3. Hope for the Future
Aragorn rose to his feet and stared at his furious Steward in amazement. So outraged was Faramir, that he had neither bowed nor called him by his many titles, which secretly Aragorn found rather a refreshing change.
"You may punish me as you will for speaking out of turn but I cannot stand idly by and see the White Tree of Gondor consigned to the Rath Dinen!" Faramir raged; his usually impassive features alight with fury.
"Come with me!" Aragorn said mildly, ignoring the outburst, "I have something to show you."
He took Faramir by the arm and gently but firmly shepherded him outside, the Healer in him noting as he did so that his Steward appeared to be in a great deal of pain and distress.
By now, Faramir's initial fury was replaced by sorrow for the loss of the precious tree. Not that he had any intention of apologising for making his feelings clear and would gladly bear whatever punishment was meted out to him.
He wanted only to be alone to grieve now, for this was the last straw! The Ruling Stewards had been far from perfect but they had at least cherished the symbols of Gondor's heritage, which it seemed the new King was intent on sweeping away!
It was odd that Aragorn had not summoned the guards. He supposed the King was leading him away to be punished, although the grip on his arm felt surprisingly friendly and gentle. What warm hands the man had as he could feel them even through two layers of fabric!
To his surprise, Aragorn was leading him in the direction of the Court of the Fountain. Despite his distress, he noticed there was something different about Aragorn today, a new spring in his step and a stronger light in his eyes.
"Close your eyes now!" the King ordered, " I will not let you fall!"
Faramir, well schooled in obedience, did as he was told and allowed the King to blindly lead him.
"You may look now!" Aragorn said, unable to keep the excitement from his voice.
Faramir, totally bewildered by now, slowly opened his eyes and saw the sapling, green, alive and covered with budding blossom where before the withered trunk had stood.
"My Lord King, a living tree!" he gasped in astonishment, "It is a miracle!"
He gazed in wonder on the healthy sapling. The sunlight caught the cascading water from the Fountain making it appear that the tree was covered in priceless jewels.
Aragorn turned and smiled at him, noting his eyes were moist and not from the spray.
After standing rapt for several moments, Faramir bowed stiffly to the King.
"My lord, I beg to be excused now. I crave your pardon for my earlier behaviour and will accept whatever penalty you lay on me. You have my word I will still be here in the morning."
Aragorn grasped his arm again before he could leave, guessing that he would shut himself in his study to fret, repressing the powerful emotions that the day's events had obviously stirred in him.
"No, Faramir, you may not be excused. I now pronounce your 'punishment'. You are to come with me and share some tea and cakes!" Aragorn's tone was firm but kindly.
Before Faramir could say anything, he was already shepherding him back to his apartments.
"Sit down while I tell the servant to bring us some refreshments. You like honey cakes do you not? Your uncle told me those were your favourites."
Faramir hesitated, still looking totally bewildered, before kneeling at Aragorn's feet."My lord, I cannot sit while you are standing! I am so sorry for my behaviour towards you, it was totally inexcusable!"
"Please get up as it is I, who should crave your pardon, Faramir!" Aragorn told him contritely, " Your reactions were totally understandable, whereas my actions were thoughtless beyond measure, not only towards you, but to all the citizens of Minas Tirith. I fear I grew too accustomed in the North to my own company and not needing to consider the feelings of others. Can you forgive me? I was just so excited at finding the sapling that I did not think!"
"Why, of course, my lord, you are our King!"
"Please can we not forget rank for just a little while, "Aragorn pleaded," I have hurt you badly today, though it gladdens me to see you will take me to task when I merit it, which what a good Steward should do! I should have told you I was going to remove the old tree and plant the new one in its place and ask you to witness the event and consider your feelings."
He bent and pulled Faramir to his feet, and observing how the younger man was tense as a coiled spring, intent on keeping an iron grip on his dangerously strong emotions, impulsively guided the dark head against his broad shoulder.
