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Hearts of Men  by Aelaer

A/N: This story is "AU" in the sense that on the probability scale of "likely to have happened" and "likely did not happen", this is much closer to the "likely did not happen" side. The latter side is rather fun to explore, nonetheless. This story was written to fulfill a really nasty political-angst plot bunny that has been biting on my ankle for a long time. To give you some sort of idea, I began writing snippets and outlines in 2008; the basic idea is older than that.

The genre of this story is "a book-verse political drama with a good dose of friendship, a drop of canon romance, a spattering of humor, and a few spoonfuls of action and angst". Secret ingredients may apply.

For simplicity's sake, dates are written with English month names and refer to days in Shire-reckoning (the same as in the LOTR Appendix B). All months have 30 days, and the two days with special names in between June and July covered in this story belong to no month. My thanks to the Shire-reckoning website for being a great tool for dates and the moon cycles throughout 3019.

Thank you to Cairistiona for the beta; it simply would not be what it is now without her help and wonderful nit-picking to make it really shine. A shout out to my friend C, who sat with me for a month, writing 50k words of fan fic. A big thanks to Nefhiriel for bouncing ideas back and forth in the early stages of this story, and for nurturing the plot bunny into what became this huge tree. Frankly put, if she had not been there, this likely still would only be a loosely sketched seed.

I hope you enjoy.


I never knew I had a twin. No one knew, not even the one who has my face. But the moment I first saw him, sitting on a great horse in front of a mighty procession, I knew that somehow the One had made a mistake; after all, how could I have a twin that was not of the same mother? He surely was meant to have another face, for my face solely belongs to me.

But nay, it now belongs to him as well, and for that I am cursed! He is much higher in class than I, and despite all of my struggles, I could never hope to be as exalted as he. Because he is of the higher ranking and of much greater renown, I am always compared to him; he is never compared to me. I don't believe he even knows of my existence.

"You just need to trim the beard," once said an old crone to me, "trim the beard, and grow out your hair a little longer. And carry yourself with more confidence, like he does. Then you'll look exactly like our lord."

Our lord, indeed! This outlander, this stranger that my countrymen so readily accept! They forget that they have known me for years. They forget our laughter and our tears and readily replace my face with his. "You look exactly like him," old friends say. But does he look exactly like me?

Bah! All of this nonsense because of his lineage. If he were but another man I'd retain my identity. He would look like me, not I like him. But no, this world is not a just one. I have lived in this fair city for all of my life and have established my identity through the many long years— yet a royal foreigner struts in and, within a couple of months, manages to take all that I have worked for. I am not me anymore; I am simply a commoner who looks like our new king.

I thought this sense of lost identity would fade with time. I continued on with life, and worked as hard as any man in the City. In time, the comments came less frequently, and those that were made I learned to brush off more easily than before. But still they eat at my heart, and I cannot forget that he has replaced me. I am not myself anymore; I am simply a look-alike of Elessar.

I wish I had the power to change his face. It would retain its fairness, but it would be distinctly his and not mine. Would I change my own features if I could? No, no, why should I? I was born in this city and established myself here long before he did. My face solely belongs to me. As it is, I have not the power to change the shape of life.

Despite my lack of power, I know that I must do something as my thoughts continue to darken. My life simply cannot continue as it is going, for I want to be the only one who possesses my face— my identity. My twin cannot continue to exist within the picture.

I do not care what life I live; I would be content as a beggar at this point of time if I only could have my identity once more. Wherever I end up, this I do swear: I will take back what is mine.


All of my OCs, and most canon characters mentioned, are included on this list. The list is spoiler-free of any events that happen in the story (other than, of course, what happens in LOTR: ROTK, the book).

High Lords/Ladies
Aragorn Elessar - King of Gondor and Arnor. Also known as Estel (his childhood name) and Elfstone in the story. Once traveled to Gondor as Thorongil.
Arwen Undómiel
- Daughter of Elrond; queen and wife of Aragorn. Also known as Evenstar.
(mentioned) - Brother to Faramir; died during the Quest of the Ring.
- Lord of Lórien, father-in-law to Elrond.
- Son of Elrond, twin of Elrohir.
- Son of Elrond, twin of Elladan.
- Lord of Imladris, father of Elladan, Elrohir, Arwen. Foster-father of Aragorn.
(mentioned) - King of Rohan, brother to Éowyn.
(mentioned) - Sister of Éomer and future wife of Faramir.
- Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien.
- Lady of Lórien, mother-in-law to Elrond.
(mentioned) - Cousin of Aragorn; died in the Battle on the Pelennor Fields.
(OMC) - Son of Halbarad and Steward of Arnor.
- Warden of the Keys of Minas Tirith. Cousin of Faramir. Rules Minas Tirith in the absence of the King, Queen, and Steward.
- Prince of Dol Amroth of Belfalas. Faramir's uncle.
(mentioned) - Only daughter of Imrahil. Eventually marries Éomer.

Members of the Council of Gondor
- youngest son of Imrahil, cousin of Faramir, representative of Belfalas.
(OMC) - Son of Angbor; father is a lord of Lamedon.
(OMC) - A lord from Lebennin.
- Son of lord of Ringlo Vale.
(OMC) - Lord of Anórien.
(OMC) - Son of Hirluin, representative of Green Hills.
(OMC) - Lord of Pelargir.

Members of the Council of Minas Tirith
(OMC) - One of the guild-masters of the Merchant's Guild.
(OMC) - Head of the Stonemason's Guild.
(OMC) - Head of the Woodworking Guild.
(OMC) - One of the guild-masters of the Merchant's Guild.
(OMC)- Master of the docks of Harlond.
(OFC)- Head of the Jeweler's Guild.

Members of the Guard
(mentioned) - Captain of the Steward's White Company.
(OMC) - Member of the Royal Guard.
(OMC) - Captain of the Royal Guard; father of Galerthor.
(OMC) - Son of Galdir; guard of Minas Tirith.
(OMC) - Son of Halbarad, kinsman to Aragorn; member of the Royal Guard.
(OMC) - Lieutenant of the Royal Guard.
(OMC) - Dúnadan and kinsman of Aragorn; member of the Royal Guard.
(OMC) - Guard at the Citadel.
(OMC) - Captain of the Citadel Guard.
(OMC) - Member of the Royal Guard.

(OMC) - Citizen of Minas Tirith; cobbler.
(OMC) - Warden of the Houses of Healing (who was unnamed in the book).
(OMC) - Elf of Imladris; friend of the Queen
(OMC) - Lord Chamberlain of the King's House.
(OMC) - Citizen of Lossarnach; servant.
- Wizard, also known as Mithrandir; member of the Fellowship of the Ring.
- Healer in the Houses of Healing.
(OFC, mentioned) - Elf; sister of Elthalion.
(OMC) - Citizen of Lossarnach; stable hand.
(OFC) - Citizen of Minas Tirith; servant.
(OFC) - Citizen of Minas Tirith; wife to Galdir.
(OMC) - Secretary to the King.
(OFC) - Citizen of Minas Tirith; servant.
(OMC) - Citizen of Lossarnach; sword-master.
The Tutor
(OMC) - Citizen of Minas Tirith; scholar and tutor.

Chapter 1: Establishing Foundations

June 3, 3019 TA, late evening

It was a few minutes before the normal closing time. Bregon was already shutting down his small shop for the night; it was rare for someone to come in so late in the day, and today he expected no last-minute customers. When the man heard the small bell above the door tinkle, he raised his head up in surprise; he was nearly done closing shop and was not in the mood to deal with anyone at the moment. Nonetheless, business was business, and so he dutifully went to the front of the shop to see who was visiting at so late an hour.

He was astounded to see that, rather than a normal citizen such as himself in his shop, he was graced with the presence of what could only be described as a wealthy lord. The man looked to be several years younger than he was, yet the rich, colorful material that he wore was surely more valuable than anything he had ever owned in his life. Despite the fact that the man was at least a head shorter than he, his countenance spoke of confidence and power. Shaking himself out of his amazement, Bregon blinked and bowed deeply to the stranger. "How— how may I help you, my lord?" he asked.

The lord gave him a kindly smile. "Do you have some time to spare?"

"I— uh, yes, my lord, of course. How may I be of assistance?"

"Perhaps it would be best if we spoke in a more private setting," he suggested.

"Of course, my lord." Bregon led the lord upstairs, where his own bare private residence was above the shop. "May I offer you some refreshment?" he asked after the man had taken a seat. He dearly hoped that he would not ask for anything; Bregon had a hard time filling his own stomach already and could not spare food or drink.

His guest looked at the humble settings expressionlessly and replied, "I am well. Please sit down." Bregon took a seat across from him, wondering what in the world this nobleman had to say to the likes of him.

"How is business?" he asked conversationally.

"As well as could be expected in these times, my lord," Bregon replied. The recovery efforts to rebuild the country's economy were underway, but everyone knew that it would take years before Gondor was stable again. He considered himself lucky that he even had a place to own, unlike so many others.

"I see," the other man replied sympathetically. Bregon doubted he was sympathetic; what could a man of his type know of a commoner's plights, after all? He said nothing in response.

The lord smiled at the uncertainty that flashed across Bregon's eyes. "You doubt my compassion?" he asked with a raised brow. The cobbler was about to protest, but the man stopped him. "No, no, I understand! After all, what could someone of my status know of your troubles? You know my colleagues care little for the hardworking tradesmen of Gondor. I, however, am not like my colleagues."

He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "No, my fellow noblemen care little for people like you; they do not understand your struggles to make enough just to feed yourself. They dine like ravenous pigs at the delights that the Citadel always offers now that we have a king again." At the mention of the king, Bregon's eyes darkened. "You look remarkably like Lord Elessar, my friend."

"So I have been told," Bregon said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

"You rue it?"

"It— it is difficult to explain, my lord."

"You do not yet trust me, I see," the lord said, but rather than scorn Bregon still saw compassion in his eyes. "It was not chance that brought me here, Bregon— do not look so surprised!" he laughed as the other man startled at his name. "I am not the only one who knows the name of the cobbler who bears an uncanny resemblance to the King. As it is, about a fortnight ago you went to a tavern where you drank with one of my servants. He relayed your plight to me, and I was moved to come see you myself."

Bregon vividly remembered waking up with one of the worst hangovers some days ago, but could not remember the actual night that caused it. "I do not remember the encounter, my lord."

"Then I shall tell you what my servant revealed to me. He told me that he met a man that, at first glance, he thought to be the King. He soon found out that he was mistaken, but the subject was brought up and you poured out all of your feelings for our lord and your woes concerning the resemblance you two share."

Bregon, now thoroughly alarmed, stood up and looked at the lord with complete horror. He knew his thoughts about the king, and he knew that such thoughts were certainly treasonous! Now he knew the true nature of this visit.

The lord looked at him with pity. "I understand your fear, Bregon, but I spoke the truth; you do not need to fear me. I am not here on the behalf of Elessar, nor will this conversation reach other ears. Please sit down."

Bregon, still shaking, slowly sat down, his horror not yet abated. "How much, my lord?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"How much do I owe you for your silence?"

To his amazement, the lord let out a hearty laugh. "Oh, my good man! My apologies. I do not wish anything from you, and you need not buy my silence. No, Bregon, I rather came here to aid you."

"To aid me?"

"Yes. I am completely sympathetic to your plight, and both my servant and I agreed that what you have suffered throughout the last few weeks is unacceptable."

"You do?" he could not help but blurt out.

The other smiled. "Of course. After all, you have lived here much longer than King Elessar; who is he to claim your face? Since you have endured such hardships, I wish to help you."

Bregon immediately became suspicious. "What is the catch?"

"The catch? There is no catch! And as a symbol of my good will, I give you this." He untied a small purse from his side and put it on the table. Bregon heard the loud clunk as the coins in the bag bounced against one another and he could not help but stare at the pouch; the weight itself was enormous! The amount in there would surely feed him for a month!

"I do not understand," Bregon could only say as the lord pushed the pouch towards him. "Why me?"

"Why not you? Besides," the lord said, lowering his voice to a whisper, "you and I share similar opinions about Elessar." His tone became normal once more. "If you wish to listen to what I have in mind, I would have you come to my dwelling on the sixth circle on the morrow. You can, of course, think it over— you need not make a decision now! Please use tonight to make your choice; I will send one of my men tomorrow to come and escort you when the bells toll four times. If you do not wish to come, simply tell him."

