36. Sing for your Supper
With grateful thanks to Deandra
Sing for your supper, and you'll get breakfast;
Songbirds always eat
If their song is sweet to hear.
Sing for your luncheon, and you?l get dinner---
Dine with wine of choice
If romance is in your voice. – Lorenz Hart
"Here you are, masters", said the serving maid, a comely wench with rosy cheeks and a thick plait of dark hair. She placed two mugs of ale and a plate of freshly baked cakes in front of the two cloaked and hooded men sitting at the table in the far corner, before hurrying off to serve the next customer. As usual, the Silver Crown was packed.
Aragorn sipped his ale and sighed contentedly. "I am certain this tastes better than anything I drink at my own table," he remarked. "This reminds me of my old Ranger days. All we need is old Butterbur at the bar and a few Hobbits, and I could be back in Bree! Those were the days!"
"No doubt that is why you think it tastes so good," said Faramir, tasting his own drink. "You have also told me you would leave the shelter of the inn when you had finished your drink to sleep under a hedge in the rain!"
"Indeed, it is good to retire to a warm bed with my lady by my side, not to mention the company of good friends and food in plenty on the table, but I do miss the freedom of being a Ranger at times," said Aragorn.
"So do I," Faramir replied. "Still, we are at liberty to come here tonight and enjoy a good mug of ale."
"To the Envoy!" said Aragorn raising his glass.
"May he arrive safely, but not until tomorrow!" said Faramir doing likewise. The two men were enjoying a rare evening of freedom because a visiting Envoy from Khand had been delayed due to a broken axle of the wagon in which he was travelling. By the time a messenger had brought the news, Arwen and Éowyn had already departed with the children to visit Legolas and his Elven colony for a few days, since the custom of Khand prohibited women from taking part in public life, and the ladies had decided to honour a long standing invitation rather than risk insult.
The two men enjoyed the cakes in companionable silence broken only by the sound of their munching. There was no entertainment tonight and the room reverberated with chatter, shouted greetings, and laughter. Aragorn and Faramir drank their ale slowly and savoured this rare opportunity of mixing incognito with the people. Aragorn was pleased that his subjects appeared contented, and the only grumbles he heard concerned the weather and scolding wives, rather than his rule.
All too soon, their glasses were drained and the friends reluctantly prepared to leave. Aragorn beckoned the serving maid over in order to pay her. He reached inside his cloak for the small store of coin he carried. To his horror, it was gone. He realised he must have forgotten his purse when he had changed into old clothes. "Do you have any coin?" he asked Faramir.
The Steward shook his head. "I left it behind when I changed my clothing tonight."
"You cannot drink and eat here without paying!" the girl said indignantly. "I'm fetching the innkeeper to deal with you two!"
Faramir sighed. "We will have to ask the Guards we left outside for some coin."
"If we do so we will never be able to come here unrecognised again," said Aragorn. "I enjoy these rare evenings out together as two simple Rangers too much to lose them. Maybe we could wash the dishes or sweep out the stables to pay for our refreshment?"
Faramir looked aghast. "Surely not in your position!" he exclaimed. "Not after all that happened last time you worked to pay off a debt! We are not in some remote village, but in Minas Tirith. Not that I object to hard work, but if they ever found out..."
"I've washed many a dish and swept many a stable in my youth," said Aragorn. "I can sweep far better than I can scythe!"
"What's this then?" said the innkeeper arriving with the serving maid. "Gilwen, here, says you cannot pay your bill. An honest man like me has a living to make."
"Indeed you have, Master," said Aragorn. "We were wondering if we might work to pay off the debt."
"We could wash your dishes," said Faramir.
"Or do some stable work," added Aragorn.
"Hmm," said the innkeeper, tugging at his beard thoughtfully. Meanwhile the maid was staring at the King and Steward in a manner that made them feel most uncomfortable.
"I remember you," said Gilwen. "I thought I knew you!"
