The King’s Holiday|
Rating - K
Summary – Too many holidays leave Aragorn in a bad mood.
Disclaimer: I don’t own anything save the original characters, everything else belongs to great Tolkien.
It was a perfect morning in early April, but Aragorn was in a morose mood that even Arwen’s loving smiles failed to dispel. When a servant brought a message saying that the ambassador from Khand wished for an audience, the King snapped tetchily, “Again? I only saw the fellow last week!”
“I thought you liked the Ambassador?” said Arwen.
“I do,” Aragorn conceded. “I just feel rather tired. I have not been sleeping well.”
“You need a holiday, my love,” said Arwen.
“I have had enough holidays in March to last me an Elven lifetime!” Aragorn replied. “I would be happy if I never heard the word ‘holiday’ ever again! First, there was my birthday, when all the merchants’ guild decided because I wear the Elfstone that I must have a liking for green stones. I now have several chestfuls of beryls that I have no idea what to do with.”
“I have been thinking about that,” said Arwen. “Why not ask the midwives to distribute them and give one to every babe born on your birthday? I am sure you will think of other good uses for them too.”
“An excellent idea,” said Aragorn. “That was not the worst torment, though. I do not know how I managed to remain awake when that minstrel began to sing of my ‘great deeds’, most of which were grossly exaggerated or else the credit belonged to someone else.”
“You are too modest, my love,” said Arwen.
“Then I had to listen to another minstrel praising my deeds on Pelennor Fields on March 15th,” said Aragorn. “I would much rather we simply remembered those who fell that day. We could save the celebrations for the New Year when we remember how Frodo and Sam saved us all by destroying the Ring. I do not begrudge my people, especially the poor folk, having a holiday, but I find holidays far more tiring than my daily work.”
“That is precisely what I meant, beloved,” said Arwen. “You need a holiday to recover from all the celebrations you have had to preside over.”
“You must be exhausted too, vanimelda.” Aragorn’s tone was contrite.
“I have been accustomed to presiding over feasts for centuries,” said Arwen. You have not, my love. I suggest that you go out in the wilds for a few days to lift your spirits and restore your energy. Take Faramir with you to serve as a companion and bodyguard, some fresh air will surely benefit him too.”
“Faramir has worked harder than anyone organising the celebrations,” said Aragorn. If anyone deserves some rest, it is he! How I wish I could do as you suggest, but I have a trade delegation from Dale I have to meet the day after tomorrow.”
“Leave them to me,” said Arwen. “I know that you would like to buy toys from them, while they are eager to purchase wool. I have also had an idea to encourage trade between Dale and Harad. We could levy a tax on goods that pass through Gondor and use it to improve the roads.”
Aragorn grinned at his wife then planted a loving kiss on her lips. “You have thought of everything, vanimelda,” he said. “I will leave the trade delegation in your capable hands.”
Faramir took little persuasion to agree to accompany Aragorn. For once, there was little work for him to do in the City, while at home, Éowyn was preoccupied because two of her favourite mares were about to give birth. She had taken to spending most of her free time in the stables with the equine mothers- to-be. Faramir had offered to keep her company, but his lady feared that anyone other than she might unsettle the skittish first time mothers.
Three days after Aragorn’s conversation with Arwen; King and Steward set out soon after sunrise. They travelled light, taking only their swords, a change of linens, food and their water skins. As was his custom, Aragorn also carried some healing supplies in his pack and he had placed a handful of the unwanted beryls in his pockets in the hope of finding some use for them. The previous night, the two had debated what route they should take and decided to visit Lossarnach rather than the wilds. The distance was not too great and the orchards would be putting forth spring blossoms, which were one of the loveliest sights in Gondor.
As soon as they left the city walls behind and the countryside stretched out before them, Aragorn’s spirits began to rise. What better way was there to spend a day than on faithful Roheryn’s back, with a good friend at his side and the feel of the sun and the breeze on his face.
It was late afternoon when they reached Lossarnach. Both men’s hearts soared as they rode alongside the orchards. The blossoms were so abundant that the trees looked as if they were covered in pink and white snow.
“It will be a good year for fruit,” remarked Faramir. “Yavanna is blessing us richly now that the Enemy is no more.”
Aragorn nodded his agreement. “We should stop here for a while,” he said. “The horses deserve to rest and I am starting to feel hungry.”
“Should we head for the nearest village or stay in the countryside?” asked Faramir.
“Let us find the nearest village,” said the King. “I like to visit my people without them knowing who I am. I can learn whether or not they are happy and if they are not, how best I might help them.”
“I thought this was supposed to be a holiday for you!” Faramir laughed.
“Can a King ever truly take a holiday?” Aragorn mused. “I enjoy being amongst my people, though without pomp and ceremony and officials fawning over me. When I was Chieftain of the Rangers there was far less formality and sometimes I miss those days of sharing a warm fire or a mug of ale with my folk. They always came to me with their concerns.”
The path widened out as the two riders approached a group of houses clustering around a village green. An inn stood a little way apart from the houses. The two men stopped beside a water trough and dismounted while their horses drank. Their eyes were drawn towards a group of children playing on the green. In the centre of the group, a boy lay on a tattered cushion. Around his head was a crown of leaves and in his hand he brandished a stick. Beside him, stood another lad, also clutching a stick while several other children clustered round.