"I— of course, my lord. I will certainly think your invitation over."

"Good." The lord suddenly stood. "However, I must be on my way now. I do hope you come; I think you will like what I have to offer. Have a good night, Bregon." With that, the man stood and left the small room. The small tinkling bell noted his departure and the cobbler remained sitting, still as a statue, his eyes unseeing as he absorbed all that had just happened.


June 4, morning

Bregon did not sleep well that night. After the mysterious lord left his home, he looked through the bag and could not even begin to add up all of the money that was in the purse. It was more coin than he had ever seen in his life, and he quickly confirmed its authenticity by comparing the money with what little was in his possession. Even if the coins were not real, the appearance and toughness of all the money in the bag would be accepted anywhere.

After putting the purse in a safe place under a loose floorboard, he had closed his shop, eaten a meal, and gone to bed early, questions rolling through his mind. Who was this strange lord and was he truthful when he said he wanted to help him? Did he truly dislike Elessar or was he actually a spy for the man? What would this lord do if he refused to go with his servant on the morrow?

Despite all of these concerns, Bregon did manage to finally fall asleep and woke at the toll of the first bell that came near sunrise. It was then that he made his decision. He did not want to see what happened if he denied this mysterious and likely powerful lord who had many resources. For all he knew, he would end up stabbed in the night if he did. There was also the small part of him that was not afraid of retaliation but rather interested in what this lord had to offer, especially when it came to his comments concerning Elessar.

And, in the end, Bregon had little to lose. He had no family that could be threatened, and no property that he particularly cared for. His shop was all he had, and what the lord had already given him last night was double the amount of all he owned.

He wanted to see more.

Just as was promised, a man came into his shop shortly after the fourth ringing of bells. He was well-dressed for a servant, his dark hair was short and neat, and he did not look wanting in health; in other words, he looked much better than the cobbler.

"Greetings, Master Bregon," said the stranger with a short bow. "I am Falasgal, representative of my lord whom you met last night." Bregon also bowed in greeting, but kept silent. "Do you wish to meet my lord once more?"

"Yes, I would, if he still wishes to see me," answered the cobbler, unsure if he would be glad or disappointed if the lord was not interested anymore.

"Then come with me, Master. I imagine my lord will keep you preoccupied throughout the day, so you may want to close shop." Bregon nodded and, as they stepped outside, pulled out a key and closed his small store for the day. They then started the long journey up to the sixth level, where, Falasgal explained, his lord resided.

"You likely do not remember me, but I am the one who drank with you at the Old Guesthouse some days ago," said the servant. Bregon was startled by the revelation, and also a little fearful; had he truly said as much as the lord last night had implied?

Falasgal seemed to read his mind and he smiled gently in response to the alarm on his companion's face. "You need not fear me, Master Bregon. I take little interest in higher politics, and only reveal what I hear from those in the City to my lord, for he is interested in the thoughts of others. He was fascinated by your remarkable resemblance to the King; at first I thought you were him!" He chuckled.

Bregon forced himself to relax and smile. "I am afraid drink loosens a man's tongue and has him say things that are untrue," he said, trying to defend himself against whatever he said that night.

His brown eyes only sparkled knowingly. "As I said, Master, I take little interest in politics or what others believe; I merely do what I must to earn an honest wage to keep myself and my family fed."

"You have a family?" Bregon asked, immediately jumping on the chance to steer the conversation away from himself.

Falasgal smiled. "Indeed, I do. I have my wife, two daughters, and three sons. They, however, are not here in the City; they live near my lord's estate in Lossarnach, which is located near the Crossings of Erui a few leagues south of Minas Tirith. I came with him to the City for the coronation, and while I expect we will leave within a few weeks, he did not leave as soon as I thought he would."

Already they had passed the second level gate and Falasgal had just politely called out the password for the third. The third level of the City was the highest Bregon had ever been in Minas Tirith and he was interested in seeing what the higher levels of the City looked like.

"And what of you, Master Bregon? Do you have a family?" asked the servant.

Bregon's eyes darkened. "Not anymore. My parents are dead. My wife bore me a son many years ago; it was the second baby that killed her. My son died in a skirmish in Osgiliath last year."

"I am sorry to hear that," said Falasgal, sorrow evident in his expression. "Your life has been a bitter one."

The cobbler said nothing in reply, and the two were silent as they continued to the fourth and fifth levels. Falasgal indeed knew the passwords for the levels, but Bregon kept his attention on his surroundings. The fourth level was made up of many shops that he doubted he could afford, and he knew that tucked in some areas of the level were homes and some of the more upper-class guilds, such as the Jeweler's Guild. On the fifth level were some more shops, but it was the private residences that dominated the level; many were larger than any home he could ever afford. He also noted that the higher levels were cleaner than the first and second levels, which simply could not stay tidy due to the constant amount of people ambling through the streets.

It was the sixth level, however, that astounded him. He did not even notice the double-take that a few of the guards shot him, so amazed was he by the beauty of this part of Minas Tirith. While he was no artisan, the architecture was painstakingly detailed and he could not see how anyone could not appreciate the large mural right beyond the gate. He was not sure what the scene was supposed to be, but it showed a tall, dark-haired man taking a fruit from what could only be the White Tree. The background, however, was nothing he had ever seen in Minas Tirith. Bregon had little time to closely inspect the mural as Falasgal beckoned him to continue forward.

They turned left as they entered the level and to the left, close to the gate, he saw a group of buildings surrounded by many trees and flowers; indeed, that one spot seemed greener than all other spots in the City. The scent that came from the area all but stopped him in his tracks. He could not remember the last time he had ventured out of the City and the smell completely overtook his senses.

"Those are the Houses of Healing," said Falasgal. "It is the fairest place in Minas Tirith, save, perhaps, the gardens of the King which few have seen."

They quickly passed the houses and, within a few more minutes, stopped in front of a large abode that was on the southwest part of the sixth circle. Bregon absorbed its largeness and took in the carved relief above the doorway with greedy eyes as he followed the other man through the door.

His eyes widened as he looked around the main hallway. It was rich, rich beyond anything that he had ever seen in any building. He barely heard Falasgal's order to wait as he took it all in. The tapestries, the paintings, the vases with the flowers— he did not recognize the flowers— the fine carvings on the wood. This lord certainly loved fine things, whoever he was.

Falasgal soon returned with the mysterious lord in tow. "Bregon! I am so glad that you accepted my invitation," said the smaller man.

"I found little reason to refuse, lord," said Bregon. "Forgive me, my lord, but I never learned your name."

"My apologies," said the lord with a smile, "I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Balandor. But come," he said suddenly, "it is a little early for the noon meal, but the walk from the first to the sixth level is tiring, and I imagine you are hungry now."

Bregon nodded. He had not left his shop to buy more food just in case the lord's servant had come early, and the food he had for the morning meal had been sparse.

Balandor nodded knowingly and led him into the dining room while Falasgal disappeared and left the two alone. Soon servants came in bearing more food than Bregon had seen at a table in years. He watched silently as he was served a large piece of meat and a bowl of soup; to his disposal were also different fruit and vegetables as well as bread. There were various spices on the table for his enjoyment as well. Spices. He seldom could afford salt, never mind salt, pepper, and other seasonings that he did not recognize.

He waited until the lord began to eat before he cautiously began to cut into the meat he was given. Venison, he discovered at the first bite. When was the last time he had venison?

When Bregon first tried the wine, he was immediately delighted by the taste. It was better than anything he had ever drunk in his life.

"Like it?" asked Balandor.

"It is wonderful," the other man admitted.

"It is my own creation," said the lord with a smile. "I am a wine merchant, you see. My estate in Lossarnach is surrounded by vineyards that have been with my family for a few generations. Before that, however," he paused briefly, "my family was nothing." Bregon put down his glass and glanced at the other curiously. "You see, Bregon," started the lord, "while I was born in my position, my great-grandfather had not a copper to his name. He did not let this unfortunate situation stop him, though. He worked in the vineyards of the estate that once belonged to a childless lord, and this lord noticed my ancestor and his hard work. The story goes that they became closer, despite the class difference that lay between them, and by the time my great-grandfather married the lord took him in as his own. He inherited the land at his lord's death, and it has been with his descendants ever since."

Bregon nodded, but confusion was evident in his eyes. "Why do you tell me this, my lord?" he asked.

"You work hard," said Balandor. "It was evident, considering the hour you closed for the night. Yet you, like many in this country, have fallen on hard times and are not rewarded properly for hard work. My great-grandfather was not caught within the middle of a war, nor did he lose his family to death. Yes," the younger man added in response to Bregon's surprise, "Falasgal told me what you told him, and I am only more convinced you deserve aid."

"I am grateful, my lord," started Bregon slowly, "but I am hardly the only one to lose my family in this city, and most folk work long hours. Why choose me?"

"Because," Balandor replied, "you are the only man in Minas Tirith who has not only lost his family, but his identity as well." The other man said nothing to this. "Life has been cruel to you; I want to reward you for what you do, despite the fact that it would have been easier to give up."

"One must work to feed oneself," said Bregon.

"There are plenty who have resorted to stealing," the other argued. "So what say you? Will you accept my aid?"

The cobbler was silent as he glanced at what he had just eaten. The food was delicious; better than any of his meals in many months. He knew that this Balandor would expect something out of him in return, though he was not sure what yet. Bregon found, however, that he was curious to see what would be demanded out of him— and, of course, he wanted more meals such as this.

"I will," he replied, and Lord Balandor smiled.

"Excellent. Once you are finished with your meal, we will begin."

Bregon frowned. "Begin with what?"

"Your lessons, of course. The only way your life will improve is to further yourself in society, and the only way that will happen quickly is if you are taught what you need to know."

He nodded. He had no idea what this man planned on teaching him, but he found himself more and more intrigued by what he was offering, even if one day it would all come with a price.

For now, he did not care. The day of payment would come when it would come, but for now he would try and enjoy himself and the fact that, for the first time in months, he was full after a meal.


June 4, afternoon

One month. It had been a little over a month since the day he was crowned, and the days had passed with little time for him to mull over his new life. Throughout the first weeks he was busy meeting emissaries from countries far and wide, as well as passing judgment over wrongdoers. He had expected embassies from old enemies who wished for peace, but he was surprised to see that even a small, ragtag group representing Dunland had come the day before the Rohirrim had set out to leave. King Éomer, too, had looked surprised, but any wrath he held against them for their past actions was put aside in Elessar's court.

Each day was busy with countless meetings, court hearings, and other public functions that left him with little time for himself. Any spare hours he did have he spent with the Fellowship and Faramir, which was too often not enough time. Each day— often late in the night— he would retire, and he would fall asleep before any thoughts could invade his mind.

But for the first time since May 1st, he found himself without any urgent meeting, an embassy to greet, or a court to proceed over throughout the afternoon. For the first time in many weeks he found himself contemplating other things rather than business or Arwen.

Arwen. He had said nothing about her to anyone, not even to his fellow companions of the Fellowship. Gandalf knew, of course, Legolas likely had guessed, and certainly some of the remnants of the Grey Company knew something. However, very few in Gondor were aware that he had given his heart to a lady, and already he was being offered many a woman's hand.

None of the offers, of course, were outright suggesting a union— other than that one uncomfortable incident with one of the chieftains of Khand— but he was no fool. He was well aware of the subtle flirting from many a lady of Gondor and his fellow Dúnedain heard everything said out of his hearing, and most of them were quite happy to report the rumors to him.

Meluion— the most carefree Dúnadan to ever walk on Arda— was the worst. He knew about the betrothal long before many others, but that did not stop him from reporting every single incident he heard. The fact that he knew he was distantly related to him ("Through Arassuil's third daughter," he'd proudly claim) and that he was over thirty years older did not help matters whatsoever.

"Now, my lord," he would start in a hushed tone when there was a chance, "I may be growing older, but I am certain there is something amiss here."

"What is it?" Aragorn would ask, both eager and reluctant to pursue the conversation. It was easy to recognize when Meluion was jesting, and the laughing glint in the eyes told the king all he needed to know.

