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19
Those whom God hath joined together

Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder. Book of Common Prayer

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 Raksha and Virtuella

“No!” Faramir cried. “You are weary; when you have rested you will swiftly recover.”

“Alas. son of my heart.” Aragorn’s voice was little more than a whisper. “I must now leave you. Be of good courage and do not fade. Protect Arwen and my little ones. Always remember, ion nîn that I love you. Tell Arwen I….” He closed his eyes and said no more.

“Ada, get up and play!” Farawyn regarded her father’s prone form in bewilderment. She tried to wriggle free from Faramir’s restraining grasp.

“I will care for the little one,” said Súlion. He gently gripped the back of Farawyn’s cloak with a massive talon.

“Aragorn!” Faramir bent and felt Aragorn’s forehead. The King’s skin was like ice and he hardly seemed to be breathing. The Steward was no healer, but after many years as a soldier who had seen all too many comrades perish, he could recognise when a man was close to death. A sudden fury seized him. He stood up and shook his fist towards the heavens. “How dare you demand his life?” he cried. ” I am not your priest king, but I Faramir of Gondor dare to challenge you! What has he done to deserve to die on this mountainside like some wild beast? I lay no claim to wisdom, but I know this man to be the greatest and best who now lives. I freely offer myself in his stead if a life is demanded. He still has much to do. Gondor needs him. His wife and children need him. I need him! ” His fury spent, Faramir wept.

Suddenly the Steward found himself on his knees. He supposed he must have stumbled, yet it felt as if some invisible force had caused him to lose his footing. A comforting and familiar scent surrounded him. He was kneeling in a patch of athelas! Faramir felt a renewed sense of hope. Swiftly he gathered a handful. He crumbled some and held it under Aragorn’s nose, the rest he stuffed in his pocket.

Aragorn opened his eyes and looked at him. “Ion nîn?”

“I am taking you home to your lady.” Faramir said with more confidence than he felt. He put his hand on the King’s forehead again. Aragorn was still as deathly cold as the surrounding air. “Come, you must get dressed, you are frozen!”

Súlion suddenly extended his long neck beneath the cloak that covered Aragorn and blew great clouds of warm air, making it billow up like a great sail. Faramir was forced the grab the garment to stop it blowing away.

Farawyn laughed delightedly at the strange spectacle.

“Ada!” Farawyn cried, “Ada, get up and play horsy!”

Aragorn lifted his head. “Ada will play later, dearest one. Help me, Faramir?”

Súlion spread his wings around Aragorn to create a warm tent, while he gently gripped the back of Farawyn’s cloak again.

Faramir swiftly helped the King into his clothes. Eager to leave the mountain as quickly as possible, Faramir was about to tell Súlion they were ready to leave when Aragorn stopped him. “Fill my water bottle with water from the lake,” he commanded.

Faramir did as he was bidden and at Aragorn’s insistence gave Farawyn more water before strapping her on her father’s back again. The little girl started to cry again.

“Don’t you want to fly in the air like a bird?” the dragon enquired.

“Farawyn fly?” The toddler’s attention was suitably diverted for them to clamber aboard the great dragon again. Súlion picked up Aragorn and his little daughter in his jaws and hoisted them on his broad neck. Faramir climbed up of his own accord and held on to Aragorn. “Fly home carefully!” the Steward instructed the dragon. He paused to glance backwards at the lake, which now lay still and silver in the moonlight, a mysterious place, which would likely never yield its secrets.

They soared aloft; Farawyn showed no fear, but wriggled and cried that she was hungry. Aragorn said little and his features were set grimly, causing Faramir to suspect that only sheer force of will kept him upright. He dreaded to think how they might have fared on horseback along the steep rocky tracks of the mountainside.

Dawn was breaking when the dragon arrived back at Minas Tirith. Heedless of Faramir’s pleas to be careful, Súlion landed in a courtyard in front of the Royal apartments, crushing a row of shrubs and overturning brickwork and statuary when he crammed his bulk into far too small a space. Fortunately, most of the servants were still asleep and only a young page crossing the yard to make his morning ablutions gave a cry of dismay and fled.

“Thank you,” said Faramir fervently when he climbed from the dragon’s back and assisted Aragorn to dismount.

“Bye, bye, nice birdie.” said Farawyn, waving a chubby fist.

“A girl child is more interesting than I thought,” Súlion said thoughtfully. “I must tell Fu Nung and his wife to have one next instead of another boy child. Do not forget to tell me how the little one fares.”

Faramir half dragged, half carried Aragorn inside, demanding assistance when he espied a nervous looking young guard nearby.

As soon as they reached the Royal Apartments, Aragorn dismissed the young fellow, insisting he could walk with just Faramir’s arm for support.

They had only been inside for a moment when Arwen appeared and hastened towards them. It seemed that Aragorn’s attempts to make her sleep had not been successful for long “My baby!” she cried. “I awoke and found you had gone and one of the guards said he had seen you depart with that monster!”

“Naneth! Farawyn met nice horsey,” said Farawyn happily as she was swept up in her mother’s arms.

“I believe the One told me to take her to the lake on the mountain,” Aragorn explained. “The dragon took us there. Our daughter is hungry. Some of your milk will help her regain her strength.”

Arwen gazed at her daughter as if the world held nothing else save her precious child.

His mission accomplished, Aragorn suddenly stumbled and would have fallen had Faramir not caught him.

