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The sun went down slowly, shadows casting along the ground as the trees closed in around the small cabin of the King. He sat on the bed, staring at the quiet figure of the lord of most of the known world stoking smoldering embers in the fireplace he had lain down by his own hand.
They had embraced, Aragorn holding him for the longest time and then the king had stepped back, staring at him with bleak and sorrow-filled eyes. Without a further word, he had turned and headed back along the path that led along the lake, walking back to the cabin where he was residing.
Faramir had watched him go, pausing uncertainly for a moment before following. He watched as the only person he had ever loved with his whole heart picked up an ax and began to split wood. He rubbed his palms against the soft cotton of his gray tunic and then moved closer, staring at the pale and shuttered face of his lover.
For a moment, he didn't look up and then he did, gazing at Faramir with an expression of such sadness that Faramir swallowed, his own stomach churning. For a moment, Aragorn just stared at him, all the pain of decades coursing through him and then he turned, putting a piece of wood on top of another and splitting it with one smooth and powerful stroke.
Faramir watched him split block after block, then he moved, picking it up and stacking it neatly next to another split pile by the cabin door. The place was neat but plain, nothing to indicate that the owner of its small wooden confines was the most powerful human living in Middle Earth. It had shuttered windows, now open to the warm afternoon breeze gently caressing them.
It looked no bigger than the usual homestead of a small farm holding, a room for eating and sleeping, the lake nearby a place to wash up. Aragorn had built it, therapy for the dull emptiness the made up a portion of his heart. They had lived together for more than a year during their short time together, rough living in caves and rock shelters and the simplicity of that tense but emotionally satisfying time had called to him. Aragorn had found a lake, one glittering in the sunlight of a new spring and words had come to him as he paused, watching a loon settle on its dappled surface.
... I have a vision...
It came to him, the soft voice whispering in his ear and when it came he could feel the faint ghost of someone in his arms, a lean and lanky form pressed against his own body. He could feel the sway of that beloved body, arms around his neck, lips next to his own and the soft and wistful words that had never faded even as years came and went.
... I dream of a time when we can be together and the threat is not upon us...
What do you see, he remembered asking, his hands rubbing Faramir's back gently, easing the tension that had never seemed to leave him.
... a summer's day...
Aragorn swallowed, moving closer to the water's edge. He stared into the impossibly clear liquid, speckled rocks clear to his eyes, bending and shifting as the water covering them lapped gently at his feet.
... a summer's day by a lake some place. A summer's day and you and I together, walking along the shore by ourselves...
Tears burned in his eyes, tears that came to him when no one was near to see. He had buried his grief deeply, the only time it emerged being unguarded moments triggered by some unexpected stimulation, some unprepared reaction to a memory trigger.
"Some day, Faramir, if the world is not lost, perhaps we can find our way to a lake some place, a lake dappled by the sun."
He said it out loud, the words that he had given in response and then he sighed, knowing at that moment that this would be the place he would come, the place that was his to remember someone so important that nothing else in his life would ever over take it.
He turned, staring at the apparition before him, afraid to see too closely the warm blue eyes and the laugh lines that framed them. There wasn't a part of Faramir's face that he hadn't memorized but he was frightened to look, lest reality deny him what his mind and eyes told him he saw before him.
The vision came closer, stopping before him, a pale hand touching his face. Aragorn closed his eyes, turning his face to connect somehow with the figure before him and the warmth of the hand that touched him came back to him in his memories. Fingers callused by sword and bow, strength to spare, all of it was so familiar that he moved back, withdrawing from the thing that he wanted more than anything.
He turned and paused, staring at the chopping block and then turned again, walking to the cabin and entering. Faramir watched him, uncertainty reclaiming him and then he followed hesitantly, entering a spare but elegantly furnished cabin dominated by a bed and a large stone fireplace. Aragorn walked to it, poking at the embers that barely glowed. Faramir watched him and then walked to the bed, sitting down on it and crossing his legs before him.
Faramir watched Aragorn's face, the conflict upon its handsome visage passing like storm clouds across a summer sky. He noted his age, the gray in his hair and the silence that was etched in the lines of his face. He was handsome as ever but graver, more serious, the burdens of his life leaving their mark upon him. He sighed and longed to walk to the solemn figure, to take him into his arms and hold him. But he didn't, acutely aware that something barred that intimacy between them as of yet.
"Aragorn... talk to me please," Faramir whispered, his hands clutched nervously together in his lap.
Those same grave eyes turned to him, holding his own levelly and then a sigh escaped Aragorn's lips. "I cannot give myself the luxury of thinking that you are truly here. So many times alone have I wished this to be true. I longed for you so completely I thought I would go mad from sorrow."
Faramir sighed, biting his lip. "Aragorn... I am here. You must believe."
"So it would seem," Aragorn replied. He rose and stared at Faramir, his eyes roving over the unchanged and ageless form of his one true love. It didn't seem possible that the world could hold such mercy at this time in his life. He refused to acknowledge it, no matter how much he longed to do just that.
Faramir rose and walked to him, pausing before Aragorn. He took the King's hand, squeezing it gently and then brought it to his lips. He kissed it softly and sighed. "You do not believe that I stand before you but I do. Touch me, my Lord, and let me show you that I am truly here."
"I cannot," Aragorn whispered, turning his gaze away from the gentle blue eyes that looked at him with such intensity that he felt himself crumble inside. "You won't truly be here and when I come to my senses, the pain will be more than I can bear. It is always so."
Aragorn turned away but paused, caught by Faramir's grip. The younger man stepped around him and pressed his lips against Aragorn's, the soft sweetness of his mouth stilling the King completely. He pressed closer, slipping his arms around Aragorn's neck and after what seemed an eternity, was rewarded by strong arms encircling his waist.
A soft groan broke the silence as Aragorn kissed Faramir back, falling away into a need that was so powerful he felt painfully the impact of his own hopeless desperation. He pulled Faramir into his body, crushing his mouth with his own desire until he felt himself light headed with breathlessness. Breaking the kiss, he stared at his lover, hope warring with fear in his heart.
"You cannot be here," he whispered huskily, his arms tightening around Faramir's waist. "It would be too much to hope that the world could grant me this much mercy."
Faramir smiled slightly, kissing Aragorn's cheek. "I am here. You have tasted my lips. Do they not feel real?"
"They do," Aragorn replied, pulling Faramir into his arms with an almost brutal need. "But they have before."
"This time it's true," Faramir whispered, wrapping himself around the body of his lover. "Feel me. I am truly here, Aragorn. I promise you."
"Your words," Aragorn replied, swallowing around the lump in his throat. "I remember your words."
Faramir smiled and looked at him, nodding slightly. "Then I am glad."
Aragorn stared at his lover, at the apparition that he held in his arms and it all fell away, the fear and disbelief, the loneliness and the sadness. Moving slowly and then with gathering urgency, he pulled Faramir with him until they fell onto the bed, moving swiftly to cover the younger man lest he fade and it all be just a dream.
Staring down into Faramir's eyes, he sighed, memories of other times filling his mind. Then he leaned down and kissed Faramir, shifting gently as he overpowered the dream creature in his arms. Long legs moved, spreading as strong thighs moved to grip him, holding Aragorn tightly.
Faramir sighed and licked his lips, shifting to pull his lover even closer to him. He opened his mouth to speak but strong and callused fingers stilled him, then soft lips nuzzled his own gently.
"Don't speak," Aragorn whispered. "Just love me. Don't break the illusion. I cannot bear this not to be real between us, Faramir."