"That lord you just spoke with— did you see his daughter?"

Oh dear. "I did."

"Well, she had that look in her eye. If you aren't careful, you'll be finding her trying to climb up to your balcony. But do not worry; I already have a guard for that position covered."

Yes, Meluion was certainly a character.

Still, he was glad that the older Dúnadan was by his side for the coronation. Seven other Dúnedain should have been there as well, but they had perished in the last days of the war, whether from being struck down in battle or breathing their last in the Houses of Healing. He remembered each man of the Grey Company that fell, but most often his thoughts turned to Halbarad.

Halbarad should have lived to see the days that he had dared to dream about. He was a most encouraging and supportive companion, and as he became older, was not afraid to rebuke his chieftain. Halbarad should have been the Steward of Arnor. In the end, Aragorn knew that his cousin would have likely not enjoyed the position and would have handed it off to his son as soon he was able so he could ride to Gondor and be at his king's side.

Or, at least, that is what Aragorn told himself now every time his thoughts strayed to him. Halbarad, after all, had always wished to pass in battle. "If I must go, then let me go fighting," he would say. His wife knew this and loved him all the more for it. Nonetheless, the days after Frodo and Sam had come back from Mount Doom, when he had finally allowed himself time for rest, those thoughts gave him no comfort then, nor did they now. They were just as little comfort as the tears that he had wept when he finally let the grief of his cousin's departure fall upon him.

In the end, Aragorn would rather have had Halbarad live to see his great-great grandchildren.

Since the end of the War, thoughts concerning his friends and loved ones went often through his mind. None of those subjects, however, were at the forefront of his thoughts currently; rather he contemplated where he should spend his time for the next few hours. That evening he was supping with the Fellowship in their house on the sixth level, and he planned to spend the rest of the night with them. Aragorn had already given them the time he would be arriving; he did not want to abruptly drop by, especially if the hobbits were cooking some sort of surprise. They did that for him as often as they could, and it touched him; he did not want to ruin the moment.

The king thought about going over some more paperwork— there was a great stack sitting before him— but he quickly tossed aside the thought. This was the first afternoon in a month in which he did not have any scheduled plans; he was not going to waste it with work that was not urgent. He and Faramir had covered the most pressing business within the first couple of weeks of May; if anything truly pressing came up, he would be informed.

As his mind went to Faramir, he suddenly knew what he wished to do that afternoon. The two men had often enough worked with one another during council sessions and through countless hours of paperwork, but he still knew little about the man himself. He wanted to know Denethor's younger son, Boromir's beloved brother, and the steward of his realm. He wanted there to be a mutual relationship of trust and friendship between them, and so far it was not quite there. That needed to be remedied.

Aragorn rose from his desk, opened the door and, with a nod to the guard at the doorway, left his office to find Faramir. He found his steward exactly where he thought he would be: his own study. The king rapped on the closed door, and after a clear "Enter!" peered inside.

"I hope I am not disturbing you," he said in greeting; Faramir had not lifted his eyes from his paperwork.

The younger man looked up in mild surprise to his liege-lord, but quickly masked his emotions and stood to greet him. "Sire, you are not disturbing me at all. How may I be of service?"

Closing the door behind him, he quickly cleared the distance between them and took the seat across from his steward, indicating with a nod that the other man was free to sit down. Faramir sat, his expression neutral, but a small light of curiosity was kindled in his eyes.

"How is your shoulder?" he began, indicating to the area which the Southron dart had hit him. "I haven't had a chance to see it since I returned from Cormallen."

Faramir seemed surprised by the question. "I believe it has now fully healed, my lord. There is no pain in the area."

"Good," said Aragorn with a nod. He sat back, relaxed, his glance on the slightly stiff posture of his steward. A less wary man would not note it, but already he was beginning to pick up the mannerisms of the younger man. Faramir, he suspected, was just as observant.

"I ask for no service at this time," he finally answered, "but merely ask for your company." If Faramir was surprised by this statement, he did not indicate it. His posture did not change, however, and so Aragorn continued, "Long hours have I worked with you these past weeks, Faramir, and yet beyond matters of state we have spoken little of other affairs. I have heard highly of you from many and already you have proven your worth throughout the War and beyond it. I would know the man who is to rebuild Gondor with me."

The younger man studied his king's relaxed demeanor and sincere eyes and relaxed his own guard. His first impression about the new king was correct; he was a good man. As Faramir had recovered, he did not wear his heart so openly to the king, unsure if his fevered dreams had seen the truth about him. This side of him, though, this side he had not seen since the day Elessar had healed him.

"What do you wish to know, sire?"

The king shook his head. "I would have you call me by my proper name, Aragorn, at the least in a private setting, if nowhere else."

Faramir allowed himself to smile. "Aragorn, then. What would you know?"

"All thoughts, any thoughts, anything you wish to speak about. I have the afternoon free, and I hope to spend it in time well used in the company of my Steward— that is, if there is no pressing work for him."

Faramir laughed heartily. "All work is pressing, and yet none of it pressing enough! Nay, gladly will I spend my time in leisure with you." He shook his head. "Any and all thoughts indeed! I will confess that most free time I have to think has been spent musing about a beautiful lady."

Aragorn's eyes lit up. "The daughter of Rohan still holds your heart and mind captive? Good, good, that is how it should be. Never before have I seen such joy within her as I saw in her last days within the City."

"Glad I am for her joy, and glad I am that King Éomer and you blessed our marriage."

"There is no reason not to bless such a union," said Aragorn. "Political advantages aside, the joy was evident when you two were with each other."

Faramir nodded and was silent; Aragorn, however, saw that something was still on his mind. "Feel free to speak your mind, Faramir. Is there something you wish to tell me?"

The steward slowly nodded and paused, as if trying to figure out the best way to word his thoughts. "Often, my lord, have you evaded the question of marriage when brought up by the Council."

"Just Aragorn, please," he said, "and I have. But there is a lady, as you may have guessed."

"So I did," said Faramir. "And are there heirs?"

"Not yet, no. The lady and I have yet to wed."

Faramir was surprised by this, though he kept it to himself. "Shall I tell the Lord Chamberlain, then, that there is to be a wedding planned?"

"I beg you, not yet. If plans must be made, I would ask you to make them, if you can. I will tell you when others may be told, but until that time comes, please keep it to yourself."

"It shall be done as you wish," he said with a slight bow.

Aragorn smiled. "And what of your own union? When do you plan on announcing it?"

"Éowyn and I decided to announce it when we are together again; Lord Éomer wished it to be after the funeral of King Théoden, so it will most likely be then. We will marry when our abode in Emyn Arnen is near completion."

"I heard that the construction has already begun."

"So it has. Beregond and a small company are overseeing the protection of the workers; there is rumor that some orcs still prowl Ithilien."

Aragorn nodded, frowning. "So I heard. Hopefully it is only rumor." His frown disappeared as he glanced at Faramir with slight amusement. "Speaking of guards, where on Middle-earth did you find a man like Galdir?"

Faramir chuckled. "His ancestors have long been Guards of the Citadel; his grandfather was a part of my grandfather's Guard, and for a short time, my father's. His father was one of few guards assigned to protect the White Tree, and Galdir, before your arrival, was assigned in the Great Hall in the White Tower. He is very alert and quickly rose through the ranks. I could think of no better."

"No better, indeed," said Aragorn, shaking his head. "The moment I step outside of my house or the tower I find him right behind me. It's quite disconcerting, and I have yet to escape his scrutiny."

"His grandfather was something like that, or so I have heard," said Faramir with a nod.

"It is uncanny," he argued. "He must understand that I will not be assassinated the moment I leave a building."

The younger man chuckled. "It has been a long time since we've had a king, lo— Aragorn," he corrected himself. Aragorn smiled. "I imagine that he and others of your Guard will be very protective for a while."

He sighed. "Well, at least I will have Meluion to keep me company and make light of the situation." Faramir searched his memory for the man who fit the name; he had seen little of the Dúnedain who accompanied Aragorn. "He is my kinsman who is most likely to make me both grimace and laugh at once," the king helpfully added.

The steward's grey eyes lit up in recognition. "Ah, yes, I spoke with him once. He was very merry. Will any of your other kinsmen stay here in the South with you?"

"One other: Halvagor, youngest son of my late cousin Halbarad. His eldest brother will be taking the Stewardship of Arnor."

Faramir nodded. "Halborn, yes, we have met. He is an intelligent and honest man. I met Halvagor once, but did not speak long with him."

"He speaks little, but when he does, it does well to pay attention. An excellent and observant warrior; Galdir seemed pleased to have him in my Guard, though he is still not sure what to make of Meluion." A chuckle escaped him.

Long throughout the afternoon the king and steward spoke about any and all matters that did not surround issues of the state, and as the day wore on they learned a little more about the other and began to respect one another more than they already did.

Soon enough the dinner hour came, and Aragorn realized that he needed to depart soon in order to make it in time to the Fellowship's guest house on the sixth level. As he stood to leave, he suddenly said, "Faramir, do you wish to join me for supper with the Company? I know the hobbits would be delighted to see you again."

"I do not wish to intrude—"

"Nonsense. A phrase common among hobbits is 'the more the merrier', and I know that everyone would be glad to see you once more. The hobbits cooked tonight, that I know, and they delight in sharing their creations."

Faramir smiled. "Very well then; I shall be pleased to sup with you and your companions this evening. Never before have I been treated to a meal made by the periannath."

"There is little better than a hobbit-meal, my friend, that you shall learn soon."

Quick notes:

*Dúnadan is singular for Dúnedain, and the Dúnedain are basically the remnants of the people of Númenor. For simplicity's sake only the Northern Rangers (characters Aragorn, Meluion, and Halvagor usually) are referred to as such in the narration of the story.

*The mural Bregon sees when he entered the sixth level is a depiction of Isildur taking a fruit from Nimloth, the White Tree of Númenor before it was cut down.

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Chapter 2: Healer's Hands

June 4, afternoon

After luncheon Balandor led Bregon to a small, but comfortable parlor. There Bregon had been prompted to discuss his history: his childhood, early adulthood, and his days during the War. The lord, it seemed to Bregon, had tried to identify with him and make him more comfortable by relating his own tale: he had inherited this house and his estate at the age of twenty, but unlike other young men of that age, had not squandered it away but managed to earn money during the difficult times before the fall of the Dark Lord. Despite being a few months away from thirty years he was not yet married, though the cobbler would not have been surprised if he had had more than one woman try and catch his attention.

This attempt to identify with him, however, only made Bregon more suspicious. Before he could figure out anything meaningful within the lord's back story, Balandor moved the conversation once more to the other man.

"Do you know Sindarin?"

"Of course, my lord," Bregon replied, keeping himself from bristling in anger. "I, like all children born and raised in Minas Tirith, learned the tongue."

"That is well," said Balandor. "Did you learn to read and write?" he asked with a raised brow.

"Well, the basics," he answered, the lord's gaze making him feel like a fool. "In Westron, at the least. I read better than I write."

"Then you shall be taught to write and read both languages fluently," was Balandor's only comment. "All my servants who have wished to learn have been taught."

"Is that my fate, then, for your kindness?" he asked suspiciously. "Bound to servitude?"

Balandor only shook his head sadly. Bregon noticed that his infuriatingly perfect sandy hair didn't seem to go one hair astray with the action, an observation that made him even more annoyed. Caught up in his irritation, he nearly missed the lord's next words. "You are free to leave whenever you wish, my good man. I do this for your own betterment only; I seek nothing from you that you do not wish to do. Now come, I shall introduce you to your tutor, a dear friend of my family who resides here within the City. For our best interests, you shall not know his name, nor he yours." Bregon snorted softly at the comment, but his former annoyance turned swiftly into intrigue and he stood up and made to follow him.

The shorter man suddenly stopped at the parlor door and turned to the other. "This may sound like an odd request, but I would ask one thing of you if you wish to continue coming here." A small surge of what could only be described as an oddly placed triumph burst through Bregon. He knew that the other man wanted something out of him! Before he could remark on this, Balandor continued, "I would ask that you do not trim your beard for a while." With that he opened the door and left the parlor. Bregon blinked and, realizing that his jaw was hanging open, closed it and quickly followed the other man. Despite its complete oddity, he saw no harm in following that request.

