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12
Swimming in the river

THERE is a bird in the poplars—

It is the sun!

The leaves are little yellow fish

Swimming in the river;

The bird skims above them—

Day is on his wings.

Phoenix!

It is he that is making

The great gleam among the poplars.

It is his singing

Outshines the noise

Of leaves clashing in the wind. - William Carlos Williams

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

With grateful thanks to Raksha and Virtuella.


~~~



Aragorn and Faramir looked at one another. After Súlion had seen them changing their garb in the cave and made disparaging remarks about how scrawny he considered them both, neither man desired to repeat the experience. Both had been haunted by cruel remarks made in their youth, which the dragon's careless comments had brought to mind again. In any case, they were not peasant boys free to frolic in the water, but King and Steward who must maintain their dignity, which could scarcely be hazarded to please a dragon!

King and Steward tried to enjoy the peaceful surroundings. They were only a few leagues from the bustle of Minas Tirith, yet they might as well have been in the middle of nowhere. Only the birds singing in the trees and the dragon's half hearted splashing disturbed the stillness.

"Is the water too cold for you?" Aragorn enquired when Súlion seemed loath to venture from the shallows near the bank.

"No, it is not cold, but it is lonely," the dragon replied.

Aragorn sighed deeply. Nothing in his long years of experience, as healer, warrior and diplomat had taught him how to deal with a dejected dragon. "I have never seen how well a dragon can swim," he said. "Can you swim well enough to reach the far bank?"

The ruse of appealing to the dragon's vanity worked as he immediately struck out into the deeper waters.

"Poor creature," Aragorn said to Faramir in a low voice. "I fear he misses his rider badly already. "You are a very fine swimmer!" he called to Súlion. He stood up and started to pace upstream, calling out further words of encouragement.

"You try to flatter me, but I know you don't like me," Súlion replied mournfully.

"Of course we like you," Aragorn replied.

Faramir could bear the unfortunate creature's unhappiness no longer. He no longer cared if the creature mocked him or not, if only Súlion would cheer up. He started to swiftly pull off his clothing and entered the water.

Whatever are you doing, Faramir?" Aragorn called.

"Taking a swim!" Faramir called. "If the dragon can dry me, he can dry my drawers as well."

"You have come to play with me!" Súlion cried joyfully as Faramir swam towards him. The dragon circled him cautiously as if uncertain what he should do next.

"I will join you!" Aragorn cried, starting to unlace his tunic. "Our dignity and our clothes should be safe enough with a dragon in the vicinity!"

"There is no need for you to come into the water, I can swim with Súlion,"Faramir said staunchly.

His words were vain as a few moments later Aragorn waded out beside him. Súlion chuckled delightedly and splashed water over the two men with his vast wings. Thus began a blissful afternoon of splashing, ducking, diving, chasing and swimming for the three unlikely companions.

Súlion dived with one of the men either side, clutching his wings, rising to the surface just as they needed to take a breath. He pretended to chase them from one bank to the other and then splashed them with his wings when they reached the other side and then ducked them under. He then nudged them to dive beneath him and race to see who emerged first at the other side.

Both men were fine swimmers who knew how to enjoy the water, but swimming with such a largeyet graceful creature was something new entirely. Both forgot for a while their natural reticence, the strict rules of court decorum, and their sorrow at being apart from their wives to enjoy themselves as freely as any children freed from their lessons for an afternoon of unfettered bliss.

All too soon it was time to return to the shore. Aragorn and Faramir clambered on to the riverbank, again expecting some derogatory personal remarks from the dragon. Feeling rather foolish they stood on the bank in their drawers, while he blew great lungfuls of warm air over them and did not say a single mocking work about their slender frames, though he studied them intently. The two friends quickly started to dress.

Aragorn turned around to pick his belt and noted that Súlion was staring glumly at his hide. "I thought these marks would wash away," the dragon said, gesturing towards his damaged scales with his head.

"The scars will fade in time," Aragorn reassured him. He turned away again, concentrating on fastening the buckle. The next moment he was enveloped in a cloud of warm air as the dragon literally breathed down his neck. "I heard you were a great warrior," he said, "but there are no marks of battle on you, nor upon your friend!"

"I was raised by Elves," said Aragorn. "They use special arts to fade scars. I have many, but they are almost too faint to behold unless you look carefully."

"Would such arts work for me?" Súlion asked eagerly. "I do not like my magnificent hide to be so blemished!"

"I have no idea," Aragorn said truthfully. "I can but try. You will need to wait until your wounds are fully healed, though."

"That sounds good," said Súlion blowing another blast of hot air over both King and Steward. "I will be as good as new then and so will my rider if you do the samefor him!"

Aragorn was uncertain how to reply to this as he had no desire to dampen Súlion's improved spirits. He busied himself in lacing his shirt while thinking of something suitable to say.

"You are an excellent swimmer, Súlion," said Faramir, coming to the rescue. "I did not know dragons could swim!"

"Ah, but you do not know many dragons! You swim well for Men!" Súlion replied. "I am hungry now!"

"We will bring you to the river again when our duties permit," Aragorn promised.

The two Men and the dragon flew back to the field in much better spirits than they had set out. Aragorn was surprised to spot a young man in the corner of the field. As they drew closer he realised he was dressed in the robes of an apprentice healer. The youth ran up to them as soon as Súlion's feet touched the ground.

"My lord King!" he cried. "Master Tarostar sent me to look for you. The Easterling is fading fast. Master Tarostar thought you would want to know."

