The second-to-last part of this chapter is... well, I don't know what it is. There is so little said about the whole healing of the mind and how it's done with Aragorn's healing hands, so I just wrote what came to me. I'm pretty sure he only needs athelas when dealing with Morgul/Black Breath issues, so... no athelas.
This is the last chapter. Thank you to those who have reviewed, and to all my silent readers, I hope you enjoyed it. Any thoughts you have would be appreciated :D
Chapter Six: Discoveries
"Haneth, we should go home."
"Just one more, Handir! It's one of the best!"
"We've seen a good half dozen of your little hideaways. Masters Tfhorongil and Turgon are tired and want to rest."
Haneth frowned, and then turned to the two men in question, who were just a little behind. "Mister Turgon! Are you and Mister Thorongil tired?"
Faramir smiled and shook his head. "We are quite well, thank you."
The girl glanced triumphantly at her brother. "See, they aren't. Besides, it's the last one. And it's the best." Handir sighed and rolled his eyes, but did not argue further as the girl led them on.
Faramir lightly chuckled as he observed the two children. "They remind me of Boromir and me when we were children. I would drag him along around the Citadel, and he would dutifully follow, though here and there with protest."
Aragorn smiled. "I have no siblings, but Elrond's sons treated me as if I was their brother when I was younger." He shook his head. "To be honest, they have treated me as such throughout most of my life, and such brotherly affection only became worse after my marriage to their sister."
"Lords Elladan and Elrohir?" Faramir asked. "I have met them, but do not know them well. I did not realize that you have always been close to them."
The king nodded. "Elrond's entire household took my mother and me into their hearts. I owe Master Elrond much." He became silent, keeping the rest of his thoughts to himself.
Faramir did not enquire further, and they fell silent. The silence was quickly broken by Haneth's voice.
"Here it is!" She looked back at the two men, grinned, and ducked under many small branches that made part of the entrance to her hideout. Handir quickly followed, simply getting on his hands and knees to crawl in. Aragorn moved the branches aside for Faramir and then followed the man in.
What they saw was a very much an ideal hideout. Due to the thickness of the wood around them and the amount of foliage surrounding the small clearing, it would be difficult for anything larger than a rabbit to get through the barrier. The clearest way in and out was the entrance they had used.
Haneth had obviously done some things herself to the grove to make it more comfortable. They could see she frequently cleared the undergrowth, and had a couple logs to serve as chairs. They also observed what only could be a doll made out of sticks and thin vines, sitting beside one of the logs.
"You can sit down," she said to her guests, pointing to the logs.
"So I see," Faramir smiled, lowering himself onto the log. "Did someone help you get these in here?"
She nodded. "Papa did. I couldn't do it by myself."
"Did you find this place yourself?" Aragorn asked.
Haneth grinned and nodded. "I did! I found it a long time ago."
"A month or so ago," Handir clarified.
"Yea, a long time ago," she said, frowning at her brother. "It's my favorite hiding place. Mama couldn't find me when Papa was showing it to her." The young girl giggled at the memory.
"It is a very good hiding place," Faramir complimented.
"Exceptionally good," Aragorn nodded, glancing around the area appreciatively. He smiled down at her. "You have a keen eye, my lady."
Haneth blushed at the title and fell silent for a moment. Handir took the opportunity to talk with the two soldiers and ask them one of the many questions he had.
"Do Rangers have many hideouts?"
"We do," Aragorn replied. "They are scattered all about Ithilien."
"Do you have a favorite?" Haneth unexpectedly asked. Aragorn and Faramir glanced at one another, immediately thinking about the same place.
"Yes, we do. It is a beautiful place, by a waterfall," Faramir answered ambiguously.
"A waterfall? I've never seen a real waterfall!" Haneth exclaimed. "Oh, I'd love to see a waterfall! Mama told me that waterfalls can make rainbows. Does it make rainbows?"
"Oh yes, many rainbows," the steward said with a small smile, recalling some memory. "It looks very nice in the sunlight."
"Can I see it? Can you take me there?" Haneth asked excitedly.
The two men glanced at one another once more. Aragorn shook his head, indicating that Faramir should respond. Handir, however, threw in his own response.
"Don't be silly. It's a secret hiding place. Only Rangers can probably go there," he stated as if he knew everything about Rangers.
"Oh." Haneth looked crestfallen by the news, but then perked up once more. "Can I be a Ranger?"
Aragorn did not look at Faramir, for he knew that if he did, he would burst out laughing, and he did not want to hurt the child's feelings. Faramir seemed to compose himself far sooner than he, and responded to her seriously.
"Maybe one day, but it takes a lot of training, and many years of hard work."
"Like what?" she asked. Handir, while he tried to hide it, also was interested in their response to this question.