"Your shoulder hurts, does it not? Let me ease it for you, Peace, there is no need to remove any of your garments. Just stay still as you are!" Aragorn said gently, remembering how shamed Faramir had felt when he had wept in the Houses of Healing.
The younger man initially stiffened and then gradually calmed, as the King used his powers to heal both mind and body, first massaging the back of his neck and then his injured shoulder.
Faramir was overwhelmed by conflicting emotions, joy that his dream of seeing the White Tree blossom in the Court of the Fountain had come true, and sorrow that so many had not lived to see it, Boromir and many of his rangers, who had also been his friends. Even Denethor, who despite his many faults had cared deeply for Gondor.
He had not wept since the night Aragorn had told him how his father and brother had died, and did not intend to now, yet something in Aragorn's touch and those intense compassionate eyes made it impossible to repress his pent up emotions
He knew it was shameful to unleash his emotions like this, but luckily the King seemed too preoccupied with massaging his shoulder injury to notice.
Long moments passed and gradually Faramir's grief eased, as did the pain from his wound. For a moment, weary of the constant pain he had been in since the Ring War, he was tempted to take up Aragorn's offer to treat his wounds properly, but dismissed the thought immediately, unable to endure the thought of those intense eyes scrutinising his shameful scars.
"There, is that better?" Aragorn asked, finally releasing him, "I will order some refreshments for us."
He motioned Faramir to sit on the couch and rang a bell for a servant.
To Faramir's horror, the front of the King's tunic looked very damp from where he had been weeping.
"It feels hot in here, I am accustomed to the much colder temperatures in the North." Aragorn commented casually, pulling off the stained tunic to reveal an open necked linen shirt beneath, just as the servant entered.
Faramir was amazed by his compassion and tact.
For the first time, Faramir noticed that his King was just as tanned and weather beaten in appearance as himself or any of his men. He was nothing like what he had expected a King to be like.
Denethor had been a soldier in his youth, he knew, but Faramir could hardly recall him venturing outside for more than an hour or two in the past years.
"Why did you bring me here?" Faramir asked suddenly, emboldened by the Elvish techniques Aragorn had been using on him.
"You demanded a 'punishment', so I thought you could keep me company for a little while." Aragorn told him, smiling," I must admit that I feel somewhat isolated here, though I trust it will not be for long. I am hoping to marry soon. That is why I was so excited about finding the White Tree for if it flourishes; it is a sign from the Valar that my lady is coming. You organised a wonderful coronation for me. Do you think you could organise my wedding too?
"Why, gladly, my lord and I will arrange for some rooms to be furnished suitably for a lady. May I congratulate you?"
Aragorn nodded. " Thank you, Faramir, I know you are too polite to ask but I will tell you that I hope to marry Arwen Undomiel, daughter of Lord Elrond of Rivendell, the fairest lady that ever lived! I have loved her all the years of my manhood and been troth plighted to her since before you were born! When she arrives you will no doubt see some of her people known only to you as shadowy figures out of old legends such as Lady Galadriel."
Faramir gasped; "Your lady is one of the Eldar!"
"Yes indeed, and a distant kinswoman as we are both descended from Luthien the Fair. I hope only that I may prove worthy of her."
"You are the greatest man that now lives, how could you not be!" Faramir exclaimed. "May I ask where you found the White Tree as it has long been believed that the line was extinct?"
Aragorn blushed slightly at such high praise, as the Servant brought in the refreshments. It seemed that the Hobbits were right and Faramir did like him and it was shyness mixed with fear that made him so awkward in his company.
"So was my line thought to be too!" he told Faramir, "Though I believed as you, that never again would a tree bloom in the Court of the Fountain. However Mithrandir knew better and took me up Mount Mindolluin where I found it growing just below the snowline. Have another cake, the sweetness will do you good after the shock of seeing the old tree carried away!"
Faramir gratefully accepted the proffered honey cake and took a bite." I should have known about the tree," he said thoughtfully," I had dreams in which it flowered in the courtyard. For how could a dead tree come back to life?"
