"Those young women were at your public audience yesterday, too," said Arwen, as the throng left the Great Hall.
"There were even more of them today," said Aragorn. "I know not why. None of them had any problems for which they desired my help. It seems strange that young maidens should spend their time wanting to know the outcome of their fellow citizens' disputes and problems."
"Maybe they come to see you," said Arwen.
"See me? But why?"
"You are the most handsome man in Middle-earth." Arwen whispered in his ear.
"Only you would say that, vanimelda," the King replied with a laugh. "Even if they do find me attractive, I have eyes for none save you."
"I know you do," said Arwen. "I like it not, though, the way these women look at you, like cats preparing to devour their prey!"
"We cannot forbid them to attend my audiences for no reason," said Aragorn. "I am certain they will soon find something new to distract them."
"Faramir is currently in the City," said the Queen. "Why not ask him to be present at your next audience expressly to keep an eye on these women?"
"I will ask him if it pleases you," said Aragorn. "Now let us spend some time with Eldarion before the noonday meal."
Hand in hand, the royal couple made their way towards their private chambers.
Faramir approached the King as soon as the last of the folk had filed out after his latest audience. He was clutching a sheaf of parchments.
"I watched the young ladies," he said. "There were some not so young ones with them as well. Unfortunately, one of them noticed they were being observed, they left in haste, but one of them dropped a bundle of parchments on the floor. I seized them in case they were breaking the law."
"Everyone knows it is forbidden for any save the Court scribe to take notes during an audience," said Arwen. "The people who bring their problems to Estel deserve some privacy."
"Curious," said Aragorn. He glanced at the documents. "They do not look like notes. We will read these in my study after the noonday meal."
Within the confines of Aragorn's study, the King and Queen sat together on the couch, while Faramir settled on the King's comfortable chair.
"Perhaps you would read what is written on the parchments aloud," said Aragorn. "Then we can all learn the contents. Of course, if they prove to simply be personal letters, we will try to return them unread, or burn them if we cannot discover the sender."
Faramir nodded and started to read from the first of the parchments. "He had waited so long for this that every fibre of his being was filled with passionate yearning. It does sound like a love letter," he said. "Maybe we should..."
"If it were a personal letter, the writer would say "I", not "he"," said Arwen. "Please continue reading, Faramir."
"A raging fire burned within his loins that she and she alone could quench it," the Steward continued. He looked uncomfortable and smoothed a strand of hair away from his face. "When he beheld his beloved, he took her in his arms. She whispered endearments in his willing ears. His fierce kisses pressed her ruby lips closed. His hands found the fastening of her robe and unloosed it. Its silken folds fell from her slender frame, leaving her shapely form exposed to his hungry gaze. King Elessar drew her close and buried his face in her lustrous golden tresses."
"What!" cried Aragorn.
"Golden hair!" snapped Arwen "What is the meaning of this?"
"Elwen sighed with pleasure as his touch became more urgent. She fumbled with his robe and pulled the fastenings apart. They began to… "Faramir threw down the parchment with an exclamation of horror. "This is most unseemly!" he cried.
"It is outrageous!" said Arwen.
"I swear not a word is true," said Aragorn, taking her hand.
"I know, my beloved," said Arwen. "But the very thought of you and such a woman!"
"Read what the next parchment says, please, Faramir," said Aragorn quickly, desiring a change of subject.
Faramir rather reluctantly picked up another parchment and began to read. "The King strode into Queen Arwen's chamber, his whole being aflame with fiery longing. She sat waiting for him clad in a nightgown of finest silk. Overcome by passionate longing, he flung her on to the bed and ripped her silken garment to shreds with his bare hands. He began to….
Aragorn leapt to his feet, his face contorted with rage. "How dare anyone make such disgusting speculations about my private life!" he raged.
"As if Estel would ever treat me thus!" said Arwen indignantly. "My brothers would have killed him!"