The cobbler was led to a room that turned out to be an office with a small collection of books— more books, Bregon realized, than he had ever seen in one place. Paper was expensive and he knew few people who owned more than a couple books. Beyond the books there was also a desk with two chairs; at the desk, the man suddenly realized, an elderly man sat.

"Master Tutor," said Balandor in greeting. The old man stood and smiled at the young lord before glancing at Bregon expressionlessly. He said nothing as Balandor explained the extent of Bregon's knowledge to him, and only nodded in acknowledgement at the end of his speech.

"Very well, then," the tutor said to the lord, "I will see what I can do." Balandor nodded and, with a reassuring look in Bregon's direction, left the room, closing the door behind him. "Come, Master Pupil, sit down." Bregon, with one last glance at the door, took the chair on the other side of the desk to face the old man.

"You know Sindarin, then," the tutor began, surprising him by speaking in the grey tongue.

"Yes, so I told Lord Balandor," Bregon answered in the same tongue, a slight frown forming upon his features. The tutor saw the annoyance and only sniggered.

"I doubt you use it in everyday business," he stated frankly, once more in the language. "Not many do now, not even among the lords. We shall commence this lesson and all lessons henceforth in Sindarin until you can recite the old tales in this tongue in your sleep."

Bregon, to his even greater annoyance, found that he did not understand one of the words the tutor had spoken, even though its meaning was quickly apparent at the end of the sentence. He did not mention this, however, and only nodded.

"Very well, then," said the tutor. "Let us start from the beginning. Lord Balandor said you knew your letters; do you know how to read runes as well?"

"Not as well as letters," he admitted. "Most shops just paint the letters on signs these days."

"Verily I know," the tutor muttered. "Always Mankind trots the simpler road— ah well!" He shook his head as he pulled out a scroll. When he unrolled it, Bregon found the letters written in rows on the top of the paper, and below them were rows of runes. "While in this tongue we call these alphabets Tîw and Cirth, their names in the High Elven tongue, Quenya, are Tengwar and Certar. What you may find interesting is that rather than changing the vowels in plurals as Sindarin does, Quenya usually just adds an 'r' or 'i' at the end of a word, thus making these singular letters and runes tengwa and certa." Bregon said nothing; he did not find this information nearly as interesting as the old man thought it was.

The lesson continued for a couple hours, and throughout the period Bregon's mind wandered from the tutor's detailed speeches to his own thoughts, and often his mind turned to Balandor. He did not trust this lord, no matter how benevolent he made himself out to be. Nonetheless, even though he had great doubt concerning the other's intentions, he found that he had no wish to leave. A part of him was curious to see what this Lord Balandor wanted out of him— this session with the tutor certainly was not free— and the food he had for luncheon was better than anything he had eaten in years.

He did not care about the consequences of his trust. Right now he was enjoying himself too much to mind what the future held for him. Right now he would enjoy his blessings, even though he knew Balandor would demand something out of him sometime soon.

Who knows, maybe he would even willingly comply with his demands.


June 7, afternoon

Despite his position in the kingdom, Aragorn planned to make sure that he always had time to go to the Houses of Healing and, if possible, the other sick-houses in the City at least a couple times a month. The month of May had been busy, but nevertheless he had managed. June looked to be just as demanding as May, but he knew the significance of his presence in the Houses and within his heart he was a healer before a politician.

The Warden of the Houses always greeted the king with pleasure, for ever since his return the Houses had flourished. Elessar always made it a priority for the storage rooms to be well stocked, and when he visited the spirits of both the healers and the sick lifted.

"Good evening, Lord Elfstone," the tall, soft-spoken man said in greeting as Aragorn and his personal guards came. The two men of the Guard kept themselves at a discreet distance as the king greeted the Warden.

"Good evening, Durvel," replied Aragorn with a smile. "How have been these past weeks?"

"Quiet, most thankfully, my lord," he replied. "Both spirits and health have been high in the City, and we only have two new long-term patients. A woman is recovering from surgery and the boy— well, the boy has a case of amnesia and can't remember his name, where he is from, and other such details; it is an unfortunate situation."

Aragorn raised his brow. "Amnesia? How did he come to be here?"

"He was found on the second level three days ago by a fairly wealthy widow. She attempted to tend him herself, but when he did not recover quickly she had him brought here last night. She said he reminded her of her son who died in the War."

"Too many lives were lost and households broken in the fight against the Enemy," muttered the king. "Perhaps I may be of assistance. Is he awake?"

"I believe so; Ioreth should be with him. This way, my lord." Aragorn followed the Warden deeper into the building until they came to a small room. Durvel quietly opened the door and allowed the king inside before following him. Inside the room, sitting up in a bed that made his small frame look even smaller, was a boy about seven or eight years old. His hair was a dark sandy color, a rather unusual color in the dark-haired populace of Minas Tirith. 'Hopefully it would make finding his family somewhat easier,' thought Aragorn. Beside him was an old wise-woman whose grey hair and wrinkled skin betrayed her age, for her eyes still twinkled and her mouth still flew as fast as a young girl's. She looked up and paused for half a moment to see who entered the room, and her eyes sparked in delight to see her liege-lord.

"Lord Elfstone! What a wonderful surprise your lordship decided to come in today. This boy here, now he just came in last night and as I was asking him questions I thought, 'Now this would be something that our king can heal'. And now you have come, just as I believed you should! I'm afraid the poor lad doesn't remember much at all, not even his name, but he did just reveal this morning that he remembered a white building. Now I told him then that is not much help, seeing as the whole city is made of white stone—"

"Indeed so, Mistress Ioreth," interrupted Aragorn, a smile forming across his features. "I might be able to help him, if I may sit down."

"Oh, of course!" She stood and curtsied quickly to him and he sat down in her place. "Like I said, my lord, he really doesn't remember much at all, and I reckon it is due to the large knot on the right side of his head—"

"Thank you, Ioreth, you have been an invaluable aid," Durvel cut in, years of developed patience keeping the sarcasm out of his voice. "I don't suppose you could boil a pot of water and find a couple leaves of athelas for Lord Elessar?"

"Of course, of course." She curtsied once more and quickly left the room. The king shot a knowing look in the Warden's direction and then turned his attention to the boy, who was looking at Aragorn with a mixture of wonder and fear.

"You need not be afraid, lad," he said softly with a warm smile. "I will not harm you."

"Are you— are you really the King?" the boy whispered, his tone so soft that Aragorn had to strain his ears to hear it.

"I am."

"I— I remember watching you come into the City with my older brother and sister," he said.

"You have older siblings? Do you remember their names, how old they are, or what they look like?"

"I— I am not sure, sir. I just remembered them right now," he confessed. "I think they have darker hair."

"I see," said Aragorn thoughtfully. "I will see what I can do to be of aid." He gently took one of the boy's hands in his left, and his right hand settled upon his brow. "Relax, young one, and close your eyes. This may feel a little strange, but it will not hurt. If you feel the need to sleep come upon you, do not fight it."

The boy took a deep breath and closed his eyes, and as he felt the child relax, Aragorn closed his own eyes. As the king slowly exhaled, his mind became blank and his thoughts disappeared while his soul searched for the one under his right palm. In another part of his mind he felt the small hand in his left palm reflexively grab his finger, but the grip soon relaxed as the child became used to this new sensation.

As the lad further relaxed, Aragorn delved deeper into his mind. Upon the surface there was little more than confusion and fear, but beyond those he quickly found what he was searching for. Rather than a fabricated world as he often saw in the delirious, what he found himself in now was rather a recent memory, with the world around him appropriate for the height of a child. He was running through the market on the first level, and when his arm came up Aragorn saw that he was holding a package of some sort. He stopped in front of a booth selling various colors of cloth and gave the package to the girl in front of it. "Lunch from Nana!" he heard a young voice echo through his head.

The girl, likely a few years older than the boy, smiled and gladly took the package. "Thank you! Tell Nana that it has been the best day this week; I won't be home until the guards kick us out at this rate!" His head shook up and down eagerly before turning away and running back through the busy market once more. In another part of his mind, Aragorn heard a door open and the shuffling of feet.

His eyes suddenly opened and he lost his connection. He blinked twice to regain his bearings, and Aragorn found himself once more in the Houses of Healing. The boy under his hand was asleep, and at the door were Ioreth and Durvel, a bowl of boiling water and a few leaves in the former's hands.

The king smiled, straightening himself and accepting the bowl and leaves with a small nod. "His memories were not far within him. I believe he will regain most of his memories within the next few days, though he may never remember how he received that knot on his head." He breathed upon the leaves of athelas and crushed them into the bowl, leaving it on the small table near the boy's head. "Perhaps this will help him."

He quickly described the scene in the boy's memory, and the Warden listened carefully. "I will send a runner to find her today. The market does not yet close for a couple hours yet." With that, Durvel bowed slightly and left the room.

Aragorn stood and Ioreth took her place once more beside the boy's side, gently bathing his forehead in the athelas-immersed water. The king smiled at the scene before taking his own leave.

After checking upon the other patients and finding them to be resting peacefully, Aragorn left the Houses, his guards following his lead. He glanced back up at the way that led to the Citadel, and then glanced beyond the sixth gate and the road that led further down into the City. "What say you, Halvagor, Lachamdir, to a short visit to the sick-houses on the third and first level?"

Halvagor only nodded his head in agreement, but Lachamdir's brow furrowed, his concern obvious. "Captain Galdir shall not be pleased with the short notice, my lord."

"For all intents and purposes, lieutenant, we are still within the Houses of Healing." With that, the king turned and passed through the gate to the fifth level, nodding in acknowledgement to the gate guards who saluted as he passed.

Lachamdir raised an eyebrow in surprise and glanced at his fellow guard, the king's kinsman; he looked completely unperturbed by Elessar's sudden whims. "Has our lord always been as such?" he could not help but ask.

Halvagor's lips may have twitched, but the lieutenant could not tell; the man was always stoic and rather quiet. Most of the Northern Dúnedain he encountered were, now that he thought about it.

As they made their way to the sick-house on the third level, Lachamdir could not help but wonder about the odd mannerisms of his liege-lord. Before the king's return, he was a part of Steward's Guard, and rarely did he see Lord Denethor leave the Citadel. When the steward did have an outing, it was usually to the sixth level only. While he was courteous to the Guard, Denethor spoke little with them, and certainly never became familiar with those who were there for his protection.

Elessar, however, was completely different. He spoke often not only with his two kinsmen who made up the Royal Guard, but the rest of them as well, and on a regular basis. When he wasn't working he would leave the Citadel as often as possible, whether to walk around the City with other members of the Fellowship or to merely visit his people. Already the king had said to Lachamdir that he did not see his people enough. The lieutenant recalled two trips into the lower city since his crowning; Lord Denethor was active when he made two trips in a year.

Both Meluion and Halvagor were unmoved by the king's slight oddities; Meluion had once said that it was "what made Aragorn interesting". Interesting indeed! He was not sure if he would ever get used to it.

Still, he did have to admit to himself that he did not mind it at all. It may even be said that he was beginning to enjoy the king's moments of spontaneity, even though he knew that his captain was doing his best to discourage them.

From what little he knew of Elessar, Lachamdir doubted that Galdir would succeed in it. One characteristic the king was well known for around the Citadel was that he was firmly set in a few of his ways, and his desire to see the citizens would not be something that the Captain of the Royal Guard could ever abolish.

It was, in the end, one of the qualities that made Elessar so beloved of his people.


By the time Aragorn reached the third circle, word had spread before him that he was coming. Crowds were already gathered around the fourth gate, and the guards were having a bit of a difficult time keeping a clear path from the third to the fourth level.

Aragorn had encountered a few people on the fifth level, and more on the fourth, but the number of citizens on the third increased tenfold. The guards, in the end, did manage to clear some sort of path for him, and most of the people were content to step aside and bow their heads in greeting. Some asked for blessings for them and their children, and the more bold ones asked to kiss his hand. The king acquiesced with these requests, and so the time it took to get to the sick-house was long and slow. Nonetheless they reached it, and Lachamdir and Halvagor stood outside of the doors to keep curious onlookers outside while Aragorn checked on those inside.

