2. Two sides to every question
Protagoras asserted that there were two sides to every question, exactly opposite to each other. - Diogenes Laërtius
Faramir started to cough again and this time was unable to stop. He coughed until his whole body shook beneath the dragon's paw. "You are not well?" the creature asked with surprising interest. "You are shivering!"
"I have a slight cold." Faramir could only hope that the dragon would believe that fever, rather than fear, was the cause of his malady.
"Come, rest here and you will be warm!" To Faramir's amazement, the beast carefully lifted him against its giant limb and folded its wings around him.
"Make not such sport of me!" Faramir protested as soon as his coughing fit had subsided. "I know you plan to devour me, you need not mock me first! " As he was speaking, he hoped desperately that Aragorn might be able to escape while the creature was preoccupied with him. Life had never been sweeter for the Steward. Gondor was at peace, ruled by a man he loved and admired. Faramir was wed to the fairest and best of all ladies. To leave her and their children would be a cruel blow indeed! Yet, if Aragorn could escape, Faramir would die content in the knowledge that the King was safe and Gondor would flourish.
The dragon laughed with a deep throaty roar that vibrated through its gigantic body. "Eat you? Whatever for? I much prefer cows. In any case, two such scrawny creatures as you and your companion would sate my appetite no more than a single slice of bread would satisfy you!"
Faramir received these tidings in shocked silence. The dragon had been observing them ever since they entered the cave? Could it be telling the truth?
"I am not scrawny!" Aragorn retorted. "I am a warrior, victorious in battle, and am nearly as tall as Elendil himself."
"Elendil was no doubt as scrawny as you then!" the dragon retorted.
"Why did you not introduce yourself before if you mean no ill?" asked Aragorn, anxious to change the subject.
The dragon laughed again. This time, the sound was devoid of mirth. "I may mean no harm, but the same could hardly be said of you!"
"It is my sworn duty to kill evil creatures that threaten my people," said Aragorn.
"How can you be so certain that I am evil?" demanded the dragon.
"All of Morgoth's creatures are foul by their very nature," Aragorn replied. "It
can not be otherwise."
"I am not a creature of that fiend!" the dragon protested indignantly, thrashing his tail. "Do you know nothing, O son of Ilúvatar? We abhor the name of Morgoth as much as you do. He was not our creator, but our conqueror! Wild and free we dwelled upon Arda for years beyond measure. Then the Dark Foe of all free folk enslaved many of my kindred and twisted them to his evil will, forcing them to produce vicious, blood-mad offspring that hated all the Children of Ilúvatar. Those of us that managed to escape hid in the mountains of the East. Some of my forefathers were eventually befriended by isolated Eastern tribes who never bowed the knee to Morgoth or his successor."
"Your kind are friendly with Men?" Aragorn sounded incredulous.
"Indeed we are. They rear sheep and cattle for us to eat, and in return we bear them upon our backs."
Aragorn was about to retort that only horses bore Men, then recalled that the Great Eagles would sometimes deign to carry passengers.
"We each choose a rider soon after we hatch," the dragon continued, his deep voice turning sad.
"Where is yours them?" Aragorn demanded.
"We became separated when we approached some men in friendship and they attacked us. I could not find my Rider again." A great tear rolled down the dragon's cheek.
Aragorn could not help but feel a sudden surge of compassion for the creature. His mind was in turmoil. Everything he had learned about dragons from Elves like Glorfindel who had seen the creatures attack Gondolin, or Bilbo Baggins, who had outsmarted Smaug himself, might be, if not false, incomplete? Yet, could even the Wise know everything? Maybe they did not? Suddenly Aragorn felt very tired. The cold and damp of the cave seemed to seep into his very bones. He struggled to conceal his bodily discomfort. "You threatened to kill my friend!" Aragorn protested, determined not to be beguiled while any shadow of a doubt remained in his mind.
"Only because you threatened to kill me," said the dragon reasonably. "I told my rider it was a waste of time to visit the lands of the West where we are hated and feared. He told me that things had changed, but it seems not. Now can we not at least abide here in peace until the storm has passed? Stop being so foolish and put that silly pin away!"
"Andúril was forged from the blade that cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand!" Aragorn said indignantly. "I will not sheath it, though, until you release my friend!"
"Why let him become chilled again?" enquired the dragon.
"I am comfortable enough here," Faramir said unexpectedly. "He is not hurting me. I can sense no evil in his heart, though I must admit I am unfamiliar with dragons."
Aragorn took a deep breath. He trusted Faramir's ability to read hearts. Admittedly it had only been put to test with Men before, but this dragon seemed possessed of a near human intelligence. As for beasts, Faramir could easily sense when horses or dogs were unsettled and calm a nervous cat. Aragorn could sense no ill will in the creature either. Slowly, he sheathed Andúril.
"Thank you," said the dragon. "Perhaps you are sensible after all! Now come under my wings and get warm. I do not want you to catch a cold too and keep me awake all night with your coughing!"
"You cannot catch a cold like that," Aragorn protested. "I am a healer and I know you can only catch a cold from another person who has it. I am most likely already infected."
"All the more reason that you should keep warm then," said the creature. He stretched out a vast wing and beckoned Aragorn with it. "Come!"
