A Father's Duty by Linda Hoyland
The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. This story is written for pleasure not profit.
With grateful thanks to Virtuella.
In loving memory of MJM
"Your grandfather came here several times," Aragorn told his Steward as they made camp outside the ruined fort. "I was in charge of the garrison here for a few months just after the ramparts were built."
"A pity that it is now in ruins," said Faramir, putting a pan of water on the fire to boil. "The Southrons attacked it during the war and we had not sufficient forces to defend it."
"Maybe we could ..." His words were interrupted by the sound of galloping hoof beats. A moment later, a man wearing the livery of a messenger rode into sight.
The man looked exhausted as he stumbled from his sweating horse. He handed Aragorn a scrap of parchment. It was from Arwen, though her usually elegant handwriting had been reduced to an untidy scrawl. The missive was stark: "Come home at once. Eldarion has fallen from his horse."
Aragorn paled. For a moment he envisaged his life as broken as the ruins that surrounded them. With an effort he managed to retain his composure in front of the messenger. "What happened?" he demanded.
"I know little, my lord," said the man. "Only that the prince was riding his new horse when he fell and injured himself. He was unconscious when I left."
Aragorn was already swinging himself into the saddle while Faramir stamped out the remnants of their campfire. "We will set out at once," he told the man. "Rest yourself and the horse before you follow."
As soon as Faramir had mounted his own horse, he urged Roheryn to a gallop. The stallions pounding hooves echoed the force of the thoughts that whirled round his brain. His boy, his beloved Eldarion was badly hurt or maybe worse and he was not there. Oh why had he chosen to visit the ruined fort when he had a few free days instead of spending time with his son? Eldarion, oh, merciful Valar, why Eldarion? How badly was he hurt? Was he – no, better not even to think the unthinkable? Poor little one! How much pain was he in? His boy needed his Ada and he was not there for him! How long would it take to reach his son?
He rode furiously as if the Nazgûl themselves were in pursuit.
He knew not how much time had elapsed, or of passing familiar landmarks; he was aware of nothing save the ache in his heart. The trees seemed like an army keeping him from his beloved child. He scarcely noticed that Roheryn's pounding hooves began to falter in the gathering dusk.
Faramir drew up alongside him. "We must stop to rest the horses," he cried, shouting to make himself heard above the sound of crashing hooves. " For Valars' sake stop before your horse collapses beneath you! Iavas can go no further and Roheryn is almost spent. You cannot reach Eldarion if you have no horse!"
Aragorn brought his exhausted mount to a halt and patted the great stallion's neck in contrition. Roheryn was panting and his flanks were moist with sweat. "Very well, "he conceded. "We will stop for an hour to let the horses recover."
"I recall there is a stream yonder," said Faramir. "Let us rest there."
Aragorn He led Roheryn to the nearby stream and let him drink taking care he did not gorge himself. Faramir did likewise with Iavas. It was a fair glade where clear water ran over a stony bed beneath some willows, but Aragorn was oblivious the beauty around him.
When the horses were settled, Aragorn paced restlessly in the forest clearing.
"Sit down and take rest yourself," Faramir counselled.
"How can I? My son could be gravely hurt, even dying!"
"If he needs your healing skills, you can best aid him if you conserve your strength," said Faramir. "Sit down!"
Aragorn sighed and sat, his back against a tree trunk. Only then did he realise that his whole body ached and his palms dripped with sweat and ached where the reins had dug into them. "I should never have left him!" he said. "Others could have inspected the ruins."
"You have long wanted to visit the fort. You needed some fresh air and exercise and left with the Queen's blessing."
"Eldarion wanted to come," said Aragorn. " He was distressed that you and I were going without him... Maybe I should have permitted it?"
"It is too far for a child to ride as you told him yourself," Faramir replied. "You did what you thought was best."
"As I thought I was doing when I said he could ride his horse instead of his pony!" Aragorn said bitterly. He buried his head in his hands.
"Stop blaming yourself, mellon nîn!" Faramir said firmly. "Next you will blame Éomer for giving him the horse, or the day for being fine enough to go riding! I know how worried you are, do not forget that I am a father too, but blaming yourself will help no one. Now rest!"
Aragorn glared but said nothing. He leaned back against the tree and took a long draught from his water bottle.
The great hall was crowded with guests from far and wide. The Steward's son and his lady had produced a son and heir for Gondor and no one of any importance desired to miss the naming ceremony of this much wanted child.
For once Denethor was beaming as he showed off his baby son to his guests. The elderly Steward, Ecthelion, stood beside his son and daughter- in- law as they paused to speak to the well-wishers.