The sick-house on the third level was a large, two-storey building that, rather than many separate rooms like the Houses of Healing, had two large rooms for the sick split by a hallway on the first floor and smaller rooms for storage, healers, and their wealthier patrons on the second floor. The house was much cleaner than it was the last time he visited; he was glad that the keeper of the sick-house followed up with his advice.

There were more patients here than in the Houses of Healing, though the number was fewer than his first visit to the house last month. He saw a couple people with head wounds sustained from an accident a couple days ago on the second level, a young child with a father who had no spare time to care for her, and other various injuries and illnesses on a variety of people. The king checked upon each patient and spoke to those who were awake. He gave instructions for those who needed different treatments, as well as supplied some herbs when he saw a few of the storeroom's supplies wanting. As the lands became less polluted with evil, he expected that the variety and amount of healing herbs would increase.

It was late afternoon when he finished and there were only a small number of onlookers waiting for him. The lieutenant looked at him expectantly as he exited the building.

"It is becoming late, my lord," said Lachamdir, his dark eyes nervously darting around the area. "We should start heading back to the Citadel."

Aragorn, however, shook his head. "I will see the house on the first level before I head back. There is over an hour of daylight left." He said no more as he turned and started his way down to the first level of the City.

The king greeted all he passed by courteously, but this time did not stop for requests as he went down to the sick-house. It was becoming dark and he was to dine with friends later that night and did not wish to be late. He would not, however, neglect the poorest of the healing houses within Minas Tirith.

The house on the first level was near the second gate, and so the trip was notably shorter than the one from the Houses of Healing to the third level. His Guard stood once more at the doors as the king entered the building.

The structure was a little smaller than the one on the third level, but often it was much more crowded. Its design was similar to the other one as well, but the beds were a little smaller and there were several more of them in the rooms. The small rooms upstairs were not used for any patients, but rather for some of the healers who chose to live there as well as for storage. There was no need for single bedrooms for the patients who came here, for if they were that wealthy they would stay at the less crowded sick-house on the third level.

Aragorn was relieved to see that there were fewer patients than when he came the first time. There had been many still recovering from wounds they had received in the War, and there had not been enough beds for everyone there. While it was still crowded, the difference was notable. The king saw that this house, too, was markedly cleaner.

"How may I be of assistance, lord?" asked a young woman as she approached. While she was dressed as one who worked there, Aragorn did not recognize her and it seemed to him that she did not know who he was, either. Other than his fine dress, he bore no items that told of his identity.

"I am here to check upon the condition of your patients. Is the master of this house here?"

The woman appeared confused by his answer, but answered, "I'm afraid the master— my father— is out seeing to a call. I am keeping the house while he is away."

Aragorn only nodded and entered the first large room to see some of the patients for himself. She followed him, her confusion deepening as he looked to every person in the room. It seemed to her that he had some training as a healer, however, and so she merely followed him and answered his questions.

He was speaking with the final patient in the room when suddenly another healer hurried in. "Mistress!" she said, not sparing the well-dressed stranger a glance in her urgency. "The man that came in a few days ago with a rash, he is back and is not well!"

The other woman followed the frantic healer down the corridor, Aragorn not far behind them. In the open doorway supported by his surprised guards was a tall, semi-unconscious man.

"What happened?" Aragorn asked before the woman looking over the house could.

"His steps were slow and wandering as he came here, my lord," said Lachamdir. "We asked his business and he nearly fell on Halvagor." The other guard only nodded in confirmation.

The healer led them to an empty bed in the other large room. The other patients in the room who were awake looked upon the group with open curiosity, but did not interrupt them.

"He has been here before?" the king asked the two women as his guards set the man on the bed.

"Aye, lord," said the master of the house's daughter. "He came here wondering about a rash on his chest that was not going away with ointment. He already had a slight fever then, but he did not wish to stay and only purchased some healing herbs. He was nothing like this."

The man suddenly cried out and lashed out at the other woman who was cooling his brow with a wet rag. She managed to avoid his swinging hand and stepped back as the two guards held him down at his shoulders and wrists. He weakly struggled against them for a moment before he completely lost consciousness.

"Quick, mistress," said Aragorn to the startled woman as she went to cool his brow once more. "Bring me a pot of boiled water." The woman glanced at him and, at a confirming nod from her superior, nodded and left to do as bid. Aragorn, in the meanwhile, sat down beside the man and checked his pulse and felt his forehead. He did not even need to lay his hand on his brow to feel the heat emitting from the sick man. The king gently lifted the shirt from the man's chest and frowned at the bright rash that was spread across it and was already starting to spread to his arms and legs.

"Bless me," whispered the young woman, "it looks as if he has putrid fever."

He nodded. "Do you know his name?"

She seemed startled by the question. "I do not."

"Very well, then." Taking one of the man's hands in his hand and putting the other on his brow, Aragorn breathed in deeply and closed his eyes as he lost contact with reality to try and find the source of the man's illness.

To those around him he became grey in pallor and his breaths became slower as he fell deeper into his unique healing trance. The mistress of the house did not even note the return of the other healer with the water at first, so mesmerized by the sight she was. Never before had she seen this type of healing; indeed, she had never heard of such a thing. She did note, however, that the two guards did not leave as she expected them to. When she took a closer look at them, she realized that they did not wear the livery of most guards, but rather had on their chests the image of the White Tree with some sort of helm above it. She did not dare break the silence to ask them about it, though.

Suddenly the sick man took a deep breath, and Aragorn opened his eyes. He swayed slightly but waved back one of the guards who went as if to assist him. "I am well." He saw the pot of water and from his pocket drew a small pouch, and from there he took out two leaves.

"Kingsfoil?" the woman asked before she could stop herself.

Aragorn only shot her a small smile before he breathed upon the leaves and crushed them in the water. A wholesome scent filled the area, and to both healers it was a completely new experience; never before had they seen the plant used in such a way so effectively. The king took a clean rag and dipped it into the water and began to bathe the rashes.

"Who are you, lord?" the young woman finally asked. "You are skilled as a healer, but are unlike all other healers I have ever met."

Aragorn said nothing as Lachamdir looked upon the young woman in surprise. He did not realize that there were citizens of Minas Tirith who did not know the livery of the King's Guard.

"The hands of the king are the hands of a healer," said Halvagor. Lachamdir was surprised by the fact that the man had spoken, but his surprise was nothing compared to the shock the two women faced.

"Lord Elfstone!" said the young woman with a deep curtsey. "Forgive me for not greeting you properly; I only arrived in the City recently and did not know you by sight, and my father did not say you were coming today."

"The visit was unplanned," was Aragorn's only response as he finished bathing the angry red skin. He felt the man's forehead once more and was pleased to find that the fever had lowered. He doubted it would break for a few days yet, for it did seem that he had putrid fever, but at the least it would not jump as high again.

Aragorn had his guards wait outside as he checked upon the rest of the patients, and the sun had just set when he exited the building. The king saw easily that Lachamdir was anxious about the hour and was following closer than usual as they made their way back to the Citadel.

"You must calm yourself, lieutenant. Even if there was someone waiting to come and stab me in the dark, I have no doubt that you would see him before he saw me."

Lachamdir thought that was a terrible thing to jest about, and Elessar easily read his thoughts. Rather than saying anything, however, he only lightly chuckled and they continued their way up through the City.


June 10, evening

Bregon did not trust Lord Balandor. He did not trust him at all.

He could not, however, stop visiting him; every day Falasgal came down to his shop to see if he wished to go to the sixth level, and every day Bregon followed him.

The cobbler knew why he kept on agreeing to come with Balandor's servant. Although the slight fear of the consequences if he denied the lord was still there, his true motivation for going was the food and wine he received every time he went. The food every evening was absolutely delicious, and the wine— he could not say enough about the wine!

And, if he were to be quite honest with himself, the sessions with the tutor, which he had every day he went, were interesting. The tutor was finally satisfied with his basic knowledge of letters and that day had him begin copying and reading aloud, in both Westron and Sindarin, passages from some of Balandor's many books. His handwriting he found to be rather atrocious, but the tutor had only said something about more practice.

Interesting lessons aside, it was the bounteous meals that made him eager to return to the sixth level. Even if Balandor was away at some affair or state dinner, Bregon ate just as well as he did in the company of the lord. During these times he would dine with Falasgal, who turned out to be just as good company as he was during their long hikes from the first to the sixth level. Throughout none of these dinners thus far had he eaten with anyone other than the young lord or the manservant; even the nameless tutor disappeared every day after their session. And while the cobbler saw other servants around the household often enough, they did not interact much, if at all, with him.

All, that is, except for Maldes, the head of the household staff. She cared for the house both when Lord Balandor was there and when he was at his estate; she was one of the couple servants who actually lived in the large house permanently, and had so for many long years. She knew well her place in the staff, and was not afraid to scold Falasgal for lounging around and often gave him various tasks to keep him busy.

That evening Balandor was at the Citadel for dinner and so Bregon ate with his servant. Falasgal had also been given a good amount of the lord's best wine to drink that night, and the cobbler was all too happy to help finish it up.

They were on their third bottle, Bregon helping himself to most of the drink and with no indications of stopping anytime soon, when Maldes came into the parlor where both of them lounged. She glanced at the bottles in disapproval.

"Going about stealing our lord's stash of wine, are you, Falasgal?" she accused with a raised brow.

"You know as well as I do that he allowed me full access to it," the man replied with a grin.

"Nonetheless you should be slowing down," she said with a pointed glance at the bottles. "The night is still early."

"I have had little to drink myself, my dear Maldes," answered Falasgal. He glanced at Bregon, who looked more relaxed than usual.

The woman followed his glance and studied Bregon, an odd expression appearing upon her face as she did. "You look very familiar, Master Bregon, though I am certain we have not met before you started coming to this house. Have we met before?"

Bregon's face suddenly darkened, and Maldes, rather than waiting for an answer, took that look as a good reason to excuse herself and leave the room. Once she was gone, the servant spoke.

"Your face could curdle milk, Master Bregon."

"You know the reason why!" he ranted, a slight slur in his voice. He grabbed one of the bottles and began to drink it down quickly.

"Slow down, friend!" Falasgal said gently as he took the bottle away. "You already have had much to drink of this strong wine."

"I need it," Bregon spat. "Here I am, still replaced by another identity even when the woman knows not who the other face belongs to! 'Look familiar' indeed! Bah! Why should Elessar be a familiarity when he has been in this City for not even two months?"

"It was just a statement, Bregon," said the servant softly. "She meant no harm."

"I know that," he replied with a wave of his hand. "It does not mean that my hate for Elessar has lessened. He should go back to wherever he came from and leave me at peace. Or, better yet, someone should kill him and—"

"You certainly have had too much to drink," Falasgal interrupted. "Come, I will take you home, but do not speak on the way down to the first level!"

Bregon grumbled under his breath, but pushed himself up and, slightly swaying, followed the other man out of the parlor. He was silent and brooding as they made the long trip down to his home, and Falasgal was content to let the silence sit between them.

When the servant finally returned to his lord's home, Balandor was back from his dinner.

"Bregon left early," he said in greeting.

"Aye, my lord," answered Falasgal. "He started on the drink earlier than usual."

"A problem, to be sure," said Balandor thoughtfully. "Was his tongue as loose as it tends to become?"

"Looser," he replied. "He said things about King Elessar that, if repeated to another, would have him charged for treason."

"No different from the other times."

"Nay, my lord, it was. Never before has he mentioned the death of Elessar bringing him joy."

The young lord raised his brow. "Death of Elessar? Indeed, Falasgal, that is a most treasonous thought. No others heard it?"

"No, my lord." The older man paused in hesitation as if unsure whether to continue, but his lord encouraged him to speak his mind. "Lord Balandor, I am unconcerned with higher politics, but I am concerned if these politics bode ill for you."

Balandor chuckled. "You sound now like Maldes, Falasgal. Do not be concerned."

'After all,' he thought, 'all is going according to plan.'


*My medical knowledge is rather limited, but that is what the internet is for. "Putrid fever" is the old name for typhus, and while there are different types of typhus, their symptoms are very similar and their origins (mostly flea, rat, and lice feces that enter the body) are very similar. The real world also doesn't have athelas or healing hands of a long-lost king, so I did take some liberties there on how much it would help.

