Tongues of Men and of Angels
The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. This story is written for pleasure not profit.
With thanks to Virtuella and Raksha.
Aragorn stretched out his long legs and sighed as he picked up yet another document requiring his perusal and signature. He was interrupted by a knock on the door of his study.
"Come in," he called, expecting a servant with refreshments he had asked for. To his surprise it was his Steward.
"May I ask a favour of you, sire?" said Faramir. He respectfully dipped his head.
"How might I help you, Faramir?" Aragorn pushed the papers to one side. He stood up to stretch his cramped limbs. "Sit down and be easy, I have sent for refreshments." He gestured towards the couch on the far side of the room. "They always send me sufficient to feed a Hobbit or two!" He sat down again.
Faramir sat, but failed to relax.
"How are you, Faramir?" Aragorn enquired, wondering it the young man's demeanour indicated that he had finally decided to accept the King's offer to treat the wounds he knew still caused Faramir pain. "Do your war wounds trouble you?"
"I am well, thank you, sire, " Faramir said stiffly.
Just then a servant arrived bearing a tray laden with food and drink. Aragorn helped himself to tea and cakes and gestured Faramir to do likewise.
"You have travelled to Harad, have you not sire?" said Faramir.
"I have indeed. It was a strange land, colourful and brutal, and above all, hot! " The question took Aragorn by surprise. "But I doubt that it is the weather in Harad you desire to discuss with me?"
"My uncle told me, sire, that you can speak the language of Harad."
Aragorn nodded and looked at Faramir expectantly.
"I was wondering, sire, if you would be so gracious as to teach it to me. As you have invited an Ambassador from Harad to dwell in Minas Tirith. I should like to be able to greet him in his own tongue."
"That is a gracious gesture, Faramir, but I expect the man will be able to speak Westron."
"I understand if you are too busy to teach me, sire. I will detain you no longer." The Steward pushed aside his half eaten slice of cake and rose to his feet.
"Stay, finish your cake at least," Aragorn protested. "I did not mean that. It is simply that it is a near impossible language to master, unlike any tongue we speak in Gondor, and that is only the spoken form. The written language is even worse. Have you not enough to master with the tongue of the Mark? Your Uncle told me you were determined to become fluent in it before your marriage to Lady Éowyn, which is most commendable."
"My studies are progressing well, sire," Faramir replied. "I enjoy learning languages."
"Come to me after the Council meeting tomorrow, then," said Aragorn. "I will begin your lessons. I warn you, though, you will find it very difficult."
Thank you, sire. I am most grateful." Faramir finished the cake, bowed low and took his leave.
Aragorn sighed again when the door shut, this time in exasperation. He had only been king a few months, but already he was weary of all the bowing and scraping. He had told his Steward only to do it in public, but the man seemed deaf to his plea. And now this request to learn the tongue of Harad! Aragorn could only assume that, as usual, Faramir was diligent and eager to please in his duties. He could but hope that the young man would at least be able to get his tongue around a few simple phrases of greeting without embarrassing himself. He thought back to his own attempts to learn from a friendly trader who had roared with laughter at his pupil's early mispronunciations. It seemed that instead of saying "Greetings, fellow traveller, where might water be found?" Aragorn had said, "Be gone, you louse, I am a fountain." Aragorn still blushed at the memory. He inwardly vowed not to laugh at all the mistakes his pupil was likely to make. Why, he would even tell the young man about all his mistakes to put him at his ease! At least it was not a matter of life or death that Faramir should master the language. Aragorn had endeavoured to listen rather than speak during his time in Harad. When speech had been needed he had introduced himself as a merchant from Umbar to explain both his grey eyes and any mispronunciations he might make. How blessed they were that it was now possible to learn the language for pleasure and not as a grim necessity!
Aragorn decided to be a diligent but kindly teacher to his Steward. He would gently correct Faramir's mistakes and bolster his confidence by praising him if he managed to pronounce any of the difficult phrases correctly.
Faramir arrived promptly for his first lesson. Aragorn decided to test his Steward's aptitude for languages in general by greeting him in the tongue of Rohan. Faramir did not bat an eyelid but replied in the same tongue, with a perfectly executed greeting and enquiry regarding King and Queen's good health and the health of his horses.
