Aragorn is very serious indeed!
Chapter 11: Chosen Favourite
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"Why can't I?" said Aragorn.
Denethor looked surprised, "But you... What about..."
"Boromir doesn't need our help to find a bride. I take it you haven't spoken to him since he got back?"
"You know I haven't," said Denethor, "for he was with you. What do you mean?"
"He tells me, that with your permission - and mine - he intends to wed Melwen, daughter of Pilimor of Calembel. She's a distant relation of Imrahil of Dol Amroth."
"I've heard of her," Denethor said, "and her family." Faramir had, too; Boromir had talked of her when he'd last been on leave, but Faramir had assumed her to be merely a woman he was romancing as Boromir did so many. He hadn't mentioned that he was considering marriage. Denethor continued, "They are nobodies - little more than farmers."
"I think you do them a disservice," said the King. "Their landholding is substantial, and they are the kind of people Gondor relies on, for we would starve without farmers. I'm told that Melwen is both beautiful and talented. At least, Boromir seems to think so."
"And if he does wed her, I cannot see what you would want with this one," Denethor indicated Faramir.
"Can't you?" Aragorn seemed to consider the discussion closed; he was shuffling his papers into order. "Besides, what does it matter to you which of your sons shares my bed?"
Faramir managed to avoid his father until breakfast next morning, but the time and distance didn't seem to have dissipated any of Denethor's anger. As soon as they were alone, Denethor turned on him, "How dare you!" He slapped Faramir across the face, "How dare you steal your brother's position..."
"I didn't!" said Faramir. He knew better than to show pain in front of his father, and kept his hands firmly by his sides. "I had no idea that the King might want me. I'm not even sure that he does."
"Does what?" said Boromir, as he came in late to breakfast as usual. "The King told me... What is going on here?"
"Your brother," said Denethor, before Faramir could speak, "has stolen the King away from you."
"Has he, indeed!" Boromir laughed, "My thanks, little brother! Well done!"
"I'm sorry," began Faramir, and then he caught up with what Boromir had said, "What?" He stole a glance at his father, who looked as stunned as Faramir felt.
"Have you no sense, boy!" said Denethor, for once to Boromir. "You cannot afford to throw away this kind of influence for some... some..."
"I know you had plans for me, father," said Boromir, "but hear me out. Melwen is an only child, at least since her brother's death, and her father has the highest landholding in Gondor after you and the Prince of Dol Amroth. I cannot wed Lothíriel of Dol Amroth because she's already trothplighted to Éomer of Rohan and anyway, Lothíriel has a brother. Éowyn of Rohan is too young and also has a brother."
Faramir blinked; Boromir was more farsighted than he had realised: when Denethor died - or if, for his father was the kind of man who seemed likely to live forever if only to spite them - Boromir would be the wealthiest man in Gondor.
"I see," said Denethor.
"My advice to you, father, is to make sure that Aragorn doesn't lose interest in Faramir, or your influence may be seriously compromised. Oh, don't look like that, little brother, you'll enjoy it," Boromir laughed. "Aragorn knows what to do with a man in his bed. He even shares some of your notions: when he wants to show you the beauty of a moonlit lake in midwinter, you might not tell him how cursed cold it is."
Denethor groaned, "Tell me you did not say any such thing."
"Nearly froze my bollocks off," said Boromir. "I'm not sure why he wants you, though I suppose seeing your bare arse the other night might have been it. I know something made him randier than usual."
Faramir fought a twin desire to laugh hysterically and to have the floor open up and swallow him. "Have you any advice for me?" he asked.
"You mean as the King's former... Well, whatever. Yes: remember you're a man and turn off the tears. Aragorn has no use for a prissy miss in his bed, or his life for that matter."
"I'll bear it in mind. Anything else?"
"I don't think so. Oh, yes, there is something. He doesn't want to marry, at least not yet, but that doesn't stop those northern wenches from trying. It's nothing to do with you, so don't get drawn in."
Faramir didn't see King Aragorn again until the afternoon of that day. The King had called an open Court at which most of the nobles of Gondor were present; as the King entered, Faramir standing alongside his father and brother, bowed deeply. The King stopped beside them, and lifted Faramir's face to look into his eyes. Faramir was surprised, but he hoped it didn't show. Then he remembered the King doing something similar with Boromir once and realised what it might mean.
The King said, "If your father will spare you, Faramir, I think the afternoon will pass more enjoyably for me in your charming company."
"Of course, my liege," said Denethor, and gave Faramir a subtle push.
Faramir straightened, and took the arm the King offered him. By the King's offer and his acceptance, all were given to understand that he was now the King's...what? Favourite? Favourite was a word which in this context he knew to mean lover - almost wedded to the King until the King said otherwise. He glanced at Boromir, whose bright smile was encouraging, and at Denethor whose smile was more forced. All were thus shown that Denethor had no objection, even welcomed his son's position, and that Boromir held no grudge against his brother for supplanting him. There was a low susurration of surprised whispers among the courtiers, and then silence as the King turned to move on.
Marek stood beside Denethor, and it was his face Faramir saw next: it held a mixture of bafflement, fury, envy and lust such that Faramir was not sure which would win out. Fury, he thought and Faramir shivered. But from all accounts, Aragorn did not willingly share his favourite with other men and if Marek touched him now he'd pay a high price indeed.
Faramir found that his King lived up to every boyish dream he'd had about him: he was kind, and every bit as noble and dignified as Faramir had always suspected. Perversely, this served only to bring Faramir's fears to the fore: he was sure it was unusual for a King to choose a favourite before sampling what he had to offer. What if he didn't live up to expectations? If he was rejected Denethor would be furious, Boromir disappointed and Faramir mortified.
The formal Court drew to a close at last, and they were alone. Aragorn turned to him, and smiled, "Will you stay with me?"
What happens next?
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