“Off with her head!” cried the recumbent boy, pointing towards the only girl in the group, a child with pigtails and a freckled nose who looked to be about seven years old.
“Why?” asked the little girl.
“You didn’t bow low enough,” said the boy, “nor did you give me enough gold!”
“I’m tired of this stupid game!” said the little girl and started to walk away.
“Cut off her head, Lord Furamir!” cried the boy.
Faramir started at the near approximation of his name. Both men listened more intently.
“I’m going home now,” said the little girl, ignoring him.
The boy sighed then called out to the other boys, “Bring me more cakes to eat and assemble my army or Lord Furamir will cut off your heads!”
“When I’m king, I’ll cut off your head!” said the little girl.
“Stupid! Girls can’t be king!” the boy retorted.
“A girl can be a queen, though,” said Aragorn.
The children turned and stared at him.
“What game are you playing?” asked the King.
“Being king,” said one of the boys.
“And my brother always gets to be king because he is the biggest,” said the little girl. “It’s not fair. He gets all the fun, just like the real king!”
“What do you think the King does then?” asked Aragorn. There was a twinkle in his eye.
“Everyone knows that,” said the boy scornfully. He scrambled to his feet. “He lives in a fine house and lies on silken cushions and eats cakes all day. When people make him cross and don’t do what he says, he chops off their heads or asks Lord Furamir to do so because he’s the Steward.”
Faramir was seized by a sudden uncontrollable fit of coughing. Aragorn cleared his throat several times and pulled out his handkerchief. “No, being King is not like that at all,” he said at last.
“And what would you know about it?” asked the boy.
“We dwell in the City,” said Faramir. “I have seen the King on many occasions.”
“And he hasn’t cut your head off?” asked the boy who had been playing ‘Furamir’.
“The King only has people who do bad things killed,” said Aragorn solemnly. “They are killed by the state executioner not Lord Faramir.”
“Do you mean bad things like pulling my hair and dropping my favourite doll in a puddle?” the little girl asked eagerly.
“I meant very bad things like killing someone,” Aragorn said gravely.
The little girl looked disappointed. “Oh, my brother hasn’t killed anyone – not yet at least!”
“The King works very hard,” said Faramir. “He most certainly does not lie on cushions all day eating cakes. He rises early and spends most of the day reading documents and signing treaties.”
“That sounds boring,” the children chorused almost in unison.
“But he does wear a crown?” asked the little girl.
“Only on special occasions," said Aragorn. “The crown is heavy and would give the King a bad headache to wear all day.”
The boy, who had been playing at being the king, sighed, removed his makeshift crown, and threw it on the grass. “What’s the point of being King if it is so dull then?” he asked.
“More things than you could ever imagine,” said Aragorn, a dreamy faraway look was in his eyes as he spoke. “Most important of all, though, is that the King can care for his people and try to make life better for them.”
“I thought he fought in battles and killed dragons,” said ‘Furamir’.
“He has fought in many a battle, but never has he slain a dragon,” said Aragorn. He glanced around to see what the horses were doing. They were cropping the long grass at the edge of the green contently. “Would you like to hear a story about the King’s real adventures?”
“Yes, please,” chorused the children.
Aragorn sat down cross- legged on the grass with Faramir beside him while the children settled themselves in a semi- circle around him.
The King began with a tale of a visit to Bree during his Ranger days, but the oldest boy interrupted, “But he wasn’t King then!”
“I want to hear about battles!” said ‘Furamir’.
“I want to know about what he does when someone is accused of doing something bad,” said the little girl.
“If you children are going to argue, my friend and I will be on our way,” Aragorn said sternly, making as if to get to his feet.
“Please, we’ll be good,” chorused the children.
Aragorn decided to tell the children the story of Beregond combined with the tale of the Battle of the Black Gate. This time, his young audience listened with baited breath, and let out a collective sigh of relief when the Guardsman was pardoned and sent to a new life in Ithilien.
“You see,” Aragorn concluded. “The King likes to be merciful if the wrongdoer deserves mercy. He was taught by someone very wise.”
“The King had lessons?” asked the little girl.
So Aragorn began another story, this time of his younger days. A couple of the older boys lost interest and wandered off, though they stayed within earshot. By the time, the story was complete, the shadows were lengthening and the children’s mothers were calling them indoors. Aragorn feared too his stomach would start to rumble if he delayed eating for much longer.
The little girl lingered after the boys had left, ignoring her mother’s calls from a nearby doorway.
“You should go to your mother,” said Aragorn.
“Thank you for the stories,” said the child. “I wish I could see the King.”
“Maybe if you ever come to visit the City you will,” said Aragorn. “I will give you a stone of the kind the King wears.” He reached in to his tunic and brought out one of the beryls and pressed it into her small hand.”
“Thank you.” She gazed at it with obvious pleasure in her eyes. “What is your name, master? I’m Haleth.”
