"Will you go hunting with me next week?" Aragorn asked his Steward. "I feel the need to escape from these walls of stone! These past days have been wearing, entertaining so many guests offering their good wishes. Would that my lady and I could celebrate our anniversary in a more private manner!"
"The people love you and Queen Arwen, while the ambassadors and lords feel the need to pay their respects," said Faramir. "You and your lady are more than welcome to visit Éowyn and me to spend some time together away from prying eyes. Summer in Ithilien is always beautiful."
"We will as soon as our duties allow. But you have not answered my question. Will you go hunting with me a week from today?"
Faramir thought what the date would be a week hence and inwardly shuddered. Éowyn would have returned to Emyn Arnen by then. He would prefer to be alone with his memories. "I thought you had a meeting with the Ambassador from Dale that day?" he said.
"It has been postponed," said Aragorn. "Arwen is addressing the guild of Embroiderers and hosting a dinner for them. They have no need of my company."
"Would you not prefer to hunt with Legolas?" Faramir suggested. "He has more skill at the chase than I. I am behind with my duties and ought to be working on a report concerning our trade with Khand."
"I have not spent enough time in your company of late, my friend," said Aragorn. "Surely you can put your duties aside for one day? And did you not know that Legolas is visiting the Glittering Caves with Gimli?"
"I recall him telling me now," said Faramir. "He keeps trying to persuade me to visit the caves too, but I had my fill of caves when I was at Henneth Annûn.
"You should see the Glittering Caves someday," said Aragorn. "They are quite unlike those at Henneth Annûn and a marvel to behold. You have still not answered my question, though. Will you go hunting with me next week?"
"Very well," Faramir conceded. Aragorn could not know the date's significance and the Steward could deny his friend and King nothing.
"I shall look forward to it," said Aragorn, clapping Faramir affectionately on the shoulder. "We will set off at dawn and have a good day's hunting together."
On the appointed day, Faramir passed the night lost in uneasy dreams. When he awoke, his thoughts were filled with memories of another dawn. The years had passed, but still he remembered. Most of the time he was well content, his days filled with more happiness than he had ever dared dream of. He loved and was loved in return. He was married to the fairest and best of ladies, his children thrived, and he served the noblest of lords. But there were times, such as today, when old wounds were reopened and the past seemed like yesterday.
He dressed in his old Ranger clothes with a heavy heart. After a hurried breakfast for which he had little appetite, he slipped out to meet Aragorn in the stables. They had done this many times before when their duties permitted, evaded their guards to snatch a few hours or days of precious freedom, without which, two men accustomed to the wilds would surely go mad. They told only their wives where they planned to go. Today, though, Faramir had little idea of where Aragorn might be taking him and truth to tell, little did he care.
"We will ride towards the river and then make for the woods," said Aragorn as they mounted their horses.
They rode in silence towards the Anduin. Just before they reached its banks, Aragorn paused beside a laurel tree and cut off two branches with his sword. Faramir wondered at this, but said nothing.
When they reached the water's edge, Aragorn reined in his horse and dismounted, the branches still in his hand. "Walk with me a little while," he said.
King and Steward walked along the path beside the river in silence for a short time. Then Aragorn spoke, "It is ten years today since Boromir left on his final errand, is it not, ion nîn?"
Faramir nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
"I thought we could take time today to remember your brother," said Aragorn.
"I thought none would remember save I," said Faramir. "There was great love between us. He was ever my helper and protector. He was a great man."
"He would be so proud of you," said Aragorn. "I am certain he smiles upon you from beyond the circles of the world."
"Sometimes I consider all I have and think it should be Boromir's," Faramir said sadly. He gazed at the water, watching a family of ducks that swam near the bank.
"We know not the ways of the Valar or of the One, but I believe you were meant to be my Steward," said Aragorn.
"I am happy and well content with my life," said Faramir. "You have become father, brother, and lord to me. Daily, your loving friendship gladdens my heart. Yet still, I grieve for my brother, especially on days such as this. I can still see him riding away when I close my eyes."
"I grieve still for Halbarad and for my mother," said Aragorn. "It does not mean I love those whose company I am now blessed with any the less. I know how much you miss your brother, which was why I was so insistent we go hunting today. I did not want you to be alone today of all days."
"Sometimes I forget that you can sense my thoughts," said Faramir. "I should know that a friend such as you would sense my sorrow."
"I thought we could cast these laurel branches into the river in honour of Boromir," said Aragorn, handing one to Faramir. "His memory will be evergreen. Time, which takes in trust our youth, heals us as the years pass." He threw the branch into the water.
Faramir did likewise. Then he could contain his grief no longer and he wept. Aragorn's arms immediately enfolded him. The King spoke no word, but simply held Faramir tightly in his arms until his tears were spent.
"Thank you, ada," said Faramir. He wiped his eyes. "Alas, you must think me foolish to weep like a child!"
"Not at all," said Aragorn. "I have wept often for Halbarad. We neither of us had the time to grieve properly when we lost our loved ones. Now are you ready to go hunting?"
"I am. Let us see if we can replenish the Citadel's larders!"
The two men rode into the woods. It was fresh and green and cool there beneath the trees and Faramir's spirits rose. He would always love and miss his brother, but how could he not be happy riding through the woods with his best friend at his side? He rejoiced too at the green and fertile the land. How it had flourished now the Dark Lord was overthrown!
A movement ahead caught his eye. It was a stag. He drew his bow and the two men set off in skilful pursuit of their quarry.
The chase was long and hard for the stag was swift and skilfully evaded them. At last, though, they reached a clearing. The exhausted stag could run so more. It stood there and looked at them. Faramir nocked and arrow and aimed. He then put down his bow and shook his head. "I will not kill today," he said. "Let the stag live for Boromir."
"For Boromir!" Aragorn said softly.
The stag looked at the two men again, almost as if he knew he had nothing to fear, and then disappeared amongst the trees.
The hunters returned home empty handed, but well satisfied for their hearts were full.