Carefully Taught


Tree and Flower Awards, First Place
Tree and Flower Awards, Novel, First Place
Tree and Flower Awards Nominee

 

Artwork - Ellynn

 

 

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Carefully Taught

These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.

With thanks to Raksha and Virtuella

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught. - South Pacific – Rogers and Hammerstein

Lightning streaked across the overcast sky while deafening thunderclaps seemed to shake the ground. In the rising wind and rain, a massive branch splintered and snapped off an ancient oak.

"We must find shelter!" Aragorn cried, his voice barely audible above the driving wind and rain.

"I saw a cave about half a league back," Faramir replied, shouting to make himself heard.

"We will head for there."

Drenched and thoroughly miserable, the two former Rangers turned their horses back in the direction from which they had come. They had been looking forward to at the rare opportunity to spend a few days in the wilds when the Envoy from Khand had been forced to cancel at state visit at short notice after falling from his horse. The accident had left the two men with several days free from official duties, which otherwise would have been spent entertaining the envoy.

Arwen and Éowyn had noticed their husbands growing restless from being confined indoors during a long winter and had encouraged them to use their unexpected freedom to go hunting. Now it seemed that instead of enjoying sharing a freshly caught meal roasted over a campfire, and sleeping under the stars, they would be forced to spend the night in the stuffy confines of a cave.

It took far longer than anticipated to reach shelter. The wind and rain battered against their faces relentlessly. Aragorn and Faramir tethered their horses in the shelter of a rocky outcrop, then cautiously made their way into the cave's wide mouth. It was larger than Aragorn had expected and the air was mercifully fresh. Neither man especially liked caves, but as no other shelter was available, it would have to suffice.

They dragged their packs inside and shook themselves like dogs to remove the excess moisture from their persons. Their clothes were sodden and they were both soaked through to the skin. Fortunately, their packs were wrapped in oilskins, which had kept their belongings dry. Both men rejoiced that they had brought some spare clothing and blankets.

"We need to change our clothes," said Aragorn, removing his boots while he spoke. He tipped them upside down and water poured out of them. "I am drenched. " He started to peel off the remainder of his dripping apparel.

"I feel as if something is watching me," said Faramir. He looked around anxiously and coughed.

"You are imagining things," said Aragorn, pulling a dry tunic over his head. "No one is here excepting ourselves. I recall once changing my clothes in similar circumstances, and like you I feared I was being observed, but it proved only to be a cat and a friendly one at that!"

He went to the cave entrance and peered outside. Glumly he noted that the rain had become even heavier.

”I expect you are right but I cannot imagine any sensible cat venturing out in this storm.” Faramir sounded unconvinced, but continued to divest himself of his sodden garments, occasionally glancing around and peering into the darkness at the back of the cave. He coughed again.

"Have you got a cough?" Aragorn asked, concern in his voice.

"I had a slight cold earlier this week, but it is better now," Faramir replied.

"It sounds anything but slight to me!" It was Aragorn's turn to appear unconvinced. "A soaking could be harmful if you are already unwell, as I learned to my cost on the occasion I met the friendly cat. I was suffering from the Fever."

"It is nothing, just a slight cold," Faramir insisted. “There is no Fever in Gondor at present.”

"My tinder box is damp," the King lamented. "I had hoped we might have a fire to dry our clothes, keep us warm and cook something."

"Come inside," Faramir counselled, "before you get soaked again. We may as well snatch a few hours rest. Hopefully once the rain stops, the wind will dry our things."

Aragorn moved further back into the cave and they settled themselves on the hard floor, huddling together for warmth. Faramir, though, continued to shiver.

"Have my blanket, mellon nîn," Aragorn offered. "I do not feel the cold as badly as you."

"You will only shiver too," Faramir replied. "I will walk around a little. Maybe that will warm me up." He feared he might indeed be developing a fever and was anxious not to alarm his friend. Aragorn would want to help him, and there was nothing he could do until the storm was past and he could gather healing herbs. Faramir scrambled to his feet, his blanket draped around his shoulders, He began to pace the cave restlessly. Then he saw it, a large blue slit- eyed pupil gleaming in the near darkness.

"Argh!" he exclaimed. "Whatever is that? I told you there was something here." He turned to where Aragorn was waiting, only to catch his foot against what appeared to be a huge branch - save that it moved.  Faramir fell; landing sprawled in an undignified heap across the branch.

An irate deep voice demanded. "Can't you watch where you're going?" The branch moved from underneath him as the voice spoke.

Horrified, Aragorn, who could now see the gleaming eyes, drew Andúril and hastened towards his friend. He knew of only one creature with glowing eyes and the power of speech - a dragon!

Faramir felt something the width of a tree trunk encircle his body. He froze, hardly able to take in what was happening.

"Sheath your blade or he dies!" cried the beast. "Not that you could do me much damage with that pin of yours, but I dislike being tormented to humour the Children of Ilúvatar! I am hungry and in no mood to jest!"

"Firedrakes are Morgoth's creatures, sent to cause misery and ruin for Men and Elves alike!" Aragorn retorted. "Why should the Secondborn not defend themselves?" He spoke bravely, but his heart sank. The dragon was right; Andúril would scarcely pierce its hide. They were doomed to perish in this foul cave. To think that he should have survived so many perils in the past only to end up as dragon's dinner! Alas, he would never again see Arwen or his children, nor could he realise his dream of restoring Gondor to its former splendour. And Faramir, his best friend, dear to his heart as a son, the one man who would have tried to continue rebuilding Gondor in the manner he desired, was doomed to perish with him!

Chapter Two - Two sides to every question

Protagoras asserted that there were two sides to every question, exactly opposite to each other. - Diogenes Laërtius

Faramir started to cough again and this time was unable to stop. He coughed until his whole body shook beneath the dragon's paw. "You are not well?" the creature asked with surprising interest. "You are shivering!"

"I have a slight cold." Faramir could only hope that the dragon would believe that fever, rather than fear, was the cause of his malady.

"Come, rest here and you will be warm!" To Faramir's amazement, the beast carefully lifted him against its giant limb and folded its wings around him.

"Make not such sport of me!" Faramir protested as soon as his coughing fit had subsided. "I know you plan to devour me, you need not mock me first! " As he was speaking, he hoped desperately that Aragorn might be able to escape while the creature was preoccupied with him. Life had never been sweeter for the Steward. Gondor was at peace, ruled by a man he loved and admired. Faramir was wed to the fairest and best of all ladies. To leave her and their children would be a cruel blow indeed! Yet, if Aragorn could escape, Faramir would die content in the knowledge that the King was safe and Gondor would flourish.

The dragon laughed with a deep throaty roar that vibrated through its gigantic body. "Eat you? Whatever for? I much prefer cows. In any case, two such scrawny creatures as you and your companion would sate my appetite no more than a single slice of bread would satisfy you!"

Faramir received these tidings in shocked silence. The dragon had been observing them ever since they entered the cave? Could it be telling the truth?

"I am not scrawny!" Aragorn retorted. "I am a warrior, victorious in battle, and am nearly as tall as Elendil himself."

"Elendil was no doubt as scrawny as you then!" the dragon retorted.

"Why did you not introduce yourself before if you mean no ill?" asked Aragorn, anxious to change the subject.

The dragon laughed again. This time, the sound was devoid of mirth. "I may mean no harm, but the same could hardly be said of you!"

"It is my sworn duty to kill evil creatures that threaten my people," said Aragorn.

"How can you be so certain that I am evil?" demanded the dragon.

"All of Morgoth's creatures are foul by their very nature," Aragorn replied. "It
can not be otherwise."

"I am not a creature of that fiend!" the dragon protested indignantly, thrashing his tail. "Do you know nothing, O son of Ilúvatar? We abhor the name of Morgoth as much as you do. He was not our creator, but our conqueror! Wild and free we dwelled upon Arda for years beyond measure. Then the Dark Foe of all free folk enslaved many of my kindred and twisted them to his evil will, forcing them to produce vicious, blood-mad offspring that hated all the Children of Ilúvatar. Those of us that managed to escape hid in the mountains of the East. Some of my forefathers were eventually befriended by isolated Eastern tribes who never bowed the knee to Morgoth or his successor."

"Your kind are friendly with Men?" Aragorn sounded incredulous.

"Indeed we are. They rear sheep and cattle for us to eat, and in return we bear them upon our backs."

Aragorn was about to retort that only horses bore Men, then recalled that the Great Eagles would sometimes deign to carry passengers.

"We each choose a rider soon after we hatch," the dragon continued, his deep voice turning sad.

"Where is yours then?" Aragorn demanded.

"We became separated when we approached some men in friendship and they attacked us. I could not find my Rider again." A great tear rolled down the dragon's cheek.

Aragorn could not help but feel a sudden surge of compassion for the creature. His mind was in turmoil. Everything he had learned about dragons from Elves like Glorfindel who had seen the beasts attack Gondolin, or Bilbo Baggins, who had outsmarted Smaug himself, might be, if not false, incomplete? Yet, could even the Wise know everything? Maybe they did not? Suddenly Aragorn felt very tired. The cold and damp of the cave seemed to seep into his very bones. He struggled to conceal his bodily discomfort. "You threatened to kill my friend!" Aragorn protested, determined not to be beguiled while any shadow of a doubt remained in his mind.

"Only because you threatened to kill me," said the dragon reasonably. "I told my rider it was a waste of time to visit the lands of the West where we are hated and feared. He told me that things had changed, but it seems not. Now can we not at least abide here in peace until the storm has passed? Stop being so foolish and put that silly pin away!"

"Andúril was forged from the blade that cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand!" Aragorn said indignantly. "I will not sheath it, though, until you release my friend!"

"Why let him become chilled again?" enquired the dragon.

"I am comfortable enough here," Faramir said unexpectedly. "He is not hurting me. I can sense no evil in his heart, though I must admit I am unfamiliar with dragons."

Aragorn took a deep breath. He trusted Faramir's ability to read hearts. Admittedly it had only been put to test with Men before, but this dragon seemed possessed of a near human intelligence. As for beasts, Faramir could easily sense when horses or dogs were unsettled and calm a nervous cat. Aragorn could sense no ill will in the creature either. Slowly, he sheathed Andúril.

"Thank you," said the dragon. "Perhaps you are sensible after all! Now come under my wings and get warm. I do not want you to catch a cold too and keep me awake all night with your coughing!"

"You cannot catch a cold like that," Aragorn protested. "I am a healer and I know you can only catch a cold from another person who has it. I am most likely already infected."

"All the more reason that you should keep warm then," said the creature. He stretched out a vast wing and beckoned Aragorn with it. "Come!"

Trying not to show his apprehension, Aragorn walked beneath the creature's wing and found himself immediately encircled by it. The sensation was more pleasant than he had expected, akin to enclosure in a sturdy tent. He moved across to where Faramir was lying propped against the creature's foreleg, still wrapped in his blanket.

"Has he hurt you, Faramir?" Aragorn enquired anxiously.

"No, not all," said the Steward. "I must admit I feel much less chilled than in the cave. We might as well try to make ourselves comfortable. We will have to share the blanket." He started to cough again as he spoke.

The King frowned and felt Faramir's forehead, which was rather clammy to the touch. It seemed the Steward had a slight fever and needed to be kept as warm as possible. Unfortunately his best chance of staying warm seemed to rest with the dragon. Aragorn sat beside his friend and rather reluctantly leaned back against the beast, placing a tentative hand against its hide. To his surprise, the scales were soft and warm to the touch, rather than cold and slimy, as he had always believed.

He leaned back against the creature's body and at once could feel the steady vibrations of its vast heart beating. It was an oddly soothing sensation. He struggled to remain alert and awake. Faramir was already half drowsing, his breathing gradually becoming more even.

The great beast drew his wings closely around the King and his friend. Had Aragorn not known differently, he could have been snug inside a warm tent.

Faramir coughed again.

"Can you not be quiet?" the dragon asked irritably. "I wish to rest."

"He cannot help it," said Aragorn.

"If you cannot both be quiet, then tell me something of the lore of your people," demanded the dragon.

"You enjoy lore?" Aragorn was thankful that in the darkness the creature could not see him gape open-mouthed in complete shock.

"And why not?" retorted the dragon. "My kind considers a good education to be most important."

"I will tell you a tale of my kinsfolk of long ago," said Aragorn. He knew he must be tactful and avoid any tales of the great dragon slayers lest he offend the great beast. He started to sing softly of the meeting of Lúthien and Beren.

The dragon listened intently. "Hmm," he said, once the lay was concluded. "Quite agreeable, though I can write more pleasing rhymes myself."

"You write poetry?"

"You did not know that, son of Ilúvatar? How ignorant your kind are! I would recite you some of my own compositions, but I am weary, and your friend seems to be quiet at last."

Aragorn could hear Faramir's even, albeit slightly congested breathing at his side. He leaned back against dragon's gigantic foreleg and was swiftly lulled to sleep by the rhythmic beating of the creature's heart.

He slept soundly, aware of nothing save the sound of the rain falling outside in the few brief flashes of wakefulness that he experienced. When he was next fully aware, he was surprised that it was already morning and bright daylight was peering through a gap in the dragon's protecting wings.

Aragorn blinked and wondered if the previous events had been some fantastical dream. Maybe he had been wounded and taken poppy juice to relieve the pain? The syrup was well known to produce strange dreams. But the vast limb he was curled around was real and solid, as was the deep voice. "So you are awake at last!" the dragon scolded. "I thought you would sleep all the morning away!"

Next to the King, Faramir stirred. He coughed loudly and then looked around. Seeing the dragon, he started; then recalled the events of the previous night.

"It is rude to stare," commented the dragon.

"Your pardon," said Faramir politely.

"I have lingered here too long," said the creature. "I must be on my way."

"Where do you plan to go?" Aragorn enquired, trying to hide the anxiety in his voice at the thought of a dragon at large in his kingdom.

"I must find my rider," said the dragon.

"How exactly did you become separated?" asked the King.

"We heard tidings that a new king had been crowned in the West who sought peace," explained the dragon. "We flew for many months across deserts, high mountains and vast forests. We found a king called Bard, but he was most unpleasant and ordered his men to shoot arrows at me, while my rider was pelted with mud. We barely escaped with our lives. That was many days ago. We flew south and my rider went in search of food, but he never returned."

Aragorn wondered if the man had decided that being in the company of a dragon in a hostile land was less than desirable. Maybe the man had decided to abandon the creature and make good his escape? He cleared his throat and tried to think of something tactful to say.

"I know what you are thinking!" the dragon hissed angrily. "My rider would no more abandon me that you would abandon your own children! I fear some ill must have befallen him."

"Was Bard the King you were seeking?" asked Faramir, anxious to change the subject.

"No, the one who is supposed to be great has a name something like Lesser," replied the creature.

Aragorn hesitated. His heart was inclined to trust the dragon, but his head did
not. Years of learning that dragons were as evil-natured as Balrogs and giant spiders could not be undone overnight. It would be unwise to tell the creature their identities when they were completely at its mercy and knew so little of the lands from which it came.

"We need to be on our way," said Aragorn. "We will hinder you no longer. I suggest that once you find your rider that you return home with him. These parts are not safe for your kind" He stood up rather stiffly.

"You don't like dragons do you," the creature replied, moving his wing aside to release Aragorn. "How many have you encountered to form this opinion?"

"I know little of your kind," Aragorn replied, evading the question. "You have been most gracious and friendly towards us." He walked straight to the mouth of the cave and looked out. What he saw caused him to cry out in dismay.

It was fortunate indeed they had chosen to spend the night in a cave upon the hillside; for the river had burst its banks during the night. Water covered the land as far as the eye could see. A few deer were struggling in the flood, swimming as best they could. Of their horses, there was no sign.

Faramir joined him at the mouth of the cave. "Alas, we are stranded here!" he
cried.

"It seems like it!" Aragorn said grimly. "No doubt our horses are halfway home
by now!"

Chapter Three - So long, farewell

So long, farewell
Auf Wiedersehen, adieu - Hammerstein

Faramir joined the King at the mouth of the cave. "Our ladies will be most distressed when our horses return home without us,"said Faramir.

"I fear so!" Aragorn said grimly. "No doubt they are halfway home by now."

"Perhaps we could swim to safety?" Faramir suggested, emerging out on to the hillside, closely followed by the King.

"It would not be wise as we have no idea what lies beneath the surface," said Aragorn. "Then what about your cold? You might develop lung fever."

"We will just have to wait for the water to subside," Faramir said glumly. He coughed miserably.

"I can take you home once I have breakfasted."

Aragorn and Faramir tried hard not to stare as the dragon emerged into the daylight. He was huge, far larger than almost all living creatures they had ever beheld before, rivalling the Mumakim of Harad. His scaly hide was black and shiny as jet, apart from the brilliant blue markings on his wings, which he now spread wide.

Aragorn and Faramir gasped in awe as the dragon's vast fan like wings were unfurled. For all his bulk, he was a creature of considerable grace and beauty. Around his neck he wore a great golden collar adorned with rubies.

The dragon suddenly plunged into the water and grabbed one of the struggling deer, which it devoured in a few gulps. It then seized another, a buck with large antlers. The dragon clambered back on the hillock and spat out the antlers. Aragorn and Faramir could only watch with a mixture of horror and fascination.

"Quite tasty, though I prefer cows," said the dragon. He plunged his head in the water again as if to wash his face. "Now tell me where you want to go and I will take you there."

"Excuse us for a moment," said Aragorn .He took Faramir aside and spoke to the Steward in Quenya. "We cannot ride on the back of a savage beast. You saw what it did to those deer!"

"It does not appear to eat Men, though," Faramir said calmly.

"If we let it bear us, we would be completely at its mercy," said Aragorn. "What if it carried us off to its master as slaves?"

"Are we not already in its power?" reasoned Faramir. "I sense it means well and knows nothing of guile. I know, mellon nîn, that we have been taught to hate and fear dragons, but is it not possible that his story is true and they are not all creatures of darkness? I used to believe that no honourable men dwelt in Harad, but since the war, I have met many good people from that land. I consider Ambassador Talik and his lady to be good friends. I admit I fear to fly upon the dragon's back, but I fear worse being stranded here more without supplies and not knowing when we shall see our wives and children again!"

"You speak wisely as always, Faramir," said the King. "I have taken greater risks than this by far in my younger days. However, we could hardly permit a dragon to land in the Court of the Fountain! "

"We could find a deserted corner of the Pelennor," Faramir suggested. "We could easily walk home from there or borrow some horses."

"Have you made your minds up yet?" demanded the dragon.

"We would be happy to accept your gracious offer," said Faramir. "We hesitated as we have no experience of flying."

"I can catch you if you fall," said the dragon. "Come!"

Before Aragorn and Faramir could react, he had extended a gigantic five taloned claw and very gently lifted them both up onto his neck "Hold on tight to my collar!" he said, as he soared up into the air, leaving the King and Steward clinging on for dear life.

Despite having more reservations about their mode of transport than his Steward, Aragorn adapted more quickly to this new mode of transport, having been brought up to ride Elven fashion without saddle or bridle. As soon as he grew accustomed to his precarious perch, he found the experience exhilarating. Many times as a boy when he had heard the story of Elwing and Eärendil, he had wondered what it might be like to fly and wished that he could do so. Now that boyhood dream was coming true!

Faramir, for his part, soon found that he was enjoying this new adventure, though he had to cling tightly to Aragorn's waist, as well as to the dragon's neck He looked in wonder at the landscape spread out beneath them. They soon passed by the flooded area. Beneath them lay woods, rivers and fields, the villages dotted amongst them looked like children's toys. Fortunately, the villagers must have thought the dragon some kind of bird when he passed high above them, as no one paid them any attention.

All too soon for the travellers, the familiar countryside surrounding the White City came in sight. "Could you land us behind those trees?" Aragorn asked the dragon.

"You live in such a remote place?" the creature enquired.

"You would not be able to land near our homes," the King explained. "The streets are too narrow."

"Very well." The dragon gracefully descended in a field surrounded by trees and lifted Aragorn and Faramir down. "How foolishly you Men design your cities!"

"We did not expect any friendly dragons to visit us," said Faramir.

"Thank you," said Aragorn with genuine gratitude. "You have served us well and proved a friend in need."

"I hope that you will soon find your rider," said Faramir, reaching out to stroke the dragon's soft nose. To his surprise, the creature gently nuzzled him like an affectionate house cat.

Before he could say anything else, he heard shouting and angry voices approaching together with screams of fear.

"Go!" cried Aragorn. "You are not safe here!"

"Foolish men to act like fearful babes!" grumbled the dragon.

"May Elbereth guide your journey!" said Faramir, giving the dragon a final pat. He felt oddly saddened to be parting from their giant companion. "Fly away swiftly and safely!"

"Farewell sons of Ilúvatar!" cried the dragon. He flapped his wings and soared aloft. Within seconds, he was indistinguishable from a bird as he soared higher and higher.

Aragorn and Faramir slipped away with the well-practised stealth of former Rangers, so that when the frightened and angry farmers arrived, they found only an empty space.

"I wonder if we will ever see him again?" mused Faramir as they walked back towards the City. "I feel we could become friends if we had time to get to know one another. Alas, we do not even know our new friend's name."

"You would count a dragon as friend?" The King did not sound greatly surprised, though.

"This is a new age in which anything is possible," said the Steward. "Just think of all he could teach us about the distant realm in which he dwells!" He coughed loudly.

"As you say, anything is possible," Aragorn replied. "For now all that concerns me is a good meal, a hot bath and mixing some herbs for your cough! But I agree, the dragon was kind to strangers whom he had no reason to trust."

"Why not send forth letters to all the garrisons in Gondor, describing the dragon and forbidding anyone to shoot him down?" Faramir suggested. "You could also have the creature's rider searched for and brought to you, if he can be found."

"I shall consider your words, friend," said Aragorn. "On the other hand might it not cause mass panic if it became known a dragon was at large?"

"I should not like our new friend to meet with harm if we could prevent it," Faramir replied.

"It would be difficult to injure a creature of such a great size and he seems to be faring well enough on his own," said Aragorn. "At the moment, my main concern is what our ladies will make of our latest adventure."

Side by side, the two friends approached the City Gates, glad to be home again.

Chapter Four - I don’t believe a word of it

I don’t believe a word of it – Half a Sixpence

You and Faramir sheltered in a cave for overnight with a dragon?” Arwen asked for about the tenth time as she breakfasted with her husband. “Are you both out of your minds! Dragons devour Men. Why, Morgoth's dragons flew out of Angband and drove back the Valar themselves during the War of Wrath, until my grandfather came in Vingilot, with the great Eagles behind him, and slew Ancalagon the Black.  My father saw it all, and has told me many times of the death and terror unleashed by those monsters!"

It was a friendly dragon,” Aragorn replied patiently, cutting himself a slice of crusty bread. “We had no idea he was in the cave, or we would have avoided it.”

As if I were not worried enough when Roheryn and Zachus came home without you!” Arwen continued.

It all turned out for the best, though, since the dragon brought us home after our horses bolted and were stranded by the flood water,” Aragorn explained.

Either you have been drinking or you are delirious!” Arwen scolded. “Whoever heard of a friendly dragon? Remember what Smaug did to Laketown! They are evil, the servants of Sauron and his like! How can we sleep safe in our beds at night with such a creature at large? What about the children?”

Aragorn sighed. Since he and Faramir had returned the previous day, his usually calm and sweet natured wife had alternated between fury and a refusal to believe his story. He could understand her feelings about dragons. Before yesterday he had shared them. If he had not seen the friendly dragon with his own eyes, he would not have believed such a creature could exist. “This dragon only eats the meats that we do. The children are perfectly safe,” he assured her.

Before Arwen could answer, there was a knock on the door. “Come in!” called Aragorn, grateful for the interruption.

A flustered looking serving girl entered, whom Aragorn vaguely recognised as one of Éowyn’s maids. “Please, my lord,” she said, bobbing a curtsey, “Lady Éowyn is concerned about Lord Faramir’s health and requests that you attend him when it is convenient for your Lordship.”

Please tell the Lady Éowyn I will join her in a few minutes,” said Aragorn.

The girl curtsied again and scurried from the room.

I must fetch my healing supplies at once,” said Aragorn, pushing his half eaten breakfast aside and getting to his feet.

Poor Faramir! Whatever can ail him?” Arwen’s earlier bad mood was forgotten in her concern for their friend.

He was suffering from a bad cold yesterday,” said Aragorn, who was already half way through the door. “I fear he may have developed lung fever.”

Aragorn paused only to snatch up his satchel of herbs. He almost ran to Faramir’s apartments.

The moment a servant opened the door. Éowyn appeared on the threshold, her small son, Elboron, holding her hand, while her young daughter, Elestelle, and her fourteen-year-old niece Elbeth, now grown almost as tall as her aunt, hovered beside her.

Ada has gone mad!” Elestelle proclaimed after Aragorn had greeted them.

Elestelle!” her mother chided.

Well, he says he was talking to a friendly dragon and everyone knows that no such thing exists,” added Elbeth.

I’d like to see a dragon. Eldarion won’t let me play with his,” said Elboron.

I fear Faramir must have a fever,” said Éowyn anxiously. “And he has been coughing all night, so we have had no sleep at all.”

Aragorn noticed that she looked tired and wan and was wearing a robe over her nightdress rather than her usual gown. It could not have helped that she was five months gone with child. “I will see how I might aid him,” the King said. “I can reassure you, though, that he did indeed meet a friendly dragon and has not lost his wits.”

Can I meet it then?” asked Elboron

It would eat you!” said his sister.

I expect the dragon has gone home now,” said Aragorn. “He would not have hurt you, Elestelle.”

Come girls, it is time for your lessons,” said their nanny emerging from another room. “Elboron, you can play with your toys in the nursery.”

Faramir is still in bed at my insistence,” said Éowyn. “He wanted to get up, but I would not permit it, though he insisted that some work be sent to him. I hope as you are his healer he will listen to you and agree to rest.”

Aragorn found his friend and Steward sitting up in bed and trying to stifle a cough while studying a sheaf of papers. “It is always good to see you, mellon nîn,” he smiled. “Éowyn should not have troubled you though. I only have a cough.”

You are ill and should not be working!” Éowyn chided.

There is an important council meeting to discuss the annual revenues for the South-kingdom next week,” said Faramir. “I must have all the accounts ready.” He started to cough again.

You need to concentrate on getting well first,” said Aragorn. He approached the bedside and laid a hand on Faramir’s brow. “You look rather flushed, but I can detect no fever.”

I am not ill,” Faramir said as forcefully as he could between coughs.

Maybe not,” Aragorn conceded. “If you will permit me to examine you, we can decide whether you or your lady are is correct concerning your state of health.”

Very well,” Faramir said wearily. He placed the papers on the bedside table, unlaced his nightshirt and slid it from his shoulders. He then lay back against the pillows as Aragorn laid an ear against his chest.

Your lungs are slightly congested, but you do not appear to be suffering from anything more serious than a bad cough,” Aragorn pronounced after a little while. “Honey and lemon should ease you and I will mix you some dandelion tea. The tea combined with an Elven treatment, should drain away the excess fluids congesting your lungs. You should be recovered in time for the meeting.”

I will send for some honey and lemon from the kitchens,” said Éowyn. “You are certain it is nothing worse? I have had a cold too, but I did not cough like this!”

I assume you were not out in the cold and wet like Faramir was. He does not have lung fever, though.” Aragorn assured her in a tone, which echoed his own relief. Lung fever was often fatal despite the best endeavours of the most skilled of healers.

I am sure the dragon is to thank for that,” said Faramir, turning to lie on his side. “He kept me warm and dry.”

Éowyn snorted. “Obviously you met the creature when it was sleeping or distracted, or maybe Aragorn used his Elven arts upon it?” As she spoke, she watched her husband relax visibly under the gentle pressure of Aragorn’s fingertips across his chest and back. “A pity you did not despatch the Fell Beast while you had a chance!”

Éowyn! He was no Fell Beast!” Faramir protested sitting bolt upright and starting to cough again. “He was friendly and aided us willingly.”

It would not have fooled me so easily!” she replied.

This treatment will only work if Faramir relaxes,” Aragorn warned.

I will see if the lemon juice and honey are ready,” said Éowyn and swept from the room.

Do not agitate yourself, mellon nîn,” said Aragorn. “Now lie down again and let me continue your treatment.”

Have you sent out those letters to the garrisons?” Faramir enquired after a few moments. “I would not have our dragon come to harm.”