"You have the far sight." Aragorn said matter of factly, "You told me you recognised me because you dreamed of my coming. I remember your father when he was your age, he had it too, though I suspect your gift may be stronger." Not for the first time, Aragorn marvelled at the irony than Denethor's far sight had been the reason he had needed to leave Gondor when he suspected he had guessed his identity, whereas Faramir had used the same inherited gift to hail him as King.
"Gift?" Faramir said doubtfully, "It has never felt like it! My playmates claimed I was bewitched and my men feared my 'gift' brought ill fortune."
"You need to accept it as a gift and rejoice the blood of Numenor is not yet spent." Aragorn advised, "I have the far sight too and have learned to use it to my advantage. We are alike you and I, I think." Aragorn studied the younger man thoughtfully, seeing in him a potential kindred spirit in their shared heritage.
It was Faramir's turn to blush as he nibbled his cake. To think that the King thought they were alike!
"What did the tree in your dreams look like?" Aragorn's voice was oddly intense.
"It was much smaller than the old one and very beautiful." Faramir told him.
"I hope you are right and this tree thrives," the King replied.
"I had the dream many times and it was always the same." Faramir reassured him.
"We will know for certain within a few days, though the waiting will be hard, though after so many years I should be accustomed to it!" Aragorn said ruefully. "If it does flourish, there is something I should like to change if you do not mind and before you remind me that I am the King, I would genuinely welcome your honest opinion!"
"Yes, sire," Faramir, replied obediently.
"I would prefer the Guards not to wear helms covering their faces any longer, if you do not object? The Court of the Fountain should be a welcoming rather than a forbidding place, do you not think, Faramir?"
"I completely agree,sire. When I was a child, I was always afraid of those Guards!"
"I was also thinking that now Sauron is defeated that compulsory military service could be abolished and some of our young men could now be more usefully employed in helping to rebuild Gondor." Aragorn suggested, " Naturally we must maintain sufficient forces to contain any further threats from the South and East."
"That is a wise move, sire," Faramir smiled his agreement." We should have fewer and more enthusiastic and better trained soldiers and let those with no taste for soldiering work to make our land beautiful once more!"
"Good, that is settled then!" Aragorn leaned across and patted Faramir on the shoulder, pleased to finally see him appear animated and relaxed.
At the contact, Faramir suddenly tensed and stared vacantly ahead for a few seconds.
"Are you well, Faramir?" Aragorn asked anxiously, as he gently shook his Steward.
"The tree will blossom and endure as will your line for years beyond all measure!" Faramir's eyes were shining at the vision.
Aragorn smiled and laid a hand in blessing on his Steward's brow, recognising Faramir's far sight as a gift of the Valar.
And then by some miracle their minds touched and he saw it too, the tree in blossom with its petals gently falling on Arwen, himself and their children and children's children. No longer was he the last of his line, but the first of a new house of Kings.
That night for the first time in weeks, Aragorn slept peacefully as he dreamed of his beloved. He saw her approaching the city, mounted upon a magnificent grey horse. When she saw him in the distance, she urged it forward and galloped to his side. Lifting her down, he enfolded her in his arms and their lips met in a tender kiss.
"My beloved, you have come!" he whispered.
"I am yours, Estel now and for all eternity, I give you my heart!" she replied with such love in her eyes it overwhelmed him to know that one so wondrous had given herself to him.
"My Love, my Queen, my Evenstar!" he replied, a radiant smile lighting his usually grim visage .He kissed her again and she melted into his arms.
When he awoke he was still smiling in rapturous anticipation of what was to come.
And Aragorn planted the new tree in the court by the fountain and gladly it began to grow; and when the month of June entered in it was laden with blossom.
"The sign has been given," said Aragorn "And the day is not far off." And he set watchmen upon the walls.
And Aragorn the King Elessar wedded Arwen Undomiel in the City of the Kings upon the day of Midsummer, and the tale of their long waiting and labours was come to fulfilment.
The Return of the King - Tolkien
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