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16
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
Henry The Fourth, Part 2 Act 3, scene 1, 26–31 - Shakespeare

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

With thanks to Virtuella and Raksha


~~~

The dragons were now nearly upon them. Aragorn and Faramir stood facing them shoulder-to-shoulder; trying not to show the fear they felt. To their surprise, the strange dragons remained at a distance. Only Súlion approached them, circling over their heads and coming in to land on the grass behind the bank of willows.

The riders slid from the backs of their fearsome beasts and prostrated themselves face downwards on the ground in front of Aragorn, while the dragons bowed their heads respectfully.

"Hail, Great Lord Elessar, King of the Western lands!" cried one of the Riders in heavily accented common tongue, raising his head a little. "Your humble servant greets you. I am Wang Shu, Captain to the Son of Heaven. We bring friendly greetings from the exalted Emperor and thank you caring for his treasured friend and most humble son. Long have we journeyed in search of them that we might escort them safely home. Praise to the Celestial Beings that T'ien Li is safe and well!"

Faramir was the first to find his tongue at this unexpected turn of events. "Fu Nung is the son of your lord? His father must be most concerned about him."

"Fu Nung is of little consequence without the Celestial Friend," said the Captain. "It caused great consternation that the illustrious T'ien Li should choose the son of a third concubine as his companion, but who would dare question the esteemed ways of the illustrious ones?"

"Who indeed?" said Faramir with his customary politeness.

"Please get up, Captain," said Aragorn, belatedly recovering the power of speech and remembering his own good manners.

Wang Shu raised himself to a kneeling position. "We request permission from your most excellent majesty that we might rest here. I would crave an audience with you on the morrow as we bring gifts and greetings from the Son of Heaven. The esteemed T'ien Li tells us that Honourable Fu Nung is recovering from an illness, so we would ask if we could stay here until he is well enough to depart with us. The Esteemed One tells us your people fear dragons, so we would not come nearer to your City to alarm them."

"I am certain that can be arranged with the farmer who owns the field," said Aragorn, still hardly able to believe this sudden reversal of fortunes. "Please, Captain, get to your feet with your men and be at ease! I will see that food is sent to you and my guards will ensure your protection and escort you to the citadel. I am certain that Fu Nung will be glad to see you."

"As you will, most excellent majesty." The Captain said something that Aragorn and Faramir could not understand and the riders got to their feet and started to unload baggage from their dragons' backs. Aragorn felt slightly faint. He gripped Faramir's arm and turned to Súlion "We need to return to the City at once," he told the dragon.

Súlion allowed them to clamber aboard him. He then turned his head and grinned, showing his gigantic teeth. "You thought you were going to be eaten, did you not, oh foolish sons of Ilúvatar?"

"Of course not!" Aragorn protested rather too hastily.

"No, of course not," said the dragon. "Otherwise you would not have donned your coverings and prevented them from seeing that you two are all skin and bones, nor would you neglect to dry yourselves and drip cold water all over me!" With that the dragon soared aloft.

"Why did you not tell us that Fu Nung was your ruler's son?" Faramir enquired after a few moments.

"I thought it was too obvious a fact to relate," said the dragon.

"And why should that be?" Faramir asked.

"Only a Prince of royal blood would be deemed a fitting companion for a celestial dragon," Súlion explained. "No lesser man would be permitted to ride one of the Emperors ancestors!"

"Ancestors?" Aragorn's head was starting to spin.

"Yes, the first of the royal line was sired by a dragon," said Súlion, considerable pride in his tone.

"Really?" Aragorn could not hide the scepticism in his voice.

"Well, your line has a Maia for an ancestress," Faramir reminded him.

Aragorn said no more.

"Why did you agree to let us ride on your back when we first met you?" asked Faramir. "You did not know then that Aragorn was the King."

"I pitied you and as I was far from home, I did not think it mattered," said the dragon. "Besides, I was lonely as I missed bearing my own Rider upon my back."

Faramir pattered the great creature's neck at this revelation. They said no more for the remainder of the brief journey.

