Title: The Better Huntsman
Author: Ainu Laire
Rating: Light PG-13 or T
Genre: Action, with some humor and drama (interesting combination)
Warnings: Some wounds and head-knockings, but nothing worse than is seen in the films.
Note: Some elements can be considered AU; it really depends on your own interpretation.
Ridiculously long A/N: This was originally written for a Teitho contest a year or so ago. The original was put together in haste and I was not at all happy with it. I have been meaning to rewrite and add many parts to it, and it was only now that my muses finally cooperated with me. It has been heavily rewritten in many areas, and many grammatical errors present in the original have been fixed. This version is a bit longer (over twice as long), and I gave Éowyn and Arwen, as well as my OC's, more of a role. The second half of the story especially has seen many changes. It is at the very beginning of the Fourth Age, so it's a couple years after the War.
Also, I have pinned what species of deer stars in the story; it's Middle-earth's version of the European Red Deer, the third largest species of deer in our modern world (after the moose and elk). The average male stag weighs 295 kg (650lb). The male of this species is a stag rather than a buck, so I went and changed all of those from the original.
The OC's are all my own, and good old Galdir can be found lurking in some of my other tales. He'll like play a future role in other stories, as well. Tolkien's characters are borrowed with love and will be put back in (almost) pristine condition. My interpretation of the characters is my own and may differ from others.
I am completely neutral when it comes to (legally) hunting for sport, but firmly believe that it would be done as a leisurely activity among men in Middle-earth, especially considering the lack of animal rights activists hundreds of years ago ;) Whatever your opinion, I hope you enjoy.
Chapter One: Of Good Ideas
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Well, at least to him it sounded like an excellent idea. Sure, he had thought up some not-very-good ideas in the past, but this time was different. As the others had agreed that it was a good idea, he was perfectly justified in saying that it actually was a good idea.
It was not his fault that everything always turned out wrong.
It had all started out this morning- well, no, it actually had started out just a few days ago, in Minas Tirith. It was spring: flowers were blooming, birds were singing, the people of the city were content and happy- and he was near the point of insanity.
Aragorn had been raised to be a tactician and a leader; his foster father was sure to see to it. Along with learning the art of swordplay and archery, he had learned politics and the ways of diplomacy. After all, Elrond did expect him to become king of Arnor and Gondor; if he were to rule a kingdom, he would have to know how to deal with the politics of his own country and of other countries.
He gained even more experience once he joined the Dúnedain and when he traveled as Thorongil in Rohan and Gondor. As he raised to high positions in both countries, he soon learned what he needed to be in order to gain respect from other men of high positions. By the time he had become king, he knew almost everything there was to know about politics. He knew how to deal with difficult men in a patient and diplomatic way.
Nonetheless, some of his councilors were completely and utterly insufferable. Often he had to attend small meetings with lords of the city, and while many of them he admired, there were a few that were completely impossible to work with.
It was those few who was driving him insane.
"Bavanor is a thrice-cursed fool!" Aragorn ranted when he entered his private rooms. His wife looked up from the book she was reading and put it down.
"Another fruitless meeting?" she asked.
"The worst," he clarified as he sat down beside her. "He is asking me to do the impossible. Honestly, I wish I could be rid of him!"
"Bavanor… is he not the head of the stone mason's guild?" asked Arwen. At Aragorn's confirming nod, she continued, "I believe I remember him from our wedding night. I did not like him very well; he felt false to me. As it is, I do not think he liked me, either."
"Many times a fool, then," Aragorn mumbled.
"Is there naught you can do, meleth nin?"
"Nay; he does his job well enough, and many of the other guild leaders respect him enough to be angry with me if I remove him." Aragorn sighed. "I can usually handle him and his selfish rambles, but at the moment I am at the end of my rope. I am in a desperate need of change."
Arwen nodded thoughtfully as her husband stood up and started to pace. "Well Estel, you have not had any time to yourself for many months, despite the peace within your realm. Is there any time at all for a well-deserved break?"
The king shook his head as he continued to pace. "Nay, my love, I must meet with Faramir within the coming week to discuss the- Faramir!" Suddenly Aragorn stopped pacing, and he turned to his wife, a bright light within his eyes. "That's it! Faramir! Thank you, Arwen, you are brilliant!" He embraced her and planted a kiss upon her lips.
