My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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The Commander of Gondor: 5. Furlough
It was the celebration of Yavanna in Minas Tirith. The golden autumn air was rich with the smell of apples, crushed grapes, and woodsmoke. Wagons arrived in the city laden with orange pumpkins, crooked neck squashes, and purple plums. Harvest festival was the biggest celebration of the year for all Gondorians, even larger than the festive Yule season, for not only did it mark the bounty of the harvest, it marked the end of fighting for the year and the three month furlough offered to nearly all the enlisted troopers.
On this fine, clear day in the month of Narbeleth, the sky above was crystal blue. The falcons circling above the city spied young Quillion scurrying into the City Guard commander's office. In his hand, he clutched the invitation his mother had given him as if it was a secret missive from the Steward himself. The boy hoped the commander had not yet arrived, for then he could slide the note under the piles of paperwork where it would magically vanish or at least not be discovered until the commander felt it was too late to courteously accept.
The boy's face fell as he entered the office; Thorongil already worked at his desk, his pen skating across a sheet of paper, leaving behind the commander's fine script. Captain Fallon sat with his chair propped back against the wall, reading a large volume of military history. Both officers looked up and smiled at the boy so he sucked up his courage and marched to the commander, extending the invitation.
In the six months since his appointment as squire, it was obvious Quillion worshipped his commander as a god and the captain as a lesser deity so surely, in the boy's mind, these two lords of Gondor would not want to have dinner with his mother when they could sup with the glittering courtiers at the Citadel gala. He had explained this to her but she had insisted. Quillion held his breath, fearful of Thorongil's answer. The commander looked up from the note, light dancing in his gray eyes.
"Of course we will attend!" A huge smile split Quillion's face. Thorongil grinned over Quillion's excited head to Fallon who rolled his eyes. The commander commenced a note of acceptance and gratitude back to the boy's mother, and when Quillion ran home to deliver it; they heard his squeal of delight just outside the door.
Fallon called in a lounging trooper and immediately sent off an order to the butcher for the deliver of two fat geese and a suckling pig to Lady Gwendeth.
"A lot of food for a poor widow, two servants, a scrawny boy, and us," Thorongil commented.
"I'm sure Lady Gwendeth's sister Alalsiel will be there also. She has been each year since her husband was killed."
"Indeed." Thorongil eyed his second speculatively and went back to his work. "Each year? Am I to assume you've attended these before?" Fallon suddenly found something of great interest in his book and avoided answering Thorongil.
When Quillion returned, he nodded vigorously at Fallon's inquiry that his aunt Alalsiel and her family would also be attending. He launched into a long monologue about his cousins: an older boy who was quite bookish and disliked Quillion, and his girl cousins who he held to be supremely silly.
"Fallon, do you know Quillion's extended family well?" Thorongil asked later that day when his squire was off delivering messages to the Citadel. His captain was again evasive in his answer.
"I know of them." Fallon knew he must tell his commander, who waited patiently but expectantly for an answer. "I –uh-have met all of them before at Lady Gwendeth's Yule and Yavanna dinners." Thorongil raised a brow at him. Since meeting his squire, he had suspected Fallon had a history of helping Gwendeth and Quillion. Fallon was silent for a bit, weighing what he knew of this new commander, a man he had ridden with for less than a year. In telling more, he would reveal that the persona of the cavalier and careless Captain Fallon that he had carefully cultivated was a diversion. He balanced what he knew of the man's paternal care of Quillion with the grim warrior he stood beside on the battlefield, and judged this man wore the skin of another also and the chinks in his own warrior façade might be shared by his commander.
"Alalsiel's husband was my first captain. I rode beside him in my first battle. He cared not who I was or wasn't, and was fair and firm with me. I was such a callow youngster, I lost my breakfast at his feet after my first encounter with battlefield carnage. Many times I would have been gravely injured had he not been there.
"I was in Dol Amroth when my father wrote that he had been killed riding patrol along the Lebennin Road. It was not even an orc that took his life, just a band of desperate highwaymen, willing to attack a pair of Guard officers for their horses and equipment!" Thorongil heard the pain still in Fallon's voice though the captain tried to tell the tale in his usual flippant way.
