Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search
swiss replica watches replica watches uk Replica Rolex DateJust Watches

The Better Huntsman  by Aelaer

Rating: Light PG-13
Genre: Action, with some humor and drama (interesting combination)
Warnings: Some wounds and head-knockings, but nothing worse than is seen in the films.
Note: Some elements can be considered AU; it really depends on your own interpretation.

Ridiculously long A/N: This was originally written for a Teitho contest a year or so ago. The original was put together in haste and I was not at all happy with it. I have been meaning to rewrite and add many parts to it, and it was only now that my muses finally cooperated with me. It has been heavily rewritten in many areas, and many grammatical errors present in the original have been fixed. This version is a bit longer (over twice as long), and I gave Éowyn and Arwen, as well as my OC's, more of a role. The second half of the story especially has seen many changes. It is at the very beginning of the Fourth Age, so it's a couple years after the War.

Also, I have pinned what species of deer stars in the story; it's Middle-earth's version of the European Red Deer, the third largest species of deer in our modern world (after the moose and elk). The average male stag weighs 295 kg (650lb). The male of this species is a stag rather than a buck, so I went and changed all of those from the original.

The OC's are all my own, and good old Galdir can be found lurking in some of my other tales. He'll like play a future role in other stories, as well. Tolkien's characters are borrowed with love and will be put back in (almost) pristine condition. My interpretation of the characters is my own and may differ from others.

I am completely neutral when it comes to (legally) hunting for sport, but firmly believe that it would be done as a leisurely activity among men in Middle-earth, especially considering the lack of animal rights activists hundreds of years ago ;) Whatever your opinion, I hope you enjoy.


Chapter One: Of Good Ideas

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Well, at least to him it sounded like an excellent idea. Sure, he had thought up some not-very-good ideas in the past, but this time was different. As the others had agreed that it was a good idea, he was perfectly justified in saying that it actually was a good idea.

It was not his fault that everything always turned out wrong.

It had all started out this morning- well, no, it actually had started out just a few days ago, in Minas Tirith. It was spring: flowers were blooming, birds were singing, the people of the city were content and happy- and he was near the point of insanity.

Aragorn had been raised to be a tactician and a leader; his foster father was sure to see to it. Along with learning the art of swordplay and archery, he had learned politics and the ways of diplomacy. After all, Elrond did expect him to become king of Arnor and Gondor; if he were to rule a kingdom, he would have to know how to deal with the politics of his own country and of other countries.

He gained even more experience once he joined the Dúnedain and when he traveled as Thorongil in Rohan and Gondor. As he raised to high positions in both countries, he soon learned what he needed to be in order to gain respect from other men of high positions. By the time he had become king, he knew almost everything there was to know about politics. He knew how to deal with difficult men in a patient and diplomatic way.

Nonetheless, some of his councilors were completely and utterly insufferable. Often he had to attend small meetings with lords of the city, and while many of them he admired, there were a few that were completely impossible to work with.

It was those few who was driving him insane.

“Bavanor is a thrice-cursed fool!” Aragorn ranted when he entered his private rooms. His wife looked up from the book she was reading and put it down.

“Another fruitless meeting?” she asked.

“The worst,” he clarified as he sat down beside her. “He is asking me to do the impossible. Honestly, I wish I could be rid of him!”

“Bavanor… is he not the head of the stone mason’s guild?” asked Arwen. At Aragorn’s confirming nod, she continued, “I believe I remember him from our wedding night. I did not like him very well; he felt false to me. As it is, I do not think he liked me, either.”

“Many times a fool, then,” Aragorn mumbled.

“Is there naught you can do, meleth nin?”

“Nay; he does his job well enough, and many of the other guild leaders respect him enough to be angry with me if I remove him.” Aragorn sighed. “I can usually handle him and his selfish rambles, but at the moment I am at the end of my rope. I am in a desperate need of change.”

Arwen nodded thoughtfully as her husband stood up and started to pace. “Well Estel, you have not had any time to yourself for many months, despite the peace within your realm. Is there any time at all for a well-deserved break?”

The king shook his head as he continued to pace. “Nay, my love, I must meet with Faramir within the coming week to discuss the- Faramir!” Suddenly Aragorn stopped pacing, and he turned to his wife, a bright light within his eyes. “That’s it! Faramir! Thank you, Arwen, you are brilliant!” He embraced her and planted a kiss upon her lips.

“You are most welcome, Aragorn,” she said, her eyes twinkling. “But tell me, what exactly did I do?”

“I shall explain later,” he said, pulling away from her and heading towards the door. “Arrangements must be made!” With that, he left the room, leaving behind a very amused wife.

***

Within a few days Aragorn, Arwen, and a small guard left to Emyn Arnen to see the Lord Faramir and his family on 'state business'. Originally Faramir was to come to Minas Tirith for a few days to work out all that needed to be done, but with this arrangement, the king would be able to escape from the City and finish necessary business. The best part was that he had over a week to do so; Faramir and he would finish it within a couple of days, and then all of them would have time to enjoy themselves and relax.

Now that, that was a brilliant idea. And indeed, all necessary business had been finished earlier than expected, leaving the two lords to enjoy some much needed relaxation.

But of course, fate had other plans. In other words, he had just come up with another idea that very morning.

“Faramir.”

The Steward of Gondor turned from his book to the king, who was currently gazing at the head of a stag on the wall. “Yes, Aragorn?”

“Are the deer in Ithilien still as large as they used to be?”

Faramir looked at the stag head, and then back to his liege lord. “Well, in the last days of the stewards, deer were difficult to find, and they tended to be small. However, ever since the end of the War, deer are now quite plentiful and large.”

Aragorn nodded as he stared at it in thought. Suddenly, he said, “Let us go hunting.”

Faramir blinked. “What?”

“Hunting.” Aragorn turned to look at Faramir, a fiendish gleam in his eyes. “You have gone hunting before, haven’t you, Lord Faramir?”

“Of course,” Faramir replied, raising an eyebrow. “Have you, Sire?”

“Naturally,” said Aragorn without missing a beat. “And I am an excellent huntsman, if I do say so myself.”

“Is that a challenge?” asked Faramir, standing up.

“It is whatever you make it out to be.”

Aragorn approached Faramir, and the two men looked at each other in the eye. Faramir raised his eyebrow again. Aragorn folded his arms in response. The two lords gazed at one another, gray eyes on gray, two dark-haired reincarnations of Númenórean lords of old. Thus they stood like this for a while, until finally the steward broke the silence.

“I imagine our lady wives shall not be pleased.”

“Nonsense,” said Aragorn, waving his hand. “They will be amused, if anything.”

“Beregond will not be happy with such a short notice.”

“Neither will Galdir.”

Faramir slowly nodded. “So… would you like to inform the ladies or the guards?”

“Guards,” he immediately replied, and Faramir burst out laughing.

“Leave me with the challenge!” Faramir cried. “But I shall do as you command, my king,” he said with a low, exaggerated bow. “Know that you shall hear all of their worries and warnings from me; think not that you can escape it!”

“I expect I shall hear all words of caution needed from the queen; I need not you to repeat it to me!”

“But nevertheless, repeated it shall be,” Faramir retorted. “And now, I believe we both have missions to complete. So we shall go hunting… tomorrow?”

“Yes. We shall leave tomorrow at dawn, and come back in a day, or two; whenever one of us has proved to the other to be the better huntsman.” Aragorn said, a large, almost boyish grin on his face. “Whoever shoots down the largest deer shall claim this title.”

Faramir nodded. “Very well then. I shall give the news of this little venture to our wives, and you to our guards.”

Aragorn nodded. “And tomorrow at dawn, we shall begin.”

“May the best man win.”

***

To say that the guards were dismayed by this news would be an understatement. Indeed, the captain of the king's personal guard was downright exasperated.

"I thought we were here on state business, my lord," Galdir said plainly.

"We were," Aragorn affirmed. "We finished business early. Now we are to go hunting tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? You cannot be serious, my lord," he exclaimed. "I have yet to send scouts out to make sure the area is clear, not to mention that I must make arrangements in the shifts- and if Lord Faramir is to come as well, I must make some arrangements with Captain Beregond. Tomorrow simply does not give me enough time to do all this, my lord!"

Aragorn waited patiently for his frantic captain to finish his speech. He idly wondered who was so cruel to place this man in charge of his well-being; as fond as he was of the captain, the man was still rather paranoid.

"Captain," he said calmly once Galdir took a moment to breathe, "I appreciate your thoroughness and meticulous planning, but I will remind you that the War has been over for a few years now, and that we are still in Gondor. I doubt such precautions are needed for such an informal outing. In the end, Lord Faramir and I are still going hunting tomorrow. I was simply giving you an early notice."

"Early notice?" he protested, but said no more. "Very well then, my lord. I shall do my best with the situation."

"Inform Captain Beregond as well, if you would," Aragorn said with a smile.

"Of course, my lord," he said with a bow. "If you have need of me, I shall be in the barracks." With that, he saluted and left the king.

Aragorn could not help but roll his eyes after Galdir left. "That man needs to learn to relax," he muttered to himself. "Ah, well, better than the ladies."

***

If Faramir was around to hear Aragorn, he would heartily agree with the statement. As it was, he was currently preoccupied by said ladies.

"You are already done with state business?" Éowyn asked in surprise as she bounced her two-year-old son upon her knees. He giggled as he went up and down, but laughed in delight as his father swooped him up and lifted him in the air.

"Aye," he confirmed briefly, but turned his attention to his son. "Look, Elboron, you fly like a gull." He spun him around as the young child giggled even more.

Arwen smiled as she observed the steward. "And now you have time to play with your son. Though tell me, where is my husband?"

Faramir did not respond right away, but rather spun Elboron around once more time before setting him down upon his mother's lap. During this brief moment he thought of the best way to break the news to the two women. He decided to go for a blunt approach.

"Since we have finished our business," Faramir began, settling down upon an empty chair across from them, "we decided we shall go hunting on the morrow. Aragorn is informing the guards."

"This hunting expedition was Aragorn's idea, wasn't it?" Arwen asked.

"Well, yes, it was."

Arwen nodded and then shook her head. "Hunting. I thought Aragorn came here to relax."

"Hunting is very relaxing, my lady," Faramir argued for the king.

"It is," Éowyn unexpectedly put in. "Éomer and Theodred took me hunting when I was a few years younger, before Rohan had turned into a dangerous country. Nonetheless," she said, turning to her husband with a raised eyebrow, "I certainly had hoped that with your free time you would spend more time with us, especially with your son."

"It will only be for a day or two," Faramir assured her. "Afterwards, we shall certainly be with you for the rest of the week."

