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31
Farewell to barn and stack and tree

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

Farewell to barn and stack and tree - A.E. Houseman – A Shropshire lad

With grateful thanks to Raksha


~~~

Faramir woke with a start. For a moment he felt confused, wondering what had could have roused him in the middle of the night. The moon had gone behind a cloud, leaving the sky pitch black. All was still; not even the hooting of an owl disturbed the silence.

His stomachache had gone, and he was curled up comfortably at Aragorn’s side. He started as a truly dreadful noise assailed his ears. Then he realised, Aragorn was snoring at an ear shattering volume. Without thinking, Faramir instinctively dug his elbow in the direction of the King's ribs.

Faramir groaned inwardly. Since his ordeal, Aragorn was afraid of the dark. Just as the villagers had finally realised his lord’s true worth and come to respect him, they would now all be roused from their beds if Aragorn started to cry out. Tasariel would understand, but the others might again view Aragorn with suspicion, or even scorn. The farming folk worked hard and did not take kindly to being roused from their beds, especially not after tonight when the wine had flowed so freely. Faramir could only hope his friend had not been dreaming. He was vastly relieved when Aragorn simply grunted in his sleep and shifted away from the assailing elbow.

The Steward wondered if he should move several feet away from Aragorn in case the pitch darkness prompted another of the King’s nightmares, and he ended up with a black eye as a result. However, he was comfortable where he was and reluctant to disturb Aragorn.

Faramir decided to hope for the best and tried settle back to sleep, his thoughts turning to Éowyn and Elestelle. He wondered how they might be faring. Maybe his daughter would have learned how to crawl? He wondered when his little girl would run to greet him saying "Ada", and found himself grinning at the thought. Elestelle appeared to have a quick ear for learning. He wished he could ask his uncle if he remembered at what age he and Boromir had started to walk; but Imrahil had refused all contact with him since Faramir’s seeming treachery.

Faramir tried to banish such sorrowful thoughts from his mind and go back to sleep. They had a long ride ahead on the morrow if they would reach Minas Tirith by nightfall. Briefly Faramir felt a stab of envy. The Queen would be waiting to greet her lord, while he would have to retire to a lonely bed before he could join Éowyn and Elestelle at Emyn Arnen. He hoped he could persuade his wife to visit Minas Tirith for a while. Faramir’s thoughts started to wander as he drifted again towards sleep.

Suddenly, another loud snore jolted him back to full wakefulness. Faramir sighed in exasperation. Sorely tempted though he was to nudge Aragorn awake, he dreaded how his lord would react in this pitch darkness. Pulling his blanket over his ears, Faramir tried again to sleep. He would have to wait until there was some light before he dared to awaken his friend.

“Faramir?”

He froze in dismay when he heard Aragorn’s voice, fearing the King would start to panic. Yet Aragorn's voice sounded calm, just somewhat bewildered.

“I am here beside you, mellon nîn. You woke yourself up with your snoring!” Faramir stretched out his hand and laid it reassuringly on Aragorn’s shoulder.

“I was dreaming that the people were cheering us. We were not here, though, but in Minas Tirith. Arwen was there and she was so proud of me!”

“A good dream then?” Faramir sighed with relief.

“A very pleasant dream indeed. I long to see my beloved again. Yet, I would not have missed these past days for all of Smaug’s treasure! I hope we can do it again in future.”

“I would gladly miss the bite of Shelob's spawn!” Faramir replied wryly.

“I did not mean that!” Aragorn retorted. “I meant that I hope we can return to being simple Rangers together again when our duties permit. Even sleeping on the ground feels good when you do not have to do it in the winter!” He yawned sleepily and pulled his blanket more closely around him.

“I should like that very much.” The simple words were insufficient to convey Faramir’s delight that this first camping trip with the King would not be the last. He had always dreamed of having a father who would accept him as himself rather than as Boromir's younger brother, a father with whom he could let down his guard.

Aragorn made no reply. He had fallen asleep again and was starting to snore even more loudly than before.

Faramir struggled to patiently endure the racket, this time folding his blanket double before burying his head beneath it. He idly wondered if dragons snored; and if so, did they make such a noise? Faramir feared that the whole village was likely to be roused by this racket. "Aragorn!” he hissed, ”wake up!”

“What is it?” Aragorn asked sleepily.

“You are snoring again!” Faramir grumbled. “How can I sleep if you make such a noise? I do not want to be too tired to ride home tomorrow!”

“My Rangers never complained!” Aragorn retorted.

“They must have either been deaf or had some special Northern Númenorean trait that we poor folk of the South lack!” Faramir replied. "A marvel you did not alert every Orc in the Northern lands to your presence! Unless they all fled in terror from such a cacophony!"

“Arwen never complains either,” Aragorn said smugly.

“Well you can snore all you wish tomorrow night then!” said Faramir. “Lie on your side; then maybe we can both rest!”

Wanting nothing more than to return to sleep, Aragorn did as he was told. He reached for his blanket only to grab Faramir’s in the dark.

“You have taken my blanket now!” Faramir complained.

“I am sorry,” Aragorn said contritely. “I could not see. It is pitch dark! He sat up suddenly, realising the implications.

“Yes, I know. I should not have disturbed you,” Faramir said contritely. His complaints now seemed very petty. He feared his judgement had been somewhat clouded by all the good wine he had consumed earlier.

“I slept in the dark and I had no nightmares!” Aragorn whispered, hardly able to believe it.

“I believe you are healing at last, mellon nîn.” Faramir was grateful that the darkness hid the tears of joy that started to roll down his cheeks. He did not want Aragorn to know that he had often despaired of ever seeing him restored to his old self again. He reached out to hug his friend; only for their noses to bang together in the darkness. They both burst out laughing until they shook with mirth. Hastily they put their hands over their mouths, so as not to wake the villagers.

