Fantasy of Manners
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The Consequences of Curiosity: 1. The Consequences of Curiosity (1/1)
It was when they sat together in the King's private chamber, going over the revenue from the Belfalas trading, that Aragorn decided to broach the subject. The bruising occasionally peering from under the edge of his Steward's sleeve helped him make up his mind. He closed the ledger on the table before him, steeled himself, and turned to Faramir. 'We need to have a word.'
Faramir cast him a glance and then returned to his writing. 'I am, as ever, at your command, my lord.'
'We are, I hope, among friends.'
The quill ceased its scratching motion across the paper. Faramir looked up in earnest, pushing a lock of hair away from his eyes. 'There is no other man I would feel prouder to call a friend, my lo—Aragorn.'
'And as a friend, you will permit me the discourtesy of broaching a… delicate matter, I hope?'
A dash of surprise streaked across Faramir's face. He set the quill down and leaned back on his chair, his hands on the armrests. 'Sir?'
Aragorn swallowed what seemed to be a small hot stone in his throat and went on. 'It concerns something I have noticed and something which arouses suspicions only in repetition.'
'You will have to forgive, but I do not follow.'
'I am referring—and here I must add that my last intention is to cause offence and nothing will give me more pleasure than to be proved mistaken—to certain—signs—of a physical nature.'
The look on Faramir's face was one of mute incomprehension.
'I mean bodily marks. You seem to be trying to conceal some right at this moment.' He looked at Faramir's left wrist.
The Steward's face turned an interesting shade of red. 'Oh.'
'Now, I will be the first man to say that accidents are frequent—a thumb caught in a shutter, a foot caught in a step, even the snap of a bow—but I could not help but notice the frequency with which such—accidents—seem to befall you. And few people seek to conceal accidental injuries, unless they are in some way disfiguring, whereas you strive to keep yours out of sight. So I cannot help but think there is some deliberate harm taking place, and I cannot stand for it.' Having got it out, he halted for a moment. Faramir's face was blank. 'I speak both as your friend and as your King. As glad as I would be to be wholly mistaken in my assumption, if it is close to the truth, you must tell me. Regardless… regardless of who is the cause.'
It was then that Faramir did something unexpected: he began to chuckle. Perhaps noticing Aragorn's surprise, he hastened to speak. 'I am touched by your concern and fairness, and glad to have you both as my friend and as my sovereign. But you will be pleased to know that such bruises and marks as I may occasionally sport have no malice as their cause and were acquired in a most pleasurable manner.'
Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief. 'That gladdens me greatly. Forgive me for my intrusion—'
'It is understandable.'
'I had to set my mind at ease and hope I have not caused offence.'
'Only delight at how highly you value my well-being.'
'There you have it.' Aragorn picked up the ledger again. 'An instance where it is far better to shoot wide from the mark than in the centre.' He flipped through the pages as Faramir made to pick up his quill again. 'Is it some sport, then?'
Faramir stilled. 'A sport?'
'The action that is pleasurable but proves strenuous. Some new manner of taking exercise, I presume.'
The quill was lowered again, slowly. 'In a manner of speaking. It has more of… of play-acting than of sport.'
Aragorn smiled. 'I did not know you for an actor. What manner of play have you been performing? Something with rather more deeds than words, if the bodily effects are any indication.'
The Steward hesitated visibly. 'It is more of a performance for two. My lady Éowyn and I are the only… actors.'
'I fear you shall have to excuse my ignorance. I am not fully familiar with the pastimes of Gondor and the years I have so far spent here have not sufficed to make me familiar with all the plays of our country. Do you refer to something in the manner of a dialogue between two characters only?'
This time it was Faramir who seemed to struggle with the wording of a sensitive matter. 'I have not quite made myself clear. If you will allow the indelicacy, the—plays—we perform are of a rather intimate nature and not suitable for any public performance.'
A few seconds trickled by before understanding, along with a measure of embarrassment, dawned on Aragorn. 'I see. Well, your private life is of course no affair of mine, except to hope that the re-enactment of your courtship continues to give you enjoyment.' He buried his gaze in the ledger. 'Now, about this matter of docking rights—'
'We do not, actually.'
'I beg your pardon?' Aragorn lifted his eyes again. Faramir had an edge of steeliness to him; it was a look the King had seen many times in his Steward and which indicated an unyielding wish to see a course of action through.
'Your honesty invites mine. I would not wish you to labour under a misapprehension—'
'There is no need, in truth,' Aragorn said with some measure of anxiety, to no avail.
'—therefore I must say that our performances are of wholly imagined situations.' He frowned a little. 'With the exception of The Shieldmaiden and The Scholar, I suppose. But as for, say, The Rider and Her Obedient Squire or The Lady Corsair and The Captured Emissary…'
Aragorn saw the possibility of a reprieve. 'Speaking of boating…' he said, clinging to his ledger.
Faramir smiled wanly. 'My lord, it almost seems you do not welcome your friend's frankness.'
'By no means. Your honesty is one of your finest qualities. But as it comes to matters of such a private nature, especially matters which it seems are not wholly permitted by the laws of our kingdom, discretion is the better part of valour.'
'But that is precisely why I must uncover the truth,' Faramir enthused as Aragorn hoped fervently that the truth would be the only thing to be verbally uncovered. 'Because I now feel I cannot serve the law of the land with a clear conscience while my King remains unaware of how his own Steward and his wife break so often a law that aims to prevent the infliction of harm but does not take into account that which is freely received and taken in joy.'
'I am more than happy to remain only with the knowledge that you are obeying the spirit if not the letter of the law…'
'No, I shall not be happy while I do not state my case fully, and explain how there can be delight in the taking of punishment and how there is no debasement nor lawlessness in willing surrender.'
He proceeded to explain it so thoroughly that after he had left, content in his confession, Aragorn was in no doubt that the Steward and his wife were altogether suitably matched—and that he would never be able to look at a bonnet in quite the same manner again.
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