Faramir stared at the anguished eyes that bore into his own, holding them with their neediness. Then he nodded and sighed as soft lips found his neck and a strong hand pulled at the shirt that covered his chest.
It was silent in the cabin as the sun departed for another night, leaving behind the silence of night in a wooded glade.
The wedding had been glittering, an almost forgotten possibility in the battered and brutalized world left behind by the destruction of the One Ring. Minas Tirith had been the place where it had happened, the influx of greatness for this uniting and healing event almost unheard of in the memory of most of those gathering.
Elf kings and queens, lords and ladies of all the peoples of the world and citizens of many lands had gathered, drawn by the prophecy of Men and Elves of the great prosperity that was to be had by the joining of two great and ancient Houses of older times and the present day. The gracious and beautiful Evenstar was to wed the Elessar, the Heir of Isildur and the peace of all the world would be thus achieved.
He had met her with a white horse at the dock of the river. She was beautiful in scarlet and gold, her family of such nobility a hush had fallen over the multitudes that had gathered to do homage to the once and future queen of the Reunited Kingdom.
She had descended from a white swan ship, followed by her family from the Blessed Lands, an impossibly beautiful figure shimmering with jewels, her long hair plaited and draped in delicately woven braids. She paused before him, this tall, almost mythological figure of a man from days long past, this throwback to the great Kings of Numenor, and held out her hand.
He took it and kissed it, holding it in his own rough-hewn hand, willing himself to feel the fire that such a thing once conjured in his heart. But it wasn't there anymore and it never would return, but he vowed as he stared into her lovely eyes that she would never know that by any word or deed of his own.
Turning, he held her hand and led her to the white horse, helping her to mount it and gather a handful of long white mane into her delicate hands. A shout rang out and the crowd roared its joy, an almost animalistic convulsion of sound that flowed over and around them like the moaning roar of an animal in pain. He looked at her, at the shining look of joy on her face and smiled slightly, turning to walk to his own mount.
Pausing, he met the dark emotional eyes of his foster father, Lord Elrond, himself mounted and waiting to leave. Aragorn sighed and smiled slightly, nodding and mounting easily. Then he turned, moved to sit beside Arwen and take the approval of the crowd. Behind them in gilded carriages or on horses of incredible beauty, the members of her party moved to follow as slowly they wend their way back to the White City shimmering in the morning sun nearby.
The green trees rustled in the warm breeze of the spring day, the sky achingly blue overhead. People threw flowers and followed, their happiness almost visceral, a contrast to his own muted sensibilities. She smiled at him and he smiled back, watching as she turned to accept roses from a future subject. They paused and then continued, two people drawn together by birth and destiny, two people who would by this moment in time, bind the world together as it should have been from the beginning.
Elrond rode beside his wife, his sons behind him. Following in order of importance behind the father and mother of the bride came kings and queens of Arda and Middle Earth, the grandparents, Celeborn and Galadriel, the High King of the Noldor, Gil-galad of Lindon, and those of Elrond's house, the grandsires and mothers of his own distinguished line. Cirdan and Glorfindel, Thranduil and his family, glittering and wondrously beautiful men and women of the most noble Houses of the Eldar followed on mounts befitting their status. Along with them, glittering in their armor rode men of the Citadel and Edoras providing an escort of honor.
People followed, the procession making for the white city where flying from the citadel were the banners of great houses. The White Horse of Rohan, the White Tree of Gondor and among them the many banners of the Eldar lords as well. They paused by the gate, where Arwen was welcomed by the Last Steward and First Minister of the King, Lord Boromir. Beside him, gracious and beautiful, Prince Imrahil and his Knights bid her welcome as well.
Among shouts of delight and gladness, they continued within, petals of flowers raining down on their heads from the houses and ramparts that composed the city. By the time they reached the Citadel, trumpets were blowing and songs were being sung among the gathering throng.
He pulled up before the door and dismounted, helping Arwen as well and together, side-by-side, they stood arm-in-arm. The family and their friends, hobbits, elves and men gathered around them and together, they entered, disappearing into the tower to the shouts of the throng.
By that evening, by the power of the lords of the world, Arwen and Elessar would be wed man and wife. By the morning they would appear on the rampart and show themselves to the crowds, a couple consummated in the eyes of the people and the gods. Even as he stood waving, every inch the noble king, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, would never give to Arwen of Imladris that which she wanted most.
The following day...
The morning light filtered through the small round panes of glass that served as windows, building shadows in the corners of the room. The smell of wood burning brought him to his senses and he turned, gazing around in momentary befuddlement.
He was sitting before the fire, kneeling and poking at the gathering flames, his face shuttered and his expression unreadable. Faramir raised up on one elbow, remembering other times and other moments when this very sight had been his to gaze upon every morning. A hundred campfires, a hundred different days had begun this way. Aragorn was a woodsman, someone more comfortable and at home in the forest than in the great halls of a palace.
It suited Aragorn somehow to do such simple, elemental things and for a moment Faramir felt a disconnect with the present, as the past that held both of them hostage overtook this moment between them.
"Aragorn," he whispered, noting a momentary hesitation in the hand of his lover and then nothing more. He sat up and pulled on his trousers and tunic, rising and walking to where the King crouched. He knelt too, side-by-side with the one who was the sole source of warmth in his life when he believed his beloved brother was gone for good.
"Its sunny outside but its cold in here. Why do you suppose that is?" Aragorn turned to gaze at Faramir's face, the beloved visage that had haunted his dreams for more than a quarter of a century.
Faramir sighed. "You are weary and heart-sore. I can imagine that it is cold to you, my brother, to be so alone and so sorrow-filled."
Aragorn looked away and sighed. "Perhaps."
"You are not alone now."
Aragorn tossed the stick in his hand into the fire, rising and staring down into its sputtering flames. Faramir rose and stood beside him, scrutinizing his face with worry. Then Aragorn turned and stared at Faramir, hesitantly placing his hand on Faramir's chest. It felt warm to him, the solid and muscular flesh that had been his last night. He had availed himself of his lover, devouring him with a searing urgency and when the howling of his mind and the hunger of his heart had been quenched, he had gathering Faramir into his arms and held him throughout the night, fully expecting to be alone again this very morrow.
That it hadn't happened had been disorienting and strangely perplexing. It still wasn't certain to him that this wasn't some terrible illusion, some lingering stab by the Shadow at the one who had done so much to doom Him from the world of Men. Perhaps there was some lingering curse in the world that had sprung on him, taking that which he desired most and holding it before him like a shining bauble, ready to be snatched away if he let down his guard. He felt that if he truly believed that this miracle was possible, it would evaporate before him like mist.
He slid his hand up Faramir's chest, up his pale neck to his long, wavy hair. It was soft and golden, scented of the woods and fields, slightly reddened by the sun. He slid his arm around Faramir's waist and the apparition before him stepped into his body, sliding his own strong arms around Aragorn's neck. They stood together, their gazes unwavering and then Faramir leaned forward, kissing him softly.
Aragorn felt things fall away inside, so desperately did he want to believe but the fear of spells and magic, of retribution and desolation were overpowering. He pulled Faramir tightly against him and kissed his mouth, harsh and demandingly. Faramir moaned and melted into his grip, his arms tightening around Aragorn's neck.
"I don't want you to go," Aragorn whispered, his breath warm against Faramir's neck. He gripped Faramir painfully tight, expecting at any minute to see him disappear.
