Lost and Found

 By Jennet Jourdemayne

Faramir was missing. 

Missing, Aragorn admitted, was probably too strong a word.  But he was not in his usual place, at a worktable across the study from Aragorn’s own cluttered desk, making short work of three reports for every one of Aragorn’s.  And he hadn’t been there since earlier this afternoon. This break from his custom was so unusual for his Steward that Aragorn couldn’t think how else to describe it besides “missing”.

This morning, Faramir had ridden with Aragorn to Osgiliath to survey the city’s ruins and to formally instate Beregond as Captain of the White Company in Ithilien, a division made up of the remnants of the Ithilien Rangers and Boromir’s old Osgiliath guard.

Since their return, the Steward had been much quieter than usual, responding only when spoken to, and over two hours ago, he’d left the study suddenly, without a word.  This in itself was surprising, as Faramir was always the height of courtesy and protocol.

Still, Aragorn reasoned, it had to have been difficult, seeing Osgiliath again, the place your beloved brother had long defended, where you yourself suffered a defeat that very nearly killed you.  He didn’t begrudge Faramir the time, far from it.  But his Steward was always so conscientious, so his absence now was even more striking.

Aragorn tossed aside the report he was reading and rubbed at his neck.  He glared balefully at the papers scattered across the desk’s surface.  If he’d known kingship would entail this much paperwork, he’d have fled back to the Grey Company.  He was grateful Faramir was there to hold back the flood of papers, having proved himself exceptionally adept at beating bureaucracy into submission. Usually, Aragorn left it to his Steward to deal with all the detritus of a day’s work; reports and documents would appear on his desk every morning and would disappear the same way every evening.

But now Faramir was...elsewhere.  Aragorn pushed his chair back, leaving the papers where they lay.  They weren’t going anywhere. 

He would go in search of Faramir, he decided, and once again entreat him to join him and his friends for dinner. Heretofore, his entreaties had been met with polite and friendly refusals, even though Aragorn was certain Faramir would be welcomed into their company willingly.  They were the closest of companions, those who had traveled from Rivendell all those months ago, and yet he knew Faramir had spoken privately with all of the hobbits at one time or other, and knew he had a long relationship with Gandalf. He would be no stranger to them.

As he left the King’s antechamber and strode through the Court of Kings, he continued to muse on his Steward.  In the weeks since the coronation, Faramir had shown himself to be everything the King could hope for in a Steward: he was an able administrator, a shrewd judge, a cunning diplomat and a clever strategian.

What he hadn’t become, however, was a friend.  And that pained Aragorn more than it had any right to.  As long as Faramir fulfilled his duties, what should it matter what his personal relationship was with the King?

But it did.  For reasons he had yet to fathom, and indeed, he tried not to look at them too closely, it was important to Aragorn that his Steward be not only his most trusted advisor but also his closest friend.  And that was the part that was missing with Faramir, who continued to treat Aragorn with polite deference and caution.  Even after their very personal conversation the other week about Faramir’s burgeoning relationship with Eowyn, his Steward kept up his careful wall of reserve.

Aragorn knew himself to be as stubborn as Faramir; he would not give up until he had achieved his goal.

 

But his Steward was nowhere to be found when Aragorn returned to his temporary home in the Steward’s apartments–not in his chamber, nor in any of the other rooms of the apartment.  He took a stroll around the grounds of the Citadel, under pretext of taking some air before dinner, but didn’t see Faramir in any of his usual haunts, such as the fountain or the walls, where he was wont to gaze out across the Pelennor to Ithilien, as if imagining himself already living there.

He asked the Citadel Guards if they’d seen the Steward, but was answered in the negative.  No one had seen Faramir leave the Court of Kings.

Aragorn frowned and gazed up at the tower which rose majestically above the city.  The Court was in the bottom level of the Tower.  But why would Faramir venture up there?  Surely, he wouldn’t dare to look into the seeing stone that had contributed to his father’s madness.

But no, he wasn’t in the Tower.  Aragorn looked around the small room at the top of the Tower, seeing no evidence that anyone had been up there since he himself had come up the day before yesterday.

He returned to the King’s Residence more bewildered than before.  This untypical behavior of Faramir’s, his sudden disappearance, it was worrying.  Admittedly, there was still a great deal about the younger man he didn’t know, as the talk they’d been promising themselves for weeks had yet to happen.  But Aragorn prided himself on being a keen student of his fellow Men, and he thought he had Faramir figured out fairly well.