Aragorn paused in his ministrations and looked slightly uncomfortable. “I did intend to last night, but Arwen’s reactions made me reconsider. My wife is wise and good hearted; yet she cannot see the dragon as anything but a dreaded adversary. I fear should others know that a dragon was at large in Gondor it would cause widespread panic and put him and his rider in even worse danger. If Arwen’s reaction were like that of others it would take more than a letter from me to convince people the dragon is friendly. Most likely he is already far away. The fewer people that know about him the better. Do you not think so?”

Maybe,” said Faramir. “I do not know. I would much prefer that he could come here openly as a friend.”

Perhaps that will be possible in the lifetime of our great grandchildren,” said Aragorn. “Memories here of the Fell Beasts are still too fresh.”

Just then Éowyn returned with the lemon juice and honey to which Aragorn added one drop of poppy juice. He left the mixture to settle while he prepared the herbal tea of dandelion leaves. Faramir drank the brew grimacing. There was no further talk of dragons. 

If the weather remains pleasant, you can walk in the gardens later, but do not trouble yourself over paperwork today. “Rest, now, ion nîn” “ Aragorn advised when he had done all he could for Faramir. You too should rest, Éowyn.”

I will, once Faramir is sleeping,” she replied.

Faramir was already half asleep and had ceased coughing. Aragorn propped pillows under his head to help him breath and pulled the covers around him before bestowing a paternal kiss of farewell on his forehead.

After again reassuring Éowyn that Faramir was not seriously ill, Aragorn took his leave. Hopefully Arwen’s mood would have improved during his absence. He would have to work on preparations for the Council meeting, then maybe he could spend some time with Eldarion. Perhaps he would tell his son about the friendly dragon while the encounter was still fresh in his memory. With his love of dragons stemming from his favourite toy, Smaug, Eldarion would surely enjoy the tale.

000

When Aragorn saw Arwen again at the midday meal, he found his wife more concerned about their friend’s health than about their encounter with the dragon. Not wishing to further arouse her wrath, Aragorn did not mention the matter again.

Faramir quickly recovered from his cough and a week later returned to Ithilien, with the children and Éowyn. His wife decided to remain in Emyn Arnen to await the birth of her child.

Faramir came to Minas Tirith once or twice a week on official business and would dine with the King and Queen before returning to his wife and children. Having been told by Aragorn that Arwen’s reaction to the dragon was much like the Éowyn’s, the two men did not speak further of the subject in front of the Queen.

Aragorn, though, still thought of the creature. He sincerely hoped the dragon had found his rider and returned safely from whence he came. He shared these thoughts with Faramir on one of the few occasions they were alone together out of the earshot of courtiers or guards. Gondor was just not yet ready for friendly dragons. Maybe when their children were grandparents, it would be possible for the creatures to visit, but that would be in the distant future.

Chapter Five – Like an Unwelcome Guest

The Past is like a funeral gone by,
The Future comes like an unwelcome guest.- Sir Edmund William Gosse

A few weeks later

"The wheat harvest was substantial last year and we were able to fill twenty barns with the surplus. However, the barley harvest produced poor yields and as result the price almost doubled. I would recommend that the tariffs be reduced if the next harvest does not improve, providing that the increase in wheat does not offset the losses," the speaker droned on. "I have the exact figures here for the profits and losses."

Aragorn struggled to suppress a yawn and concentrate on what the man was saying. He stole a glance across at Faramir who appeared to be listening intently. He admired the Steward's patience for the tedium of occasions like this. Aragorn had never enjoyed numbers and calculations when in the schoolroom and age had not increased his liking for them. His mind wandered as the seemingly endless lists of accounts were read out. There was more than an hour before it was time for the midday meal. Aragorn only hoped he could stay awake until then.

"My lord King!" A young guard ran panting into the council chamber without bothering to knock.

"What is the reason for this interruption?" Aragorn could not quite hide the relief he felt at the disturbance.

"There is a dragon outside the city gates, sire!" the young soldier exclaimed, panic obvious in his voice. "We are fighting it as best we may, sire, but our weapons seem useless against it. It demands to see you, my lord, so most surely it seeks to devour us all!"

Aragorn leapt to his feet, as did his Steward. "I will come at once," he said. "The dragon must not be harmed. Lord Imrahil, the Council is yours." He had already reached the door when he spoke the last command. Grim faced and heedless of the long ceremonial robes he wore, he raced down towards the stables closely followed by Faramir.

Pushing past the startled head groom, Aragorn headed for Roheryn's stall and led out the great stallion.

"Shall I saddle him up for you, my lord?" the groom enquired.

"There is no time," Aragorn said, leaping astride the horse's back, thankful not for the first time that he had learned to ride Elven fashion.

As he galloped through the streets Aragorn noticed that people were milling hither and thither in a state of near panic. It seemed that news of the dragon's arrival had spread quickly. Twice he had to swerve to prevent Roheryn's hooves from striking scurrying citizens. His mind was in turmoil. Had a catastrophe befallen his kingdom that he could have prevented?

When he reached the gates, several terrified looking guards tried to stop him leaving the city. "You must not go out there, Lord King!" they cried. "The dragon might devour you!"

"Am I not your King?" Aragorn said sternly. "I take orders from no man! Now let me pass!"

"But, sire…" one protested, trying to grab hold of Aragorn's stallion's mane.

The King urged the warhorse forward, so that the guards in his path were forced to move aside. Once outside the city gates, a dreadful sight met his eyes.

The dragon, so friendly but a few weeks previously, was now reared on its hind legs and snarling, its ruff stiff and erect while its terrible teeth were bared for all to see. Many arrows were protruding from his hide, though he seemed to have taken no great hurt. At his feet lay a crumpled figure, which had also been shot with arrows.

From what they obviously judged to be a safe distance, the soldiers were drawing their bows and shooting more arrows towards the dragon, who twisted furiously to dodge them. Fortunately their fear of the creature seemed to have affected their aim adversely.

"Halt!" cried Aragorn. "Hold your fire!"

"We'll have the beast down soon, my lord," cried the Captain. "I've told my men to aim for its eyes."

"I told you to hold your fire," said Aragorn in a tone like ice. He leapt from Roheryn's back and calmly walked in front of the furious dragon.

The soldiers let out a collective gasp of dismay but held their fire.

"They are trying to kill me and my rider!" the dragon hissed angrily. "I asked to see the King of this place, but he has not been summoned. Can you find him for me, O son of Ilúvatar?"

"I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, the Elessar, the King whom you seek," Aragorn said quietly.

"You!" The Dragon's eyes blazed angrily. "Why did you not say so when we met before. My rider is dying, shot by your men, and it is all your fault, you lying spawn of Morgoth!

The soldiers gasped at such an insult to their King. Aragorn bristled but forced himself to remain calm. "I am sorry," he said. "I swear I never meant for any harm to come to you or to your rider. I should have done more to protect you, but I did not. I shall try my utmost to make amends. First, let me care for your rider."

"No!" snarled the dragon. "You lied before! How do I know you will not lie again? You will take him from me to kill him!"

Aragorn heard another commotion in the background but did not look around. Suddenly Faramir appeared at his side on foot. "Please listen to the King," he begged. "Minas Tirith has many fine healers, the greatest of whom is the King himself."

"And you might you really be?" enquired the creature. "The son of that spawn of Morgoth?"

"The King is as a father to me," said Faramir. "But I am not of his blood. I am Faramir, son of Denethor and Steward of Gondor."

"Why did you not tell me that when we last met?" enquired the dragon, dropping down so that all four legs were on the ground.

"You never asked us for our names, neither did we enquire what you might be called," Faramir replied.

"I am called T'ien Li," said the creature.

"That is a very fine name," said Faramir. He decided not to further enrage the angry dragon by risking mispronouncing a name so strange to his ears. He had always picked up foreign tongues easily, but this sounded quite unlike anything he had ever heard before. "Now we have been properly introduced, please will you let your rider be cared for?"

"You will not hurt him, nor imprison him in your dungeons?" There was fear in T'ien Li's voice.

"You have my word that he will be treated as the honoured guest that he is," said Aragorn.

"If you shoot arrows into your guests I dread to think what you do to your enemies!" retorted the dragon.

"That should never have happened," said the King. "We will take your Rider to our Houses of Healing where will do everything we can to make him comfortable and heal his wounds. He cannot stay out here or he will most surely die!"

"He speaks the truth," said Faramir. "I stake my life upon his honour."

"Fetch a litter!" Aragorn ordered the soldiers and lay down your arms." He knelt beside the fallen Rider and was relieved when the outlander showed some sign of life by opening his eyes and groaning. The unfortunate man had an arrow embedded in his shoulder and another in his leg. His face was covered with grime and blood and he was a sorry sight indeed to behold. Aragorn felt his brow, which was already burning with fever. His pulse was weak and rapid, but at least Aragorn could detect no head or neck injuries during his cursory examination. Aragorn rose to his feet and pulled off the fur-trimmed robes that he had worn in the Council chamber, so that he was left simply clad in a shirt and breeches. He wrapped the discarded garments around the stricken man. "What is his name?" he enquired of the dragon.

"Fu Nung," the creature answered.

Two soldiers approached carrying a litter sparing Aragorn from trying to pronounce the name. "Bring it here," Aragorn ordered.

The two men crept forward with expressions on their faces, which suggested they expected to be devoured at any moment.

"And summon the horse healers to come and tend to the dragon here!" Aragorn commanded two of the most terrified looking guards, who immediately left to do his bidding, relief written large on their faces. With Faramir's assistance he lifted the injured man on to the litter and tucked the robes around him. "I wish to tend his wounds myself," he told Faramir and the dragon.

"I shall stay here and keep the dragon company," said Faramir, feeling it was the only way he could guarantee the creature's safety.

"Bear this man to the honoured guest's room in the Houses of Healing," Aragorn ordered. "I will follow you there shortly."

"Wait!" interrupted the dragon.

The soldiers hesitated, unsure whom to obey and decided on the dragon. Their lord may well be angry, but he would hardly eat them as the great beast might!

The dragon lowered his head to where his rider lay and said a few words in an unknown language. The rider mumbled something and his uninjured arm feebly caressed the dragon's nose, before falling back limply against his side.

"You may take him now," said T'ien Li. "Be sure you treat him kindly or you will face my wrath!"

The litter bearers scuttled away.

"Be careful not to jolt him!" Aragorn cried after them. He turned to Faramir "Are you certain you wish to remain here, ion nîn? The mood might well turn ugly! And where is Iavas?"

"They will listen to their Steward," Faramir said calmly. "As for Iavas, she refused to come near our friend here. Tin Li, though, will be the best bodyguard a man could hope for too. Put your heart at ease!"

"I will return as soon as I can." Aragorn squeezed Faramir's shoulder briefly then leapt upon Roheryn's back and made his way to the sixth circle. Once he glanced back and saw Faramir, a tiny speck in his black and white council robes against the dragon's vast bulk.

Chapter Six - Steeped to the lips in misery

O suffering, sad humanity!
O ye afflicted ones, who lie
Steeped to the lips in misery,
Longing, yet afraid to die,
Patient, though sorely tried! – Longfellow.

Aragorn reached the houses of Healing before the stretcher-bearers and was met by the very agitated Chief Warden, Tarostar.

"Praise the Valar you are alive, sire!" he exclaimed. "Are there many more casualties from that foul creature rampaging around?"

"I was not aware we had any," said Aragorn.

"I have so far bound up ten sprained ankles, three sets of cracked ribs and a broken arm," Tarostar said grimly.

"Surely those hurts were sustained by people fleeing from the dragon in panic rather than him harming anyone?" said Aragorn.

"Better a sprained ankle than to be eaten alive!" Tarostar said grimly.

"And how did your patients come to have cracked ribs or a broken arm?" asked Aragorn.

"They were trampled fleeing the monster," said Tarostar.

"And their hurts could have been avoided if they had but perceived that the dragon was not harming any of them," said Aragorn.

"That might be, my lord," said Tarostar. "A wise man would flee the dragon first and ask questions once he had reached safety."

"A seriously injured man is being brought here; the dragon's rider," said Aragorn, determined to end this fruitless debate. "I wish the honoured guest's chamber to be prepared for him and swiftly!"

"Would not a prisoner's room be more appropriate?" Tarostar suggested. "The man was riding a dragon!"

Aragorn finally lost his temper. "If I say he is to be treated as an honoured guest, I expect to be obeyed!" he snapped. "What harm has the man or his dragon done to you? They came here in friendship and now the Rider lies close to death for approaching us!"

"Very well, sire." Tarostar sounded far from convinced.

"And if Aedred can be spared, I should welcome his assistance," Aragorn added.

"Have you any idea what the man's injuries are?" Tarostar enquired.

"He has been shot and two arrows require extraction, and is suffering from shock, fever, and most likely other injuries I have yet to uncover," Aragorn said grimly. "It will take three of us at least to tend him properly."

Tarostar issued a few curt orders and immediately servants hurried towards the chamber kept for honoured guests. They carried bandages, towels, herbal potions, salves and bowls of steaming water. A moment later, Aedred appeared, a stocky man of middle years with the fair colouring of his native Rohan. He was Aragorn's personal healer when the King had need of one, not the most enviable task, but the two men enjoyed an easy rapport when they worked together and respected each other's skills. Aragorn found him easier to work with than the Chief Warden. Tarostar was an excellent healer, but somewhat set in his ways.

Aedred brought a tray of surgical instruments including various knives and a special instrument used to extract arrows without causing additional injuries to the patient.

They entered a fair sized chamber furnished with a bed, a table and two chairs. A fire burned brightly in the grate, while a servant was preparing a small brazier. This room was always kept ready, lest any person of high rank be taken ill. It had been used less often of late as Aragorn usually cared for his family and close friends in his own chambers.

Aragorn rolled up his sleeves and started to lave his hands in one of the bowls of hot water. "Prepare a draught of poppy juice," he instructed. "The patient was conscious and will need pain relief. I do not believe he understands any tongue we can speak so that will make matters more complicated."

"I speak a few words of the language of Harad," said Tarostar. He poured some poppy syrup into a cup.

"Our patient is not from Harad, but from a distant realm in the Far East," said Aragorn. "It seems there are lands of which we know far too little."

"And I would have been happy to have remained in ignorance, if such lands are the dwelling places of foul beasts like dragons!" Tarostar said acidly, stirring the contents of the cup.

Just then the stretcher-bearers arrived. Aragorn and Aedred together lifted the wounded man onto the bed and dismissed the soldiers.

"Do you know our patient's name?" enquired Aedred.

"The dragon told me it was something that sounded like Few Nun," said Aragorn. "The name was hard for my tongue to pronounce."

Fu Nung groaned as Aedred slipped a pillow under his head. He stared at the occupants of the room and then caught sight of the surgical instruments and his eyes widened in terror.

"Drink this to help ease your pain!" Tarostar commanded, lifting the cup of poppy juice to his lips. Fu Nung shook his head. When the healer tried to begin undressing him, he struggled like a trapped animal. "Be still, man, we seek only to help you!" he cried.

Aragorn moved forward and took the man's pulse, which was even more rapid than before. "He understands nothing we are saying. We need to try to calm him first."

"He has two arrows sticking in him," Tarostar protested. "We cannot delay. Many wounded are afraid when we tend them, but it must be done unless they prefer to succumb to their hurts!"

"He has a better chance of living if we settle him," said Aragorn. "Master Elrond taught me thus." He began to softly sing an ancient Elven healing chant, while gently massaging the back of the injured man's neck. Much to Aragorn's relief, his patient quickly quietened, leaving Aragorn to surmise that maybe the healing arts of his own land contained something not unlike. The King held the draught of poppy to his own lips and took a sip, gesturing that Fu Nung did likewise. This time he understood and took the pain killing draught.

Now the Rider was calmer they were able to remove his torn and stained garments. They were simple garments designed for travelling, but seemed to be of a fine cloth and cut. Beneath his tunic, the man wore a padded jacket of a kind Aragorn and the healers had not seen before. Unfortunately, it seemed to have offered the poor fellow little protection: when the clothing was finally removed, many bruises were revealed. The bruises were recent. Had the man been beaten within the bounds of Gondor?

Aragorn's dismay deepened at the cruel reception this visitor to his realm had received. Aragorn surmised the man probably had lived a life of ease, as he was somewhat plump and his nails longer than those of a warrior. He covered his patient with a blanket, and then dipping a cloth in warm water, washed the wounded man's face while he waited for the poppy juice to dull his senses. Aragorn studied the stranger's face as he worked. He saw a young man with pleasant features and slant eyes, which reminded him of the dragon's, though they were brown rather than brilliant blue. His long jet-black hair was tied in a pigtail of a sort usually only seen on small girls.

Replacing the cloth in the bowl, Aragorn felt his patient's forehead. The fever was rising. "We must remove the arrows now," he said. "He is growing worse." He began to clean the skin surrounding the arrows preparatory to removing them. "Tarostar, could you cleanse the instruments, please?"

The Chief Warden did as he was bidden, plunging the knives and other implements into the brazier until they glowed red-hot.

To Aragorn's dismay Fu Nung was still conscious. Of all the tasks he had to perform as a healer, removing arrows was one of his least favourite. All too often the pain the procedure caused was in vain as the patient still died. To do nothing, though, meant certain death from infection. He was determined to do all he could to right the wrong he had inadvertently done to both the dragon and his rider. He patted Fu Nung's hand, trying to reassure him. The man bore no scars of earlier battles. Even battle scarred veterans paled at the thought of having an arrow removed and this young man did not even appear to be a warrior!

"Hold him steady."

At Aragorn's signal, Aedred came forward and held Fu Nung firmly down on the bed. Tarostar handed him the now cooled instrument he required, and Aragorn began.

Fu Nung was hardier than Aragorn had expected, as he did not cry out until he made a second incision. The arrow was embedded deeply and had broken the man's collarbone. The flesh was showing signs of infection, suggesting the arrow had been in him for many hours. Soon the patient's screams were hideous to the ear. Aragorn tried to use his healing powers to ease the man's agony, but they seemed to have little or no effect on the Easterling. As Aragorn found the arrow's tip, Fung Nu gave an especially loud cry and then fell into a merciful oblivion.

"One of you begin tending to his leg while he is unconscious," Aragorn ordered. When he had finally freed the arrow from his patient's flesh, he cast it into a dish on the side table with a grimace. That it was an arrow decorated with Gondorian fletching made matters all the worse.

Tarostar began to extract the second arrow, while Aedred took over the supervision of the instruments. Aragorn concentrated on thoroughly cleansing the shoulder wound. Fortunately the bone was not badly splintered. He has just begun to stitch the wound closed when Tarostar extracted the second arrow.

"It was not in as deeply as we feared," said the Gondorian healer. "The bone was chipped, but the major blood vessels are untouched. He could still lose his leg, though, if the nerve damage is too severe."

"May Estë grant him healing!" Aragorn said fervently as he finished stitching. He very much doubted that a one legged man could ride a dragon. He washed his bloodied hands and picked up the jar of honey that was used to prevent infection. Fung Nu stirred and moaned softly.

"Easy now, easy, the worst is over," Aragorn soothed, hoping that though the man may not understand his words, he might sense their meaning. Fung Nu opened his eyes for a moment, and then closed them again.

The healers worked swiftly and skilfully and soon the Rider's wounds were salved and bandaged and his bruises anointed with comfrey balm. They were just about to clothe him in a nightshirt when a knock sounded at the door. Aedred went to see who was there.

"What is it?" asked Aragorn without looking away from his patient.

"It was one of the assistant healers," said Aedred. "Lord Faramir has sent a message to tell you that the horse healers refuse to tend the dragon. He asks assistance from the Houses, but no one has volunteered."

"I had better tend the dragon myself," said Aragorn. "I will return here later. This man must have the very best of care and someone to be with him at all times. I will have a guard put on the door in case any object to his presence here with more than words."

"But, sire, you cannot treat a dragon!" Tarostar protested.

"I have removed arrows from horses in my time," Aragorn said dryly. "Will one of you come and assist me?"

"I need to stay with my patient," Tarostar said swiftly, starting to change the bloodied linens on the bed. "You, my lord, had better borrow a healer's robe if you do not wish to further alarm the populace."

Aragorn glanced down at his bloodied shirt and breeches and conceded to the loan of a suitable garment. "I must go and seek an assistant to tend the dragon."

Aedred hesitated for a long moment before saying. "I will come."

"Thank you, friend." Aragorn smiled at Aedred gratefully.

What supplies do we need, my lord?"

"Our needles will be too fine," Aragorn mused. "Maybe we could find something suitable at the tentmaker's? We have to pass his dwelling on the way. We need salves, honey and thread. Our bandages would be useless for a creature of that size, but we could maybe tear up a sheet or two."

"What about poppy juice?" enquired Aedred.

"If we used the Houses' entire supply, I doubt it would have much effect," Aragorn said grimly. "We will just have to hope that he is a hardy creature."

"I will put this away then." Aedred picked up the bottle of poppy syrup from the table and took a surreptitious sip.

Aragorn pretended not to notice that the man needed to steel his nerves. The two set off together. The King told the Rohirric healer of his earlier encounter with the dragon in an attempt to reassure him as they walked. They went first to the tentmaker's and found the shop deserted. The door was open, though, so Aragorn helped himself to several needles, leaving a few coins in payment.

The usually bustling market place was empty of customers and no children played in the streets. Grim faced folk carrying bundles scurried towards the City gates. "Where are you going?" Aragorn enquired of a young woman who clasped a baby in one arm and held a little girl's hand with the other.

"As far away as possible before that foul beast devours my babes!" said the woman.

"He will not hurt you or your children," Aragorn told her. "He only likes to eat cows and deer."

"And how should you know?" she retorted, obviously not recognising the King. Before he could further attempt to detain her, she was gone, dragging the protesting little girl down the street. Aragorn knew he must do something to calm his people's fears, but had no idea what might help.

Aragorn found the dragon sprawled on the grass by the side of the city surrounded by a ring of guards. Aragorn bade one of them kindle a fire. Faramir stood at the creature's head, speaking to it softly. The great beast looked thoroughly dejected. "How is Fu Nung?" he demanded.

"We are doing everything we can, "Aragorn replied. "His wounds have been tended and he is resting now."

"Is he going to die?" The dragon's bleak tone tore at Aragorn's heart.

"I hope not. No effort will be spared to heal him," said the King.

"If he dies…" The dragon's voice now rumbled with anger.

Aragorn felt a surge of fear. The beast was essentially good natured he believed, but what if it tried to lay waste his kingdom to avenge his rider?

Chapter Seven - The righteous are bold as a lion.

The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous are bold as a lion. _ Proverbs 28.1 – The Bible.



"If he dies," the dragon continued. "I demand the lives of those who killed him."

"Under the laws of our land, their lives are forfeit," said Aragorn, vastly relieved the creature appeared to be reasonable. "Let us hope, though, that he recovers. Now, will you permit us to tend your hurts, Tin Lee?"

"They are not paining me," said the dragon dismissively.

"They could become infected, Ten Lie," Faramir explained, gently stroking the creature's nose.

"My name is T'ien Li," the dragon retorted huffily. "How many times do I have to tell you how to pronounce it?"

"We mean no insult, but your language is strange to our tongues, and might take us some time to master," Aragorn said apologetically. "What if I were to give you a name in our speech in the meantime?"

"I already have a name," sniffed the dragon. "It has served me well through three generations of Men."

"The King has many names," said Faramir. "It seems unfair that such a noble being as you should have but one!"

"Maybe a new name would be acceptable if it were agreeable to my ears," said the dragon.

"I will call you Súlion, son of the wind." Aragorn pronounced.

"Hmm," said the dragon thoughtfully. "Yes, that is a fine name. It is acceptable."

Aragorn laid out the healing supplies on a sheet upon the ground, took up a knife and cleansed it in the flames the soldiers had kindled, then allowed it to cool. He walked along the length of the dragon, inspecting the arrows. Smaug had been felled by an arrow, so Bilbo had told him, but this dragon seemed to have taken little harm, being protected by a naturally thick hide. Assuming that a dragon's organs lay in close to the same places, as did the organs of men and horses, then it could be surmised that the arrows had missed Súlion's vital organs. Aragorn tried to remember the little that Elrond had told him of the anatomical studies of fallen dragons during the War of Wrath.

"You must keep very still," said Aragorn, approaching the dragon, knife in hand.

"Who is the other one carrying nasty pins?" the dragon asked.

"He is Master Aedred, a highly skilled healer," said Aragorn.

"He is not skilled in good manners," said the dragon. "Where I come from it is considered very rude not to introduce yourself."

Aragorn beckoned to Aedred to come forward. Looking terrified, the healer inclined his head slightly and said. "Greetings, Lord Dragon. I am the chief assistant to the Warden of the Houses of Healing."

"Hmmn, I am as pleased to meet you as you are to meet me," said Súlion.

"Master Aedred is here to help me remove the arrows," said Aragorn.

Súlion eyed the knives doubtfully. "That looks very sharp," he remarked. "

"It is, and a sharp knife causes less pain than a blunt one," said Aragorn. "I promise I will work swiftly to extract the arrows."

Faramir gently stroked the creature's nose and murmured comforting words as the King prepared to wield the blade. Aedred hung back, wishing to observe Aragorn remove the first of the barbs.

"Ow, ouch!" exclaimed the dragon indignantly.

"That is the first one out," said Aragorn. "It is not a deep wound. I think we will remove them all first, then stitch the wounds closed."

"I do not like this at all," the dragon protested, showing his teeth. "It hurts less to leave them there."

"If the barbs poisoned you, who would care for your rider?" asked Faramir. "How would he return home without you to bear him thither?"

Súlion paused for a long moment then said, "I suppose you should continue," in a small voice.

"You deal with the ones in his rump," Aragorn directed Aedred, thinking the healer would be more comfortable away from the creature's fangs.

"Ow, ouch, oh!" the dragon cried loudly as each further arrow was extracted.

"Your rider was much braver than you," said Aragorn sternly as Súlion roared almost in his ear. "Your wounds are but slight flesh wounds."

"Ouch!" cried Sulion as Aedred removed another arrow from his rump.

Some of the soldiers, who by now had overcome their fear, started to titter. Aragorn glared at them. "Maybe you will not laugh so loudly if I ever have to remove an arrow from one of you?" he enquired coldly.

The men fell silent. Aragorn removed the final arrow and threw it on the ground with a furious gesture. Súlion's glossy scales were torn and blood spattered and although none of the wounds were life threatening, they must be causing the poor dragon considerable pain. Since it had been men of Gondor who had shot the dragon out of fear, the responsibility for the dragon's wounds lay on the King's shoulders. Aragorn did not sigh; not wanting to alarm his patient; but his heart was heavy. Maybe if he had but sent messages, the creature and his rider would have passed through his borders unharmed.

He threaded a needle and began to stitch Súlion's wounds as gently as he could, though the hide was difficult to penetrate. Apart from the occasional whimper, the dragon now bore his ministrations patiently.

Aragorn became increasingly aware of a steady stream of people scurrying through the city gates. He paused in his task and went across to speak to them He approached a family with a young girl on the cusp of womanhood, two small boys and a baby girl and said, "There is no need for you to leave. The dragon is tame. See, the Steward is even stroking the creature's nose!"

"It might be safe for warriors," said the man doubtfully.

"We are not risking the children, though," said his wife, pulling along her eldest son who looked more interested in the dragon than scared by it.

"I've heard they like eating young maidens best," said the man in a confidential tone, glancing anxiously at his offspring.

"This dragon only likes cows," Aragorn said firmly. "The King and the Steward assure you that it is quite safe to remain in Minas Tirith."

"It is all right for them," said the woman, obviously not recognising him in the healer's plain garb. "Their children will be locked away safe somewhere well out of the monster's reach. I would wager that the King would not let his son within a mile of this fiend!"

"If people have any sense, they'll all get out of here, before the monster devours all our little ones!" said the man interrupting. "Come, wife, we must not idle and chatter here!"

"The King bids you stay here!" said Aragorn.

"Does he?" snorted the man. "He would have to lock us in the city prison before we would stay near that thing! Don't I know you from somewhere?" He peered curiously at Aragorn for a moment.

"The King's a good man, he would not imprison us," said the woman. "He has children of his own." With that the family hurried away.

Aragorn hastened back to Súlion just as Aedred was securing the last few stitches in his hide. He quickly told Faramir of his conversation with the family.