"I cannot see the family starve because the husband and father had the misfortune to give his life for the White City. Alalsiel is another genteel widow left along and impoverished by war. The treasury should provide more for such families but 'twould bankrupt Gondor," Fallon admitted. "The lady has six children. The ones Quillion described: a sullen fifteen year old who hates anything associated with the army including his younger cousin and three proper and pretty little girls. There are also three year old twins, a boy and a girl as unalike in appearance as they could be. The lady keeps a very small estate outside the gates of Harlond, the only concession from a noble father to a third son." Thorongil watched him steadily for a moment and Fallon had the dreadful feeling he had judged this man wrongly and the commander was about to make a derisive remark about his softness, both cruel and uncaring.
"Your reputation as a libertine is a sham, Fallon," Thorongil said turning back to the work on his desk, "so do not badger me any longer on my kindness to Quillion. And send around another brace of geese, with my compliments."
Just before noon a week later, the two handsome officers trailed by young Quillion pushed open the scrolled gate before the cottage, nodding to the gawking neighbor. Thorongil bore a crate of wine bottles fit for the Steward's table and Quillion carefully carried a box nearly as large as he stamped with mark of the Citadel's patisserie. The boy fairly drooled at the thought of the confections inside.
All in all, it was a magnificent feast. The weather was warm enough that the party retired to the garden while last minute preparations for the feast were completed. Lady Alalsiel was wise and gracious, laughter in her eyes and in the lines around them. She had gone on with life even after so grievous a blow as her husband's death, and was a contrast to her solemn sister. She spoke with Thorongil about last summer's action, shared a bit of court gossip, and discussed the harvest from her estate. Fallon tussled on the lawn with the younger children and Thorongil discovered the eldest boy, Fairion, had a love for natural science, especially the heavens. He drew the young man from his shy shell and encouraged him into a discussion of the stars and weather, and what both might mean for crops and ships and battles. The young man who had resigned himself to a morose day with only military officers and children, soon was as enamored with this commander as his cousin and envied Quillion his post.
By late afternoon, dinner was set in the overflowing dining room, the table weighed down with platters and bowls. Lady Gwendeth overfed them all to the point of bursting. The two ladies were pleasant dinner company and the children as well-behaved as children can be. In due time, the pastry box was opened and all squealed at the sight. The children were soon half-sick with icing and custard, and the adults finished their meal with fine cordials.
Evening fell and Fallon and Thorongil reluctantly departed from the neat cottage. As they strolled home, both agreed they had just spent a most excellent day, one much more to their liking than any elegant banquet held at the Palace. They had indulged so much that Thorongil had to let out his sword belt a notch and Fallon walked with his jacket open: his excuse was to let in the cool autumn air though in truth he feared the silver buttons might pop. The night was pleasantly quiet after the squeals of the afternoon spent with seven children. And, they had left Quillion to tumble with his cousins.
"Fallon, that widow had her eye on you," Thorongil commented in high spirits, thinking his captain deserved a teasing.
"Quillion's mother would not wed again," Fallon replied.
"Nay, the sister. She needs a father for that brood." Thorongil chuckled to think of Fallon as lord over such a kingdom.
Fallon smiled silently for a bit, looking dreamily distant. "My lady would not like it so."
"Your lady?" Thorongil's teasing abruptly came to an end.
"Aye, do you doubt I have one?'
"Nay, I believe you have many!"
"The women are enjoyable but there is one—one I've pledged my heart to if one day she would have me. Perhaps, one day ---" Thorongil heard the seriousness in his captain's voice. He recognized the timbre as one he heard in his own voice when he spoke Arwen's name. Suddenly, the spirit of mischief filled Fallon's blue eyes. He companionably threw his arm around his commander's shoulder.
"You, my lord, would make a worthy father for the pack; young Fairion was in awe of you already. Alalsiel could be persuaded that you would suit better than I."
"For me also there is but one, pledged to, but separated from. Hopefully, one day that pledge will be fulfilled." Fallon halted, startled at this revelation, but before he could inquire further, Thorongil smiled enigmatically and left him standing, not a single question answered, at the gate to his quarters.
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