The new Steward wasn’t one to complain, nor even to show if he was upset or angry.  He internalized everything, over-thought most things.  His spirit ran deep but he kept that deepest part of himself hidden.  He was loyal, conscientious to a fault, intelligent, logical, wise.  He had his father’s far-sight tempered with his mother’s compassion, his brother’s courage and his own common sense.

He was also a man who had undergone many trials in recent months, suffering the deaths of a brother and a father, and a battle and an injury that had very nearly killed him.  He had recovered from these tragedies, but sometimes Aragorn wondered if Faramir were really as “healed” as he pretended.  He’d seen the younger man wince and rub his shoulder, seen him stare into space as if remembering those he had lost.

Perhaps it was one reason why it was so important to Aragorn that Faramir feel welcomed in their close company.  He well knew the healing power of good companionship.  Faramir had lost virtually everyone in the War, and now even his beloved had returned to her own people.  Who could he turn to when he needed someone?

He let out his breath in a frustrated huff.  He was due to meet his friends for dinner; if he were late, he would never hear the end of it, as they never seemed to tire of bringing the King back down to earth.  Indeed, it was one of the reasons why he reveled in their friendship.  Not only did they let him be a Man and not a King, they very nearly demanded it.  It kept him grounded, helped him focus on what was important.

Faramir was important, but as much as he regretted it, the problem of Faramir would have to wait until later.

 

The sun had just set behind Mount Mindolluin when Aragorn returned to the Citadel.  Dinner had been everything he had needed after the stresses of the day.  Merry and Pippin never failed to amuse him, and Legolas’ friendship was as familiar and comfortable as well-worn leather.  He kept his concerns about Faramir to himself, though he knew his friends would be just as concerned.  But he didn’t want to embarrass Faramir, wherever he was, should Aragorn’s worries be unfounded and the younger man simply decided he needed a day off.

Aragorn headed to the King’s Residence, hoping that Faramir would have returned during his absence.  But before he reached the door of the Steward’s apartments, he noticed a faint light coming from one of the other apartments, an apartment that should have been uninhabited.  He cast his mind back and his eyes widened when he realized just who this apartment had belonged to.

He knocked softly on the door, not really surprised when there was no answer.  But when he turned the handle, the door yielded and he stepped inside.

There was a fire burning in the hearth, and in front of it knelt Faramir, his head bowed as he looked at something in his hands.

Aragorn watched his Steward for several moments, then cleared his throat.

“You are a difficult man to locate when you do not wish to be found,” he said.

Faramir’s head jerked up as if he hadn’t even heard Aragorn’s approach.  He looked a bit fatigued, but none the worse for wear.

“I am sorry, my liege.  Do you need something?”

“Only to be sure you’re all right,” Aragorn assured him.  “You left the Court so suddenly this afternoon, I–"

”I apologize for that,” Faramir interrupted.  “It was remiss of me not to tell you I was going.  I...I confess I wasn’t thinking too clearly this afternoon.”  He sighed and settled in front of the fire again.  “Seeing Osgiliath again hit me harder than I was expecting.  I realized once we got back that I wouldn’t be worth much today, so I thought I’d be better off out of the way.  I had thought to come in here and make a start at going through all this,” he swept his arm around the apartment, “but I haven’t made much progress here, either.”

Aragorn let his gaze follow Faramir’s.  It was a modest apartment but full of things–trinkets on tables, clothing draped carelessly over the backs of chairs, a pair of daggers on the table, an ornamental sword leaning next to the hearth.  As if their owner would return and pick them up, like any other day.

Except their owner would never return, for this was Boromir’s apartment, his home, last seen by him on the day he rode for Imladris.

“You know there is no hurry,” Aragorn reminded him.  “We have no need of these apartments yet, you can take your time.”

He moved closer to the fire and looked at what Faramir held.  It was a small horse statue, carved out of wood.  The piece was workmanlike, if a little crude.  “Did he make that?” he asked.

Faramir shook his head.  “I did.  Years ago.  I couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve.  He was on a campaign, one of his first, I think, and I gave it to him before he left.  I can’t believe he kept it.  He kept all of it.”  He gestured to a trunk at his side.  “Trinkets, letters, notes, small gifts.  Practically everything I ever gave him.”  He turned the small horse statue over in his hands.

“He loved you very much,” Aragorn said softly.  “He spoke of you often, always with love and pride.”

Faramir looked up at him, his eyes widening in surprise.  Then he looked away, blinking.  “I’m sorry, I keep forgetting you knew him, too.”