*Tolkien did not give us many details on how athelas or Aragorn's healing powers worked, and I do interpret these rather freely.

*Tolkien did not give exact numbers on who learned Sindarin, but my inference of Bregon, a common man, knowing the language comes from the Sindarin spoken by Gondorrim of Minas Tirith in Return of the King and this in the Appendices: "by the time of the War of the Ring the Elven-tongue was known to only a small part of the peoples of Gondor... these dwelt mostly in Minas Tirith... and the land of the tributary princes of Dol Amroth".

And it is this chapter where you see why I put a character list in the prologue XD There are... a lot of characters.

Unfortunately I am not getting reviews from this website in my email, so I'll check back manually. Hopefully you all are getting alerts about my updates.

Oh, and you guys should know: by the time you see chapter four, I'll have changed my username. So yes, it will be me, but... a new me! XD I am changing it to a Sindarin name, I like Sindarin over Quenya...

Chapter 3: Distractions

June 21, evening

For over two weeks Bregon made his way up every day to the sixth level with Falasgal to Lord Balandor's home, and each day he found himself caring less about the consequences that all the free food, drink, and tutorage he was receiving would bring. His meals and lessons in the lord's home were far better than anything he could expect working in his shop all day, and his frequent nightly visits to the Old Guesthouse with what little coin he had could never compare.

While Bregon still did not know why he was being taught how to read and write fluently in two languages— and the tutor refused to say anything on the subject— he eagerly took in the free knowledge. Within two weeks since the beginning of the lessons, he showed a remarkable improvement. It was not long after this two week mark that Balandor invited the cobbler to stay at his home permanently for as long as he wished. Bregon quickly took up the invitation and closed his shop for an indefinite period of time.

The man was still suspicious about the whole situation, but as each day passed he allowed his guard to drop further. He certainly did not consider Balandor a friend, and he doubted the lord considered him as such either, but their relationship was cordial. Indeed, what Bregon truly liked about his situation was that he was being treated as if he were some noble guest. He could get used to the living arrangement. His only request so far— that he not shave his beard— was an odd request, but certainly not taxing.

That night it was only he and Balandor— and several bottles of wine— in the parlor. The topic of conversation quickly took a more thoughtful turn as the lord discussed some of his ideas for Minas Tirith and Gondor. Bregon found himself nodding in agreement to everything the other said, though if he were to be honest with himself, he did not understand a good half of it even sober. He had his strengths and weaknesses, and the finer tunings of politics was never one of his strengths. As the night wore on and he continued to help himself to generous amounts of wine, the politics became more confusing.

"What do you think, then, of Lord Hirion's proposal?" asked Balandor at the end of one of his long rambles. There was a slight frown on his face, for despite his question, he was sure that Bregon was beyond the point of thinking coherently. The other man failed to notice the expression.

"I agree with you," the cobbler slurred, shaking away some of the dark hair that fell in front of his face. "I agree with you on your— your position."

"The King has yet to name his own decision on the idea," said Balandor, "but I fear that he will not agree with me."

"The idiot!" Bregon shouted. "He should always listen to you, you know. You know Gondor. You help Gondor. You should be ruling."

Balandor laughed, his bright eyes twinkling in amusement. "I do not want to rule the country, Bregon. The question, however, is if you would want to rule, should you have the chance."

"Sure," the older man nodded with a lopsided grin. "And I'd name you my chief advisor, and we'd rule the land and make it rain gold!"

"You have interesting ideas, my friend," said the lord.

"Friend, eh?" Bregon laughed dourly. "Friend. Never thought I'd be friends with someone like you."

"But friend I count you, nonetheless," countered Balandor. "I do not give free lodgings to just anyone."

"Hmm." Bregon glanced at the other man darkly, an undisguised hint of suspicion in his grey eyes. "Free lodgings? I'm still wondering when I'll be made to pay for all of this." He watched the wine glass in his hand as if it were some enemy about to attack him, and after a long moment, set it down, his unsteady hand nearly tipping the glass over.

"Bregon," started Balandor seriously, "I have been providing you food and drink for over two weeks now. If there was a forced price to pay for all of this, I would have brought it upon you much sooner. You will not be compelled to do anything that you do not wish to do."

"But you want something of me," the other argued. "Tell me. Tell me now."

"I do," Balandor admitted with a small smile, "and I will tell you, but not just yet, and certainly not when you are in this intoxicated state. Nonetheless, I doubt you will disagree with my ideas; indeed, you might like them more than I."

"Curious," was his only response. He stood, slightly unsteady and did not spare the lord another glance. "I will retire for the night, then. I want to be alone." He left the room without another word. Balandor watched him leave, and when the door to the parlor closed he turned his attention to his own glass, his thoughts far beyond the shimmer of the red liquid.


June 24, early afternoon

Throughout the last few days the king had been distracted, and while most around Elessar did not notice this, Faramir had keen eyes. The distraction did not come often, but nonetheless it did come, and when it did his liege-lord's eyes would stare unseeing for a mere moment before returning to the present. Often when this happened he would look to the North.

When these brief episodes started to come more frequently, the steward took counsel with Mithrandir, the only other whom he dared to speak with about Aragorn at this time.

The wizard had smiled. "Your brief time of illness did not ruin your perception, Faramir. Indeed something distracts him, though few know of it. Do not worry!" he said when he saw the concern upon the young man's face, "he is well, and you will soon learn why he turns to the North."

This distraction, however, would never come during council meetings. Always Elessar had his mind on the conversation at hand, and his gaze pierced through every man in his presence. Never once had Faramir seen the other man raise his voice in council, and he hoped to never see that day. Many lords of Gondor who had not participated in battle had come back to the City once Sauron was defeated, and they were not afraid to test their new liege-lord, despite the support he had from the steward and the Prince of Dol Amroth. It angered Faramir, but Elessar always managed to handle all subtle tests thrown at him by others.

Faramir wondered, though, if he would see Elessar raise his voice today, for the lords were especially insufferable this meeting. There had been little on the agenda for discussion, for the king had wanted to do what he only called an "experiment".

"Experiment?" Imrahil had raised his eyebrows in surprise.

Aragorn had smiled. "A true man's nature can show when he chooses the topic of conversation."

So far the results were not promising. Once the items on the rather short agenda were discussed and decided upon, the king had asked what sounded like a simple question: what was, in their opinion, the most urgent topic to discuss next? The king's secretary, Mithor, had shot a brief look to his liege, clearly wondering if Elessar knew what he was getting himself into.

The steward wondered himself if he did, for the question was sure to let tongues fly as quickly as they could. And, as he expected, few lords seemed to agree with one another on what was urgent.

For one, the lords of Minas Tirith and the lords from other parts of Gondor did not see eye to eye with one another on seemingly any issue. Lord Eradan, the head of the Woodworking Guild in Minas Tirith and a rather loud, boisterous man had spoken first, ignoring looks from some members of the Council of Gondor who believed that the men of the Council of the City were below them and had no right to speak before them.

"I worry about the state of Ithilien. While I realize we still have soldiers fighting in the woods, I don't believe we have enough men. Already there have been attacks on those traveling in the area and I fear for the people's safety."

"The only thing you fear for is the safety of your wood," Lord Siranor of Pelargir had retorted with a snort. "The only men there are your lumbermen looking to make a swindle off honest citizens."

Lord Eradan looked deeply offended by the comment, but Lord Iorgil, an older, heavily tanned man who watched over the docks of Harlond outside of the City, had laughed. "Perhaps, my lord, but you do not live in Harlond and have not seen the refugees looking for a crossing to Ithilien, believing it completely safe now with the Dark Lord vanquished."

The debate had continued between the three for a while longer, only ceasing when the king had stopped it. Many members from both Councils looked relieved, but the slightly agitated expressions returned when the young lord Galabor of Anórien stood to speak. Aragorn only raised an eyebrow as Galabor said his piece. Imrahil turned his head, though whether to conceal his amusement or frustration Faramir could not be completely sure.

"We have already discussed this, Lord Galabor," said Elessar calmly. "We will look into this matter in the future, but there are more pressing concerns than changing the mint of Gondor's currency. And when we do," he added, "there is no reason to put my image on it."

Galabor looked disappointed but did not argue, for which Faramir was thankful. The almost worshipful way the lord from Anórien treated the king bothered not just a couple of people in both Councils.

"There is, my lord," started Angmoth of Lamedon tentatively, "a matter which I hesitate to bring up, but has been on many of our minds."

Elessar looked to Angmoth and nodded at him to continue. His father, Angbor, had led a great many troops from areas around the coast and came to Minas Tirith after the Battle of Pelennor Fields; his son had marched on to the Black Gate. Angbor had returned home to look after his own people and had allowed his son to represent him and their homeland.

The younger man was still for a moment before he said, slowly, "There is the matter, my Lord King, of securing your position as soon as possible. There has been no word, of, well—" He paused, as if unsure as to how to say it.

"What he means to say, my lord," said Lord Camaen of Lebennin with a slight smile, "is that most, if not all of us, wonder when you will name a queen."

The king's secretary put down his quill as he glanced at his lord, his curiosity getting the best of him. Mithor shot a look at Lord Húrin, Warden of the Keys and friend for many a year, to see if he knew anything on the subject, but the other man seemed just as curious as everyone else in the room.

Aragorn kept calm as he looked at the two lords. "Rest assured, my lords, that there is nothing to be concerned about, nor anything that needs to be discussed on this issue."

"Then there is a woman?" Bavanor, head of the Stonemason's Guild of Minas Tirith and nearly as renowned for his girth as the late Forlong the Fat, asked with a raised eyebrow.

Faramir watched as lords Hador and Balandor, both part of the Merchant's Guild, exchanged glances, but diverted his attention back to his liege to see how he would respond. He knew that there was someone, though he had yet to discover who it was. He was sure, however, that she was not yet in the City, and likely not yet in Gondor. Other than that, he was just as ignorant as the rest of the people in this room on the matter. Still, Elessar had managed to evade the questions for the last few weeks, but never before had it been asked in a council session.

"There is," he answered, "but that is all I will say on the matter."

Hushed conversation and murmurs flew around the large table as the king gave the confirmation, but Bavanor did not seem to hear— or simply ignored— his last part of the sentence. "We should know who it is," he argued. "There is no reason you should not tell the Councils— unless she is of an inferior nature," he suggested.

Galabor and Imrahil stood in their anger, and many other lords had expressions ranging from fury to utter shock as they looked at the outspoken man. The king was completely still, though those who knew him well saw that he was merely restraining his rage. Faramir saw the anger in his thinned lips and clenched fists, but said nothing.

It was, surprisingly, a woman's voice who broke through the stillness.

"It is not our place to question our lord's choice of queen," said Lady Mirdegil, head of the Jeweler's Guild in the City and the only woman part of either Council. "Nor, Lord Bavanor, is it our place to determine whether she is worthy or not. We are here to determine policies that will bring prosperity to Minas Tirith and to Gondor, not to gossip about proper choices of spouse." She fell silent again, but the small, lithe woman and her soft, but firm voice left the room completely still.

"We are done for today," finally said the king, and it was not difficult to see that he was furious. "Dismissed."

There was only the sound of the scraping of chairs as the members of the two Councils bowed and, without a word, left the room. The only ones who stayed were the king, his steward, his secretary, and Imrahil.

"How dare he!" said Imrahil angrily once they were alone. "He should be thrown out of Minas Tirith for his insolence!"

"It is tempting," was the only thing Aragorn said on the matter. He turned to his secretary. "You are dismissed, Mithor. I shall meet with you later to discuss tomorrow's agenda."

"My lord." The man stood, bowed, and quietly left the room.

The Prince of Dol Amroth was still red in the face but said no more on the subject and was not prepared to until his liege-lord brought it up. Aragorn, however, simply forced himself to unclench his fists as he stood and paced the council room. He stopped as he reached the window that looked to the North and gazed out onto the Pelennor. His rigid figure began to relax, and it seemed to Faramir that the king almost slumped, something he had never seen the man do before.

"Sire?" Faramir asked uncertainly.

Aragorn turned to acknowledge him, but when he was only greeted with silence, he turned and left the council chambers.

