“Please, Naneth, let me go camping with Ada and Uncle Faramir,” begged Eldarion.
“Faramir and I would take good care of him,” said Aragorn, his tone almost as pleading as his young son’s. “It would be but for two nights and we are not going far. The countryside here in Ithilien is not beset by dangers. We could quickly return home, were any problems to arise. What harm could Eldarion possibly come to? Faramir and I enjoy returning to the Ranger way of life whenever we can be released from our duties. I have waited so long for a child of my own to take out in the wilds with me and share all the things that fathers and sons do!”
“Very well,” Arwen conceded. Loth though she was to be parted from her son, the prospect of a few quiet days with Éowyn and the other children at Emyn Arnen was appealing. Eldarion was a delightful child and she loved him dearly, but there were times she feared she did not give Farawyn as much attention as she had given her eldest. It would be good to devote some time exclusively to her little daughter.
“Thank you, Naneth, I promise I’ll be good!” Eldarion rushed to gratefully hug his mother, almost knocking her over in his enthusiasm. He hastened off to pack his possessions while Arwen instructed her husband and Faramir in great detail as to how they should care for the boy. They listened patiently while struggling not to show their amusement at her fretting over their safety, warnings to remember to tell Eldarion a bedtime story, to take care not to let him fall in river, to protect him with their lives and to keep him clean. Aragorn’s eyes met his Steward’s and both men struggled to restrain their amusement. Arwen seemed to think they could hardly take care of themselves, never mind a child!
The next morning, the three set out for some woods but a few miles from Faramir’s home. Aragorn and Faramir selected a campsite near to the river so that they would have water for their needs.
Eldarion sat quietly while his father and Faramir caught trout from the Anduin for supper. “May I try?” he asked after his father had caught a fish.
“It is getting late now, you may try to catch your own dinner tomorrow,” Aragorn promised.
“Please, Ada, I want to catch a big fish!” Eldarion cried in a voice loud enough to warn every fish for miles around that a hungry little boy was eager to make a meal of it.
Aragorn and Faramir exchanged amused glances. ”Very well,” he conceded. “You may try for a few minutes.”
“Thank you, Ada!” Eldarion cried joyfully.
The King put a finger to his lips reminding his son that a fisherman needed to keep quiet in order to be successful
Eldarion lapsed into silence. To his delight, he was rewarded when a fish took his bait.
“Well done, ion nîn!” said Aragorn, humanely despatching the trout. “Go with Uncle Faramir back to the campsite now and he will show you how to prepare it for supper.
Eldarion watched as Faramir expertly prepared the plump trout for cooking.
Aragorn caught a second fish. Deciding they had sufficient for their needs, he handed it to the Steward to prepare. He asked his son to help him collect firewood, explaining that ash and yew logs burned best, while willow made but a poor fire. Eldarion scurried amongst the trees picking up sticks and handing them to his father to identify. Aragorn was in his element, rejoicing in the all too rare opportunity to spend time teaching his son about life as a Ranger. When their arms were so full of kindling they could carry no more, farther and son returned to the campsite where they rejoined Faramir
As if by magic, Aragorn lit the fire by rubbing two sticks together. Faramir put the fish on to cook in a pan they had brought with them. Eldarion thought it smelled delicious. He felt much hungrier than he usually did.
While the meal was cooking the men pitched the tent they had brought in deference to Eldarion’s tender age. The boy tried to help, albeit not very successfully. Aragorn indulgently righted his mistakes, remembering with wry amusement his own first experiences of making camp and sharing his memories with Eldarion and Faramir.
“The food is cooked now!” Faramir announced.
Soon the three were tucking into a hearty meal of streamed trout together with potatoes and carrots they had brought with them. They had also brought juicy apples and pears.
“This is much more fun than having food sent up from the kitchens. It tastes better, too!” said Eldarion, tucking into his supper eagerly.
“You are fortunate, ion nîn,” said Aragorn. “Last time Uncle Faramir and I went camping, we caught nothing and went to bed hungry!”
Eldarion pulled a face.
“We still had a good time, though,” said Faramir. “We saw some shooting stars.”
“I’d like to see shooting stars,” Eldarion said eagerly. “May I take first watch?”
“We have no need to keep watch in a safe place like this,” Aragorn told him. “And I fear you only see shooting stars at certain times of year.”
“Please, Ada?” the child begged.
Aragorn exchanged an amused glance with Faramir. “Very well,” he agreed, humouring his son.
After singing Elvish songs that Aragorn recalled from his childhood, and telling Eldarion about Eärendil and his ship, one of the boy’s favourite bedtime stories, the two men settled down for the night inside the tent.
Eldarion remained outside keeping watch. The boy felt very grown up and important. He would keep the wild animals away from Ada and Uncle Faramir. Maybe, he might even see a shooting star to tell naneth about! At first, the low murmur of his Ada’s and the Steward’s voices provided companionship, but then they fell silent, as did the birds in the surrounding trees. Even the horses became silent as they ceased grazing and slept. Eldarion started to feel very alone. The night had come so fast, and the clouds hid the moon! He was tempted to wake his father, but he was a big boy now, far too old to be scared of the dark.
Shapes loomed around him, dark and menacing. He could hear rustling. What if a bear lurked in the bushes? Then he saw a distant glow. He recalled the dragons in the tales that his father and Lord Legolas had told him: Ancalagon the Black, who was slain by Eldarion's own great-grandsire; and the Dragon of Erebor. He liked to pretend that Smaug, his favourite toy, was a real dragon. But didn’t real dragons eat people along with their horses? The glow grew brighter and flames shot up in the air. Eldarion screamed in fright.
“What is wrong, ion nîn?” Aragorn, who had been watching his son all the time, came immediately to his side. Faramir followed.
“There’s a dragon in the bushes! It will eat us all for its supper!” Eldarion cried, rushing towards his father and flinging his arms around his waist.
“Do not be afraid! Uncle Faramir and I will keep you safe,” said Aragorn. “Come here,” He scooped up Eldarion in his arms and sat beside the campfire with his son.
“I will go and investigate,” said Faramir, drawing his sword. “I think I know what our ‘dragon’ might be.”
Trying hard not to tremble, Eldarion snuggled on his father’s lap and buried his head against the broad shoulder. Aragorn gently rubbed the child’s neck and shoulders, using an Elven healing art to calm the boy.
A few moments later Faramir returned grinning. “Our ‘dragon’ was a party from my White Company, sent by the Queen to keep an eye on us,” he explained. “I chided them for letting themselves be seen and frightening the boy. Those youngsters would not have survived five minutes in more dangerous times! I shall tell Beregond to take the men on extra training exercises. Do you think we should take Eldarion home?”
“There is no need,” Aragorn whispered, placing a finger to his lips and gesturing towards his young son, who, overcome by weariness and excitement, lay sleeping peacefully in his arms.