8. A little child shall lead them
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11.6
Aragorn took Hasufel's reins from a young groom who gaped as much as the other one had done; this time at the sight of the King going riding in attire far better suited for a State Banquet. He lifted up Eldarion, thankful that the boy was confident with large horses as well as his pony. He commanded that two of his guards should ride ahead of him and two behind. For once, Aragorn wanted to make certain everyone knew that their King was riding by.
Eldarion looked around from his high perch curiously. The usually bustling market was deserted and people were still hurrying towards the gates looking terrified and clutching bundles containing their most prized processions.
Aragorn called to the guards and instructed them to cry, "Make way in the name of the King!" in loud voices.
As he had hoped, many of the people stopped to stare. Aragorn called to them, "Good people, you have nothing to fear, I am taking my son to meet the friendly dragon who is visiting us."
The crowd started to murmur amongst themselves. Aragorn assumed it was to speculate if he had lost his wits. But the pace at which the people were moving slowed considerably. Everyone knew just how much their King loved his young son.
"I wish I could be King as well as you, ada," said Eldarion. "People would have to do what I said!"
"I fear even being King does not always ensure that, ion nîn," Aragorn said dryly. "They do not believe me when I tell them that the dragon is tame!"
"Can we take him a present?" asked Eldarion. "All the dragons in stories liked shiny things."
"I doubt we will find any jewel merchant with their doors still open," said the King. "We will look, though."
It was Eldarion who spotted the tiny shop between two larger establishments, an ironmonger's and a sword smith's, both of which were closed and shuttered.
Aragorn reined the horse to a stop, dismounted and lifted his son down. Eldarion ran on ahead of him into the small shop. A very old man emerged from the shadows to greet them. "How may I serve you, young master," he began. "Well I never, if it's not the King himself and the young Prince! I should have known it that if any ventured out today, sire, it would be you!"
"It seems you do not fear the dragon either, Master," Aragorn replied.
"At my age, what does it matter," said the old man. "Age or the ague will have old Maglor soon enough. I doubt the dragon would wish to devour one such as I, with no flesh left upon their old bones."
"I am certain you are correct, Master Maglor," Aragorn said. "I have it on good authority that the dragon much prefers plump cows to scrawny humans."
"How might I be of service today, sire?" asked Maglor.
"I should like to buy the brightest, shiniest necklace in you shop," said Aragorn. "Is that not so, ion nîn?"
"With lots of sparking jewels," added Eldarion.
The jewel merchant looked inside a chest and brought out several garish necklaces made of gold and glittering gems. Aragorn thought them quite hideous, but they would serve their purpose well. He pointed to a thick chain adorned with rubies and emeralds. "I will take that one," he said.
"I am certain your lady will be pleased with it," said Maglor.
Aragorn suppressed a shudder at the thought of his lovely wife wearing such a tasteless bauble better suited to the concubine of the Great Khan of Harad!
"It's not for naneth," said Eldarion.
The jewel merchant looked shocked. Aragorn flushed slightly; he was indeed deceiving Arwen, though not in the manner this fellow thought! "I should also like to see your most finely wrought necklaces," he added.
The merchant unlocked a smaller chest and produced some exquisite mithril jewellery. Aragorn chose a necklace of delicate flowers, each petal a tiny sapphire." I will buy this one too," he said. "I fear I do not carry sufficient coin, but if you send me your bill, I will see it is paid at once."
"That necklace is dull," said Eldarion as they left the shop.
"Your naneth should like it," said the King, fervently hoping that were true.
When they reached the city gates, Aragorn dismounted and handed Hasufel's reins to a guard. "I do not want him to become scared because of the dragon," Aragorn explained to his son as he lifted the boy down.
"Oh," said Eldarion in a small voice. He made no objection when his father tightly clasped his hand.
"There is nothing to be frightened of, ion nîn," Aragorn reassured his son. "This dragon is very friendly and will not hurt you. I want you to treat him as politely as you would any other guest."
"I'm not scared!" Eldarion protested, clutching his father's hand more tightly.
Aragorn looked around him. For once he was pleased that many pairs of curious eyes were fixed on every move that he and Eldarion made. He heard audible gasps as they walked together through the City gates.
Sulion had remained where they left him. There was no sign of Aedred, but Faramir still stood at the massive creature's head, speaking to him softly. Aragorn noted that Faramir had managed to make the dragon look presentable with the same skill he showed for every task he was given. There was no trace of blood on the creature's glossy scales, which shone in the afternoon sunlight.