As soon as the dragon had set them down in the royal gardens, the two friends hurried to change their clothing before anyone saw their dishevelled appearance. Once properly dry and dressed as befitting their station, King and Steward despatched guards to bring the visiting captain to the City and servants to ensure that their guests, including the dragons, had sufficient to eat. A clerk was also despatched to negotiate a suitable price for the meadow where the dragons had made camp. Within the hour, the Captain was brought to Aragorn, who immediately took him to see Fu Nung. After many elaborate greetings, it seemed that the two knew one another well and were pleased to be reunited. Afterwards the Captain requested a formal audience for the next day. Aragorn left the Easterlings alone to converse in their own tongue and went to join Faramir for supper.

Neither King nor Steward had much appetite that evening for the delicious food the cooks set before them. Faramir especially found his stomach felt tight and nauseous, his head ached and his arms felt too painful to move. All his long healed old wounds seemed to throb, too. "I am not hungry," he said at last, pushing the plate aside. To his dismay he found he was shaking. Then his teeth started to chatter. "Whatever is the matter with me?" he exclaimed.

"I think you are suffering from delayed shock," Aragorn replied. "You gathered your wits together this afternoon much more swiftly than I did and now you are paying the price. I will treat you with the Elven healing touch to ease you. I fear I have neglected your well being of late."

"You too are weary," Faramir protested. "I will be well soon enough."

"Who else has need of me at present?" Aragorn asked somewhat bitterly.

"I should be glad of your help then," said Faramir, needing little persuasion. When times were quiet, Aragorn would use his Elvish healing arts every week to help him stay in good heath and keep his old wounds from troubling him. Since Súlion had turned up outside the City Gates, there had been no time as both men struggled to deal with the crisis and Aragorn fought to save Fung Nu's life.

"Let us retire for the night and I will tend you ere you sleep," said Aragorn. "We will accomplish little in the way of work after such a day as this! I will ask a servant to bring hot water that I might steep some athelas. It should benefit us both."

Faramir undressed, his shaking hands fumbling with buttons and laces. He lay on the bed and felt ashamed that even Aragorn should see him thus, as his whole body shook and quivered. He closed his eyes. Almost at once he felt the covers being drawn over him. He opened his eyes again and met his lord's kindly and concerned gaze

"I was hoping that our visitors would notice this afternoon how much my knees trembled," said Aragorn. "I hope I am no coward, but the thought of being eaten alive daunts even the bravest heart!" He crumbled two leaves of athelas into a bowl of steaming water. Both men inhaled deeply of the refreshing vapours.

Aragorn then began the Elven treatment, starting with the tense muscles in Faramir's neck and shoulders. "Your muscles are very tense," he said. "Small wonder that you are in pain!"

Faramir sighed as the King's skilful fingers gently massaged painful knots in his back. He recalled a lute he had owned as a boy, which had been strung too tightly and snapped when he had next played it. He felt his inside must resemble the broken instrument.

"Shock does strange things to the human body," said Aragorn. "You could not eat earlier as your stomach muscles are in knots too."

Faramir flinched slightly as Aragorn began to unloose the knots in his chest and stomach. The pain quickly eased as Aragorn's healing touch worked its magic. He felt now almost as if he were made of liquid. The warmth of the King's hands soothed away all the pain and stiffness that had troubled him but an hour before.

He closed his eyes and breathed deeply to the slow circular rhythm of Aragorn's fingertips. He felt almost as if he were floating and drifting away into pleasant dreams.

Aragorn finally ceased his ministrations. With a mighty effort Faramir opened his eyes. "I had better put my nightshirt on," he said. "It would be most incorrect to fall asleep without it!"

Aragorn grinned and tossed the garment to him. "I have never know you to act in an incorrect manner in all the years that I have known you, he said. " You had better don it or you might become chilled in just your drawers."

Faramir caught his nightshirt and pulled it over his head. By the time Aragorn had prepared for bed he was sound asleep.

Aragorn stood watching over him for a few moments, glad to observe the even rhythm of his friend's breathing and his relaxed posture. He bent and kissed him lightly on the brow, his heart full of love and gratitude towards this son of his heart who yet again had bravely faced death at his lord's side.