Aragorn smiled indulgently. Maybe teaching Faramir would be easier than he anticipated. "I will begin by teaching you some of the greetings they use in Harad," he said. "Elaborate greetings are especially important in their society and are meant sincerely. I suggest you greet the ambassador with these words, Greetings most illustrious guest. May the spirits of your ancestors always walk in the shade of the oasis!"
Aragorn spoke slowly and carefully expecting to need to repeat the phrase several times before Faramir would venture to try it. Instead the Steward repeated it at once.
Faramir shook his head and said "No, that was not correct at all, I mispronounced that."
"You only stressed the second syllable of ancestors when it should be the first," said Aragorn looking at the young man in blank amazement. He repeated the phrase. This time Faramir spoke it flawlessly.
By the time the bell rang for the midday meal in the Citadel Faramir had mastered all the greetings in the tongue of Harad as well as enquiries about the weather and the health of the guest and his family. Aragorn was relieved that it was time to eat as he was finding it increasingly difficult not gape open mouthed at his Steward. He supposed the young man simply had a good ear. Learning and remembering the complex phrases was another matter entirely.
"Thank you, sire, I greatly enjoyed my lesson," Faramir said rewarding his lord with a rare smile. "May I learn more tomorrow?"
"Will you not need time to memorise the phrases you have learned today?" the King enquired.
"I assure you I shall not neglect my other duties, sire." Faramir looked a trifle hurt.
"I never thought that you would," said Aragorn. "I will see you tomorrow then," said Aragorn. "You have done well today."
The next morning Aragorn greeted his pupil in the full expectation that they would spend the hour going over the same phrases but instead Faramir greeted him using one of the phrases he had taught him the day before.
"May the sun never dazzle your eyes, most esteemed lord!" said Faramir, pronouncing the phrase perfectly.
"Excellent, Faramir!" Aragorn replied. "You have done well to remember one of the greetings."
"I fear I have forgotten the last phrase that you taught me yesterday," said Faramir looking rather displeased with himself.
"You are only human," said Aragorn, expecting that his Steward had forgotten more than one phrase, but no, Faramir recalled them all perfectly and eagerly learned many more. It seemed that the young man had a remarkable aptitude for languages, which rivalled that of his King's!
"You look sombre, sire, I hope I have not displeased you?" said Faramir when the lesson ended. "I shall try harder next time."
"I am just a little tired, Faramir, I am delighted with your progress," Aragorn assured the younger man.
"I shall have to give Faramir another lesson tomorrow," Aragorn told Arwen after they dined that night.
"Why are you so gloomy at the prospect? I thought you liked your Steward?" said Arwen.
"I do. I find him somewhat too reticent, but he is a good man."
"Then he makes a poor pupil?"
"Quite the contrary! He is a brilliant linguist who only needs to hear a phrase once or twice to master it. At this speed, he will soon speak the tongue of Harad better than I do and I dwelled there for several months!"
Arwen laughed. "Why, Estel, I do believe that you are jealous!" she exclaimed. "You do not like Faramir surpassing you."
Aragorn glared at her. "Jealous, of course not!" he protested. "Why should I be jealous? I was brought up amongst Elves who surpassed me in all things!"
"But they were Elves, not Men. You are used to excelling amongst your own kind," said the Queen.
"I suppose I am," Aragorn conceded.
"And you do," said Arwen. She moved closer to him on the couch and kissed him tenderly. Eagerly, he returned her kiss.
"No other kisses could be so sweet from man or Elf!" said Arwen. "You should pity poor Faramir, bereft of kin and yet to wed. He has only obscure tongues for company tonight. "Are there not any Haradrim prisoners who remained behind that Faramir could practise his linguistic skills with?"
"A handful of the wounded remained in the City," said Aragorn. "I shall enquire as to their whereabouts. Yes, I do feel sorry for Faramir, he has endured things that no man should and he does not have such consolations as I do." He kissed Arwen again and forgot everything save the joy of being in her arms.
The next day Aragorn sent for Tarostar, the Warden of the Houses of Healing and enquired of him as to what had become of the prisoners from Harad. The Warden informed him that a few still remained within the Houses, their wounds having left them too severely crippled to travel home and having no place to go within the City.
