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Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe  by shirebound

Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe

Chapter Twelve: Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

Now Aragorn knelt beside Faramir, and held a hand upon his brow.  And those that watched felt that some great struggle was going on.  For Aragorn’s face grew grey with weariness; and ever and anon he called the name of Faramir, but each time more faintly to their hearing, as if Aragorn himself was removed from them, and walked afar in some dark vale, calling for one that was lost.  ‘The Houses of Healing’, The Return of the King

Frodo was sitting at the table with Aragorn and Sam, struggling to get down some tea and plain, toasted bread, when a wagon pulled up outside with a clatter.  They heard Pippin call out a happy greeting to someone, and after a few minutes, Gimli came into the tent.

“Good morning,” Gimli said jovially.  “How are you feeling today, Aragorn?”

“Much better, thank you, Master Dwarf,” Aragorn smiled at him.

“And how are you, my hobbits?” Gimli asked Frodo and Sam.  “Did you sleep well?”

“Very well,” Frodo said.  “We are in your debt, Gimli.  Your bathing tub is a pure delight, and the stacked beds are wonderful.  We slept like logs, didn’t we, Sam?”

“We surely did,” Sam agreed.

“Well now, isn’t that fine,” Gimli said, beaming.  “But there is no debt between friends.”  He examined Frodo’s pale face, mussed hair, and scanty breakfast.  “Perhaps less ale next time, eh, laddie?  Or at least wait until you’re back to full strength.”

“Why does everyone think I had too much to drink?” Frodo grumbled.  “No, thank you,” he said hastily, as Sam offered some jam.  “Perhaps later.”

“Sam,” Gimli said, “I’ve come to collect you, if you’re ready.”

“Ready?” Frodo asked.

“I want to see about more eggs and milk, and what grains and herbs are available, if that’s all right with you, sir,” Sam explained, getting to his feet.  “Gimli said we could use the wagon to bring back what’s needed.”

“Of course it’s all right,” Frodo said with a smile.  “You don’t need my leave to come and go, Sam.  Perhaps Pippin would like to go with you, and visit with the wounded Men.”

“I already asked him,” Gimli said.  “He won’t leave ‘his post’ unless you give permission, Aragorn.”

Aragorn shook his head in amusement.  “Please tell my young knight that I encourage him to visit with the Men as long as he wishes, any time he wishes.  And perhaps he would be kind enough to give my regards to Roheryn, and let him know I will be seeing him tomorrow.”


“Here, Strider,” Sam said.  He had located the comb, and put it on the table.  “Would you mind helping Mr. Frodo while I’m gone?  I’ll be back in a few hours.  I left some water heating like you asked.”  He left with Gimli while Frodo was still spluttering that he could certainly comb his own hair.

“Have you finished eating?” Aragorn asked Frodo.  “Perhaps we can have our talk before any other visitors arrive.”

“Just let me get dressed.” Frodo grabbed the comb, and some clothes, and stepped behind the crates to change.  Aragorn went over to the pot Sam had left on the hearth, poured a quantity of steaming water into a deep bowl, then picked up the covered plate and took it and the bowl outside.  He walked slowly over to one of the large trees, where he sat down, putting the plate and bowl carefully on the ground.  When Frodo joined him, he was dressed, combed, and squinting in the bright sunlight.

“Here, come into the shade,” Aragorn chuckled, patting the grass next to him.  “I apologize for dragging you out here with a headache, but I find myself growing quite weary of being inside a tent.”  As Frodo watched, he uncovered the plate to reveal a single leaf of athelas.

“Didn’t you tell us that was awfully rare?” Frodo asked worriedly.  “You should save it.”

“It is rare no longer,” Aragorn said, and his relief was evident.  “Elladan and Elrohir rode far last night, and discovered a field where ancient beds of athelas grow near the remains of an old settlement.  I have asked that many of the plants be dug up and placed in tubs and basins filled with soil; it will be done in such a way that they take the least hurt, and my brothers and Legolas will be there to sing to them.  By the time we return to the City, many gardens, including those of the Healing Houses, will be bursting with them.”

“Well, that’s good,” Frodo said.  “But aren’t you the only one who can use it?”

“No,” Aragorn said thoughtfully, “although I seem to be the one for whom it fully responds.”

“It knows you’re the king, doesn't it?” Frodo asked, touching the leaf gently.  “It knew you even before you were the king.”

Aragorn picked up the leaf and closed his eyes.  Frodo watched him breathe upon it before closing his hand.  A sweet fragrance filled the air.  When Aragorn dropped the bruised leaf into the steaming water, the air about them seemed to sparkle with life, as pure and clean as a new snowfall.

“Why do you breathe on it?” Frodo asked.

“Lord Elrond taught me to do so.  He has a saying that took me years to understand: ‘The breath of the heir to counter the Black Breath of despair’.  As you know, Elves have a unique ability to communicate with plants and trees.”

“Yes,” Frodo said, “but you’re not an Elf.”

“I am not, but I have Elves -- and others -- in my ancestry, from very, very long ago.”  Aragorn explained.  “It is part of the reason the sons of Elrond do me the honor of calling me ‘brother’.  While I have a unique bloodline, my voice and song cannot awaken trees and teach them to speak.  However, certain of the plants brought to Middle-earth by the Sea Kings recognize the breath and intention of the direct descendants of those Men.”

Aragorn felt his mind clear fully for the first time in many days.  When he used athelas in healing, it was to refresh and comfort, and he had discovered that it allowed him to more easily guide a distressed or wandering spirit back to consciousness.  Frodo was breathing deeply of the crystalline air, and Aragorn hoped his friend was now relaxed enough to let down his guard and speak about his concerns.