"I am here. I don't know how to convince you. Last night, you and I were together. You and I were one flesh, Aragorn. Do you remember?"
"I do. I remember every moment." Aragorn whispered. He sighed. "I could not have made it through the dark times without you and then I saw you fall. How can it be that you are here? I saw you end."
"I know. I remember." Faramir sighed, rubbing his cheek against Aragorn's. "I remember sacrifices, Aragorn. I remember needing you so completely that I was jealous of your friendships. I was jealous of Arwen, even though I believed that you would never see her again. I was jealous of all the pleasures you had before I ever met you."
"It was all in ashes when the world fell," Aragorn said, rubbing Faramir's back with his hands. He held the younger man tightly, almost fearfully. "It was so cold and empty until you somehow came to me. I don't know how it happened but it did and when you were struck down, when I saw you fall... I didn't think I could ever feel anything again."
"I am sorry," Faramir whispered, his eyes burning with tears. "I didn't mean to bring you pain. I would never want to do that to you, my Lord."
"You said that," Aragorn said, smiling slightly. "You called me Lord."
"You are," Faramir replied, smiling. "You are the great, good leader of us all, the moral center. I love you, my Lord, my brother. I love and will only ever love you. You saved me from dying of despair."
"And you, me," Aragorn replied, pulling Faramir against him. He sighed. "I love and have loved only you all these empty years."
"You have been alone?" Faramir asked, not daring to hope further.
It was silent a moment and then Aragorn released Faramir, holding him by the arms. "There is much to tell," he whispered. "Walk with me."
Faramir nodded and the two turned, stepping out into the fresh morning air. It was warm all ready and the world was filled with the pine scent of trees, the sweet aroma of flowers and the songs of birds everywhere. Turning and taking Faramir's hand, Aragorn began down the path that led around the sparkling blue lake before them.
They walked a while in silence and then the King sighed. "I found this place two years into my marriage."
Faramir swallowed and nodded, his stomach churning. Aragorn glanced at him and sighed.
"It was put to me that the world could be different than envisioned. It would take a sacrifice, however. It would take the wedding of an Elf and a Man to make a new possibility."
"You and Arwen," Faramir posed, his gaze downcast.
Aragorn halted and turned, fixing emotional eyes upon Faramir. "I had no choice. I am a king and kings have to make sacrifices for the good of their people."
"I understand," Faramir replied. He sighed and reached out, touching Aragorn's arm. "You once loved her."
Aragorn turned, taking Faramir's face into his hands, looking at him with desperate, pleading eyes. "I love only you."
"You do not have to explain to me what you did. I had no hold on you."
"You had my heart," Aragorn replied, dropping his hands and turning toward the water. "Sacrifice. It was the last word you said before... before." He stopped, shaking his head in his turmoil.
"Before I died," Faramir finished.
Aragorn turned, agonized. "Don't say that word."
"I am sorry," Faramir said as Aragorn swept him into his arms. They held each other, clinging to each other and when the storm passed, Aragorn turned and stepped away, rubbing his face with his hands. "It was impossible, the emptiness. I needed you with me, I had to have your company, your strength."
"My strength," Faramir replied, shaking his head. "I was in despair. You were the only safe port in the storm for me, Aragorn. The only one, ever."
Aragorn nodded, sighing. "I kept you with me, never letting you go anywhere alone. I couldn't chance losing you. I needed the comfort of your presence. You had no idea how much I needed you with me, did you."
Faramir shook his head. "No."
"I did," Aragorn said, moving closer. He pulled Faramir into his arms, his hands gripping Faramir's ass tightly. "I had to have you with me."
"I am here now," Faramir replied, sighing sadly. "I am sorry for your hurts."
For a while they held each other and then Aragorn turned, clasping Faramir's hand. They continued on silently. By the time they were halfway around the lake, Aragorn stopped and looked at Faramir. "I married a woman I could no longer love. We had children, a son and three daughters."
Faramir nodded. "I am glad for you."
Aragorn nodded. "I love them dearly. They are my fortune."
"It could never have been so between us. To have children, to leave a legacy, that is worth much."
"You left a legacy. Boromir grieves still for you."
"My brother... he is well?" Faramir asked, his voice catching in his throat.
"Boromir is my Steward and Chief Councilor. He is my friend and my brother, Faramir. He is well. He married Eowyn of Rohan after some number of years. They have a son. They named him Faramir."
Aragorn smiled in spite of himself, caressing Faramir's stunned face with his hand.
He nodded and sighed, shaking his head. "My whole life. I have missed my whole life."
Aragorn sighed, moving to sit on a rock. For a moment Faramir stood silently and then he joined Aragorn, the two staring out at the birds bobbing on the blue and shimmering surface of the lake.
"I wish for so much, Aragorn. I missed everything."
"You are here now, are you not?" Aragorn asked, his voice filled with hope and fearfulness.
Faramir turned and looked at him, nodding. "Yes. I am here."
"Then that is what matters. You are here."
They sat together, talking about people and shared memories as Aragorn brought him up to date with the world. By the time the sun was setting, the past had been cleared up and they would return to the cabin with more peace in their hearts than they had before they left it that morning.
He paced in the corridor, the sounds behind the door separating him from his wife heavily muffled. Elrond had come from Imladris, others of the family coming from the Havens, Lothlorien and East Lorien. They had gathered for the momentous occasion, the birth of the first child of the King and Queen of the Reunited Kingdom.
Elrond would deliver the child, his healing hands more than up to the challenge of bringing his first grandchild into a loving world of family and friends. Celebrian, now living apart from him with her parents, assisted.
In the corner of the corridor where Aragorn paced, Gil-galad sat reading a book. Others gathered around him, friends and relatives, each of them waiting for the good news to come. Legolas and Eomer, along with Gimli, had ridden down from Rohan to sit and wait.
The tension of his body was clearly delineated in the short and brisk turns of his pacing back and forth. Eomer, King of Rohan, watched him and then glanced at his companion and lover, Legolas of the Wooded Realm. He grinned and rose, walking to where Aragorn paused, staring out a window to the sparkling night beyond. Torches of light, signaling the vigil of hundreds of citizens sparkled below them as people waited to hear the news of the birth of a son and heir to the kingdom of their beloved King and Queen.
"You pace well, my brother. I am impressed with your persistence."
Aragorn glanced at him and smiled. "I am King. I am by station required do all things well, even if they are frivolous and annoying to others."
Eomer snorted and began a retort when the door opened and Celebrian appeared, a radiant smile on her lovely face. She glanced at all of them and gestured for Aragorn, who jolted from his surprise to follow her inside.
The door was ajar and Eomer stood before it, Legolas materializing at his side. The bedroom was filled with female relatives and friends, ladies-in-waiting and other interested parties. Elrond, toweling off his hands, stood nearby, a huge smile on his face. Glancing at Aragorn, he watched with pleasure as his son-in-law walked to his daughter and sat beside her on the bed.
He watched the wonder and gratitude on Aragorn's face, the gentle touch of his hand on Arwen's brow. Then Aragorn leaned forward and kissed her tenderly, sitting back to stare at her with emotional eyes. Then Celebrian handed him the greatest treasure of his life, an heir and son, Eldarion of Gondor.
There was no conversation because words weren't necessary as they sat together as a family. Holding his son, Aragorn felt awe fill him as the beautiful child opened his eyes to look at his father for the very first time. Blond hair, a wisp of softness and dark blue eyes, the mark of his birth. Aragorn was filled with love and pride over the child in his arms and at the woman who had given him this wonderful joy. He looked at Arwen, lying on the bed, her eyes closed in weariness and felt more for her at that moment than he had felt in many years.