"Good," Arwen said. "Aragorn needs to spend some time with Elboron. He needs to learn how to handle children."

"Handle children?" Éowyn said excitedly as she turned to the queen. "Do you mean...?"

"No, no, not yet," she said to her hopeful look. "But soon. I do believe it will be soon."

"That would truly be wonderful news," Faramir said with a smile. "Fatherhood is a blessed experience." He glanced at his son, who was now wandering around the room, inspecting everything he could reach. "And the people certainly have been waiting for an heir."

"I know the people have been waiting," Arwen said coolly. "And I know of my duty. Unfortunately there have been some complications."

"Forgive me, my lady," he said with a tilt of his head. "I meant no offense."

"It is forgiven," she said. "My thoughts are petty, and my anger should not be directed at you." The queen shook her head. "Ah! that is a dismal line of thought. Let us move on."

"Well, Faramir," Éowyn said with a nod towards Arwen. "We shall be waiting here, like faithful wives do, and I expect you to keep your promise. Do be back within two days, and do be careful! Foul beings still run about."

"Of course, my dear shield-maiden," he replied with a smile. "I wouldn't dare oppose your will."

"Oh, hush," she countered, but smiled. "Now go on, I am sure you want to prepare. Just be around for dinner, I do believe the cook is making something good tonight."

"I would not miss it for the world," he said. He gave the queen a courtly kiss on the hand, pecked his wife on the check, and ruffled his son's hair before leaving the room.

"I propose a wager," said Arwen once the steward left.

"What would that be?"

"How much are you willing to gamble that our husbands will not be back in time?"

"You do not trust them to keep their word?" Éowyn asked, slightly surprised.

"You do not know my husband as well as I do," she said. "Trouble follows him as persistently as Ithil chases Anor."

Éowyn laughed. "I have heard a couple stories, but I did not realize it was that bad."

"It is," Arwen confirmed. "I thought it was merely the Dark Lord and his obsession to find the heir of Isildur, but since it has continued even into this Age, I have simply concluded that he is forever cursed with terrible luck."

"Well, then, I would be a fool to accept your wager, now, wouldn't I?"

"Indeed."

Chapter Two: The Hunt

Now that Aragorn thought about it, perhaps it was not such a clever idea to go hunting. Well, not that hunting itself was a bad proposal, but the fact that he woke up to a stormy dawn should have been all that was needed to postpone this small hunting trip for another time. Of course, he had never let a few clouds stop him before.

“It looks as if it will rain later today,” commented Faramir as he looked out of the window. “Are you quite sure that you want to go today?”

“Yes,” Aragorn said without hesitation. “A little rain has never stopped me before.”

“I’m not sure if our wives would appreciate it.”

“That is why we leave now.”

Faramir glanced at him. “Are you thinking that they will keep us in?”

“Yes.”

Faramir slowly nodded. “And you are afraid of what they will say when you plan on going hunting in this weather?”

“You are as well,” Aragorn pointed out.

“Any man in his right mind would. I married the shield-maiden of Rohan.”

“And I married the granddaughter of Lady Galadriel.”

“So let us leave before they awake.”

“Good man.”

And with that final note, they left the home of Lord Faramir and headed north, towards a small tributary of the Anduin. Aragorn, Faramir, and their men were all dressed in the clothing of the Ithilien Rangers, for the metal plates of their normal garb would cause too much noise and frighten away all living creatures within the area. Aragorn and Faramir blended well with their men; indeed, any strangers that saw them would mistake the whole band for a troop of patrolling Rangers, not the king, his steward, and their guard. As it was, they did not expect to come upon any travelers, considering the fact that the sky looked as if it would soon drench the earth with rain. However, neither Aragorn nor Faramir could say that he actually minded; it had been quite a while since either of them was last out, and both planned to enjoy their small trip.

Of course, fate always has other plans.

After a short period of riding, the group stopped in a small clearing a couple miles east of the tributary and about ten miles southwest of the Crossroads. While the men set up camp, Aragorn, Faramir, Beregond, and Galdir were all huddled around a map, discussing their options.

“We should not approach Minas Morgul,” said Aragorn. “There is still not much life in that area, and the place itself is still not completely safe. When the odd band of orcs does attack, it is usually in that area.”

“I agree with Lord Elessar,” said Beregond. “That place is much too dangerous. You may want to try to head south.”

“No, deer do not usually wander there,” argued Galdir. “I would think that they would be near the river, perhaps northeast of our current position.”

“I agree,” said Faramir. “I would imagine that there would be many around the river for a good, constant supply of water and food. That is where we will find the largest deer.”

“But in this current weather, it is not safe to wander there, my lord,” argued Beregond. “The river tends to swell and the steep banks can be treacherous.”

“We shall be careful,” said Aragorn. “We know of the risks.” When Faramir nodded his head in agreement, Beregond bowed his head in submission.

Galdir looked as if he wanted to protest further, but took one look at his liege lord and decided against it. “Very well,” he said grudgingly. “But you should take ten men at the least, my lords.”

“Nay, that is too many!” Faramir exclaimed. “We shall find nothing with that number.”

“One or two, at the most,” said Aragorn. “We can handle ourselves.”

“Safety in numbers, my lords,” said Beregond, and Galdir nodded in approvingly.

“Eight,” he added to Beregond’s comment.

"Three."

"Seven."

“Four.”

“Five.” Beregond cut in. Galdir frowned but said nothing.

“Very well, then,” said Aragorn, glancing at Faramir with slight exasperation. “Five men. But no more, and have them be your most silent!” The two captains nodded, bowed, and went to select men for the venture.

“The burdens of leadership,” muttered the steward once they were alone. "I do not grudge their company, but truly 'twas easier being the younger son of the steward." Aragorn nodded, and chuckled.

“If only others knew how much we would give for a bit of privacy.”

“If only.”

***

Soon seven men left the camp: the king, the steward, three men of the king’s guard, and two from the steward’s guard. Beregond and Galdir were part of this guard, for both were loath to leave their lords. The men moved silently, on foot, garbed in the colors of the forest and blending with the shadows of the trees. Unfortunately the sky had not cleared up; instead, it had gotten darker, and it looked as if it were to rain anytime soon.

“Let us hope you find this deer soon, my lords,” muttered Beregond to them, “for if it begins to rain too hard, all creatures will flee to their hidden shelters.”

“We shall,” said Aragorn. “Come, we will be near the river soon.”

And so the men trudged on forward through the forest, coming upon no wildlife. The birds had stopped singing long ago, and nothing had come their way, despite their silence. But nevertheless they continued forward on their venture, hoping that they would come upon at least one deer.

As it was, luck finally came to them when they spotted a large stag grazing upon some wild grass, looking as if it had not a care in the world. All men there held in a gasp, for he was truly the largest deer any of them had seen. His might and arrogance could be seen in his stance; he knew that no one could conquer him. The hunters here today were here to prove him wrong.

Faramir took out his bow; earlier he and Aragorn had drawn sticks to see who would shoot first, and he had the luck of pulling the longer stick. Slowly, he drew the bow until it was taut, exhaled, and released. But as it was, the stag looked up at the exact moment before Faramir had released, and gracefully he sprang out of its way. Instead of immediately running away, he paused for a moment and stared at the hunters. He looked at the king and steward in the face, as if he were daring them on. Before Aragorn could take his first shot, the deer suddenly jumped out of sight.

Both had caught the gaze of the deer, and, as if under a spell, went straight after it. They did not hear Beregond’s surprised objection, nor Galdir's call to wait. The large, majestic stag, instead of seeking for shelter, made sure that he was in sight of the two hunters, if only just out of reach. He easily avoided their arrows, but was sure to keep just in sight. He often turned back to look at them, as if he were taunting the two on. Caught by his powerful gaze, the men took the bait.

The deer led the two further and further away, and they lost all sense of rationality and focus, both eager to conquer the haughty stag. As they ran, the dark clouds finally broke, and the skies released torrents of rain upon the earth. Neither man nor beast let this stop them, though. They ran and ran, tireless, both men eager to take down their prey and the beast eager to outsmart the hunters, as he had done so to many before them.

Soon they had come to the river, and now it was raining with full force; the ground was slippery and muddy, and even Aragorn and Faramir were hard-pressed to keep their balance and speed. The stag led them, following at the edge of a cliff which dropped many feet to meet the gushing waters below. If they were their normal selves, both would have immediately ceased and tried another day. However, the animal had them both entranced, and even as they wavered he would stare back at them, his taunting eyes grabbing them again. And so Aragorn and Faramir were both determined to catch this beast, even if it meant the death of them.

Unfortunately, their luck ended there. As they ran along the steep banks, Faramir suddenly slipped. In his haste to keep himself steady, he grabbed onto Aragorn and brought the king down with him. Stumbling, they both tumbled over the edge of the tall banks and fell into the rushing rapids below.

The stag slowed down, stopped, and glanced below at the river. Satisfied that the hunters would bother him no longer, he left the banks and fled into the forest to find shelter from the storm, not once looking back.


I would like to dedicate this chapter to the talking thrush, Roac, Beorn's animals, the great eagles, Mirkwood spiders, crebain, and other intelligent animals who made this chapter possible. Without your existence, I'd have to label this 'AU'. Now it's merely a slight stretch of canon ;)

Apologies for the delay. The nasty bug known as author shyness bit, for some odd reason. It doesn't usually occur. I blame college. Hope my readers enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.


Chapter Three: Unexpected Events

No, it had not been a clever idea to go hunting in such stormy weather at all. It was even less clever that he had followed the stag; what had he been thinking? Nay, he had not been thinking at all. Neither he nor Faramir had thought about the others, nor about the consequences.

As it was, after they fell into the water Aragorn had immediately hit his head upon a rock and went into unconsciousness, thus ending all of his thoughts. Faramir, however, did not have such luck.

The icy water was a shock that broke the spell upon him. He could not exactly say how he had fallen in, if you had asked him right there and then; as it was, he was too busy trying to keep himself above the rapids to ponder about the strange events that had led both him and the king into the river. It was then that the full meaning of his thoughts assaulted him.

'The king! Where is he?'

The steward looked around desperately, trying to find his king in the water. He could barely see through the darkness and the rain-filled rapids, but finally his keen eyes found what they were looking for. He saw Aragorn’s limp body float above the surface, and then submerge once more under the water. His eyes widened and he nearly cursed. This was not what he needed right now; he could barely keep afloat himself!

Taking a deep breath, he used all of his strength to swim against the rapids in order to reach his unconscious friend. The waters fought against him, and many a time he nearly went under himself. Finally, though, he reached Aragorn and took him into one of his arms while trying to keep himself up with the other. He looked around and searched for something to hold on to; he could not keep both of them up for long.