"I am hoping that the new Ambassador will do something to help these poor fellows, sire," said the Warden.
"So am I," said Aragorn. "I hope first that at least one of them might help Lord Faramir in his desire to master the tongue of Harad."
Tarostar laughed. "Rather our Steward than I then! I find it an impossible language to learn, but then Lord Faramir has always been something of a scholar."
"Lord Denethor was a great lore master. He must have been pleased that his son followed in his footsteps," said Aragorn.
The Warden shook his head sadly. "Alas, no," he said. "Though he loved lore himself, the old Steward wanted his sons to be warriors, not scholars. Maybe he grew to distrust lore, as nothing was able to save the Lady Finduilas. Given the times we were living in, I can understand, but I always felt we had to use more than weapons to fight against the Dark Lord, otherwise we would end up no better than the Orcs we fought against! I believe that Lord Faramir could see that while Lord Denethor could not. I rejoice that we now live in happier days where a fine young man with a love of lore like our Lord Faramir might flourish."
"Indeed," said Aragorn. "I am well pleased with my Steward."
"Well if you will excuse me, my lord, I must return to my patients," said the Warden. "I fear I am letting my tongue run away with me as much as our good Dame Ioreth, but Lord Faramir's welfare is dear to my heart. I will always be grateful to you for saving his life, sire."
"Too many good men perished. I am glad that I was able to save one of them," said Aragorn.
"You saved the very best of them, my lord," said Warden. He bowed and took his leave.
Aragorn picked up a document from the top of the pile as soon as the man had left and stared at it unseeing. How could he resent Faramir's aptitude for languages? He was as bad as Denethor! Aragorn thought of his childhood. A loving mother had raised him and Master Elrond had been the kindest of foster fathers. Not only had he been taught to fight as soon as he was old enough, but encouraged to learn the healing arts, as well as the vast lore that the libraries of Rivendell contained. Poor Faramir had been bereft of a mother at an early age, denied his father's love and the scholarly pursuits that he craved. He had lost the brother he loved in the war and freely given up the rule of Gondor to Aragorn. Yet despite knowing all this, Aragorn still felt a nagging resentment that his pupil threatened to surpass him.
Faramir received the suggestion that he visit the prisoners of war from Harad with more enthusiasm that Aragorn expected.
"I will be pleased to have a chance to practise my pronunciation," the Steward said. "Also I will be causing you less trouble."
"You are a pleasure to teach," Aragorn assured him swiftly. "I shall continue our lessons until the Ambassador arrives next month."
Faramir continued to pick up the language of Harad with amazing speed while Aragorn endeavoured to teach him with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. Faramir had been visiting a native of Harad who had lost both arms and a leg during the battle for Minas Tirith. From what the King could gather of these visits from his Steward's account, the man was unsurprisingly angry and bitter. Aragorn wondered if Faramir would learn anything from him at all. Of the other prisoners who lingered in the Houses of Healing; one had lost his wits, while another refused to converse with his captors. The young man who had agreed to talk to Faramir appeared to be so doing out of boredom rather than any desire to improve relations between the two realms.
If this was how those they had tried to heal reacted, Aragorn wondered if it were a good idea after all to invite an Ambassador. But how could relations between Gondor and Harad ever improve if there were no contact between the two peoples? On the day of the Ambassador's arrival, the King confided his apprehensions to his Steward and Faramir admitted that he shared them.
Aragorn sat on his throne to receive their guest with Faramir seated in the Steward's chair. Guards kept a watchful eye on the proceedings.
The ambassador entered alone. He was a tall man with a black beard, olive skin and brown eyes. He wore flowing robes of purple and dark blue rather than the scarlet warriors' garb with which Aragorn and Faramir were both painfully familiar. The man prostrated himself low before the throne.
"I bring greetings from the exalted and esteemed Khan of all Harad to the most excellent High King of the Western Realms," he said in heavily accented but fluent Westron. "I am your most humble servant, Tahir, son on of Nasih, of the tribe of Wakil."
"May the sun never dazzle your eyes and stars light your path," Aragorn replied. "Rise friend and be welcome. May this day herald a new era of peace between us."