“Knew him,” Aragorn agreed, kneeling next to the younger man at the hearth.  “And loved him.  In different circumstances, he would have been a great friend.”

Faramir looked at him again, his brow furrowed in confusion.

“As it was, we didn’t have enough time to really get to know each other,” Aragorn elaborated.  “Though in the short time we traveled together I grew to respect and admire him.  He was one of the best Men I ever knew.”

“Tell me,” Faramir whispered.

Aragorn smiled gently and eased to a seat on the floor.  This was one of those conversations they’d been promising themselves.  It could be a long one.  “What would you hear?” he asked.

“Whatever you would tell,” Faramir answered.

Aragorn gazed into the fire for a moment.  In the short time he’d known Boromir, their relationship had gone through many stages, each more complex than the one before.  There had been a lot of initial distrust on both their sides.  It was only the trials of the journey that had broken those barriers and allowed them to become true comrades and good companions.

“He was strong, brave, valiant,” Aragorn began.  “But these things you already know.  I will try to describe him as I saw him.  From the start, it was clear he was a leader of men.  He set himself up as the protector of the Hobbits.  He was the one who looked out for them, protected them, cared for them.  Especially Merry and Pippin, who were rather unprepared and unsuited for such an arduous journey.  On more than one occasion he found himself carrying one or both of them over some particularly treacherous ground.  He even taught them how to use their swords.  I know his lessons stood them in good stead later.  He admired their courage and their tenacity.  He said he thought the world of Men could learn a thing or two from the little folk.  I dare say he was correct.”

Faramir smiled, an expression tinged with sadness, but it was clear there were happy memories, too.  “He was always defending the smaller and weaker,” he said quietly.  “He was my protector for as long as I can remember.”

Aragorn returned the smile.  “He did not trust me at first,” he continued.  “And the feeling was mutual.”  He watched Faramir, trying to gauge the other man’s reactions, but if Faramir was upset by this revelation, his face revealed none of it.  Aragorn continued.  “I thought he was too strong-headed.  He thought only of Gondor, at a time when larger issues needed to be considered.  But he was steadfast, and a true companion.  We both learned to trust the other.  After Gandalf was lost to us, when I doubted myself and my ability to see the quest through, he gave me encouragement.  Although he was still determined to make for Minas Tirith, he understood that I would do what I deemed best for all, even if it wasn’t his road.  I very much wanted to go with him, to come to Gondor’s aid.”  He grew quiet.  ”As it happened, the decision was taken away from me.”

Faramir gazed at him, and this time, the pain in his eyes was unmistakable.  “Were you with him?  When he died?”

Aragorn nodded.  “Not when he fell.  I heard his horn and ran to his aid.  When I got there....  Are you sure you want to hear this?”

“I learned from Sam that Boromir tried to take the ring from Frodo.  But Sam did not know Boromir was dead.  I want to hear what happened from someone who was there.”  His voice dropped.  “I must know if my brother was a traitor.”

“Boromir was no traitor!” Aragorn said sharply.  “He was noble.  A hero.”  He took a deep breath, letting himself calm again.  “I was not there when Boromir tried to take the ring from Frodo, but he himself told me what he had done.  When I found him, he was sitting with his back against a tree, as if resting.  But many black arrows pierced him.  He told me what he had done and said that the Orcs had taken the Hobbits.  He begged me to go to Minas Tirith, to save his people because he had failed.  I told him he had not failed but had conquered, a victory few could claim.  He smiled at that.  And then he was gone.”

Aragorn’s hand tightened in a fist as he recalled holding Boromir’s hand and weeping over his fallen comrade.  Boromir had not failed; it was he, Aragorn, who had failed the Fellowship.  Through the grace of the Valar they had eventually succeeded, but it often felt like it had been in spite of him as opposed to because of him.  He had reaped the glories and the accolades, but really, he had done very little.  The hardest parts fell to others.  Indeed, Boromir’s actions and subsequent death were probably the push they’d all needed.

He told Faramir this.  “I would not have lost him, and his death shattered the Fellowship.  But in a way, everything that happened after, happened because of Boromir.”

“How so?” Faramir frowned.

“Frodo struck out on his own because of what had happened between himself and Boromir.  Had he not, I would have gone with him into Mordor, and not gone to Rohan where I was needed.  Had Boromir survived and gone to Minas Tirith, we might have gone with him instead, and that would have brought almost certain doom.  For without my taking the Paths of the Dead, we would have been too few to repel the might of Mordor.  Had Pippin and Merry not been captured by the Orcs, they would not have met the Ents, who brought about the downfall of Saruman.