To his luck, a stray piece of driftwood came his way. He immediately latched onto it for dear life, his other arm still supporting Aragorn. He was in pain, and filled with fatigue, but he knew that he could not lose consciousness; that could mean the death of both of them.

He noticed that the rain was starting to lighten up, though the river still flowed quickly. Thankfully the waters were not as dangerous as they were before, but he still needed to find a place to land before he himself became too weary to hold on. He needed to find shore soon.

After a few long moments, a reachable shore came. A sandy bank was just up ahead; he had to make it there.

Using all of his strength, Faramir made his way to the shore, making sure Aragorn was secure in his arms. He took a deep breath, and let go of the driftwood. He pushed and kicked against the current, despite a burning sensation within his leg. He simply ignored it and kept swimming until he finally found himself on the banks.

He dragged his liege lord’s limp, soaked body out of the river, and made sure that it was out of the water’s way so it would not be pulled back into the current. He looked at Aragorn’s pale face, and at the large gash on the side of his head. Blood slowly dripped out of it and dropped to the ground; he was still alive, which relieved Faramir to no end.

Oh, how weary he was! But he could not rest now; he had to find help. When he tried to get up, a fiery pain shot through his leg, immediately stopping his movements. He looked down, and saw a large gash in his left leg.

'Well, would you look at that…' he thought. 'I'm bleeding.'

Finally, exhaustion overtook him. Though Faramir desperately wished to find help, his body finally gave out, and he fell into unconsciousness.

***

The rains had ended early that morning, which meant that she could play outside instead of being cooped up inside like she was all throughout yesterday afternoon. Even better, her father and brother were going down to the river to look for things the rains may have brought in, which meant that she was able to play by the river! She wasn’t able to play there too often, so she was quite pleased when her mama finally let her go.

However, she found herself wanting to go further down the stream to explore. She looked at her papa and asked in her sweetest voice, “Papa, may I go explore? Please, I promise to be careful!”

Her papa thought about for a moment, and then finally nodded. “Alright, Haneth. But don’t go too far! And if you need anything, just shout!”

She didn’t even hear him after he granted her permission. Squealing with joy, Haneth sprinted away down the banks, kicking pebbles and wet dirt with her feet. She took off her boots and ran in the water, splashing and shouting with glee. Leaving her boots behind, she waded in the water and walked on further, looking at all the debris that the storm left behind. One of her favorite trees was now gone, as was one of her little hideouts that she had found a couple months ago. At least it wasn’t the one near her home; that one really big and took a long time to clear out.

As she played and explored, she suddenly spotted something ahead that looked like a clump of large rocks; she knew, however, that they had not been there before. Being the curious young girl she was, she skipped towards it, intending on exploring this new landmark fully. When Haneth was close enough to see the rocks better, she stopped in her tracks. They were not rocks as she had originally thought, but two men who were completely still. When she saw the blood, her breath hitched, and she took two steps backward before she spun around and fled.

“Papa!” she screeched. “Papa!” She ran as fast as she could from the frightening sight, ignoring the small sharp stones that dug into her bare soles. As soon as her father heard her scream, he sprinted down the river, praying that her fearful cries were for a trivial reason. He soon met her and knelt to catch her in his arms. He lifted his young daughter up, ignoring her wet and muddy feet.

“Shh, shh…” he said gently, stroking her back. He saw no obvious hurt on Haneth, and many of his fears were quieted. It was clear that she was frightened, though. “I’m here, darling, I’m here. What’s wrong?” Still sobbing heavily, she cried out a garble of words that he could not decipher. "Darling, you will have to calm down; I cannot understand you."

She took a moment to catch her breath, but he waited patiently. Between hitched breaths, he was able to make out, "I was exploring the river like you said I could, and I saw some rocks, but they were not rocks. They were men, like you Papa, and they looked like they were sleeping, but..." Her sobs came back in full force before she could finish her thought, and he could not understand anymore she said.

"Father, what is wrong with her?" his elder son Handir came from behind him. He looked curious, but became concerned when his father shot him a grave look.

"Grave news, if she did not imagine things." He turned once more to her. "Where did you find them, Haneth?" he asked calmly, keeping his thoughts barred from her. She did not speak, but merely pointed in the direction from which she had come from. Nodding, he turned and handed the girl to his son. "Take her home. Tell your mother that I am investigating something that frightened her. You are to stay at the house. Do not come to look for me," he added.

Handir looked as if he wanted to protest, but said nothing when his father shot him a look. "All right," he agreed, and turned back to head home, his sister in his arms. Satisfied, the older man started down the river, looking for the sight that had frightened his daughter so much. He did find his daughter’s boots, and made a mental note to pick them up later.

While Haneth was known to have an active imagination, he did not believe a girl as young as she could make something like this up. She did not see the dead during the War, and Handir was not the type to tell her such gruesome stories. So, to his grief, he was afraid that his daughter had truly stumbled upon dead men; he hoped it was not many, for one was already too many. A battle site would be the last thing the young girl needed to see.

He found the spot soon. From a distance he could see there were two men close to one another, dressed in Ranger garb. Every now and then the Ithilien Rangers visited their home, and so he knew their appearance well and knew that they were good, decent men. As he came closer, he saw that these two were taller than most, and certainly not in the best condition. One had a gash on the side of his head and dried blood covering half of his face, while the other had blood covering nearly the whole of his left leg. Both were wet, despite the bright, warm sun in the sky, and both were covered in bruises and lacerations. From their state of being, he concluded that the two had pulled themselves out of the river, though how they had done it he could not begin to guess.

He went on his knees beside them, inspecting them closely. Even if they had managed to pull themselves out, they certainly looked dead. He did not know how to check for a heartbeat on the wrist, but he did know that dead men did not breathe. With that thought in mind, the woodsman placed his hand on the chest of the Ranger who was on his back, and waited to see if it moved. To his utmost relief, the man was breathing, so he was alive. He wanted to check to see if the other man was still living, but was afraid to turn him over. However, if he was alive, laying on his back may make it easier for him to breathe, or so he thought.

As he debated about the subject, the Ranger he knew was alive, the one with the head wound, stirred. He did not want to startle him, so the man moved a few feet away and waited for the other to wake up.

***

He felt as if he had been in a drinking contest and lost. His head was pounding with his erratic heartbeat and the bright sun upon his face was hardly helping matters. 'But,' he thought, 'if the sun is so bright, then why do I feel so cold and… wet?'

He willed his eyes to open and immediately wished that he hadn’t. It was much too bright for him. What had he done last night? He was pretty sure he hadn’t participated in any drinking games; nay, that would be too undignified for a king, and Faramir would never let him hear the end of it.

'Faramir!'As he thought about his steward, all of his memories came rushing back to him.

Aragorn’s eyes shot open again as he realized where he was. He must be on one of the river’s sandy banks; how in the world did he survive? From what he could recall, he had suddenly fallen into the river, but could remember nothing after that. And where was Faramir?

Biting back a moan, he started to lift himself up, but immediately stopped when he heard a voice, and it certainly wasn’t the steward.

“How're you feeling?”

He swung his head around, instantly regretting the action when it started pounding harder. Taking a deep breath, he looked to the direction of the voice and saw a man; Gondorian, by the looks of him, and a simple woodsman at that. He was around the age of Faramir, with short, dark hair and a scruffy, dirty beard. However, his dark eyes were kind and filled with concern, and Aragorn saw no malice in him.

“Where am I?” he asked, ignoring the question.

“Ithilien, ‘round ten or so miles from the Anduin.” The man studied Aragorn as he slowly climbed to his knees and gently felt the side of his head. “My daughter found you and your friend just a few minutes ago. You scared the daylights out of her.”

Aragorn looked to his left and saw that Faramir was lying right beside him, still unconscious. He noted that the younger man had a large gash in his left leg. Gently the king turned him onto his back; it proved to be simple enough, for the man had lost his quiver and bow in the river, although he still had his sword and knives. Aragorn himself still had his quiver, though all of the arrows were now gone, and his bow was lost as well. Andúril was still safe in his sheath, as were his knives.

Once he was turned over and the sun hit his face, Aragorn was relieved to see that was all that was need to be done to bring him back to the world of the living. He groaned and then slowly opened his eyes. Aragorn smiled down upon him, blocking part of the sun from his face.

“Welcome back. How do you feel?”

Faramir blinked, and then shut his eyes. “As if my leg is slowly being torn apart.”

“It doesn’t look too good.”

Faramir stiffened as he heard the unfamiliar voice, but he looked at Aragorn’s face and relaxed. If his king was not alarmed, then neither would he be. Aragorn looked back up at the stranger and asked, “You say your daughter found us?”

“Aye,” he nodded. “Frightened her, too. At first I thought she was hurt by how much she was screaming. But you two looked dead; at first I thought you were. As it is, I’m surprised you aren’t; the storm was bad last night, and the river definitely was not friendly.”

“No, not at all,” said Faramir, who slowly pulled himself up into a sitting position. His left leg was stretched out in front of him. “We are very fortunate.”

The stranger nodded. "I'd ask what you two were doing out here where so few people live, but Rangers have stopped by my house before. I recognize the uniform. But don't you Rangers travel in larger groups?"

"We do," Faramir nodded. "We were separated from our company in the storm last night. I imagine they are looking for us right now."

Aragorn held in a wince at Faramir's last statement. Galdir was not going to be happy about this.

The woodsman nodded and then shook his head. “Ah! Where are my senses? Come, come, come to my house. You two can dry yourselves and eat something, and rest as long as you'd like. My wife can help see to your wounds, as well; she knows a little about healing. By the way, the name’s Maethor.”

Aragorn nodded as he got to his feet. “I am Thorongil, and this is…” He looked to Faramir.

“Turgon,” he replied.

“Pleasure,” replied Maethor. “Now, we need to somehow get you to the house; you certainly are not walking there with that leg, and I don’t expect you to hop the whole way, either.”

“If Thorongil supports me, I’ll be able to manage,” replied Faramir firmly.

Maethor gave him a doubtful look, but finally nodded. “Well, then. Suit yourself. Come, let’s get there before my wife starts worrying about me.”

They nodded, and Faramir, with the help of the others, managed to get himself up. Maethor looked them over, and satisfied that neither of them would fall over when they took their first step, he turned his back on them and started to head towards his home, not knowing that it was the king and steward of Gondor trailing slowly behind him.


Note on Aragorn's alias: At first I had used 'Strider' rather than Thorongil, since he used Strider most recently. However, since he is dressed as an Ithilien Ranger rather than a wandering vagabond, I thought it would be more appropriate and convincing for him to use a proper name.

Completely off-topic: I got to have dinner with Richard Taylor *geekspasm* It's a long story. I may have also landed my first job as an illustrator. I'll be updating about that here and there, especially if it effects my writing schedule. But yes, that's what I did this weekend.

