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10
The heart and stomach of a king

I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king. - Elizabeth I

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

With grateful thanks to Raksha who wrote the second half of this chapter and created the idea for it.

Dedicated to Ellynn on the occasion of her birthday


~~~

Faramir laid the bundle in the middle of the rug and carefully unwrapped the oilskins that covered a large canvas pack. Aragorn helped him undo the numerous straps and they tipped the contents out. There was a change of clothing, similar to the clothes that the rider had been wearing, which were utterly unremarkable. Underneath those garments, though, was a beautiful robe made of scarlet silk, which was embroidered in silver and gold thread with images of dragons. The Steward rose to his feet and held the garment up, the better to examine it.

"That would not disgrace an Elven prince, though the Eldar would not appreciate the subject of the embroidery!" Aragorn remarked. "Our rider must be wealthy to afford such a fine garment." He studied the robe, crimson as its rider's blood, which had flowed before the City gates that morning. Would this fair garment prove to be the burial robe of its owner? He shuddered.

Faramir rummaged inside the pack and pulled out undergarments to go with the robe, also of silk, and so fine they looked as if were it not for the seams, they could be passed through a wedding ring. "How our ladies would love a gown in such a fine silk!" he exclaimed.

"Arwen once has a roll of similar quality silk sent as a gift from Harad," Aragorn recalled. "She insisted on making me a shirt and kept sticking pins in me!" He fell silent, thinking he would rather serve as his beloved wife's pincushion than be at odds with her.

"Look!" said Faramir, sensing his lord's thoughts and seeking to distract him. He held up an exquisite miniature painting for Aragorn's inspection. Although stylised, it was obviously a portrait of Sulion. The image was embellished with lapis lazuli.

"Proof that the rider likes dragons a great deal," Aragorn said dryly. He was greatly attached to his now aging warhorse, Roheryn, but could not imagine carrying around jewelled portraits of the stallion.

"And I would imagine this to be his wife and child," said Faramir unrolling a parchment to reveal a drawing of an almond eyed young woman with jet black hair who held a baby in her arms.

"Poor girl, she must be missing her husband," said Aragorn, wondering if the young woman would soon be a widow.

Faramir rolled the drawing up again, feeling uncomfortable at the need to search personal possessions, however good the reason. "There are more scrolls here," he said.

The two men started to unroll them. Apart from a rough map, they were in a script and a language that neither could make sense of.

"He is not a trader," said Aragorn. "When I journeyed to the far eastern lands the traders all spoke sufficient Westron to be understood. I travelled with a merchant caravan for a few weeks. They used common speech to trade with one another as each tribe spoke a different dialect."

Usually Faramir would have been eager to press Aragorn for tales of his travels, but the King's tone was flat and weary. He removed the final items from the pack; a purse of gold coins, a comb, and several sets of two short sticks. The Steward eyed the sticks suspiciously. "Whatever are these?" he enquired, "Some sort of writing implement?"

Aragorn shook his head. "They use them at table to eat with in the East."

Faramir closed his eyes and tried to imagine eating roast beef with the little sticks. It was well nigh impossible and served only to remind him that he was very hungry. "Have you dined?" he asked.

"Arwen dismissed me before I had a chance to. I went straight to the Houses of Healing afterwards," said the King. "Sulion's rider is very ill, I fear. We can only wait and hope. I will send for some supper to be brought. Can you stay or do you have you plans for the evening?"

"I will be glad of some company myself," said Faramir. "I only need to send a servant to fetch my night attire. I had planned to work on the trade agreement with Khand, but that can wait."

The servants brought a simple but filling supper of crusty bread, cheese, ham and pickles, a selection of fresh fruits and wine to drink.

The two men ate in near silence.

"Arwen has never been wrong," said Aragorn after a servant had taken their empty plates away. "She is the oldest and wisest soul in my kingdom."

"Even Mithradir was surprised by events at times," said Faramir. He yawned. It seemed a long time since he had woken that morning. "Rest now, maybe the Queen will have relented by the morrow when she hears that Sulion has not devoured half the populace!"

"I doubt it will be that easy," said Aragorn gloomily. He climbed into bed and pulled the covers around him. The two friends were asleep within minutes.

The bedchamber, largest in the citadel, seemed small and cold without Aragorn's presence. Arwen blinked back tears of frustration and stopped herself from running out the door to send word that would summon back her beloved.

Instead, she turned away from the door, and quickly stripped off her finery. Gold-embroidered white mantle, silver-grey gown, dainty shoes worth the price of a small-farmer's harvest; all fell untidily to the floor. Clad only in a shift of finest linen, she opened an old chest that had held her essential belongings for two hundred years, and began to sort through its contents. She pulled out the things she needed and laid them on the bed: supple deerskin boots, old breeches of Elrohir's, a shirt, a tunic with pockets, the special cloak she had woven in Lórien, her favourite pair of daggers balanced for throwing as well as close work, a light bow and a quiver full of arrows.

Arwen dressed with method rather than pride or joy. Her spirit was leaden, burdened with the misery of the choice forced upon her. She could accede to Aragorn's wishes and abandon him and Eldarion and their people to the supposed mercy of a dragon. Or, Arwen rolled the thought over again in her weary mind, she could defy the trust that they had known since that golden summer in Lórien, go against his will and destroy the menace that threatened them all.

