“I caught nothing.” The dejected look on Faramir’s face made his words superfluous. “I saw a doe with her young, but could not bring myself to kill either. It is not as if we are about to die of hunger.” He flopped down in the forest clearing beside his friend and King.
“Nor would I have killed them either in your place,” Aragorn conceded. “I just feel as if I were starving. I did not see as much as a rabbit, and my attempts at fishing were equally fruitless. This stream contains naught but tiddlers! I am thankful that Arwen would not permit us to bring Eldarion this time, much as I yearn for him to be old enough to join us.”
Faramir turned away and rummaged in their packs, not wanting the King to see the look of sorrow in his eyes. Aragorn had treated him as a son, almost since they first met, but now the King’s own flesh and blood was approaching his seventh birthday, Eldarion was becoming old enough to keep his doting father company during these excursions in the wild. Aragorn was a loyal friend, but Faramir knew it would be only honourable to volunteer to remain behind once the King’s heir could accompany his father.
“I would have both my sons beside me,” Aragorn said firmly, sensing Faramir’s thoughts. He gripped Faramir’s shoulder and turned him around to face him. “I will need you more than ever, ion nîn, when Eldarion is with us. I would not take him without you joining us. It would not be the same at all!”
“You honour me,” said Faramir, deeply moved. He cherished these outings all the more, given the opposition from the Council and their Guards at the King and his Steward going out unescorted. It took all of Aragorn’s considerable strength of will to escape from the strictures laid upon him. Aragorn and Faramir knew they could occasionally safely leave the City in the capable hands of Arwen or Imrahil. The Queen understood all too well that her husband’s heath would suffer if he were kept caged within the City walls and she trusted Faramir alone to guard him with his life.
“I have my reasons,” Aragorn grinned. “Arwen will scarcely permit me to ride two leagues out of the City without you, far less Eldarion!”
The two men laughed. They began gathering firewood, which was in far more abundant supply than anything to cook with it.
“Who else would endure your snoring save I?” Faramir teased. He nimbly dodged the King’s feigned blow.
“The fact you are with me, though, does nothing to fill our bellies tonight!” Aragorn grumbled, returning to their original subject. He rummaged in his pack for their cooking utensils.
“We do have the blackberries and hazelnuts we gathered earlier, and some mushrooms we can cook,” Faramir informed him, trying to raise his lord’s spirits. “Then there is the bread we brought with us.” Thus saying, he tipped a meagre handful of small mushrooms into a pan, while Aragorn skilfully kindled a fire.
The two friends began their meagre supper in grim silence, trying to ignore their rumbling stomachs.
“We should have brought more supplies with us,” Faramir said, swallowing a final mouthful of the tasteless, unripe mushrooms.
“That would have defeated the object of this hunting trip, though,” Aragorn replied. “Arwen was praising the new cook’s skills last week, and I was telling her how well a Ranger could live off the land.” He laughed mirthlessly, before taking another bite of stale bread and washing it down with water. “Before we set out, she told me the details of the cook’s plans for the week. I boasted that we would dine in an even more lordly fashion on what we caught ourselves. Tonight, Arwen will be feasting on tomato soup, steamed trout with roast potatoes, and blackberry syllabub washed down with fine wine for dessert!”
“At least we have the blackberries,” said Faramir, pulling a face as he nibbled an especially sour one. “And most of the houses of the City will have tomatoes on the vines of their gardens, including yours and mine. How I wish I had a plate of venison before me now!”
“Or even roast mutton!” said the King rubbing his stomach wistfully. He laughed suddenly. “Just listen to us! We sound like a pair of Hobbits, thinking of naught but food!”
“We could always return home early,” suggested Faramir.
“I think I would rather go hungry than have Arwen tease me for weeks,” Aragorn replied ruefully, sprawling his long legs comfortably on the grass.
Faramir nodded. “Éowyn would never let me hear the last of it if we returned now. I have been looking forward to our venture into the wilds for weeks now! It is so difficult to find a few days when we are not obliged to hold audiences or attend Council meetings.”
“I have been counting the days that I could leave stone walls behind for a little while,” Aragorn replied. He found life at Court far more restricting than his Steward after so many years of wanderings as a Ranger. “Come; let us make preparations to sleep. Perhaps we will have better luck tomorrow.”
No sooner had the dishes been washed in a stream and the bedrolls laid out side by side, than it began to rain. Even though the two friends huddled together for warmth, they grew increasingly cold, hungry and miserable.
“I wish I were in my nice warm bed with Arwen beside me,” Aragorn said glumly.
“I thought you said you missed sleeping under hedges!” Faramir teased.
Aragorn’s only reply was a grunt.
Worn out after their day’s exertions, King and Steward eventually fell asleep, only for Faramir to be awakened by his companion’s loud snoring. He wished fervently that Éowyn were beside him instead. His wife never snored!
The Steward suddenly noticed that it had stopped raining. The clouds had dissipated, leaving a clear sky in their wake. Countless stars twinkled overhead, fairer by far than priceless jewels. A sudden feeling of joy overwhelmed Faramir. Wishing to share it, he gently elbowed Aragorn awake. “Look!” he said in a hushed tone, “I had almost forgotten the wonder of a starry night!”
Just then a comet streaked across the heavens. The two men watched it in awe.
“Did you make a wish?” Aragorn asked Faramir, smiling.
“Only that everything would stay just as it is,” said the Steward. ”What more could I want than Gondor at peace, the hand of the fairest lady that lives, children to surround me and the love of a father I thought I would forever be denied?”
“Some breakfast maybe?” teased Aragorn. “But you speak as wisely as ever, Faramir. All I ever wished for has now come true. There were many times I wandered the wilds, when I wondered if I would ever have the crown of Elendil, and with it my beloved’s hand in marriage, and a son at my side to cherish. Then I would look at the stars and hope would spring anew.”
No longer caring about their empty stomachs, King and Steward lay watching the stars until Eärendil vanished over the horizon with his ship. Then they slept, contented. Soon they would be constrained by duties of State once more, but tonight they would simply enjoy being Rangers together.