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A Time to Reap
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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25
A Time to Reap

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

Nay, indeed, if you had your eyes, you might fail of
the knowing me: it is a wise father that knows his
own child. Well, old man, I will tell you news of
your son: give me your blessing: truth will come
to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man's son
may, but at the length truth will out. - Shakespeare- the Merchant of Venice

With grateful thanks to Raksha


~~~

“Please help my daughter; she appears to have lost her wits!" cried Hareth, approaching in Aragorn a state of great agitation.

“I am coming,” said Aragorn.

Hareth grabbed his arm and pulled him towards her hut.

Faramir followed in case Aragorn might need him. He kept his hand on his sword lest the villagers threaten his lord. He stayed a few steps behind, and discreetly waited outside once they reached their destination.

Several candles illuminated the hut’s interior, allowing Aragorn to see that Vanreth now sat up in bed, retching violently and tearing at her clothing and blankets. She stared straight ahead with wide, terrified eyes. Tasariel tried to restrain the young woman with one hand, while holding a basin in the other.

“I’m glad you have come.” Tasariel sounded relieved.

“Something crawls over me!” cried Vanreth. “Gwinhir! He is in danger! Someone find my baby!"

“He is with Finrod,” Hareth said gently.

“They have stolen him!” Vanreth exclaimed before starting to retch again. She then lashed out at Tasariel, landing a glancing blow on the woman’s shoulder.

Aragorn approached the bedside. Vanreth seemed hardly aware of his presence. She plucked fretfully at the blankets and the linen shift she was wearing.

“There is nought to worry about,” he told the anxious women. “Reactions like this are not unusual after being bitten by a poisonous spider. I will try to calm her”

He reached out and caught Vanreth’s wrists and pressed on them, murmuring “Easy now,” as he did so. The retching eased somewhat, but Vanreth remained highly agitated. She cried “No, no it chokes me; make them take it off!" and stared at the blanket in wild alarm.

“She is reliving the terror of being sewn in her shroud,” Aragorn explained. While Tasariel restrained the young woman, he laid a hand on Vanreth's brow, then lightly brushed his fingertips over her eyelids. “Sleep now,” he told her gently. Almost at once, Vanreth went limp. “Make some water hot,” Aragorn instructed her mother.

When Hareth returned a few minutes later with a bowl of freshly boiled water, Aragorn took two athelas leaves from his pouch, breathed on them, and cast them into the steaming water. He bathed Vanreth’s face with the mixture. As Aragorn wiped her brow and cheeks with the wet cloth, the woman's taut features relaxed and her breathing deepened.

“I need to look at the injury,” he told the women.

Hareth nodded her agreement while Tasariel pulled back the blankets to reveal a bite just below Vanreth's knee. The obviously inflamed wound resembled an archery target, and, Aragorn noted, it looked almost exactly the same, as had the bite on Faramir's back.

“It needs lancing and a poultice of cabbage leaves applying,” Tasariel said sagely.

“Indeed so, Mistress, “ Aragorn agreed, tactfully not saying that he had been about to suggest the same remedies. He cleansed his knife in the candle while Hareth fetched the leaves. With Tasariel’s help, the procedure was quickly completed and a bandage applied to Vanreth’s leg. Aragorn then felt his patient’s forehead again and frowned. Vanreth was drenched in a cold sweat and shivering, as Faramir had been upon awakening from the deathlike stupor.

“How can I aid her?” her mother asked, misery in her eyes.

“Bathe her in warm water and change her nightgown, “ Aragorn told Hareth. "Then I suggest you or Mistress Tasariel hold her until she stops shivering. She has a fever and needs keeping warm. She should be much better in a few hours, but I will need to awaken her for her deep sleep.”

“Thank you, Master Morrandir,” said Hareth. “I will care for my little girl now.” She soothed her daughter tenderly; stroking back the sweat soaked hair. Vanreth sighed softly, sensing her mother’s loving presence.

“ Call me at once if you need me,” said Aragorn. He tactfully withdrew as the women prepared to bathe Vanreth. Faramir was hovering anxiously outside the door waiting for him. “She lives, and should be well by the morning,” he told his friend, sighing with relief. "I only hope the child is faring as well and I have not raised their hopes too high.”

“The boy is so young,” Faramir said sadly, “If the spider’s venom could fell a grown man such as I, what hope has a little child?”

“That is what I fear,” Aragorn said grimly. ”We can only wait and hope.”

He and Faramir were just about to settle down again to snatch a few hours sleep for what remained of the night when Tasariel emerged from the hut and joined them. ”I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am that you realised Vanreth was alive,” she told Aragorn. ”It would have broken her poor mother’s heart had she died. After Hareth's sons were killed in the war, her husband faded away from the grief of his loss. Hareth would have joined him, were it not for the love she bears her daughter. She was so happy when little Gwinhir was born.”

“I wish I could have continued to tend the little boy,” said Aragorn. “Alas; his father was adamant that I should not.”