"Maybe I should try speaking to them?" Faramir suggested. "They would recognise me in my robes of office. I could order them to stay and you could issue an official decree."

"We cannot confine everyone to their homes indefinitely," said Aragorn. "Issuing edicts would only increase my people's fears."

"Why do they think I want to eat their children?" Súlion asked indignantly. "They are all bone and not at all tasty!"

"They have heard stories of dragons that eat people," Aragorn replied. "Such as Smaug the great firedrake. Have your kind never eaten manflesh, when very hungry, perhaps? "

"Of course not! We are far too civilised," the dragon retorted. "The common firedrakes from my homeland will sometimes eat human flesh in times of famine, but only those who have starved or fallen in battle. They tell me that humans do not taste nearly as nice as cows or deer, or even sheep!"

"I think I have an idea," said Aragorn suddenly. "Could you say a little longer with Súlion, please, mellon nîn? And, Aedred, could you wipe the blood off him, please?"

"Master Tarostar expects me back at the Houses soon," Aedred began, but then subsided realising that the Warden's authority was as nothing compared to the King's.

"You will be perfectly safe," Aragorn reassured him. "I would not leave you here otherwise."

He strode off at great speed towards where Roheryn had been left at a far enough distance from the dragon as not to agitate the horse. The stallion was the bravest of his kind, but Aragorn was loth to make him spend any length of time in the proximity of so feared a creature. Roheryn was quietly grazing, whereas, Iavas was pawing the ground. Aragorn decided it would be kinder to take the mare instead. She needed no urging to gallop swiftly to the Citadel. As soon as he reached the stables, Aragorn handed her to a groom and ordered her to be cared for and his second best horse, Hasufel, saddled. The groom gaped at his bedraggled appearance open mouthed and Aragorn wondered if were it not for the horse if anyone would recognise him here either!

He now put to use all the skills he had honed as a Ranger as he stealthily entered his apartments. Just as he had hoped, Arwen was in the nursery with Farawyn while Eldarion was in his schoolroom with his tutor.

Aragorn went to his chamber and scribbled a brief note to Arwen. Swiftly, he doffed the borrowed robe and his bloodied shirt. He splashed cold water from the pitcher on the table on to his hands and face, and then selected a shirt of fine linen from his closet and a similar, but more elaborate set of robes to those he had worn that morning. Finally, he took the Star of Elendil from its casket and secured it upon his brow. Thus regally attired he entered Eldarion's schoolroom where his son was learning Quenya verbs. The boy gasped at his appearance in astonishment, the tutor hardly less so.

"Ada, why are you dressed like that here?" asked Eldarion.

The tutor bowed low. "Sire," he murmured.

"I would like to spend some time with my son this afternoon," said the King. "He can continue his lessons tomorrow. You may spend the afternoon at your leisure. You may leave us now."

"Why, thank you, sire." The tutor paused only to gather up his books leaving the jubilant seven-year-old alone with his father.

"I don't have to do any more lessons today?" Eldarion sounded as if he could hardly believe his good fortune.

"No, ion nîn, because I have a far more important task for you," said Aragorn.

For a moment Eldarion looked crestfallen then he jumped excitedly. "It cannot be worse than Quenya! Ada, is there really a dragon outside? The servants say there is and they are all scared, but naneth won't tell me, and neither will my tutor nor my nanny. I think they are scared. I told them I'd look after naneth and Farawyn until you got home, but they didn't take any notice. Is the dragon going to eat us, ada? "

"No, ion nîn, it is a friendly dragon. Like those in the stories I've told you."

"But you told me they were pretend stories and that real dragons were fierce and cruel, not like my Smaug at all!"

"Well, I was wrong," Aragorn conceded. "Uncle Faramir and I met a friendly dragon when we last went camping."

"You didn't tell me!" Eldarion pouted.

"I thought he was going straight home and did not want to disappoint you," Aragorn said hastily. Truth to tell, he would have loved to tell his son about his adventures, but after Arwen's furious reaction had deemed it wise to wait a while. "Well, the dragon has come back because he and his rider were hurt…"

"And they want you to make them better!" Eldarion interrupted. "Because you are the best healer in all of Middle-earth!" He jumped up and down excitedly.

"Hear me, Eldarion!" Aragorn said sternly, quietening the boy. "The people don't know about nice dragons like you or I and they are all leaving the city. Can you be very brave and come with me to show everyone that this dragon is a nice friendly one so that they will stay in their nice cosy homes?"

"I can meet a real live dragon!" Eldarion shrieked in excitement. "I'll go and tell naneth!"

"No, you can tell her later," Aragorn said hastily. "Come with me now. You must be very quiet as your little sister is having a nap and naneth too."

"Can I take Smaug to show the dragon?" Eldarion enquired, referring to his favourite wooden toy.

"No," Aragorn said firmly.

"Why not?" asked Eldarion.

"Because the story of Smaug is a sad one for dragons to hear. Now come, we will go the secret way that Uncle Faramir and I showed you. I want you to play at being a Ranger and be very quiet indeed. "

Taking his son's hand, Aragorn led him through a warren of little used corridors and passageways, which led directly to the stables. Eldarion bounced with excitement as he walked, but the King's heart was heavy. This gamble had to succeed! The people of Minas Tirith grew ever more terrified and had to be calmed. Otherwise, their king would have to become his people's jailor, ordering stern measures to contain them for their own safety. Aragorn winced at the very thought; he was a King, not a tyrant. Then there was Arwen. Never before had he deceived her thus;and he feared that this subterfuge would wound her deeply. Aragorn would never even have considered taking Eldarion to meet Súlion if he believed even the slightest danger threatened his beloved son, but he feared Arwen would not understand.

Chapter Eight – A little child shall lead them

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11.6



Aragorn took Hasufel's reins from a young groom who gaped as much as the other one had done; this time at the sight of the King going riding in attire far better suited for a State Banquet. He lifted up Eldarion, thankful that the boy was confident with large horses as well as his pony. He commanded that two of his guards should ride ahead of him and two behind. For once, Aragorn wanted to make certain everyone knew that their King was riding by.

Eldarion looked around from his high perch curiously. The usually bustling market was deserted and people were still hurrying towards the gates looking terrified and clutching bundles containing their most prized processions.

Aragorn called to the guards and instructed them to cry, "Make way in the name of the King!" in loud voices.

As he had hoped, many of the people stopped to stare. Aragorn called to them, "Good people, you have nothing to fear, I am taking my son to meet the friendly dragon who is visiting us."

The crowd started to murmur amongst themselves. Aragorn assumed it was to speculate if he had lost his wits. But the pace at which the people were moving slowed considerably. Everyone knew just how much their King loved his young son.

"I wish I could be King as well as you, ada," said Eldarion. "People would have to do what I said!"

"I fear even being King does not always ensure that, ion nîn," Aragorn said dryly. "They do not believe me when I tell them that the dragon is tame!"

"Can we take him a present?" asked Eldarion. "All the dragons in stories liked shiny things."

"I doubt we will find any jewel merchant with their doors still open," said the King. "We will look, though."

It was Eldarion who spotted the tiny shop between two larger establishments, an ironmonger's and a sword smith's, both of which were closed and shuttered.

Aragorn reined the horse to a stop, dismounted and lifted his son down. Eldarion ran on ahead of him into the small shop. A very old man emerged from the shadows to greet them. "How may I serve you, young master," he began. "Well I never, if it's not the King himself and the young Prince! I should have known it that if any ventured out today, sire, it would be you!"

"It seems you do not fear the dragon either, Master," Aragorn replied.

"At my age, what does it matter," said the old man. "Age or the ague will have old Maglor soon enough. I doubt the dragon would wish to devour one such as I, with no flesh left upon their old bones."

"I am certain you are correct, Master Maglor," Aragorn said. "I have it on good authority that the dragon much prefers plump cows to scrawny humans."

"How might I be of service today, sire?" asked Maglor.

"I should like to buy the brightest, shiniest necklace in you shop," said Aragorn. "Is that not so, ion nîn?"

"With lots of sparking jewels," added Eldarion.

The jewel merchant looked inside a chest and brought out several garish necklaces made of gold and glittering gems. Aragorn thought them quite hideous, but they would serve their purpose well. He pointed to a thick chain adorned with rubies and emeralds. "I will take that one," he said.

"I am certain your lady will be pleased with it," said Maglor.

Aragorn suppressed a shudder at the thought of his lovely wife wearing such a tasteless bauble better suited to the concubine of the Great Khan of Harad!

"It's not for naneth," said Eldarion.

The jewel merchant looked shocked. Aragorn flushed slightly; he was indeed deceiving Arwen, though not in the manner this fellow thought! "I should also like to see your most finely wrought necklaces," he added.

The merchant unlocked a smaller chest and produced some exquisite mithril jewellery. Aragorn chose a necklace of delicate flowers, each petal a tiny sapphire." I will buy this one too," he said. "I fear I do not carry sufficient coin, but if you send me your bill, I will see it is paid at once."

"That necklace is dull," said Eldarion as they left the shop.

"Your naneth should like it," said the King, fervently hoping that were true.

When they reached the city gates, Aragorn dismounted and handed Hasufel's reins to a guard. "I do not want him to become scared because of the dragon," Aragorn explained to his son as he lifted the boy down.

"Oh," said Eldarion in a small voice. He made no objection when his father tightly clasped his hand.

"There is nothing to be frightened of, ion nîn," Aragorn reassured his son. "This dragon is very friendly and will not hurt you. I want you to treat him as politely as you would any other guest."

"I'm not scared!" Eldarion protested, clutching his father's hand more tightly.

Aragorn looked around him. For once he was pleased that many pairs of curious eyes were fixed on every move that he and Eldarion made. He heard audible gasps as they walked together through the City gates.

Súlion had remained where they left him. There was no sign of Aedred, but Faramir still stood at the massive creature's head, speaking to him softly. Aragorn noted that Faramir had managed to make the dragon look presentable with the same skill he showed for every task he was given. There was no trace of blood on the creature's glossy scales, which shone in the afternoon sunlight.

Eldarion gave a cry of astonishment at his first sight of the great beast. "He is huge!" he cried. He raced towards the dragon, his earlier fear forgotten. "But he is all black!" he said in a disappointed tone. "I thought he would have bright colours like Smaug!"

Súlion snorted. "I am a most superior dragon," he said. "Only the common dragons are brightly coloured. My markings are far more subtle and beautiful."

"Hello, Eldarion," said Faramir, "meet our honoured guest, Súlion. Súlion, this is Eldarion, son of Aragorn and heir to the Reunited Kingdom."

"My true name is 'T'ien Li'," said the dragon. "I am only Súlion while I am here."

"I'm very pleased to meet you, T'ien Li," said Eldarion.

"At last! Someone in this land who can pronounce my name!" exclaimed Súlion with obvious pleasure.

"I've brought you a gift," said the little boy holding out the garish necklace.

"That is very fine indeed!" exclaimed the great creature. "See how it sparkles! Please fasten the necklace to my collar."

Before Aragorn could react, Súlion had scooped up Eldarion in his talons and lifted him up. Several people in the crowd that had gathered to watch from a distance cried out and a woman fainted. Eldarion visibly paled, but much to his credit, did not scream or struggle. Aragorn's heart was in his mouth. He doubted the dragon meant to harm his son, but what if he dropped Eldarion; or squeezed him too tightly? The dragon's claw was so very large, and the child was so very small. Arwen would most surely kill him if she learned of this!

"Put him down, please, Súlion!" Aragorn ordered.

"Don't worry, ada," Eldarion called from what seemed to be a very great height. "I don't mind being up here. I can see ever such a long way!" He fastened the necklace around a link of the huge chain that circled the dragon's neck as he spoke. "There, T'ien Li, I've fastened your necklace for you."

The dragon gently lowered the little boy to the ground. The crowd clapped and cheered. "You see, good people," Aragorn cried in a loud voice. "This dragon is friendly!"

"Can I stroke him, then?" asked a little boy in the crowd. Before anyone could prevent him, he had run up to the dragon and patted one of its  legs. Sulion gently nuzzled him with his massive head.

Eldarion glared at the interloper, who apparently had more to fear from the heir to the throne of Gondor than the dragon!

"My friends, this dragon is tame and perfectly safe," Aragorn called. "Return now to your homes and tell your friends and neighbours what you have witnessed here."

Slowly and reluctantly, the crowd began to disperse. Aragorn gave a vast sigh of relief. "You have convinced them, mellon, nîn," said Faramir coming to his side. "It was a stroke of genius allowing Súlion to lift up Eldarion."

"That was quite unplanned!" Aragorn said wryly. "Now the panic in the city seems to have died down, what do we do with the dragon?"

"It is most rude to speak about me as if I were not here," Súlion interrupted. "I am hungry too. You have not offered me anything to eat."

"My apologies," said Aragorn without much contrition. "You can hardly dine here in front of the City gates. It would cause the people to panic again."

"How about the field you set us down in the other day?" Faramir suggested. "I am certain the farmer can be persuaded to let you stay there for a while. It would be quiet and private for you to rest and recover from your injuries."

"They still pain me a great deal," said Súlion soulfully. Eldarion regarded him with wide-eyed concern.

"They will soon heal with rest and good food," Aragorn said briskly. "None of them were serious. Now do you think you can fly?"

Súlion flexed his massive wings. "I think so, though it hurts," he said mournfully.

"Behold his wings, ada," Eldarion exclaimed. "They look just like a butterfly's! Let me touch them!"

"A butterfly would be far easier to find a bush to perch upon, my son," Aragorn said dryly. "And the dragon's wings are hurt, and must heal, so you cannot touch them. Besides, it is discourteous; he is no mere animal."

"I will go with Súlion to the field and negotiate with the farmer," said Faramir. "I expect your lady will be concerned about Eldarion by now."

"She will indeed," Aragorn said grimly." Thank you, mellon nîn." He gratefully patted Faramir's shoulder. "Come, Eldarion, it is time to go home now."

"But I want to stay and talk to Súlion!" Eldarion protested.

"He wants to have his dinner as do I," said Aragorn. "Maybe you can visit him again one day. Faramir, perhaps you could buy some cows from the farmer too? Offer him whatever it takes and say that some of the meat is intended for the Royal table, lest any try to taint it to harm our visitor. I will send a trusted man to relieve you then. I am certain you need some dinner too."

Eldarion knew better than to argue with his father. He chattered excitedly about his new friend as the two of them made their way back towards the city gates. Aragorn made only vague replies. His mind was far away, fixed on what Arwen would say when they returned.

Chapter Nine - Do you not fear this wild and furious woman?

Fürchtest du nicht das wild wütende Weib? (Do you not fear this wild and furious woman?) – Siegfried – Wagner.

Arwen was pacing her sitting room when Aragorn entered with Eldarion. The Queen took one look at her child and enfolded him a close embrace. "Elbereth be praised that you are safe, ion nîn!" she exclaimed. "Has that evil monster hurt you?"

"Ada took me to see the dragon and he was very nice," said Eldarion. "Please let me go, naneth, I can hardly breathe!"

Arwen relaxed her grip only a fraction. She turned to Aragorn and demanded furiously." How could you, Estel? Our baby could have been killed!"

"I'm not a baby!" Eldarion protested.

"Eldarion was in no danger, vanimelda," Aragorn said calmly. "It was necessary to take him to visit the dragon in order to calm the people."

"You would sacrifice your only son to a monster to placate your subjects?" Arwen demanded furiously.

"Eldarion was in no more danger than when I introduced him to my horse," said Aragorn. "Eldarion, go to your nurse now and ask her to give you something to eat. I am proud of how well you behaved today. You served our people well. You can have an extra slice of cake with your supper."

"Will there be honey cake?" Eldarion asked. "Oh naneth, how I wish you'd met my new friend, T'ien Li. He is enormous, as big as a house and he has wings like a butterfly's and …"

"Go, now, ion nîn," Aragorn said firmly, observing how Arwen's expression grew darker with each new revelation from her son's lips. "I will try to come and tell you a bedtime story later."

"Can it be about dragons, please?" Eldarion asked innocently as his father hustled him through the door leading to the nursery.

"And now my son is corrupted into believing that the dragons of Morgoth are his friends!" Arwen raged.

"But Súlion is friendly," Aragorn insisted. "He was not a servant of Shadow."

"The dragons were born to Darkness and cannot change! If any dragons were free from evil, would I have not heard during my long years of living?" snapped Arwen. "Will you next insist that we dine with Orcs? Maybe you consider them suitable playmates for our daughter?"

"Arwen, do not be foolish!" said Aragorn, his patience wearing thin. "Of course I would not let Orcs anywhere near our daughter, any more than I would expose our son to harm!"

"Yet you take my son to see a dragon!" she retorted. "It is you who are foolish, not I!"

"Súlion is of a race of dragons that Morgoth never bent to his will," Aragorn explained. "He is tame and friendly and would not hurt a child."

"But a dragon could devour a child in one gulp, however tame it claims to be!" Arwen insisted.

Aragorn suddenly drew Andúril, which was still girded at his side. "I could kill you with this sword," he said.

"But you would not," Arwen said calmly, not so much as taking a step backward.

"And why would I not? The blade is keen and has dealt death to many! I could destroy you and our children as swiftly as any dragon!"

"But you would not," Arwen insisted. "Enough of this foolish talk. Put your sword away before you do yourself some mischief! You will not distract me!"

"But why would I not harm you?" the King insisted.

"Because you are my Estel, a good and honourable man. It is not in your nature to kill women and children."

"Quite so," said Aragorn sheathing the sword. "I could kill with this weapon, but I choose not to because it is not my nature, any more than it is in Súlion's nature to kill innocent children. Do you not understand? Sooner would I run this blade through my heart than willingly endanger my son."

Arwen glared at her husband. "You can talk all you wish, but you will never convince me that this beast is other than evil!" she said. "What does Faramir have to say of the creature's return?"

"He considers it his friend, who protected him from the cold in the cave" said Aragorn. "I have left him with Súlion now, further proof that I believe the dragon to be perfectly tame, as I would no more put Faramir in danger than a child of my body."

"Alas, you are all dragon-spelled!" Arwen exclaimed. "Well, until you see sense, you will sleep in your own room and dine at your own table! Send for Faramir if you desire company. Or perhaps you would prefer to sleep alongside the dragon since you have lost your wits? I would not have a madman snoring beside me, nor will I have you filling the children's heads with this nonsense!" With that, she swept from the room.

Aragorn groaned inwardly. He had expected her wrath, but not to be banished to the grim chamber that had once been Denethor's felt a harsh punishment indeed! He sometimes chose to sleep there but never had he expected Arwen to banish him from her chamber! Sadly he doffed his royal robes and regalia and sent for a servant to bring him some much-delayed luncheon and light a fire in his room.

Aragorn spent the remainder of the afternoon immersed in affairs of state. Just before sunset, he donned his cloak and walked to the Houses of Healing to see how his patient fared.

Aedred was sitting by Fu Nung's bedside when Aragorn entered. "How is he?" the King enquired.

"There is no change," said the healer. "We have done all we can, but he still seems to be suffering a great deal of pain and distress."

"It cannot help that he understands nothing that we say," Aragorn observed, walking over to the sick man's bedside and taking his hand.

"T'ien Li? T'ien Li!" Fu Nung muttered feverishly.

"He is well." Aragorn hoped his tone of voice would convey his meaning, but doubted that he had succeeded as the man continued to repeat his dragon's name. It took all Aragorn's considerable skills to coax him to swallow a much-needed drink.

"His bandages need changing," said Aedred. "The one on his shoulder, especially, is soaked through."

"I will assist you," said Aragorn.

Aedred's brows rose slightly. "I should be grateful for your help, sire," he said. "But am I not taking you from dining with your lady at this hour, though?"

"Arwen has other plans tonight," the King said grimly.

Aedred knew better than to comment. Instead he busied himself collecting bandages and salves from the table at the far side of the room. The two men then together approached their patient. The fear in Fu Nung's eyes was pitiful to behold.

"There is no need for him to suffer through this," said Aragorn. He lightly brushed his fingertips across the feverish man's eyelids, sending him at once into a deep sleep.

"That is a useful gift of yours," Aedred remarked.

"I only wish it worked for setting bones and removing arrows," said Aragorn. "Although the patient would sleep, he would still feel pain." Together with Aedred, he undressed Fu Nung and they removed his bandages. The leg wound was not too bad, but the shoulder injury was red and inflamed. They applied a mixture of garlic and vinegar. Aragorn held his hands a few inches above Fu Nung's wounds and concentrated his healing energies. Fu Nung's spirit, wary of the King of those who had hurt him, resisted Aragorn's contact. Aragorn could not tell whether he was helping the Easterling.

Aedred rubbed the patient's hips with goose grease to prevent pressure sores. They then dressed him in a clean nightshirt and tried to make him as comfortable as possible. Aragorn was far from certain that the dragon's rider would recover. It was with a heavy heart that he returned to his rooms.

The large chamber appeared cold and cheerless on the late spring evening. The servants had lit a fire, but it gave off little warmth. Aragorn sighed; maybe it was not the fire to blame. Any room in the citadel without Arwen was cold and cheerless! He sank down in a large armchair by the hearth and buried his head in his hands. Would his beloved wife ever forgive him? Never before had a quarrel gone so far. Usually, they made up within the hour. This time, though, he could not give way to please her. He was bound by his honour and the rules of hospitality to shelter the dragon and his rider.

Aragorn could not blame his wife for her feelings; indeed, before he met Súlion, they had been his own. How could he ever make her understand that this dragon was not a threat but a friend?

A tap on the door interrupted his melancholy thoughts. "Go away!" Aragorn snapped.

"It is I, Faramir," a familiar voice called.

"Come in!" Aragorn's tone brightened considerably.

Faramir entered, a large bundle clasped in his arms. "I will not keep you if you wish to be alone," the Steward said. "I just thought you should have this. It is the rider's pack. Súlion dropped it when he reared up. He wants us to take it to his rider. But whatever are you doing here looking so sad? I thought you would be in the living room with your lady and children."

"I would much prefer to be there," Aragorn said glumly. "Arwen, though, has other ideas. I am banished from her side and that of the children until I learn not to consort with dragons! She believes we are both under some evil spell because we do not wish to kill Súlion."

"I fear if Éowyn were in the city, she would doubtlessly react in the same way," said Faramir. "She was adamant Súlion was a Fell Beast, however hard I tried to convince her that he was not. If our ladies would but talk to him and look into his eyes, I am certain they would realise that he is a good and honourable dragon"

"I do not know," said Aragorn. "It was hard enough for me to understand, and I have not been taught to hate and fear dragons for well nigh three thousand years, only a mere ninety seven." He rose to his feet. "But enough of my brooding! Sit down and make yourself comfortable. How are matters in the city? I have just returned from the Houses of Healing and all seemed quiet."

"There are only a handful of folk still determined on leaving," said Faramir. He looked around him, noting that there was only the one chair that Aragorn had just vacated or the bed or hearthrug to sit upon. He opted for the rug and sat down, the bundle still on his lap. "I think that all should be well."

"Did you have any problems getting our dragon to the field?" Aragorn enquired, scorning the armchair in favour of a spot on the rug beside his friend, where he sat cross-legged like a tailor.

"Súlion did not find flying the short distance too onerous," said Faramir. "Worst to deal with was the farmer who owns the land. I had to pay him double the value of the field as well as promise that it would be returned to him once the dragon went home. We made Súlion as comfortable as we could. I had the soldiers dig him a latrine pit as far from the stream as possible and had three fat cows slaughtered for his dinner, which he ate, apart from a leg of each, which your cooks are preparing. He can drink from the stream and there is shelter under the trees should it rain. I also had a fire lit for warmth. I left Lamrung in charge, as I feel he can be trusted and I have sent word for some of my Rangers to come and help guard him, I thought country fellows, not too well versed in old lore, might prove more willing guards for our guest."

"You have done well, ion nîn, said Aragorn, patting his shoulder. "Now I think we should take a look at what that bundle contains."

A/n. In Wagner's opera, "Siegfried", the heroine sings the above words to a tune associated earlier with a dragon!

Chapter Ten – The heart and stomach of a king

I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king. - Elizabeth I

With grateful thanks to Raksha who wrote the second half of this chapter and created the idea for it.

Faramir laid the bundle in the middle of the rug and carefully unwrapped the oilskins that covered a large canvas pack. Aragorn helped him undo the numerous straps and they tipped the contents out. There was a change of clothing, similar to the clothes that the rider had been wearing, which were utterly unremarkable. Underneath those garments, though, was a beautiful robe made of scarlet silk, which was embroidered in silver and gold thread with images of dragons. The Steward rose to his feet and held the garment up, the better to examine it.

"That would not disgrace an Elven prince, though the Eldar would not appreciate the subject of the embroidery!" Aragorn remarked. "Our rider must be wealthy to afford such a fine garment." He studied the robe, crimson as its rider's blood, which had flowed before the City gates that morning. Would this fair garment prove to be the burial robe of its owner? He shuddered.

Faramir rummaged inside the pack and pulled out undergarments to go with the robe, also of silk, and so fine they looked as if were it not for the seams, they could be passed through a wedding ring. "How our ladies would love a gown in such a fine silk!" he exclaimed.

"Arwen once has a roll of similar quality silk sent as a gift from Harad," Aragorn recalled. "She insisted on making me a shirt and kept sticking pins in me!" He fell silent, thinking he would rather serve as his beloved wife's pincushion than be at odds with her.

"Look!" said Faramir, sensing his lord's thoughts and seeking to distract him. He held up an exquisite miniature painting for Aragorn's inspection. Although stylised, it was obviously a portrait of Súlion. The image was embellished with lapis lazuli.

"Proof that the rider likes dragons a great deal," Aragorn said dryly. He was greatly attached to his now ageing warhorse, Roheryn, but could not imagine carrying around jewelled portraits of the stallion.

"And I would imagine this to be his wife and child," said Faramir unrolling a parchment to reveal a drawing of an almond eyed young woman with jet black hair who held a baby in her arms.

"Poor girl, she must be missing her husband," said Aragorn, wondering if the young woman would soon be a widow.

Faramir rolled the drawing up again, feeling uncomfortable at the need to search personal possessions, however good the reason. "There are more scrolls here," he said.

The two men started to unroll them. Apart from a rough map, they were in a script and a language that neither could make sense of.

"He is not a trader," said Aragorn. "When I journeyed to the far eastern lands the traders all spoke sufficient Westron to be understood. I travelled with a merchant caravan for a few weeks. They used common speech to trade with one another as each tribe spoke a different dialect."

Usually Faramir would have been eager to press Aragorn for tales of his travels, but the King's tone was flat and weary. He removed the final items from the pack; a purse of gold coins, a comb, and several sets of two short sticks. The Steward eyed the sticks suspiciously. "Whatever are these?" he enquired, "Some sort of writing implement?"

Aragorn shook his head. "They use them at table to eat with in the East."

Faramir closed his eyes and tried to imagine eating roast beef with the little sticks. It was well nigh impossible and served only to remind him that he was very hungry. "Have you dined?" he asked.

"Arwen dismissed me before I had a chance to. I went straight to the Houses of Healing afterwards," said the King. "Súlion's rider is very ill, I fear. We can only wait and hope. I will send for some supper to be brought. Can you stay or do you have you plans for the evening?"

"I will be glad of some company myself," said Faramir. "I only need to send a servant to fetch my night attire. I had planned to work on the trade agreement with Khand, but that can wait."

The servants brought a simple but filling supper of crusty bread, cheese, ham and pickles, a selection of fresh fruits and wine to drink.

The two men ate in near silence.

"Arwen has never been wrong," said Aragorn after a servant had taken their empty plates away. "She is the oldest and wisest soul in my kingdom."

"Even Mithrandir was surprised by events at times," said Faramir. He yawned. It seemed a long time since he had woken that morning. "Rest now, maybe the Queen will have relented by the morrow when she hears that Súlion has not devoured half the populace!"

"I doubt it will be that easy," said Aragorn gloomily. He climbed into bed and pulled the covers around him. The two friends were asleep within minutes.

000

The bedchamber, largest in the citadel, seemed small and cold without Aragorn's presence. Arwen blinked back tears of frustration and stopped herself from running out the door to send word that would summon back her beloved.

