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A Time to Reap
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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28
The strife is o'er,the battle won

The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.

"The strife is o'er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!" - Traditional Easter hymn

With grateful thanks to Raksha,


~~~

Aragorn and Faramir quickly cleansed themselves in the warm soapy water, towelled themselves dry and started to dress in the assortment of garments that Tasariel had provided. It was obvious that the Healer had lent them her best towels and King and Steward wondered if the clothing had belonged to the sons she had lost. Tasariel's kindness touched their hearts.

“Let me look at you before you put your shirt on,” Aragorn told Faramir. “I wish to check the bite on your back.”

“What of you?” asked Faramir, ”You are moving stiffly, do you want some more of Mistress Tasariel’s ointment?”

“That can wait until later, ”said Aragorn. “But fear not; there is nothing seriously amiss; merely some already over-taxed muscles having been pulled in the fight. The pain is not too bad today.”

Pulling the borrowed tunic over his head, the King turned to face Faramir and picked up the lantern. Faramir sat on the straw-covered floor, clad in the borrowed breeches; and suddenly burst out laughing.

“What is so amusing?” Aragorn demanded, approaching his friend.

“You in those clothes!” Faramir chortled. The High King of the West was indeed a sight to behold. The tunic was both far too short and much too wide. It hung like an ill-fitting sack from Aragorn’s shoulders, flopping just below his waist. The breeches reached only to his mid-calves, and fit so loosely at the waist, that he had to secure seemingly endless folds of material with his belt.

“You will not look much better once you stand up!” Aragorn retorted, noticing that Faramir's borrowed breeches were even baggier than the ones he was wearing. The sight reminded Aragorn that Faramir had lost flesh recently, and that the loss had weakened Faramir and made him more likely to take harm from the spider's poison. Trying to conceal his anxiety, he moved behind his friend, fearful that further exposure to the spider might have inflamed the bite on Faramir’s back. Lifting the dark hair aside he breathed a deep sigh of relief that the small, red mark remained cool to the touch and unchanged in appearance. Fortunately, Faramir’s shirt and tunic had protected his body from any further stings caused by the spider’s hairs.

“Does your face still hurt, ion nîn?” Aragorn enquired.

“It stings but a little,” replied Faramir. His voice was quiet, but Aragorn caught an undertone of weariness, reflected in the younger man's eyes.

“Let us try Mistress Tasariel’s salve then,” said Aragorn, picking up the jar and applying a generous amount to Faramir’s injured cheek and neck. The King then checked Faramir’s heartbeat, finding it slightly too rapid for his liking. He would have liked nothing better than to tell him to rest, and use some Elven relaxation treatments to ease him after his ordeal, but there was still work to be done. He turned his attention to Faramir’s injured ankle while the Steward donned his shirt. The ankle was starting to swell, while above it, ugly scratches disfigured his calf.

Faramir flinched when Aragorn gently felt the injured limb. "I will bathe the grazes with the athelas mixture then bind your ankle for the time being,” the King said. “I will treat it properly once the creature’s carcass is disposed of. Do you wish to remain here to rest?”

Faramir shook his head vehemently. “Of course not, my hurts are but slight. If you can just help me mount Zachus, I will come with you. Some of the villagers might panic at the sight of the creature. I would not let you go there alone.”

“I am blessed by your loyalty, ion nîn,” said Aragorn, patting Faramir’s shoulder affectionately. He tied the bandage securely and proceeded to gather up the dirty laundry, carefully shaking out the soiled clothing to ensure no spider hairs had stuck to it.

“Are you dressed, Masters?” Tasariel’s voice called from outside. "I have brought you some tea, and my neighbour has scones fresh from the oven.”

Aragorn opened the door. He stood there blinking in the bright sunlight.

The two women vainly tried to maintain their calm and avoid staring at the sight before them. The neighbour, a red-cheeked younger woman, was the first to yield to her mirth. Tasariel soon followed suit and both women laughed until tears rolled down their cheeks.

Aragorn maintained his dignity for a full ten seconds before joining in the laughter. “I fear we are rather tall for our borrowed garb,” he said good-humouredly.