In a quiet corner of the room, Ecthelion's favourite Captain and close friend, Thorongil, stared morosely at his drink. He had not wanted to come today, but the Steward had insisted. The Captain's plain uniform, adorned only by a star shaped brooch, looked out of place amongst the silks and velvets sported by the other guests. Thorongil wished that he were elsewhere. He was pleased that Ecthelion had a grandson and Boromir was a fair babe, a robust infant with a shock of dark hair and chubby cheeks, but seeing him served only to remind Thorongil that he had no son, nor was he ever likely to as the lady he loved was as far above him as the moon. Ecthelion had urged him to marry and many fair maidens had been introduced to him. There were times when he wondered if he should abandon his dream, but how could he marry without love and sire children with one woman when he yearned for another? No, it was better by far to remain alone. Yet by doing so, was he not failing in his duty to sire an heir and continue his line? Maybe he should try harder to feel some interest in the ladies of Gondor? Many had made it clear enough that she would be happy if he were to seek her hand in marriage. But how could he forget Arwen?
Thorongil saw Ecthelion glancing in his direction. The old man beckoned him over. "Come and see my grandson, my friend," he said. "Finduilas tells me he is such a good baby who rarely cries, not at all like this father was. Now I remember…."
The old Steward launched into a lengthy anecdote about the childhood of Denethor and his sisters, ignoring his son's glare. When he had finally finished it, he called to Denethor, "Bring Boromir over here so that Thorongil can look at him."
Denethor reluctantly came nearer, the child in his arms.
"You would make a fine father, Thorongil," Ecthelion said as the Captain admired the baby. "Maybe seeing this little one around will turn your thoughts towards marriage? See, Boromir is smiling at you!"
Another guest called to the Steward and Ecthelion left Thorongil to go and speak to him.
Denethor glared, then he hissed at Thorongil. "You have stolen my father's love, you shall not have my son as well!"
Just then the music started and Boromir was born away by his nursemaid. Denethor took his lady's arm and the dance began. Thorongil returned to his corner.
How could a father attempt to burn his son alive? Aragorn had seen and heard of many dark deeds during his long life, but this defied nature herself that the man who gave life should seek to take it in such a manner.
He knelt beside the sick bed of Denethor's son and sought to connect with the wandering spirit. What he found astonished him. Here was a man of rare quality both wise and noble. In looks, Faramir was most certainly his father's son, but his heart was very different; where the father was cold and proud; the son was filled with warmth and humility.
Aragorn took Faramir's hand and prepared to lead him out of the dark vale and back to life and light.
"Stop! You have robbed me of one son, you shall not take the other from me too!" Denethor suddenly appeared and blocked the path that Aragorn was leading Faramir along.
"I did not cause Boromir's death. He fell in battle. As for Faramir, you who sired him now seek to destroy him. I offer him life!"
Denethor laughed bitterly. "But Boromir's death suits you well, does it not, Thorongil? He would have fought for his rights to hold rod and rule here. And why look so shocked? Every soldier learns how to spare his mortally wounded comrades from being put to torment by the enemy."
"Death by fire is hardly merciful," Aragorn retorted. "You have Boromir, go now to his side beyond the circles of the world. Faramir I claim as mine!"
Denethor grabbed Faramir, but Aragorn wrenched him from his father's grasp and dragged him to safety.
Denethor called after him. "I curse you, Thorongil! You stole my father's love from me. Not content with that, you have robbed me of my sons. One day I shall take your son from you!"
"No!" cried Aragorn. "If I had a son I would keep him safe."
"Aragorn, wake up, mellon nîn!" Faramir cried urgently.
Aragorn blinked and opened his eyes. He was sweating profusely.
"You were having a bad dream, ada," said Faramir. "You look quite pale."
Aragorn scrambled to his feet, and wiped his brow with the back of his hand. "How could I fall asleep at a time like this? How could you let me? We must be on our way!"
"You are weary after riding long and hard."
"I dreamed of your father." Aragorn said shortly. He whistled to Roheryn and lifted the saddle on the great stallion's back.
"What dark dream troubled you so?" Faramir persisted.
"He cursed me that as I had stolen his father's love and his sons, he swore he would take Eldarion from me!" Aragorn swung himself into the saddle. "Come, there is no time for talk."
The sun was high in a cloudless sky when the two riders reached Minas Tirith. Aragorn paused only to tell the groom to take good care of Roheryn when they reached the stables in the sixth circle. He then ran all the way to the Citadel, Faramir following as best he could. The King had not idly been named Wingfoot.