Instead, she turned away from the door, and quickly stripped off her finery. Gold-embroidered white mantle, silver-grey gown, dainty shoes worth the price of a small-farmer's harvest; all fell untidily to the floor. Clad only in a shift of finest linen, she opened an old chest that had held her essential belongings for two hundred years, and began to sort through its contents. She pulled out the things she needed and laid them on the bed: supple deerskin boots, old breeches of Elrohir's, a shirt, a tunic with pockets, the special cloak she had woven in Lórien, her favourite pair of daggers balanced for throwing as well as close work, a light bow and a quiver full of arrows.

Arwen dressed with method rather than pride or joy. Her spirit was leaden, burdened with the misery of the choice forced upon her. She could accede to Aragorn's wishes and abandon him and Eldarion and their people to the supposed mercy of a dragon. Or, Arwen rolled the thought over again in her weary mind, she could defy the trust that they had known since that golden summer in Lórien, go against his will and destroy the menace that threatened them all.

The choice was cruelly simple. Even if Aragorn was deluded rather than dragon-spelled, and sent her back alone and disgraced to Imladris for defying his will, her beloved husband and their children would still live. And if, as she suspected, Aragorn and Faramir were both ensorcelled by the monster, then the enchantment would break as soon as she ended the dragon's life, and they would be restored, and all would be as it was. As it should be, Arwen reminded herself, drawing the cloak over her plain hunter's garb.

Walking Elven-soft was still her natural inclination. Arwen usually had to move with heavier steps, so as not to affright her maids and other folk of the Citadel. But now, unfettered by politeness and shielded from most eyes by the enchanted cloak of Lórien, Arwen glided through the royal apartments.

She lost count of the doors and gates that she had to pass. She paused at the stables and ignoring her grey mare's eager neighing, selected a black horse from amongst those put aside for errand riders to use. She rode through the silent City streets. It seemed none say she were abroad that night. Each time she passed through a gate, Arwen revealed her face, and quietly commanded a weary guard to let her through, from the Sixth to the First Circle and then down, down through the sleeping streets. All that mattered was the final barrier, and what lay beyond it. She would stop; think a moment about what she was about to face, alone and afraid, wanting to hasten back to the safety of her bedchamber. But when the dragon arose in wrath, there would be no safety anywhere in Gondor, and possibly anywhere else. Keep riding, she told her pounding heart. For your children's sake, if not for the rest of this land of which you are Queen. For Aragorn…

And then the final barrier, the Great Gate of Minas Tirith, creaked shut behind her. She rode swiftly across the expanse of the Pelennor, her spirit cooled and resolved. Then the horse stalled and neighed in terror as it scented the dragon. She dismounted and secured the frightened beast to a tree.

Resolutely she made her way across the field towards a looming shape of immense proportions. At last, the Queen of Arnor and Gondor stood alone on the dark field, and looked upon the dragon.

The great beast seemed to form part of the very night so dark was his colour. At least it did not stink. Arwen had heard of the fell odours emitted by dragons, first-hand from Bilbo Baggins. But the dragon was large, perhaps not so great as Smaug, but bigger than any beast she had ever seen in her long life.

Arwen's heart sped and her hands began to tremble as she discerned the dragon's head and the size of its mouth. She stepped back, to spy him out better from behind a tree.

"Oof. What is that?" cried a rough voice.

Arwen had brushed the guard with her cloak; and the man looked wildly about him, not seeing his elven-cloaked queen. There was no time even to curse her own carelessness. Arwen hastily withdrew three arrows, holding two ready while she nocked the third, called on Elbereth to guide the shaft, and shot the arrow forth.

Even as the arrow flew, the dragon's great form moved. Arwen had barely noted the opening of the creature's eyes when she was knocked off her feet by something long and low and incredibly strong - its tail. As she struggled to rise, the tail caught and tripped her again! It could have done her worse injury, she wondered, why did the beast not crush her?

Arwen reached for her bow, which had been knocked from her hand by the force of the dragon's tail and had landed some twenty feet away. Too late! The dragon's claw descended from above, the dragon's head swivelled around to glare banefully upon her. She scarcely had time to take in a panicked breath before the claws grasped her cloak and tore it from her body. She was revealed in the moonlight, with no place to hide.

"Elbereth!" Arwen gasped out, praying that her end would be swift.

The mighty claws curved tightly around her form, so tightly that she could not wrest her arms free to grasp an arrow from her quiver and try to stab at the leathery things that bound her. Arwen was borne up until the dragon held her before his head.

He will consume me, Arwen thought, struggling to hold her head high while her soul screamed with the horror of such a death. I am the Evenstar, Queen of Men and Lúthien's heir; and I will curse him 'ere I die! At least the dragon's breath was not unpleasant. "I curse you with my dying breath, foul spawn of Morgoth! "she cried.

Arwen heard a man scream. It was the guard, shouting to the dragon. "Release her, Lord Dragon," the man cried in a terrified voice. "She is the Queen of Gondor, wife to our Lord Aragorn Elessar who has welcomed you to our land! Please, Lord Dragon, let her go or I must shoot you!"

"This oddly dressed termagant is Aragorn's lady?" the dragon asked, seeming curious and not at all concerned about the guard's threat. He pinned her body with one huge talon, while unfurling the others, turning her about in his claw to better examine her.

I will not faint; I will not faint; Arwen vowed. But if he didn't kill her or release her very soon, she feared she would be sick!

"Elessar told me that his Queen was an Elf, and that Elves were a wise people," rumbled the monster. "Fair of form she might be, but wise? Hunnh!" He looked at her with sorcerous eyes that shone like marsh-haze. "Madam, your young son had better manners."

The dragon pulled down his claw, setting Arwen carefully back on the ground, as if he were a person and she a small wild creature. "Leave me, Queen of Gondor;" the beast went on, "And do not come back until you have learned courtesy." He made a loud sniffing noise and turned his head away from her.

Arwen bit her lip to prevent a peal of mad laughter. A dragon was lecturing her on proper manners! Slowly she stood up, unable to stop shuddering.

"Best to leave now, my Lady," the guard whispered. "I will escort you home."

"No; I pray you, stay here and keep watch on the creature," Arwen managed to reply in a soft voice. "May Elbereth protect you from its evil."

"I fear I must, my lady," the man insisted. "I will see you safe home to your lord."

Utterly defeated, the Queen of Gondor picked up her bow and the now shredded cloak of Lórien, and walked back to the tethered horse, the guard close at her heels. The stars blurred in Arwen's sight, obscured by bitter tears. She had failed!

Chapter Eleven - Let not the sun go down upon your wrath

Let not the sun go down upon your wrath – Ephesians 4. 26b – The Bible

I have found you an argument; I am not obliged to find you an understanding.- Samuel Johnson

Aragorn was snoring softly in a dreamless slumber when a knocking on the bedroom door awakened him.

"What is it?" he called sleepily.

"The Queen, sire," a servant's voice replied.

"Has some ill befallen her?" Aragorn sprang out of bed and snatched up his robe. He pulled it on over his night attire and opened the door. A sorry sight met his incredulous gaze when he beheld his wife dressed in men's garments and her lovely features streaked with mud. Two stony- faced guards flanked the Queen.

"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Unhand my lady at once! Are you hurt, vanimelda?"

"I am not hurt," Arwen said bleakly.

"We discovered my lady trying to kill the dragon," said one of the guards. "We thought it best that we escort her safely home to you."

"What of the dragon?" Aragorn asked.

"He is unhurt and made no attempt to harm the Queen," said the second guard. He stared miserably at his boots, as did his fellow.

"How could you, Arwen?" Aragorn demanded. "Súlion is our guest and under my protection."

"You are bespelled, you and Faramir both!" cried the Queen. "I did what I had to save you and our children. Alas, that I failed!"

"Go to your room," Aragorn said coldly. "I will decide how to deal with you in the morning. I will have one of your ladies sent to you. A guard will remain outside at all times."

The two guards marched Arwen away down the corridor. The King watched until they disappeared from sight. He then summoned a servant and gave his orders.

"What has happened, mellon nîn?" Faramir asked his friend as the King turned back into the chamber and firmly closed the door behind him. "Surely the Queen did not attack Súlion?"

"I fear she tried to." Aragorn sat down heavily on the bed. "Why should she behave like this? What am I to do? By rights she should be in the dungeons for disobeying my orders, but she is my lady! I cannot treat my beloved thus!"

Faramir sat down beside his lord and thought for a few moments.

"Why not sent the Queen to visit Éowyn until she realises that Súlion means no harm?" he suggested. "I am sure Éowyn would be glad of her company as her time draws near for our child to be born. As I must remain here in the City, it will ease my heart to know the Queen was with my lady."

"As ever you are wise, my friend!" Aragorn clapped Faramir on the shoulder. "Alas, that it should come to this!"

"I doubt my lady will be very happy with me either," said Faramir. "She considers our dragon akin to a Fell Beast! You should try to rest now. Maybe matters will seem better in the morning."

King and Steward settled down to rest again, but this time sleep was slow to come to them.

000

Aragorn and Arwen glared at each other across the breakfast table.

"You would send me away?" Arwen exclaimed.

"Unless you give me your word not to attempt to harm Súlion again."

"How could I do that? That creature of darkness must be destroyed!"

"Súlion is no more a creature of darkness than you or I! I think it best you spend some time in Ithilien with Éowyn."

"You would take my children from me, and Farawyn not yet weaned?"

Aragorn put his glass down so heavily that the apple juice splattered across the tablecloth. "Am I not only in league with the powers of darkness, but also planning to take our children from you, my lady?"

"My father warned me that to marry you would bring me nothing but sorrow!" Arwen retorted. "I should have listened to him! My brothers will be ill pleased at the way you are using me."

Aragorn clenched his fists on the sides of the chair. "If you have finished your breakfast, my lady, I suggest that you go and make ready for the journey," he said coldly. "You will be happier away from me if you so regret our marriage! You may take both our children with you. Farawyn needs you and I would have Eldarion out of the City while there is still danger of unrest. You will be kept discreetly under close guard and you are not to communicate with anyone save myself. I would not have you send for your brothers or Legolas to plot against our guest."

Arwen swept from the table and left the room without another word or glance at her husband.

Aragorn buried his face in his hands. He had loved Arwen from the first moment he had beheld her and saved himself body and soul throughout the long years of waiting. Now she was lost to him again. He yearned to call her back, but knew not what to say. How could he pacify her? The only thing that would assuage her wrath would be the death of the dragon and he could not slay a friendly beast who was his guest. It seemed there was nothing for it but to send Arwen away.

After a few minutes he went to bid his wife and children farewell. Faramir came with him.

Oblivious to the conflict between their father and mother, Eldarion and Farawyn were excited at the unexpected trip.

"I wish you were coming too, ada," said Eldarion.

"I fear I must stay here as there is much work for me to do," Aragorn replied. "I trust you to take good care of your naneth and sister."

"I will, I'm almost grown up now," Eldarion replied stoutly.

Faramir handed the Queen a letter. "Please could you give this to Éowyn?" he asked. "Tell her how much I love her and miss her and the children. Please greet Elbeth for me too."

"I will," Arwen promised. "I entrust the care of my husband to you, though you be as bespelled as he is. May the Valar protect you both!"

Aragorn embraced his son and kissed Farawyn. Arwen recoiled when he tried to embrace her in farewell and gave him an ice-cold peck upon the cheek to satisfy anyone who might be watching.

Aragorn stood watching as the Queen and his children disappeared from sight. Eldarion turned to wave, but Arwen did not look back.

A week passed. Aragorn sent daily messages to his wife telling her he loved and missed her. Arwen replied with brief messages that she and the children were well. Faramir fared little better where Éowyn was concerned, save that she sent daily missives comparing the dragon to a Fell Beast and implying, were she not so near her time, that she would cheerfully despatch Súlion in the same manner as the Witch King's steed.

Fu Nung's condition remained much the same, which gave Aragorn cause for concern. If the rider were to recover, by now he should be showing some improvement, but there was none. He rarely remained conscious for more than a few moments and his fever did not abate.

Faramir remained constantly at his lord's side, concerned at how much his friend and King was exerting himself, while all the time knowing how much his lord was missing Arwen's presence at his side. Faramir missed Éowyn too, but he was accustomed to frequent separations when his work took him to the city. It was also extremely rare for the King and Queen not to be in harmony, as until now they had rarely engaged in the squabbles that most married couples suffer from time to time.

At least the mood in the City was fairly calm and people were no longer leaving. No doubt it helped that Súlion was out of sight in a secluded corner of the fields. Aragorn was all too aware though that it would take very little to unsettle the populace again. He relied greatly on Faramir's rapport with the folk of Minas Tirith to help maintain calm. Some of the people were still slightly suspicious of their Northern King, whereas Faramir's family had ruled them for almost a thousand years.

The dragon's wounds were healing quickly and had not become infected. The great creature's spirits, though, were desolate as he pined for his wounded rider.

Either Aragorn or Faramir had endeavoured to visit their gigantic guest daily and bear him company for a while. Neither really had the time to do so, but volunteers to converse with a dragon were not easily found, and it seemed cruel to leave the poor beast without any society or diversion. His keen intelligence made him an entertaining companion.

The Council meeting had concluded early as the members seemed less inclined to argue over trifles when a great dragon was on their doorstep. Aragorn and Faramir knew they should either spend the afternoon working on affairs of state, or penning more missives to their absent wives. Both men were restless, though, and they knew the dragon would be in sore need of some company.

It was a beautiful afternoon, unseasonably warm for the time of year when King and Steward rode out of the city. They left the horses with the guards a little way from their destination and walked towards the dragon's field. They found Súlion curled up as tightly as he could, looking sad.

"Hello, Súlion, we have come to spend an hour or so with you," said Aragorn.

"We thought you might be glad of some company," Faramir added.

Súlion opened his eyes and closed them again.

"If you would rather sleep, we will go away again," said Aragorn.

"I miss my rider," Súlion said morosely, not lifting his head.

"We miss our ladies," said Faramir. "My wife is in our home in the country awaiting the birth of our child and the Queen is with her."

"Do you not have many concubines to entertain you in their stead?" enquired the dragon. "I only have one rider!"

"Indeed not!" Aragorn and Faramir replied almost simultaneously. The indignation in their voices roused Súlion to lift his head.

"In my country, the greater the lord, the more wives and concubines he has to fulfil his every need," the dragon explained. "A king should have at least a hundred to prove himself as a man!"

"One wife suffices for me," said Aragorn. "I have need of no other."

"It is not the custom here," said Faramir. "I would rather concentrate on trying to keep one wife happy!"

"Your customs are strange indeed," said Súlion. "In my land, it is the woman who must make the man happy, not the other way around!"

"Does your rider have many wives?" Faramir enquired.

"No," Súlion answered sullenly "As yet he only has one and she takes him from my side too often as do his children! Is Fu Nung not better yet?"

Aragorn sadly shook his head.

Súlion sighed and curled up again.

"How did you learn to speak the common tongue so well?" Aragorn asked, eager to distract the unhappy creature.

"My first rider often entertained merchants and I learned it from them," Súlion replied. "My kind learns different tongues far more easily than Men do." He lowered his head again.

"Is there anything we could do for you?" Faramir asked. "Would you like another cow to eat, or maybe a sheep? We could perhaps find some deer for you if you would like a change."

"I am not hungry," said the dragon. "I get so dirty after eating. The brook here is not large enough for washing as well as drinking."

"We could see that you were washed each day," said Aragorn, inwardly wondering however he could find anyone who would not be too afraid to wash a dragon. Even with Faramir's help, the task would take more out of his day than he could readily spare.

"Fu Nung used to take me swimming," said Súlion, uncurling a little. His tone of voice reminded both men of when their children wanted some treat. "I was not hurt then, though."

"I think your wounds are sufficiently healed to swim, if it would not pain you to fly," said Aragorn. "We could take you to the river."

"I saw a lovely lake when I flew over the mountains," said Súlion. “I should like to swim there." He stretched his vast body.

"I fear that is a Hallow, a place of worship," said the King. "It is only for Men, not dragons."

"That is most unfair!" Súlion complained.

"It is not even for most Men, but only those of Elendil's line," Faramir said, trying to soften the blow. "Only a handful of people even know about it, and we would ask you to tell no one what you saw. The river is a good place for swimming. We will take you to a secluded spot that the King and I often visit when the weather is fine."

"We can go there now," said Aragorn eager to keep up Súlion's spirits.

"Climb on my back then," said the dragon, crouching down so that the two friends could clamber aboard.

"The guards will not be happy at us going off alone," said Faramir.

"You will be safe enough accompanied by me," said Súlion puffing up his chest to make himself look even more enormous.

Aragorn and Faramir noticed a few people looking up and pointing as they flew the mile or so to the Anduin, but their reaction now seemed more of curiosity than panic. Children even waved as they flew past.

A few bathers were splashing around in the water, though it was still quite early in the year for swimming.

They flew past the swimmers and the banks lined with tilled fields until they reached a bend in the river with trees either side. Apart from a few grazing animals, the spot was deserted. Súlion eyed a fleeing goat with interest as they descended. "That goat looks tasty," he remarked.

"I thought you said you were not hungry," Aragorn said dryly. "I have no idea who those goats belong to in order to buy them and you will not enhance your reputation if you go around stealing livestock!"

"Oh, I don't think I am that hungry," Súlion said rather unconvincingly.

They landed behind the trees and Aragorn and Faramir dismounted. "You can bathe here," said Aragorn. "We will wait for you by these willows."

"You are not coming swimming with me?" Súlion sounded taken aback. "But whom shall I play with in the water?"

"We have not brought towels or dry linens with us," said Aragorn.

"I could dry you with my warm breath," said the dragon.

"It is not our custom to be completely unclothed save in our bathing chambers," Faramir added. "It would be especially inappropriate for anyone to see the King unclothed."

"What strange customs you have!" the dragon replied glumly. "My rider and I simply swim together." He brightened "But you said no one would approach you because I was with you! You can come swimming as there is no one to see."

"We will wait here on the bank," Aragorn said firmly.

"We will enjoy watching you," Faramir added.

"You do not like dragons much do you?" Súlion said dejectedly. He slid sadly into the water, his disappointment obvious in every motion of his vast, sinuous body.

Chapter Twelve – Swimming in the River

THERE is a bird in the poplars—

It is the sun!

The leaves are little yellow fish

Swimming in the river;

The bird skims above them—

Day is on his wings.

Phoenix!

It is he that is making

The great gleam among the poplars.

It is his singing

Outshines the noise

Of leaves clashing in the wind. - William Carlos Williams



Aragorn and Faramir looked at one another. After Súlion had seen them changing their garb in the cave and made disparaging remarks about how scrawny he considered them both, neither man desired to repeat the experience. Both had been haunted by cruel remarks made in their youth, which the dragon's careless comments had brought to mind again. In any case, they were not peasant boys free to frolic in the water, but King and Steward who must maintain their dignity, which could scarcely be hazarded to please a dragon!

King and Steward tried to enjoy the peaceful surroundings. They were only a few leagues from the bustle of Minas Tirith, yet they might as well have been in the middle of nowhere. Only the birds singing in the trees and the dragon's half hearted splashing disturbed the stillness.

"Is the water too cold for you?" Aragorn enquired when Súlion seemed loath to venture from the shallows near the bank.

"No, it is not cold, but it is lonely," the dragon replied.

Aragorn sighed deeply. Nothing in his long years of experience, as healer, warrior and diplomat had taught him how to deal with a dejected dragon. "I have never seen how well a dragon can swim," he said. "Can you swim well enough to reach the far bank?"

The ruse of appealing to the dragon's vanity worked as he immediately struck out into the deeper waters.

"Poor creature," Aragorn said to Faramir in a low voice. "I fear he misses his rider badly already. "You are a very fine swimmer!" he called to Súlion. He stood up and started to pace upstream, calling out further words of encouragement.

"You try to flatter me, but I know you don't like me," Súlion replied mournfully.

"Of course we like you," Aragorn replied.

Faramir could bear the unfortunate creature's unhappiness no longer. He no longer cared if the creature mocked him or not, if only Súlion would cheer up. He started to swiftly pull off his clothing.

Whatever are you doing, Faramir?" Aragorn called.

"Taking a swim!" Faramir called as he entered the water. "If the dragon can dry me, he can dry my drawers as well."

"You have come to play with me!" Súlion cried joyfully as Faramir swam towards him. The dragon circled him cautiously as if uncertain what he should do next.

"I will join you!" Aragorn cried, starting to unlace his tunic. "Our dignity and our clothes should be safe enough with a dragon in the vicinity!"

"There is no need for you to come into the water, I can swim with Súlion,"Faramir said staunchly.

His words were vain as a few moments later Aragorn waded out beside him. Súlion chuckled delightedly and splashed water over the two men with his vast wings. Thus began a blissful afternoon of splashing, ducking, diving, chasing and swimming for the three unlikely companions.

Súlion dived with one of the men either side, clutching his wings, rising to the surface just as they needed to take a breath. He pretended to chase them from one bank to the other and splashed them with his wings when they reached the other side and then ducked them under. He then nudged them to dive beneath him and race to see who emerged first at the other side.

Both men were fine swimmers who knew how to enjoy the water, but swimming with such a large yet graceful creature was something new entirely. Both forgot for a while their natural reticence, the strict rules of court decorum, and their sorrow at being apart from their wives to enjoy themselves as freely as any children freed from their lessons for an afternoon of unfettered bliss.

All too soon it was time to return to the shore. Aragorn and Faramir clambered on to the riverbank, again expecting some derogatory personal remarks from the dragon. Feeling rather foolish they stood on the bank in their drawers, while he blew great lungfuls of warm air over them. He did not say a single mocking work about their slender frames, though he studied them intently. The two friends quickly started to dress.

Aragorn turned around to pick up his belt and noted that Súlion was staring glumly at his hide. "I thought these marks would wash away," the dragon said, gesturing towards his damaged scales with his head.

"The scars will fade in time," Aragorn reassured him. He turned away again, concentrating on fastening the buckle. The next moment he was enveloped in a cloud of warm air as the dragon literally breathed down his neck. "I heard you were a great warrior," he said, "but there are no marks of battle on you, nor upon your friend!"

"I was raised by Elves," said Aragorn. "They use special arts to fade scars. I have many, but they are almost too faint to behold unless you look carefully."

"Would such arts work for me?" Súlion asked eagerly. "I do not like my magnificent hide to be so blemished!"

"I have no idea," Aragorn said truthfully. "I can but try. You will need to wait until your wounds are fully healed, though."

"That sounds good," said Súlion blowing another blast of hot air over both King and Steward. "I will be as good as new then and so will my rider if you do the same for him!"

Aragorn was uncertain how to reply to this as he had no desire to dampen Súlion's improved spirits. He busied himself in lacing his shirt while thinking of something suitable to say.

"You are an excellent swimmer, Súlion," said Faramir, coming to the rescue. "I did not know dragons could swim!"

"Ah, but you do not know many dragons! You swim well for Men!" Súlion replied. "I am hungry now!"

"We will bring you to the river again when our duties permit," Aragorn promised.

The two Men and the dragon flew back to the field in much better spirits than they had set out. Aragorn was surprised to spot a young man in the corner of the field. As they drew closer he realised he was dressed in the robes of an apprentice healer. The youth ran up to them as soon as Súlion's feet touched the ground.

"My lord King!" he cried. "Master Tarostar sent me to look for you. The Easterling is fading fast. Master Tarostar thought you would want to know."

"I will go to him at once," said Aragorn.

"I am sorry, Súlion," said Faramir without thinking.

"You mean the Easterling is my rider?" cried the dragon. "No, he must not die!"

"I am very sorry too, Súlion," said Aragorn. "We tried everything he could."

"Take me to him!" the dragon demanded.

Aragorn sighed." He had been dreading this from the moment the dragon and his wounded rider had arrived in Minas Tirith. How did grieving dragons react? Would he survive without his rider and if so what would he do? Would he desire to return home? If not, Aragorn would be honour bound to offer him a home in Gondor, whatever it cost. It was not cows he was thinking of, but Arwen's love for him.

"I want to see him!" Súlion repeated even as the thoughts whirled around the King's brain.

"I do not know if that is possible," said Aragorn. "You might alarm the other patients in the Houses of Healing and I am not sure where you could land."

"I want to be with my rider!" Súlion reared up and bared his teeth. His ruff stood out stiffly from his long neck. The young assistant healer looked terrified.

"There is a large lawn in front of the Houses," said Faramir. "Maybe Súlion could land there and we could bring his rider to him on a litter? If you go on ahead, sire, to make the arrangements, I will follow with Súlion in a short time. Would that be acceptable?"

"I would rather go at once," Súlion said, but he closed his fearsome mouth and put his forepaws back on the ground.

"We need to make certain you have a safe place to land and the healers are prepared for your coming," said Aragorn, thinking he would order the curtains drawn in all the rooms that overlooked the gardens.

"Very well," said Súlion," but I will see him!"

Aragorn sped off to where his horse was tethered and urged the stallion into a gallop. He sympathised with the dragon's wish to see his dying rider despite all the difficulties it posed. After all, every effort was made to summon the loved ones of a dying patient to his or her bedside and the dragon was the only friend that Fu Nung had in Gondor. The King soon arrived at the Houses of Healing and started issuing instructions concerning the dragon's coming to the healers. They were none too willing to obey. He then hastened to Fu Nung's bedside. The man's fever had worsened and Tarostar and Aedred were bathing him in cool water with little effect. His pulse was weak and rapid and he hardly seemed to breathe. Aragorn again tried to connect with the Easterling's spirit, but again was unable to do so.

"I doubt he will live until sunset, poor fellow," Aedred said sadly

"His dragon wants to see him," said Aragorn. "We must prepare a litter and take him outside." He grabbed a towel and started to wipe the water off the rider.

"What?" Tarostar exclaimed in horror. "But the man is dying, sire!"

"What harm can it do him then?" said Aragorn. "Someone fetch a litter and quickly!"

"I must register that I do not approve of this course of action, sire!" said Tarostar. "Taking a dying man outside to a dragon is unheard of!"

"That dragon is his only true friend in Gondor," said Aragorn. "Maybe the creature will comfort him as his spirit moves beyond the circles of the world."

Just then two servants arrived with the litter. Aragorn and the healers wrapped Fung Nu in a linen sheet and a blanket. The King sent one of the servants to watch for the dragon's arrival. Until then, they left the unconscious Easterling on the bed, where he lay motionless and close to death.

000

We should go now," Súlion told Faramir fretfully.

"Just wait a little longer," the Steward counselled, gently stroking the creature's nose.

"My rider is dying! I want to go to him!"

"I know," Faramir said quietly, "and I understand."

"How can you understand?" demanded the dragon.

"I lost a brother who was as dear to me as any brother could be," Faramir explained. "Then there have been times when I believed the King had been slain and I felt that my soul was torn asunder. He is not only my lord, but has become as a father and brother to me. I cannot contemplate a world in which he does not dwell."

"That is how I feel about my rider," Súlion conceded. "I chose him as my companion when my first rider died. His family were not pleased, thinking I should prefer his brothers, but I saw his true worth. Alas, I fear I led him to his death!"

"How could that be?" enquired Faramir. "It was not you who wounded him."

"I encouraged his desire to explore," Súlion said sadly. "I thought that if we explored distant lands and maybe formed an alliance with your King that Fung Nu's family would better respect him."

"It was not a bad plan," Faramir said. "You were not to know that the Peoples of the West have never met any friendly dragons before."

"So I have killed him!"

Faramir wondered if dragons were capable of bursting into tears as Súlion certainly looked as if he might. He decided enough time had elapsed for Aragorn to warn the Houses of Healing of their coming. ""If you would carry me once more?"

Swift as an arrow in flight, Súlion sped towards the City. Faramir had to beg him to slow his progress as they approached the sixth level. He instructed the dragon which direction to take and they swiftly reached their destination and hovered above the gardens of the Houses, coming down to land on the garden lawn. They quickly discovered that the garden hardly designed for dragons. Súlion's vast limbs and wings tore up several shrubs, uprooted a row of rose bushes and almost overturned a small tree! A maidservant fled screaming, while two irate gardeners shook their fists at the dragon.

"Oh dear," said Súlion "Why are all your places so small?" He settled himself as best he could on the lawn and Faramir slid from his back. "Where is my rider?" the dragon demanded.

Faramir was just about to send one of the gardeners to enquire of the healers when a small procession approached. Aragorn and Aedred slowly bore a litter, while Tarostar walked alongside it, still protesting.

"Just look at all this the damage this monster has caused , Master Warden!" said one of the gardeners. "The creature has undone months of our labour! Why does the Lord Steward want to bring a dragon here?"