“What Boromir did, for good or ill, began a chain of events that ultimately led to our victory and the defeat of the Dark Lord.  And I would see him suitably honored in his city.  He was no traitor, Faramir.  Put that thought from your mind.  He was the finest of men in Gondor, and I am proud to have called him my brother.”

Faramir gazed down at the small horse statue he held.  “As am I,” he said softly.

“I would drink a toast to his memory,” Aragorn continued, then looked around the apartment.  “You don’t suppose he left any spirits here?”

That made Faramir look up and he pursed his lips in thought.  “No, I don’t– Ah, wait a minute–“ He got up and made his way to a bookshelf, moving aside a ceremonial helmet.  “Ah, as I thought!”  He pulled out a small flagon filled with amber liquid.  “Though I don’t know if this is exactly what you had in mind,” he said coming back to the fire.  “My brother liked his ale bitter and his wine dry, but his taste in spirits was rather singular.”  He quirked a half-smile.  “This is a honeyed liqueur he was partial to.  Nearly everyone else thinks it tastes vile, but he was very fond of the stuff.”  He passed the flask to Aragorn and resumed his seat in front of the fire.

Aragorn unstoppered the flask and smelled the contents, a sickly sweet concoction.  He frowned.  “It will do.  Are there glasses?”

Faramir shook his head.  “If there had been, they’d have been permanently affixed to the table by now by that stuff.”

“No matter, we will manage,” said Aragorn and held the flagon aloft.  “To Boromir, the best Man of Gondor, albeit one of the most stubborn, present company excepted,” he nodded to Faramir with a sly grin.  “Who argued and debated and fought and always made me think.  Nothing was ever easy with Boromir, which is why it was so worthwhile.  Be at peace, my brother; I have kept my promise.  The white city still stands.”

He took a drink from the flask.  The strong liqueur burned his esophagus and the cloying sweetness stuck in the back of his throat.  “Aagh!  Surely this has gone off!”

Faramir chuckled.  “I’m afraid not.  It tastes like nothing so much as the worst medicine you can remember as a child.”

“When I was a child, if I were hurt or sick, the Lord Elrond would give me medicines, and nothing was ever as vile as this,” Aragorn said, making a face and handing the flask to Faramir.

“I did warn you,” Faramir commented.  “Now it is my turn.”  He raised the flagon.  “To my big brother.”  He grinned.  “With his appalling taste in liquor and worse taste in women....”

“Is there a story here?” Aragorn asked, chuckling.

“Several, none of which I feel at liberty to reveal,” Faramir answered with a smile. Then the smile faded.  “To Boromir, with his heart as great as the Western Sea and courage as high as Minas Tirith itself.  My protector, my teacher, my confidante, my dearest friend. My brother.”  He took a swig from the flagon, closing his eyes against the fire of the liqueur.

Then he lowered the flagon and opened his eyes.  Their gaze was intense.  “You did more than just keep your promise,” he said.  “Gondor thrives because of you.  And Boromir would be happy to see the King restored and Gondor renewed.”

“Would he?” Aragorn asked.  “Gondor renewed, surely.  But as for the rest....”

“He never understood why the Steward was not the King,” Faramir agreed.  “But he would have seen you for what you are and would not deny the coming of the King.”

“Aye, he granted that I was Isildur’s heir, but I do not know if he realized the full implications.  That the coming of the King meant the lessening of the Ruling Steward.”

Aragorn gazed at Faramir for a moment.  “I loved Boromir, never doubt it.  But I think perhaps Gondor is better with the Steward it has. I do not think Boromir would fit as well to be Steward in the time of the King.  He was meant to be a leader of men, indeed, had been raised to it all his life.”

“As I was not,” Faramir completed.

“You were,” Aragorn corrected.  “But where Boromir loved the deeds of a warrior, a Steward, especially a Steward in the time of the King, must be more.  As you are.  As your father was.”

That made Faramir look up.  “You think my father–“

”I think that in days past, your father was an admirable Steward, clear-sighted and wise.  But he had become so besieged by the evil on his doorstep he lost the ability to see beyond it.  And I think your brother’s love for his father, and for Gondor, blinded him to all but Gondor’s peril.  But the King must see beyond Gondor’s borders, and so must his Steward.  These are not your father’s days.  They are new times, with new concerns.  There will be wars still, don’t misunderstand me.  And the King must fight those battles, sometimes on foreign soil, knowing Gondor must be defended by the Steward he leaves behind.  I do not think Boromir would have liked being left behind, do you?”

