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XII. Stranger At The Feast (Faramir)
The Steward who had this day given over the rule of his land to its rightful king paused in his tracks. The weariness of the past weeks’ labors began to tire him at last. No, it was not just the mingled fatigue and relief of accomplishing his purpose. Faramir admitted, if only to himself, that for the first time, he felt a stranger in the Merethrond. For there, at the High Table where his father and brother had so often sat in eminence, their new lord held sway. The King Elessar had seated Frodo at his right hand, Mithrandir at his left. The three other Halflings hurried to sit down on either side of the wizard and the Ring-bearer, and Faramir observed the Elf Legolas and Gimli the Dwarf coming to join them, flanked by Éomer, Éowyn and several Dunedain of the North.
Faramir had learned enough of the office of King’s Steward to know that he had a place at the King’s table by right. Yet it was not for the King’s Steward to put himself forward and take that place unasked; especially on this great day, this first day of Elessar’s reign. Faramir stood taut, beset by an uncertainty he had not yet considered. What was his place here? No longer ruling Steward, no longer the son of Gondor’s lord, was he welcome here, or a beggar at the feast?
He could always, Faramir supposed, sit with his Rangers, or other warriors of Gondor; or claim a free table for his own new rank as a Prince of the realm. Much as he longed to sit at Éowyn’s side, he would not begrudge the lady her closeness to the brother she also loved. Smoothing his face to stillness, Faramir pulled his gaze away from the unrestrained joy on the faces of the King’s companions, and prepared to find himself a seat elsewhere.
“Lord Faramir!” The King’s voice was raised just enough to carry. Faramir turned back to see Elessar lift his hand in a gesture that was a greeting rather than a summoning.
“Come, join us,” Elessar urged, with an unforced smile. “The King would have his Steward close at hand, and Aragorn would welcome another friend at his table.”
The King’s warmth was catching; and Faramir gladly returned the smile. As he made his way to the High Table, he noticed Mithrandir beaming at him like a proud grandfather, and the excited grins of the Halflings. And the light that arose in Éowyn’s eyes as she looked upon him gave Faramir a different sort of pleasure.
“Hullo, Faramir!” Pippin crowed, stretching in his chair to wave at him. “Look, Strider’s saved a seat for you!” Indeed, when Faramir reached the table, the King looked him in the eye again and indicated the only empty chair, between Éowyn and the tall young Northerner who Faramir had met briefly already. Introductions were made; to the young man, who was the son of the King’s fallen kinsman Halbarad, and to others of the grave, courteous Northern Dúnedain.
“The seating arrangements at an occasion of state will have to be puzzled out at some future time,” Elessar bespoke him. “We never stood much on ceremony in Arnor; but I understand that Gondor expects, and often needs, a more elaborate structure.”
“The King’s Steward has never before been a Prince, my lord;” Faramir answered. “You have already made new precedent; and the bounds between precedent and protocol can be very slight.”
The King laughed. “Faramir, your grandfather and your father said the same thing. Have no fear, I shall never allow myself, or the kingship, to become a slave to protocol. I shall decide later whether the lords of the fiefs should head their own tables in this hall, or sit at mine; and I shall welcome your advice on the matter. But this night, I wish all my friends, old and new at my table. I only wish the table were larger. And Faramir, I would that you call me by name.”
“Which one, Sire?” Faramir relaxed enough to ask, a certain mischief in his voice.
Pippin snorted with laughter, while the other halflings grinned. Éowyn's brother mumbled something in Rohirric about ‘winged feet’.
“I suppose that ‘Longshanks’ would be inappropriate,” the King said slowly. “So I ask you to call me the name my father and mother gave me, that of ‘Aragorn’. Now drink with us, Faramir, to new princes and new precedents!” He filled his cup and raised it, and all others did the same.
“Gladly I shall…Aragorn,” Faramir answered. He drank deeply of the fine Lossarnach vintage. He took it all in, the wine, Éowyn’s even more intoxicating nearness, this welcoming company, and the friendship offered by the King. He had lost much; but had also gained. The strangeness passed away as Faramir joined in the feast.
Author's Note: This ficlet is a birthday present for Linda Hoyland, whose lovely Aragorn/Faramir friendship stories, and other Aragorn stories, can be found elsewhere on this site.
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