"I will go to him at once," said Aragorn.

"I am sorry, Súlion," said Faramir without thinking.

"You mean the Easterling is my rider?" cried the dragon. "No, he must not die!"

"I am very sorry too, Súlion," said Aragorn. "We tried everything he could."

"Take me to him!" the dragon demanded.

Aragorn sighed." He had been dreading this from the moment the dragon and his wounded rider had arrived in Minas Tirith. How did grieving dragons react? Would he survive without his rider and if so what would he do? Would he desire to return home? If not, Aragorn would be honour bound to offer him a home in Gondor, whatever it cost. It was not cows he was thinking of, but Arwen's love for him.

"I want to see him!" Súlion repeated even as the thoughts whirled around the King's brain.

"I do not know if that is possible," said Aragorn. "You might alarm the other patients in the Houses of Healing and I am not sure where you could land."

"I want to be with my rider!" Súlion reared up and bared his teeth. His ruff stood out stiffly from his long neck. The young assistant healer looked terrified.

"There is a large lawn in front of the Houses," said Faramir. "Maybe Súlion could land there and we could bring his rider to him on a litter? If you go on ahead, sire, to make the arrangements, I will follow with Súlion in a short time. Would that be acceptable?"

"I would rather go at once," Súlion said, but he closed his fearsome mouth and put his forepaws back on the ground.

"We need to make certain you have a safe place to land and the healers are prepared for your coming," said Aragorn, thinking he would order the curtains drawn in all the rooms that overlooked the gardens.

"Very well," said Súlion," but I will see him!"

Aragorn sped off to where his horse was tethered and urged the stallion into a gallop. He sympathised with the dragon's wish to see his dying rider despite all the difficulties it posed. After all, every effort was made to summon the loved ones of a dying patient to his or her bedside and the dragon was the only friend that Fu Nung had in Gondor. The King soon arrived at the Houses of Healing and started issuing instructions concerning the dragon's coming to the healers. They were none too willing to obey. He then hastened to Fu Nung's bedside. The man's fever had worsened and Tarostar and Aedred were bathing him in cool water with little effect. His pulse was weak and rapid and he hardly seemed to breathe. Aragorn again tried to connect with the Easterling's spirit, but again was unable to do so.

"I doubt he will live until sunset, poor fellow," Aedred said sadly

"His dragon wants to see him," said Aragorn. "We must prepare a litter and take him outside." He grabbed a towel and started to wipe the water off the rider.

"What?" Tarostar exclaimed in horror. "But the man is dying, sire!"

"What harm can it do him then?" said Aragorn. "Someone fetch a litter and quickly!"

"I must register that I do not approve of this course of action, sire!" said Tarostar. "Taking a dying man outside to a dragon is unheard of!"

"That dragon is his only true friend in Gondor," said Aragorn. "Maybe the creature will comfort him as his spirit moves beyond the circles of the world."

Just then two servants arrived with the litter. Aragorn and the healers wrapped Fung Nu in a linen sheet and a blanket. The King sent one of the servants to watch for the dragon's arrival. Until then, they left the unconscious Easterling on the bed, where he lay motionless and close to death.

000

We should go now," Súlion told Faramir fretfully.

"Just wait a little longer," the Steward counselled, gently stroking the creature's nose.

"My rider is dying! I want to go to him!"

"I know," Faramir said quietly, "and I understand."

"How can you understand?" demanded the dragon.

"I lost a brother who was as dear to me as any brother could be," Faramir explained. "Then there have been times when I believed the King had been slain and I felt that my soul was torn asunder. He is not only my lord, but has become as a father and brother to me. I cannot contemplate a world in which he does not dwell."

"That is how I feel about my rider," Súlion conceded. "I chose him as my companion when my first rider died. His family were not pleased, thinking I should prefer his brothers, but I saw his true worth. Alas, I fear I led him to his death!"

"How could that be?" enquired Faramir. "It was not you who wounded him."

"I encouraged his desire to explore," Súlion said sadly. "I thought that if we explored distant lands and maybe formed an alliance with your King that Fung Nu's family would better respect him."

"It was not a bad plan," Faramir said. "You were not to know that the Peoples of the West have never met any friendly dragons before."

"So I have killed him!"

Faramir wondered if dragons were capable of bursting into tears as Súlion certainly looked as if he might. He decided enough time had elapsed for Aragorn to warn the Houses of Healing of their coming. ""If you would carry me once more?"

Swift as an arrow in flight, Súlion sped towards the City. Faramir had to beg him to slow his progress as they approached the sixth level. He instructed the dragon which direction to take and they swiftly reached their destination and hovered above the gardens of the Houses, coming down to land on the garden lawn. They quickly discovered that the garden hardly designed for dragons. Súlion's vast limbs and wings tore up several shrubs, uprooted a row of rose bushes and almost overturned a small tree! A maidservant fled screaming, while two irate gardeners shook their fists at the dragon.

"Oh dear," said Súlion "Why are all your places so small?" He settled himself as best he could on the lawn and Faramir slid from his back. "Where is my rider?" the dragon demanded.

Faramir was just about to send one of the gardeners to enquire of the healers when a small procession approached. Aragorn and Aedred slowly bore a litter, while Tarostar walked alongside it, still protesting.

"Just look at all this the damage this monster has caused , Master Warden!" said one of the gardeners. "The creature has undone months of our labour!Why does the Lord Steward want to bring a dragon here?"

"The damage can be dealt with later," said Aragorn before Tarostar could reply. Now, I want everyone except the healers to leave us. The dragon should be able to bid a private farewell to his rider."

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