"The damage can be dealt with later," said Aragorn before Tarostar could reply. Now, I want everyone except the healers to leave us. The dragon should be able to bid a private farewell to his rider."

Chapter Thirteen - Love than death itself more strong

Love is kind, and suffers long
Love is meek, and thinks no wrong,
Love than death itself more strong;
Therefore, give us Love. - Christopher Wordsworth

The dragon was already craning his long neck towards the litter. When Aragorn and Aedred placed their burden gently on the ground, Súlion gave a low moan at the sight of his rider. He immediately started to lick Fu Nung's face with the tip of his long tongue.

Tarostar opened his mouth and protested, "This is most unhygienic!"

Aragorn silenced him with a motion of his hand and beckoned the healers to move away. Faramir moved to stand beside his lord. Together they beheld the painful spectacle of the heartbreak of a beast that apparently shared Man's capacity to love and grieve.

Súlion raised his head a little; "Fung Nu, Fung Nu!" he wailed. There was no answer. The dragon nosed aside the blankets that covered his rider and beheld the man's wounds for the first time. He gave a terrible roar of pain and grief that made the ground beneath Aragorn and Faramir's feet shake. Faramir gripped Aragorn's arm.

Fu Nung's eyes suddenly flickered open. "T'ien Li?" he whispered through parched lips. "T'ien Li!"

The dragon 's only reply was to tenderly nuzzle his rider's face. Fu Nung feebly lifted his uninjured arm to stroke Súlion's nose, then dropped it back exhausted on the pallet.

Aragorn and Faramir looked at each other in awe. Aragorn blinked a tear from his eye. In all his long years as a healer, the power of love to heal when all else had failed never ceased to astound him.

The dragon began to murmur words in a language that only Fu Nung could understand. His rider feebly answered him.

For a few moments the small group stood as if under some spell. Then Aragorn moved forward and deftly pulled the covers back over Fu Nung. "Get him some water and quickly!" he cried .He stepped back again so that Sulion could continue licking his rider's face.

Aedred and Faramir both sprinted back inside the Houses of Healing, Faramir reaching his destination first by a long length and snatching up a pitcher from a startled patient's bedside. Aedred grabbed a glass and the two men hurried back to the gardens.

Faramir filled a glass with water and handed it to his friend. Aragorn again approached the dragon and his rider. Súlion moved aside a little, allowing Aragorn to kneel beside Fu Nung. The King slipped one arm around the Easterling's shoulders to support him, while he held the water to his lips. "Easy now, sip it," he instructed when Fu Nung swallowed so greedily that he threatened to choke. He glanced at Súlion who translated his words into the rider's own tongue.

"I cannot believe it!" said Tarostar, still gazing at the dragon doubtfully.

Fu Nung drained two glasses of water before Aragorn gently lowered him back on to the pallet. He checked the man's pulse and found it was considerably stronger and slower than it had been but a short time before. He then felt the rider's forehead and discovered the fever had broken. Fu Nung's eyes closed again. Aragorn moved away and rejoined Faramir.

Súlion immediately curled his forelegs around the pallet and lifted his wings as a protective shield. "You are not taking him away from me!" the dragon said, daring the bystanders to challenge him.

Aragorn turned and said to the dragon, "Indeed not. We will be nearby if you need us. Gentlemen, let us go back inside."

"You cannot leave the patient with a dragon here on the lawn!" Tarostar protested.

"Why not?" said Aragorn. "Súlion will not deliberately cause any damage."

"But the patient!"

"Is resting comfortably watched over by his best friend," Aragorn replied. "We can do nothing for them save make ourselves as little nuisance as possible." Without a backward glance he led Faramir and the healers back inside.

"Poor Súlion!" Faramir found himself swallowing hard after what he had witnessed. "He is obviously devoted to his rider."

Aragorn smiled. "It is too early to say for certain, but Fu Nung might yet recover. His fever has broken."

"Surely all the more reason to bring him back to bed?" said Tarostar.

"No," said Aragorn in a tone that brokered no argument. "Whether he lives or dies now will depend wholly on his desire to recover. Only the dragon can give him that. He fears us and understands not a word we are saying. Most likely he feared his dragon was either far away or dead. Leave them a while and let us hope he will find the will to overcome his injuries. Even if he should not, it is kindest to let him depart the circles of the world with a friend beside him." Aragorn looked at Faramir as he spoke. His friend had saved his life on several occasions, not through knowledge of the healing arts, but by being at his side. Maybe Súlion could do the same for Fu Nung?

Aragorn led the way back inside and busied himself for the next hour or two helping what patients he could. Several were distressed at the presence of the dragon and needed reassuring, one already seriously ill old man had suffered failure of the heart with fright, and several of the young women healers, and one of the older men were having hysterics. Nothing could be done to save the old man, but the others eventually calmed down. By sunset the dragon's presence seemed almost taken for granted.

Faramir went to visit the more active patients and reassured them by recounting how the King had taken his young son to meet the dragon, because it was such a friendly and trustworthy beast.

As the sun sank over the horizon it started to grow chill. Aragorn called to Faramir and they went outside to tell Súlion that it was time for Fung Nu to come back within doors

The dragon had not moved from the position they had left him in. He lifted his head as the men approached.

"It is time to take your rider back to his room," said Aragorn.

"You were not caring from him properly!" Súlion accused them, not making any attempt to move.

"I am sorry," said Aragorn. "We tried our best, but we will try harder."

"I am staying with him," the dragon said obstinately.

"I wish that you could," said Aragorn, "but it is too cold here in the gardens and there is no chamber within the city that could accommodate you."

"Fu Nung could take a chill if he remained outside," said Faramir. "Then all the good you have done him would be undone. Also he would have no privacy when the Healers tended to him. You shall see him again soon."

"Very well," said Súlion, though he sounded far from convinced. Slowly and reluctantly he uncurled himself and stood up.

Aragorn immediately noticed that Fu Nung was a better colour and breathing deeply. He appeared to be in a natural sleep. When the King checked the Easterling's pulse, it was steady and much stronger.

Rather than further upset the dragon, Aragorn and Faramir took up Fu Nung's pallet and prepared to carry him back inside themselves. They left Súlion waiting for them on the lawn watching the litter depart with a woebegone expression.

Aedred and Tarostar were awaiting their patient with hot water and clean bandages. "I have examined him," Aragorn informed them. "He seems a good deal better. I think we should leave him to sleep as soon as possible." Together with Faramir, he gently returned the rider to his bed.

Tarostar immediately took up a wash cloth to cleanse the man's face.

"No," said Aragorn. "Leave the scent of the dragon on him. It might help him rest the easier."

"You will have the patients' hounds come and lick them next!" Tarostar grumbled.

"Most of my kinsfolk would prefer our horses to do so!" Aedred jested as he wound a clean bandage around Fu Nung's shoulder.

Aragorn helped the Rohirric healer ease the rider into a clean nightshirt. Throughout their ministrations, Fu Nung only sighed softly, opened one eye a fraction and then slipped into deeper sleep. Aragorn surmised that the fever had exhausted him. Rest was a better cure than anything known to the healer's art.

"I think he will sleep for some time now," Aragorn told the two healers. "I will come and see how he fares in the morning. If there is any change before then, please send for me, however late the hour."

After taking their leave, Aragorn and Faramir returned to where they had left Súlion. At a safe distance an elderly gardener was starting to clear up the trail of devastation left by the dragon. "Do not replant anything yet as he may need to come back again!" Aragorn called to the man.

"Yes, sire," the man replied in a tone that suggested he regarded dragons as similar vermin to the rats that he was accustomed to keeping at bay.

Faramir told the man that the gardens were looking exceptionally fine and one could hardly see the damage, which somewhat mollified the gardener. When he caught up with Aragorn and Súlion, the two were deep in conversation.

"At last you are starting to learn wisdom, son of Ilúvatar," said the dragon as he hoisted them aboard his back.

Faramir wondered what such a cryptic remark might mean, but was too well mannered to enquire.

Súlion landed near to the King's apartments, on a lawn most often used by the royal children as a space to play. Aragorn wondered ruefully as he alighted whatever Arwen would think of the dragon being only yards from her private garden, which was situated just behind a hedge on the far side of the lawn.

King and Steward bade the dragon farewell.

Faramir and Aragorn changed out of the old clothes they had been wearing for their visit to the dragon and then shared a simple dinner of beef taken from the same cows that were feeding their guest, followed by a pudding filled with slices of a tangy yellow fruit which was imported from Harad.

After the meal Faramir decided that he ought to catch up with the affairs of state he had neglected that afternoon and went to his study to spend several hours wrestling with the details of a trade agreement with Rhûn.

Deciding he had done all he could for one night, the Steward put the documents away and called for a servant to bring his bedtime drink. The treaty had taken longer than he expected and the hour had grown late. Yawning, Faramir retired to the room he was currently sharing with the King, expecting Aragorn to have already gone to bed. To his surprise there was no sign of his friend. He put the drink to one side and went out to speak to the guard at the end of the corridor. "Have you seen the King?" the Steward enquired.

"Lord Elessar went out in the gardens, sir," the man replied.

"Has he been gone long?" Faramir asked.

"He went out straight after dinner, my lord. I was wondering when he would want his supper bringing."

Faramir received this news with some concern. Aragorn would often go for a brisk stroll outside to clear his head after too long indoors, but they had been out all afternoon, and he was not in the habit of wandering around in the dark for hours at a time. The Steward hurried back to the bedchamber and donned his cloak.

Fearing Aragorn might be in low spirits because of Arwen's absence, Faramir decided to go in search of his lord alone. He walked swiftly through the gardens, almost invisible in the Elven cloak that the King and Queen had gifted him at Mettarë several years ago. Rounding a bend that led to the King and Queen's private gardens, Faramir gasped at the huge shape that loomed out of the darkness. Two enormous blue eyes gleamed at him.

"Hello, Faramir," Súlion said conversationally. "Have you come to join us?"

"Woe she Aragorn Elessar," said a familiar voice.

"Huh? Woe she what?" Faramir asked in bewilderment. It seemed he had found the King, but he was talking gibberish!

Chapter fourteen- The words of understanding

To know wisdom and instruction;to perceive the words of understanding; Proverbs – 1.1 – The Bible


"Wo shi Aragorn Elessar," the dragon repeated. "Not too bad. We will practice the other phrases again now."

"I asked Súlion to teach me some words in his rider's tongue that I might better tend him," Aragorn explained.

He is very slow at achieving anything near the correct pronunciation," Súlion grumbled. "His little one would be far better at it! Now remember what I told you, you should say Ně tzaí péhn yǒ zhōn jien, nǐ bú yòhn haì pà, to my rider. Try it once more, if you please. "

"It is a kind gesture to speak to Fu Nung in his own tongue, but you need to rest now," Faramir said firmly. He sighed with relief that Aragorn had not lost his wits after all.

"He needs more practice," Súlion protested.

"Maybe dragons can work both night and day, but Men cannot," Faramir replied. The dragon's language was quite unlike anything he had heard before and he was fluent in several tongues. He feared Aragorn would get no rest at all that night if he continued trying to master such strange sounding words. "Come, Aragorn, you have a busy day again tomorrow, and you, Súlion, should return to your field." He softened his words by stroking the dragon's nose, which reached towards him.

"Behold my mother hen!" Aragorn said, trying to stifle a yawn. "I will come, if only to ensure that you take some rest, ion nîn. Goodnight, Súlion, we will continue on the morrow!"

"At least your pronunciation should amuse my rider!" said Súlion.

Aragorn left Súlion's side to join Faramir. The two men watched as the dragon spread his wings and soared aloft like a vast bird.

The King did not speak, but paced restlessly once Súlion had gone. "There are times when I feel like smoking pipe weed again," he said at last.

"The Queen would not be happy if you did," said Faramir, thinking he shared the good lady's sentiments. He recalled the Hobbits'  love of the foul smelling substance. The thought of enduring it while they worked together, after meals, and before sleeping on the occasions he shared a chamber with Aragorn, was not a pleasant one at all. The smoke made him cough and hurt his throat.

"When will she return?" Aragorn said morosely, starting to pace again. "Or am I doomed to spend my nights conversing with a dragon?"

"You have endured separations before," Faramir said, trying to sound comforting. "This one will pass too. Come and rest, things will look better in the morning."

"Will they?" He sounded unsure. Nevertheless, Aragorn accompanied Faramir back inside.

Faramir awakened with a start when the King cried out in his sleep. Alarmed, Faramir lit a candle and tried to rouse his lord and friend. Aragorn had suffered nightmares before, after his ordeal at the hands of the rebel lords, but not for several years now. The only disruption to his slumbers Faramir had been forced to endure on their camping trips had been the King's loud snoring.

When he saw that calling his friend's name had no effect, Faramir shook Aragorn awake. For a moment Aragorn looked at him wildly, his eyes unfocussed.

"You are safe in your own chamber in Minas Tirith," Faramir reassured him. "You were having a dark dream and cried out in your sleep."

"I dreamed the kingdom fell to invaders and all through my folly!" Aragorn said after a moment. He was breathing heavily and Faramir could sense his agitation. The Steward put his arm around Aragorn's shoulders and was alarmed that his friend was trembling slightly. Aragorn was the toughest individual he knew and very rarely showed any sign of weakness.

"Your kingdom is secure. It was but an evil dream, ada," Faramir said. "I cannot imagine you capable of such folly!"

"Have I not driven away the fairest and best lady upon Arda?" Aragorn said bitterly. "And was I not powerless to heal Fu Nung?"

"You reunited Fu Nung with his dragon, which rekindled his will to live," Faramir said firmly. He pulled on his robe over his night attire and went to call a servant to bring to some tea, while he pondered over what he was certain was the true cause of Aragorn's disquiet. "Either Fu Nung and Súlion will return to their own lands once Fu Nung is well," Faramir ventured at last. "Or they will settle here and everyone, including the Queen, will become accustomed to their presence."

"Everyone has not lived for almost three thousand years and never in all those years heard of a dragon that was other than evil," Aragorn said wryly. "Súlion might well have saved your life, and he did us both a favour. Every law of hospitality and honour demands that I shelter him and his rider. Truth to tell, I have even grown to rather like the beast! But what substitute is a dragon for my wife and for my children?"

Just then, the servant tapped on the door with the tea. Faramir took the tray from her and returned to Aragorn's side. "Eldarion likes Súlion," he said hopefully. "Maybe he will convince his mother that a dragon need not be evil."

"I wish I could share your hope," Aragorn replied grimly, taking a sip of the hot drink. "Never before though have I seen Arwen so angry nor known her try to kill anything or anyone. I doubt she will be swayed."

"Maybe there have been other matters in her long life that she has changed her mind over long before you were born," said Faramir, sipping his own tea. "I still hope that once our child is born, Éowyn will be more reasonable and I can convince her that Súlion is no Fell Beast!"

"Éowyn does not hold you responsible for the presence of the dragon in Gondor, though," said Aragorn. "As King, that burden has fallen solely upon me."

"I would not have decided differently were it my decision," said Faramir.

Aragorn put his cup down and hugged the younger man. "I am blessed to have your counsel and support, ion nîn," he said. "No son of my flesh could be more loving and loyal to me than you are."

"You deserve my love and fealty, ada," Faramir said simply, returning the embrace. "Now finish your drink and let us get some rest while we yet may. It will be another long day tomorrow."

To the Steward's great relief, Aragorn did as he was bidden and exhaustion from the day's events caused him to quickly fall asleep again. Faramir was not so fortunate and lay awake pondering their conversation. He was deeply worried about his lord. He had not seen Aragorn in such low spirits since the last time he had been separated from his lady when the City was ravaged by a fever epidemic. Then, rebel lords had taken advantage of the King's weariness to kidnap him. The Steward was determined that at all cost, the King must be protected during this current crisis.

Aragorn was now snoring softly. Faramir hoped that he was lost in pleasant dreams of his lady in happier times.

Faramir got up and went over to the window. He looked out at the stars, the same stars that had shone over the city through many troubled times before. Even the evil of Sauron had not dimmed them. In comparison with what they had overcome in the past, their present problem was small by comparison, if a dragon could ever be considered small! Smiling slightly at the thought and somewhat reassured, Faramir returned to bed and finally fell asleep.

Despite his troubled night, Aragorn awoke soon after sunrise. He dressed quickly, and after leaving a note for Faramir, made his way to the Houses of Healing. It was a beautiful spring morning, which initially raised his spirits until he walked through the gardens of the Houses and heard the birds calling to their mates in the treetops. He resolutely pushed the melancholy thoughts aside as he walked towards Fu Nung's room and tried to recall everything that Súlion had told him the night before.

Fu Nung was awake and staring at Tarostar and Aedred in wide-eyed fear as they prepared to change the dressings on his wounds. He struggled feebly against their ministrations.

"He drank two glasses of water and took his medicines when he woke up just after dawn," said Tarostar in reply to the question in Aragorn's eyes. "Then we decided to dress his wounds and he became agitated."

Aragorn waved them aside and pulled the covers back over the Easterling. He smiled reassuringly then took a deep breath and said "Cheen ne farng zhin, Fu Nung."

Fu Nung looked at him, comprehension slowly dawning in his gaze.

Aragorn tried again "Chín nǐ fáhng xín."

"My lord?" Tarostar asked bewildered. He looked at Aragorn as if he feared the King had lost his wits.

"I asked the dragon to teach me a few words in Fu Nung's only language. I thought if I knew the simple phrases we reassure our patients with daily it might help him." He turned back to Fu Nung and said "Woe Shee Aragorn Elessar."

Fu Nung managed a faint smile" Ara- gon Lesser," he said slowly. "Wǒ shih Fu Nung."

Encouraged by this success, Aragorn continued "Nee tzay payn yo, shone jen, nee boo yohn hie par."

Fu Nung for the first time in their acquaintance smiled properly, his wan face lighting up. Aragorn caught a sudden glimpse of what the young man's personality must be like when not overshadowed by fear and pain. Fu Nung tried to laugh, then groaned and clutched at his chest with his good hand.

Aragorn repeated his words of reassurance and held his hands a few inches above the Easterling's bruised ribs. To his delight, this time, his powers took effect and the expression on Fu Nung's face showed that the pain had subsided. Further reassuring the rider, he tended his wounds using all his Elvish skills and innate powers. Then with Aedred's assistance, the young man was washed and dressed in a clean nightshirt.

"Wǒ dùzi è!" said Fu Nung when they had finished.

"My grasp of his tongue is still poor, but I believe he is hungry," said Aragorn.

"I will send to the kitchens for a nourishing broth for our patient," said Aedred, looking almost as delighted as Aragorn.

"We will have to feed him. In his land they use different eating utensils," said Aragorn.

A few minutes later a servant brought a dish of steaming chicken broth. At first Fu Nung regarded it dubiously, but after a few tentative spoonfuls, he devoured every drop. Aragorn and Aedred exchanged a satisfied look. It seemed that Fu Nung was getting better.

During the next few days Fu Nung's health continued to improve sufficiently for Aragorn to decide to move him from the Houses of Healing to rooms neat his own apartments. That allowed him treat the Rider's wounds with his Elven healing skills twice a day. He appointed two servants and an apprentice healer from the Houses to care for the Easterling.

Even more importantly for Fu Nung's well being, he was able to spend time with Súlion in the royal gardens. Aragorn ordered that he be carried there daily. With the dragon's help they were able to converse and Aragorn learned that when they had first encountered the dragon, Fu Nung had been locked in the prison of a small town on suspicion of being a foreign spy. When the magistrate had visited, the Easterling had been released for lack of evidence and Súlion had later found him in the fields surrounding the town. The dragon, though, had either failed to pass on Aragorn's advice to return to their own lands, or been ignored by the overeager explorer who wanted to continue his travels. All had been well enough when they flew far overhead, for if any had noticed them at all, Súlion could have been taken for some sort of large bird. Eventually, though, they had been forced to land to find food. Súlion had been spotted and his Rider beaten up, while soldiers stationed in the nearest town had shot at him and his Rider as they tried to escape, with near fatal consequences for the latter.

Aragorn tried to learn more of Fu Nung's language and Faramir also mastered a few phrases so he could at least exchange cordial greetings with Súlion's rider. The Steward had asked his friend Tahir, the ambassador from Harad, to send his personal tailor to measure Fu Nung for some clothing in a style nearer to that of his homeland than Aragorn of Faramir's tailors could provide.

Fu Nung accepted their hospitality gratefully, smiling at them with a shy endearing grin and trying to master the Common Tongue and the eating implements favoured by the Gondorians.

If truth were told, both King and Steward were grateful for something to distract them from the absence of their wives and children as well as Faramir's concern for Éowyn as the time for her confinement approached. Restoring Fu Nung to full health that he might go on his way seemed the best way to hasten the return of the ladies, but Aragorn was bound by the laws of hospitality to shelter his guests for as long as they desired to stay.

Súlion seemed far more restless than his rider, maybe because his wounds were much quicker to heal and the dragon disliked being confined to the Royal gardens or the field that had been procured for him.

One afternoon when Fu Nung was resting, Aragorn and Faramir went to see the dragon and found him a desolate mood.

"My wings are no better," Súlion said, glumly, holding up a wing and inspecting the now healed wound upon it. "Look how ugly I am now!"

"You are not ugly," Faramir said soothingly.

"But my beautiful wings are marred!" groaned the dragon. "And the rest of me!"

Aragorn tried to hide a smile at the vanity of the creature. His smile soon vanished at the dragon's next words, though. "You said you had a remedy to heal these blemishes. When can I have it?"

"It has only been used on Men and Elves," said Aragorn. "I have no idea if it would work on dragons."

"You could try, though," Súlion said hopefully.

" I could, but I have little idea how to proceed," said the King. "The patient needs to be immersed in a tub of medicinal mud, which is left to set and then rinsed away with clean water after which a salve is applied. There is no tub in all of Gondor which would hold you!"

Súlion's head drooped sadly.

"Maybe we could bring out some large washing tubs, fill them with the mixture and just apply it to his scars?" Faramir suggested to Aragorn.

The King glared, having hoped that the dragon would forget the whole idea.

"Then we could rub him down with clean water," Faramir continued.

"That would be practical enough," Aragorn conceded. "It is doubtful, though that it could work. A Man's skin is very different than a dragon's hide! You would be very disappointed, would you not, Súlion, if it did not work?"

"It would be worse not to try," said Súlion. "I am sure it will make me beautiful again and Fu Nung beautiful too for his wife. Not that I mind about such matters, but ladies do, I believe."

"Very well," said Aragorn, mentally calculating how many soldiers would be needed to carry the tubs and buckets of water. He doubted they would be very happy, neither would the washerwomen to have their tubs thus purloined.

"We will see if we can try tomorrow," Faramir smiled. "The King and I both have a morning free of official duties."

"Why did you not attempt to dissuade him?" Aragorn demanded once the Men were out of the dragon's earshot.

"For several reasons," said the Steward. "I hate to see a sentient creature unhappy, he will pester repeatedly you until you try the treatment, it would be good if he could return home unmarked by what befell him here, and not least, because it will be yet another way to prove how great a healer you are."

Aragorn glared for a moment, looking as if he might cheerfully throw something at his friend. Then his features relaxed and he thumped Faramir's shoulder affectionately. "Always you have faith in me, mellon nîn," he exclaimed. "I only hope that faith is not misplaced."

A/n

With grateful thanks to Labourslamp, Xia Ziyi, Aaranellaureote, Tanpopo03 and Calen Greenleaf for their assistance with the Chinese dialogue in this chapter.

Aragon says to Fu Nung. " I am Aragorn Elessar. Be at ease. You are safe and amongst friends."

 Chapter Fifteen - Betrayed,betrayed!

Betrayed, betrayed!

(Verrat! Verrat!) – Götterdämmerung -Wagner


A fire was kindled in Sulion's field in order to heat the water early the next morning. The dragon reclined near the flames, rolling over like a pampered hound to feel the heat on his underbelly.

The tubs of water were brought out. Although, the sight of the dragon no longer caused panic, few were keen to be in its vicinity any longer than strictly necessary. Súlion tried to talk to some of the young guardsman, but they gaped at him open- mouthed, before scuttling away as soon as their task was completed.

Súlion regarded them sadly. "Why will so few people talk to me?" he asked the Steward in a plaintive tone.

"The soldiers have other duties to attend to," Faramir replied.

"I know they don't like me," said the dragon. "You do not need to pretend."

"They are not accustomed to other than Men having the power of speech," said Aragorn. "It frightens them."

"How can they become accustomed if they run away?" asked the dragon.

To that question neither King nor Steward had an answer.

Aragorn busied himself mixing the powder with the water to create the Elven mud treatment. The dragon looked at the steaming mixture dubiously. "Is that it?" he asked. "It looks like dirty mud from the river!"

"That is what I thought when I first saw the treatment," said Faramir. "I recall that I was very loth to immerse myself it, but it proved quite a pleasant experience and a most effective treatment."

"Maybe a whole tub would be pleasant to wallow in," said Súlion hopefully.

"I doubt there is a tub large enough to fit you anywhere in my kingdom," Aragorn replied. He dipped his hands in the tub of steaming mud and started to apply it thickly to the places where the creature's hide was damaged.

"Ouch!" cried Súlion "Ooh, oh, ouch!"

"Whatever is the matter?" said Aragorn.

"It stings!" wailed the dragon. "Oh, ouch!"

"We do not to need to this if you do not wish," Aragorn said sweetly. "Maybe dragons react badly to the mixture? I do not recall making so much fuss when the scars on my much thinner hide were treated, nor did Faramir."

"Maybe it is not that painful," Súlion said hastily. "It has stopped hurting now."

Aragorn and Faramir exchanged rueful smiles wondering how long it would be before the dragon started to complain again, but Súlion only whimpered a little when Aragorn treated his deeper wounds. The mud was left on for a short time and then Aragorn and Faramir both worked to wipe the dragon's scales clean again. They had decided the night before it would be quicker and easier to do this themselves than to summon assistance. Aragorn then took up an enormous pot of special salve and coated the dragon's scars thickly with it.

"You must stay out of water to keep the ointment dry now for three days for the treatment to work," Aragorn told Súlion.

"But I don't like being dirty!" the dragon groaned.

"It is only for a little while," said the King.

"The Council is not in session on Saturday," said Faramir. "We could take you to the river, could we not, Aragorn?" He shot a glance at the King, who nodded his agreement.

"Will you come swimming with me?" Súlion asked eagerly.

"We will," said Faramir. By now, he had almost become accustomed to bathing with the creature. At least it did not stare at him as disdainfully as Elbeth's pet cat. He was certain that the ginger tom thought any being lacking sleek orange fur was vastly inferior to itself!

"We promise," said Aragorn good-humouredly. An afternoon spent swimming with a dragon now seemed an agreeable prospect and a welcome escape from the City without Arwen and the children in it, especially now that late spring in all its beauty was here. He had so many memories of walking with Arwen in the gardens or playing with Eldarion when the air was heavy with the scent of sweet blossoms. He had eagerly awaited his bride at this time of year, and dreamed of waking each morning at her side for the rest of his days. Whoever could have foreseen that they would become so estranged?

000

The two men rode back through the City at a leisurely pace. It was market day and the streets were crowded, maybe a little less so than they sometimes were, but the people seemed to have grown almost accustomed to having a dragon dwelling nearby.

King and Steward stopped at several stalls to buy trinkets to send to their wives and children. As a merchant was wrapping some wooden toys, a dishevelled man in torn clothing pushed forward and shouted, "Curse you, Elessar for allowing the spawn of Morgoth to dwell amongst us! Woe to you and your kindred, woe to Gondor for your pride and folly!"

The guards rushed forward, but the man had already vanished among the throng.

Moat of the passers- by looked shocked, but a few nodded as if agreeing with his words.

"Shall we call for reinforcements and order a through search, sire?" asked the Captain of Aragorn's bodyguards.

Aragorn shook his head. "He carried no weapon. He appears to be a madman; no doubt some poor soul whose wits were addled by the war. If you should come across him again, confine him within the Houses of Healing."

"But, he threatened you, sire," the Captain protested.

"If we were to pursue everyone who objected to the dragon's presence, the prison would soon be overflowing! Curses have no power over those who are innocent. A wise man fears weapons, not words." Aragorn said firmly. He turned back to the stall and purchased some blocks for Farawyn.

"He ought to be punished for speaking to you, thus," Faramir said indignantly, though in a low voice. He shuddered; recalling how a would- be assassin had once almost caused Aragorn's death in this very market place.