Imrahil's anger dissipated into concern as he watched the king leave. He turned to his nephew, his brow furrowed in worry. "What foul mood has taken Elessar? Never have I seen anger turn to sorrow so swiftly, and his anger was justified."

"I know not," said the steward. "I know not."


Balandor swiftly returned to his house and found Bregon practicing his writing. For a man who was practically illiterate a month ago, he was learning quickly more complicated Westron and Sindarin text as well as calligraphy. He still had a ways to go, but Balandor hoped that by the summer's end he would be adept in reading and writing both the Common Tongue and the Grey Tongue.

"You are back early," Bregon said in greeting.

Balandor ignored his hidden question and rather sat down, deep in thought. Bregon looked annoyed by the gesture but knew better than to try and pry any information out of him; the younger man would not say anything he did not wish to say. "I heard something worthy of note in the council today," he finally spoke.

"Yes? What was it?"

"Elessar has a lady."

Bregon raised his head from the parchment in surprise. "He is married?"

"He did not say if she was yet his wife, just that there was a woman."

"Interesting." He turned his head back to the parchment. "Any idea who she is?"

"Likely an unannounced arranged marriage with one of the lord's daughters, though I cannot begin to fathom why he does not speak about it. They could still be sorting out her dowry. It may be Imrahil's daughter, or Angbor's youngest; they are both attractive women."

"You do not think that it is someone from wherever he came from?"

"Arnor?" Balandor was silent for a moment. "Perhaps; if she were, then it is likely his wife. There would be no reason not to announce her to the Council, though. Even the lords Faramir and Húrin seemed not to know who this mysterious lady is."

"Perhaps she is not of noble birth." Bregon made a face. "You lords are always so concerned about lineage."

"Do not mistake me for those fools," Balandor suddenly snapped, and the older man turned to look at him in surprise; it was the first time he ever heard the usually emotionless lord turn to anger. "Besides," he continued, his calm countenance regained, "Elessar would not wed one of ignoble birth."

"Likely right," Bregon nodded, turning once more to the parchment. "Lords forbid he had a stain upon his reputation; he would not do that to himself."

The hate was evident in the man's tone, and the lord raised an eyebrow. "I would hope you do not speak of the King like that to others."

It was the cobbler's turn to snap. "Of course not. I may be a mere commoner, but I am no idiot."

"Mere commoner," Balandor mused. Bregon only turned angrily away from him and focused his attention on perfecting his script. 'You shall be much more than that when all is done.'


He found himself leaving the White Tower and striding quickly down the wide lane that led to the Court of the Fountain. He remembered vaguely acknowledging the saluting guards as he passed, but it was not until he reached the White Tree that he stopped.

Aragorn sat down upon one of the benches that surrounded the tree and stared thoughtfully at it. Still withered and barren it remained, despite the fact that he had ruled Gondor already for two months. He had hoped that it would bloom again and bring new life and hope, but it looked no healthier than it did the first time he laid eyes upon it when he came to Gondor as Thorongil so long ago.

His gaze turned from the tree and once more to the North. Was there, then, no hope for him? Elladan and Elrohir had left with Éomer's company to meet with Elrond, but there was always a chance that their father had a change of heart and would not allow Arwen to marry him. Would there not have been word from Edoras already if they had arrived?

The man could not help but worry, for his sign of hope and of a new age had yet to come, and the possibility of a future with no hope for himself looked all the more real.

"Ever looking to the North still, Aragorn?"

The former Ranger nearly jumped in surprise; he had not heard anyone approach. "Gandalf," he said in greeting. "My apologies, I did not notice you."

"And thus you reveal the depths of your thoughts," said the wizard with a small smile. He sat down beside the man and glanced casually at him. "I heard rumor of an interesting council session taking place not too long ago. It seems some members of your Council went a step too far."

Aragorn glanced exasperatedly at him. "I never knew you one to listen to court gossip."

"And I usually pay no mind to it, but I have all the evidence of its truthfulness sitting right beside me." The king softly snorted at the statement, but said nothing in return. "While others may not know, I am well aware of why your gaze ever turns to the North. Your Steward noticed it, you know."

"He would," Aragorn replied. "Faramir is very observant. Was it he, then, who came to you concerning his distracted king?"

"Not today, no," responded Gandalf. "I came on another errand, one that requires your presence."

Aragorn turned fully to the wizard, his interest in the conversation increased. He would rather not discuss his worries about Arwen, not even with his old friend; if Gandalf had something to distract his thoughts, he would gladly take on whatever he offered. "What is this errand?"

"A long errand," he answered cryptically. "It will take about a day, I imagine, and I plan on leaving tonight. Will you be ready?"

"I will, though Galdir will rue the short notice."

Gandalf chuckled. "Your Captain Galdir will rue it more that he cannot come— at least the whole way."

Aragorn raised an eyebrow. "I doubt he will be happy to hear this, but he must be content with it. Where do we go?"

"A short ways outside of the City, but beyond that, I will not say."

The man laughed. "Always speaking in riddles, my friend. Very well, then, I will be prepared to depart tonight."

"Very good. Meet me here an hour after sundown, and wear warm clothes; it might become a bit cold."


About half an hour later after his conversation with Gandalf, Aragorn found himself outside of Galdir's quarters. As the Captain of the Royal Guard, his quarters were on the Citadel level of the City, just behind the king's house. This arrangement made Galdir easy enough to track down; if not on duty, he was usually in his apartment with his wife.

While he knew that he legally had the right to enter any building in the Citadel without announcement or permission, the former Ranger could not see himself breaking any rules of propriety simply because of his new-found status. And so, despite the fact that it likely looked odd to any passerby, the King of the Reunited Kingdom knocked on the door of his captain's apartments and waited patiently for the door to be answered.

He heard shuffling and quick steps on the ground before the door was opened by a man nearly as tall as Aragorn himself. He bore the usual features of the Gondorrim with his dark hair and grey eyes, but he made himself stand out from the crowd with his commanding presence. It was no wonder to Aragorn that Faramir had chosen him to be the captain; he bore the mantle of leadership easily.

"My lord!" Galdir said in obvious surprise. He bowed before him before continuing. "How may I be of aid?"

"It is rather for your own relief than mine that I come here now," he replied with a slight twitch in his lips. "May I come in?"

The other man looked slightly stunned by the question, and, if it had not been the king standing at his door, would have likely shot him a look that clearly showed just how stupid he thought that question was. Since it was his liege-lord, however, he only nodded and stepped aside to let him in.

Aragorn was surprised to see that there was another man already inside. He stood as the king entered, bowing deeply. Galdir smiled slightly. "This is Galerthor, my son." He could see the resemblance; though he was more slender than his father, the young man bore the same strong chin and deep, dark eyes.

"Your highness," Galerthor murmured with another bow.

He bowed his head in greeting, and then frowned slightly. "I hope I am not interrupting anything?"

"No, sire," said Galdir. "He was just—"

"Are you ready to go, Galdir?" A woman began to descend the stairs. "You know how your mother gets when we keep her— oh, my lord!" She halted as she spotted Aragorn, curtseying quickly in greeting. "I did not realize you were here." She glanced at the other men with a raised eyebrow. "I would have expected my husband or son to tell me."

"Never fear, Mirloth, I just arrived," he said with a light laugh. "You are going somewhere?"

"Down to the second level to dine with Galerthor's family and my mother-in-law, my lord."

"Unless the King has need of me," Galdir clarified.

Mirloth frowned. "You haven't dined with your son's family in weeks, Galdir." She turned to Aragorn with a slight smile. "Surely you understand familial obligations, my lord?"

Aragorn laughed again. "I am sure that we could work something out. First, may I speak with your husband privately for a moment?"

"Of course," said Galdir. He shot his wife a look before leading the king to his office. After shutting the door, he led him to a chair and, at Aragorn's insistence, sat down as well.

"There is no need for such formality in your own residence, surely?" Aragorn asked, a smile forming easily on his lips.

"If you say so, my lord," Galdir nodded uncertainly. While he had been part of his Guard for nearly two months now, he was still not quite sure what to make of Elessar or his odd sense of humor. That conversation with his wife made him only more unsure. "What is it that you need of me, sire?"

"Not much, if you decide to stay behind. Mithrandir is taking me on an errand outside the City tonight. I assumed you would like to know ahead of time."

The air of command slowly started coming back to Galdir as he frowned at this news. "So soon, my lord?" he asked. "What is the nature of this errand that it cannot wait?"

"I do not know," he admitted. "Wizards are often rather secretive and he only spoke in riddles. I do not intend on altering his plans for the night, however." Galdir did not look happy at this revelation and made as if to argue, but Aragorn continued, "And I will travel alone, if need be."

"Now that is unacceptable, my lord," the other man shook his head. "Traveling outside of Minas Tirith without an escort... it will be short notice, but I should manage to alert the Guard about this—"

"Not all of the Guard," Aragorn warned. "I do not plan on making a fanfare of this. One or two at most, and most preferably my kinsmen."

"If you leave the City, my lord, I should like to be there," Galdir pointed out.

"And what of your wife?" he asked with a slight smile. "She is expecting you."

His face grim, he said, "She knows my duty is to you above all others— even if I miss 'familial obligations'."

Aragorn shook his head. "I would rather not have your wife's wrath on my head. We shall leave when you have returned to the Citadel."

"That is kind of you, my lord, but there is no need to—"

"I will hear none of your protests," he interrupted with a smile. "I will not take more of your time from your family. When you return, find only one other guard to come with us, and have it be one of my kinsmen, unless they are both engaged in other activities."

He shook his head. "I will do as you say— but I still do not like this," the captain stated bluntly. "It is dangerous outside of Minas Tirith, sire, and the Wild is filled with treacherous things."

"Verily I know that," Aragorn pointed out, "yet Mithrandir would not take me somewhere that is filled with danger; this trip should be no longer than a day, and there will be no flourish at my departure. Beyond you and a few others, no one will know that I am leaving."

"Very well then, my lord," Galdir said, resignation in his voice. "The Lord Faramir will have my head if anything happens."

"He will soon know of my plans," the king reassured him. "If there are any heads he will be having, it will be mine."

Galdir only shot him a slightly incredulous look as they stood and left the study. They found Mirloth and Galerthor waiting in the front hall.

"When will you return to the Citadel, my lady?" he asked.

She glanced at her son. "Your wife always prepares a lavish dinner, and my mother-in-law will want us to stay for a while, but if you have need of him, we could be back in three hours."

"Two," said Galdir.

"Two and a half," Mirloth said. Her eyes narrowed slightly as if daring her husband to disagree.

"Very good," said Aragorn before they could argue further. "I will see you in the Court of the Fountain an hour after your return." He bid them farewell, chuckling to himself as he left his captain's home. It was pleasant— and amusing— being with the family, but he had other things to do. He still needed to speak with his secretary to cancel all appointments for the morrow, tell Faramir that he would be away, eat an early dinner, and dress appropriately for travel before he met Gandalf for whatever this supposed errand was.


June 25, early afternoon

Lord Húrin, Warden of the Keys of Minas Tirith, was interrupted from what was considerably rather dull work by a knock on the door. "Enter!" he called, brushing aside his askew greying hair in impatience. It was the fifth time he had done it within the last ten minutes; he was about ready to shear it all off.

He was immediately cheered up by the sight of the king's secretary. "Mithor! This is a pleasant surprise; I hope you do not have ill news," Húrin added.

"Thinking positively, as you always do," the white-haired man remarked sardonically. "Indeed, no, I was just hoping that you were free to dine with me for luncheon."

"Is it already the afternoon?" he asked in surprise, glancing through the window for the first time in hours. "I am afraid my mind has been rather preoccupied with work."

"Then you are certainly ready for a meal," Mithor said. He quickly stepped outside to ask the guard to find someone who could go down to the kitchens and fetch them some food, and then came back inside the office, taking the seat across from Húrin. They sat in silence for a few moments as he finished writing down a quick note. As he finished, Húrin glanced up to see Mithor lounging back comfortably in his chair.

"You look rather relaxed today, old friend," the Warden of the Keys pointed out.

"I am all but off for today. Surely you heard that Elessar left the City for some errand with Mithrandir?"

"I did hear of it from Faramir, yes. That cannot mean you do not have some work you are behind on." Mithor only raised an eyebrow. "My apologies. I forgot to whom I was speaking to."

