14. The words of understanding
To know wisdom and instruction;to perceive the words of understanding; Proverbs – 1.1 – The Bible
"Wo shi Aragorn Elessar," the dragon repeated. "Not too bad. We will practice the other phrases again now."
"I asked Súlion to teach me some words in his rider's tongue that I might better tend him," Aragorn explained.
He is very slow at achieving anything near the correct pronunciation," Súlion grumbled. "His little one would be far better at it! Now remember what I told you, you should say N? tzaí péhn y? zh?n jien, n? bú yòhn haì pà, to my rider. Try it once more, if you please. "
"It is a kind gesture to speak to Fu Nung in his own tongue, but you need to rest now," Faramir said firmly. He sighed with relief that Aragorn had not lost his wits after all.
"He needs more practice," Súlion protested.
"Maybe dragons can work both night and day, but Men cannot," Faramir replied. The dragon's language was quite unlike anything he had heard before and he was fluent in several tongues. He feared Aragorn would get no rest at all that night if he continued trying to master such strange sounding words. "Come, Aragorn, you have a busy day again tomorrow, and you, Súlion, should return to your field." He softened his words by stroking the dragon's nose, which reached towards him.
"Behold my mother hen!" Aragorn said, trying to stifle a yawn. "I will come, if only to ensure that you take some rest, ion nîn. Goodnight, Súlion, we will continue on the morrow!"
"At least your pronunciation should amuse my rider!" said Súlion.
Aragorn left Súlion's side to join Faramir. The two men watched as the dragon spread his wings and soared aloft like a vast bird.
The King did not speak, but paced restlessly once Súlion had gone. "There are times when I feel like smoking pipe weed again," he said at last.
"The Queen would not be happy if you did," said Faramir, thinking he shared the good lady's sentiments. He recalled the Hobbits love of the foul smelling substance. The thought of enduring it while they worked together, after meals, and before sleeping on the occasions he shared a chamber with Aragorn, was not a pleasant one at all. The smoke made him cough and hurt his throat.
"When will she return?" Aragorn said morosely, starting to pace again. "Or am I doomed to spend my nights conversing with a dragon?"
"You have endured separations before," Faramir said, trying to sound comforting. "This one will pass too. Come and rest, things will look better in the morning."
"Will they?" He sounded unsure. Nevertheless, Aragorn accompanied Faramir back inside.
Faramir awakened with a start when the King cried out in his sleep. Alarmed, Faramir lit a candle and tried to rouse his lord and friend. Aragorn had suffered nightmares before, after his ordeal at the hands of the rebel lords, but not for several years now. The only disruption to his slumbers Faramir had been forced to endure on their camping trips had been the King's loud snoring.
When he saw that calling his friend's name had no effect, Faramir shook Aragorn awake. For a moment Aragorn looked at him wildly, his eyes unfocussed.
"You are safe in your own chamber in Minas Tirith," Faramir reassured him. "You were having a dark dream and cried out in your sleep."
"I dreamed the kingdom fell to invaders and all through my folly!" Aragorn said after a moment. He was breathing heavily and Faramir could sense his agitation. The Steward put his arm around Aragorn's shoulders and was alarmed that his friend was trembling slightly. Aragorn was the toughest individual he knew and very rarely showed any sign of weakness.
"Your kingdom is secure. It was but an evil dream, ada," Faramir said. "I cannot imagine you capable of such folly!"
"Have I not driven away the fairest and best lady upon Arda?" Aragorn said bitterly. "And was I not powerless to heal Fu Nung?"
"You reunited Fu Nung with his dragon, which rekindled his will to live," Faramir said firmly. He pulled on his robe over his night attire and went to call a servant to bring to some tea, while he pondered over what he was certain was the true cause of Aragorn's disquiet. "Either Fu Nung and Súlion will return to their own lands once Fu Nung is well," Faramir ventured at last. "Or they will settle here and everyone, including the Queen, will become accustomed to their presence."
"Everyone has not lived for almost three thousand years and never in all those years heard of a dragon that was other than evil," Aragorn said wryly. "Súlion might well have saved your life, and he did us both a favour. Every law of hospitality and honour demands that I shelter him and his rider. Truth to tell, I have even grown to rather like the beast! But what substitute is a dragon for my wife and for my children?"
Just then, the servant tapped on the door with the tea. Faramir took the tray from her and returned to Aragorn's side. "Eldarion likes Súlion," he said hopefully. "Maybe he will convince his mother that a dragon need not be evil."
"I wish I could share your hope," Aragorn replied grimly, taking a sip of the hot drink. "Never before though have I seen Arwen so angry nor known her try to kill anything or anyone. I doubt she will be swayed."