And here's more story :)


Chapter Four: The House in the Woods

Aragorn could not believe how events had turned out. Now here he was, but a couple days after he had made the decision to go Emyn Arnen, following a simple woodsman and supporting a limping Faramir through Ithilien. It truly had sounded like such an excellent idea at the time- all he wanted to do was get away from bothersome councilmen and go hunting. Was it too much to ask?

“Of all the possible events to occur to both of us, this was one that did not come to me," Faramir muttered in Sindarin.

"Trust me, this was the last place I thought we would be,” said Aragorn in the same language. “When I said hunting, I did not mean taking a little swim in the river and meeting one of Gondor's fine citizens. At least he doesn’t know who we are. I do think that he would be in shock.”

“Or he wouldn’t believe us.”

“Or that.”

"After all, you do have that nasty bump on your head. It may have affected you."

"Oh yes. And that scratch on your leg, it is surely infected and has poisoned your thoughts."

"Definitely. But since we know that we are suffering from our various wounds, we then know that these thoughts of being king and steward are obviously fantasies."

"Correct. So once we recover from our various wounds, we should start our lives anew since all we can remember are these odd stories of the Citadel of Minas Tirith."

"I hear Mordor is lovely this time of year. Perhaps we should settle with the people of Nurn."

"I was thinking about Dol Guldur, myself. Have you ever been there, Turgon?"

"I have not, Thorongil. Have you?"

"Once. Terrible experience. Let's not go there."

"Nurn it is, then."

"I do not think Arwen would like Nurn."

"Neither would Éowyn; too dry and barren for her tastes."

Aragorn chuckled as he thought about their wives' faces if they heard this conversation. Nurn, indeed! Faramir, as if he read his mind, said, "Let us not tell our wives about that proposition."

"It would be very foolish to do so."

The conversation died and a peaceful silence came about them as they trailed behind Maethor. They stayed as such for a few minutes. When Faramir started to notice the pain in his leg more, he started the conversation anew, determined to not dwell on the pain.

“You are fortunate to have an available alias, Thorongil,” said Faramir with a glance towards the king. “I actually had to think one up, and in a very short amount of time.”

“And you were not very clever at thinking up one, Turgon," Aragorn rebutted. "Giving yourself the name of your great-grandfather does not take much thinking.”

Faramir cleared his throat. “Actually, I was thinking about the king of Gondolin when I chose it.”

Maethor turned around, confused when he saw Thorongil burst out laughing. When Turgon simply shook his head, Maethor shrugged and continued forward. He didn’t understand what they were saying, and as it was, it was none of his business. It probably wasn’t anything important, anyways.

Aragorn suddenly stopped laughing when his head started pounding again. Faramir shot him a look of concern, but the king simply ignored it. Once the pounding had settled down again to a small throbbing, he looked to Faramir and smiled.

“Only you, Faramir, would think of the old elf king before your own ancestors.” Faramir raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. However, not even he could hide the small smile threatening to turn into a grin.

They soon fell silent once more, and brooded on their own thoughts. Suddenly Faramir frowned, but still he said nothing. Aragorn waited for him to speak, but when he did not say anything, Aragorn asked, “What ails you? You look as if you are in distress.”

Faramir was still silent, but at Aragorn’s encouraging look, he sighed and said, “This is my fault. If it were not for me, we would not be in this situation. I give you my most sincere apologies, my lord.”

Aragorn frowned. “Whatever do you mean, Faramir? If there is anyone to blame, it should be me.”

Faramir looked genuinely surprised at his words. “You, sire? No, it was me! It was I who followed the stag, and it was I who grabbed onto you and pulled you with me into the river. If I had not, you would be well now and with your men!”

"I would hardly be better off if I did not know where you were," Aragorn pointed out. "Besides, I followed the stag not because you did, but because I was adamant to catching it,” he admitted. “And it was I who suggested this silly hunting competition, and it was I who insisted on coming despite signs of bad weather. Indeed, I believe I am the much larger fool in this case.”

Faramir shook his head. "You cannot be blamed for the weather, my lord; we both have been in the rain many times, and never a misfortune has occurred because of it. And less dangerous than the rain is hunting! No, you hold no blame on that account."

"Nonetheless, I followed the stag, just like you. You are not alone in blame in that regard."

"I suppose," Faramir said, frowning. "But I cannot blame you for chasing the creature. The stag was not a normal animal. There was an intelligence and knowing in his eyes that I have seen in no other beast."

"I have seen it," Aragorn said in a grim tone, "yet the beasts that did also had the power to speak our tongue. I do not think this animal could talk, yet it was certainly no mere stag. As it is, I doubt we shall see something like him in Ithilien ever again." The king sighed. "In the end, I remain the one who proposed this misfortunate venture in the first place.”

“It was a good idea, sire,” Faramir argued. “It is hardly your fault that nearly everything turned out wrong.”

Nearly everything?” asked Aragorn skeptically.

“Well, we are not dead,” said Faramir with a smile. “And we were found by a friendly citizen of Gondor.” Aragorn nodded as Faramir continued. “If I may be so bold, my lord, I do believe that we both equally share the blame. And I am sure Beregond and Galdir shall scold us enough to make us both feel equally guilty.”

“Our wives, too,” added Aragorn. Faramir grimaced.

“I was trying not to think about it,” he said.

They once again fell into silence. A minute later, Aragorn broke the stillness by chuckling. When Faramir gave him an inquiring look, the king could only shake his head. "The irony."

"Do tell."

He shook his head again. “We went on this hunt to see who the better huntsman is, and to see who could outwit the stag. In the end, the stag outwitted us both!” Faramir frowned as Aragorn chuckled once more, failing to see the humor in this. However, the laughter was contagious and soon he found himself chuckling as well.

Maethor shot the two Rangers an odd look as their laughter became louder. He supposed that their wounds were affecting them in some odd way that made them act strangely. 'Or,' he concluded, 'maybe Rangers are just strange like that.'

***

Soon enough they came to the house. It was a moderately-sized wooden cabin, with a small fenced garden right to the side of the structure. A column of smoke rose from the chimney, and the front door of the home was open to keep the warm air from overheating the cabin. Right outside the cabin, carving a long stick, was the boy Handir.

When he heard the three of them approach, he looked up from his work. After seeing his father with two strangers, Handir decided to give his mother a warning about the visitors. Sticking his head through the door, he said, "Ma! Father is back, with two other men."

"Visitors?" his mother sighed. She was sitting by the table, finishing scrubbing her daughter's feet. The young girl, who sat on top of the table, looked excited at the prospect. His mother sighed again and muttered, "Visitors at such a short notice. Well, at least you're clean again," she then directed to the young girl. "Now Haneth, don't you go jumping in the river again. You got yourself all muddy and wet; you're old enough to know you'll catch a cold that way."

Handir did not stay to hear his younger sister's rebuttal, but rather went back outside to meet his father and his companions. He quickly walked over, eager to see who these two tall men were.

"You are back, Father," the boy said with a smile. He had wanted to follow him desperately, but did not want to disobey him, either. Handir was glad it had not taken him long to return. "Did you find what Haneth had seen?" he then asked, glancing at the strangers who were just approaching them.

"Yes," he replied. "Thankfully they were not dead as she had thought." Maethor smiled as the two joined them. "Thorongil, Turgon, this is my son Handir. Handir, Thorongil and Turgon are Rangers."

Handir could not help but stare at them. The two were taller than most men, and looked like well-seasoned warriors. He was stunned to see the terrible wounds on both of them; it was worse than anything he had seen in many years.

Maethor could see the shock in his son's eyes, so rather rebutting him for his lack of manners, he gently said, "Son, why don't you tell your mother that we will be needing some clean strips of cloth and some heated water. Go, now."

Handir nodded, and with one last look at the Rangers, turned and hurried back into the house.

Faramir stared at his back sympathetically. "He is not used to seeing wounded?"

"No, he never did like blood much, even if he won't admit it. We kept both our children away from the war as much as possible. Haneth is still too young to remember, but Handir saw things no child should see. War reached all of Gondor."

The three men went to the open front door and Maethor let his guests inside before going in himself. Aragorn and Faramir found themselves in the main room of the house. To their left was a fireplace with two pots hanging over it. Around the hearth were many shelves filled with various cooking utensils, as well as a small table to prepare food. Near the fireplace was a small dining area, where a woman and a young girl were sitting. On the other side of the room were a small couch and a rocking chair. Handir was currently leaning on the back of the couch, watching the two strangers with open curiosity. Beyond this room were two doorways that led to the rest of the small, cozy home.

"Oh, good gracious me!" said the woman when she saw the two wounded men. "No wonder you called for bandages! I may need to rip a few more." They now saw that she had a couple long strips of worn, but clean cloth on the table, as well as an old blanket in her lap. She put the blanket down, stood and strode over to the two Rangers. "Now, you two look as if you are going to collapse. Come now, sit, sit." She guided them over to the old couch, which Handir abandoned quickly.

Maethor took one look at his son's face and realized that he looked queasy. His daughter, however, looked fascinated. Now that she realized that the men she had seen were not dead, she was not nearly as frightened of their looks as she was before.

"Come, Handir, let us go find Haneth's boots," he said. Handir nodded and left the home quickly, not once looking back. "Haneth, you shall stay out of your mother's way and do as she says, right?"

"Yes, Papa," she replied, but was still watching her discoveries with open fascination.

Maethor nodded in satisfaction and left to go with his son, closing the cabin door behind him.

As her husband had spoken, the woman was busy inspecting her two patients. Once he was gone, she glanced them over for a final time, and frowned. "Your wounds will need to be cleaned and stitched. They don't look infected, but it must be prevented."

As she went over to the fireplace to take off one of the pots, Aragorn managed to get in a word. "You know a little on healing, mistress?"

"Oh yes, good soldiers," she said, putting the pot down on the dining table. "You are soldiers, are you not? Rangers, I would guess."

"We are Rangers," he replied with no hesitation.

"Yes, I thought so; we have had some visit us in the past, though it's been quite a while now." She went to the small counter near the hearth and started searching through the drawers. "But yes, I worked in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith during the War, for a year or so. During the battle on Pelennor, my husband's home and business on the first level were destroyed. So rather than rebuilding in the city, we decided to be one of the first to populate Ithilien again. Truth be told, I was rather tired of fixing all the wounded, only to see them get broken again." She sighed and she stilled, her expression dark and her eyes wide as she became lost in her memories.

"Mistress, is all well?" Aragorn asked, concern evident in his voice.