"You are most welcome, Aragorn," she said, her eyes twinkling. "But tell me, what exactly did I do?"
"I shall explain later," he said, pulling away from her and heading towards the door. "Arrangements must be made!" With that, he left the room, leaving behind a very amused wife.
Within a few days Aragorn, Arwen, and a small guard left to Emyn Arnen to see the Lord Faramir and his family on 'state business'. Originally Faramir was to come to Minas Tirith for a few days to work out all that needed to be done, but with this arrangement, the king would be able to escape from the City and finish necessary business. The best part was that he had over a week to do so; Faramir and he would finish it within a couple of days, and then all of them would have time to enjoy themselves and relax.
Now that, that was a brilliant idea. And indeed, all necessary business had been finished earlier than expected, leaving the two lords to enjoy some much needed relaxation.
But of course, fate had other plans. In other words, he had just come up with another idea that very morning.
The Steward of Gondor turned from his book to the king, who was currently gazing at the head of a stag on the wall. "Yes, Aragorn?"
"Are the deer in Ithilien still as large as they used to be?"
Faramir looked at the stag head, and then back to his liege lord. "Well, in the last days of the stewards, deer were difficult to find, and they tended to be small. However, ever since the end of the War, deer are now quite plentiful and large."
Aragorn nodded as he stared at it in thought. Suddenly, he said, "Let us go hunting."
Faramir blinked. "What?"
"Hunting." Aragorn turned to look at Faramir, a fiendish gleam in his eyes. "You have gone hunting before, haven't you, Lord Faramir?"
"Of course," Faramir replied, raising an eyebrow. "Have you, Sire?"
"Naturally," said Aragorn without missing a beat. "And I am an excellent huntsman, if I do say so myself."
"Is that a challenge?" asked Faramir, standing up.
"It is whatever you make it out to be."
Aragorn approached Faramir, and the two men looked at each other in the eye. Faramir raised his eyebrow again. Aragorn folded his arms in response. The two lords gazed at one another, gray eyes on gray, two dark-haired reincarnations of Númenórean lords of old. Thus they stood like this for a while, until finally the steward broke the silence.
"I imagine our lady wives shall not be pleased."
"Nonsense," said Aragorn, waving his hand. "They will be amused, if anything."
"Beregond will not be happy with such a short notice."
"Neither will Galdir."
Faramir slowly nodded. "So… would you like to inform the ladies or the guards?"
"Guards," he immediately replied, and Faramir burst out laughing.
"Leave me with the challenge!" Faramir cried. "But I shall do as you command, my king," he said with a low, exaggerated bow. "Know that you shall hear all of their worries and warnings from me; think not that you can escape it!"
"I expect I shall hear all words of caution needed from the queen; I need not you to repeat it to me!"
"But nevertheless, repeated it shall be," Faramir retorted. "And now, I believe we both have missions to complete. So we shall go hunting… tomorrow?"
"Yes. We shall leave tomorrow at dawn, and come back in a day, or two; whenever one of us has proved to the other to be the better huntsman." Aragorn said, a large, almost boyish grin on his face. "Whoever shoots down the largest deer shall claim this title."
Faramir nodded. "Very well then. I shall give the news of this little venture to our wives, and you to our guards."
Aragorn nodded. "And tomorrow at dawn, we shall begin."
"May the best man win."
To say that the guards were dismayed by this news would be an understatement. Indeed, the captain of the king's personal guard was downright exasperated.
"I thought we were here on state business, my lord," Galdir said plainly.
"We were," Aragorn affirmed. "We finished business early. Now we are to go hunting tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? You cannot be serious, my lord," he exclaimed. "I have yet to send scouts out to make sure the area is clear, not to mention that I must make arrangements in the shifts- and if Lord Faramir is to come as well, I must make some arrangements with Captain Beregond. Tomorrow simply does not give me enough time to do all this, my lord!"
Aragorn waited patiently for his frantic captain to finish his speech. He idly wondered who was so cruel to place this man in charge of his well-being; as fond as he was of the captain, the man was still rather paranoid.
"Captain," he said calmly once Galdir took a moment to breathe, "I appreciate your thoroughness and meticulous planning, but I will remind you that the War has been over for a few years now, and that we are still in Gondor. I doubt such precautions are needed for such an informal outing. In the end, Lord Faramir and I are still going hunting tomorrow. I was simply giving you an early notice."