“Finrod is a good man, but a stubborn one,” Tasariel remarked.

“That seems to be a common trait in these parts,” Aragorn said wryly.

“I think I should take a look at young Gwinhir,” said Tasariel. “Finrod respects me. You are welcome to come with me, Master Morrandir. I shall tell him that his wife’s condition is improving."

“Than you, Mistress,” said Aragorn. His respect for the village healer was growing.

“Master Finrod!” called Tasariel, knocking on the door of the young farmer’s hut.

When there was no reply, she pushed open the door. The hut was clean and well furnished. A child’s playthings were scattered around the otherwise tidy room. However, a grim sight met their eyes. Finrod lay slumped on the floor, a flagon of wine in his hand. Beside him lay his son, silent and unmoving.

Aragorn snatched up the child. The small body felt cold. Desperately, his pressed his ear to the little boy’s chest. The faint heartbeat was still there but feebler than ever. Tasariel bent over Finrod. "He is the worst for drink,” she pronounced. “He must have thought both his wife and son were dead and decided to drown his sorrows. If only he had believed you! How is the child?”

“Alive, but by a mere thread,” said Aragorn. ”The infection has not come to a head as it should. I feared this might happen in so young a child. I need hot water and quickly!”

“I will fetch some from Hareth,” said Tasariel. She hurried away.

“Hold the child and keep him warm,” Aragorn instructed Faramir. "Light a candle from the lamp too.”

“What are you going to do?” the Steward asked.

“I can only hope that athelas might hold some power over a wound like this,” the King replied grimly, placing his bag of healing supplies on a table.” I will have to rely on my instincts.”

Tasariel returned with a large bowl of steaming water, which she placed on the table.

The King selected a small, sharp knife from amongst his tools and held in it the candle flame.

“What are you doing?” Tasariel asked in alarm. “Surely you do not plan to cut the baby?”

“If the wound is not opened, he will surely die,” Aragorn replied grimly. “Place the child on the table,” he told Faramir. The King washed his hands with soap, and examined the small red mark, feeling carefully round the edges. Then Aragorn took up the now cooled knife and made two small but deep cuts across it. “Let it bleed for a moment,” he cautioned Tasariel, who made as if to staunch the wound. “The poisons need to be washed away."

Aragorn took two athelas leaves and breathed on them; then crushed them in his hands and placed them over the wound, holding them in place. “Gwinhir!” he called. "Turn back from the darkness! I bid you come to me!” He sustained the healing trance for some time, calling urgently until his voice grew faint and the colour drained from his face. He sank to his knees. Rivulets of sweat trickled down his cheeks

“ Ara-er-Ada!” Faramir cried in alarm. “Have a care! You cannot help the child by killing yourself! You have a wife and son who love and need you. Many depend upon you! I beg you, for the love I bear you, to desist!” He grabbed Aragorn’s shoulders, trying to shake him out of the trance. Suddenly Gwinhir gave a cry and opened his eyes. Blood and pus poured from the wound. “Staunch it, Mistress,” Faramir ordered. He quickly threw his arm around the grey-faced King; seeing that his lord was close to collapse. With his free hand, Faramir threw another athelas leaf in the bowl and placed it under Aragorn’s face. The scent was pleasant but lacked the power it had earlier. Faramir dipped a cloth in the bowl and wiped his lord’s face.

“What ails him?” asked Tasariel, tying the final knot on the bandage she had wrapped round Gwinhir’s chest.

“Healing drains his strength, Mistress,” Faramir explained without thinking. “The athelas can aid him, but he alone can utilise its full healing power.”

“Strange indeed,” said Tasariel eyeing them shrewdly. Gwinhir began to cry loudly and she turned her attention to trying to soothe him. “ I have never seen the like before. No Man has the power to bring back one so close to death as the child was!”

“It is a skill that came from my longfathers,” said Aragorn. A little colour had returned to his cheeks, but he was still reliant on Faramir’s supporting arm to keep him upright. “Take the child to Mistress Hareth. I am certain she will take good care of him and he should sense his mother’s presence nearby.”

“You must rest now, lord,” said Tasariel, eying Aragorn as if he were some strange creature the like of which she had not seen before. “I will bring you some tea in a moment.”

“ I need air,” Aragorn told Faramir.

“Come, ada! I will take care of you.” Supporting his friend, Faramir gently led him outside. Finrod now snored in a drunken stupor. The Steward settled his lord under the tree where they had been sleeping. He had just tucked a blanket around him when Tasariel returned with two steaming mugs of tea.

“Thank you, Mistress,” said the Steward. He held a cup to Aragorn’s lips.

“I will leave you to rest,” said Tasariel. “I doubt your father will be fit for reaping in the morning.”

“Can you not ask your husband to let him rest?” said Faramir. “He has saved two of your people, that should surely be sufficient payment for the crops we damaged!”

“So it should,” said Tasariel with a kind smile. “I must return to Vanreth now.”