Faramir stared at him, his gaze inscrutable.  “I may not love battle for its own sake, but I do not fear the sword,” he said quietly.  “What happened today at Osgiliath was–“

”I know you do not,” Aragorn interrupted.  “I will be able to fight in foreign lands precisely because I know that Gondor is being left in the best of hands.  Hands that can ably rule in my stead, and a strong arm that can defend her.

“But along with that strong arm comes a gentle heart and a wise spirit.  You will not fight unnecessarily, and for that I am grateful.  I do not fault you for Osgiliath.  Far from it.  Truth to tell, I was not sure how I would react to seeing Pelargir again, and I’d had a victory there.  No, my friend.  I do not need a Steward who is merely a general.  I need one who would rather negotiate than fight.  One who will think long and hard before sacrificing Gondor’s sons in battle.  One who can call upon the lessons of history to guide him today.  In short, I need Faramir, son of Denethor, who is a shadow of neither his father nor his brother, but is his own man, and the kind of Steward I desire.”

Faramir looked away, gazing into the fire.  Aragorn watched him for several moments.  “It makes you uncomfortable, when I say such things.  Why?  I only speak the truth.”

“The truth as you see it, perhaps,” Faramir replied, still gazing into the fire.  “But not the whole truth, I’ll warrant.”

“What is the whole truth, then?” Aragorn asked.

Faramir turned toward him and his eyes held fire.  “Boromir–yes, he loved the sword and the horse, but that was not all he was.  He may not have enjoyed tales of old, save those of great battles, but he knew Gondor’s history, knew its importance.  He had a firm hand when he assisted our father with matters of state, he was no stupid soldier.”

“I did not say–“

”And my father–“ Faramir continued as if Aragorn had not spoken.  “He was no monster, despite what you think.  He was a good man and a strong Steward who wanted only the best for his people.”

“I know he was,” Aragorn assured him.  “I never said–“

”The evil that surrounded us was so great, there was little chance to think of anything else.  When you cannot look outside your door without seeing the doom of your people on your very doorstep, it becomes difficult to think past that doorstep.  What he did, he did because he felt he had no other choice.  The perils he faced were small, he felt, compared to the peril all of Gondor faced.

“He was....”  Faramir took a deep breath.  “He was very much like the tree of Gondor.  Straight, tall, unyielding.  He stood against the darkness.  Stood against the evil.  He was buffeted by it as the White tree was buffeted by storms and winds.  Buffeted until it broke him.  He would not yield.  He did not yield.  Although it drove him to despair, and that despair killed him.”

Faramir’s eyes glittered in the firelight.  “I am not like my father.  I am...I am like a willow.  I bend.”  His eyes slid closed.  “But a willow is not the tree of Gondor.”  

“Faramir–“ Aragorn began.

“It should have been me, you know,” Faramir continued, staring into the fire again.

“What should have been you?” Aragorn frowned, having completely lost the train of the conversation.

“Who traveled to Imladris. I had the dream...the vision...about Imladris, and the sword that was broken.  I told Boromir about it...  A few nights later, he had the same dream.  He convinced our father to send him to seek out Imladris.  But it should have been me.  He should have remained here to defend Osgiliath and Minas Tirith.  He was a far better soldier, whereas I was more easily expendable.

“Had he not gone, had he not died, our father might not have lost all hope.  It was only after we learned of Boromir’s death that he....  It should have been me,” he whispered.

“Faramir,” Aragorn soothed, putting a hand on the younger man’s shoulder, feeling him stiffen at the touch.  But he stubbornly left his hand where it lay.

“I apologize,” Aragorn continued.  “I meant no disrespect to your brother, nor to your father.  I’m sorry if my words made it sound like I did.  I did not know your father in these last years, only what I was told.  When I knew him, I had nothing but respect for him, even if I did not have his love.  And Boromir was dear as a brother to me.  The fact that I believe I have the best man as my Steward does not diminish them in my eyes.  It simply means that despite all that has happened, things have borne out for the best.  Your strengths compliment mine.  You accept my position without question and have done so since you first laid eyes on me.  Your wholehearted support is a gift more great than any I could wish for.  I know that Gondor is in the best of hands, because I know I have the best of men as my Steward.  A man who was shaped by his father, and by his brother, and yet who is his own man.