Friendship and companionship, humor, conversation and affection. These would be the things that they would share over the years that they would be man and wife. They would become close and share many confidences but she would never hear from him about the one most central to his heart.
She would never hear him mention Faramir of Gondor.
"What will you tell people?"
Aragorn paused from cinching the saddle on his horse and turned to Faramir, noting the tension in his lanky frame. "Nothing, Faramir. Your presence alone will be explanation enough."
Faramir hesitated and then nodded, moving to help Aragorn with the tack on his horse. They would ride double to the nearby village where he would procure another horse, enabling them to ride the twenty leagues to the city of Minas Tirith in greater comfort. That would be the plan anyway.
As he stood beside his horse, Aragorn considered the reception they would both receive from the people of his household and the city that had loved the pensive blond beside him so well.
Faramir had been beloved of his men and the people of the city. He had been the most accessible member of his family, the gentle gentleman that had been the frequent interface when people needed assistance or comfort. He had been quieter than Boromir, less overtly heroic, but as steadfast as the granite beneath his feet. He was someone that people could come to and talk about anything and everything. Proud and resolute, yet warm and gentle, he had been much loved and his loss greatly felt.
In his family, he had been of lesser importance to the demanding father that ruled their house, someone extra kept behind the beloved elder son. Boromir had been the heir, the favored one in whom all things were vested. He would be the latest in a long line of Stewards and his father had dreamed somehow that he would become what no one else had. Denethor had dreamed that his son would become king.
But the war had changed all that. The death of the kingdom, the route of the free people, his own captivity in the dungeons of his home, these things had taken their toll and when the rescue of the Mighty had come to them at last, all thought of Boromir becoming King had been vaporized in the rapture of the return of the King, Elessar.
They had hard words, the Elessar and himself. Words of bitterness had come from his own lips but it had availed of nothing. The kingdom would go the Heir of Isildur, the son of Arathorn, Aragorn himself. He had steeled away, hiding in his chambers until at last his surviving son, Boromir, had come to him and chastised him for his behavior.
They had words, the two of them and Boromir had raged, calling him a coward and unworthy of his station. Then the ghost of Faramir had come between them, compelling words of great bitterness from Boromir toward his father and he had been stilled by the anger in his son's voice.
Turning away, overcome by the rage and anguish of son, Denethor felt shame well up inside of himself for the first time, shame and regret. He had not done right by Faramir. It had been his fault for many, many things but he had pushed that away, so focused had he been on elevating his house and his elder son to the position they deserved in his mind and earned through steadfastness and history.
Boromir would have nothing of it. He would not agree. He had vented at his father for many things, most of all for Faramir whom he missed with intensity. He, Denethor, had listened to Boromir recount Faramir's death and when his son turned and left, then and only then did tears fall from his eyes. He was a proud man, Denethor, and it had cost him greatly. He would never be able to tell Faramir how much he did value him, in his own way. He loved the quiet youngster even as he didn't understand him.
Rapprochement had come slowly, the events and obligations of Aragorn's investiture throwing Boromir and his father together again and again. Somewhere in the mix of obligation and duty, they had come together once more. In his father's eyes, Boromir had come to see the cost of Faramir's loss. It had been small consolation to him that his father felt pain at last for the totality of his failure as a father with the closest person to Boromir in the entirety of his life. But it was something.
Aragorn sighed, remembering the tension of the days surrounding his advent and was pleased that over the years and years that followed, a rhythm of peace and cooperation had developed among them. Even if they all had their own goals and needs, first among them was the welfare and safety of Gondor and her people. As the kingdom grew and old fabled lands came back into the fold, Gondor was the binding tie, the bridge over which they all found common ground.
He mounted his horse and extended his hand, pulling Faramir up behind him. Strong arms encircled him and Aragorn felt joy in the contact as he turned the horse toward the path that led back to home and hearth. Riding through the dense trees, they made their way to the road that would take them to Minas Tirith. The sun was high in the sky, the day warm and gentle and so it was as they made their way east to home.
They sat together before the fire that warmed the great hall of Meduseld. Friends gathered, they were there to celebrate the anniversary of the ascension of Eomer to kingship of Rohan. During the second year of the peace, Theodred had come ill and died after a lingering illness that had never been determined. Theodred had passed earlier and Eomer had become King, acclaimed by his people.
Legolas, living both in Rohan and in lands near Ithilien that he was transforming into gardens and forests, was by his side. A heroic partnership, recognized among warrior cultures as a marriage of equals, had developed and so it was that his kingdom would fall to his sister, Eowyn and her children, should he pass some day and the throne become empty. She, herself, had found happiness in the arms of Boromir of Gondor, appointed Prince of Ithilien by Elessar of Gondor. Steward and First Counselor of Gondor, Boromir had become indispensable to the King of the White City, sharing duties and memories with the last person who would know what Faramir meant to him.
"You are quiet tonight, Legolas," Boromir said, tapping his pipe out against the metallic side of the fire pit.
Legolas smiled slightly. "I am a person of few words, Boromir."
"You are," Boromir replied, smiling. "How goes it in Ithilien? I have not had time to come to see what you are doing in the woodlands thereabouts."
"Would that the two lords of Ithilien see each other more than once in a while, like two ships passing in the night," Gimli replied, grinning.
"So it must be, such is the desire of my friend and companion to have lands of his own," Eomer drawled, gazing at Legolas with a jaundiced eye.
"Would that you would have me without dowry or property?" Legolas bantered back, smirking. "My father gives me much property of my own and adding to it the lands that I claimed in the woodlands of Ithilien, I am a fair catch I would say."
"I would never argue with you about being fair, my friend," Eomer replied, his eyes dark with intensity.
Aragorn snorted and shook his head. "I would that one of you were a woman. I would love to see this match up in such terms."
"I would place my wager on the blond," Gimli replied, chuckling.
"Which one?" Eomer asked, a slight note of bemusement in his voice.
Aragorn snorted and shook his head. "I will miss your company."
"You must leave early in the morrow?" Gimli asked, reclining on his couch with a sigh.
"I must," Aragorn replied. "I am due in Rivendell in less time than I care to think about and it would not due to keep the King waiting as well."
"You have never told us the whole story there," Gimli goaded, pressing once more for details to a tale that he knew Aragorn would not fully disclose. "It is not the way of friends to conceal such news, especially among those to whom the duty of guiding people falls. How can we understand the convolutions of the Elvish mind if you do not give up a rendering of the possible and probable?"
"I am not a gossip, my dear dwarf," Aragorn bantered back. "I am sorry that I cannot fill in the gaps, as you so politely put it. I am rather caught in the middle of great uncertainty and therefore discretion is the better part of valor."
"Coward," Gimli replied with a smile. "But I concede your point."
Aragorn smiled and sighed, considered the difficulty that lay ahead in the days that would come. The 'situation' as it was called in the family had come to a head shortly after the wedding of Arwen and Aragorn...
Elrond stood in the corridor in the King's House in Minas Tirith. The family, friends, lords and ladies of all the great kingdoms -both Elf, Man and Dwarf- and their courtiers had thronged to the city to bear witness to the joining of two great houses and kindreds. Few knew the full story among the families but all came to see a spectacle that would allow the world to reform along lines only dreamed about over eons of time and generations of individuals.