Aragorn and Faramir's hearts sank in their boots. They would be the laughing stock of the City: its two richest and most powerful inhabitants unable to pay for cakes and ale!
"You are the two gentlemen with nice voices!" Gilwen pronounced. "I remember telling you that no woman could resist if you serenaded her. Now, don't try to deny it! I never forget a face!"
The King and Steward laughed with relief.
"You have a good memory, mistress," said Aragorn. "Indeed, we are those men."
"You can sing for your supper then," said the innkeeper. "My customers like a song, and the coins they throw you will pay for your refreshment. "Come on!"
"One moment, please," said Aragorn. "I must discuss it first with my son."
"Well, don't take all night about it," said the innkeeper. He beckoned to Gilwen and the two withdrew to the counter.
"They will surely recognise us!" Faramir said anxiously.
"I very much doubt it," Aragorn replied. "During my travels I have learned that people only see what they expect to. They expect to see us in fine garments carrying out our normal duties, not wearing humble garb and drinking in a tavern."
"I have never sung in public before like this." There was a note of panic in Faramir's voice.
"You have a fine singing voice. Just pretend that you are singing to Éowyn and your children and a row of cabbages!"
"Very well. At least it will soon be over." Faramir could only hope it was no worse than addressing the Council or his troops.
Aragorn beckoned the innkeeper back over to him. "We will be happy to sing for you," he said
"Shall we sing 'The Lay of Lúthien'?" Aragorn asked Faramir.
Faramir nodded. At least he knew the tune well, having sung it with Aragorn on several occasions, both while on camping trips and to entertain their wives.
Aragorn began singing in a rich bass: "The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair."
Faramir took a deep breath as his warm baritone picked up the next line: "And in the glade a light was seen. Of stars in shadow shimmering."
Never before had the Lay seemed so long, but the two friends went on singing, thinking of their beloved wives and their desire to protect each other from ridicule. The inn had fallen silent; a silence that persisted after the last note died away. Aragorn and Faramir held their collective breath, wondering at their audience's reaction.
"Hooray!" A cheer erupted from the crowd and a shower of coins fell at Aragorn and Faramir's feet. The crowd started to chatter again and Aragorn and Faramir's keen ears picked out such sentiments as "good voices they have" and why don't they sing here more often?"
The innkeeper stooped and picked up a handful. "The debt is paid," he said, beaming at them. "The rest of the coin is yours. You are welcome to sing here any time you fancy a bite or to earn some coin! You deserve another mug of ale, methinks. Gilwen, go and pour two mugs of my best ale for our minstrels here."
"You could make a good living singing," said Gilwen. "What do you do usually?"
"We are soldiers," said Aragorn. He exchanged a knowing glance with Faramir.
"That was not as bad as I feared," said Faramir. "It has given me quite a thirst, though."
If anything, the second mug of ale tasted even better than the first. The two friends were unanimous that singing for their supper was thirsty work. They were accustomed to being feted for whom they were wherever they went and often found it tedious. It felt different and oddly exhilarating to be lauded for their singing ability instead.
A little later, King and Steward made their way home, discreetly flanked by their Guards.
"Whatever shall we do with these coins?" Aragorn mused, weighed down by all the copper. "I will keep one coin to remind me of tonight."
"As shall I," said Faramir. "It will be a memento of a must unusual evening."
"Maybe we should pay our Guards to sample the hospitality of the Silver Crown?" Aragorn mused. "They have spent a dull evening hanging around waiting for us."
"I have a better idea," said Faramir, having espied a family huddled asleep in the doorway of a ruined building. Despite all the King's efforts, there were still homeless folk in Gondor. Many were too proud to accept charity. As stealthily as only Rangers could move, King and Steward laid their earnings beside the sleepers and crept away in the night.
A/N This story was originally written for the AA list prompts "Sing" and Together." It is a sequel of sorts to "Music Hath Charms" also on this site. I imagine Aragorn has a voice similar to John Tomlinson, while Faramir sounds like Thomas Hampson.