"Maybe there have been other matters in her long life that she has changed her mind over long before you were born," said Faramir, sipping his own tea. "I still hope that once our child is born, Éowyn will be more reasonable and I can convince her that Súlion is no Fell Beast!"
"Éowyn does not hold you responsible for the presence of the dragon in Gondor, though," said Aragorn. "As King, that burden has fallen solely upon me."
"I would not have decided differently were it my decision," said Faramir.
Aragorn put his cup down and hugged the younger man. "I am blessed to have your counsel and support, ion nîn," he said. "No son of my flesh could be more loving and loyal to me than you are."
"You deserve my love and fealty, ada," Faramir said simply, returning the embrace. "Now finish your drink and let us get some rest while we yet may. It will be another long day tomorrow."
To the Steward's great relief, Aragorn did as he was bidden and exhaustion from the day's events caused him to quickly fall asleep again. Faramir was not so fortunate and lay awake pondering their conversation. He was deeply worried about his lord. He had not seen Aragorn in such low spirits since the last time he had been separated from his later when the City was ravaged by a fever epidemic. Then, rebel lords had taken advantage of the King's weariness to kidnap him. The Steward was determined that at all cost, the King must be protected during this current crisis.
Aragorn was now snoring softly. Faramir hoped that he was lost in pleasant dreams of his lady in happier times.
Faramir got up and went over to the window. He looked out at the stars, the same stars that had shone over the city through many troubled times before. Even the evil of Sauron had not dimmed them. In comparison with what they had overcome in the past, their present problem was small by comparison, if a dragon could ever be considered small! Smiling slightly at the thought and somewhat reassured, Faramir returned to bed and finally fell asleep.
Despite his troubled night, Aragorn awoke soon after sunrise. He dressed quickly, and after leaving a note for Faramir, made his way to the Houses of Healing. It was a beautiful spring morning, which initially raised his spirits until he walked through the gardens of the Houses and heard the birds calling to their mates in the treetops. He resolutely pushed the melancholy thoughts aside as he walked towards Fu Nung's room and tried to recall everything that Súlion had told him the night before.
Fu Nung was awake and staring at Tarostar and Aedred in wide-eyed fear as they prepared to change the dressings on his wounds. He struggled feebly against their ministrations.
"He drank two glasses of water and took his medicines when he woke up just after dawn," said Tarostar in reply to the question in Aragorn's eyes. "Then we decided to dress his wounds and he became agitated."
Aragorn waved them aside and pulled the covers back over the Easterling. He smiled reassuringly then took a deep breath and said "Cheen ne farng zhin, Fu Nung."
Fu Nung looked at him, comprehension slowly dawning in his gaze.
Aragorn tried again "Chín n? fáhng xín."
"My lord?" Tarostar asked bewildered. He looked at Aragorn as if he feared the King had lost his wits.
"I asked the dragon to teach me a few words in Fu Nung's only language. I thought if I knew the simple phases we reassure our patients with daily it might help him." He turned back to Fu Nung and said "Woe Shee Aragorn Elessar."
Fu Nung managed a faint smile" Ara- gon Lesser," he said slowly. "W? shih Fu Nung."
Encouraged by this success, Aragorn continued "Nee tzay payn yo, shone jen, nee boo yohn hie par."
Fu Nung for the first time in their acquaintance smiled properly, his wan face lighting up. Aragorn caught a sudden glimpse of what the young man's personality must be like when not overshadowed by fear and pain. Fu Nung tried to laugh, then groaned and clutched at his chest with his good hand.
Aragorn repeated his words of reassurance and held his hands a few inches above the Easterling's bruised ribs. To his delight, this time, his powers took effect and the expression on Fu Nung's face showed that the pain had subsided. Further reassuring the rider, he tended his wounds using all his Elvish skills and innate powers. Then with Aedred's assistance, the young man was washed and dressed in a clean nightshirt.
"W? dùzi è!" said Fu Nung when they had finished.
"My grasp of his tongue is still poor, but I believe he is hungry," said Aragorn.
"I will send to the kitchens for a nourishing broth for our patient," said Aedred, looking almost as delighted as Aragorn.
"We will have to feed him. In his land they use different eating utensils," said Aragorn.
A few minutes later a servant brought a dish of steaming chicken broth. At first Fu Nung regarded it dubiously, but after a few tentative spoonfuls, he devoured every drop. Aragorn and Aedred exchanged a satisfied look. It seemed that Fu Nung was getting better.
During the next few days Fu Nung's health continued to improve sufficiently for Aragorn to decide to move him from the Houses of Healing to rooms neat his own apartments. That allowed him treat the Rider's wounds with his Elven healing skills twice a day. He appointed two servants and an apprentice healer from the Houses to care for the Easterling.
