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The Better Huntsman  by Aelaer

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."


"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

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