"Well," Faramir began. "You need to know how to survive in the wild. You need to be able to feed yourself, and defend yourself."
"Like with a sword?" she asked, pointing at his weapon.
"You can use a sword, yes," he nodded. "You also need to-"
"Be silent, Faramir," Aragorn suddenly interrupted in Sindarin, standing up. "Something approaches."
The steward immediately stood up as well, ignoring the pain in his leg. As Aragorn quietly drew Andúril, Faramir turned to the two children, both who noticed the change in their countenance. "Listen," he whispered, "Thorongil has heard something approaching. It is most likely nothing, but we must be cautious. If something does happen, stay hidden. Only reveal yourselves if you have no other choice." He drew out a small knife from his boot and handed it to Handir. "Use it only at last resort."
Handir merely nodded, one hand protectively around his sister, the other shakily holding the knife. He thought back to the days of the War, and shuddered; he thought it was all over. In the end, he managed to calm himself down, if only for his sister's sake. She was old enough to understand that there was something wrong. She grasped at his sleeves and buried herself in his arms.
Faramir limped over to Aragorn, ignoring the pain shooting down his leg. Instead, he whispered quietly in Sindarin, "What did you hear?"
"Voices, though I could not distinguish much else."
Faramir held in a sigh. So it was not a harmless wood animal as he hoped it was. It was likely it would only be a band of hunters, which was not so uncommon in Ithilien now, but in the end the two of them were wounded and they had children with them. It was better to be safe than sorry.
The two hid in the foliage to the left of the entrance, while Handir and Haneth were sitting at the edge of the clearing, trying to make themselves as small as possible. It took but a couple moments of waiting before the sound of many feet could be heard against the earth. The strangers, however, were silent.
Neither Faramir nor Aragorn could see the group, not without the possibility of revealing themselves. And in their state of condition, as well as their company, they simply could not risk it. So the two warriors waited for the group to pass.
They had nearly passed when suddenly one of the men tripped and fell to the ground. He muttered a curse under his breath while the one at the front of the group snapped at him.
"You need to watch where you are going and stop slowing us down! I swear this is the third time you've stumbled since we began."
Aragorn and Faramir rejoiced when they heard the voice. Immediately sheathing his sword, Aragorn pushed the branches of the entrance out of the way, saying, "You need to be a bit more understanding with your men, captain. If I know you at all, you've run them to the ground."
"My lord!" Captain Galdir nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard his voice, but the surprise was replaced with pure joy. "Oh, thank the Valar you are well! Well, at least on your feet," he amended when he saw the bandages around his head. "Is Lord Faramir with you?"
"I am," Faramir said, pushing his way out of the foliage, "and nearly on my feet, if not quite there."
Galdir glanced at the leg wound and grimaced. "I see. But your wounds look tended to, my lords. Where did you get the supplies?"
"We were found by a child who lives near here, and her family helped us. Wait one moment," Aragorn said. He pushed the foliage of the hideout aside and called to the siblings. "Handir, Haneth! It is safe. There are some people who I wish for you to meet."
The two children came out of the hiding place, Handir still holding the knife uncertainly. Haneth grasped at his other hand and hid herself behind him as she looked at the tall men surrounding her.
"Here lad, you won't need that knife now," Faramir said gently. Handir handed the weapon back quickly, a look of relief on his face.
"The young man is Handir, and his sister is Haneth," Aragorn introduced them. "Haneth found us but a few hours ago."
"Is that so?" Galdir said, his hardened features softening as he looked down upon the young girl. He went down on one knee and gazed at her with a smile. "Then we all have much to thank you for, young Lady Haneth. You are a very brave girl, and have all of our gratitude." Haneth merely nodded from her place behind her brother.
"Their whole family has our gratitude," Faramir put in, smiling down at Handir. "We would be less better off had they not taken us in."
"Speaking of which," Aragorn added, "these two should be heading home. Your parents are surely expecting the both of you."
Galdir already knew that his liege lord would not allow these children to wander by themselves back home. "And I would like to thank their parents personally, if you would permit it, my lord."
Aragorn thought that they may be a bit uncomfortable, but after all his captain had been through, he was quite willing to allow anything that made the man feel better. "Of course, Galdir."
With that said, the company started off once more. Haneth, while not completely hiding behind her brother, was still clutching his hand and kept her eyes steady on the backs of Aragorn and Faramir, both whom were in front of the group with Galdir. The rest of the soldiers walked around and behind them silently.
"Where is Beregond?" Faramir asked.
"In another search party. When we found traces of your fall and could not find you in the water or on the shore, we immediately went back to camp. We split up into four search parties and left just before dawn, once the rain had passed. We are all to meet back at camp at nightfall, if not sooner. Beregond will be relieved to see you well, my lord."