Even more importantly for Fu Nung's well being, he was able to spend time with Súlion in the royal gardens. Aragorn ordered that he be carried there daily. With the dragon's help they were able to converse and Aragorn learned that when they had first encountered the dragon, Fu Nung had been locked in the prison of a small town on suspicion of being a foreign spy. When the magistrate had visited, the Easterling had been released for lack of evidence and Súlion had later found him in the fields surrounding the town. The dragon, though, had either failed to pass on Aragorn's advice to return to their own lands, or been ignored by the overeager explorer who wanted to continue his travels. All had been well enough when they flew far overhead, for if any had noticed them at all, Súlion could have been taken for some sort of large bird. Eventually, though, they had been forced to land to find food. Súlion had been spotted and his Rider beaten up, while soldiers stationed in the nearest town had shot at him and his Rider as they tried to escape, with near fatal consequences for the latter.
Aragorn tried to learn more of Fu Nung's language and Faramir also mastered a few phases so he could at least exchange cordial greetings with Súlion's rider. The Steward had asked his friend Tahir, the ambassador from Harad, to send his personal tailor to measure Fu Nung for some clothing in a style nearer to that of his homeland than Aragorn of Faramir's tailors could provide.
Fu Nung accepted their hospitality gratefully, smiling at them with a shy endearing grin and trying to master the Common Tongue and the eating implements favoured by the Gondorians.
If truth were told, both King and Steward were grateful for something to distract them from the absence of their wives and children as well as Faramir's concern for Éowyn as the time for her confinement approached. Restoring Fu Nung to full health that he might go on his way seemed the best way to hasten the return of the ladies, but Aragorn was bound by the laws of hospitality to shelter his guests for as long as they desired to stay.
Súlion seemed far more restless than his rider, maybe because his wounds were much quicker to heal and the dragon disliked being confined to the Royal gardens or the field that had been procured for him.
One afternoon when Fu Nung was resting, Aragorn and Faramir went to see the dragon and found him a desolate mood.
"My wings are no better," Súlion said, glumly, holding up a wing and inspecting the now healed wound upon it. "Look how ugly I am now!"
"You are not ugly," Faramir said soothingly.
"But my beautiful wings are marred!" groaned the dragon. "And the rest of me!"
Aragorn tried to hide a smile at the vanity of the creature. His smile soon vanished at the dragon's next words, though. "You said you had a remedy to heal these blemishes. When can I have it?"
"It has only been used on Men and Elves," said Aragorn. "I have no idea if it would work on dragons."
"You could try, though," Súlion said hopefully.
" I could, but I have little idea how to proceed," said the King. "The patient needs to be immersed in a tub of medicinal mud, which is left to set and then rinsed away with clean water after which a salve is applied. There is no tub in all of Gondor which would hold you!"
Súlion's head drooped sadly.
"Maybe we could bring out some large washing tubs, fill them with the mixture and just apply it to his scars?" Faramir suggested to Aragorn.
The King glared, having hoped that the dragon would forget the whole idea.
"Then we could rub him down with clean water," Faramir continued.
"That would be practical enough," Aragorn conceded. "It is doubtful, though that it could work. A Man's skin is very different than a dragon's hide! You would be very disappointed, would you not, Súlion, if it did not work?"
"It would be worse not to try," said Súlion. "I am sure it will make me beautiful again and Fu Nung beautiful too for his wife. Not that I mind about such matters, but ladies do, I believe."
"Very well," said Aragorn, mentally calculating how many soldiers would be needed to carry the tubs and buckets of water. He doubted they would be very happy, neither would the washerwomen to have their tubs thus purloined.
"We will see if we can try tomorrow," Faramir smiled. "The King and I both have a morning free of official duties."
"Why did you not attempt to dissuade him?" Aragorn demanded once the Men were out of the dragon's earshot.
"For several reasons," said the Steward. "I hate to see a sentient creature unhappy, he will pester repeatedly you until you try the treatment, it would be good if he could return home unmarked by what befell him here, and not least, because it will be yet another way to prove how great a healer you are."
Aragorn glared for a moment, looking as if he might cheerfully throw something at his friend. Then his features relaxed and he thumped Faramir's shoulder affectionately. "Always you have faith in me, mellon nîn," he exclaimed. "I only hope that faith is not misplaced."
With grateful thanks to Labourslamp, Xia Ziyi, Aaranellaureote, Tanpopo03 and Calen Greenleaf for their assistance with the Chinese dialogue in this chapter.
Aragon says to Fu Nung. " I am Aragorn Elessar. Be at ease. You are safe and amongst friends."
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