!”

“As I know full well,” Aragorn replied calmly, “But your hands are skilful, Faramir. If you can control a horse with your hands, or fire a longbow, you can assay this treatment. Just rubbing the ointment into my skin will ease the pain considerably. The warmth of your hands will heat the ointment and conduct its healing powers more effectively into my muscles. I would do it myself but I am too stiff to reach tonight!”

“I..um..er I do not know if..” Faramir stammered miserably.

Aragorn sat up stiffly and looked at him. “Does it remind you too much of when you had to care for me in the cave?” he asked gently.

“In a way,” Faramir replied. “I felt so helpless then.” He much regretted that such a simple task seemed beyond him, when Aragorn had spent hours giving him Elven treatments.

“And I was a most ungrateful patient, which cannot have helped, “ Aragorn said quietly. “I think you have learned to accept what healing is offered to you, but know not how to freely reach out yourself.”

Faramir nodded, suddenly all too acutely aware that even his baby daughter usually was the first to offer a chubby finger to entwine around his.

Aragorn suddenly remembered what Steward Ecthelion had told him of his son's coldness, how Denethor shunned most displays of affection. Aragorn had wondered at Denethor’s icy demeanour when he saw him amongst his family and friends, even when walking in public with Finduilas’ loving hand on his arm. Perhaps Denethor's insistence on bodily isolation might have influenced the greater admiration that the Guard and Rangers had developed for the Eagle of the Star. Aragorn had always been quick to lay a comforting hand on a scared young soldier’s shoulder or warmly grasp the hand of a comrade, with the same ease as his patron, Ecthelion.

“He would push me away if I tried to embrace him when I was a child,” Faramir said sadly, almost as if talking to himself. “He even forbade me to play with the hound-pups when I was small, saying that I was the Steward's son, not some farmer's son sharing a hearth with livestock. I am sorry.”

”The way you were raised is hardly your fault,” Aragorn’s tone was full of compassion. “I was fortunate, I had my mother all the time I was growing up. She was very affectionate, as was my Elven foster family. Then when I trained to be a healer, I had to use touch a good deal. You have been deprived of so much that should rightfully have been yours.” He thought sadly of how he had been denying that gift of late and that the hands of the King had almost ceased to be the hands of a healer until Faramir’s obvious pain had brought him to his senses. He reached for his shirt, not wanting to further distress his friend.

“Do not put it on yet!” Faramir said suddenly, “I will try to help you!”

“Are you certain?” Aragorn asked.

“I want to try,” Faramir said staunchly. “I cannot let my father’s coldness continue to blight my life, or even reach down unto the next generation to stiffen my hands when they should reach out to dry my daughter's tears."

“So you are practising on me!” Aragorn chuckled lying face downwards on his cloak again. “It does not matter that you are unskilled. Just use your fingertips and try to do the same as I do when I treat your injuries.”

Tentatively, Faramir started to rub Aragorn’s broad shoulders. Tactfully, the King ignored his lack of healing skills and concentrated on the well meant intentions behind Steward had a naturally comforting touch, which eased Aragorn's pain.

Faramir forced himself to concentrate on the fact that this was his dearest and best-loved friend, the man who had become the loving father that Denethor never was, the man who had told him to call him ada rather than the formal term of adar on which his own sire had insisted. This was the man whose shoulders were hurting because he was trying to pay the debt incurred by Faramir’s fevered madness.

He became so engrossed in his task that he was only aware that Aragorn had fallen asleep when he began to snore. Knowing he would become chilled if he slept without his tunic and shirt, he gently shook the King awake.

“My patients will soon be demanding your skills!” Aragorn teased as he pulled the garments over his head. “You are learning quickly!”

Faramir glowed at the praise. “I suppose I could always practise on Elbeth’s kitten or Éowyn’s favourite hound!” he said wryly as he wrapped himself in his cloak and settled beside the King. He yawned loudly.

“Is it not bliss not to have to remove ones boots before sleeping?” Aragorn commented, yawning even louder.

“Indeed!” Faramir agreed. ”Or get undressed. I cannot see the point of changing into a nightshirt when I only want to sleep!”

Aragorn was already snoring again and made no reply.

Faramir had feared his friend would be in too much pain to sleep and was vastly relieved that he had settled so easily. Almost as exhausted as the King, he quickly fell asleep, only to be awakened by Aragorn’s cries.

“No, No, I will not! Faramir! Help me!”

TBC

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