“And far too skinny!” Tasariel retorted. “Has my salve aided Master Falborn?” she enquired.

“It has indeed, Mistress, I thank you,” said Faramir. ”We greatly appreciate all your kindness to us.”

“I would be interested in the recipes for your healing salves,” said Aragorn. Master Elrond’s remedies were far more potent against serious maladies, but the Elves had little practice in treating the everyday ailments that plagued mortal country folk. Tasariel beamed with pleasure.

Aragorn helped Faramir outside. The two friends sat on a log, enjoying their tea and scones as they awaited the arrival of the menfolk.

Beleg and his sons were the first to come in from the fields. “I might have guessed it was you two sluggards who had interrupted our work again while you pass the morning eating food from our wives' hearths!” he snorted. “What is it this time? Giant butterflies or cats the size of horses? More like some strange creature that shrinks your britches?” He guffawed with laugher.

“We have laboured hard this morning,” said Aragorn coldly. “The monster we slew would freeze your blood and that of men far greater!”

Borlach then arrived and Aragorn quickly told him all that had happened. The headman did not entirely understand the full nature of the beast Aragorn described, but he nodded in agreement to Aragorn's plan. Borlach called his people together and told them in a loud voice: “Master Morrandir and his son have done a great service to our people. They have slain the creature that struck down Mistress Vanreth and her child. He would have us go down to the riverbank to see this monstrous spider and burn its carcass.”

Thoron laughed rudely. “Giant spider indeed! I'll not leave the harvest to chase after children's stories. No doubt they killed a common boar! At least we will dine well tonight.”

“Maybe you are too afraid to risk looking upon a monster, and prefer to hide in your mother’s fields?” Tasariel said tartly.

Thoron scowled. “I fear nothing!” he retorted with the bravado of the young and untested. “Had I seen this creature, I would have killed it myself.”

“No one needs to come if they lack the stomach for it,” called Aragorn. “It is best that the very young children remain behind, and any woman who is with child. However, if you see this creature and know what it looks like, it may save your lives should any others ever appear in these parts. If they do, you must send a message to Minas Tirith and inform the King that an evil beast troubles your village again.”

Thoron laughed bitterly. “A fine lot of good that would do. What would the King care about poor folk like us? He left us defenceless when he exiled Lord Fontos!”

“The King cares for all his people,” Aragorn said firmly. “You are especially under his care until Lord Fontos returns. I shall tell him that a giant spider was found near your village. He will listen to Captain Morrandir.”

“I believe you,” said Tasariel.

“As do I,” Hareth added. “Such a great Healer must surely have the ear of his lord!” Her daughter nodded. Vanreth was still rather pale and leaning heavily on her mother’s arm.

“Come then to the riverbank,” said Aragorn. “We must hasten ere the carcass attracts scavengers. Bring torches and oil to burn the creature’s remains.” He helped Faramir rise from the log and mount Zachus.

“It seems Master Falborn fell over when in his cups again,” Thoron said in loud whisper.

“Hush! Would you risk the wrath of fierce warriors who have the King's ear?” Tasariel cautioned.

“I should like to see what attacked my baby and I, but fear I cannot walk that far,” Vanreth lamented. “My neighbour would care for Gwinhir.”

“Are you certain, Mistress?” asked Aragorn. “What lies ahead is a sight most foul.”

“Nothing could be worse that the horrors I imagine in my dreams,” answered the young woman.

“Come then,” said Aragorn, “you can ride with me to the riverbank. Roheryn can easily carry two riders.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Finrod. “I would have my lass rest easy.” He lifted his wife up behind Aragorn on the great horse.

The procession slowly wound its way down to the riverbank at the pace of the slowest villager. As they approached the spot where the dead spider lay, those with a keen sense of smell wrinkled their noses in disgust.

“We are almost there,” said Aragorn. “I warn you, the carcass is not a pretty sight.”

Six of the younger women paled at his words, and hurried back toward the village with two elderly men.

“Cowards!” muttered Thoron loudly enough for those departing to hear.

Vanreth trembled slightly. “You do not have to see the creature,” Aragorn told her gently.