It was said that the joining of the Houses of Elrond and Isildur would make right and give form to the hopes and dreams of the Lords of the World, that the Peace of Arda could once more be achieved. It would fall to two people, to Arwen, daughter of Elrond and Celebrian and Aragorn, the Elessar, son of Arathorn and Gilraen to make things right in the world.
The city was beautiful, labors day and night repairing the damage and restoring the lovely gardens and houses of ages past. Banners streamed, signals of all the great lords and ladies present and everywhere people laughed and worked in joy and anticipation of what was to come.
Never had such a gathering of Eldar been seen in the living memory of men and as they came together, old enmities and hurts emerged between some of the greatest participants in older and nearly forgotten passion plays.
Celeborn stood on the rampart one night staring at the stars, alone in his musings but for the silent figure watching from a doorway nearby. Elrond watched him, this treasured and much admired friend and before he could turn away, Celeborn called to him.
"Come, Elrond," he said, his intense gaze watching as the figure hesitated.
Elrond swallowed hard and complied, moving to stand next to his father-in-law, mentor and friend. For a moment it was silent and then Celeborn sighed. "Your father is home in the night sky," he said, glancing at Elrond for a second before looking once more into the darkness. The swirl of stars seemed especially brilliant, as if the world were reborn as well. "It was almost a dream to me," Celeborn said, sighing. "All of it, the tumult of our life... so strange and unclear even as I stand here surrounded by those who have come for the wedding of my beloved daughter. They come here again after ages away. That is what it is, isn't it? That is why it is so strange and detached, this feeling? Ages away?"
Elrond made no sound but shifted uneasily, his eyes fixed on the glittering sky overhead.
"Time... I once believed it had no meaning to me. How can it? I am immortal," Celeborn said. "But it counts now. Every second, every minute." He turned and looked at Elrond. "You are leaving my daughter."
Elrond glanced away. "I do not know what to do, Father. I do not know what I must do."
"There are obligations, are there not? Obligations to her from you that are held by the Valar and by Iluvatar as the greatest bond you must bear."
"I feel it," Elrond replied softly.
"I knew when I saw him standing at the dock, meeting every ship that returned, that he was waiting for you. I knew he would claim you and there would be sorrow and grief for me and my house. I hated him at that moment, that instant when he sought to steal my daughter's happiness away from her."
Elrond stood staring out at the plain sprawling out before them, dark as velvet and scattered with light, like jewels cast into the darkness. He didn't speak, so overcome was he with grief and shame.
"I hated him and I sorrowed for him too. I cannot imagine what it means to love someone for so long, to be so alone, as he surely was. I am cursed with seeing both sides of all issues, my son," Celeborn said, sighing.
Elrond turned to him, fixing him with anguished eyes. "You mean a great deal to me, Father. I have come to you in the past with love and respect, taking your counsel and your friendship in equal measures. I would anguish in unspeakable pain if the bond that we have shared is ever sundered between us."
"You should ask such a thing?" Celeborn asked, turning to look at Elrond with compassion. "That I would give you my only daughter even though I knew you could never love her like I hoped is my curse and bane alone. Do I regret it? Partly. I also knew you would always honor her, love her as best you could and protect her. I knew she would be safe in your hands, Elrond. I watched your anguish when you could not spare her pain and when you loved her enough to let her go. I have seen your loneliness as well as your steadfastness and courage in the face of the Shadow. I could never lose the bond that we share. I could not bear that parting either. We are few, those of us among the mighty that know the burdens of hard decisions. I would be bereft to lose your friendship and the idea of someone who could understand what the cost of my life has meant to me."
Elrond nodded, swallowing tears. "I am also sure that the loss of your companionship and respect would be a blow from which I would be hard pressed to recover. I love you dearly, you and your Lady and am honored to be a part of your family. It is not that I do not love Celebrian. She was my salvation in dark times and my children, our children... they give meaning to my life in ways intangible. Yet, even as I struggled to bear my grief over the Lord to whom my heart was given from the earliest memories of love that I bear, I have done all that I could to make your daughter happy. I am helpless to know what to do now, so perilous is the path before me."
"You must do what your heart tells you, of course," Celeborn replied, squeezing Elrond's arm. "You have given the entirety of your life to the care of others. Now it is the time for you to look to yourself, Elrond. You cannot stay in a loveless marriage. You have the King to contend with and I know that he will not be dissuaded from the pursuit of your heart and body once again. It would be almost too much to ask that the world would be won into peace and hope at the expense of your heart and soul once more."
"Long defeats... winless victories. It all melds into a swirl of heartache and pain when I think of it. All the long days and years... all the losses. I do not know what to do."
"Then you must talk to my daughter and tell her what you feel. She was gone a long time, Elrond. She is not the same person she was, I know. She has been shaped in her own private crucible. She loves you dearly but she would not want to cause you more pain if you cannot come back to her again. I will not tell you what to do beyond that."
"I fear to speak to her. She is dear to me and I would not hurt her for any reason."
"Going on, making no decision will hurt everyone, Elrond. Your children, your wife... your King." Celeborn smiled slightly. "I have never forgotten the expression you would get when you looked at him, at that big maddening force of nature. I wept when he died but I am not sure if it was for the loss of his great company or because it was for your torment at his passing. All of it, it is a blur, so long ago did it happen. But because of who we are, our nature... it was like yesterday." Celeborn gripped Elrond's shoulders. "Do not let it slip by too long. And do not fear that if you chose another path than the one I put you on long ago that you will lose my love. I gave that to you unconditionally as a child and you have it still."
Elrond embraced him, hugging him tightly. "And you will always have mine, Father."
The night passed and when Elrond walked to his rooms at last, he sat with Celebrian and poured out his heart. Then he stood up and walked to the window nearby, his heart pounding in his chest as he watched the sun break the horizon beyond. Celebrian sat staring at the floor, her face pale with sorrow. Then she rose and walked from the room and never again would they speak of this matter.
The parties that left when the wedding concluded, headed for their transports and watching them go, standing on the shore side-by-side, Elrond and Gil-galad paid silent homage as Celebrian and other luminaries from the Undying Lands took their swan ships back to paradise once again.
They paused on the hillside, staring down into the valley that led to the nearest village on the path of their journey. Aragorn stared at the road that curved along the hillside, adorned as it was with the newly green grass and early blooming flowers of spring. In the highlands, sheep and cattle grazed, moving here and there in the pasturage that had just come into usage once more.
He sighed and turned his horse, moving away and onward toward the great city, Faramir sitting quietly behind him. They had gone a league before he leaned forward and squeezed Aragorn, sighing in his ear. "You did not stop," he said quietly.
"I did not wish to," Aragorn said, musing on the impulse to continue onward that had overcome him. "It was not necessary."
"Perhaps." Faramir stared at the sky, its blue surface unblemished by the merest hint of cloud. "I was supposed to do something," he said, scratching his cheek absently.
"What?" Aragorn asked, glancing over his shoulder.
"I know not," Faramir replied, shrugging slightly. "I was to do something but I forgot what it was."
"Understandable to me," Aragorn replied with a slight smile.
They rode silently for several leagues before Aragorn pulled up beside a stream that flowed under a small bridge. Dismounting, they led the horse down, allowing it to drink its fill. Sitting on the grassy slope of the streamlet, Faramir lay his head on Aragorn's shoulder. The older man sighed and lay his head against Faramir's, the sensation of sitting together this way, the simple pleasure it gave him to do so, overwhelming him out of some old and much cherished memory.
"I missed you," he said, staring at the grass fibers he tore into small strips with his fingers.
