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The weather was fine, and he had a surprising amount of time free that afternoon. He wasn’t sure what had brought him this way; perhaps a fragment of memory of similar days many years ago, when he had an evening to spare, and the weather was fine as this, and a general air of listlessness prevailed in the air.
From where he stood now, if he looked really hard, he could see the quays, and beyond, the empty shells left of the buildings on the plains, and then the curving walls of the city rising higher and higher wherever they stood intact. The tiny wood in front of him appeared to have survived the war, being too close to the river and not near enough to the city to have been reduced to charred stumps as much of the pastureland he had ridden through had been.
He wound his way through the trees, feeling almost foolish to have come all this way expecting to find something to have remained the same even after all these years.
After all, nothing else had stayed the same. He was no longer a captain.
The trees gave way to a small drop and a grassy patch where the river curved, large clumps of rushes dotting the water. A gnarled old tree stood at the edge, its branches hanging low. The place was just as before, quiet but for the wind rustling through the long stems and, the water lapping at the grasses. But there was someone else there now, underneath the tree, seated on the huge root that still jutted out of the ground, chewing at a piece of grass.
“Faramir,” he said softly, getting an almost perverse sense of satisfaction when the other man nearly jumped off his perch. Faramir didn’t seem to find the interruption funny though.
“I did not expect to see you here,” Aragorn said.
“I wondered if I might see you here,” Faramir replied.
Aragorn raised an eyebrow. It was well known by now that he had dwelt in Gondor earlier as Thorongil but surely his old haunts were not as well known?
“Boromir used to bring me here,” Faramir replied, without waiting for his query.
He tried not to be confronted by his last memory of Boromir, the strange sight of the tall warrior lying still upon a boat vanishing with the current. He remembered suddenly that he stood on the banks of the same river, and moved a step back, feeling strangely unsure. He sat down near Faramir, trying to find a perch against the ancient tree that had once seemed so comfortable.
Faramir’s voice broke into his thoughts.
“He said he had come here often with grandfather Ecthelion’s Captain. He said he had a huge sword and he taught him how to make boats and those boats stayed afloat long and sailed swift and looked very fine in the river.”
Aragorn could remember that Boromir - a lively child who ran riot over the Citadel. He’d tried to find that child in the Boromir who had come to Rivendell seeking answers and help, and then realised he could find that boy no more than Boromir could find Thorongil in him.
“He said he left soon after that. No one knew where, then. When Boromir was younger, he used to say he went off to fight dragons.”
“Dragons?” Aragorn said softly. Dragons, he mused, might have been easier to handle.
“Dragons. He used to say that as soon as he could he’d join the captain on his journey and they’d slay the dragon, and the Captain would bring back a huge sword, larger even than father’s,” Faramir said shrugging slightly and then a faint hint of a smile coloured a wistful tone as he continued softly, “And probably a princess too because that’s what always happened, but he hoped she could ride, otherwise it could get quite dull.”
That, Aragorn decided, might have been the longest sentence he’d heard Faramir speak. He shook his head, smiling a little and waited for Faramir to continue but the Steward had lapsed into silence, his gaze trained upon a small object that Aragorn had not realised he held.
It was a small wooden boat, not unlike the ones he’d taught Boromir to make.
“Did he teach you how to make those boats?” he asked, watching the fingers turn the wooden piece around.
“No,” Faramir said quietly, “He said he’d forgotten how to make them.”
“He’d forgotten?” Aragorn asked quietly. Boromir had taught Merry and Pippin how to make those boats on one of their quieter evenings, to cheer them up. Aragorn had watched them from the corner of his eye while talking with Gandalf, and remembered.
“Yes,” Faramir continued speaking, “He was very young then. I learnt these in Dol Amroth. I told him we could learn from the Captain when he returned after defeating the dragons and he said dragons didn’t exist, and that even the bravest and hardiest of men may not win all their battles, so I should learn to make them on my own.”
Aragorn wondered if he ought to explain. But he didn’t think he had an explanation.
“Did my father know who you were?”
Aragorn was more than a little surprised at the abruptness of that question. “I don’t know,” he said honestly.
Faramir nodded thoughtfully at that, “It was never easy to tell with him.”
He stood, arced his arm back gracefully and tossed the boat into the river. It landed flat, teetered precariously over one side and then straightened itself.
“We should return now,” he said quietly.
Aragorn watched the boat float lazily downstream with the circling eddies. There was a lot more he ached to know he realised. It should have been the other way round… Faramir should be the one desiring to know why he had left, where he had gone, why it had taken him so long to return. Yet Faramir asked nothing, and he was the one left with the questions. He had left behind friends, acquaintances, and even a few enemies perhaps. He knew nothing of what had passed with them since he had left.
“He asked Mithrandir about you once, many years later,” Faramir said suddenly, as their horses trotted carefully across the uneven ground of the Pelennor.
“Boromir. It was a few summers ago. Father had asked me not to spend too much time with Mithrandir, and Boromir suddenly remembered you had been with him often when you visited.”
“What did Gandalf say?”
“He said he didn’t know where you were but that there were often times when people had to do things they did not always want to and that it did not mean that they were not sorry for what they did. I thought he sounded rather trite and Boromir said as much to him. He told him he philosophised too much, and Mithrandir said if that were the case, Boromir would not eat the turnip soup he hated so much merely because it was the fare for the troops.”
Aragorn hadn’t thought Boromir disliked turnip soup that much. He’d eaten the turnip soup Sam had made without a fuss.
“Boromir said turnip soup and Thorongil were completely unrelated and if Mithrandir was going to speak in riddles, he’d really rather not speak to him.”
“I don’t suppose Gandalf liked that very much.”
“No he didn’t.”
They were still some distance from the city, and Aragorn continued to wonder what to say.
“What else did Boromir say?” he asked finally. And Denethor too, he wondered.
They were near the gates of the city now, and the strains of a fanfare sounded out from the tower.
“He asked Mithrandir if he thought dragons might still exist.” Faramir smiled slightly at the memory, “ Mithrandir thought he’d had too much wine that evening, but he hadn’t.”
Aragorn cocked his head sideways, as the fanfare grew louder.
“And then he said he had always thought they did exist,” Faramir said.
Aragorn smiled wistfully at that and rode into the city with the same air of peace and quiet he'd had all those years ago after an afternoon by the river.
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