“I am known as Strider,” said Aragorn. Impulsively, he added, “If you should visit the City when you are grown up, you can ask to see the King. Tell the guards that Strider sent you. Now go to your mother.”
Haleth scampered away.
“Why did you tell her that?” asked Faramir. “It would betray our disguise.”
“It would not matter years from hence,” said Aragorn. “I simply desire to remain unrecognised while we enjoy our brief holiday. Now let us see if yonder inn serves food to hungry travellers.”
A crudely painted sign naming the inn as “The Plough Horse” hung above the doorway, which was so low that Aragorn and Faramir had to duck their heads to enter. It took their eyes a moment to adjust to the dim interior. A cheerful fire burned in the hearth at one end of the long, low room. A tabby cat was curled contentedly on a rug in front of the fire. The floor was covered with rushes and the place smelled slightly of ale.
A grey-bearded man wearing a leather apron came to greet them. “Greetings, good sirs,” he said. “We don’t often get strangers in these parts. How might I be of service?”
“We are captains on leave from the City,” said Aragorn. He seated himself at a table in the corner. Faramir seated himself opposite. “We should like two mugs of your best ale, if you please and do you serve anything to eat?”
“Right away, good sirs,” said the innkeeper. “My wife has a pan of mutton stew on the stove, right tasty it is and also some apple pie from what’s left of last year’s harvest.”
“That would be most agreeable,” said Faramir with more enthusiasm than he felt.
A few moments later, the innkeeper’s wife appeared clutching two steaming bowls, smiling; she placed them in from of the King and Steward.
Aragorn picked up his spoon and sampled the stew. It tasted surprisingly good. The mutton was tender and cooked with a variety of herbs and vegetables. The royal kitchens served the finest fare in the land, but the King sometimes missed the simple homely fare that he had enjoyed during his Ranger days.
“This is good,” said Faramir. “It reminds of the fare at “The May Bush” where we stopped on the way last time I visited Rohan with Éowyn.”
“That was a much larger inn,” said Aragorn. “This stew reminds me of the “Prancing Pony,” which I frequented in my Ranger days. This inn is much smaller, though.”
“A few more customers are arriving,” said Aragorn. He glanced around, just at the moment a group of men who looked like farmers entered. One of them, a stocky fellow with brown hair, came over to where Aragorn and Faramir were sitting.
“We don’t often see strangers here,” the man said.
“We are Captains on leave from our duties in the City,” Aragorn replied.
“You leave the delights of the City to visit this remote village?” the man asked incredulously.
“The blossom here is most fair at this time of year,” said Faramir. “When spring comes the folk in the City long to leave its bustle for the peace and beauty of the countryside.”
The man shook his head. “If I could leave my farm, I should visit the City,” he said. “Still, each to their own!” With that, he went and took a seat by the fire.
Aragorn found himself using his sharp hearing to listen to the murmur of conversation at the surrounding tables. As King, he cared that his subjects were not being subjected to injustice or oppression in any form. These men seemed content enough, one complained of a nagging wife, another of a disobedient son, but their worries were of a domestic nature. The talk was mostly of growing crops and hopes for a good harvest.
Another man came in, a little taller than the others. He was beaming from ear to ear. “Drinks all round!” he cried. “My wife has just given me a fair son!”
“Congratulations!” said Aragorn. “How fares your wife?”
“The midwife says she and the baby are both doing well,” the man replied. “A bonnier babe you never saw and he has a right lusty cry. I have a boy to farm my land after I am gone!”
Aragorn reached in his pocket and took out one of the beryls, which he gave to the new father. “Keep that for your lad when he is older,” he said.
“What’s this?” said the farmer. “Ah I see now it’s an Elfstone. Folk say they bring good fortune and the King is partial to them. Well I reckon what’s good enough for the King is good enough for my lad. Thank you, good sir.” He looked more closely at Aragorn. “I saw the King when he was crowned,” he said. “Reckon you remind me of him a bit, save he was all dressed up in finery and jewels, quite unlike the garb you wear.”
Aragorn struggled to keep a straight face.
“The King is always immaculately dressed in public,” said Faramir.
“I reckon so, or how else could he be king if he weren’t dressed finer than the rest of us with his crown and that great green stone he wears.”
Aragorn smiled but said nothing. He almost unconsciously touched the Elessar brooch, which he wore concealed beneath his tunic. “May your lad prosper!” he said.
The innkeeper had finished serving the drinks, and everyone raised their glasses to echo the King’s words.
“This calls for a song,” said the new father. He turned to Aragorn. “Do you know any songs, sir?”
“He comes from the City,” said the stocky man glumly. “I doubt they have time for songs there.”
“We do!” said Faramir somewhat indignantly.
“Indeed we do,” said Aragorn, but I will sing you a song I have heard sung in an inn such as this one. He began to sing a song he had learned from Bilbo and heard Frodo sing on a memorable occasion.,
“There is an inn, a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
one night to drink his fill.”
It was a catchy tune and soon the others picked it up and sang along cheerfully. Faramir glanced at Aragorn who was singing merrily without a care in the world. It seemed that this holiday was just what his lord needed to restore his spirits. Faramir smiled contentedly and joined in the song.