"You should have heard some of the curses heaped upon me in my days as a Ranger! Stick at naught Strider was one of the least offensive!” said Aragorn. "But, I am still standing hale and hearty." He smiled at Faramir then at the crowd. "Come, we have more to fear from the wrath of the cook if we are late for luncheon than from any man here!" He swung himself back in Roheryn's saddle and Faramir likewise mounted his horse.

Over a delicious luncheon of roast beef, Aragorn regaled Faramir with tales of some of the indignities that Strider had suffered and by the time the dessert of pears stewed in wine arrived, the incident in the market place was almost forgotten.

000

Saturday dawned bright and clear, a perfect late spring day, which lifted Aragorn and Faramir's spirits considerably. They missed their ladies and children greatly, but the prospect of an afternoon spent outdoors was something that always delighted the two former Rangers.

This time, they came well prepared with their towels and a change of linens. Súlion had agreed to meet them in the gardens of the Royal Apartments, which spared King and Steward an argument about their guards accompanying them. They climbed aboard the dragon and were soon aloft. Aragorn and Faramir were expecting Súlion to take them where they had swum several times before, but the dragon flew past the spot.

"Where are you going?" Aragorn demanded. "We did not come this far before."

"My wings feel better now, "said the dragon. "I would venture further."

"Do not forget we need somewhere suitable to bathe," Faramir reminded him.

The patches of orange ointment caked on Sulion's body and wings did not seem to trouble him as he flew onwards, at last descending in a meadow beside the Anduin. He made to land in the open field.

"No!" cried Aragorn. "Land on the grass behind the willows on the opposite bank. That will be a nice secluded place for us to undress and leave our clothes and swords."

"I pity you men," said Súlion. "Little wonder you are so self conscious as you lack fine scales like mine!"

"I do not think our wives would be very happy if we grew scales instead of skin," Aragorn said dryly.

"I will soon look fair again!" Súlion cried joyfully as the two men clambered from his back.

"I warn you the treatment may not work," Aragorn cautioned, but there was no dampening the dragon's enthusiasm. The moment his passengers' feet touched the ground, he plunged into the water.

The two men undressed in a more leisurely fashion. Faramir, as was his custom, carefully folding each garment, while Aragorn flung his to one side.

"Please be careful!" groaned Faramir. "Last time, I returned home wearing your shirt when our clothes became mixed up, and my tunic had a muddy patch down the front as you threw your boot on top of it!"

"I cannot help it that we are the same size!" Aragorn retorted, playfully jostling the younger man and causing him to drop his carefully folded tunic.

Before Faramir could retaliate, the two friends had to duck as a shower of water hit them and threatened to soak their discarded clothes. Súlion had emerged from the water and was flapping his wings joyfully. "Look!" the dragon exclaimed. "My wings are as fine as ever and so are my scales! The she dragons will still find me attractive!"

Aragorn could only manage the most cursory glance at the glossy black hide as the dragon was dancing for joy, if dragons could be said to dance. It did appear, though, that the Elven treatment worked as well for dragons as for the Children of Ilúvatar.

"Come let us go swimming!" Súlion cried, diving back in the water.

His enthusiasm was infectious. Aragorn and Faramir discarded the remainder of their garments and dived in too. Soon they were all splashing one another gleefully and all their cares were forgotten.

Suddenly, Súlion surfaced, then craned his long neck with a loud roar of delight. The dragon soared upwards without a backward look, and flew off into the distance.

"What is he doing?" Faramir asked in bewilderment.

"Look!" Aragorn cried.

Súlion was returning and he was not alone. With him were five other dragons, vividly hued in scarlet and orange. Fearsome plumes of flame issued from their open mouths.

Súlion had betrayed them! Why had he been so foolish? Arwen had been right the whole time. Now he would die without ever seeing her and his children again. Gondor would fall and all because of his blindness and folly. The dragon had lured them here far from the City to ambush them when they were at their most vulnerable, weaponless and near naked. There was no chance that these dragons could be friendly. They were of a like kind to Smaug. Súlion had admitted the fire breathers would eat man flesh! Aragorn was no coward, but he felt a sharp jab of terror. There was no way he could fight such an enemy and there was no chance of escape.

"We are betrayed!" he cried, springing from the water as he spoke, with Faramir close behind. Aragorn pulled on his clothes at break neck speed, not caring that he was dripping wet and that he was wearing Faramir's tunic and that his breeches were on back to front.

"I am sorry," said Faramir.

"Sorry for what, ion nîn?"

"That I counselled you to trust a dragon."

"The dragon beguiled us both, I hold you free from all blame," Aragorn said grimly. "Our ladies knew better than we did from the beginning. I doubt we shall see another sunrise, but we can die in the manner of our forefathers with honour and courage. Perhaps we can mislead them ere they devour us to give our people more time to flee?"

"Our ladies and children have a good chance of escaping," said Faramir trying to sound more confident than he felt. He turned to look at Aragorn and the two friends shared a swift, fierce embrace. They loved each other as dearly as father and son. That they were fated to see each other die so cruel a death was a harsh fate indeed.

Aragorn and Faramir picked up their swords and prepared to die together, side by side.

Chapter Sixteen -  Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
Henry The Fourth, Part 2 Act 3, scene 1, 26–31 - Shakespeare

The dragons were now nearly upon them. Aragorn and Faramir stood facing them shoulder-to-shoulder; trying not to show the fear they felt. To their surprise, the strange dragons remained at a distance. Only Súlion approached them, circling over their heads and coming in to land on the grass behind the bank of willows.

The riders slid from the backs of their fearsome beasts and prostrated themselves face downwards on the ground in front of Aragorn, while the dragons bowed their heads respectfully.

"Hail, Great Lord Elessar, King of the Western lands!" cried one of the Riders in heavily accented common tongue, raising his head a little. "Your humble servant greets you. I am Wang Shu, Captain to the Son of Heaven. We bring friendly greetings from the exalted Emperor and thank you caring for his treasured friend and most humble son. Long have we journeyed in search of them that we might escort them safely home. Praise to the Celestial Beings that T'ien Li is safe and well!"

Faramir was the first to find his tongue at this unexpected turn of events. "Fu Nung is the son of your lord? His father must be most concerned about him."

"Fu Nung is of little consequence without the Celestial Friend," said the Captain. "It caused great consternation that the illustrious T'ien Li should choose the son of a third concubine as his companion, but who would dare question the esteemed ways of the illustrious ones?"

"Who indeed?" said Faramir with his customary politeness.

"Please get up, Captain," said Aragorn, belatedly recovering the power of speech and remembering his own good manners.

Wang Shu raised himself to a kneeling position. "We request permission from your most excellent majesty that we might rest here. I would crave an audience with you on the morrow as we bring gifts and greetings from the Son of Heaven. The esteemed T'ien Li tells us that Honourable Fu Nung is recovering from an illness, so we would ask if we could stay here until he is well enough to depart with us. The Esteemed One tells us your people fear dragons, so we would not come nearer to your City to alarm them."

"I am certain that can be arranged with the farmer who owns the field," said Aragorn, still hardly able to believe this sudden reversal of fortunes. "Please, Captain, get to your feet with your men and be at ease! I will see that food is sent to you and my guards will ensure your protection and escort you to the citadel. I am certain that Fu Nung will be glad to see you."

"As you will, most excellent majesty." The Captain said something that Aragorn and Faramir could not understand and the riders got to their feet and started to unload baggage from their dragons' backs. Aragorn felt slightly faint. He gripped Faramir's arm and turned to Súlion "We need to return to the City at once," he told the dragon.

Súlion allowed them to clamber aboard him. He then turned his head and grinned, showing his gigantic teeth. "You thought you were going to be eaten, did you not, oh foolish sons of Ilúvatar?"

"Of course not!" Aragorn protested rather too hastily.

"No, of course not," said the dragon. "Otherwise you would not have donned your coverings and prevented them from seeing that you two are all skin and bones, nor would you neglect to dry yourselves and drip cold water all over me!" With that the dragon soared aloft.

"Why did you not tell us that Fu Nung was your ruler's son?" Faramir enquired after a few moments.

"I thought it was too obvious a fact to relate," said the dragon.

"And why should that be?" Faramir asked.

"Only a Prince of royal blood would be deemed a fitting companion for a celestial dragon," Súlion explained. "No lesser man would be permitted to ride one of the Emperors ancestors!"

"Ancestors?" Aragorn's head was starting to spin.

"Yes, the first of the royal line was sired by a dragon," said Súlion, considerable pride in his tone.

"Really?" Aragorn could not hide the scepticism in his voice.

"Well, your line has a Maia for an ancestress," Faramir reminded him.

Aragorn said no more.

"Why did you agree to let us ride on your back when we first met you?" asked Faramir. "You did not know then that Aragorn was the King."

"I pitied you and as I was far from home, I did not think it mattered," said the dragon. "Besides, I was lonely as I missed bearing my own Rider upon my back."

Faramir pattered the great creature's neck at this revelation. They said no more for the remainder of the brief journey.

As soon as the dragon had set them down in the royal gardens, the two friends hurried to change their clothing before anyone saw their dishevelled appearance. Once properly dry and dressed as befitting their station, King and Steward despatched guards to bring the visiting captain to the City and servants to ensure that their guests, including the dragons, had sufficient to eat. A clerk was also despatched to negotiate a suitable price for the meadow where the dragons had made camp. Within the hour, the Captain was brought to Aragorn, who immediately took him to see Fu Nung. After many elaborate greetings, it seemed that the two knew one another well and were pleased to be reunited. Afterwards the Captain requested a formal audience for the next day. Aragorn left the Easterlings alone to converse in their own tongue and went to join Faramir for supper.

Neither King nor Steward had much appetite that evening for the delicious food the cooks set before them. Faramir especially found his stomach felt tight and nauseous, his head ached and his arms felt too painful to move. All his long healed old wounds seemed to throb, too. "I am not hungry," he said at last, pushing the plate aside. To his dismay he found he was shaking. Then his teeth started to chatter. "Whatever is the matter with me?" he exclaimed.

"I think you are suffering from delayed shock," Aragorn replied. "You gathered your wits together this afternoon much more swiftly than I did and now you are paying the price. I will treat you with the Elven healing touch to ease you. I fear I have neglected your well being of late."

"You too are weary," Faramir protested. "I will be well soon enough."

"Who else has need of me at present?" Aragorn asked somewhat bitterly.

"I should be glad of your help then," said Faramir, needing little persuasion. When times were quiet, Aragorn would use his Elvish healing arts every week to help him stay in good heath and keep his old wounds from troubling him. Since Súlion had turned up outside the City Gates, there had been no time as both men struggled to deal with the crisis and Aragorn fought to save Fung Nu's life.

"Let us retire for the night and I will tend you ere you sleep," said Aragorn. "We will accomplish little in the way of work after such a day as this! I will ask a servant to bring hot water that I might steep some athelas. It should benefit us both."

Faramir undressed, his shaking hands fumbling with buttons and laces. He lay on the bed and felt ashamed that even Aragorn should see him thus, as his whole body shook and quivered. He closed his eyes. Almost at once he felt the covers being drawn over him. He opened his eyes again and met his lord's kindly and concerned gaze

"I was hoping that our visitors would notice this afternoon how much my knees trembled," said Aragorn. "I hope I am no coward, but the thought of being eaten alive daunts even the bravest heart!" He crumbled two leaves of athelas into a bowl of steaming water. Both men inhaled deeply of the refreshing vapours.

Aragorn then began the Elven treatment, starting with the tense muscles in Faramir's neck and shoulders. "Your muscles are very tense," he said. "Small wonder that you are in pain!"

Faramir sighed as the King's skilful fingers gently massaged painful knots in his back. He recalled a lute he had owned as a boy, which had been strung too tightly and snapped when he had next played it. He felt his inside must resemble the broken instrument.

"Shock does strange things to the human body," said Aragorn. "You could not eat earlier as your stomach muscles are in knots too."

Faramir flinched slightly as Aragorn began to unloose the knots in his chest and stomach. The pain quickly eased as Aragorn's healing touch worked its magic. He felt now almost as if he were made of liquid. The warmth of the King's hands soothed away all the pain and stiffness that had troubled him but an hour before.

He closed his eyes and breathed deeply to the slow circular rhythm of Aragorn's fingertips. He felt almost as if he were floating and drifting away into pleasant dreams.

Aragorn finally ceased his ministrations. With a mighty effort Faramir opened his eyes. "I had better put my nightshirt on," he said. "It would be most incorrect to fall asleep without it!"

Aragorn grinned and tossed the garment to him. "I have never know you to act in an incorrect manner in all the years that I have known you, he said. "You had better don it or you might become chilled in just your drawers."

Faramir caught his nightshirt and pulled it over his head. By the time Aragorn had prepared for bed he was sound asleep.

Aragorn stood watching over him for a few moments, glad to observe the even rhythm of his friend's breathing and his relaxed posture. He bent and kissed him lightly on the brow, his heart full of love and gratitude towards this son of his heart who yet again had bravely faced death at his lord's side.

Faramir slept soundly that night; lulled to a deep and dreamless sleep by the King's treatments Aragorn was not so fortunate. All had ended well that day, but it could so easily have been very different. He tossed and turned, as evil dreams plagued him. Once he awoke in a cold sweat after dreaming of dragons devouring his children. He was tempted to wake Faramir, but had not the heart to disturb the soundly sleeping Steward.

At last morning came, and with it a distinct change in the weather. A chill wind blew in from the North and the skies were grey and overcast. It seemed more like November than late spring. The servants hastened to light fires in all the occupied rooms.

While Faramir dealt with affairs of State, Aragorn went to meet Fu Nung and the Captain. To his astonishment, they presented him with a sack of gold and many precious jewels and treasures, including bales of colourful silks, as a gift from Fu Nung's father. Aragorn insisted that he was only offering the hospitality due to a guest, but secretly was glad that Gondor's treasury would not have to pay for the feeding and accommodation of the dragons.

The King then went to join Faramir for luncheon. The two friends were hungrier today and soon ate their meal of roast lamb and vegetables followed by syllabub and apples cooked in wine.

Aragorn spent the afternoon hearing petitions over land disputes while Faramir made an inventory of the gifts the King had received that morning. He looked wistfully at a bale of green silk with a fine golden filigree pattern thinking how fair Éowyn would look in a gown made from it.

Just then Aragorn entered the room and picked up a bale of blue and silver cloth. "How fair Arwen would look in this!" he exclaimed.

"I was just thinking the same about Éowyn and this green silk," Faramir replied.

"You are welcome to give it to her," said Aragorn.

"When will our ladies agree to see us?" Faramir said sadly.

"The Valar alone know that!" Aragorn replied in an equally glum tone. On that melancholy note the two friends put down the silks and went to eat their evening meal. They ate in Aragorn's study, as the dining room seemed too large and bleak. The King thought wistfully of evenings in the past when he had sat with his children on his lap, telling Eldarion stories while Farawyn slept, or the times he had crawled round the floor playing with both children. Eldarion was given to lively games, while Farawyn chattered away to her favourite doll. Faramir always joined the King and Queen for dinner when he was in the city, but the Royal Apartments seemed silent and empty without Arwen and the children. Aragorn pondered yesterday's events; on the one hand, Fu Nung and Súlion would be able to return home sooner with an escort, and it would solve Aragorn's worries on how to see them safely home. On the other hand, Arwen would be angrier than ever now there were more dragons being treated as the King's guests.

Again that night he slept fitfully and was plagued by another evil dream. This time Arwen was accusing him of sacrificing their baby daughter to the dragons just as Ar Pharazôn had sacrificed the Faithful to Sauron in Númenor.

When morning came it was as cold and cheerless as the day before.

King and Steward spent the morning at a Council meeting, reassuring the sceptical Lords of Gondor that the newly arrived dragons meant no harm. The sack of gold, which Aragorn announced was for the treasury to pay for repairs to any damage caused by the dragons helped to mollify them somewhat and the meeting concluded on a better note than Aragorn had expected.

The meeting over, Aragorn and Faramir were discussing it over the noonday meal when a maidservant rushed into the room.

"Begging your pardon, my lords," she said, "but the Queen is here and wants to see you at once, my lord! She is in the solar."

Aragorn leapt from his seat and ran to greet her. A young guard waylaid him in his haste. "I know you ordered that the Queen was to remain with Lady Éowyn,"he said." but given the circumstances we didn't think you would object to her returning to the City. We made sure she did not speak to anyone along the route."

Aragorn nodded reassurance to the young man, hardly noticing what he was saying in his haste to see his lady. He ran into the solar.

How Arwen had changed! She wore a plain dark gown, her beautiful hair was tangled and windswept while her face was haggard and pale. Aragorn clasped her in a close embrace, oblivious of Farawyn's nurse who hovered nearby.

"My love, how I have missed you!" Aragorn exclaimed.

"I had to return," Arwen said in a bleak remote tone. "Farawyn is dying."  


Chapter seventeen - The curse is come upon me

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott. - Tennyson


"No!" Aragorn cried. Only then did he notice that the limp bundle that the nursemaid carried was his daughter. He snatched the child from the woman's arms and gently shook her, urgently calling her name. Farawyn did not stir.

"What happened?" Aragorn demanded, his healer's instinct taking over as he began to examine the child. "She cannot be dying! Healthy children do not die for no reason!"

"Some curse has come upon us!" the nursemaid muttered darkly.

"When did she fall ill?" Aragorn asked in a tone that demanded an answer. "And what of Eldarion?"

"The day before yesterday when those other spawn of Morgoth arrived," Arwen answered. "Eldarion is well. I left him with Éowyn and his nurse."

"Why did you not bring her home at once?" the King demanded.

"I simply thought at first that she had eaten something that disagreed with her," said Arwen. "I was concerned, though, that she would not even take my milk, but hoped that after sleeping her stomach would have settled. I thought she was sleeping peacefully, but when I tried to rouse her this morning I could not. My poor baby!" Arwen burst into tears.

Aragorn went to the door and demanded some hot water from a servant. He also sent for Faramir, hoping his friend's calm manner and wisdom might prove helpful. He attempted vainly to comfort Arwen, all the while also trying to discover what ailed his daughter. Her pulse was steady, but weak, and she was deathly pale. She showed no signs of fever, though, or of any known disease.

"What did she do the day she was taken ill?" Aragorn asked.

"Éowyn desired to plant onions and rhubarb. The children all wanted to help," said Arwen, trying to collect herself. "After a short time, though, she felt unwell as her time is very near and I went inside to help her to bed. Elbeth came too. The little ones stayed outside with their nurses."

"Who else was there?" Aragorn enquired. His heart sank that there appeared to be no reliable witnesses. A pity Elbeth had not stayed outside, as Faramir's niece was a clever observant girl who desired to become a healer.

"Quite a lot of people," said the nursemaid. "After Lady Éowyn went inside some of the villagers came to help Lady Éowyn's workers. Their children came too to earn coins for running errands."

"Were there any strangers amongst them?"

"I don't know," said the nursemaid. "I swear I didn't let Lady Farawyn out of my sight, I didn't! The Queen lets her play with other children!"

"What is wrong with our baby?" Arwen sobbed.

"I cannot be sure, yet," said Aragorn. "Maybe something has poisoned her? I am certain that athelas should help restore her to health."

"It is the dragons!" Arwen cried. "Their evil breath is killing my baby!" Her legs suddenly failed her and she sank down upon the nearest chair.

"If the dragons were to blame, we would all be seriously ill," Aragorn said. "The only new cases in the Houses of Healing since the dragon arrived are the usual accidents and fevers. Master Tarostar's report today mentioned two children with broken bones, and another with lung fever, a woman with a difficult labour, and a man who injured himself falling from his horse when drunk!"

Just then the servant entered with a large jug of steaming water, closely followed by Faramir. The Steward paled when he saw Farawyn, for the child was almost as dear to him as his own, but he quickly digested Aragorn's brief explanation.

"Shall I see if I can find the darwisa?" Faramir suggested, mentioning the healer from Harad who had saved Aragorn's life a few years before. "She knows a great deal about rare poisons."

"Thank you, ion nîn, Hurry, I fear time is of the essence," said Aragorn. He crumbled athelas leaves in a bowl of water and started to bathe Farawyn with the mixture, all the while calling her name. The little girl did not move or stir.

Faramir hurried first to the residence of the Harad Ambassador and his wife, who were good friends of his and the King and Queen. The tidings of Farawyn's illness distressed them both greatly.

"The poor esteemed Lady Arwen!" cried the Ambassador.

"Is there any way in which we might be able honoured to help our honoured friend?" asked Adiva, his wife.

"I wondered if you could help me find the darwisa again?" said Faramir. "Her skills saved my lord's life, so I thought she might be able to help Farawyn."

"Alas!" cried Adiva, wringing her hands. "She has vanished. Last month I desired to consult her concerning my health, but my servants could find no trace of her. Rumour has it that she has returned to Harad."

"Is there another here such as she?" Faramir asked urgently.

Adiva sadly shook her head. "Our people who dwell in your great land now prefer the ways of your healers, not least because it costs them less coin. In the end, it was esteemed Lady Arwen who helped with my problem. Alas, that I cannot help, anything I gladly would do for my friend, but this I am not able! Good folk like they should forever dwell in the shade of an oasis."

"I know that you would, my friend," said Faramir. "I must return now to the King and Queen."

"Let me know of any way in which we might help esteemed Lady Arwen," said Tapir.

"Tell me when I might visit her," Adiva added. "I have missed her and your honoured lady. I hope your lady's fair blossom flourishes within her?"

"I will and my lady is well," said Faramir as he took his leave. The desolation on the faces of the Ambassador and his wife mirrored his own. Lady Adiva was a close friend of the Queen's and her youngest daughter a playmate of Farawyn's.

The rain continued to fall and a chill wind blew around Faramir's face as he returned to the Citadel. Heavy hearted, Faramir prepared to give Aragorn the bad news. As he strode through the King's gardens, Súlion appeared and flew alongside him.

"Where is everyone?" demanded the dragon. "You have not been to talk to me today!"

"The King's baby daughter is very ill," Faramir explained. "I fear we will not have time to enjoy your company while we seek a remedy. Maybe if the rain stops, Fu Nung can come out to keep you company, but I fear you will have to be patient."

"Is the boy well?" the dragon enquired.

"Yes, Eldarion is in good health," said Faramir.

"It is unfortunate about the sick one, but she is only a girl child. The King must be happy his boy child is thriving," said Súlion.

"The King loves both his children equally!" Faramir snapped, losing patience with the beast. "Things might be different in your land, but my lord values his daughter as much as his son. Now be off, as it would distress the Queen to find you here!" Without a backward glance at the dragon he hurried back to Aragorn, seething inwardly at the creature's callousness.

Faramir found Aragorn and the chief healers from the Houses of Healing conferring when he went to tell the King and Queen of his lack of success. Unsurprisingly, no one had any better idea than Aragorn as to what ailed Farawyn. One thought poison, another a rare contagion, while a third decreed it must be a judgement of some sort.

"Not upon an innocent child!" Aragorn snapped. "The Valar would not be that cruel. Maybe, I had not always acted as wisely and well as I ought, but my daughter has done nothing wrong!"

"You have permitted creatures of Morgoth to roam throughout the land and our daughter is paying the price!" Arwen snapped.

"The dragon meant no ill!" Aragorn protested.

Unable to endure seeing two people whom he knew loved one another squabbling. Faramir stepped forward and recounted his lack of success with his errand. "I am so sorry I could not find her," he concluded.

"I doubt the darwisa could have helped," Aragorn said wearily. "If it is a poison, she would need to know what it was, and we have no idea."

"I will take over your duties for you until Farawyn is well again," Faramir offered, for once what he believed to be a lie, coming to his lips much more easily that the apparent cruel truth.

"Thank you, mellon nîn," Aragorn's haunted eyes managed a faint smile. "Will you remain in my chambers so you are at hand if I have need of you?"

"Of course," said Faramir. "You or the Queen may call on me at any hour of the day or night. I am at your service." He lingered for a moment, taking in the weeping Queen, his anguished friend, and the silent motionless child. He would give his all to help them, but there was nothing that he could do whatsoever. His eyes met Aragorn's for a moment and the King sadly shook his head. There were affairs of State that needed attending to and Faramir knew he could best help Aragorn by dealing with them. The Steward took his leave.

For many long hours Aragorn laboured, using every art and herb he knew, but all in vain; he could not reach his daughter's wandering spirit to call her back.

Arwen seemed half crazed with grief for her dying child. She alternately wept or regarded Aragorn with silent reproach.

As darkness fell for the second time since Arwen's return, Aragorn pondered Arwen's words. Could allowing dragons to take shelter in his Realm have truly caused his daughter's illness? Aragorn had always known about beings of light created by Eru, and beings of darkness that Morgoth had corrupted to his evil will. Had he disobeyed the Creator's decree by befriending a dragon? Yet that went against everything Aragorn had ever believed. Súlion had committed no evil deeds and therefore was not evil.

Maybe some fault lay with him and not with the dragon? He had blood enough on his hands. Blood he believed to have been shed solely to protect his people from the Enemy. The countless deaths had been necessary to prevent the Dark Lord's triumph, and he lost no sleep over dead Orcs. There had been men too, though, more than he liked to think about. Enemies, yes, but every one had been a son, a brother, or a husband. Aragorn had never raised his sword against women and children, but how many such innocents had died without the protection of their men folk? Surely such explanations were madness, though? He had taken no pleasure in killing, only done what he must. Surely the Higher Powers were not so cruel to demand his innocent baby's life? Maybe some curse was upon his child? He had been cursed many times in his long life, the crazed old man being only the most recent of a long line of ill-wishers as he had told Faramir. But why should a curse affect Farawyn, who had never harmed so much as a fly? Not that he even believed curses held any power over those they were directed at. Such superstitious nonsense was the preserve of old country folk who believed an ill word or look could turn the milk sour!

Aragorn stumbled to his feet and walked over to where his wife sat cradling their daughter and weeping quietly. "She still will not wake," said Arwen.

For about the hundredth time, Aragorn crumbled more athelas into a bowl of steaming water, placed his hand upon Farawyn's brow, and concentrated all his energy in trying to connect with her spirit. His features drained of colour as he tried to pour his strength into the child. Her spirit remained far from him. He groaned aloud. His daughter was dying before his eyes, and he could do nothing! "Try to rest, vanimelda," Aragorn told his wife. "You need to be strong."

"How can I when my poor baby is so ill? If only my brothers were not so far away!" Arwen lamented, glancing down at her uncomfortably swollen breasts. Farawyn was not yet even fully weaned. Nevertheless, she took the limp child and lay down upon the bed with her. Aragorn, having no comfort to offer her, slumped down on a chair and stared into the fire, preparing to keep watch for another long night. He doubted his daughter would survive until the morning, as it was now three days since she had fallen into this deathly sleep and taken neither food nor water. It was most likely only Farawyn's unique lineage that was still keeping her alive.

Aragorn's head drooped. He had not slept for more than a few minutes since Arwen's return. He knew not whether he slept or woke when he heard a voice telling him what he must do

Chapter eighteen - The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Psalm 51. 17 – The Bible.

"Faramir, wake up, ion nîn!"

The Steward sat up, instantly alert. "Is Farawyn...?" Faramir dared not ask the question that hovered on his lips. These past days he had seen little of Aragorn. He thought he could best aid his King by relieving him of as many of the burdens of office as was within his power to do. He loved the little girl, named for him and his lady, almost as his own, while to Thought Bond he shared with Aragorn, made him keenly aware of his friend's anguish.

"She lives still, but barely. I need to take her up to the Hallow, mellon nîn. Will you come with me?"

"The Hallow?" Faramir rubbed his eyes, wondering if he were hearing aright.

"I know it sounds like madness, but I feel I must take Farawyn there."

Faramir scrambled out of bed, fearful that worry and grief had addled his lord's wits. Whatever the reasoning, though, he would follow his lord to the ends of Arda and beyond if bidden to. "Surely the Queen would never agree to you taking Farawyn up the mountain?" Faramir protested. Even as he spoke, he pulled on his breeches over his nightshirt. He had left his clothes folded on a chair at the bedside in case of a sudden summons to attend his lord.

"I have caused her to sleep," Aragorn said brusquely.

Faramir lit another candle in addition to the one that burned low on a table beside the bed. He could see now that Aragorn was dressed for travelling. A canvas sling was strapped across his chest, in which lay the limp form of Farawyn.