Faramir slipped his arm around Aragorn. "I did not wish to leave you when I did. But it would appear that it was for the best."
"For whom?" Aragorn replied, glancing at him with a touch of ire.
Faramir sat up and looked at him, biting his lip. "I did not with to offend."
"You didn't," Aragorn said, gripping Faramir's hand. "You could never do that."
"I just... your children. You have children and you had a good life. You were necessary to the well being of your people. You reunited the Kingdom, a dream of many generations. You were all as a king that I knew you would be."
Aragorn looked away, staring into the distance. "I was king. It was my duty."
"I remember you telling me that you never thought you would be king but I knew better," Faramir said, smiling slightly. "I knew you were destined to be one, a great and good king ruling his lands and people with justice and wisdom."
Aragorn smiled slightly and turned to Faramir, staring into his eyes deeply. "I was alone."
"I know," Faramir replied, leaning in to capture his lover's lips. They kissed for a moment and then Aragorn sighed, staring back at the road that led to home and duty. "You are a child of destiny, someone doomed to break the failure of your line and redeem all that was good and great about our people. You have succeeded."
"So it would appear," Aragorn replied. He looked at Faramir and considered his words. "When you left, when you... died... I was so bereft. I was helpless against the tide of fate that swept me away, dragging me into moments that I never imagined could be possible. I was sure the world was ending and then it didn't...the whole picture changed but you were gone."
"I am here," Faramir replied, caressing Aragorn's cheek with his hand. He sighed. "I came here for you, I know not how but here I am and I will be with you forever. I have a purpose to return somehow."
"To be with me at last..." Aragorn half asked, unwilling to give in completely to the reality before him. "I sit here with you, I touch you... yet... I am not sure if I can trust my senses as yet."
Faramir smiled and rose, pulling Aragorn to his feet. He stepped into his arms and kissed him softly on the lips. "Touch me now. Feel me. I am here with you in the flesh. I will not be leaving without you with me. Give in to your hope, my brother. I will be here when you open your eyes."
Aragorn hugged him and sighed, nodding. "It has been a long time. Forgive my doubt."
"There is nothing to forgive," Faramir whispered, hugging Aragorn back.
The King nodded and turned, gathering the reins to his horse. He reached down and gave a hand up to his partner and together, they rode forward, ever inching closer to the White City and its welcoming arms.
Elrond rose and walked to the window, the fresh breeze of spring carrying with it the lovely perfume of flowers budding nearby. It was evening, his favorite time of day and in the sky stars began to emerge against the velvet darkness of the night. Behind him, reading at a desk, his King was hard at work. They were together for the spring and summer in this lovely place, sharing time between the King's home near the foaming shores of the ocean and the fastness of the Bruinen Valley of his lover.
They had guests, Gimli and Legolas coming to visit, a brief stop on a longer journey they were making together. It had been some time since the fair Prince of Ithilien and the Woodland Realm had graced his table with his presence. It had been good to converse, to share the past and present together but in the morning, they would be leaving, moving on to the fable West.
He turned and looked into the lovely chamber that had been his own for eons of time. It was filled with memories, the detritus of a long and eventful life and he considered them as he stood quietly.
To the east, in their own luminous enclave, his in-laws held court as ever they did. It was comforting to know that they were there. It was equal in his mind that they were so to the sun rising in the sky each morning and the stars adorning the night at dusk. The disconnection caused by his daughter's death had been assuaged by the presence of so many who could remember. That day was something he seldom dwelt upon...
He entered the Great Hall of Merethrond and hurried along, heading for the place where she was lying in state, his emotions barely in check. Passing friends and strangers, he entered the reception hall and paused, rooted into spot by the reality before him.
Lying on a flower bedecked bier, her hands folded upon her chest and flowers woven into her long dark hair, his daughter lie in death. She was pale, unnaturally so and as he moved almost without conscious thought, he was struck by a desire to awaken her from her sleep.
She was sleeping, he told himself, just sleeping. She would awaken and smile at him, a beautiful smile of warmth and love. All he had to do was awaken her, he considered and he paused by her, taking her hand into his. It was cold and lifeless, yet unspoiled. Nothing about her was diminished to his eye. She was as beautiful and lovely and lifeless and departed... she was gone from him and from his heart and lips issued such sorrow it rent the silence in twain.
Strong hands gripped him, his King taking him into his arms, pulling him away from his daughter as he fell into an oblivion of grief, crying to the Valar that such a fate should befall someone so beloved. His sons stood nearby, frozen statues of grief, sharing the shadows with Aragorn and Eldarion, himself a boy of eighteen. Celeborn stood at the head of the bier, a statue of golden and pale silence, almost surreal in his solitude. Sitting nearby, her face a glacial mask of suffering, Galadriel watched alone.
He turned and stared at the gathered throng, noting almost without awareness the presence of Elves, Dwarves and Men. Gimli was there as were Thranduil and Legolas, Eowyn stood with her children and Boromir, Eomer with Legolas and others as well. Kings and Queens, Lords and Ladies, warriors and scholars, the learned and noteworthy from near and far. They were all there to pay homage to the loss of the beautiful Lady of Gondor.
To one side, standing in shadows almost unseen, sphinx-like in her solitude, Celebrian stared into the middle distance, abstracted from the world that surrounded her.
He sighed and walked inside, pausing to watch Gil-galad work. The King hadn't noticed his scrutiny and Elrond was glad. He loved to watch when the king was unaware, noting the quirky expressions on that most beloved visage, the thoughts that were so openly divined as he worked out what he would and would not countenance as the King of the Noldor, the Lord of many realms and most noble Elf Lord in the West.
Even as he stood, these many years the lover and beloved companion of the King, it was hard to reconcile the differences that the end of the Shadow had engendered upon the lives of all who had lived within its reach. The world had been changed and all were at peace now, something much longed for in the wandering path of his own life, something Elrond had not believed would be attainable.
The King glanced up, pausing as he found himself secretly scrutinized. He put down his quill and leaned back, smiling at the silent figure before him. "You look pensive, Peredhel."
Elrond smiled slightly. "I am once more awash in the strange dichotomy of longing for you all these long years and finding you here with me, alive and as warm and real as ever any dream I could conjure."
The King smiled and rose, walking to stand before his lover. He reached out and took his arms gently, scrutinizing him with a level gaze. "You have had many expectations in your most brilliant and eventful life, my good and most beloved brother. To find myself counted among them, to be placed so high on the list is an honor I struggle daily to deserve."
Elrond smiled and reached out, touching the King's face. "And I, you, my most gracious King."
The King smiled and turned to gaze at his desk, sighing with consternation before turning to his lover once more. "It would go much more quickly if two sets of hands shared the task before me."
Elrond smiled and nodded, following his lover to the desk. For the next hour they would work together and then adjourn for a walk in the moonlight, sharing between them memories and hopes and dreams.
On the trail
It was dark and getting on toward deep evening when they came within distant sight of the rising towers of Minas Tirith. The large moon overhead cast long shadows upon the earth, illuminating the contours of the great fortress that was the city. The Hill of Guard terraced before them and they paused a moment, staring into the distance at the welcoming figure of their city.
"I have been gone so long," Faramir whispered, staring in wonder at a sight he thought never to see again.
The Rammas beckoned them and they continued forward, moving toward the Forannest or North Gate that would lead them to the road and the ten mile ride to the city beyond. They would circle it, this monument to giants and then enter through the Great Gates, ending at the fourth level and the Hallows and the dwelling place known as the House of the Kings. For a moment they just sat together and then they continued forward, moving toward home and rest.