“Estel!” cried the Queen, as if noticing her husband for the first time since he had returned, and glancing away from Farawyn for a moment. “You need to rest. You have not slept and hardly eaten these past days. Faramir, will you aid my lord?”

“Gladly,” said Faramir. He led Aragorn to the chamber he shared with Arwen and helped him undress. To the Steward’s alarm, he made no protest at being helped and meekly allowed Faramir to assist him to don his nightshirt and allowed Faramir to lend a supporting arm as he climbed into bed.

Once between the sheets, Aragorn laid there limply, his eyes closed and his face grey with weariness. Faramir took his hand. It felt frozen. His skin was as white as marble and as cold. “Shall I send for Master Aedred?” he asked.

Aragorn wearily opened his eyes and shook his head. ”No,” he said firmly. ”This will pass and it is beyond the understanding of Master Aedred, skilled healer though he is.”

Faramir knew better than to disobey his lord. He surmised that he was correct. What could a conventional healer know of the powers inherent in Elendil’s line and the dangers their uses incurred? Only the sons of Master Elrond would understand and they were far away at Rivendell. The Steward could only call for servants to bring a bowl of hot water, a warm drink, and a heated brick to place at Aragorn’s feet.

He tried crushing an athelas leaf in the hot water, but was all too aware that Aragorn alone could utilise the herb’s virtue, but at present was too exhausted to do so. “Try breathing the vapours,” he said, holding the bowl in front of Aragorn’s face. A touch of colour returned to Aragorn’s wan features and he managed to sit up to sit the hot drink, albeit supported by pillows and Faramir’s arm. The King then slumped back against the pillows. Faramir waited impatiently for Arwen to come. Did she not realise how much her husband needed her?

After what seemed an age, Arwen entered the room with a sleepy Farawyn in her arms. “I fed Farawyn and gave a warm bath,” she remarked. Only after she had tucked the child into her crib did she look at her husband. “Estel!” she exclaimed in horror.

“His strength fails him,” said Faramir. “I believe he needs athelas to restore him. I gathered these leaves just now at the lake.”

“I have the power to use them.”

Faramir handed her the freshly gathered athelas leaves.

Arwen took them, and send for more hot water, that Faramir had ordered being cold by now.

“He has pushed himself too far, I fear,” said Faramir.

A servant bringing hot water saved Arwen from replying. She almost snatched the bowl from the startled looking girl and crushed two athelas leaves into it, all the while singing in a low sweet voice. She bathed Aragorn’s face and neck with the mixture.”

“Rub his hands,” she instructed Faramir.

The Steward obeyed and vigorously chafed his lord’s icy hands thinking sadly how only a few days ago they had been so full of warmth.

Aragorn opened his eyes and smiled wanly at them both. As they continued their ministrations, he relaxed and breathed more deeply and a little colour returned to his cheeks.

A few minutes later the greyness and pinched look left the King’s features and his skin was warm to the touch. He breathed deeply and drifted into what seemed to be natural slumber.

Finally satisfied that Aragorn’s hands were restored to their usual warmth, Faramir pulled the blankets over them, sighing with relief.

“He should be fully recovered by the morrow,” said Arwen.

“Why must he risk himself so?” Faramir mused.

“Because he loves.” Arwen replied. “He would gladly do the same for you, and for me – little though I deserve it!”

“His estrangement almost broke his noble heart!” Faramir was angered enough to cast aside his usual reserve and courtesy. ”These past weeks have taxed his strength sorely. I have supported him all I could, but he needed you too at his side, my lady!”

“He was led astray by a monster!” Arwen said defensively.

“The ‘monster’ that you call him, has just saved your daughter’s life and most likely your husband’s too!” Faramir retorted. “I would gladly give my life for my lord, but I have not the means to carry him and your daughter up the mountain as far as the lake, neither could the best of horses, only Súlion could help and he gladly did so. As well as bearing them, he kept them warm. I intend now to go and tell him that his friend is feeling better.” Pausing only to plant a filial kiss upon Aragorn’s brow, he gave a curt bow and strode from the room.

Arwen stood staring after him dumfounded by Faramir’s uncharacteristic behaviour. How dare he speak to her like that! Estel ought to rebuke him. However, her Estel lay exhausted upon the bed. Before she had prepared the athelas, he had looked every one of his advanced years. Had their estrangement truly harmed him as much as the Steward claimed? A stab of fear pieced her heart.

Arwen knew all too well how dangerous an estrangement between two who were thought bonded could be as they shared part of each other’s souls. When Aragorn had banished Faramir from his side for a few months following the Steward’s unwilling branding of him, both men had been in danger of fading. Her rift with Estel had not been as deep, but not only was she thought bonded to him; she was his wife and the mother of his children. Her place should have been at his side, however much she disliked and distrusted dragons. Estel would never have tried to force her to share his opinions or speak to the creature. It seemed too, that this dragon truly was not evil and had helped both her daughter and her husband.

Arwen found her eyes wet wish tears. She had risked losing all that was most precious to her, not because of what she knew, but what she had been taught to believe.

Swiftly she started to undress, casting aside her garments until she wore only a thin linen shift. Then she climbed into bed beside her husband and curled herself against him. Aragorn opened his eyes.

“I am so very sorry,” she said.

“I love you, vanimelda,” Aragorn whispered before closing his eyes and falling asleep again, curled in her arms.

TBC

A/n Wishing all my readers who celebrate, a happy and peaceful Christmas season.

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