"Early notice?" he protested, but said no more. "Very well then, my lord. I shall do my best with the situation."
"Inform Captain Beregond as well, if you would," Aragorn said with a smile.
"Of course, my lord," he said with a bow. "If you have need of me, I shall be in the barracks." With that, he saluted and left the king.
Aragorn could not help but roll his eyes after Galdir left. "That man needs to learn to relax," he muttered to himself. "Ah, well, better than the ladies."
If Faramir was around to hear Aragorn, he would heartily agree with the statement. As it was, he was currently preoccupied by said ladies.
"You are already done with state business?" Éowyn asked in surprise as she bounced her two-year-old son upon her knees. He giggled as he went up and down, but laughed in delight as his father swooped him up and lifted him in the air.
"Aye," he confirmed briefly, but turned his attention to his son. "Look, Elboron, you fly like a gull." He spun him around as the young child giggled even more.
Arwen smiled as she observed the steward. "And now you have time to play with your son. Though tell me, where is my husband?"
Faramir did not respond right away, but rather spun Elboron around once more time before setting him down upon his mother's lap. During this brief moment he thought of the best way to break the news to the two women. He decided to go for a blunt approach.
"Since we have finished our business," Faramir began, settling down upon an empty chair across from them, "we decided we shall go hunting on the morrow. Aragorn is informing the guards."
"This hunting expedition was Aragorn's idea, wasn't it?" Arwen asked.
"Well, yes, it was."
Arwen nodded and then shook her head. "Hunting. I thought Aragorn came here to relax."
"Hunting is very relaxing, my lady," Faramir argued for the king.
"It is," Éowyn unexpectedly put in. "Éomer and Theodred took me hunting when I was a few years younger, before Rohan had turned into a dangerous country. Nonetheless," she said, turning to her husband with a raised eyebrow, "I certainly had hoped that with your free time you would spend more time with us, especially with your son."
"It will only be for a day or two," Faramir assured her. "Afterwards, we shall certainly be with you for the rest of the week."
"Good," Arwen said. "Aragorn needs to spend some time with Elboron. He needs to learn how to handle children."
"Handle children?" Éowyn said excitedly as she turned to the queen. "Do you mean...?"
"No, no, not yet," she said to her hopeful look. "But soon. I do believe it will be soon."
"That would truly be wonderful news," Faramir said with a smile. "Fatherhood is a blessed experience." He glanced at his son, who was now wandering around the room, inspecting everything he could reach. "And the people certainly have been waiting for an heir."
"I know the people have been waiting," Arwen said coolly. "And I know of my duty. Unfortunately there have been some complications."
"Forgive me, my lady," he said with a tilt of his head. "I meant no offense."
"It is forgiven," she said. "My thoughts are petty, and my anger should not be directed at you." The queen shook her head. "Ah! that is a dismal line of thought. Let us move on."
"Well, Faramir," Éowyn said with a nod towards Arwen. "We shall be waiting here, like faithful wives do, and I expect you to keep your promise. Do be back within two days, and do be careful! Foul beings still run about."
"Of course, my dear shield-maiden," he replied with a smile. "I wouldn't dare oppose your will."
"Oh, hush," she countered, but smiled. "Now go on, I am sure you want to prepare. Just be around for dinner, I do believe the cook is making something good tonight."
"I would not miss it for the world," he said. He gave the queen a courtly kiss on the hand, pecked his wife on the check, and ruffled his son's hair before leaving the room.
"I propose a wager," said Arwen once the steward left.
"What would that be?"
"How much are you willing to gamble that our husbands will not be back in time?"
"You do not trust them to keep their word?" Éowyn asked, slightly surprised.
"You do not know my husband as well as I do," she said. "Trouble follows him as persistently as Ithil chases Anor."
Éowyn laughed. "I have heard a couple stories, but I did not realize it was that bad."
"It is," Arwen confirmed. "I thought it was merely the Dark Lord and his obsession to find the heir of Isildur, but since it has continued even into this Age, I have simply concluded that he is forever cursed with terrible luck."
"Well, then, I would be a fool to accept your wager, now, wouldn't I?"