In the Hallows
Boromir stood by the fountain, the graceful flow of water the only sound in the surrounding area. It was late at night and he couldn't sleep. He had slipped away from his wife, moving through the silent halls of his abode in the House of the Stewards and exiting into the warm and balmy night. Below him, nestled in the many layers of this most unusual city, people slept or went about business, the flicker of lights on the terraces and beyond on the great Plain of Pelennor a familiar and comforting sight.
Many years had passed since he had stood here, his brother beside him sharing jokes as well as the view. Faramir had come to him a lot lately, entering his dreams and gracing them with his good humor and kind heart. It had been his alone to know, this well cherished and much missed presence and he had not told his wife. Eowyn was busy with other things, the demands of their realm in Ithilien and their growing brood of grandchildren the focal point of her life of late.
He, himself, had been caught in ebb tides of memory, swirls of thoughts of the past capturing him for brief respites in other places and times. It had been long since he had considered the life his brother would never lead. What would Faramir have become in the end? Would he have been a scholar or warrior or both? Would he have stayed with the King? Boromir didn't think that likely, the marriage of Arwen to the King so necessary for all as to dispose of that desire out of hand. In some small way, he was glad Faramir had never had to face that reality. He couldn't forget he sadness in his brother's eyes, the sorrow that was like a mist about his shoulders.
Boromir paused on the rampart, staring into the sky, remembering another time when the brightest star was missing. It was the time of myth and legend, he considered, the time of giants and greatness. Now, it was the pedestrian life of living and governing. In his dreams, he remembered the days of living rough, of fighting an implacable enemy and winning.
In those days, Faramir was alive, the hunt was afoot and the world was theirs to win back. Peace had its own burdens, some of them tedious beyond bearing but he carried them out one-by-one. In time he had laid his father to his rest, assured in the notion that their illustrious line would continue in his own children and for now that was almost enough.
He stood on the rampart, the sky filled with brilliance, the moon passing slowly overhead. Beyond his sight, riding along the road that led to the city, his brother and his King traveled alone.
Nearing Minas Tirith...
The ride across the plain was quiet, the two lost in their own thoughts. Pausing before the Great Gates of the city, Aragorn frowned. No one appeared to notice them and he glanced around, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. Sighing, he urged his horse forward, moving through the great portico and onto the winding street that led to the fourth level habitation of the King, his family and retinue.
Houses lined the streets, tall and stone made, towering over the cobblestone and brick pavements, mostly shuttered against the night. Here and there a torch illuminated the way, flickering in the quiet night only to be extinguished at the dawn. Carvings of crests and other ornaments distinguished the doorways and archways of great houses, the emblems of old and much honored families.
The city, ancient and venerable, had seen the trod of many a famous footstep, the giants of other days mingled with the present. Houses, beautiful and adorned with symbols of service, flowers and trees of great age followed the gentle curve upward of the hillside into whose bones they had all been carved.
The hollow sound of their horse's hooves sounded in the empty streets, a lonesome echo in the night. Faramir sat silently, his eyes drinking in the much missed venue through which they rode, memories of another life filling his mind one by one. Aragorn made no comment, his eyes roving here and there as they slowly made their way through each gate unchallenged.
People were about, just out of reach of their senses and the sound of laughter and conversation greeted them here and there. No one seemed to be manning the gates, though the light of habitation glowed in the windows of the guards' stations. Aragorn made no comment, just passing each, filing away questions for later.
By the time they reached the fourth level, the stars were thick in the sky. The warm air was sweet with the scent of flowers and newly mown grass, a lovely nostalgic aroma for Faramir. He sighed, squeezing Aragorn for a moment and then they reached the great gate of the Citadel, itself a white spear point piercing the dark sky above them.
They passed through the tunnel, pausing by the stables, dismounting and tying off their horse at a railing. Aragorn stared at the tower, the banner of his house slowly furling and unfurling in the ever constant breeze of that elevation. A sense of pride and emotion surged through him and he took Faramir's hand into his own, squeezing it gently. Faramir squeezed it back, swallowing around the lump in his throat and followed Aragorn as he walked across the courtyard and toward the stairs that would lead to his house, the House of the Kings.
It was quiet and their footsteps echoed, their only accompaniment as they neared the winding staircase. Pausing at the top, Aragorn turned back, staring at the banner of the White Tree once more. It was there, ever there where it belonged and he felt peace overtake him, a sensation of warmth and accomplishment. His House was restored and his line assured. What more could a man accomplish than that?
He turned and together, they began to descend the stairs, walking to the lower levels where he lived day to day. They came to the Rath Dinen, the Silent Street and on either side of them the houses of the lords and ladies and the Stewards were silent. No lights illuminated them, merely the flicker of torches on the walls nearby and it was solemn, even grave as they walked to the building at the very end of the promontory.
When they reached the small plaza that separated the King's House from all the others, Faramir stopped, tugging Aragorn to a halt. In the shimmering starlight, pale against the skyline, he could see Boromir standing, staring out at the plain beyond. He felt tears come to his eyes, emotions swelling in his chest and for a moment he was overcome.
Aragorn turned and glimpsed Boromir, glancing quickly at Faramir. He squeezed his hand, watching the emotions turn to a smile. "If you want to go to him..."
For a moment Faramir just stood staring and then he frowned, as if trying to remember something he had to do. He turned to Aragorn, scrutinizing him intensely for a moment and then he sighed, smiling once more. "I remember."
"What?" Aragorn asked, stepping closer.
"I remember what I came here for."
Aragorn stared at him, perplexed and then he glanced up, catching Boromir's eye. The big man stared at him and smiled, then faded slowly from view. Aragorn, startled, glanced from Faramir to the place where Boromir had been standing.
"What?" he stammered, stepping slightly away from Faramir.
"Do not be afraid, my brother," Faramir said, his voice soft with love. "Do not be afraid."
"I..." Aragorn paused and then turned, walking across the square and up to the doors of his home. He reached for the latch and gripped it, tugging at it to open. It didn't budge no matter how hard he tried and he turned to Faramir, scrutinizing him with wary eyes. "What manner of wizardry is this? What are you truly?"
"I am Faramir, brother of Boromir, son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor," Faramir replied softly.
"What has happened? What is this?" he asked, turning and gesturing to the door.
"It is time to go, my beloved brother, time to leave."
"What do you mean?" Aragorn replied, anger rising inside of him. He stepped out and stared at the rampart, searching for Boromir in vain.
"You can let go. I have been sent to bring you home," Faramir said, waiting patiently as Aragorn absorbed the news. Aragorn turned and walked to the door, tugging on the handles with all his strength.
"Why doesn't it open?" Aragorn cried out, stepping back. He glanced up at the building, its silent dark facade mocking him. "Open up! By the King's order, open up!"
"They do not hear you, believe me," Faramir said quietly, watching sadly as Aragorn paced.
Aragorn glanced at him, stilled by his sadness, then he came forward and gripped Faramir's arms. "What are you saying to me?"
"You must come with me. Your time here is over, Aragorn. It is time to leave this world."
Aragorn looked at him, confusion suffusing his expression. "Where? I don't understand."
"We have to go away from here. Take my hand. I have come for you."
Aragorn stared at him, then he turned and looked at the rampart. Boromir was gone and the grounds were silent, the snapping of the banner on the Citadel the only sound he could hear. He looked at Faramir. "I cannot leave. How can I leave?"