His voice brought her back to the present. "My apologies," she said, but said no more on the subject and continued her search. She gave a small exclamation when she finally found what she was looking for. "Here they are, my needles and thread. It has been a while since I've sewn up a wound, but it should come back."

Faramir threw Aragorn an uneasy glance while the man simply shrugged. He'd been through less experienced healers before, and was still alive.

"I must apologize for my son's behavior," started the woman again. "He does not like the sight of blood. My son will never be no soldier with that attitude, I know- I am glad the War is over so he doesn't have to go, to be honest. But I do wish he would be less sensitive about it. Ah, well, my daughter here seems to be undaunted by the sight.

"Here, Haneth," she turned to the girl in question, "tear up some more strips." She gave her daughter the old blanket. "Don't worry if you tear too many, just tear." She then found a small cup and a ladle, poured some of the boiling hot water into the cup, and then put her needles in it. "An old habit from the Houses. I never was quite sure why it was done, but the needles boiled in water seemed to have better results than not. Lords know why."

She took a few of the strips and the small pot of hot water and brought it over to the Rangers. She glanced at both of them. "Who would like to go first?"

"He needs it more than I," Aragorn said, indicating to Faramir.

"Madness. I am not the one with the head wound," Faramir pointed out.

"I must say I agree with him," she said, indicating to Faramir. "Head wounds are much more dangerous, after all. You don't know much about healing, do you?"

Aragorn looked slightly annoyed but said nothing. Faramir held back his amusement but had to turn away lest he caught Aragorn's glance. The woman did not notice any of this and started cleaning Aragorn's wound.

"I can clean it myself, mistress-" he started.

"Yes, but it would be rather cumbersome for you, wouldn't it?" she said pointedly. "And slower. But don't you worry, I'll get you and your friend in good time."

As Aragorn relented, she continued. "Oh, goodness me, I don't think I've even introduced myself! Maethor gave you his name, yes?" The king nodded and the woman sighed in relief. "Good. At least his manners are still around. I must say I am terribly sorry, when I get like this I lose all sense of etiquette. Another reason I left the Houses, I dare say. Anyways, I am Celon. Apparently means 'river', though I couldn't say in what language."

"Sindarin," Faramir supplied.

"Sindarin? Ah, I have no use for it. I know some in the City know it, but I never bothered learning it myself. One language is good enough for me. Oh, and goodness me, there go my manners again! What are your names, my good soldiers?"

"I am Turgon, and he is Thorongil," Faramir said.

"Well, Turgon and Thorongil, Maethor did not give me the story, so I ask that you will. How did you two end up like this?"

Briefly the two explained that, in the storm, they had been split off from their company, slipped on the muddy banks, and had fallen into the river. They left the stag out of their explanation, both rather loath to give the woman more to chat about.

Once they were done with the story, she had already moved onto Faramir's ragged leg wound. "What a tale. I am glad that my daughter found you two. And, of course, I am glad you two survived the river. It can certainly be vicious at times, to say the least."

Haneth was sitting quietly at the table while the woman finished cleaning the wounds. She had already given her mother all of the torn cloth and was watching the older woman with fascination. Her nonsensical chatter to these two tall, strong warriors captivated her. When the young girl had first seen the two men, she thought they were dead, a concept that frightened her beyond all else. Their blood had only made the scene worse. However, once she had seen them walk with their own power into her safe home, Haneth felt all fear disappear, and found her mother's treatments mesmerizing.

"Yes, we owe your daughter- your whole family- much," said Aragorn. "You have our gratitude."

"Of course," she said as she straightened herself. "And we owe you, soldiers of Gondor. We would not be here without you. So think nothing of it." Celon turned to the silent child by the table. "Haneth, do remove the soup off the fire, I am sure it is ready by now." She nodded and went to remove the large pot as the woman finished off the ties on the strips of cloth on Faramir's leg. "There we are. You may have a bit of a hard time walking for a while, but I removed all of the filth inside the wound, so it should heal fine. Another thing I learned in the Houses- cleaning out all the dirt supposedly prevents infection. Who would've thought the knowledge would be so handy?"

"Who taught you in the Houses in Minas Tirith?" Aragorn asked as she moved towards the soup pot on the table.

"Well, naturally the Warden taught me some things, but I learned quite a bit from everyone. Ioreth took a particular liking to me and taught me how to stitch a wound, and while I liked her well enough, she did sometimes prattle on and on. A little annoying at times, but one does get used to it. Some people are like that; they simply do not know when to stop and listen to the rest of the world and hear what they have to say."

Faramir raised an eyebrow and glanced at Aragorn as Celon dished out bowls of soup for her family and her two guests. Aragorn smiled and muttered lightly in Sindarin, "If I did not know any better, I would say she is closely related to Mistress Ioreth."

"I cannot imagine two Ioreths in the Houses," Faramir said. "I am blessed that I was not there when they both worked there."

Aragorn was lightly chuckling as the front door opened and Maethor, with his son, came in. Handir dropped his sister's boots near the front door and glanced at the two men on the couch. When he saw their wounds were covered, he relaxed.

"Perfect timing, husband," said Celon as she put down the last bowl of soup. "Haneth, there is bread in the cupboard over there, do bring it to the table. Handir, bring some spoons and a knife." The children complied with her wishes as she turned to her guests. "Come, come, you must be hungry. I have some soup and bread, and I believe my husband can find his stash of wine..." She looked expectantly at her husband.

"Of course," he said. "I bought it when I was last in Minas Tirith," he said to Aragorn and Faramir, "and we drink it for special occasions. Guests certainly qualify!" He went into one of the side rooms as his wife nodded in agreement.

"Oh yes," she said. "We do not have guests often at all- there simply are not many people in Ithilien yet. So while your circumstances were hardly favorable, it is truly lovely that you landed ashore near our home."

"And fortunate for us," said Faramir. "It is an honor to receive such hospitality."

"Oh, well, it is nothing," she replied, but was obviously pleased. "Now come, please be seated and have as much as you would like."

The two men stood, and- Aragorn supporting Faramir- made their way to the table. Celon held out a chair for Faramir as Aragorn let him sit down. Aragorn took his own seat as Haneth brought over the bread and Handir set the utensils down on the table.

Maethor soon came out of the smaller side room with a flask of wine, and poured the drink into goblets for his guests, himself, and his wife. Said wife was looking at the two men expectantly.

"Well, don't wait for us, you must be starving. Please, eat!"

With one last glance at each other, the king and steward obeyed the command of the housewife and began to eat the broth.

Chapter Five: Conversations

Aragorn had to admit to himself that it was nice change of pace to be a simple soldier rather than a king. While he had been in Minas Tirith for a couple years now, the people were still unused to him. They had, after all, only a steward for the last thousand years; they were still trying to get acquainted with the idea of having a king. If he were to be honest, he was still getting used to the position, himself.

The four adults sat at the table while the two children sat on the rug near the couch. As they ate, the head of the household made light conversation with his two guests.

"Do you have families, master Rangers?" Maethor asked as he sliced a piece of bread for himself.

"Yes," Aragorn answered. "I have a beautiful wife that I have been married to for a couple years now."

"I have a wife and a young son," Faramir added.

"Oh, that's lovely," Celon said with a smile. "Children are especially lovely. I cannot imagine my life without Handir or Haneth. But you must be often away from your wives, and your child, being Rangers and all," she added, "or has that changed?"

"We are fortunate," Aragorn began slowly, coming up with the best way to word their situation without lying. "After the War the number needed in Ithilien is less, and Rangers are able to be with their families for longer periods of time. My wife resides in Minas Tirith, so she is close."

"Minas Tirith! I miss the city sometimes, but I do enjoy the peace of Ithilien," Maethor said wistfully. "Do you also live in Minas Tirith, Turgon?"

"My family lives in Emyn Arnen," Faramir responded.

"Emyn Arnen- is that not where the Steward lives?" the other man asked.

"It is; my wife is part of the Steward's household," the Steward answered ambiguously.

"Oh, that's fascinating," Celon exclaimed. "I've heard Lord Faramir is a wondrous kind man, though I haven't heard much about his household. Is it true that he married?"

"Yes; he has been married for a couple years, and has a son," said Aragorn, glancing over at his Steward with mild amusement.

"Ah, she is a lucky woman; I've heard nothing but good about Lord Faramir," the lady continued, missing the looks her guests were sending to one another. "I did hear she was some kind of foreigner, which is surprising. And I certainly didn't know he had a child! What is his name?"

"Elboron," Faramir replied, a slight smile on his lips.

Celon repeated the name as if she was testing its flavor. "Elboron. Strong name. Will he be steward after Lord Faramir, do you think, with the king now back?"

"He will be," Aragorn said decisively, sending Faramir another look. "Though it will not be for some time."

Celon raised her eyebrows. "That's interesting. You know, I never thought the king would return, but now that he has, one must wonder what the job of the steward is now. I am certainly glad he let Lord Faramir keep his position and didn't feel threatened by him. I haven't met either of them, but I heard nothing but good when it came to Faramir in the Houses, and this King Elessar is a smart one for keeping him around. After all..."

Maethor took a long drink of his wine before he cut off his wife. "Enough with this gossip, Celon. The last thing anyone wants to hear at the table is politics."

Celon's lips thinned, but she changed the subject. "Here, have more soup, gentlemen." She took their bowls and dished out more soup for her guests.

Her husband smiled and then turned back to the other two men. "You said you had a son. If you don't mind me asking, what is his name?"

Faramir nearly choked on the wine he was swallowing as he heard the question. Before he could come up with a response, Aragorn replied for him.

"Estel. His son's name is Estel," he said. Faramir could only nod.

"A fine name," said Maethor. "And a young one, is he not? You shall enjoy fatherhood." He shot a look at his own son, who had finished with his meal and was braiding Haneth's hair at her request.

"Do you have some stories about your own children you could share?" Faramir asked, hoping to divert the conversation another way.

It worked. For the rest of the meal the couple described various antics of their offspring, bestowing upon the two men many warnings and guidelines when it came to raising children. Their two guests took it all in stride, hiding their initial amusement with the whole situation.

Aragorn and Faramir were offered many servings of soup, and their glasses of wine were never empty due to the constant vigilance of Celon. She rose and began to clean up their dishes once they were finished as Maethor ended a tale about Handir's first fishing trip.

"-and he pulled up a fish a good two feet long! Imagine, a boy of six catching such a feast!"

"Natural talent," Aragorn said with a smile.

"Yes, I have put him to some good use when it comes to catching a meal," Maethor beamed. "He has caught many along this river- the fish are plenty here. I wish I could have moved here sooner; it is a beautiful place."

"Are there other reasons you decided to move out here?" Faramir asked. "There are few I know who decided to leave Minas Tirith, even after the destruction the City saw."