“Frodo,” he said softly, “hear my voice and try to understand.  All who accompanied you from Rivendell did so of their own free will.  The path you and Sam took was your choice to make.  The path I took to guide the two of you back to us, from near death, was my choice to make.  You should not feel any guilt about the choices of others over which you had no control.”

Frodo sighed.  “I try not to, but... when you called us back, did you go too far?  I need to know.”

“I was weary, and had little strength left to spare, although it mattered not in my determination to reach you and Sam if I could.  What does matter is that I was able to return, and bring you with me.” 

“But did you exhaust yourself, and nearly die?” Frodo asked anxiously, unable to let it go.

“That is what you did, Frodo.  And I honor you for it.”

“I had Sam,” Frodo whispered.  “You’re all alone.”

“Is that what troubles you most?” Aragorn asked gently.  “Then I tell you now that I am no longer alone.  Elladan and Elrohir assisted me in healing the wounded in Minas Tirith, and here as well, and they wish to dwell in the South for a time... I suspect it will be for quite a long time.  They will look to my welfare, as I look to the welfare of the people.”

“Oh, I’m so glad,” Frodo beamed.

Aragorn smiled fondly at his friend.  “Did you have more to ask me?”

“Yes.” Frodo grew serious again.  “You can heal people, even without athelas, in ways that are beyond my understanding.  You helped the wounded after both battles, and you called back Faramir and Lady Éowyn, and Merry, too.  And then Sam and me.”

“I did.”

“Can you explain it?”

“There is much I am still learning about this myself,” Aragorn said, “but at need, I am able to hold my thoughts very still, and concentrate very hard, and... it is as if I find myself upon a high cliff, able to see and hear things very far away.  I often wonder if this is what it is like for Elves when they peer with their physical eyes across great distances.  But it is not a physical seeing for me, such as I discovered the palantír will allow, but a journey of the spirit, towards other spirits who are wandering and lost.  I call, and listen, and try to bring them back, if they are willing.  It is a difficult thing to do, and to explain in words.”

“I heard you calling me,” Frodo said.  “I asked Sam, and he remembers you, as well.  I thought I was dreaming.”

“How interesting,” Aragorn said.  “Perhaps you were aware of my presence because of how much energy I was expending to bring you back, and then ease you into sleep.”  He grew thoughtful.  “Faramir, Éowyn, and Merry had the fragrance of athelas on which to focus, and each returned swiftly to consciousness… you and Sam did not have this clear pathway, and I needed to work much harder.  It was difficult for me, as weary as I already was from the battle, but oftimes we can exceed our limits… as you discovered for yourself, many times.  My mistake was not then listening to my body’s need for rest.  That was my fault, not yours.  You should not feel any responsibility for my lack of judgment.”

Frodo sighed.  “I’ll try.  It helps to know that you’re better, and will have help now.”  He looked around.  “In so many ways, all of this still seems a dream.”

“I know.”

Frodo looked up at him.  “We're really going to have a king again, after all this time,” he said wonderingly. 

“The place is mine to take,” Aragorn nodded.  “When we return to Minas Tirith, the Steward -- Faramir -- will allow me to enter the City as its sovereign.”

“I thought his father was Steward.”

“There is much you have not yet heard,” Aragorn said quietly.  “Denethor's mind fell into darkness, and he took his own life during the siege.  But there is time for many tales, Frodo; we will remain encamped here for some days.  There is much Faramir wishes to prepare before we return, and many of the wounded cannot yet travel.”

“I’m not in any hurry to leave this place.  It’s… safe here.”  Frodo leaned against Aragorn.  “You’re safe here,” he whispered.

“Be not distressed, my dear friend,” Aragorn said softly, putting an arm around him.  “I choose my path with every step I take, as do we all.  I look ahead, and see much good yet to come.”

“I am happy for you, truly,” Frodo said.  “But even as king, you’ll go around healing people, won’t you?  And now everyone knows you can do that.  Will you then get no rest, no peace? Ever in your life?”

“I am pledged to my people,” Aragorn said honestly.

Frodo remembered something Gandalf had told him shortly after he and Sam awoke.  ‘The King is the renewer, Frodo, the standard by which generations yet unborn will judge themselves.’ His heart ached a bit for his friend.  This life seemed a strange reward for all that Aragorn had accomplished.

“There will be many joys to balance out my duties,” Aragorn assured him.  “All of us -- myself, your cousins, Sam, everyone -- made our own decisions, and are at peace with them.  I hope you can believe me.”

Aragorn's eyes were lit with an inner joy.  Whatever price he had paid, it was obvious to Frodo that he felt it had been worth it. 


“I believe you,” Frodo promised.

“I am glad,” Aragorn said.  “Let your burdens drop away, my friend.”

Frodo took another deep breath, and the weariness that had plagued him for days seemed to dissipate.  His heart felt lighter; whether due to the athelas, or perhaps just Aragorn's confident words and manner, he would never know.

“This has all turned out strangely, hasn’t it?” Frodo mused.  “Your men were told you were here tending me, and that turned out to be true after all.”

“We tended one another,” Aragorn reminded him.

It suddenly struck Frodo that if Aragorn was returning to camp the next day, there wasn't much time left to see that he ate regular meals, and got as much rest as possible.

“My goodness, what is the time?” he exclaimed.  “I feel hungry enough now for a real breakfast.  Care to join me?”

“Second breakfast it is,” Aragorn grinned.  “Oh, and I have been doing some thinking.  As Sam apparently plans to cover the Shire in lemon trees, I wish to introduce you to several other ways the folk of Minas Tirith enjoy using the fruits.  Perhaps you will find one to your liking.”

“I doubt it,” Frodo said darkly, causing Aragorn to laugh.

** TBC **

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