“Now, pass me that vile stuff, for I would drink to the House of Hurin and the men who so ably protected Gondor and kept it safe for so many years, until the King could return.  You have truly been the Stewards of this realm, and Gondor shall be ever in your debt.”

Silently, Faramir handed him the flask.  He raised it.  “To the Stewards, finer men Gondor has never known.  I am blessed that I have one of their noble house as my own Steward.”  He took a swig, fighting against the grimace he couldn’t help.  The stuff really was appalling.

Faramir smiled as Aragorn handed him the flask.  “To the house of Hurin, my ancestors,” he said.  “May I honor them in my calling.”  He drank.  He seemed not to have quite the aversion to the stuff that Aragorn did.  Then again, if it was a favorite of Boromir’s, perhaps he was more used to it.

“You will,” Aragorn said.  “You do.”  Faramir spared him a glance and a half-smile.  “But you didn’t answer my question.”

“What question?”  Faramir frowned.

“It makes you uncomfortable when I pay you a compliment.  Why is that?”

Faramir looked down and Aragorn couldn’t tell if he flushed or if it was merely a reflection of the firelight.  “It’s just....  It seems...strange.  Coming from you.”

“How so?”

Faramir took a deep breath.  “I’m not sure I can explain it without sounding...idiotic.”  Aragorn didn’t reply, simply sat patiently and waited for his Steward to collect his thoughts.  Faramir took another drink from the flask, then set it down.

“For so long, I dreamed of the Return of the King.  Many in Gondor, my father and brother included, believed that there would never be a King again.  But I always believed, deep in my heart, that some day the King would come and save Gondor from the darkness.

“And in our darkest hour, there you came, a stranger out of the North, bringing not just victory but light and healing and the promise of renewal.  You saved Gondor.  You saved me.  You are the King I dreamed of for so many years.”

“Ah,” Aragorn nodded, understanding.  “And now you have discovered that the King is merely a man.  I know it must be disappointing–“

”No, it’s not that, not at all,” Faramir shook his head.  “In fact, it’s almost the opposite.  I look at you, sitting here now, and I see not a King, but a man.  A man who knew my brother.  Who fought by his side.  Who loved him.  And yet in the Court, you are Elessar, King of Gondor, our saviour.  I...I suppose I’m having a hard time reconciling the two.  I know that a King is ultimately just a man.  But facing it, daily....  It’s been more difficult than I’d imagined.

“All my life I dreamed of the return of the King,” he said softly.  “I just...never thought it would mean I would be so close to him.”

“I am just a man, Faramir,” Aragorn said, still a bit bewildered by the Steward’s confession.  “I laugh, and I cry, and I eat and drink and shit and love....  And I mourn for those I have lost.”

“I know you do,” Faramir said softly.  “And yet when you say things like you said tonight, I hear them not with the voice of a man, but from the mouth of a King, and I wonder what the King could possibly see that makes him say such things.

“I do know my worth,” he went on, a hand raised to forestall Aragorn’s comment.  “Despite some of the things you may have heard, I think I am very self-aware.  I know my strengths as well as my weaknesses.  I do not doubt that I can be the Steward you expect of me, but I keep thinking, ‘how can he know this?  He does not know me.  How can he say these things?’  I have not yet had the chance to prove myself to you.  How can you be so certain I can be the kind of Steward you need me to be?  How can you be sure I will not be like my father, or like Boromir?”

Aragorn smiled.  “Because I know, and trust those who know, and trust you,” he said simply.  “Do you think I named you my Steward without any foreknowledge of you except that you were the only surviving son of the former Steward?  I knew a great deal about you before I ever met you.  I learned of you first from Boromir, who spoke of you often, and always in the most complimentary terms.  Then, after seeing you in the Houses of Healing, I learned of you from Gandalf, and from Imrahil.  And even from the Hobbits, all of whom had nothing but good things to say about you.  Sam went on and on about how honorable you were, how you could have claimed the Ring for your own but how you were never even tempted by it.”

“Were you?” Faramir asked suddenly.  Aragorn looked up sharply, then looked away.  This was a conversation he wasn’t sure he was prepared to have just yet.

“What do you think?”

“I think you are a man, as I am,” Faramir answered, and that made Aragorn look at him again.  “Sam only reported what he saw; he did not know what was in my heart.”

Aragorn chuckled.  “How did you resist it, then?” he asked.

“The same as you, I suspect,” Faramir answered.  “Because I could do nothing else.”