Handir, with his close proximity, heard Galdir's response and frowned to himself. Two times he had heard that man call Thorongil and Turgon 'lords', yet he was sure that Galdir was the captain of the group. He concentrated on their backs, wondering who exactly the two Rangers his sister found were.
As Faramir spoke with Galdir, Aragorn felt a pair of eyes boring into his back. He glanced back and saw Handir looking at him with the oddest expression. Aragorn fell into step with him and looked down at him with a raised eyebrow. "Do I have something on my back, or do you have a question?"
Handir looked embarrassed, but quickly composed himself and decided to be bold. "Sir... why is Captain Galdir calling you and Turgon 'lords'? I thought you were Rangers.
Both Galdir and Faramir heard his question. The king's captain of the guard raised an eyebrow at his liege, and Aragorn merely smiled. Galdir could not help but shake his head while Faramir chuckled at the exchange.
"Well," Aragorn began to the boy, "both of us were Rangers, a few years ago. After the War, our positions... changed."
"We prefer being Rangers, though," Faramir added.
"Oh yes, it's much nicer, and less stressful," he said, winking at the boy. "Do not worry, lad, your questions shall be answered in due time."
Handir nodded, accepting the ambiguous answer, and the company continued on to the household.
"It looks like our children brought home some more company."
Maethor frowned and stood, briskly walking towards the doorway. What he saw brought a large grin to his face.
Haneth and Handir were running to the house, and trailing behind them were their two guests along with many other men. When he saw their garb, he knew that Turgon and Thorongil had found their company.
He grabbed Haneth as she ran into his arms and spun her around once before putting her down. Handir nearly ran into him in his excitement, panting out a stream of words that came out garbled.
"Hideout- and then sounds- and a knife, Pa, a knife!- and, then, and-"
"Whoa, slow down and catch your breath, boy," he said, stopping his son. "It seems you have found their company."
"Yes, we did. And oh! Father, it's odd, but their captain- well, he called Thorongil and Turgon 'lords'," Handir managed to get out.
"Lords?" Maethor frowned. "Who are they?"
"I don't know, but they said that they'd explain," his son answered.
The Rangers were now at the house, and Aragorn smiled warmly at the family as he approached. "Our company seems to have found us," he said.
"That is what I thought," Maethor nodded, "though I am afraid we do not have much room in the house."
"Do not worry, we do not all plan to come in," Faramir laughed. "However," he said, glancing at Aragorn before turning back to them, "it may be best if we discuss a few things privately inside. I can see you have questions."
"Of course, please come in," the man replied. "And yes, I will be honest: something my son told me has made me very curious." Celon nodded in agreement.
Galdir quickly instructed his men to stay outside, and he followed Aragorn, Faramir, and the family inside the home. Maethor and Celon sat on the couch, their children at their feet, while Aragorn and Galdir pulled up two chairs so they could face one another. Faramir lowered himself into one chair, and Aragorn took the other, while the captain stood at the side.
The king and steward glanced at one another, and after a silent exchange, Aragorn turned to the family and spoke. "Before I begin, I apologize for any deception on our parts. I did not plan to reveal who I was, but after Handir's curiosity, and your own, Master Maethor, I do not think it fair to leave you at all uncertain, especially after all that you have done for us." Maethor nodded and said nothing, though Celon looked slightly suspicious.
"We both were Rangers, once upon a time, and for many long years. However, after the War, we both found ourselves in political positions rather than the army. The men outside are not Rangers now, if they ever were, and rather make up both of our personal guards. Captain Galdir here," he said with a nod in the man's direction, "is the captain of my guard."
"Captain of your guard...?" Celon could not help but whisper, glancing back and forth from Galdir to the men sitting across from her. She then stared back at Aragorn, the obvious question in her eyes.
Aragorn, having given the explanation, let Faramir give the last bit. "I," the man began, "am Faramir, son of Denethor, and he is Aragorn Elessar."
Both of them were glad that the family was sitting, for Celon looked as if she were about to faint. Maethor and Handir had an eerily similar expression of shock on their faces, and Haneth, while she did not understand the importance of the names given, understood that something had happened.
Maethor recovered first, standing up and giving the two of them a low bow. "My Lord King. My Lord Steward," he muttered. Handir quickly stood up and imitated his father.
"Please, rise and be seated," Aragorn said, and then turned his eyes to Celon, who was still pale. "Handir, would you fetch your mother a glass of water? She doesn't look well." With concern the king rose and knelt in front of the lady, taking one of her wrists in his hand and checking her pulse.
As the boy rose and rushed to get some water, Celon seemed to recover herself enough to realize that the king was kneeling in front of her and holding her wrist. She turned slightly red and muttered, "Please, sire, you should not be kneeling in front of me."
"Nonsense," he rebutted lightly, taking the glass of water from Handir and giving it to the woman. "I am a healer first before a king, and you are unwell."
