(Verrat! Verrat!) – Götterdämmerung -Wagner
Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
With thanks to Virtuella and Raksha
A fire was kindled in Sulion's field in order to heat the water early the next morning. The dragon reclined near the flames, rolling over like a pampered hound to feel the heat on his underbelly.
The tubs of water were brought out. Although, the sight of the dragon no longer caused panic, few were keen to be in its vicinity any longer than strictly necessary. Súlion tried to talk to some of the young guardsman, but they gaped at him open- mouthed, before scuttling away as soon as their task was completed.
Súlion regarded them sadly. "Why will so few people talk to me?" he asked the Steward in a plaintive tone.
"The soldiers have other duties to attend to," Faramir replied.
"I know they don't like me," said the dragon. "You do not need to pretend."
"They are not accustomed to other than Men having the power of speech," said Aragorn. "It frightens them."
"How can they become accustomed if they run away?" asked the dragon.
To that question neither King nor Steward had an answer.
Aragorn busied himself mixing the powder with the water to create the Elven mud treatment. The dragon looked at the steaming mixture dubiously. "Is that it?" he asked. "It looks like dirty mud from the river!"
"That is what I thought when I first saw the treatment," said Faramir. "I recall that I was very loth to immerse myself it, but it proved quite a pleasant experience and a most effective treatment."
"Maybe a whole tub would be pleasant to wallow in," said Súlion hopefully.
"I doubt there is a tub large enough to fit you anywhere in my kingdom," Aragorn replied. He dipped his hands in the tub of steaming mud and started to apply it thickly to the places where the creature's hide was damaged.
"Ouch!" cried Súlion "Ooh, oh, ouch!"
"Whatever is the matter?" said Aragorn.
"It stings!" wailed the dragon. "Oh, ouch!"
"We do not to need to this if you do not wish," Aragorn said sweetly. "Maybe dragons react badly to the mixture? I do not recall making so much fuss when the scars on my much thinner hide were treated, nor did Faramir."
"Maybe it is not that painful," Súlion said hastily. "It has stopped hurting now."
Aragorn and Faramir exchanged rueful smiles wondering how long it would be before the dragon started to complain again, but Súlion only whimpered a little when Aragorn treated his deeper wounds. The mud was left on for a short time and then Aragorn and Faramir both worked to wipe the dragon's scales clean again. They had decided the night before it would be quicker and easier to do this themselves than to summon assistance. Aragorn then took up an enormous pot of special salve and coated the dragon's scars thickly with it.
"You must stay out of water to keep the ointment dry now for three days for the treatment to work," Aragorn told Súlion.
"But I don't like being dirty!" the dragon groaned.
"It is only for a little while," said the King.
"The Council is not in session on Saturday," said Faramir. "We could take you to the river, could we not, Aragorn?" He shot a glance at the King, who nodded his agreement.
"Will you come swimming with me?" Súlion asked eagerly.
"We will," said Faramir. By now, he had almost become accustomed to bathing with the creature. At least it did not stare at him as disdainfully as Elbeth's pet cat. He was certain that the ginger tom thought any being lacking sleek orange fur was vastly inferior to itself!
"We promise," said Aragorn good-humouredly. An afternoon spent swimming with a dragon now seemed an agreeable prospect and a welcome escape from the City without Arwen and the children in it, especially now that late spring in all its beauty was here. He had so many memories of walking with Arwen in the gardens or playing with Eldarion when the air was heavy with the scent of sweet blossoms. He had eagerly awaited his bride at this time of year, and dreamed of waking each morning at her side for the rest of his days. Whoever could have foreseen that they would become so estranged?
The two men rode back through the City at a leisurely pace. It was market day and the streets were crowded, maybe a little less so than they sometimes were, but the people seemed to have grown almost accustomed to having a dragon dwelling nearby.
King and Steward stopped at several stalls to buy trinkets to send to their wives and children. As a merchant was wrapping some wooden toys, a dishevelled man in torn clothing pushed forward and shouted, "Curse you, Elessar for allowing the spawn of Morgoth to dwell amongst us! Woe to you and your kindred, woe to Gondor for your pride and folly!"
The guards rushed forward, but the man had already vanished among the throng.
Moat of the passers- by looked shocked, but a few nodded as if agreeing with his words.
"Shall we call for reinforcements and order a through search, sire?" asked the Captain of Aragorn's bodyguards.
Aragorn shook his head. "He carried no weapon. He appears to be a madman; no doubt some poor soul whose wits were addled by the war. If you should come across him again, confine him within the Houses of Healing."
"But, he threatened you, sire," the Captain protested.
"If we were to pursue everyone who objected to the dragon's presence, the prison would soon be overflowing! Curses have no power over those who are innocent. A wise man fears weapons, not words." Aragorn said firmly. He turned back to the stall and purchased some blocks for Farawyn.
"He ought to be punished for speaking to you, thus," Faramir said indignantly, though in a low voice. He shuddered; recalling how a would- be assassin had once almost caused Aragorn's death in this very market place.