"Because it is all right. Eldarion rules now. You have done all you can do. You have come here over and over for decades of years, unknowing of your own fate, so great was your desire to serve your people. But it is over now. It is time to leave."
Aragorn stared at him, at his kind eyes, the longed for and most deeply missed companion of his heart and felt anguish. He had to be here, to do his duty and yet he was tired, more tired than he had ever felt before. Slowly, hesitantly, he reached out his hand and touched Faramir's, the younger man smiling at him. As their fingers touched, a luminous white light surrounded them and slowly, ever so slowly, they both faded away.
On a flet in the forest of Lothlorien
Celeborn stood with Galadriel and sighed, staring out into the world beyond their abode. The moon was bright, traversing the sky on its journey toward morning, ever and always faithful to the sun. He turned to his wife, admiring once more her beauty and grace. "He has left us at last," he said simply.
Galadriel nodded and sighed. "Peace is granted for his restless spirit. Thank the Valar."
They stood together and watched the moon, mourning the loss of a kinsman and a colleague, relieved that he had found his way home at last..
On a shore, near the restless sea
Elrond stared at the ocean, watching the waves lap at his feet. It was night, his favorite time of day and he was alone in his meditations. On the embankment behind him, the King was in conference, attending to the business of empire without his presence. He wanted to be alone, feeling a loss undefined, the sensation of knowing a great spirit had left the world, never to return. He had known it only one other time, from the death of his brother, Elros and the emptiness of it drove him from company this night.
He looked up, watching the silvery light of the brightest star in the sky and he sighed, remembering the briefest of interludes in the War of the Ring. He had seen his parents, those faint ghosts of his oldest dreams and felt peace in knowing they were ever constantly there.
But this feeling, it was different, a dividing sensation. He felt loss and inexplicable sadness about something he couldn't define. He felt it fill him and then it was gone, replaced by a sense of his own timelessness. Immortality, he mused, was a harsh mistress and he felt the burden of it on his back.
But such was the world and its demands, he considered. He paused and looked up at the light streaming from the window of his King's house. With a glance at the evening star, he turned and walked back toward its warmth.
The breeze was fresh upon his face as he came to his senses, standing on a flat plain in knee-deep grass. In the distance, tall blue mountains rose to the sky, sentinels of solidity in the waving ocean of green that surrounded him. He stared at them, bright against the blue sky and felt rather than heard or saw the presence of others.
"I do not think he understands where he is yet," a deep and amused voice spoke.
He turned to it, seeing without comprehending the face of someone he knew, someone important to him in a time he couldn't recall. The figure smiled and leaned forward, seated on a horse such as he was and chuckled. "You appear to be befuddled, my king," the big man said.
Others chuckled and he noted them one by one, a large group of people sitting on horses as they watched him. One of them stepped forward, leading two horses and he recognized Faramir once more.
"My king," Faramir whispered, pausing before him. "We are here for you at long last."
Aragorn looked around and the scales fell from his eyes, his mind flooding with images and memories of the past. Rohan and Gondor, Ithilium and Arnor, all of the places of his life from before were represented here in the faces of his friends, family and loved ones who had been ever at his side.
"We are ready to ride, Lord Aragorn," a man said, Theodred of Rohan, Eomer by his side.
Others were there, his Rangers and liege lords, family members of old and advisors. And in pride of place, sitting a white horse, Gimli son of Gloin watched him with a smile. They sat on their horses, all of them waiting and he took the reins from Faramir, turning to him once more.
"Where do we go?" he asked, mesmerized by the kindness and love shining from the eyes of his lover.
He smiled and turned, pointing to the blue mountains. "To the West, my Lord, ever to the West."
Aragorn stared at the mountains and nodded, moving to mount the great bay horse he was given. Faramir mounted and turned to him, smiling. "Time to go, my King," he said.
Aragorn nodded, gathering his reins and with a nod to his companions, turned toward the West. Behind him, their banners flying, they rode with their king, ever young, ever strong toward the far away mountains, to be together until the Last Music at the End of Time.
In the Undying Lands
He stood by the cairn, restless now that it was over, his last duty finished to the great and good friend of his younger days. They were all together now, here in this beautiful place, ever to remain so until time finished its wanderings.
"You are aggrieved," a voice said, one with compassion and kindness.
He turned and met the gaze of Gandalf. "I am left behind," he said. He turned and stared at the cairn that held the body of Gimli, his brother and companion through many hard travails. "I am left behind and I know not where they have gone, these friends of mine that are as family to me."
"They have gone to the place where they must, as we all must go when our time comes," Gandalf replied.
"My time does not come," Legolas replied. "I must stay behind and remember, as we all must, my kind and yours."
"There is a plan, my son, in the mind of Iluvatar and He gives us comfort in the completeness of its cycle. In the end it will all be explained. It is not our place to question what is to be. We must be patient."
Legolas sighed. "I suppose it is true, but it surely breaks my heart to see them leave me. Eomer and now Gimli. There is no one left of the Fellowship but you and I. How can that be good?"
"We are here to tell the tale," Gandalf said, slipping his arm through Legolas'. He turned and gently tugged the Elf with him, moving toward a stair that descended to the ocean shore nearby. "Tell me, Legolas, the stories of your heart. Tell me of the days of old when we were few against the mighty."
Legolas smiled slightly and nodded, the two continuing forward and with them followed the ghosts of long lost loved ones and tales of adventure the world would never see equaled, taken from times long past.
He stood on the rampart of the wall near the King's House, staring into the distance at the mountains far away. He had barely slept the night before, so troubled was he by dreams of people long loved and long gone. He stood by himself, unaware of the presence of his oldest grandson, standing as he was nearby. Walking up, he put his hand on his shoulder, leaning against his grandfather for a moment.
"You look pensive, Grandfather," the young man said.
Eldarion smiled and looked at him, this handsome child of his daughter. He was so like his own father it seemed Aragorn had returned to them and his presence was always welcome, bringing with his youthful good spirits something of the memories of the old days of his youth.
"I had a dream last night," he replied, slipping his arm around his grandson's shoulders.
"What was it about?" the boy asked.
"I dreamed... that my father had come to me to say goodbye."
"Grandfather Elessar has been gone a long time. What an odd dream," the youngster replied.
"I dreamed that they were all together, the people of his court, his friends and relatives all so long passed away. They were galloping across a great grassy plain, their armor was glinting in the sun and their banners flying and everything seemed possible among that company. I was comforted by it, somehow. It gave me great comfort, just like your presence" he said, squeezing his grandson's shoulders.
The boy smiled and hugged him back. "Grandfather, I would like to hear about them, about Elessar and the Companions of the Fellowship and the War of the Ring. Tell me everything that you know."
"Everything," Eldarion whispered, visions of his mother and father filling his mind, of the glittering courts of Lothlorien and Lindon, the quiet comfort of Rivendell. Flashes of Meduseld and Moria came to him unbidden and he sighed deeply, moved by the memories.
Eldarion glanced at the brilliant blue sky and then the beautiful banner on the Citadel, furling and unfurling slowly in the breeze. He smiled at his grandson and then he hugged him, beginning the tale of times gone past.
Once more great deeds of valor lived in Gondor, great men rode horses into certain doom. Love was given and taken, sacrifices meted and the world was secured from the darkness in the East. Together, they talked, whiling away the hours until at last they entered their home for dinner.
Twinkling in the ever darkening sky above, a lone star began its languid voyage. It stood vigil over the earth, its task appointed until the end of time and the revealing of all ends.
As it always had, as it was, as it always would be.
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