"I know not whether I was sleeping or waking," said Aragorn as Faramir pulled on his boots. "It seemed, though, that I heard a voice telling me that I must take Farawyn up the mountain.

Faramir was no stranger to visions, but this seemed beyond all logic and reason. Aragorn was determined to go, though; and Faramir's place was beside him to support his friend in the anguish, he knew that the King, as a father must be feeling.

"Will you accompany me, ion nîn?" Aragorn asked urgently. "I cannot do what I must alone."

"Wherever you lead, I will follow, you should know that, mellon nîn," said Faramir. "You led me out of the dark vale."

"What if I lead you into the darkness this time?" asked Aragorn.

"I would still follow you," Faramir said staunchly.

"We need ensure the guards do not follow us," Aragorn instructed him as the two men crept through the darkened royal apartments, their way lit only be one of Faramir's candles. Only a few sleepy guards were on duty at this hour of the night and it was easy enough for two seasoned rangers to creep past them.

Aragorn and Faramir moved swiftly and stealthily through the gardens, planning to walk down to the stables in sixth level. The grooms were accustomed to their King taking rides at odd hours, as he liked to ride with the Queen beneath the stars on a fine summer night. Tonight though, a cold wind blew from the mountain and driving rain battered against their faces.

Suddenly a gigantic shape loomed out in front of them. "What is happening? No one will tell me!" a plaintive voice demanded.

"Súlion!" exclaimed Faramir. "How you startled us! Why are you not in your field? Surely you have been fed?"

"No one has been to talk to me," the dragon complained.

"Well, we cannot stop now," Aragorn said brusquely. "I need to take my child to the Hallow. Time is running out for her."

"The sickly girl child?"

"My daughter, my heart's treasure! No go back to your field!"

The men walked on. They had only gone a few paces when they realised the dragon was following them."

"You mean to go near that beautiful lake I flew over on my way here?"

"Yes," Faramir said curtly. "The Hallow is just beneath it."

"However will you get there?"

"On horseback of course, provided you have not terrified all the horses into bolting!"

"I will take you," Súlion offered. "I can fly all the way, unlike a horse. You would get there much faster."

Aragorn and Faramir stopped walking and looked at each other. The dragon's suggestion made perfect sense, but how could they take a dragon to a Hallow sacred to the One, where the King alone was allowed to tread?

"Well?" Súlion demanded. "Why are you waiting?"

"The Hallow is sacred to our people," said Faramir. "Only the King is permitted to walk there."

"I thought you said you were going to a lake?" The dragon sounded puzzled.

"It is just above the Hallow," said Aragorn.

"Then it is not your holy place and anyone can go there!" the dragon concluded triumphantly. He lowered his neck so that Aragorn and Faramir could climb aboard.

"If the Higher Powers are cruel enough to strike down my daughter, they have already done their worst!" Aragorn exclaimed bitterly. He climbed astride the dragon and Faramir followed. "You can put us down a short distance from our destination," he told the dragon.

Súlion soared aloft and within minutes, they were hovering over the mountainside. Aragorn directed him to land on a rocky outcrop. The men climbed down. It was noticeably colder than in the City, but the rain had stopped. Faramir surmised they had flown above the low clouds that had covered the City during the past days.

"I could take you all the way," the dragon volunteered.

"You must remain here," said Aragorn, setting off at a brisk pace along a narrow mountain track. Every now and again, he paused to reassure himself that his daughter still lived. From the look on his face, it was apparent that she was fading fast.

Faramir could only observe. His heart was breaking for the friend he was powerless to help in any other way save by remaining at his side. His heart bled too for the Queen, who would be denied even the small solace of being beside her child when she breathed her last.

The track was faintly illuminated by the moon veiled in wisps of high cloud. Aragorn flung himself to his knees on the cold ground, where the White Tree had been found; his head bowed in fervent prayer.

"We must go to the lake," Aragorn announced, rising to his feet.

"That is not wise, mellon nîn," Faramir said gently. "The way is steep and will be icy and treacherous. Come; let us return home to your lady. There is nothing here."

"I believe the One is leading me to the lake," said Aragorn in a tone that brokered no argument." You may remain here if you wish, but I must go onward!"

"Then I shall follow you," Faramir said simply.

Step by painful step, the two Men climbed up the icy treacherous track, aiding each other where the path was most dangerous. In the moonlight, the Steward could see that Aragorn's features were grim and set. Faramir knew the King had not slept since Farawyn had fallen ill. Sheer force of will was keeping him on his feet. Only when they rounded the bend that approached the lake, did Aragorn finally pause to take a deep breath.

The lake was just as beautiful as Faramir remembered it, from when they had found peace here a few years before. In the cold light, though, it looked almost enchanted, and even vaguely sinister to his eyes.

Aragorn unstrapped Farawyn from his chest and assured himself that she was still breathing. He stood for a moment gazing at her, his eyes full of love and grief. Then, to Faramir's horror, he started to remove the baby's many layers of clothing.

"Whatever are you doing?" Faramir demanded.

"I must offer myself and my daughter to the One," Aragorn said simply, unfastening his cloak and wrapping it warmly around Farawyn,before laying her upon the ground. He started to unlace his tunic.

"You mean to take her into the lake?"

"Yes."

"You will kill her and most likely yourself too!" Faramir exclaimed in horror. "The water will be deathly cold."

Aragorn laughed bitterly as he pulled his shirt over his head. "She is dying already. What more harm can it do? I must take this chance, the only one left for me." He pulled off his rings and handed them to Faramir. "Please keep these safe for me and hold our clothing to keep it warm and dry."

Faramir could only watch aghast as Aragorn divested himself of the rest of his garments. Instead of immediately entering the lake, Aragorn stood shivering on the bank, staring across the water as if seeking some sign.

"You have ever been the son of my heart and the best friend that any Man could ever wish for," said Aragorn, turning suddenly and extending his hand to Faramir in what seemed suspiciously like a parting gesture. "Be of good courage!" The King's eyes glittered with unshed tears.

Before Faramir could think of a suitable reply, Aragorn snatched Farawyn out from the folds of the cloak and strode into the water, clutching her to his chest.

"Wait, let me come with you!" Faramir cried.

"No, this one journey I must take alone, ion nîn! Thank you for coming thus far with me." With these words, Aragorn strode into the lake until he was immersed up to the waist. The water felt much warmer than the surrounding air, and just as when he had swum in the lake before, it seemed to welcome him in a comforting embrace. Aragorn paused and cried aloud "I come before you, Highest One, as I came forth from my mother's womb in all humility. If I have erred, I am the sacrifice you require, take me, not my innocent child!" He lifted the child high in his arms.

"No!" cried Faramir. "If there must be a sacrifice, take me instead!" Faramir tried to move forward, but found himself rooted to the spot as if by some invisible force.

Just then, the moon emerged from behind the cloud and brightly illuminated the lake, but a brighter light seemed to glow around Aragorn as if his skin were polished mithril.

Faramir glanced upwards and saw that the Star of Eärendilseemed to hover above his lord. He sank to his knees in awe. He heard the flapping of great wings and half expected to behold one of Manwe's Great Eagles, though common sense told him that eagles did not fly at night.

"Why is he no longer concerned about covering himself?" Súlion asked. The great dragon had landed beside Faramir on the lakeside.

"This is a holy place," Faramir replied. "We need conceal nothing from the One who made us as we are."

Súlion immediately spread out his wings so that his markings were visible and preened.

Then to Faramir's dismay, he ducked his head into the water and started to drink.

"This place is holy to the One who caused all to be!" Faramir protested.

"Did not your One make water for drinking?" Súlion replied. "I am very thirsty."

Aragorn moved steadily into the deeper water until he was completely submerged. He scarcely knew why he was doing this, only that he must. Holding his breath and his hand over Farawyn's nose and mouth to prevent her from drowning, he ducked her under the water. He meekly submitted himself to the will of a Greater Power than the King of the West. He recalled the time when he had been in danger of losing himself, that a voice had told him to beware of pride and follow his heart. Could his child find healing or was her time on Arda at an end and maybe his too?

Suddenly Farawyn started to struggle in his arms! A great sense of wonder and elation filled Aragorn, followed by an overwhelming weariness. With an almighty effort, Aragorn re- emerged from the depths. He swam towards the shore, propelling himself with one arm, while with the other he held Farawyn above the water. The child's screams pierced the air.

Aragorn clambered out of the lake clutching his wriggling daughter. Tears were pouring down his cheeks. "She lives!" he cried. "She lives!"

Faramir, rendered temporarily speechless by this miracle, draped his own cloak around his shivering lord. "I will care for Farawyn while you dress," he said simply. Thankful for his experience with his own children, Faramir started to rub Farawyn dry with her father's cloak. "Naneth, want Naneth!" the little girl screamed, seemingly little the worse for her ordeal. He had almost forgotten Súlion's presence and started when the great dragon extended his neck and blew clouds of warm air over the child, all the while sheltering her with his great wings.

Faramir expected Farawyn's screams to become ever more frenzied, but instead she stopped crying and stared at the dragon. Faramir took advantage of the distraction to pull on her clothing. "Nice horsy?" the child said hesitantly, then catching sight of the dragon's wings; "Nice birdie?"

"I am a dragon, little one," said Súlion.

"Dragon, Dari's best toy!" Farawyn said firmly. "Thirsty!"

Remembering how good the water in the lake was, Faramir cupped his hands and filled them, then held them for the child to drink. He had to repeat the process several times as the little girl was extremely thirsty. He started to worry that he might be giving her too much too soon and looked round to Aragorn for advice.

He had expected Aragorn to be dressed by now, but instead the King lay crumpled on the ground still wrapped in the cloak. His features looked drawn and pallid even in the bright moonlight.

"What ails you, mellon nîn?" he exclaimed in alarm.

"My strength has failed!" Aragorn's voice was little more than a whisper. "I offered my life for my child's and must pay the debt."

Chapter Nineteen -Those whom God hath joined together

 Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder. Book of Common Prayer

“No!” Faramir cried. “You are weary; when you have rested you will swiftly recover.”

 “Alas. son of my heart.” Aragorn’s voice was little more than a whisper. “I must now leave you. Be of good courage and do not fade. Protect Arwen and my little ones. Always remember, ion nîn that I love you. Tell Arwen I….”   He closed his eyes and said no more.

“Ada, get up and play!” Farawyn regarded her father’s prone form in bewilderment. She tried to wriggle free from Faramir’s restraining grasp.

“I will care for the little one,” said Súlion. He gently gripped the back of Farawyn’s cloak with a massive talon.

“Aragorn!” Faramir bent and felt Aragorn’s forehead. The King’s skin was like ice and he hardly seemed to be breathing. The Steward was no healer, but after many years as a soldier who had seen all too many comrades perish, he could recognise when a man was close to death. A sudden fury seized him. He stood up and shook his fist towards the heavens. “How dare you demand his life?” he cried. ” I am not your priest king, but I Faramir of Gondor dare to challenge you! What has he done to deserve to die on this mountainside like some wild beast? I lay no claim to wisdom, but I know this man to be the greatest and best who now lives. I freely offer myself in his stead if a life is demanded. He still has much to do. Gondor needs him. His wife and children need him. I need him! ” His fury spent, Faramir wept.

Suddenly the Steward found himself on his knees. He supposed he must have stumbled, yet it felt as if some invisible force had caused him to lose his footing. A comforting and familiar scent surrounded him. He was kneeling in a patch of athelas! Faramir felt a renewed sense of hope. Swiftly he gathered a handful. He crumbled some and held it under Aragorn’s nose, the rest he stuffed in his pocket.

Aragorn opened his eyes and looked at him. “Ion nîn?”

“I am taking you home to your lady.” Faramir said with more confidence than he felt. He put his hand on the King’s forehead again. Aragorn was still as deathly cold as the surrounding air. “Come, you must get dressed, you are frozen!”

Súlion suddenly extended his long neck beneath the cloak that covered Aragorn and blew great clouds of warm air, making it billow up like a great sail. Faramir was forced the grab the garment to stop it blowing away.

Farawyn laughed delightedly at the strange spectacle.

“Ada!” Farawyn cried, “Ada, get up and play horsy!”

Aragorn lifted his head. “Ada will play later, dearest one. Help me, Faramir?”

Súlion spread his wings around Aragorn to create a warm tent, while he gently gripped the back of Farawyn’s cloak again.

Faramir swiftly helped the King into his clothes. Eager to leave the mountain as quickly as possible, Faramir was about to tell Súlion they were ready to leave when Aragorn stopped him. “Fill my water bottle with water from the lake,” he commanded.

Faramir did as he was bidden and at Aragorn’s insistence gave Farawyn more water before strapping her on her father’s back again. The little girl started to cry again.

“Don’t you want to fly in the air like a bird?” the dragon enquired.

“Farawyn fly?” The toddler’s attention was suitably diverted for them to clamber aboard the great dragon again. Súlion picked up Aragorn and his little daughter in his jaws and hoisted them on his broad neck. Faramir climbed up of his own accord and held on to Aragorn. “Fly home carefully!” the Steward instructed the dragon. He paused to glance backwards at the lake, which now lay still and silver in the moonlight, a mysterious place, which would likely never yield its secrets.

They soared aloft; Farawyn showed no fear, but wriggled and cried that she was hungry. Aragorn said little and his features were set grimly, causing Faramir to suspect that only sheer force of will kept him upright. He dreaded to think how they might have fared on horseback along the steep rocky tracks of the mountainside.

Dawn was breaking when the dragon arrived back at Minas Tirith. Heedless of Faramir’s pleas to be careful, Súlion landed in a courtyard in front of the Royal apartments, crushing a row of shrubs and overturning brickwork and statuary when he crammed his bulk into far too small a space. Fortunately, most of the servants were still asleep and only a young page crossing the yard to make his morning ablutions gave a cry of dismay and fled.

“Thank you,” said Faramir fervently when he climbed from the dragon’s back and assisted Aragorn to dismount.

“Bye, bye, nice birdie.” said Farawyn, waving a chubby fist.

“A girl child is more interesting than I thought,” Súlion said thoughtfully. “I must tell Fu Nung and his wife to have one next instead of another boy child. Do not forget to tell me how the little one fares.”

Faramir half dragged, half carried Aragorn inside, demanding assistance when he espied a nervous looking young guard nearby.

As soon as they reached the Royal Apartments, Aragorn dismissed the young fellow, insisting he could walk with just Faramir’s arm for support.

They had only been inside for a moment when Arwen appeared and hastened towards them. It seemed that Aragorn’s attempts to make her sleep had not been successful for long “My baby!” she cried. “I awoke and found you had gone and one of the guards said he had seen you depart with that monster!”

“Naneth! Farawyn met nice horsey,” said Farawyn happily as she was swept up in her mother’s arms.

“I believe the One told me to take her to the lake on the mountain,” Aragorn explained. “The dragon took us there. Our daughter is hungry. Some of your milk will help her regain her strength.”

Arwen gazed at her daughter as if the world held nothing else save her precious child.

His mission accomplished, Aragorn suddenly stumbled and would have fallen had Faramir not caught him.

“Estel!” cried the Queen, as if noticing her husband for the first time since he had returned, and glancing away from Farawyn for a moment. “You need to rest. You have not slept and hardly eaten these past days. Faramir, will you aid my lord?”

“Gladly,” said Faramir. He led Aragorn to the chamber he shared with Arwen and helped him undress. To the Steward’s alarm, he made no protest at being helped and meekly allowed Faramir to assist him to don his nightshirt and allowed Faramir to lend a supporting arm as he climbed into bed.

Once between the sheets, Aragorn laid there limply, his eyes closed and his face grey with weariness. Faramir took his hand. It felt frozen. His skin was as white as marble and as cold. “Shall I send for Master Aedred?” he asked.

Aragorn wearily opened his eyes and shook his head. ”No,” he said firmly. ”This will pass and it is beyond the understanding of Master Aedred, skilled healer though he is.”

Faramir knew better than to disobey his lord. He surmised that he was correct. What could a conventional healer know of the powers inherent in Elendil’s line and the dangers their uses incurred? Only the sons of Master Elrond would understand and they were far away at Rivendell. The Steward could only call for servants to bring a bowl of hot water, a warm drink, and a heated brick to place at Aragorn’s feet.

He tried crushing an athelas leaf in the hot water, but was all too aware that Aragorn alone could utilise the herb’s virtue, but at present was too exhausted to do so. “Try breathing the vapours,” he said, holding the bowl in front of Aragorn’s face. A touch of colour returned to Aragorn’s wan features and he managed to sit up to sit the hot drink, albeit supported by pillows and Faramir’s arm. The King then slumped back against the pillows. Faramir waited impatiently for Arwen to come. Did she not realise how much her husband needed her? 

After what seemed an age, Arwen entered the room with a sleepy Farawyn in her arms. “I fed Farawyn and gave a warm bath,” she remarked. Only after she had tucked the child into her crib did she look at her husband. “Estel!” she exclaimed in horror.

“His strength fails him,” said Faramir. “I believe he needs athelas to restore him. I gathered these leaves just now at the lake.”

“I have the power to use them.”

Faramir handed her the freshly gathered athelas leaves.

Arwen took them, and send for more hot water, that Faramir had ordered being cold by now.

“He has pushed himself too far, I fear,” said Faramir.

A servant bringing hot water saved Arwen from replying. She almost snatched the bowl from the startled looking girl and crushed two athelas leaves into it, all the while singing in a low sweet voice. She bathed Aragorn’s face and neck with the mixture.”

“Rub his hands,” she instructed Faramir.

The Steward obeyed and vigorously chafed his lord’s icy hands thinking sadly how only a few days ago they had been so full of warmth.

Aragorn opened his eyes and smiled wanly at them both. As they continued their ministrations, he relaxed and breathed more deeply and a little colour returned to his cheeks.

A few minutes later the greyness and pinched look left the King’s features and his skin was warm to the touch. He breathed deeply and drifted into what seemed to be natural slumber.

Finally satisfied that Aragorn’s hands were restored to their usual warmth, Faramir pulled the blankets over them, sighing with relief.

“He should be fully recovered by the morrow,” said Arwen.

“Why must he risk himself so?” Faramir mused.

“Because he loves.” Arwen replied. “He would gladly do the same for you, and for me – little though I deserve it!”

“His estrangement almost broke his noble heart!” Faramir was angered enough to cast aside his usual reserve and courtesy. ”These past weeks have taxed his strength sorely. I have supported him all I could, but he needed you too at his side, my lady!”

“He was led astray by a monster!” Arwen said defensively.

“The ‘monster’ that you call him, has just saved your daughter’s life and most likely your husband’s too!” Faramir retorted. “I would gladly give my life for my lord, but I have not the means to carry him and your daughter up the mountain as far as the lake, neither could the best of horses, only Súlion could help and he gladly did so. As well as bearing them, he kept them warm. I intend now to go and tell him that his friend is feeling better.” Pausing only to plant a filial kiss upon Aragorn’s brow, he gave a curt bow and strode from the room.

Arwen stood staring after him dumbfounded by Faramir’s uncharacteristic behaviour. How dare he speak to her like that! Estel ought to rebuke him. However, her Estel lay exhausted upon the bed. Before she had prepared the athelas, he had looked every one of his advanced years. Had their estrangement truly harmed him as much as the Steward claimed? A stab of fear pieced her heart.

Arwen knew all too well how dangerous  an estrangement between two who were thought bonded could be as they shared part of each other’s souls. When Aragorn had banished Faramir from his side for a few months following the Steward’s unwilling branding of him, both men had been in danger of fading. Her rift with Estel had not been as deep, but not only was she thought bonded to him; she was his wife and the mother of his children. Her place should have been at his side, however much she disliked and distrusted dragons. Estel would never have tried to force her to share his opinions or speak to the creature. It seemed too, that this dragon truly was not evil and had helped both her daughter and her husband.

Arwen found her eyes wet wish tears. She had risked losing all that was most precious to her, not because of what she knew, but what she had been taught to believe.

Swiftly she started to undress, casting aside her garments until she wore only a thin linen shift. Then she climbed into bed beside her husband and curled herself against him. Aragorn opened his eyes.

“I am so very sorry,” she said.

“I love you, vanimelda,” Aragorn whispered before closing his eyes and falling asleep again, curled in her arms.


Artwork by Rachel





Chapter Twenty-Needs go that the devil drives. - Shakespeare

 

Despite feeling exceedingly weary, Faramir made his way outside to where Súlion was waiting in the garden. Smilingly, he informed the dragon that Farawyn and Aragorn were much recovered, then patted Súlion’s nose, and praised the creature for his help. Súlion visibly preened, his massive chest swelling with pride. 

“May I see the small one again?” the dragon asked, obviously taken with the little girl. 

“I will speak to the King.” Faramir had not the heart to tell him that it was unlikely Arwen would permit it and banish him back to his field.

He then told the dragon that his breakfast would be brought out to him shortly. The Steward gave Súlion a final pat on the nose. Feeling he had performed all his duties as best he could, Faramir sought his bed for some much-needed rest. 

Fortunately, the Faramir had no engagements that day and he was able to sleep for several hours and partake of a leisurely belated breakfast in his chamber at around noon. Now that Arwen had returned and the City was calm, he decided that if he found Aragorn fully recovered, he would ask if he could spend a few days in Ithilien with Éowyn and their children. There were no Council meetings scheduled until next week. Faramir missed his lady and his children greatly and yearned to see them again. No doubt, Éowyn would berate him soundly over Súlion, but that could not be helped.

Faramir was still anxious about Aragorn so as soon as he had finished eating, he made his way to the King’s chambers. He was uncertain how the Queen would receive him, but he did not regret his words the night before. 

 When the Steward was shown into the royal apartments, the Queen was sitting on her favourite rocking chair working at her embroidery. She greeted Faramir warmly, seemingly having forgiven his harsh words of the night before. Aragorn was sprawled on the couch by the window, his long legs drawn up to accommodate Farawyn who was playing at his feet with her favourite doll. A book was in his hands, but he was paying little attention to it because of the two kittens, one ginger and one grey, that were curled up asleep on his chest.

Faramir’s heart delighted at the sight. It had been a long time since Aragorn had looked so contented and at peace with himself. A joyful smile further lit up Aragorn’s face when he beheld his visitor. He made to get to his feet.

“Do not disturb the kittens, mellon nîn,” Faramir said.

“It seems that kittens command even kings,” said Arwen. “Farawyn has quite worn Estel out demanding that he play “horsey” with her all morning.”

Mewing with feline indignation at being disturbed, the kittens clambered down on to the floor and ran to the door, with Farawyn in hot pursuit. Arwen called for the nursemaid to take the little girl to the nursery together with the kittens.  

Aragorn rose to his feet and embraced his friend. “Yet again, you stood by me in my hour of need, ion nîn. We have taken many chances in our lives, you and I, but never before had my heart so feared the outcome.” His voice was thick with emotion.

“Where should I be but at your side when the need is great?” Faramir replied, hugging Aragorn in return. He then turned to the Queen. “My lady, how fared my wife when you last saw her?” 

“She was well, but very near her time,” Arwen replied. “I cannot tarry here long as I must return to her ere the babe comes.”

Faramir felt a slight chill of fear at the mention of the impending event. His daughter would not have drawn breath had Aragorn not been there, while Éowyn had fallen gravely ill after their son’s birth. Faramir had been so troubled that despite greatly enjoying the intimacies of marriage with her, he had offered to henceforth treat her as a sister to protect her health, but Éowyn would not hear of it.

Arwen smiled reassuringly at him. “I am certain you have no cause to worry,” she said. She put down her embroidery and got up from the chair glancing out of the window as she did so. “Whatever is that monster doing in my garden?” she exclaimed.

“Eating his breakfast, my lady, he is hungry after his exertions last night,” said Faramir.

“He must depart as soon as he has finished eating,” the Queen said sternly. “I will not…” Before she could say any more, a loud knock was heard on the door.

 “Come in!” called Arwen.

A flustered looking maid entered. “My lady, a rider has just arrived from Ithilien with an urgent message for you.” She thrust a rather grubby parchment into the Queen’s outstretched hand. “He begs that you read it at once.”

Arwen broke the seal and read aloud “Dear Aunt Arwen, I hope Uncle Aragorn made Farawyn better. Please can you come back as quickly as possible, as Aunt Éowyn is having pains, though she is trying to disguise it. I think she is going to have the baby and the midwife is ill with a fever while Mistress Elwen is very old and, though I’ve seen kittens born and helped Aunt Éowyn with a foal, I don’t think I know enough to deliver a baby,

Your devoted friend and subject, Elbeth.”

Faramir turned  increasingly pale as she read.

“I must return to Ithilien at once!” cried Arwen. “Morwen, tell the groom to saddle Snowflower. We will also require horses for Farawyn’s nurse and the guards. I will go and change into my riding clothes and I…”

“Arwen,” Aragorn interrupted. “You will never get there in time. You would need Shadowfax, not your gentle mare. Éowyn’s other babies both arrived quickly, if you recall?” 

“Elbeth could be mistaken. She is only a young girl.” 

Aragorn shook his head. “I doubt she would send you a letter without good cause. She has been interested in the healing arts since she was a small child and she is a sensible, level- headed girl. I fear Éowyn is indeed in labour.”

 “I need a swifter horse then. Roheryn or Iavas would bear me there faster than Snowflower.” 

“There is a way you could get there in time for the birth,” said Faramir, glancing out of the window. 

Arwen followed his gaze. Súlion loomed like a miniature mountain blocking out much of her view of the garden. He was just finishing his meal and his jaws were streaked with blood. 

“You cannot mean that I should ride that creature?” Arwen exclaimed in horror. 

“He would bear you to Ithilien within minutes rather than hours,” Aragorn said quietly. 

“But to ride upon a dragon? Never!” Arwen said angrily. 

“Súlion is goodhearted. He saved both your husband’s and your daughter’s lives,” Faramir replied. “Lady Arwen, I do not want to lose my wife and child! I beg of you to go to Éowyn with all haste!” Faramir struggled to control his emotions. Until the dragon had arrived in Minas Tirith, the Queen had been the wisest and kindest woman he had ever known, a true friend to both Éowyn and himself. Faramir slid to his knees. “Please, my lady!”

“I love Éowyn as a sister, but you know not what you ask of me, Faramir,” Arwen said in a gentler tone. “It would not serve your lady if I were to agree to ride the monster, as I would most surely fall from its back!”

“I would not let you and neither would Súlion,” said Aragorn. 

Just then, a giant head appeared at the open window. Arwen gave a cry of alarm. “I would have you know that I have never permitted anyone to fall from my back. I am no careless rutting stallion, nor a nasty dromedary!” the dragon said indignantly. “Not that I desire to carry this woman upon my back. She is most rude and uncouth, though at least she looks like a female should this time.” He eyed Arwen balefully. Only the blue gown she wore seemed to meet with his approval, maybe because it was of a similar shade to the markings on his wings and his bright eyes. 

Arwen gave a squawk of indignation, before collecting herself. 

“Peace, vanimelda, there is no need for alarm,” said Aragorn. Do you want every guard and servant to come running for miles around?” 

“I am going back to my field now,” said the dragon huffily.” I know when I am not wanted. 

“Please, Súlion, wait!” begged Faramir, “My lady is about to bear my child and their lives might be in danger if Lady Arwen does not reach her in time!” 

“Does your wife scream and scold as much as this one does?” the dragon enquired. 

“She is the most valiant of ladies. She smote the Witch King and his Fell beast,” Faramir said proudly. 

“Those monsters were a disgrace to all dragon kind!” Súlion said vehemently. “Your lady is to be commended for her deed.” 

“Please then will you bear Lady Arwen and her husband swiftly to her side?” Faramir pleaded.

Arwen had started at the dragon’s words and their obvious sincerity. 

“Hummp,” snorted the dragon. “Maybe as you ask, I will consider it, Faramir, but only if she carries no weapons and is polite to me!” 

“Please, vanimelda,” begged Aragorn. “We can delay no longer. With every moment that we stand arguing, the fate of Éowyn and her unborn child lies in the balance! Do we not owe Faramir a great deal for the many times he has aided us? We cannot fail him now in his hour of need.”

 Arwen was silent for a moment, reflecting she would most likely be a widow by now were it not for the Steward’s courage and loyalty. “You are certain it will not harm me?” she said at last. 

“I am a he, not an it!” Súlion interrupted crossly. “I have had my dinner and most certainly would not want a scrawny morsel like you for a dessert!”

