Aragorn awoke when a ray of sunlight streamed through the open flaps of the tent and warmed his face.
On one side of him slept Eldarion, contentedly snuggled against his father, his fright of the previous night forgotten. Curled against Aragorn’s other side lay Faramir, whom Aragorn had come to love as another son. The King was a happy man. He had a family after many long years of waiting.
Eldarion stirred. At first wide eyed at his strange surroundings, the little boy was swiftly reassured by his father’s presence. “Ada, I need to get up!” he said urgently. ”But what about the dragon outside?”
“The dragon was but a neighbouring camp fire,” Aragorn reassured him. ”I will come with you, ion nîn; you are perfectly safe.”
“I will make the breakfast while you are gone,” said Faramir. He sat up, yawning then stretched like a cat.
When father and son emerged from the trees, Aragorn led the child to a nearby stream and splashed cold water on his hands and face, telling the boy to do likewise.
“It is freezing!” Eldarion complained. ”The water nanny brings me to wash in is always warm.”
“Rangers wash in cold water,” Aragorn assured his son solemnly.
“I didn’t think Rangers needed to wash?” Eldarion protested.
“Yes, they need to keep clean, just like everyone else,” his father told him.
Eldarion was silent, pondering whether his chosen career was quite as good as it appeared to be.
“I had thought we might go swimming later,” said Aragorn. “But as you do not like cold water, maybe that is not such a good idea after all.”
Eldarion was thoughtful for a moment. He had learned to swim in the huge bath in his father’s private apartments and had been longing to try ‘real’ swimming outside with his Ada and Uncle Faramir. ”Perhaps it is not too cold for swimming?” he conceded.
“It will feel warmer when the sun is high in the sky,” Aragorn promised him.
“The porridge is almost ready,” Faramir announced when Aragorn and Eldarion arrived back at the campsite. The Steward ladled the gruel into three bowls.
Eldarion tasted it and pulled a face. “I don’t like porridge!” he announced. “I always have bread and honey for my breakfast at home.”
“I fear you will not make a Ranger, then,” said Faramir. “This is a typical Ranger breakfast.”
Eldarion’s lower lip trembled. Aragorn realised that a disturbed night and fear of a monster had been an ordeal for the usually sunny- natured seven year old. He hugged his son. “It is only when you are quite old that you enjoy such a simple breakfast,” he said. “Why I remember when I was in Moria with the Fellowship…”
Eldarion’s eyes brightened. He loved his father to tell a story. Faramir, almost equally attentive, drew closer as the King began.
“I was loth to enter the mines of Moria,” Aragorn began. “I had been there before in my travels and it is a frightening place, dark and cheerless, though once it must have been magnificent.”
“Lord Gimli told me it was a vast City of great splendour for the Dwarves,” Eldarion said eagerly.
“That is true, ion nîn,” Aragorn replied. ”Alas, when I was there, it was deserted, the Dwarves all slain or fled. We travelled for three days and two nights, our only light being Gandalf’s staff. The paths were steep and treacherous. It was not a pleasant place. I feared I would never again see the light.”
“You were scared, Ada?” Eldarion sounded incredulous.
“I was indeed,” Aragorn confessed ruefully. “It would not have been too bad, if only we had been able to eat a hearty meal. This porridge would have been a feast there. All we had to eat was stale bread and dried meat.”
Eldarion pulled a face, trying to imagine such unappetising fare.
A sudden thought struck Faramir and he rummaged in their packs, emerging with a jar. “Look!” he said, ”I have found some honey to put on our porridge and there is a cow with her calf over there. Perhaps she will give us fresh milk to drink!”
“You are familiar with cows?” Aragorn looked astonished. “You never cease to surprise me!”
“As we have our own herd at Emyn Arnen, I like to take an occasional turn with the milking. I first learned to milk when I became a Ranger.” Faramir replied. He rose from the campfire; a bowl in his hands, and cautiously approached the cow.
“Your Uncle Faramir has a way with animals,” the King explained to his young son.
“Can I learn to milk cows?” Eldarion asked.
“When you are a little older,” said Aragorn observing Faramir deftly dodging a well-aimed kick from the cow he was milking. ”I think this cow would prefer her calf to drink all the milk! I think we have enough now, mellon nîn,” he called. ”Come back before you get injured!”
A few minutes later, the trio were relishing a breakfast of porridge with milk and honey, while Eldarion had warm milk to drink.
“I shall tell naneth that we had our very own feast!” Eldarion exclaimed.
“And I am certain she will tell the cook to prepare an especially nice meal for us when we return home tomorrow, ”said Aragorn.
“I wish we did not have to go home so soon!” said the little boy. “I like camping, though I miss naneth.”
“So do I,” said Aragorn smiling. “She will be pleased when we return. You can tell her that Uncle Faramir and your Ada hope to bring you again soon to sleep under the stars.”
Eldarion jumped for joy, almost knocking over his porridge.
“We will make a Ranger of you yet!” said Faramir grinning.