As soon as the two men had drained their mugs, Aragorn fell into an exhausted slumber. Faramir was slow to sleep, fretting over what the morrow might bring. He feared it would kill Aragorn to work again in the fields. If their hosts insisted that Master Morrandir exhaust himself further, Faramir would reap in his place; or bear the King away and to the Darkness with anyone's objections! A faint light was already appearing on the Eastern horizon and dawn could not be far off.

***

Aragorn was awoken, not by the cock crowing but the warm sun on his face. Slowly and stiffly, he sat up. Faramir was sitting beside him and smiling. “At last you are awake!” he exclaimed. “Mistress Tasariel is waiting for us to eat breakfast.”

A few minutes later, King and Steward joined the other villagers. Most had already finished their morning meal.

“Do not forget there is work to be done after breakfast,” Beleg greeted them sourly. “You are not the only ones who had little sleep last night!”

Aragorn sighed wearily. Would nothing satisfy this farmer save his collapse in Beleg's field from exhaustion?”

"Let me do my father's share of the reaping," Faramir demanded. "Ada needs rest."

“Master Falborn is in no fit condition to work, unless you want another worker to drop dead, Beleg!” Tasariel said sternly, glaring at her husband. “And I believe his father is also unfit for scything. I would examine him too. Come, Master Morrandir!”

Aragorn felt a firm hand upon his arm. ”Mistress, there is no need for this!” he protested.

“Let us settle the matter once and for all,” said Beleg.

Faramir could only watch helplessly as Tasariel led his lord away.

“If you would just remove your shirt, Master Morrandir,” said Tasariel once they were inside her hut. “I need to see if you are half starved like your son.”

“I prefer to remain fully clothed,” Aragorn said in his firmest tone of voice, more often heard when issuing orders to the Council. He towered over the woman, but she stood her ground.

“Come now,” Tasariel coaxed. “There is nothing I have already seen. I have brought many a lad into the world and laid out their grandsires when they departed it. There is naught to fear, I shall not hurt you.”

“I do not wish to remove any of my clothing, Mistress,” Aragorn repeated in a tone that would have caused a lesser woman to flee.

“If you carry the marks of torture, there is no need to be ashamed,” Tasariel said kindly. “Such scars shame only those who inflicted them.”

“There is no shame. A man of honour risked his own life and soul to save me;” Aragorn said softly, more to himself than the farmwife. “If you would excuse me now, good lady? I must see how my patients are faring, ere I begin work.” The command in his voice was unmistakable.

“We will be forever grateful to you, Master Morrandir,” said Tasariel. "However could I have missed it that they still lived? I brought both Vanreth and her babe into the world and would not wish to see them leave it so soon.”

“Do not blame yourself in the matter. I initially thought my son was dead. It took him even longer to regain consciousness. I ought to have used the kingsfoil on him sooner.”

Tasariel started and looked at Aragorn more closely.

"You are skilled with kingsfoil, Master Morrandir. It works well for you. Yet if I should steep the herb, it serves only to freshen a room or ease a headache. I have heard it said that the plant responds to one man only, the rightful King! 'Tis also said that it drains the King’s strength to use, and you look sore weary. Last night you were near to collapse.”

“People say many things,” Mistress Tasariel. It amuses me that you think I am the King. I have just had little sleep.” Aragorn’s tone was level but his eyes betrayed his shock at her words. She caught hold of his wrist.

“Your pulse races wildly for a man who is merely amused,” she said. “People also say that the King was captured by evil men and put to torment, just as you were!”

“The King lives in Minas Tirith with his Queen and a son who is not quite one year old,” Aragorn said desperately. “You said how like my son I am!”

“People also say that the Steward and the King are as alike as close kin,” Tasariel continued relentlessly. "My kinswoman Ioreth, wise-woman of the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith, told me how the King recalled the Steward to life. She saw the bond of love that sprang between them, almost as if they were father and son. You cried out his name in your sleep but the other night! I know who you are! Even from the distance, as I saw you at your coronation, I marked your face, the visage of a king out of legend. You have that face still, my lord.” She sank to her knees in a gesture of respect.

“Please, Mistress, do not speak so to me!” Aragorn said frantically, grasping her hands and raising her to her feet. ”Whoever heard of a king working as a bumbling farmhand, or his steward running naked through a cornfield? What respect would such a King and Steward have in the eyes of their people?”

“They would have a great deal of honour in my eyes,” said the farmer’s wife. “What deed could be more noble than that of one friend who seeks to protect the other when he had no control over his actions? Lord Faramir is known to be a sober, modest prince. And I have seen the spider bite with mine own eyes.”

“Mistress, I pray you to say nothing!” Aragorn said urgently. He feared the worst. Their secret now lay in the hands of a kinswoman of perhaps the most loose-tongued woman in Minas Tirith. News of Faramir's seeming disgrace would soon be spread all over Lossarnach, and then onto the rest of Gondor!

TBC

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