When he approached the Royal Apartments, Arwen rushed out to meet him, heedless of decorum.
"He is resting. Oh, Estel! I should have been there for him and not at the Embroidery Guild! To see my baby in such pain!"
Without pausing to question her, Aragorn hastened to his son's chamber. A bored looking Eldarion was sitting up in bed perusing a book without enthusiasm. His arm was in a sling. His face lit up when his father entered the room.
"You are back, ada, I missed you! You should have seen Wingmane, gallop, ada!" he said. "We went really fast, but then I fell off."
"I told you were only to gallop on your pony," Aragorn chided gently. ""Now where are you hurt?"
"He dislocated his shoulder and is badly bruised," said Arwen who had followed her husband into the room at a somewhat more sedate pace.
"The messenger said he was unconscious," said Aragorn, starting to feel Eldarion's head.
"The healer told me that he swooned from the pain," said Arwen. "The groom said he fell heavily on his shoulder. My poor baby!"
"I'm not a baby!" Eldarion protested.
"Stop wriggling, Eldarion," commanded Aragorn, who was trying to examine his son's injuries. The little boy's shoulder was badly bruised and swollen, but otherwise he seemed to have escaped from his misadventure relatively unscathed. He could have wept with relief. Instead he smiled at his son.
"It is better than it was last night, he was in a great deal of pain then," said Arwen. "I used my Elven arts to ease him as best I could."
"Together we shall heal him," said Aragorn. "I will make him some dandelion tea to reduce the swelling too."
"Ugh, that tastes horrible!" Eldarion protested pulling a face.
"You shall have some honey with it," Aragorn promised.
Two days later Eldarion was well on the way to recovery. Aragorn did not think that any permanent damage had been done to his shoulder. The King returned to his normal duties.
"Have you slept well since we returned?" Faramir asked Aragorn as they leafed through the paperwork that had piled up in their absence.
"Yes, I have. Why do you ask?"
"I feared you might have had more dark dreams. That dream you had about my father seemed to disturb you a great deal."
Aragorn shuffled the papers uneasily. He then took a deep breath and replaced them on the desk. He went over to the window and stared outside. The room was high up and had a fine view of the White Tree.
Faramir cast aside the papers he was perusing and came to stand beside the King. For a few moments they stood together in companionable silence.
"Sometimes I wonder if I did come between father and son and steal your grandfather's love from your father," Aragorn said after a long pause. "Ecthelion became almost as a father to me and I delighted in that bond. I cannot remember Arathorn, and wise and kindly though Master Elrond was, he was not a Man. Then when I fell in love with Arwen, it caused something of a rift between us, though I was still welcome at Rivendell. I think too, that as I loved his daughter, I became less willing to think of him as a father. After all, Arwen is not my sister! I yearned to know a human father's love and I experienced something of it with your grandsire. I believe Denethor loved his father, but he showed him little warmth. Denethor reserved any rare displays of affection for your mother and for Boromir. I envied your father for having a son and he envied me for my bond with his father."
"We cannot choose whom we love," said Faramir. "We can choose only whether we act for good or ill and I believe you intended only good.''
"Your father and I were much of an age," Aragorn continued. "I saw little of Boromir, but how I yearned for a son of mine own to cherish. Then years later, when I saw Boromir again, he had become a fine man. But he was slain when I was in charge of the company."
"You could not have prevented that," said Faramir. "I attach no blame to you. Though you could not save Boromir, you did save my life and have become as a father to me as well as a most gracious lord."
"I think when I feared I might lose Eldarion it made me think of your father's grief for Boromir, which caused me to have that nightmare," said Aragorn. "How terrible a thing it must be to lose a son!"
"Eldarion is well and you are spared that sorrow," said Faramir.
"I waited so long for a son," said Aragorn. "It is hard not to want to over protect Eldarion, but I know that a good father's duty is to raise his son to be his own man."
"My father never understood that, alas," said Faramir. "I disappointed him as I was never the type of son he desired."
"What your father rejected, I am blessed with," said Aragorn. "You have become the son of my heart. It matters not that I did not beget you, ion nîn." Thus saying, he enfolded Faramir in a fatherly embrace.
The two remained by the window watching a man pointing to the White Tree and speaking to a little boy who tightly clutched his hand. No doubt a father who was telling his son a little of Gondor's history.
When the child looked up, the King waved to him. The little boy bounced with excitement. Aragorn smiled. He was father to more sons and daughters than he could ever count, as a King must be as father to all his people.
A/n Written for the Teitho contest "Fathers and Sons,." where it was placed first.