The choice was cruelly simple. Even if Aragorn was deluded rather than dragon-spelled, and sent her back alone and disgraced to Imladris for defying his will, her beloved husband and their children would still live. And if, as she suspected, Aragorn and Faramir were both ensorcelled by the monster, then the enchantment would break as soon as she ended the dragon's life, and they would be restored, and all would be as it was. As it should be, Arwen reminded herself, drawing the cloak over her plain hunter's garb.

Walking Elven-soft was still her natural inclination. Arwen usually had to move with heavier steps, so as not to affright her maids and other folk of the Citadel. But now, unfettered by politeness and shielded from most eyes by the enchanted cloak of Lórien, Arwen glided through the royal apartments.

She lost count of the doors and gates that she had to pass. She paused at the stables and ignoring her grey mare's eager neighing, selected a black horse from amongst those put aside for errand riders to use. She rode through the silent City streets. It seemed none say she were abroad that night. Each time she passed through a gate, Arwen revealed her face, and quietly commanded a weary guard to let her through, from the Sixth to the First Circle and then down, down through the sleeping streets. All that mattered was the final barrier, and what lay beyond it. She would stop; think a moment about what she was about to face, alone and afraid, wanting to hasten back to the safety of her bedchamber. But when the dragon arose in wrath, there would be no safety anywhere in Gondor, and possibly anywhere else. Keep riding, she told her pounding heart. For your children's sake, if not for the rest of this land of which you are Queen.For Aragorn…

And then the final barrier, the Great Gate of Minas Tirith, creaked shut behind her. She rode swiftly across the expanse of the Pelennor, her spirit cooled and resolved. Then the horse stalled and neighed in terror as it scented the dragon. She dismounted and secured the frightened beast to a tree.

Resolutely she made her way across the field towards a looming shape of immense proportions. At last, the Queen of Arnor and Gondor stood alone on the dark field, and looked upon the dragon.

The great beast seemed to form part of the very night so dark was his colour. At least it did not stink. Arwen had heard of the fell odours emitted by dragons, first-hand from Bilbo Baggins. But the dragon was large, perhaps not so great as Smaug, but bigger than any beast she had ever seen in her long life.

Arwen's heart sped and her hands began to tremble as she discerned the dragon's head and the size of its mouth. She stepped back, to spy him out better from behind a tree.

"Oof. What is that?" cried a rough voice.

Arwen had brushed the guard with her cloak; and the man looked wildly about him, not seeing his elven-cloaked queen. There was no time even to curse her own carelessness. Arwen hastily withdrew three arrows, holding two ready while she nocked the third, called on Elbereth to guide the shaft, and shot the arrow forth.

Even as the arrow flew, the dragon's great form moved. Arwen had barely noted the opening of the creature's eyes when she was knocked off her feet by something long and low and incredibly strong - its tail. As she struggled to rise, the tail caught and tripped her again! It could have done her worse injury, she wondered, why did the beast not crush her?

Arwen reached for her bow, which had been knocked from her hand by the force of the dragon's tail and had landed some twenty feet away. Too late! The dragon's claw descended from above, the dragon's head swivelled around to glare banefully upon her. She scarcely had time to take in a panicked breath before the claws grasped her cloak and tore it from her body. She was revealed in the moonlight, with no place to hide.

"Elbereth!" Arwen gasped out, praying that her end would be swift.

The mighty claws curved tightly around her form, so tightly that she could not wrest her arms free to grasp an arrow from her quiver and try to stab at the leathery things that bound her. Arwen was borne up until the dragon held her before his head.

He will consume me, Arwen thought, struggling to hold her head high while her soul screamed with the horror of such a death. I am the Evenstar, Queen of Men and Lúthien's heir; and I will curse him 'ere I die! At least the dragon's breath was not unpleasant. "I curse you with my dying breath, foul spawn of Morgoth! "she cried.

Arwen heard a man scream. It was the guard, shouting to the dragon. "Release her, Lord Dragon," the man cried in a terrified voice. "She is the Queen of Gondor, wife to our Lord Aragorn Elessar who has welcomed you to our land! Please, Lord Dragon, let her go or I must shoot you!"

"This oddly dressed termagant is Aragorn's lady?" the dragon asked, seeming curious and not at all concerned about the guard's threat. He pinned her body with one huge talon, while unfurling the others, turning her about in his claw to better examine her.

I will not faint; I will not faint; Arwen vowed. But if he didn't kill her or release her very soon, she feared she would be sick!

"Elessar told me that his Queen was an Elf, and that Elves were a wise people," rumbled the monster. "Fair of form she might be, but wise? Hunnh!" He looked at her with sorcerous eyes that shone like marsh-haze. "Madam, your young son had better manners."

The dragon pulled down his claw, setting Arwen carefully back on the ground, as if he were a person and she a small wild creature. "Leave me, Queen of Gondor;" the beast went on, "And do not come back until you have learned courtesy." He made a loud sniffing noise and turned his head away from her.

Arwen bit her lip to prevent a peal of mad laughter. A dragon was lecturing her on proper manners! Slowly she stood up, unable to stop shuddering.

"Best to leave now, my Lady," the guard whispered. "I will escort you home."

"No; I pray you, stay here and keep watch on the creature," Arwen managed to reply in a soft voice. "May Elbereth protect you from its evil."

"I fear I must, my lady," the man insisted. "I will see you safe home to your lord."

Utterly defeated, the Queen of Gondor picked up her bow and the now shredded cloak of Lórien, and walked back to the tethered horse, the guard close at her heels. The stars blurred in Arwen's sight, obscured by bitter tears. She had failed!

TBC

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