“I want to,” she said staunchly. “Please ride on.”

They rounded a bend in the path. There lay the corpse of the spider, exactly as Aragorn and Faramir had left it. No crows hovered above the dead monster. Even the flies kept their distance. Several of the women cried out. Thoron took one look, paled, and promptly retched. “It must something I ate,” he mumbled to Tasariel, who had come swiftly to aid him.

Aragorn dismounted. “That is the creature we slew,” he explained. “The spider is close kindred to Shelob, ally of the Dark Lord, she who waylaid and wounded the Ring bearer in the pass of Cirith Ungol. This creature has preyed upon your village in secret; and would have killed men, women, children and beasts had it grown to maturity. It lived underneath yonder willow in the hollowed out river bank.”

Finrod summoned up the courage to delve into the spider’s lair. “It is full of animal bones!” he exclaimed. “I think the bones come from pigs, cats and chickens. Small wonder our livestock kept vanishing! We thought foxes were to blame.”

“Gather wood for kindling to burn the monster,” Aragorn ordered. “Look upon it and remember! Should you ever glimpse such a creature again, walk wide of it, and send at once to the King in Minas Tirith. It is his charge and duty to rid to see Gondor rid of such leavings of Shadow.”

“Yes, my lord,” said Borlach. “How can we ever thank you and your son sufficiently for ridding us of this menace?”

Aragorn tensed, wondering if the village Headman had guessed who he was; but it seemed the greybeard was simply expressing respect.

“It is our duty as the King’s Captains to aid those in need, “said Faramir, sparing his Lord the need to dissemble. Aragorn simply inclined his head graciously.

Aragorn tensed wondering if the village Headman had guessed who he was, but it seemed the greybeard was simply expressing respect.

The people searched the riverbank for kindling and had soon built a large bonfire around the dead spider. Aragorn and Tasariel then drenched the pyre with oil.

Borlach handed the torch to Aragorn. “You, my lord, should set the fire ablaze,” he said.

“Thank you, Master, but I can think of two who have greater cause to wield the brand,” said the King. “My son Falborn and Mistress Vanreth.” He helped Faramir down from the horse, while Finrod aided his wife.

The Steward and the country girl cast the torches into the kindling. The flames blazed up high and bright.

“So may all traces of the darkness that engulfed this place be banished!” said Aragorn as the fire climbed toward the sky.

“Our visitors have laboured hard this day,” Tasariel remarked to her husband.

“Humph, it seems they have not been idle after all,” Beleg conceded. “Easy work compared with reaping, though!”

Leaving several men to keep an eye on the fire, King, Steward and country folk made their way back to the village. The women who had stayed behind had prepared food, but few had the desire to eat it. Most of the farmers soon returned to the fields. Tasariel sat near the long table in the village's centre, peeling potatoes for the evening meal. Several young children ran around the huts, scuffling over a ball made of stitched cowhide; shouting as their bare feet kicked up clods of dirt.

“I will tend your ankle properly now,” Aragorn told Faramir.

The Steward settled himself comfortably in the shade of a large tree and took off his boot with some difficulty. Aragorn carefully removed the bandage and gently felt the bruised and swollen ankle. Faramir winced. Aragorn held his hand a few inches above the injury and Faramir felt the pain ebb away, leaving his ankle feeling strong again. He sighed blissfully.

“That is amazing!” exclaimed Tasariel who had been watching, unnoticed by the two men. “I can see the bruises fading before my eyes!”

“Ara, um my ada has wondrous healing skills,” said Faramir fervently.

“I can see that,” said Tasariel. “What are you doing now?” she enquired of Aragorn.

“Massaging the ankle with an Elven healing touch to ease the swelling and stimulate the circulation,” answered Aragorn.

“Well, I hope Master Falborn is on his feet for the day after tomorrow,” said the woman. “We will all dance at the harvest celebrations.”

“He will be,” said Aragorn.

“We have a king and queen of the harvest,” trilled a little girl as she skipped past with her companions. “Just think, to be king or queen for a day just like the real ones in the City! I wonder who will be chosen?”

TBC

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