When their mirth finally subsided they settled to rest again. Just before he drifted into sleep, Faramir noticed the comfortingly familiar scent of athelas and other healing herbs again surrounded Aragorn. From the moment Faramir had first inhaled the healing fragrance of athelas; he had felt secure. All was well in his world once more; Gondor had her King restored to health; he was reconciled with the man he loved as a father, and very soon Faramir would be reunited with his beloved lady and their daughter. Utterly content, he settled against his friend’s shoulder and let himself fall into a deep and dreamless sleep.

The cock’s crow went unheeded the next morning while the sun was already high in the sky before the villagers emerged from their huts, many yawning and complaining of headaches and stomach pains after their over indulgences of the previous night. Tasariel was much in demand and bustled hither and thither dispensing peppermint tea to the children and a mixture of milk thistle and willow bark to the adults.

Breakfast was a fairly subdued affair with few of the adults having much appetite for the crusty bread and creamy cheese that was served. Aragorn and Faramir made themselves eat, knowing it would be many hours before they reached home.

Tasariel smiled at them approvingly. “It seems I have succeeded in fattening you two up a little!” she said. “Now don’t go and starve yourselves again in the City!”

“I promise you, we will not go hungry, Mistress,” said Aragorn. “Not that the fare in Minas Tirith is as hearty as yours! The farmers should take some of their produce to sell at the City market.”

“I doubt the grand folks there would like our simple fare,” Borlach said doubtfully.

“I assure you, Master Borlach, that this food is fit for the table of the King himself!” Faramir said solemnly.

Tasariel’s dark eyes twinkled. “I will take you at your word, Master Falborn,” she said.

Aragorn stared intently at his plate while struggling to suppress his mirth.

Once the meal was concluded, Aragorn and Faramir gathered their possessions together and prepared to take their leave of Celonhaer. Now that the moment of departure drew close, they realised they were going to miss these simple people.

“We thank you for your hospitality and kindness,” Aragorn told Borlach. “Now, do not forget that if any ills trouble your people, you should send to Minas Tirith for help. I will see that your message reaches the King’s ear. You have my promise.”

“I will indeed, masters,” said Borlach. “Remember, we now consider you as part of Celonhaer. You will always be welcome here and we hope you will return.”

“I fear our tasks in the City take much of our time, Master Borlach,” said Aragorn. “I give you my word, though, that when our duties permit we will visit you again one day.”

“We will never forget you,” said Hareth. She was dabbing her eyes, as was her daughter. Gilrath stood beside them. There was no sign of her son Thoron. Faramir wondered whether the youth was suffering the effects of over indulgence or just rude as usual. Aragorn and Faramir kissed the ladies on the brow in farewell.

“It was a lucky day when you came to our village,” said Finrod, coming forward to shake Aragorn’s hand. “I wish you and your son could stay longer with us.”

“I wish we could stay too, but our wives await us in the City, and we have duties to attend to there” Aragorn told him.

“Hmm,” said Beleg, grudgingly. “I suppose you just about made up for all the damage you caused!”

“They repaid us a hundredfold!” Tasariel interrupted. She thrust a parchment into Aragorn’s hand. “Here are the recipes for the salves you requested of me. I have put a little something for you to take home with you in your packs.”

Impulsively, Aragorn embraced the Healer, and Faramir did likewise. She had become dear to them over the past few days.

“I promise we will return one day,” said Aragorn rather gruffly. ”Farewell!”

“May the Valar bless your journey!” said Tasariel.

Almost the entire village watched as Aragorn and Faramir mounted their horses and rode away. Several times they looked back and waved.

000

Aragorn and Faramir rode steadily until the sun was directly overhead. They halted for a brief respite and to rest the horses. Looking in their packs, they found Tasariel had provided luncheon for them both along with two enormous cheeses and three jars of her salves.

“I am looking forward to sharing this cheese with Arwen,” said Aragorn. ”It is as good as anything I ate at Rivendell!”

“Éowyn will love the cheese too,” said Faramir. ”She is forever saying the cheeses in Minas Tirith compare poorly with those of Edoras.”

“I hope you can persuade your lady to visit the city,” said Aragorn. “I know you will be eager to ride to Emyn Arnen to be reunited with her, but I should like it very much if we could all spend some time together. I should like to see Elbeth again too.”

“Elbeth misses her ‘Strider’ very much,” said Faramir. “She asked about you almost every day.”

Their lunch finished, the two friends remounted their horses and rode on. This day followed uncomfortably warm after the fresh breezes of yesterday; and the sun blazed down upon them relentlessly. Even though they were following the course of the river, it became uncomfortably hot. Both men kept pausing to wipe their sweating brows and cast longing looks at the water. As soon as they reached a secluded spot, Aragorn reined in Roheryn. “Shall we have a quick swim?” he suggested to Faramir.

“There is nothing I should like better!” said the Steward, dismounting from Zachus. He walked stiffly once his feet reached the ground.

“Does your ankle pain you, ion nîn?” enquired Aragorn.

“No, but it is swollen a little in the heat, I think,” said the Steward. He began to rummage in their packs for towels and clean linens. “I must have danced on it too much last night.” He flopped down on the bank and started to unlace his boots.

“The cool water will do it good,” said Aragorn, idly observing a family of ducks as they swam past. Unlacing his shirt, he drew it over his head and tossed it to one side. “Come on!” he called to Faramir, turning to face him. “Hurry up and undress; the water will refresh us.”

Faramir pulled off his socks and tossed them and his boots to one side. He turned towards Aragorn to answer him, and then leapt to his feet, staring at the King in amazement as if transfixed.

“What is the matter?” Aragorn exclaimed, “Are you well, ion nîn?”

TBC

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