"Well, as I believe I said, we lost near everything in the War," Maethor started as he sipped at his wine. "My home and business was on the first level, which received the brunt of the damage when the Enemy attacked the City. Celon was a healer in the Houses of Healing during the War. We sent our children on a caravan out of Minas Tirith to the countryside.”

“If you’ll excuse me, masters,” Celon said suddenly, and without another word left the room.

Maethor grimaced and glanced at the door to the backroom that his wife had just closed. “Perhaps it would be best if we continued this conversation outside- if you do not mind.”

“Not at all,” Faramir said, glancing at Aragorn in confusion and slight worry.

The two followed their host outside of the house. He led them to the side of the structure where there was a simple bench and a few tree stumps. Maethor sat himself down on one of the stumps while his guests took to the bench.

"I made it myself; I was a carpenter by trade," he said, nodding towards the bench. "My apologies for my wife’s behavior," he added, lowering his voice. “Celon cannot stand recalling those times in Minas Tirith, for reasons I will tell now."

"I beg forgiveness for my curiosity if it causes your family pain," Faramir apologized.

Maethor shook his head. "It is past, and the pain has numbed for me. Celon, however, cannot forget and let go, even after all this time. But do not worry; there is nothing to forgive." He cleared his throat. "As I was saying, we sent Handir and Haneth to the countryside, a week or so after the attack on Osgiliath."

Faramir's eyes darkened at the mention of the attack. He, Boromir, and two others were the only ones to survive the horrific event. Aragorn glanced at him sympathetically as Maethor, after a brief pause, continued.

"Celon stayed because she wished to continue her work in the Houses, and I had to continue my own business if I wished to keep my home. It had not yet reached a point where the whole City was abandoned.

"Now, a few blocks away lived Celon's brother's family. Both her brother and his son were soldiers at the time. His wife had taken my own children, along with her daughters, to her sister's home in the country. It is a debt I can never repay, for I have no other family. We wrote letters, of course, throughout the long months, but soon after winter most correspondences were halted in light of the growing danger on the roads. The last letter my children received was one wishing them a well Mettarë. I never got a response, and I remember fearing the worst." He fell silent, lost in his unhappy thoughts of the past.

Maethor cleared his throat once more, and continued. "Celon, now, she couldn't stand the lack of knowledge. She held out long, for over a month, but she is a mother before a healer. My wife finally took one of the last wains in February to see the children and quench her fears." He shuddered slightly. "The lack of information concerning my children was the worst thing I have ever gone through. Doubt constantly ate at my heart... I remember falling asleep every night, wondering if my children still lived." The man cleared his throat once more. "Forgive me, I digress."

"Take your time," Aragorn said gently.

Maethor shook his head. "Do not be concerned about me. Now, by the beginning of March very few were left in the City. I saw my brother-in-law and my nephew little, for they were busy with their duties. Business was terrible, as you can imagine, and I often found myself wandering the streets, wondering what would happen to all of us.

"In one of the last skirmishes before the Battle on the Pelennor, however, my wife's brother and his son were wounded in battle. I was told that my brother-in-law was struck by an arrow and fell from his steed, and that his son stood over him and protected him. They both managed to make it back to the City alive, but by the next day both of them had passed."

Maethor sighed. "It was truly devastating, but telling Celon, my brother-in-law's wife, and the children the news was one of the most difficult moments of my life." The man laughed bitterly. "Celon believes that she is somehow at fault; that if she had been there, she may have been able to save one, or both of them." He shook his head. "She still hasn't forgiven herself and will not discuss it with me. I can only hope she will find healing for herself one of these days."

The man fell silent for a moment and then laughed, though less bitterly than before. "And, of course, my home and business were destroyed. So, with all of the sorrow surrounding the City, Celon and I decided to move to a place that gave us little reminder of war. This small area in Ithilien seemed perfect. The land was not owned, and it was simple enough to build something for my family to live in. That spring and summer, I and a few men I hired built this house while my family stayed with my late brother-in-law's family. They moved out here in early fall, and this has been our life since."

Faramir and Aragorn looked sympathetically upon Maethor. "I am sorry for your loss," Aragorn said quietly, knowing the words were hollow but unsure of what else to say.

"I was hardly the only one to lose someone," Maethor frankly stated. "Everyone I know lost a family member or friend in those years. And I am not so daft as to believe you two did not experience loss, either," he added, and then shook his head. "Forgive me, these thoughts darken my temper."

"Think naught of it," Faramir said with a feeble smile, his mind lingering on his father, brother, and fellow soldiers. "They were very dark times."

Maethor merely nodded, and then stood. "If you would excuse me, I have some business to take care of. You may leave at any time, of course, but you are welcome to stay with us until you are well."

"Thank you," Aragorn said with a nod, "though hopefully we shall not burden your family overly long."

"Nonsense," the other replied with a smile. "As I said, we rarely receive guests, so this has been an unexpected pleasure. If you need me, I will be in my room." He then left his two guests alone.

***

"Well," Aragorn said in Sindarin once he had gone, "that was an interesting conversation."

"I had only wished to keep the discussion away from ourselves," Faramir said in the same language. "I hadn't thought such a question would bring up such dark memories. I certainly had no wish for Maethor to relive them."

"I know," his companion nodded, "though it is obvious that the memories pain Celon more. She cannot bear discussion of the War."

"I can relate to her," the steward put in with a slight frown. "I had a difficult time after my brother's and father's death. Éowyn was a great help to me, and you, sire, helped me recover."

"Indeed?" the king raised an eyebrow. "Well, I am glad that I was able to be of assistance. I am not sure if I know what I did to help in those first few months. You are a difficult man to read, Faramir, and it took me a while to even begin to understand you," Aragorn ended with a smile.

"To answer your question, it was your openness and friendship," Faramir said. "I truly needed it, with many dear to me gone and all the changes happening. Admittedly, it made the position of the steward more bearable as well."

Aragorn laughed. "Indeed! Well, your friendship has made my own position quite more tolerable. After all, suffering through the amount of work that we have is much easier with a good companion than it is alone."

Before Faramir could respond, they heard the door to the little home open and saw Handir step out of the house. "It looks like we have company," he said to his king with a smile.

"Yes," Aragorn replied as the boy wandered slowly around. "I do believe he wishes to speak with us."

"You are likely correct."

"Once he turn around, I'll beckon him over, if you don't mind."

"Not at all."

The boy did eventually glance at them, and Aragorn waved him over. Handir hesitated, but then quickly walked over to the two men on the bench.

"Do you need something, sir?" he asked.

"I am well, thank you," Aragorn said with a smile.

"Your name is Handir, is it not?" Faramir asked. The boy nodded. "How old are you, son?"

"I will be thirteen soon," he replied.

Faramir smiled. "Close to manhood, then." The boy looked pleased to be thought 'close to manhood', though to his credit he kept his pleasure as hidden as possible. The two adults saw through the facade, but said nothing.

He looked as if he wanted to say something, but was hesitant. "Do you wish to ask us something?" Aragorn asked softly.

"Are- are you two truly Rangers?" he asked.

"Yes," Faramir said without hesitation. While it was not completely true in this day and age, he certainly had been for a long amount of his life.

The boy looked thrilled at the confirmation, though he tried not to look too excited. "I thought so. Rangers have come a couple of times here, though they never stay for long. I've never been able to speak with one before."

"Is that so?" Faramir said, shooting an amused glance at Aragorn. "Is there something you wish to know?"

"What is it like?" he asked, his eagerness starting to come through his mask of calmness. "What do Rangers do?"

"Well," Faramir started, "a Ranger's duty is to protect the innocent. The Rangers of Ithilien protect the people of Gondor."

"They fought often against the Black Land that haunts our borders," Aragorn added. "But now it is a time of peace. Right now a Ranger's life is much calmer than it was a few years ago."

"I remember," Handir said quietly. "My uncle and cousin died in the War. My cousin was only ten years older than me." He turned his head away from the two, not willing to show how much it still hurt.

"You were close to them," Aragorn said. The boy said nothing, but an answer wasn't needed. It was obvious.

"I too lost family in the War," Faramir said suddenly. Handir looked up at him, a slight frown on his face. "I lost my father and brother," he clarified.

Handir's eyes widened. "Your father? I cannot imagine losing my father; I do not think I would be able to live. I have no brother, but to live without my sister..." He faltered and became silent, unable to imagine what it would be like. Suddenly he looked up, and said, "You are strong, sir."

"He is," Aragorn agreed before Faramir could respond. The steward glanced at him, and the king merely smiled.

The three of them then heard the front door of the cabin open, and the sound of light feet could be heard pattering around the structure. Soon Haneth came into sight. When she saw that they were expecting her, she stopped, ducking her head in embarrassment.

"Haneth! What do you want?" Handir asked, looking a little annoyed.

"Nothing," she replied shyly under her breath.

"Then go back inside," Handir said.

"I don't want to go back inside," she replied, glancing at the company before ducking her head again.

"You may sit with us, if you wish," Faramir said kindly, moving so there would be some room for her on the bench.

She did not reply, but slowly walked over to them and took the proffered seat. She kicked her legs back and forth on the high bench, but did not look up. She was very different from the openly curious little girl she was when her mother was cleaning their wounds. They assumed it was the lack of the parental presence that brought on this new shyness.

Aragorn, while he loved children, was unused to them and let Faramir speak to her instead. The steward glanced at the king, read the untold request, and asked, "How old are you, Haneth?"

"I'm five," she whispered under her breath. While both Aragorn and Faramir could hear her, her older brother did not know this and scolded her.

"Haneth! Speak up, no one can hear you."

"It is well," Aragorn reassured the boy. Faramir nodded and then turned back to the young girl.

"Five? A wonderful age. I loved to explore when I was five. Do you like exploring, Haneth?"

She finally looked up into Faramir's face, a bright sparkle in her eye. "Yes, I do. I have found many hiding places. Would you like to see them?"

"I would very much," Faramir replied with a smile. "But you must ask your parents if you are allowed to go."

"All right!" she grinned, jumped off the bench, and ran into the house.

Handir grimaced as she ran away. "They aren't very good hiding places. Everyone knows about them."

Aragorn laughed. "I am sure, but they are special to her, and that is what is important. Did you not have such places when you were younger?"

"I guess," Handir mumbled. "Though we lived in the City, not here. There were many more places there."

"Oh yes," Faramir nodded. "There are many places to hide in Minas Tirith. Nonetheless, there are quite a few places to hide in the wild."

Aragorn's face darkened at Faramir's statement, recalling memories long past. He quickly came out of it when he saw his steward shooting him an odd look. Handir, however, did not notice.

"Do you find many places like that when you are out?" he asked, a touch of eagerness in his voice.