"This is an auspicious day as glorious as an undiscovered oasis," said Tahir. "The spirits of many I loved dearly now dwell in eternal shade. I would have my sons know peace, not war."
"I should like to invite you to dine with me tomorrow and the fair blossoms of your garden to dine with my Queen," said Aragorn.
"I gladly accept your most gracious invitation, esteemed Lord King," said Tahir. "Like you, I choose but one fair flower." He bowed again and prepared to take his leave.
"May the sun never dazzle your eyes, most excellent one until our next meeting!" said Faramir in the tongue of Harad.
Tahir smiled and returned the greeting.
"He seems a much more agreeable man than I had expected," said Aragorn as soon as he was alone with the Steward. "I was surprised that he spoke our tongue so well and he does not appear to keep a Harem."
"Maybe I should not have spoken to him in his language then?" said Faramir.
"I believe the gesture pleased our new Ambassador," said Aragorn. "It will be interesting to see if our favourable impressions persist when we have a longer conversation with him on the morrow."
In order to avoid any possible embarrassment to either side over the food being served, the dinner for the ambassador was an informal affair. The guests were served from dishes on a table at the side of the room and then sat in groups at small tables.
Together with the Ambassador came several of his entourage, while Aragorn and Faramir were discretely accompanied by guards. Several lords and captains had also been invited to meet the Ambassador. Meanwhile in the royal couple's private quarters, Arwen was entertaining the ambassador's wife, aided by a woman from the Houses of Healing who spoke some of the Harradic tongue.
Aragorn was glad of the catering arrangements he had chosen when he saw the Ambassador eagerly consuming large quantities of a spicy dish, which Aragorn recalled only to well from his travels. A single bite sufficed to set his mouth afire. King of the West instead of a lonely traveller, Aragorn smiled and quaffed some wine to cool his throat. The Southrons enjoyed their pepper even more than he remembered. He was glad to be able to turn his attention to the cold meats served in the Gondorian fashion. Faramir was doing likewise after a discreet word of warning from the King concerning the more exotic dishes on offer.
"My fair flower was very much looking forward to meeting your esteemed Queen," said the Ambassador. "These past weeks have been hard for her, needing to travel as she nurtures my seed and grows greatly."
"I hope your fair lady will soon be safely delivered," said Aragorn. "The midwives from the Houses of Healing would be happy to assist her."
"We plan to give our latest blossom a name from your fair land," said the ambassador. "He or she will bear a lasting token of the new peace between us."
"The Houses are currently home to some of your countrymen," said Aragorn. "We captured them during the war. They have long since been free to depart, but are too crippled to do so as result of their wounds."
"I will pay for them to continue to be cared for here," said Tahir.
"Would they not prefer to return home?" Faramir asked.
The Ambassador laughed bitterly. "By taking them prisoner, gracious King, you saved their lives. In my homeland, if a man is badly injured in battle, he falls on his own sword, or a comrade despatches him if he can no longer fight for his country. Lord Sauron demanded a heavy tribute and those that could not pay him service forfeited their lives. I fear it will take time for things to change."
Faramir repressed a shudder. Friendly and eager to please Tahir might be, but he came from a land whose invading warriors Faramir had fought since he was old enough to wield sword and bow. He had lost many good comrades to the warriors of Harad. An image of one of his Rangers cleft almost in twain by a Southron sword swam before his eyes. "I think I will have some dessert," he said.
"What shall I fetch you, my lord?" a hovering servant enquired.
"I think I will stretch my legs," said Faramir. The Steward wandered over to the table piled high with exotic fruits, custards and syllabubs. Faramir felt slightly nauseous at the memories that been stirred within him and was loth to eat any more just yet.
Two of the Ambassador's entourage were by the table chattering to each other in their own tongue.
"Is your dagger sharp?" one asked.
Faramir ignored them, assuming they were concerned about slicing fruit, but both men chose spiced custards to eat.
"Be careful," said the other. "We are not alone."
"The fools do not understand us," said the first man. "I brought two blades for good measure. The conqueror's days are numbered. Tonight he drinks his own blood!"
A/N This is a slightly altered version of a story I wrote for the "The Student surpasses the Teacher" June Teitho contest.