Aragorn nodded and gazed at the younger man appreciatively.  “And you ask how I knew you were the man I thought you were.  You have just answered your own question.  Everything you do, everything you have done that has been reported to me, showed me just what sort of man you are.  And from everything I learned, I knew you were the sort of man I wanted by my side, working with me to rebuild Gondor.  I suppose one could say I took a risk.  But it was a calculated one.  And I have never had a single moment to regret it.

Faramir gazed at him for a moment, then the corner of his mouth quirked up in a smile.  “Just wait; I haven’t been Steward very long.”

“Oh, are you expecting to turn slovenly and bitter?” Aragorn asked with a twitch of his eyebrow.

Faramir chuckled.  “Not that I know of.  Though there is the small matter of my removing to Ithilien.”

“Ithilien is not so far that you will not be within easy reach if I need you,” Aragorn answered.  “That is why I said Emyn Arnen, rather than Henneth Annun or somewhere else in the north.  I know I will be asking a great deal from you in months and years to come.  Not only to settle and repopulate Ithilien, but–“

Faramir snorted on a laugh.  “By myself?”

Aragorn laughed with him.  “No, of course not.  With Eowyn.”

“Oh, I see,” Faramir nodded sagely.  “You expect that I shall keep her out of the saddle by keeping her always with child.  I suspect she will have some very strong opinions on that.”

Aragorn had a flash of an image in his head, of a very pregnant and very angry Eowyn, wearing armor that had been modified to fit her burgeoning body, sitting on a horse and brandishing a sword at him.  He shook his head to banish the vision.  “I expect that you and she will have as many fine and strong children as you both see fit,” he said, placating.  “But as I was saying, not only do I give to you the care of Ithilien, you must also be my Steward, even when you are in Ithilien.  I will need you to come to the city for Council meetings, important embassies, discussions on many topics from strategy to grain shipments.  Plus, of course, you will need to be here whenever I must be abroad, either to fight or to tour my realm. 

“I shall try not to require your presence too often, my friend.  But I will ask it of you as necessary.”

Faramir stared at him for a moment.  Then he shook his head with a smile and looked away.

“What is it?”

“One moment we’re laughing about my keeping Eowyn pregnant and docile.  The next, my King is commanding me.”

“Cannot a king be a man?” Aragorn asked softly.

“Yes, of course he can.  It’s just...it’s going to take a little getting used to.”

“Because this man would very much like to consider you a friend, and to have you think of me as such,” Aragorn continued, cutting straight to the heart of the matter.  “Yes, Elessar needs his Steward.  But Aragorn needs Faramir.  At least as much, if not more.”  He put a hand on Faramir’s shoulder, pleased that this time there was no flinch.  “Can you think of me that way?”

Faramir gazed at him for a long moment, his gray eyes impossibly deep.  “I would like that,” he said quietly.  “Very much.”

Aragorn smiled broadly and squeezed his shoulder.  “Good.”  Then indicated the flask.  There was just a small amount left.  “Shall we finish this off?  Boromir would want us to, I think.”

“Indeed he would,” Faramir agreed and passed him the flask.

Aragorn raised the flask.  “To Faramir, Steward of Gondor.  My friend.”  He drank, still unable to stop his grimace.  He passed the flask back to Faramir.

“To Elessar, King of Gondor,” Faramir began, raising the flask.  “And to Aragorn.  My friend.”  He took a swig, then looked at the flask.  “There’s just a little bit left.  Do you want to finish it?”

 “Oh, please no,” Aragorn held up his hands.  “You do it.  You’ve had more experience with it, after all.”

Faramir chuckled.  “Thank you for the spirits, brother,” he toasted to the room, and upended the flask, drinking down the last swallow of the liqueur.

He lowered the flask and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.  His eyes were bright in the firelight.  “Thank you,” he said softly.  “For coming here.  For seeking me out.  I came in here because I thought I needed to be by myself.  And yet my heart is lighter now than it would have been had I been here alone.”

“You are most welcome,” Aragorn replied.  “I am glad I could be of some comfort.  In truth, I think it did me good to speak of him as well.”  He gazed at Faramir for a moment, watching the firelight play across the planes of his face.  There was more than a passing resemblance between the two brothers, and yet they were as different as night and day.  “We are very much alike, I think,” he went on.  “Our first instinct is to seek solace in solitude, and yet we are both frequently comforted by the presence of others.”

Faramir smiled.  “Perhaps.”  The sadness was back in his eyes, though it seemed the pain was lessened.

“You yearn for your lady, as I do for mine.”