Eldarion gave a cry of astonishment at his first sight of the great beast. "He is huge!" he cried. He raced towards the dragon, his earlier fear forgotten. "But he is all black!" he said in a disappointed tone. "I thought he would have bright colours like Smaug!"
Sulion snorted. "I am a most superior dragon," he said. "Only the common dragons are brightly coloured. My markings are far more subtle and beautiful."
"Hello, Eldarion," said Faramir, "meet our honoured guest, Súlion. Súlion, this is Eldarion, son of Aragorn and heir to the Reunited Kingdom."
"My true name is 'T'ien Li'," said the dragon. "I am only Súlion while I am here."
"I'm very pleased to meet you, T'ien Li," said Eldarion.
"At last! Someone in this land who can pronounce my name!" exclaimed Súlion with obvious pleasure.
"I've brought you a gift," said the little boy holding out the garish necklace.
"That is very fine indeed!" exclaimed the great creature. "See how it sparkles! Please fasten the necklace to my collar."
Before Aragorn could react, Súlion had scooped up Eldarion in his talons and lifted him up. Several people in the crowd that had gathered to watch from a distance cried out and a woman fainted. Eldarion visibly paled, but much to his credit, did not scream or struggle. Aragorn's heart was in his mouth. He doubted the dragon meant to harm his son, but what if he dropped Eldarion; or squeezed him too tightly? The dragon's claw was so very large, and the child was so very small. Arwen would most surely kill him if she learned of this!
"Put him down, please, Súlion!" Aragorn ordered.
"Don't worry, ada," Eldarion called from what seemed to be a very great height. "I don't mind being up here. I can see ever such a long way!" He fastened the necklace around a link of the huge chain that circled the dragon's neck as he spoke. "There, T'ien Li, I've fastened your necklace for you."
The dragon gently lowered the little boy to the ground. The crowd clapped and cheered. "You see, good people," Aragorn cried in a loud voice. "This dragon is friendly!"
"Can I stroke him, then?" asked a little boy in the crowd. Before anyone could prevent him, he had run up to the dragon and patted one of its massive legs. Sulion gently nuzzled him with his massive head.
Eldarion glared at the interloper, who apparently had more to fear from the heir to the throne of Gondor than the dragon!
"My friends, this dragon is tame and perfectly safe," Aragorn called. "Return now to your homes and tell your friends and neighbours what you have witnessed here."
Slowly and reluctantly, the crowd began to disperse. Aragorn gave a vast sigh of relief. "You have convinced them, mellon, nîn," said Faramir coming to his side. "It was a stroke of genius allowing Súlion to lift up Eldarion."
"That was quite unplanned!" Aragorn said wryly. "Now the panic in the city seems to have died down, what do we do with the dragon?"
"It is most rude to speak about me as if I were not here," Súlion interrupted. "I am hungry too. You have not offered me anything to eat."
"My apologies," said Aragorn without much contrition. "You can hardly dine here in front of the City gates. It would cause the people to panic again."
"How about the field you set us down in the other day?" Faramir suggested. "I am certain the farmer can be persuaded to let you stay there for a while. It would be quiet and private for you to rest and recover from your injuries."
"They still pain me a great deal," said Sulion soulfully. Eldarion regarded him with wide-eyed concern.
"They will soon heal with rest and good food," Aragorn said briskly. "None of them was serious. Now do you think you can fly?"
Súlion flexed his massive wings. "I think so, though it hurts," he said mournfully.
"Behold his wings, ada," Eldarion exclaimed. "They look just like a butterfly's! Let me touch them!"
"A butterfly would be far easier to find a bush to perch upon, my son," Aragorn said dryly. "And the dragon's wings are hurt, and must heal, so you cannot touch them. Besides, it is discourteous; he is no mere animal."
"I will go with Súlion to the field and negotiate with the farmer," said Faramir. "I expect your lady will be concerned about Eldarion by now."
"She will indeed," Aragorn said grimly." Thank you, mellon nîn." He gratefully patted Faramir's shoulder. "Come, Eldarion, it is time to go home now."
"But I want to stay and talk to Súlion!" Eldarion protested.
"He wants to have his dinner as do I," said Aragorn. "Maybe you can visit him again one day. Faramir, perhaps you could buy some cows from the farmer too? Offer him whatever it takes and say that some of the meat is intended for the Royal table, lest any try to taint it to harm our visitor. I will send a trusted man to relieve you then. I am certain you need some dinner too."
Eldarion knew better than to argue with his father. He chattered excitedly about his new friend as the two of them made their way back towards the city gates. Aragorn made only vague replies. His mind was far away, fixed on what Arwen would say when they returned.