Faramir slept soundly that night; lulled to a deep and dreamless sleep by the King's treatments Aragorn was not so fortunate. All had ended well that day, but it could so easily have been very different. He tossed and turned, as evil dreams plagued him. Once he awoke in a cold sweat after dreaming of dragons devouring his children. He was tempted to wake Faramir, but had not the heart to disturb the soundly sleeping Steward.

At last morning came, and with it a distinct change in the weather. A chill wind blew in from the North and the skies were grey and overcast. It seemed more like November than late spring. The servants hastened to light fires in all the occupied rooms.

While Faramir dealt with affairs of State, Aragorn went to meet Fu Nung and the Captain. To his astonishment, they presented him with a sack of gold and many precious jewels and treasures, including bales of colourful silks, as a gift from Fu Nung's father. Aragorn insisted that he was only offering the hospitality due to a guest, but secretly was glad that Gondor's treasury would not have to pay for the feeding and accommodation of the dragons.

The King then went to join Faramir for luncheon. The two friends were hungrier today and soon ate their meal of roast lamb and vegetables followed by syllabub and apples cooked in wine.

Aragorn spent the afternoon hearing petitions over land disputes while Faramir made an inventory of the gifts the King had received that morning. He looked wistfully at a bale of green silk with a fine golden filigree pattern thinking how fair Éowyn would look in a gown made from it.

Just then Aragorn entered the room and picked up a bale of blue and silver cloth. "How fair Arwen would look in this!" he exclaimed.

"I was just thinking the same about Éowyn and this green silk," Faramir replied.

"You are welcome to give it to her," said Aragorn.

"When will our ladies agree to see us?" Faramir said sadly.

"The Valar alone know that!" Aragorn replied in an equally glum tone. On that melancholy note the two friends put down the silks and went to eat their evening meal. They ate in Aragorn's study, as the dining room seemed too large and bleak. The King thought wistfully of evenings in the past when he had sat with his children on his lap, telling Eldarion stories while Farawyn slept, or the times he had crawled round the floor playing with both children. Eldarion was given to lively games, while Farawyn chattered away to her favourite doll. Faramir always joined the King and Queen for dinner when he was in the city, but the Royal Apartments seemed silent and empty without Arwen and the children. Aragorn pondered yesterday's events; on the one hand, Fu Nung and Súlion would be able to return home sooner with an escort, and it would solve Aragorn's worries on how to see them safely home. On the other hand, Arwen would be angrier than ever now there were more dragons being treated as the King's guests.

Again that night he slept fitfully and was plagued by another evil dream. This time Arwen was accusing him of sacrificing their baby daughter to the dragons just as Ar Pharazôn had sacrificed the Faithful to Sauron in Númenor.

When morning came it was as cold and cheerless as the day before.

King and Steward spent the morning at a Council meeting, reassuring the sceptical Lords of Gondor that the newly arrived dragons meant no harm. The sack of gold, which Aragorn announced was for the treasury to pay for repairs to any damage caused by the dragons helped to mollify them somewhat and the meeting concluded on a better note than Aragorn had expected.

The meeting over, Aragorn and Faramir were discussing it over the noonday meal when a maidservant rushed into the room.

"Begging your pardon, my lords," she said, "but the Queen is here and wants to see you at once, my lord! She is in the solar."

Aragorn leapt from his seat and ran to greet her. A young guard waylaid him in his haste. "I know you ordered that the Queen was to remain with Lady Éowyn,"he said." but given the circumstances we didn't think you would object to her returning to the City. We made sure she did not speak to anyone along the route."

Aragorn nodded reassurance to the young man, hardly noticing what he was saying in his haste to see his lady. He ran into the solar.

How Arwen had changed! She wore a plain dark gown, her beautiful hair was tangled and windswept while her face was haggard and pale. Aragorn clasped her in a close embrace, oblivious of Farawyn's nurse who hovered nearby.

"My love, how I have missed you!" Aragorn exclaimed.

TBC

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