"You should have heard some of the curses heaped upon me in my days as a Ranger!" said Aragorn. "But, I am still standing hale and hearty." He smiled at Faramir then at the crowd. "Come, we have more to fear from the wrath of the cook if we are late for luncheon than from any man here!" He swung himself back in Roheryn's saddle and Faramir likewise mounted his horse.
Over a delicious luncheon of roast beef, Aragorn regaled Faramir with tales of some of the indignities that Strider had suffered and by the time the dessert of pears stewed in wine arrived, the incident in the market place was almost forgotten.
Saturday dawned bright and clear, a perfect late spring day, which lifted Aragorn and Faramir's spirits considerably. They missed their ladies and children greatly, but the prospect of an afternoon spent outdoors was something that always delighted the two former Rangers.
This time, they came well prepared with their towels and a change of linens. Súlion had agreed to meet them in the gardens of the Royal Apartments, which spared King and Steward an argument about their guards accompanying them. They climbed aboard the dragon and were soon aloft. Aragorn and Faramir were expecting Súlion to take them where they had swum several times before, but the dragon flew past the spot.
"Where are you going?" Aragorn demanded. "We did not come this far before."
"My wings feel better now, "said the dragon. "I would venture further."
"Do not forget we need somewhere suitable to bathe," Faramir reminded him.
The patches of orange ointment caked on Sulion's body and wings did not seem to trouble him as he flew onwards, at last descending in a meadow beside the Anduin. He made to land in the open field.
"No!" cried Aragorn. "Land on the grass behind the willows on the opposite bank. That will be a nice secluded place for us to undress and leave our clothes and swords."
"I pity you men," said Súlion. "Little wonder you are so self conscious as you lack fine scales like mine!"
"I do not think our wives would be very happy if we grew scales instead of skin," Aragorn said dryly.
"I will soon look fair again!" Súlion cried joyfully as the two men clambered from his back.
"I warn you the treatment may not work," Aragorn cautioned, but there was no dampening the dragon's enthusiasm. The moment his passengers' feet touched the ground, he plunged into the water.
The two men undressed in a more leisurely fashion. Faramir, as was his custom, carefully folding each garment, while Aragorn flung his to one side.
"Please be careful!" groaned Faramir. "Last time, I returned home wearing your shirt when our clothes became mixed up, and my tunic had a muddy patch down the front as you threw your boot on top of it!"
"I cannot help it that we are the same size!" Aragorn retorted, playfully jostling the younger man and causing him to drop his carefully folded tunic.
Before Faramir could retaliate, the two friends had to duck as a shower of water hit them and threatened to soak their discarded clothes. Súlion had emerged from the water and was flapping his wings joyfully. "Look!" the dragon exclaimed. "My wings are as fine as ever and so are my scales! The she dragons will still find me attractive!"
Aragorn could only manage the most cursory glance at the glossy black hide as the dragon was dancing for joy, if dragons could be said to dance. It did appear, though, that the Elven treatment worked as well for dragons as for the Children of Ilúvatar.
"Come let us go swimming!" Súlion cried, diving back in the water.
His enthusiasm was infectious. Aragorn and Faramir discarded the remainder of their garments and dived in too. Soon they were all splashing one another gleefully and all their cares were forgotten.
Suddenly, Súlion surfaced, then craned his long neck with a loud roar of delight. The dragon soared upwards without a backward look, and flew off into the distance.
"What is he doing?" Faramir asked in bewilderment.
"Look!" Aragorn cried.
Súlion was returning and he was not alone. With him were five other dragons, vividly hued in scarlet and orange. Fearsome plumes of flame issued from their open mouths.
Súlion had betrayed them! Why had he been so foolish? Arwen had been right the whole time. Now he would die without ever seeing her and his children again. Gondor would fall and all because of his blindness and folly. The dragon had lured them here far from the City to ambush them when they were at their most vulnerable, weaponless and near naked. There was no chance that these dragons could be friendly. They were of a like kind to Smaug. Súlion had admitted the fire breathers would eat man flesh! Aragorn was no coward, but he felt a sharp jab of terror. There was no way he could fight such an enemy and there was no chance of escape.
"We are betrayed!" he cried, springing from the water as he spoke, with Faramir close behind. Aragorn pulled on his clothes at break neck speed, not caring that he was dripping wet and that he was wearing Faramir's tunic and that his breeches were on back to front.
"I am sorry," said Faramir.
"Sorry for what, ion nîn?"
"That I counselled you to trust a dragon."
"The dragon beguiled us both, I hold you free from all blame," Aragorn said grimly. "Our ladies knew better than we did from the beginning. I doubt we shall see another sunrise, but we can die in the manner of our forefathers with honour and courage. Perhaps we can mislead them ere they devour us to give our people more time to flee?"
"Our ladies and children have a good chance of escaping," said Faramir trying to sound more confident than he felt. He turned to look at Aragorn and the two friends shared a swift, fierce embrace. They loved each other as dearly as father and son. That they were fated to see each other die so cruel a death was a harsh fate indeed.
Aragorn and Faramir picked up their swords and prepared to die together, side by side.
A/n There is a different version of the scene in the market place on my Web site under the title "Sticks and Stones."