Trying not to show his apprehension, Aragorn walked beneath the creature's wing and found himself immediately encircled by it. The sensation was more pleasant than he had expected, akin to enclosure in a sturdy tent. He moved across to where Faramir was lying propped against the creature's foreleg, still wrapped in his blanket.
"Has he hurt you, Faramir?" Aragorn enquired anxiously.
"No, not all," said the Steward. "I must admit I feel much less chilled than in the cave. We might as well try to make ourselves comfortable. We will have to share the blanket." He started to cough again as he spoke.
The King frowned and felt Faramir's forehead, which was rather clammy to the touch. It seemed the Steward had a slight fever and needed to be kept as warm as possible. Unfortunately his best chance of staying warm seemed to rest with the dragon. Aragorn sat beside his friend and rather reluctantly leaned back against the beast, placing a tentative hand against its hide. To his surprise, the scales were soft and warm to the touch, rather than cold and slimy, as he had always believed.
He leaned back against the creature's body and at once could feel the steady vibrations of its vast heart beating. It was an oddly soothing sensation. He struggled to remain alert and awake. Faramir was already half drowsing, his breathing gradually becoming more even.
The great beast drew his wings closely around the King and his friend. Had Aragorn not known differently, he could have been snug inside a warm tent.
Faramir coughed again.
"Can you not be quiet?" the dragon asked irritably. "I wish to rest."
"He cannot help it," said Aragorn.
"If you cannot both be quiet, then tell me something of the lore of your people," demanded the dragon.
"You enjoy lore?" Aragorn was thankful that in the darkness the creature could not see him gape open-mouthed in complete shock.
"And why not?" retorted the dragon. "My kind considers a good education to be most important."
"I will tell you a tale of my kinsfolk of long ago," said Aragorn. He knew he must be tactful and avoid any tales of the great dragon slayers lest he offend the great beast. He started to sing softly of the meeting of Lúthien and Beren.
The dragon listened intently. "Hmm," he said, once the lay was concluded. "Quite agreeable, though I can write more pleasing rhymes myself."
"You write poetry?"
"You did not know that, son of Ilúvatar? How ignorant your kind are! I would recite you some of my own compositions, but I am weary, and your friend seems to be quiet at last."
Aragorn could hear Faramir's even, albeit slightly congested breathing at his side. He leaned back against dragon's gigantic foreleg and was swiftly lulled to sleep by the rhythmic beating of the creature's heart.
He slept soundly, aware of nothing save the sound of the rain falling outside in the few brief flashes of wakefulness that he experienced. When he was next fully aware, he was surprised that it was already morning and bright daylight was peering through a gap in the dragon's protecting wings.
Aragorn blinked and wondered if the previous events had been some fantastical dream. Maybe he had been wounded and taken poppy juice to relieve the pain? The syrup was well known to produce strange dreams. But the vast limb he was curled around was real and solid, as was the deep voice. "So you are awake at last!" the dragon scolded. "I thought you would sleep all the morning away!"
Next to the King, Faramir stirred. He coughed loudly and then looked around. Seeing the dragon, he started; then recalled the events of the previous night.
"It is rude to stare," commented the dragon.
"Your pardon," said Faramir politely.
"I have lingered here too long," said the creature. "I must be on my way."
"Where do you plan to go?" Aragorn enquired, trying to hide the anxiety in his voice at the thought of a dragon at large in his kingdom.
"I must find my rider," said the dragon.
"How exactly did you become separated?" asked the King.
"We heard tidings that a new king had been crowned in the West who sought peace," explained the dragon. "We flew for many months across deserts, high mountains and vast forests. We found a king called Bard, but he was most unpleasant and ordered his men to shoot arrows at me, while my rider was pelted with mud. We barely escaped with our lives. That was many days ago. We flew south and my rider went in search of food, but he never returned."
Aragorn wondered if the man had decided that being in the company of a dragon in a hostile land was less than desirable. Maybe the man had decided to abandon the creature and make good his escape? He cleared his throat and tried to think of something tactful to say.
"I know what you are thinking!" the dragon hissed angrily. "My rider would no more abandon me that you would abandon your own children! I fear some ill must have befallen him."
"Was Bard the King you were seeking?" asked Faramir, anxious to change the subject.
"No, the one who is supposed to be great has a name something like Lesser," replied the creature.
Aragorn hesitated. His heart was inclined to trust the dragon, but his head did
not. Years of learning that dragons were as evil-natured as Balrogs and giant spiders could not be undone overnight. It would be unwise to tell the creature their identities when they were completely at its mercy and knew so little of the lands from which it came.
"We need to be on our way," said Aragorn. "We will hinder you no longer. I suggest that once you find your rider that you return home with him. These parts are not safe for your kind" He stood up rather stiffly.
"You don't like dragons do you," the creature replied, moving his wing aside to release Aragorn. "How many have you encountered to form this opinion?"
"I know little of your kind," Aragorn replied, evading the question. "You have been most gracious and friendly towards us." He walked straight to the mouth of the cave and looked out. What he saw caused him to cry out in dismay.
It was fortunate indeed they had chosen to spend the night in a cave upon the hillside; for the river had burst its banks during the night. Water covered the land as far as the eye could see. A few deer were struggling in the flood, swimming as best they could. Of their horses, there was no sign.
Faramir joined him at the mouth of the cave. "Alas, we are stranded here!" he
"It seems like it!" Aragorn said grimly. "No doubt our horses are halfway home