"I am well aware of that," said Aragorn. "I swear though, I would strike a dagger through my heart ere I would ill treat you!"
"This one seems to have a different theme," Faramir said hastily. He began to read. "King Elessar drew his long shining sword and wielded it bravely, defending the four quivering Hobbits from the fearsome Balrog. He knew he must slay it. The Quest to destroy the Ring must not fail."
"I was not King during the quest and the Hobbits most certainly did not quiver," Aragorn objected. "And I certainly did not fight a Balrog. The writer has confused me with Gandalf."
"With one stroke of the gleaming blade, the fearsome winged beast fell to the floor. It writhed in its death throes like a fire going out. Sam was shaking with terror while Pippin was in tears. Merry looked as if he would run away while Frodo was paralysed with fright."
"What utter nonsense!" snapped Aragorn. "The Hobbits are the bravest of the brave. I have heard enough of this!"
Faramir put down the parchment upon Aragorn's desk and picked up another. He cleared his throat and began to read. "It was evening when he entered the Great Harem of Gondor. It was filled with beautiful voluptuous maidens in various states of undress. They lounged on great cushions sipping wine and eating sweetmeats. They wore filmy see-through gowns of sparkly material that showed off their shapely curves to perfection."
"The writer must be thinking of Harad," said Aragorn. "Either that or they are very misinformed about the members of the Haradrim community who dwell here."
Faramir continued reading. "Melwen, the prettiest of the kitchen maids in the Citadel, knocked on the door with a glass of wine for the King. She had dark curly hair and rosy cheeks. Her plain gown clung to her shapely form. When she entered, he drained the glass in a single gulp. The King looked at Melwen and cried, "By all the stars, above, Melwen, you are prettier than any woman here. I want you as one of my concubines! Chief concubine, go prepare Melwen for my bed!"
"This is absurd!" cried Aragorn.
Faramir continued."The chief concubine scrubbed Melwen until she glowed. She was very rough as she felt jealous as she wanted King Elessar to love her best of all. Melwen was doused in perfume smelling of roses and dressed in a see-through nightgown embroidered with precious jewels, then led to the King's chamber. She was very scared though she thought he was good looking. King Elessar jumped into bed beside her and ripped the bodice of her nightgown.
"Please, lord king," she begged. "I'm a good girl, don't hurt me!"
"I shall not hurt you, instead I will show you the meaning of pleasure," said the King. He kissed her and Melwen found he was good at kissing and she liked it. He began to...
"Outrageous!" roared Aragorn, slamming his fist against the table. "I would never abuse my serving maids, never mind keep a harem."
"I should think not," said Arwen. "What else is there, Faramir?"
The Steward picked up another parchment. This time he decided to glance at the contents before sharing them with the King and Queen. His face gradually reddened and he threw down the parchment in fury. "I cannot read this aloud," he said. "It is disgusting! It suggests that you ... The very thought makes me feel quite unwell. Read it for yourself, Aragorn, if you wish to know. I would not sully the Queen's ears with such filth. "
Aragorn picked up the parchment and his features darkened. "What manner of person could write of such depravity?" he demanded as he cast it into the fire. "Surely not one of those sweet faced young maidens? Are all these stories as bad, or Valar forbid, even worse?"
"This is the next one," said Faramir. "Brandishing his mighty sword, King Elessar led his armies through the southern and eastern lands, conquering them one by one. The Haradrim quailed in terror and threw down their weapons and begged the brave King to spare them. Soon he was lord of all Harad and…
"Stars!" Aragorn exclaimed. "I swore a treaty with Harad. If word of this reached the Kha Khan, he might go to war with us!" He took the manuscript from Faramir and threw it on the fire, watching until it was turned to ashes.
Faramir was thumbing through the remaining parchments frowning. Then he began to smile. "I rather like this one," he said. "It is about the King going amongst his people disguised as a pedlar and helping them."
"That is exactly what Estel likes to do when he is able," said Arwen. "He would not disguise himself as a pedlar, though."