“That much is certainly true,” Faramir agreed.  “Have you heard any word?”

Aragorn shook his head.  “It is a long journey.  She will come.”  He sighed.  Most of the time, his thoughts of Arwen remained in the back of his mind, not troubling him.  But tonight had been one for introspection; it was only natural that he think of her again and feel the physical ache of separation.  Then he smiled.

“But I cannot dwell on it; she will come.  My friends are a great balm; they keep me distracted.”  He tipped his head, regarding the younger man.  “I would have you join us; I am sure you would find them equally distracting, and they will welcome you wholeheartedly.”

Faramir smiled.  “I don’t–“

”Join us for dinner tomorrow.  Please.”

Faramir gazed at Aragorn, as if trying to find a hidden motive.  Then he sighed.  “If you’re sure.”

“I would not have asked if I was not,” Aragorn replied.

“It’s just...you are such a close group.  I would not wish to intrude–“

”You will not.  You will be welcomed.  The Hobbits all think you’re wonderful, and of course, Gandalf holds you in the highest regard.”

“And the elf and the dwarf?”

“They do not know you as well, granted, but they like what they have seen so far.  They will grow to love you, as I have.  As they grew to love your brother.”

Faramir smiled, and some of his look of worry faded.  “They are a strange pair, are they not?”

Aragorn laughed out loud.  “Stranger than you know.  They loathed each other when we first set out.  Gimli, of course, always says exactly what he thinks.  But Legolas was no less vituperative, just more...circumspect.  It was only after the trials of the journey, most specifically the trials in Moria that they grew to respect each other.  And then to like.  And then to love.  And now truer companions you will never find.  It has already caused much consternation among both their peoples.”  He chuckled.  “Does them good, I should think, to have their long-held notions shaken.  The world has changed; it is about time her inhabitants change with it.”  He looked at Faramir again.  “So will you join us?”

Faramir smiled.  “I will.  Thank you.”

Aragorn’s grin broadened.  “Good.”  He clasped Faramir’s shoulder.  “Well,” he sighed, “it grows late.  And there is much to do tomorrow.”  He stopped and considered.  “There is always much to do tomorrow.”

“Such is the lot of a new King, my lord,” Faramir replied. 

“I suppose.  Though I will tell you, Faramir, there are times I positively miss the Rangers.  There was a freedom there I suspect I shall not know again.”

Faramir nodded.  “Indeed.  Not to mention the constant threat of sudden death, sleeping in trees or under rocks, wearing one’s clothes until they grew stiff with soil, everything always being damp.  Yes, it’s a hard life to give up.”

Aragorn chuckled; he sometimes forgot that Faramir had spent years as a ranger himself.  “Well, when you put it like that....”  He got to his knees.  “Shall we go?”

Faramir looked around the room, then back at Aragorn.  “I think I will stay for a bit.”

“You needn’t deal with any more of this tonight,” Aragorn said.

“I know.  But you have given me much to think about.”  He paused and looked down at the small horse statue, now resting on the hearth.  He picked it up and turned it over in his hands.  “And sometimes it helps to talk things out with my brother,” he said softly.

Aragorn smiled gently at his Steward.  Everyone grieved in his own way; he would not begrudge Faramir the opportunity to do as he saw fit.  “Then I will leave you,” he said.  “But know that if ever you feel the need to speak of him again, there is one who would gladly listen, and remember him with you.”  He put his hand on Faramir’s shoulder.

Faramir looked up, his eyes glittering in the firelight.  “Thank you.”

“Know also that pain shared is pain halved,” Aragorn said.  Then he leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Faramir’s brow.  “Be at peace, little brother,” he whispered into his hair.  Then he got to his feet.

At the door, Aragorn turned around and looked back toward the fire.  Faramir still sat before the hearth, his head bowed as he held the horse statue in his hand.  A part of him hated leaving him here in his grief.  But Faramir was a private man, he knew.  He would not welcome Aragorn’s presence where it was not needed.  With a final glance, he left the apartment, closing the door softly behind him.

He wiped at the moisture on his cheeks as he walked to his own chambers.  Tonight had not been easy, not for either of them.  But it had been worth it, every moment.  That wall had finally been breached tonight, the one that kept Faramir at arm’s length, kept him from becoming the friend Aragorn so wanted him to be.

But the wall was down now, and in its place was the beginnings of a friendship that could well be one of the most significant of his life.  Much like Boromir, nothing was ever going to be easy with Faramir.  But like Boromir, Aragorn knew it would always be worth it.

 

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