"Yes," Aragorn said with a smile as he recalled a happier memory. "I was able to hide from a comrade of mine by using the elements around me. It took him long to discover me, and not without a bit of frustration on his part."

Faramir laughed. "Some venture in your youth?"

"Not only my youth," Aragorn replied with a wicked grin.

Haneth suddenly bounded around the corner, a large grin on her face. "Papa said that we can go!" she exclaimed. "You can come too if you want," she directed at Handir, "but only if you don't tell anyone."

Handir rolled his eyes. "It's not as if they're actually secret."

"Promise!"

"All right, all right!" Handir rolled his eyes again and stood up. He looked at Faramir, and then his leg. "Do you need help?" he asked him hesitantly.

"Thorongil can support me," Faramir replied. "Thank you for your consideration."

Handir turned slightly red, but then lit up. "Wait!" He went quickly to the front of the house and came back with a long, smooth stick. "I was carving out a walking stick for my father. He won't mind if you use it for a little bit."

"Thank you," the other replied sincerely. "It shall help greatly."

Handir merely nodded, slightly reddening once more, and turned his attention to his sister. "Lead the way, Haneth."

"Wait," she said. All of her previous shyness completely gone, she turned her attention to the two tall men. Not at all daunted by their height, she looked up at them and said, "You must promise me you won't tell anyone about my hiding places."

"We promise," Faramir said solemnly. Aragorn nodded in agreement.

"All right," she said, her solemn mood gone with the wind. She went at the head of the group, with Handir closely trailing behind. Right behind him were the two Rangers, Faramir slightly supported by both the walking stick and Aragorn. The four of them, the two unlikeliest pairs to be together, followed their small leader to discover the hidden places of the world.


Note: I really cannot be sure of the percentage of the literate in Minas Tirith, though I cannot imagine it being that high. Nonetheless, I consider my OCs to be relatively well-off, so... for the sake of story, the adult OCs (Maethor and the widow, at the least) know the basics of reading and writing.

Another note: I was thinking about having Maethor go with them, but decided against it in the end. Due to his connection with the army (his relatives being a part of it), as well as Faramir's and Aragorn's manner, I think he would trust them enough. As it is, in Ithilien in a post-War era, he is a bit less protective (he did let a little five year old wander off by herself, after all). Whether that's stupid or not is a whole other story XD

The second-to-last part of this chapter is... well, I don't know what it is. There is so little said about the whole healing of the mind and how it's done with Aragorn's healing hands, so I just wrote what came to me. I'm pretty sure he only needs athelas when dealing with Morgul/Black Breath issues, so... no athelas. One of these days I'll figure out my own view on Aragorn's healing and what he can and can't do. *grin*

Thank you for all of the reviews and support. To all my silent readers- I hope you enjoyed the story, and hopefully you will drop me a line at some time. Reviews make the world go round :)

Edit 8/11/08: Haneth is now Haneth throughout the whole story. I need a beta reader.


Chapter Six: Discoveries

"Haneth, we should go home."

"Just one more, Handir! It's one of the best!"

"We've seen a good half dozen of your little hideaways. Masters Thorongil and Turgon are tired and want to rest."

Haneth frowned, and then turned to the two men in question, who were just a little behind. "Mister Turgon! Are you and Mister Thorongil tired?"

Faramir smiled and shook his head. "We are quite well, thank you."

The girl glanced triumphantly at her brother. "See, they aren't. Besides, it's the last one. And it's the best." Handir sighed and rolled his eyes, but did not argue further as the girl led them on.

Faramir lightly chuckled as he observed the two children. "They remind me of Boromir and me when we were children. I would drag him along around the Citadel, and he would dutifully follow, though here and there with protest."

Aragorn smiled. "I have no siblings, but Elrond's sons treated me as if I was their brother when I was younger." He shook his head. "To be honest, they have treated me as such throughout most of my life, and such brotherly affection only became worse after my marriage to their sister."

"Lords Elladan and Elrohir?" Faramir asked. "I have met them, but do not know them well. I did not realize that you have always been close to them."

The king nodded. "Elrond's entire household took my mother and me into their hearts. I owe Master Elrond much." He became silent, keeping the rest of his thoughts to himself.

Faramir did not enquire further, and they fell silent. The silence was quickly broken by Haneth's voice.

"Here it is!" She looked back at the two men, grinned, and ducked under many small branches that made part of the entrance to her hideout. Handir quickly followed, simply getting on his hands and knees to crawl in. Aragorn moved the branches aside for Faramir and then followed the man in.

What they saw was a very much an ideal hideout. Due to the thickness of the wood around them and the amount of foliage surrounding the small clearing, it would be difficult for anything larger than a rabbit to get through the barrier. The clearest way in and out was the entrance they had used.

Haneth had obviously done some things herself to the grove to make it more comfortable. They could see she frequently cleared the undergrowth, and had a couple logs to serve as chairs. They also observed what only could be a doll made out of sticks and thin vines, sitting beside one of the logs.

"You can sit down," she said to her guests, pointing to the logs.

"So I see," Faramir smiled, lowering himself onto the log. "Did someone help you get these in here?"

She nodded. "Papa did. I couldn't do it by myself."

"Did you find this place yourself?" Aragorn asked.

Haneth grinned and nodded. "I did! I found it a long time ago."

"A month or so ago," Handir clarified.

"Yea, a long time ago," she said, frowning at her brother. "It's my favorite hiding place. Mama couldn't find me when Papa was showing it to her." The young girl giggled at the memory.

"It is a very good hiding place," Faramir complimented.

"Exceptionally good," Aragorn nodded, glancing around the area appreciatively. He smiled down at her. "You have a keen eye, my lady."

Haneth blushed at the title and fell silent for a moment. Handir took the opportunity to talk with the two soldiers and ask them one of the many questions he had.

"Do Rangers have many hideouts?"

"We do," Aragorn replied. "They are scattered all about Ithilien."

"Do you have a favorite?" Haneth unexpectedly asked. Aragorn and Faramir glanced at one another, immediately thinking about the same place.

"Yes, we do. It is a beautiful place, by a waterfall," Faramir answered ambiguously.

"A waterfall? I've never seen a real waterfall!" Haneth exclaimed. "Oh, I'd love to see a waterfall! Mama told me that waterfalls can make rainbows. Does it make rainbows?"

"Oh yes, many rainbows," the steward said with a small smile, recalling some memory. "It looks very nice in the sunlight."

"Can I see it? Can you take me there?" Haneth asked excitedly.

The two men glanced at one another once more. Aragorn shook his head, indicating that Faramir should respond. Handir, however, threw in his own response.

"Don't be silly. It's a secret hiding place. Only Rangers can probably go there," he stated as if he knew everything about Rangers.

"Oh." Haneth looked crestfallen by the news, but then perked up once more. "Can I be a Ranger?"

Aragorn did not look at Faramir, for he knew that if he did, he would burst out laughing, and he did not want to hurt the child's feelings. Faramir seemed to compose himself far sooner than he, and responded to her seriously.

"Maybe one day, but it takes a lot of training, and many years of hard work."

"Like what?" she asked. Handir, while he tried to hide it, also was interested in their response to this question.

"Well," Faramir began. "You need to know how to survive in the wild. You need to be able to feed yourself, and defend yourself."

"Like with a sword?" she asked, pointing at his weapon.

"You can use a sword, yes," he nodded. "You also need to-"

"Be silent, Faramir," Aragorn suddenly interrupted in Sindarin, standing up. "Something approaches."

The steward immediately stood up as well, ignoring the pain in his leg. As Aragorn quietly drew Andúril, Faramir turned to the two children, both who noticed the change in their countenance. "Listen," he whispered, "Thorongil has heard something approaching. It is most likely nothing, but we must be cautious. If something does happen, stay hidden. Only reveal yourselves if you have no other choice." He drew out a small knife from his boot and handed it to Handir. "Use it only at last resort."

Handir merely nodded, one hand protectively around his sister, the other shakily holding the knife. He thought back to the days of the War, and shuddered; he thought it was all over. In the end, he managed to calm himself down, if only for his sister's sake. She was old enough to understand that there was something wrong. She grasped at his sleeves and buried herself in his arms.

Faramir limped over to Aragorn, ignoring the pain shooting down his leg. Instead, he whispered quietly in Sindarin, "What did you hear?"

"Voices, though I could not distinguish much else."

Faramir held in a sigh. So it was not a harmless wood animal as he hoped it was. It was likely it would only be a band of hunters, which was not so uncommon in Ithilien now, but in the end the two of them were wounded and they had children with them. It was better to be safe than sorry.

The two hid in the foliage to the left of the entrance, while Handir and Haneth were sitting at the edge of the clearing, trying to make themselves as small as possible. It took but a couple moments of waiting before the sound of many feet could be heard against the earth. The strangers, however, were silent.

Neither Faramir nor Aragorn could see the group, not without the possibility of revealing themselves. And in their state of condition, as well as their company, they simply could not risk it. So the two warriors waited for the group to pass.

They had nearly passed when suddenly one of the men tripped and fell to the ground. He muttered a curse under his breath while the one at the front of the group snapped at him.

"You need to watch where you are going and stop slowing us down! I swear this is the third time you've stumbled since we began."

Aragorn and Faramir rejoiced when they heard the voice. Immediately sheathing his sword, Aragorn pushed the branches of the entrance out of the way, saying, "You need to be a bit more understanding with your men, captain. If I know you at all, you've run them to the ground."

"My lord!" Captain Galdir nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard his voice, but the surprise was replaced with pure joy. "Oh, thank the Valar you are well! Well, at least on your feet," he amended when he saw the bandages around his head. "Is Lord Faramir with you?"

"I am," Faramir said, pushing his way out of the foliage, "and nearly on my feet, if not quite there."

Galdir glanced at the leg wound and grimaced. "I see. But your wounds look tended to, my lords. Where did you get the supplies?"

"We were found by a child who lives near here, and her family helped us. Wait one moment," Aragorn said. He pushed the foliage of the hideout aside and called to the siblings. "Handir, Haneth! It is safe. There are some people who I wish for you to meet."

The two children came out of the hiding place, Handir still holding the knife uncertainly. Haneth grasped at his other hand and hid herself behind him as she looked at the tall men surrounding her.

"Here lad, you won't need that knife now," Faramir said gently. Handir handed the weapon back quickly, a look of relief on his face.

"The young man is Handir, and his sister is Haneth," Aragorn introduced them. "Haneth found us but a few hours ago."

"Is that so?" Galdir said, his hardened features softening as he looked down upon the young girl. He went down on one knee and gazed at her with a smile. "Then we all have much to thank you for, young Lady Haneth. You are a very brave girl, and have all of our gratitude." Haneth merely nodded from her place behind her brother.