"It is a trifle exaggerated, " said Faramir. "The King has not yet saved a maiden from being devoured by a dragon!"
"What happens next, though?" Arwen asked suspiciously.
"He reunites her with the soldier she is betrothed to," said Faramir. "It is quite a good story." He continued scanning the parchments. "This story seems quite charming too. It is about Aragorn seeking a perfect rose for the Queen to mark their wedding anniversary."
"I should like to read that one," said Arwen. "What a delightful idea and so like my Estel to be so romantic!"
"Then we will all read those two stories after the daymeal," said Aragorn. "And decide what to do about all this."
The King, Queen, and Faramir enjoyed a delicious meal that the royal cooks had prepared. Afterwards, they were in a mellow mood when they sat down together in Arwen's solar to discuss the stories. A servant brought them some wine.
"I have finished reading the parchments," said Faramir. "I did not find anything else of an offensive nature. Those I had not looked at were about adventures the King was supposed to have had on the Quest or in his youth. They were badly written and full of spelling mistakes, but they did not say the King did anything dishonourable, quite the contrary in fact. I would imagine the writers were very young or had had little schooling."
"Which suggests they were written by the young maidens who have been frequenting my audiences," said Aragorn. He took a sip of his wine.
"What do you plan to do about the stories that libel you?" asked Faramir, taking a sip from his own glass. "We cannot have such material circulating around the City. If the people believe the King lives a life of dissipation they could rebel. Then what family would allow their daughter to be a maidservant to the King if they thought he would defile her?"
"That is true," said Arwen. "The King and Queen must be seen to set a good example to all in every aspect of their lives."
Aragorn remained in thoughtful silence for a few moments. At last he said, "I do not think the stories can be classed as libel as they are so obviously untrue and have not been posted around the City. For example, everyone knows there are no harems in Gondor and the Haradrim are fierce warriors."
"What will you do then?" asked Faramir. "We cannot have such material left in public places like the Great Hall. What if it were to fall into the hands of some enemy?"
"I have thought of that," said Aragorn. "I shall issue a decree that such fiction must not be brought into any public place on pain of a fine and a public declaration that it is all a figment of the writer's imagination. It is not for me to decree what my people read or write in their own homes, though, whether or not I approve. Furthermore, I shall announce a story-writing contest with a prize of five gold coins. I would encourage those writers with talent to write something wholesome and fit for their King and Queen to read."
"You are very lenient," said Faramir, "I think those are wise decisions, though."
"I remember now that when I served under Ecthelion as Captain Thorongil, there were dewy- eyed damsels who would follow me around," said Aragorn. "I always made it clear that my heart was already given, but still they followed me. Eventually, I confided in the old Steward who told me that fanatics, or fans as they were sometimes called, were all part of being well known. He said that it brightens up the otherwise mundane lives of these girls to admire someone who does great deeds and they often like to imagine themselves as part of the story. He told me that it happened to him too as a young man."
Faramir nodded."It happened to Boromir too," he said.
Arwen continued to look troubled. She fingered her still full glass in her slender hands.
"You have my word of honour, beloved," he said. "Since I beheld you beneath the birches, I have desired no other and been true to you in body and soul."
"Those girls will follow you around at every audience, though," said Arwen.
"I doubt we will ever see them again," said the King. "I will give them a chance to claim their stories, but if they do not, I shall burn them after three days. Other over- imaginative maidens might take their places, though. It would not surprise me if there were not young men who wrote poems in praise of your beauty, vanimelda, and damsels who imagined themselves in love with Faramir. Maybe Legolas has his admirers too."
"Valar forbid they should focus their attentions upon me!" said the Steward.
Aragorn's words were proved right and never again did any of the women appear at his public audiences. Neither did anyone ever discover any more scurrilous documents. Many entries were submitted for the story- writing contest and if Aragorn thought the winner looked familiar, he remained silent on the subject.