“But what about Farawyn?” Arwen objected. “She cannot ride with me upon the dragon and she needs me. And would not Faramir wish to hasten to his lady’s side?” 

“I will accompany Farawyn and her nurse,” said Faramir. “Much as I desire to see Éowyn, you and Aragorn will be of far greater use to her and the baby. A birthing chamber is no place for a man.” 

“Indeed it is not,” Arwen agreed. “But you will wish to see your lady as soon as the child is born.”  

“I will ride Iavas. She  can fly like the wind while Farawyn and her nurse with their guards can follow us behind in a wagon.” 

“Go now and get ready,” Aragorn begged his wife before she could think of any further objections to raise. “I will help you prepare for the journey.” He hurried her from the room. 

“I’m not sure at all that I desire to take her flying; she is so very rude!” Súlion grumbled. 

“You will enjoy the flight to where I live,” Faramir soothed, reaching out to caress the dragon’s nose. “Maybe you will see Eldarion there. You liked him, did you not?” 

“A nice, polite boy, not at all like his mother,” Súlion agreed. 

“Once you get to know Lady Arwen, I am sure you will grow to like her,” Faramir said hopefully. “She is a wise and kind lady. She simply knows nothing of dragons.” 

“Neither did you, but you did not behave like she has done!” Súlion retorted. 

“I have not lived as long as she has nor have I been so carefully taught that your kind mean I harm,” said Faramir. “I have heard tales of Smaug, though, who devoured everything in his path. I have concluded though, that your kind is not so different from mine. We both have the potential to do good or ill.”  

The discussion was interrupted by the return of Aragorn and Arwen who were dressed in travelling clothes. Arwen wore a pair of her husband’s breeches beneath her gown. 

“Farawyn is having her nap,” Arwen told Faramir. “The nurse is going to give her a light meal and then you follow us on horseback. It is still chill at night and she needs…” 

“Come, we must delay no longer,” said Aragorn. “Farewell for a little while. We will do all we can to ensure Éowyn brings your little one safely into the world.” 

“I know you will, mellon nîn, but I fear for them,” said Faramir.

“Be of good cheer!” Aragorn embraced him and then called through the window to Súlion “We are coming now.”

Faramir stood watching as Aragorn and his ashen faced Queen made their way towards the dragon. Súlion lowered his head and Aragorn lifted Arwen aloft and then climbed on after her and clasped his arms around her waist. The dragon flapped his wings and soared aloft.

Chapter 21 - Unto us a child is born – The Bible. Isaiah. 9.6


Súlion and his passengers soon flew within sight of Emyn Arnen. A grim faced Arwen remained tight lipped and clung tightly to her husband, her eyes closed. Her fair skin soon developed a greenish tinge as the journey progressed. Aragorn told the dragon where to fly and made polite conversation with him.

The King debated inwardly whether it was better to land in the paddock, which would surely frighten Éowyn's brood mares, or the field where the cows were, and risk drying up the milk of those which the dragon did not fancy for his next meal; or in the garden and ruin Éowyn's cherished herbs. The King decided the latter would cause the least damage. "Land on the grass by the plants," he instructed Súlion.

The great beast landed smoothly as a bird. Their approach had not gone unnoticed as several servants screamed and ran hither. Of the Lady of Ithilien, there was no sign.

"Silence!" Aragorn cried in his most commanding tone. "This is a tame dragon. He will not hurt you."

A small figure emerged from the side of the house pursued by a frightened looking nursemaid. Eldarion flung himself into his father's arms. "Ada!" he cried. "I have missed you so much and you've brought T'ien Li as well as Naneth!"

Arwen was already running into the house. "What shall we do, my lady?" a frightened serving maid greeted her. "There is a dragon on the lawn!"

"Never mind about that!" Arwen replied. "Where is Lady Éowyn?"

"In her chamber, my lady."

Arwen hastened to Éowyn's bedchamber on the first floor. It was a large airy room overlooking the paddocks rather than the gardens. Éowyn was pacing the floor, moaning softly. Mistress Elwen stood by the bed wringing her hands while a scared looking Elbeth was trying to coax Éowyn to swallow some herbal tea.

"Aunt Arwen you have come! Aunt Éowyn is having the baby I think!" Elbeth cried. She was the first to notice that the Queen had entered the room.

"I cannot be having the baby!" Éowyn protested. "Arwen, praise Bema you are here!"

Arwen quickly took in the situation." Mistress Elwen, I need some hot water," she said. "Elbeth, go and tell Uncle Aragorn that I need some Lady's Slipper, Fenugreek, Chamomile and Valerian."

As soon as they had gone, Arwen put her arm around Éowyn's shoulders. "Come on, let me see what is happening", she said.

"I cannot be in labour!" Éowyn repeated.

"Why ever not? You are almost at full term and none should know better than you what the signs of labour are."

"I don't want to die while I am on such ill terms with Faramir!" Éowyn confessed then burst into tears.

"You are not going to die. Faramir is on his way even as we speak. Aragorn came with me, should we need him, but I am certain we will not." Arwen hugged her friend reassuringly. She rummaged in the bag she had with her and brought out a plain gown. Swiftly, she shed her travelling garments and changed into it. Then she helped Éowyn undress and don a loose wrap-around robe.

"How is Farawyn?" Éowyn enquired, beginning to calm a little now that Arwen was with her.

"She is fully recovered. Faramir is bringing her to me here."

Just then, Mistress Elwen returned with a bowl of hot water and placed it on the washstand.

"Thank you, Mistress," said Arwen. "Now could you bring me a good supply of clean towels and sheets?"

Arwen started to wash her hands as the woman bustled away. "Now let me see what is happening."

Éowyn bit back a cry as a contraction seized her. "Very well," she conceded. "I fear the baby is coming."

"Everything is going just as it should," Arwen pronounced a few minutes later after carefully examining Éowyn. "I sense the child's life force is strong and it is eager to enter the world. The head is in the right position and you should give birth within the next hour or two."

"It hurts!" cried Éowyn. "The other two did not hurt so much!"

"You need to relax," Arwen advised. "Breathe deeply and I will massage you with lavender oil."

Éowyn nodded, unable to speak as another contraction seized her. When it subsided, Arwen's skilled hands started to work their magic. Éowyn was soon breathing deeply and much less troubled by the pain. The Queen sang a sweet melody in a soft tone as she worked. Elbeth brought her aunt some raspberry tea, which Éowyn sipped gratefully.

"It will not be long now," said Arwen when she examined her friend again. "I can see the baby's head. Soon you will be holding your child in your arms."

000

Eldarion was a happy boy. His beloved father was here and not only his father, but the dragon as well!

Súlion preened delightedly as the little boy admired him and asked him questions. He was more than happy to lower his wings and unfurl them so that the child could stroke them and admire their markings.

"I will take you flying if you wish," said Súlion.

"Oh, ada, may I? That would be such fun!" Eldarion pleaded.

"I think we should ask your naneth first," Aragorn cautioned. We shall have to see. And I must stay here at the moment while your Aunt Éowyn has her baby."

Eldarion pulled a face.

"You can look at my beautiful wings," said Súlion. "I will fly very low." He soared into the air and circled the gardens. Eldarion watched in wonder.

"Stay away from the horses!" Aragorn shouted after the dragon. He had no desire to face an angry Éowyn should any ill befall her beloved horses. The last few weeks had taught the King that he would far rather face a whole army of armed and furious warriors than one enraged woman.

When Súlion executed a perfect landing a few minutes later, the little boy whooped with delight. "A most interesting place," said Súlion when he landed again beside them. "You have some nice plump cows here. They look very tasty. But why do you grow false violets in a garden where this little child is playing?"

"I'm not little!" Eldarion protested. "I'm almost grown up!"

"False violets are deadly at any age," the dragon replied gravely. "They are the most feared of poisons in my land. If they are eaten, or sometimes even touched, the victim falls into a deathly sleep from which they will never again awaken. The Emperor allows those of the nobility who have committed crimes to be executed by ingesting one as a merciful form of death."

"Do you use them to kill your enemies, ada?" Eldarion enquired with a ghoulish interest.

"I have never heard of such a plant, ion nîn." A sudden chilling thought struck Aragorn.

"Tell me, where did you espy this deadly plant?" he asked the dragon.

"In the vegetable garden," Súlion replied.

"Stay with Súlion," Aragorn told his son. He sprinted off in the direction of Éowyn's vegetable plot and looked for a freshly tilled patch where onions had been planted. Éowyn always left patches of ground unweeded between the seedbeds as a refuge for wild creatures. It was here that Aragorn looked. Sure enough, there was a patch of small purple flowers of a variety he had not seen before. It seemed that the mystery of Farawyn's illness was explained. His baby daughter shared Arwen's love of violets and had often been given sugared ones to eat as a treat. He hurried back to where Eldarion was waiting with the dragon. The two of them were chatting like old friends.

"How deadly would false violets be to a child?" he asked Súlion.

"No grown man could live after eating them, never mind a child," the dragon said gravely.

Aragorn shuddered inwardly. It seemed that only through the grace of the One was his beloved little girl alive and well.

"Lady Éowyn is a silly woman to grow such things!" said the dragon.

"I am certain she would not have known," Aragorn replied. It is a mystery how such a plant came to grow here."

"False violets are harmless to birds. In fact they love the seeds," Súlion explained. "Maybe a migrating albatross or sandpiper dropped the seeds."

Aragorn shouted to a passing gardener. "I want you to don gloves and pull up all the purple flowers growing near the onions and burn them!" he ordered. "I have just learned they are a deadly poison. Lady Éowyn would not put her children at risk. Do not fear the dragon, he is quite tame and will not hurt you. "

"Of course, sire." If the gardener was surprised, he did not show it.

"Is Farawyn better now, ada?" Eldarion enquired somewhat belatedly.

"Yes, she is her old self again, ion nîn," Aragorn assured his son. "She is coming with Uncle Faramir and you will be able to play together later today."

Eldarion frowned. "I hope she does not remember I said she could play with Smaug when she was ill. She threw him in a puddle last time I let her hold him!"

"I am certain your sister prefers her dolls," Aragorn assured him.

"Huh girls!" Eldarion stuck out his tongue. "Still she's not as bad as Elestelle with her ribbons and not wanting to get her dress dirty. Do the girls like stupid dresses where you come from?" Eldarion asked Súlion.

"Female children of high birth wear embroidered silk robes in my land," said the dragon.

"That sounds really silly!" Eldarion exclaimed.

"But male children wear the most elaborate robes."

Eldarion looked horrified. He pointed to his tunic, which was a rich shade of blue that his mother had embroidered with white motifs of the seven stars and White Tree of Gondor. "More decorated than this?" he asked.

"Far more," said Súlion. "Scarlet and gold are the preferred colours for a prince in my land.

Eldarion pulled a face and was about to express his disgust when he recalled his father and mother had told him that he must always be polite to visitors and never say anything rude about their clothes or customs.

"They dress like the gaudy fire dragons," Súlion explained. "No one tries to imitate me, as how could anyone copy my magnificence?"

"Quite impossible," Aragorn agreed and then suddenly had to clear his throat loudly and repeatedly.

"Are you quite well?" Súlion enquired.

"I think I might have swallowed a fly," said Aragorn not very convincingly.

"What did it taste like, ada?" asked Eldarion.

Before Aragorn could elaborate on this deception, a little girl emerged from the house and skipped on to the lawn, followed by a nursemaid. She caught sight of the dragon and stopped in her tracks as if frozen in stunned silence. The nursemaid started to scream.

"Silence!" cried Aragorn in his most commanding tone. "Would you disturb Lady Éowyn?"

"But it's a dragon!" wailed the young woman. "It will surely eat us all!"

"Why should I want to eat you?" Súlion demanded irately. "I am a T'ien Luang, ancestor of the Emperor. I eat cows, not humans, and you do not even look as if you would taste nice."

The girl opened her mouth to scream again only to be silenced by a look from Aragorn that petrified her even more than the prospect of being a dragon's dinner.

"He talks!" Elestelle cried in delight. Her fear forgotten, she ran towards Súlion, her arms outstretched.

"Why, of course I can talk! I could talk as soon as I was hatched, much like you, I suppose," said Súlion.

"I had to learn," said Elestelle, reaching out a small dainty hand to pet the dragon's nose, which was lowered towards her. "Eldarion had to learn too and naneth and ada and even Uncle Aragorn."

"Come away from that monster, Lady Elestelle," the nursemaid pleaded vainly.

"Go and see if Lady Éowyn's attendants need any help," Aragorn commanded her. "I will look after the children."

"T'ien Li is my friend," said Eldarion. "I can say his name in his own language."

"Eldarion brought me a present," Súlion told the little girl, then moved his massive head towards Eldarion.

Feeling rejected, Elestelle turned to Aragorn. "Naneth is having a new brother or sister for me," she confided. "I hope it's a sister. I don't like boys."

"I don't like girls," Eldarion retorted. "I'd rather have a brother to play with."

"I did not have any brothers or sisters to play with," Aragorn told them.

"That must have been lonely," Elestelle sympathised, her disagreement with Eldarion quickly forgotten.

"My naneth and the Elves did their best to make sure I wasn't lonely," said Aragorn.

000

Éowyn tried to find a more comfortable position as the contractions increased in frequency. Arwen sat beside her, massaging her shoulders and singing softly.

"Bear down and push!" Arwen paused in her singing to instruct Éowyn.

"I am doing!" Éowyn retorted. She cried out as another contraction seized her.

Elbeth dipped a cloth in a bowl of herb-scented water and wiped her aunt's brow.

"I can see the head now," said Arwen. "Take deep breaths and push hard. Mistress Elwen, support Lady Éowyn's shoulders. I will deliver the child."

Elbeth almost dropped the bowl in excitement now the birth was imminent, but managed to collect herself.

Arwen resumed singing softly in her high sweet voice.

Éowyn pushed hard as a powerful contraction seized her. The baby slid out into Arwen's waiting arms.

"You have a son," said Arwen as she studied the infant. "A fine healthy boy." She smiled her face alight with joy.

As if to emphasise her words, the infant started to wail and wave his small chubby arms.

"He is so beautiful!" Éowyn studied her son for the first time and was well pleased with what she beheld. He had a shock of black hair and seemed to her to be the fairest creature on Arda at that moment.

Arwen swiftly dried him then laid him against his mother's skin. She tucked a blanket around mother and baby to keep them warm while they waited for the afterbirth.

"Why, Lady Éowyn, the master will be right pleased with another fine son," exclaimed Mistress Elwen. And how like the master he is!"

"This is even more special than seeing kittens or foals born," said Elbeth.

"Mistress Elwen, will you tell the servants that Lady Éowyn has a son," said Arwen. "Elbeth, Estel will be in the gardens waiting for news, perhaps you would let him know the baby is here safely.

As soon as they had gone, Arwen retreated to the corner of the chamber where she could discreetly observe that all was well with Éowyn and the new born. Éowyn was lost in blissful contemplation of her infant and hardly seemed aware of her presence. At last, she roused herself and said, "I promised the children that they should be the first to see the baby, though I do wish they and Faramir could meet him together."

"I am certain Faramir will be here soon," Arwen said.

As soon as the afterbirth was delivered and the cord cut and tied, Arwen and Elbeth helped Éowyn wash and don a comfortable nightgown. Then while Elbeth brushed her aunt's hair, Arwen bathed and dressed the infant. He was contentedly suckling when Mistress Elwen brought Elestelle and Elboron to see the baby. Elestelle looked excited, while a sleepy Elboron roused from a nap, sucked his thumb.

"Meet your new brother," said Éowyn, proudly pulling the shawl away from his dark head."

Elestelle regarded the infant in silence for a few moments. "He has nice hair," she said at last. "I wanted a sister, though!"

"I want a brother!" said Elboron. He resumed sucking his thumb and appeared somewhat overwhelmed.

"Maybe next time you will have a sister, Elestelle," said Éowyn, smiling. "He is lucky to have a big sister and brother to help take care of him." The baby's hunger sated, she turned him round that her older children might see him better.

"Why is his face so red and squashed?" Elestelle asked.

"Because he has only just been born," said Éowyn. "You looked much the same when you were less than an hour old."

Oh," said Elestelle doubtfully. She studied her mother and the new baby for a few minutes dutifully and then said "Thank you for letting me see him, naneth. May I go back to play with the dragon now?"

"That is kind of Eldarion to let you play with his favourite toy," said Éowyn.

"Why not go outside and play now?" Arwen interrupted hastily.

"Oh, I didn't mean Eldarion's silly toy. I mean the real dragon," Elestelle revealed innocently, ignoring the Queen's interruption.


Chapter 22 - For ye shall go out with joy

For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. The Bible- Isaiah 52.12


"Real dragon?" Éowyn tensed immediately and sat bolt upright, cursing under her breath. Mistress Elwen turned pale and sat down heavily on a nearby chair.

"He can talk and he's called T'ien Li and he's my new friend. He let me stroke him," Elestelle continued. "He's in the garden now with Uncle Aragorn and Eldarion!"

"Go with Mistress Elwen now," Éowyn ordered. "You are to stay indoors in the nursery while that dragon is in the vicinity!"

"But why?" Elestelle protested mournfully. "T'ien Li is nice. Uncle Aragorn is his friend and you told me that Uncle Aragorn is very wise."

"I want to see the dragon too!" Elboron cried excitedly.

"Dragons are evil beasts," said Éowyn. "You are not to go near the creature whatever Uncle Aragorn says. Go now with Mistress Elwen. She will give you some milk and honey cakes."

The housekeeper collected herself and led the two protesting children away.

"How could Aragorn let that Fell beast anywhere near my daughter?" Éowyn demanded furiously as soon as the door closed behind her older children. "I shall have words with him as soon as I can leave my bed! Summon the guards, Arwen! I will not have the creature on my land. It will devour my horses! "

The infant in her arms started to wail dismally.

"Éowyn, please be calm for the sake of your baby!" Arwen said firmly in her most queenly tones. "The dragon is no Fell Beast. It is I who am to blame that he is here, for I let him bear me to you when I received a message from Elbeth that you were in labour. Loth though I am to admit it, we owe the dragon a great debt for he helped save Farawyn's life. I doubt I could ever call a dragon a friend, but I shall object no more to Estel's friendship with the creature and I will permit Eldarion to play with him as long as his father is present.

I have lived almost three thousand years and have never had cause to believe any good of dragons, but I have come to believe that there are indeed some in distant lands that mean us no ill."

"Surely you have not also been bewitched by his spawn of Morgoth?" Éowyn asked.

Arwen took the screaming baby from Éowyn and rocked him gently in her arms. "I believe now that I was most unwise to let the dragon cause a rift between myself and Estel," she said after a few moments. "I almost threw away everything that was most dear to me because I could not see there might be exceptions to what I have been carefully taught to believe.

This is a new age. Whoever would have imagined that we would count Tahir and Adiva amongst our dearest friends?"

"The folk of Harad are Men," said Éowyn. "Their skins are darker and they dress differently, but otherwise they are much as we are. Once free of Sauron's influence, we could become friends."

"The dragon was never under the Dark Lord's thrall at all," said Arwen. "He comes from a land where they revere dragons much as the folk of the Riddermark esteem horses." She started to sing softly to the baby while continuing to rock him.

Éowyn said nothing until the infant had ceased his wailing. "It never ceases me to amaze me that infants enjoy music so young," she said in an abrupt change of subject. "He is scarcely an hour old yet he is soothed by the melody."

Just then a knock came at the door. "Lord Faramir is here, my lady," Mistress Elwen called. "And what should we do about the dragon in the garden?"

"Oh just leave him for the time being!" Éowyn sighed wearily. "Just see he doesn't upset the horses. The dragon, I mean, not Lord Faramir. Tell my husband to come in and see his new son."

Arwen smiled and handed the baby back to Éowyn.

Faramir entered the room with an anxious expression on his face, which turned to awed tenderness when he beheld his wife and child.

"Meet your new son, Faramir," said Éowyn.

"I must go and see to the children," said Arwen. "I will be back in a few minutes.

Éowyn and Faramir seemed oblivious to her departure. They gazed at one another lovingly. Faramir then hastened to the bedside and tenderly kissed his wife's cheek and the top of the baby's dark head. "I have been so worried about you both," he said.

"You see we are both well," Éowyn beamed. "And is he not the most beautiful boy?"

"The fairest babe on Arda I believe," replied the proud father. "Have you given him a name yet?"

"I will let you choose," said Éowyn. "I should have liked to name a girl after my mother, but have not chosen one for a boy. Would you like to name him for your brother or father?"

Faramir shook his head and for a moment his grey eyes clouded. "This little one should not be burdened with names that still cause me sorrow to speak a loud," he said. Then he brightened. "How about naming him for a great hero, not only of Gondor, but also of Rohan?"

"Thorongil?" Éowyn smiled at her husband. "A fitting name indeed, especially as Arwen flew here like an eagle to help me bring him safely into the world."

"His name is Thorongil then," said Faramir. "I only hope he will not feel daunted to be named after so great a hero!"

"Almost anything our son might choose to be, he will be copying his namesake," said Éowyn. "Only you surpass the King as a man of many talents!"

"I think not," said Faramir. "You flatter me, my love. Aragorn is the greatest man of this Age. "I hope this little one might prove a scholar, but I shall be happy even if he simply desires to rear sheep."

"I hope he will be a great horseman," said Éowyn, gazing fondly at the infant. Thorongil stretched out his tiny perfectly formed fingers and Faramir offered the babe one of his own, which the baby gripped tightly.

"He is a strong lad," already said the Steward. "Now may I introduce him to his namesake?"

"Aragorn may come in," said Éowyn. "I should like to see the look on his face when we tell him the name we have chosen!"

A servant was despatched to tell Aragorn that the Steward and his lady were waiting to receive him. The King was delighted to see the new baby was a strong healthy lad and touched by his parents' choice of name. He was about to re-join his own wife and children when Éowyn said with only a little stiffness in her voice: "It seems that I misjudged your dragon friend as I believe Arwen would never have got here in time without him. It seems he is no Fell Beast after all."

Aragorn replied gravely. "Indeed he is not, Éowyn. Súlion is a trifle vain, but he is a good-hearted creature of a kind that never came under Sauron's dominion. He is no more a Fell Beast, than I am an Orc or a Troll. We have all cause to be grateful to him. Just now, he showed me that a weed in your garden that might well have caused Farawyn's recent illness."

"Such an evil plant must be pulled up and burned," said Éowyn.

"I have already seen it done as I knew you would desire to protect all the children," Aragorn replied.

"Thank you." Éowyn fell silent. Aragorn rose to leave so that she could rest. "How is the creature's, um dragon's rider faring?" Éowyn asked suddenly.

"His wounds are healing well now. I feared he would die, but he rallied once he was reunited with Súlion," said Aragorn. "They converse on my lawn most days. He is a most delightful man, a scholar and prince amongst his own people."

Éowyn took a deep breath. "I would be happy to allow the Rider to finish his convalescence here in Ithilien," she said. "Just as long as he keeps his dragon away from my horses!"

"I am certain they would both be delighted," said the King. He took his leave, smiling fondly at his friends. Éowyn gently rocked the babe in her arms while Faramir observed them, every inch the proud father.

000

Several weeks passed. Éowyn quickly recovered from the birth while little Thorongil thrived and made his doting parents prouder by the day.

The King and Queen and their children returned to Minas Tirith. Aragorn insisted that his Steward lightened his workload so that he could spend some time with his wife and children.

Fu Nung's injuries had healed sufficiently for him to travel to Ithilien to accept Éowyn's invitation to convalesce there. Súlion was not happy that his rider had to travel to Emyn Arnen by carriage on Aragorn's advice, but he was soon placated by the offer of an especially plump cow to dine upon. The dragon was much happier in Ithilien where he had far greater freedom to fly around. The fire breathing dragons and their riders were found a lonely spot to stay in the countryside, which troubled no one.

Life in Gondor returned to normal. Most people forgot that the dragons were still there, as out of sight was out of mind.

One fine summer's day Ambassador Tahir and his lady, together with their children, came to see the new baby at Faramir and Éowyn's invitation. Aragorn and Arwen were also in Ithilien visiting their friends. It made a merry gathering. The older folk sat partaking refreshments in the gardens while the children happily played with each other under the eagle eyes of their nursemaids. Súlion joined in the conversation and much amazed the ambassador and his lady with his witty remarks and ability to converse in their tongue.

Aragorn slipped away to see how his patient was faring. He found Fu Nung in his room gazing at the portraits of his wife and sons.

"What ails you, friend?" asked Aragorn. "You would be welcome to join us in the gardens. Súlion is there."

"To see your ladies and their children would only lower my spirits further," said Fu Nung in his heavily accented Westron. "Everyone has been most kind to me here, but as the days pass, I find I miss my wife and sons more with each sunrise. I think it is time I returned home. I believe I am sufficiently healed and I feel comfortable on T'ien Li's back, but Lady Éowyn said I should ask you before I made plans to depart."

"Let me see your hurts then."

After a thorough examination Aragorn concluded that Fu Nung was indeed well enough to travel. Apart from a very slight limp, he bore no sign that he had ever been injured. The Elven scar treatment had worked well to remove all traces of the ugly wounds that had caused him so much suffering. "You are indeed fit to leave us soon," the King said. "We shall miss you and your dragon. I hope you and Súlion will one day return to visit."

"We shall indeed," said Fu Nung. "You have my word upon it. Lord Faramir and your ladies would ever be welcome to visit my land too. My father would welcome you warmly. From this day forward our lands are friends and allies. Your friends are my friends and your enemies are my enemies."

"You do Gondor great honour," said Aragorn. He hoped such a day would never arise, but rejoiced in knowing that he could call on dragons for aid should Gondor ever be in dire need. "May our friendship endure between us our children and our children's children!" he said and embraced Fu Nung. "Now come and join the others."

"I shall leave before the month ends if T'ien Li is agreeable," said Fu Nung.

The two walked out into the gardens together.

Súlion was flying around with Ambassador Tahir and two of his children upon his back together with one of Beregond's daughters. It seemed that the dragon had ceased to trouble about whether or not his passengers were of royal blood.

Elbeth seemed indifferent to the dragon's presence while Elestelle looked somewhat alarmed to see the little girl she had recently been playing with borne aloft, Elboron and Farawyn kept pointing at the dragon and watching wide eyed. Eldarion, though, gazed sadly at the great beast.

"Fu Nung will soon bid us farewell," Aragorn told Arwen. "He is well enough to go home when he chooses."

Arwen smiled graciously and extended her hand. Fu Nung bowed low. "I shall never think of dragons in the same way after having met you and Súlion," said Arwen. I cannot say that I welcomed your coming, "but I am glad to know you. Take my friendship with you on your journey, Son of the East."

"Gladly, my lady," said Fu Nung.

"I will miss T'ien Li!" said Eldarion. "He is my friend."

"I am sure you will see him again one day," Aragorn reassured him. "Maybe when you are a grown man you will even visit his homeland."

"Are we going home?" asked Súlion, coming in to land. Tahir and his son and daughter dismounted, their dark eyes gleaming with pleasure. Beregond's daughter ran excitedly to her father.

Eldarion ran up the great beast and buried his head against his soft nose. "I'm going to miss you so much!" he cried. "I never even got to ride on you and now you're leaving!"

Arwen took a deep breath and turned to her husband. "If the dragon is willing, perhaps you would accompany Eldarion on a short flight?"

"Of course I will take him," said Súlion. "A prince of royal blood has not lived until he has flown upon one of my kind."

"Thank you, naneth!" Eldarion threw his arms around his mother.

"Go then before I change my mind," Arwen said briskly.

Very gently, Súlion lifted Eldarion in his great jaws and placed him on his neck. Aragorn scrambled up behind his son and held him tightly. Súlion rose slowly into the air and soared aloft.

Eldarion laughed aloud for sheer joy, his young face glowing with pleasure. "I'm flying, ada, I'm flying!" he cried as they circled Faramir's home.

Aragorn looked around him, as they flew low over garden. There on a bench by the rose garden, sat his beloved wife with their little daughter in her arms. Beside them, his dearest friend and his lady engaged in conversation with Tahir and his lady, former enemies of Gondor who were now good friends.

So much that had once seemed impossible had now come to pass. He had married the woman of his dreams and was the father of two precious children, he was King, Denethor's son was his best friend, and the land was at peace. Why, he was even riding upon a friendly dragon!

Aragorn joined in his son's joyous laugher.

The end.

The dragon is inspired by Temeraire in Naomi Novik's delightful series.

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