"Their whole family has our gratitude," Faramir put in, smiling down at Handir. "We would be less better off had they not taken us in.”

"Speaking of which," Aragorn added, "these two should be heading home. Your parents are surely expecting the both of you."

Galdir already knew that his liege lord would not allow these children to wander by themselves back home. "And I would like to thank their parents personally, if you would permit it, my lord."

Aragorn thought that they may be a bit uncomfortable, but after all his captain had been through, he was quite willing to allow anything that made the man feel better. "Of course, Galdir."

With that said, the company started off once more. Haneth, while not completely hiding behind her brother, was still clutching his hand and kept her eyes steady on the backs of Aragorn and Faramir, both whom were in front of the group with Galdir. The rest of the soldiers walked around and behind them silently.

"Where is Beregond?" Faramir asked.

"In another search party. When we found traces of your fall and could not find you in the water or on the shore, we immediately went back to camp. We split up into four search parties and left just before dawn, once the rain had passed. We are all to meet back at camp at nightfall, if not sooner. Beregond will be relieved to see you well, my lord."

Handir, with his close proximity, heard Galdir's response and frowned to himself. Two times he had heard that man call Thorongil and Turgon 'lords', yet he was sure that Galdir was the captain of the group. He concentrated on their backs, wondering who exactly the two Rangers his sister found were.

As Faramir spoke with Galdir, Aragorn felt a pair of eyes boring into his back. He glanced back and saw Handir looking at him with the oddest expression. Aragorn fell into step with him and looked down at him with a raised eyebrow. "Do I have something on my back, or do you have a question?"

Handir looked embarrassed, but quickly composed himself and decided to be bold. "Sir... why is Captain Galdir calling you and Turgon 'lords'? I thought you were Rangers.

Both Galdir and Faramir heard his question. The king's captain of the guard raised an eyebrow at his liege, and Aragorn merely smiled. Galdir could not help but shake his head while Faramir chuckled at the exchange.

"Well," Aragorn began to the boy, "both of us were Rangers, a few years ago. After the War, our positions... changed."

"We prefer being Rangers, though," Faramir added.

"Oh yes, it's much nicer, and less stressful," he said, winking at the boy. "Do not worry, lad, your questions shall be answered in due time."

Handir nodded, accepting the ambiguous answer, and the company continued on to the household.

***

"Maethor?"

"Yes, Celon?"

"It looks like our children brought home some more company."

Maethor frowned and stood, briskly walking towards the doorway. What he saw brought a large grin to his face.

Haneth and Handir were running to the house, and trailing behind them were their two guests along with many other men. When he saw their garb, he knew that Turgon and Thorongil had found their company.

He grabbed Haneth as she ran into his arms and spun her around once before putting her down. Handir nearly ran into him in his excitement, panting out a stream of words that came out garbled.

"Hideout- and then sounds- and a knife, Pa, a knife!- and, then, and-"

"Whoa, slow down and catch your breath, boy," he said, stopping his son. "It seems you have found their company."

"Yes, we did. And oh! Father, it's odd, but their captain- well, he called Thorongil and Turgon 'lords'," Handir managed to get out.

"Lords?" Maethor frowned. "Who are they?"

"I don't know, but they said that they'd explain," his son answered.

The Rangers were now at the house, and Aragorn smiled warmly at the family as he approached. "Our company seems to have found us," he said.

"That is what I thought," Maethor nodded, "though I am afraid we do not have much room in the house."

"Do not worry, we do not all plan to come in," Faramir laughed. "However," he said, glancing at Aragorn before turning back to them, "it may be best if we discuss a few things privately inside. I can see you have questions."

"Of course, please come in," the man replied. "And yes, I will be honest: something my son told me has made me very curious." Celon nodded in agreement.

Galdir quickly instructed his men to stay outside, and he followed Aragorn, Faramir, and the family inside the home. Maethor and Celon sat on the couch, their children at their feet, while Aragorn and Galdir pulled up two chairs so they could face one another. Faramir lowered himself into one chair, and Aragorn took the other, while the captain stood at the side.

The king and steward glanced at one another, and after a silent exchange, Aragorn turned to the family and spoke. "Before I begin, I apologize for any deception on our parts. I did not plan to reveal who I was, but after Handir's curiosity, and your own, Master Maethor, I do not think it fair to leave you at all uncertain, especially after all that you have done for us." Maethor nodded and said nothing, though Celon looked slightly suspicious.

"We both were Rangers, once upon a time, and for many long years. However, after the War, we both found ourselves in political positions rather than the army. The men outside are not Rangers now, if they ever were, and rather make up both of our personal guards. Captain Galdir here," he said with a nod in the man's direction, "is the captain of my guard."

"Captain of your guard...?" Celon could not help but whisper, glancing back and forth from Galdir to the men sitting across from her. She then stared back at Aragorn, the obvious question in her eyes.

Aragorn, having given the explanation, let Faramir give the last bit. "I," the man began, "am Faramir, son of Denethor, and he is Aragorn Elessar."

Both of them were glad that the family was sitting, for Celon looked as if she were about to faint. Maethor and Handir had an eerily similar expression of shock on their faces, and Haneth, while she did not understand the importance of the names given, understood that something had happened.

Maethor recovered first, standing up and giving the two of them a low bow. "My Lord King. My Lord Steward," he muttered. Handir quickly stood up and imitated his father.

"Please, rise and be seated," Aragorn said, and then turned his eyes to Celon, who was still pale. "Handir, would you fetch your mother a glass of water? She doesn't look well." With concern the king rose and knelt in front of the lady, taking one of her wrists in his hand and checking her pulse.

As the boy rose and rushed to get some water, Celon seemed to recover herself enough to realize that the king was kneeling in front of her and holding her wrist. She turned slightly red and muttered, "Please, sire, you should not be kneeling in front of me."

"Nonsense," he rebutted lightly, taking the glass of water from Handir and giving it to the woman. "I am a healer first before a king, and you are unwell."

The word 'healer' spurred the memory of her own healing session but hours ago, and she paled even further. "Oh, my lord! Forgive me for my words earlier, I did not know-"

"There is nothing to be forgiven," he said gently, but firmly. "You need to drink and calm yourself."

She nodded, and obediently drank the water, which did seem to soothe her. Only when he was satisfied with her health did he retake his position on the chair.

Maethor, rather than sitting on the couch, was now standing aside with his children as Aragorn reclaimed his seat. It was only after the king sat when the other man took his position back on the couch. Handir now stood at his side, staring wide-eyed at the two, while Haneth was in her father's lap, looking at her mother with concern.

Galdir suddenly stepped out from the corner, glancing at his king questioningly. When Aragorn nodded, he stepped towards the family with a small bow.

"I personally wish to thank you on behalf of Gondor for the care you bestowed on our lords. Without knowledge of their rank you cared for them as if they were your own kin, and treated them with great respect. Because of your aid, no ill befell them when they were lost from their guard. You have my gratitude." He deeply bowed towards the family.

Maethor looked rather uncomfortable, while Celon was speechless- something that came rarely to her. The man cleared his throat as Galdir straightened and took his position behind the king and steward.

"It was... it was no hassle, my lords," he managed to say.

"Nonetheless, you have our appreciation," Faramir said with a smile.

"If any of you are ever in Minas Tirith, come to the Citadel and request an audience," Aragorn said. "Simply give your name and I will see you when I can." Maethor nodded slowly, though the king was unsure if the man would ever have the audacity to do such a thing.

"But now," Faramir said after a glance from Galdir, "we shall burden you no further. We must be on our way."

Celon nodded, but then, remembering her role in the household, managed to find her voice again. "Do you need some provisions?"

"We are well laden with provisions, mistress," Galdir answered, "but thank you for the generous offer."

"Wait," Aragorn said suddenly to his two companions, "you two meet me outside. I have one last thing I wish to see to."

Galdir and Faramir looked at him curiously, but nodded, and left the home. Aragorn turned once more to the family and focused on Celon.

"I would speak with you privately, Mistress Celon, if you have time."

"Of course, of course, my lord!" she replied hurriedly, standing up and leading the king to her bedroom. She closed the door behind her and looked at him uncertainly. "What do you require, sire?"

"It is not about me, but rather about you," he started. "I was told that you have yet to recover from your losses in the War."

Celon slightly stiffened and lowered her eyes. "You need not be concerned about me, my lord king."

"Nonetheless, I am," he replied gently. "You are one of my subjects, one that helped me in my time of need. Let me repay you by doing the same- if you would permit it."

The woman looked uncertain, but after a moment, she nodded. "What do you wish for me to do?"

"Lie down and relax," he replied. She did as he said, laying down on her bed but looking less than relaxed. "You need not be frightened," Aragorn said gently, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Close your eyes, and remember the days of the War, however painful it may be."

With one hand he held her own, while the other hand lay on her forehead. They were both silent, Celon doing as he directed. She recalled her days in the Houses, the number of soldiers that filled its halls growing as the weeks passed. She remembered her brother, making light of her worries and assuring her that nothing would happen. She recalled her fear when she could not reach her children in any way, and the hopelessness she felt when she was stranded in the small house in the country. Finally, Celon remembered her heart breaking when she learned that her beloved brother and nephew had died after she had left the Houses.

As these dark memories streamed through her consciousness, she suddenly felt a warm light come down upon her. There was no voice, but she could feel that the presence was allowing her to let it go.

And she did.

When Celon opened her eyes again, she was surprised to find tears streaming down her face. Above her was the king, a gentle smile on his face.

"The pain is terrible, but you cannot let it gnaw at your soul," he said. "Talk with your husband about those days, and shed as many tears as need be. Don't let the darkness fester within you." She nodded, still surprised by the amount of tears, and with a gentle farewell, Aragorn stood up and left the room.

"Speak with her when you can about the last months of the War," he said to her husband. "She needs to release the emotions she gained in those years." He only nodded, and with final farewells to the rest of the household, the King of the Reunited Kingdoms left the small house in the woods.

***

“Aragorn?”

“Yes, Faramir?”

“Even though things did not go as were planned, I must say I enjoyed myself more than I have in quite a long time.”

“… I agree. I did enjoy myself. We should do this again.”

“We should. After all, we have yet to see who the better huntsman is.”

“Oh, but we know that it shall be me.”

“And we know I shall prove that wrong, my lord… next week?”

“Next week?”

“Next week.”

Aragorn thought about that for a moment. "Well... we are in no strife with any of our neighbors, are we?"

"All is peaceful."

"Any famines or plagues?"

"Not recently."

"No dastardly villains to face?"

"Other than your fine councilmen? No."

"All right then. Next week.”

“May the best man win."





Home     Search     Chapter List