The word 'healer' spurred the memory of her own healing session but hours ago, and she paled even further. "Oh, my lord! Forgive me for my words earlier, I did not know-"
"There is nothing to be forgiven," he said gently, but firmly. "You need to drink and calm yourself."
She nodded, and obediently drank the water, which did seem to soothe her. Only when he was satisfied with her health did he retake his position on the chair.
Maethor, rather than sitting on the couch, was now standing aside with his children as Aragorn reclaimed his seat. It was only after the king sat when the other man took his position back on the couch. Handir now stood at his side, staring wide-eyed at the two, while Haneth was in her father's lap, looking at her mother with concern.
Galdir suddenly stepped out from the corner, glancing at his king questioningly. When Aragorn nodded, he stepped towards the family with a small bow.
"I personally wish to thank you on behalf of Gondor for the care you bestowed on our lords. Without knowledge of their rank you cared for them as if they were your own kin, and trfeated them with great respect. Because of your aid, no ill befell them when they were lost from their guard. You have my gratitude." He deeply bowed towards the family.
Maethor looked rather uncomfortable, while Celon was speechless- something that came rarely to her. The man cleared his throat as Galdir straightened and took his position behind the king and steward.
"It was... it was no hassle, my lords," he managed to say.
"Nonetheless, you have our appreciation," Faramir said with a smile.
"If any of you are ever in Minas Tirith, come to the Citadel and request an audience," Aragorn said. "Simply give your name and I will see you when I can." Maethor nodded slowly, though the king was unsure if the man would ever have the audacity to do such a thing.
"But now," Faramir said after a glance from Galdir, "we shall burden you no further. We must be on our way."
Celon nodded, but then, remembering her role in the household, managed to find her voice again. "Do you need some provisions?"
"We are well laden with provisions, mistress," Galdir answered, "but thank you for the generous offer."
"Wait," Aragorn said suddenly to his two companions, "you two meet me outside. I have one last thing I wish to see to."
Galdir and Faramir looked at him curiously, but nodded, and left the home. Aragorn turned once more to the family and focused on Celon.
"I would speak with you privately, Mistress Celon, if you have time."
"Of course, of course, my lord!" she replied hurriedly, standing up and leading the king to her bedroom. She closed the door behind her and looked at him uncertainly. "What do you require, sire?"
"It is not about me, but rather about you," he started. "I was told that you have yet to recover from your losses in the War."
Celon slightly stiffened and lowered her eyes. "You need not be concerned about me, my lord king."
"Nonetheless, I am," he replied gently. "You are one of my subjects, one that helped me in my time of need. Let me repay you by doing the same- if you would permit it."
The woman looked uncertain, but after a moment, she nodded. "What do you wish for me to do?"
"Lie down and relax," he replied. She did as he said, laying down on her bed but looking less than relaxed. "You need not be frightened," Aragorn said gently, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Close your eyes, and remember the days of the War, however painful it may be."
With one hand he held her own, while the other hand lay on her forehead. They were both silent, Celon doing as he directed. She recalled her days in the Houses, the number of soldiers that filled its halls growing as the weeks passed. She remembered her brother, making light of her worries and assuring her that nothing would happen. She recalled her fear when she could not reach her children in any way, and the hopelessness she felt when she was stranded in the small house in the country. Finally, Celon remembered her heart breaking when she learned that her beloved brother and nephew had died after she had left the Houses.
As these dark memories streamed through her consciousness, she suddenly felt a warm light come down upon her. There was no voice, but she could feel that the presence was allowing her to let it go.
And she did.
When Celon opened her eyes again, she was surprised to find tears streaming down her face. Above her was the king, a gentle smile on his face.
"The pain is terrible, but you cannot let it gnaw at your soul," he said. "Talk with your husband about those days, and shed as many tears as need be. Don't let the darkness fester within you." She nodded, still surprised by the amount of tears, and with a gentle farewell, Aragorn stood up and left the room.
"Speak with her when you can about the last months of the War," he said to her husband. "She needs to release the emotions she gained in those years." He only nodded, and with final farewells to the rest of the household, the King of the Reunited Kingdoms left the small house in the woods.
"Even though things did not go as were planned, I must say I enjoyed myself more than I have in quite a long time."
"… I agree. I did enjoy myself. We should do this again."
"We should. After all, we have yet to see who the better huntsman is."
"Oh, but we know that it shall be me."
"And we know I shall prove that wrong, my lord… next week?"
Aragorn thought about that for a moment. "Well... we are in no strife with any of our neighbors, are we?"
"All is peaceful."
"Any famines or plagues?"
"No dastardly villains to face?"
"Other than your fine councilmen? No."
"All right then. Next week."
"May the best man win."