"I cannot help if I am more proficient than you," the secretary retorted with a small smirk.

"Bah!" Húrin scoffed. "You are a secretary to one man. Along with seeing to rather random aspects of the City, I also was fooled into accepting the job as the Royal Treasurer. One day I will have revenge on my cousin for convincing me that it would keep me 'active'."

"Revenge for what?" A muffled voice came through the door.

"For my lack of free time, my Lord Steward!" Húrin called out to him. The door opened and Faramir came in, followed by a servant who bore a large platter of food. After she was gone and the newcomer was settled, he continued. "I do not know how you managed to coerce me to agree to all of this," he nodded to the large stack on his desk, "but one day I shall have my retribution."

"It is hardly Lord Faramir's fault that you took on more than you can handle," Mithor said with a chuckle. "Nor is it his fault that you took on possibly the worst job in the Citadel."

"Besides," Faramir added, helping himself to an apple, "the stack on my desk is larger."

Húrin shook his head. "I can handle this quite fine," he said pointedly to the secretary, "and this is certainly not the worst position. That position belongs to Captain Galdir."

Faramir laughed. "Indeed! You did not see his sour look when I told him that I did not stand a chance in convincing Elessar to change his mind about leaving so soon and with so few. Even if I did, I wouldn't; I do not know what Mithrandir plans, but it would not be wise for me to interfere with him."

"Wise for you not to interfere indeed, my lord," Mithor nodded. "Do you know what sort of errand our king is on?"

"I haven't the foggiest," the younger man admitted. "I cannot begin to imagine what Mithrandir has to show Aragorn outside of the City."

"Perhaps it has something to do with the king's mysterious lady," Húrin suggested.

"I doubt it," the steward said. "I do not believe Mithrandir would keep it a secret from the King if it did, and Aragorn did not seem to know what the wizard was to show him, either."

"Wizards," Mithor shook his head. "I cannot say that I am saddened that I never got involved with one. They are rather unpredictable."

"He speaks in riddles, to be sure," Faramir confessed, "but he is a worthy mentor, and I trust him just as much as our liege-lord."

"It did not make Galdir any happier," Húrin pointed out with a chuckle. The other two joined him.

"Indeed not!" said the steward with a smile. "I imagine that he is on his highest guard even as we speak."


Ten minutes. Ten minutes were now passed and he had yet to completely beat down the urge to follow Elessar up the mountain path that he had taken with Mithrandir. Indeed, as every minute passed his urge only became worse. The worst part about this whole situation, though, was not that his liege-lord was completely alone with only a wizard as company, nor that he was strictly forbidden to follow him, but that his companion was completely and utterly nonchalant about these circumstances, which only drove him ever increasingly mad.

Galdir shot Meluion a dark look as the other man finished brushing down the king's steed and went to brush down his horse, humming as he did so. Humming! There were situations for humming, and this was certainly not one of those situations. Their king was all but alone on an uncharted mountain path, in a world where evil things still stirred despite the Dark Lord's fall, and this man had the audacity to hum as if everything was all right on Arda.

Meluion felt the dark gaze on his back, and rather than turning to acknowledge it, called out cheerfully, "My mother used to tell me, Captain, that if I frowned long enough, the expression would be stuck on my face."

"It is quite stuck already, Dúnadan," Galdir shot back, "and it will remain as such until Lord Elessar is back."

The older man, who had more strands of grey than dark brown on his head, turned to face him, amusement evident on his features. "Aragorn has been wandering the wilds on his own for longer than you have lived, Captain. I wouldn't worry too much about him. Besides, Gandalf would not lead him into unsafe territory."

"How can he know it to be safe?" the other man rebutted. "Before this day, I did not know that this path existed and I know the area around Minas Tirith well."

"If that is the case, then there is no reason that evil creatures know of it, either," Meluion countered, the cheerfulness still in his voice. Galdir only muttered something under his breath in reply and went to see to his own horse. The wizard's horse, Shadowfax, neither of them had dared to touch, and seeing as he had went off on his own soon after the wizard's departure, the decision was quickly taken out of their hands.

The afternoon wore on and soon the sun set beyond the western horizon. This did not sit well with the captain at all, considering that Elessar had yet to return. Meluion, of course, did not seem perturbed by this at all, and had spent most of the afternoon being incessantly cheery. The former Ranger attempted several times to have some sort of conversation with Galdir, but the other man was too distracted to be a decent converser. The older man had finally accepted defeat and was enjoying his pipe by the firelight when the captain suddenly and quite surprisingly spoke to him.

"That is a strange habit," he nodded to the pipe. "I have never seen such a practice before your kinsmen came to Minas Tirith."

"It seems to be secluded to Arnor," Meluion admitted. "It is likely because hobbits invented the practice, and it spread from their homeland."


"It is what Halflings call themselves."

"Hobbit," he tried the name on his tongue. "What a strange word, yet fitting for them." Galdir stared at the pipe still. "Do all of the people in the North do it?"

"Not all of them— certainly none of the Elves!" Meluion said with a smile as he remembered his first time seeing Elrond's sons and their reaction to pipe-weed. "It's common amongst hobbits and other Men, including my own kindred, however."

"Do even the women smoke?"

"Occasionally. My mother was rather renowned for her constant pipe-weed smoking. My father was not fond of the practice and I still remember their arguments concerning it. They both passed on some time ago, though I can't help but imagining that they still argue about it now." He chuckled.

"I cannot imagine my mother practicing such a thing," Galdir admitted as he watched the smoke fly gently into the air. "She was never the type to experiment in such oddities."

"Does she live in the City?"

"With my son, Galerthor, and his wife. She did not take fancy to living at the Citadel."

"The heights?"

"Our Lord King, actually," he chuckled, slightly surprising himself; was Meluion's mood infectious? "She was not much pleased to learn of my new position in the kingdom." Now why in the world did he say that, and to the king's kinsman of all people? If he let this joviality continue much further he may find himself speaking with such familiarity to Elessar, and that was beyond reason.

Meluion burst out laughing. He glanced beyond Galdir and called out, "My dear kinsman! I am afraid that there are those not yet wiled by your immaculate charm!"

Kinsman? Galdir stood and turned, but beyond the firelight there was only darkness; the slight crescent moon illuminated nothing. For a split second he thought that the Dúnadan was playing him for a fool, but soon an answer came.

"And who would that be, Meluion?"

"The captain's mother!"

A burst of laughter shot through the air, and soon enough the king and the wizard came into view. Galdir stood tall and firm, ignoring the laughter and trying to figure out how his companion had detected them far sooner than he did. His thoughts were interrupted, however, when he saw that Elessar carried what looked to be a young sapling.

Meluion immediately stood when he saw the sapling, his eyes filled with wonder. "Aiya Eärendil," he muttered. "That is not..."

"It is," Aragorn confirmed. "It is a sapling from the line of Nimloth."

The other looked upon it with great wonder as Galdir came to realization. "That is of the same line as the White Tree," he said, forgetting himself as he gazed upon the plant.

Gandalf nodded. "And from this day forward the White Tree shall grow and blossom once more."


Rather than rest and wait for the morning, Aragorn insisted on riding through the night so he could plant the sapling as soon as possible. They rode softly, for not only was there little light that night, but the king feared to lose his light grip on the young tree. Despite this, the four managed to reach the Great Gate of the City just as the first light was showing beyond the mountains in the east.

They quickly rode through the first six levels of Minas Tirith unhindered, for most of the City was asleep or just awakening and there were few out. They soon reached the stables at the entrance of the Citadel, and Meluion saw that the horses were attended to as Aragorn and Mithrandir quickly made their way to the Court of the Fountain. Galdir was sent to find men and tools to uproot the old tree, and by the time all was prepared a small crowd had gathered around the king and the sapling in his hands. The murmurs around him only became louder as the old tree was uprooted, but by the order of the king it was treated with reverence and laid to rest in Rath Dínen.

The sun was rising as Aragorn knelt beside the bare patch of dirt that once held the withered tree. Gently he laid the sapling in the hole that held its sire and pressed the dirt about it to keep it steady. The young tree gladly took to its new home and did not sway or falter, but stood tall and unyielding.

Once finished he stood, ignoring the crowd and their excited whispers and focused his attention upon the sapling. The young morning light hit the white flowers the tree adorned and they seemed to glow even brighter than when he had first found the plant in the snow upon Mindolluin. He turned his glance to Gandalf, who smiled at him, and then looked to the North with a bright light in his eyes. The sign was here; his hope for a future with his beloved had finally come.


*Aiya Eärendil: What I hope sounds to be the equivalent of the Elves' "Ai Elbereth" for the Dúnedain. In Quenya, because it's Important.

*It was editing this chapter that I learned how to use Periannath vs. Pheriannath vs. Periain (and that with the former two, it was *not* a case of local accent differentiations, but rather the sneaky nasal mutation). After debating which to use of the former two with the English "the" instead of a Sindarin article, I gave up and used the word Halfling. Elvish is hard. Throughout the rest of the story you'll likely see all variants of the word.

*Húrin as Faramir's relative is an idea that first saw the author Larner use, and shamelessly borrowed the idea because I do love the thought. Go read her stuff if you haven't, they are wonderful tales.

Hey! I'm back, with a new username :)

I am going to be busy working with and Warner Bros at their huge LOTR EE BluRay release party in LA all day Monday (which is when I usually update), so I thought I would post now before the weekend hit. I hope you all enjoy. Reviews are lovely :D

Chapter 4: Hope Renewed

June 26, morning

Faramir woke at dawn with what could only be described as complete contentment, though he knew not why. Though the reason was unknown to him, the young man knew that today was going to be a day filled with joy and wonder. He glanced out the window at the rising sun; yes, even Anor seemed brighter this day.

The steward quickly dressed himself and, rather than quietly work or read until his breakfast came, found himself walking out the door. His home, along with the apartments of many other lords from other parts of Gondor, was to the left of the White Tower and faced Merethrond, the Great Hall of Feasts. East of the White Tower, about one hundred yards beyond his dwelling, was the Court of the Fountain. To his surprise, he found that there was a great crowd surrounding the White Tree. The scene seized his curiosity and Faramir found himself striding towards the court.

As he came closer he suddenly realized something: the White Tree, while dead for a long time, still towered over the heads of even the tallest Men. Now he could no longer see its tallest branches above the people around the fountain. Breaking into a run, he quickly reached the crowd and easily made his way through the bystanders. When he came to see what kept the people's eyes still on the fountain, the steward found himself speechless.

A young sapling but three feet high was planted in the place where the dead tree used to stand. Its bark was a light grey that shone white in the early light, and already it bore dark green leaves with silver tracings and white flowers that seemed to glisten with an inner light. Beside the tree stood his liege-lord, and never before had he seen the king so filled with peace.

'Bless the Valar,' Faramir thought, 'today has begun brighter than I ever dared to dream.'

Elessar shared a look with Mithrandir and then, as if noticing them for the first time, gazed upon the crowd that had gathered. His eyes landed upon Faramir and he smiled. He made his way over to him, nodding appreciatively as the people made way for him. "My Lord Steward," he greeted when he approached. "Is this not a hope most unlooked for?"

"Indeed so, my Lord King," replied Faramir, sparing the sapling one last glance before turning his attention to his lord. "Where did you find this sapling of Nimloth's line?"

"An ancient place," he replied vaguely. "I shall tell you more later, but there are other things that we must discuss."

"Of course, my lord."

Aragorn smiled, nodded in parting to Mithrandir and his guards, and then led his steward around the White Tower and to his own house. He greeted the guards at the entrance warmly as they opened the front doors for the two lords, and they quickly made their way up the stairs and to Aragorn's private quarters.

"Did you just arrive to the City?" Faramir asked as he took in the king's state of dress.

"Indeed so," replied Aragorn as he sat down. "We did not stop for the night, for I was eager to see the young tree planted."

"Do you need some time to rest?" the young man asked with some concern.

The Dúnadan shook his head. "I have been without rest for great lengths of time many times before, and I have not yet been on the throne long enough to have forgotten them," he said with a smile. "I do wish to freshen up, however, as soon as someone comes up to see if there will be one or two dining today."

"We but entered a moment ago," Faramir pointed out. "Do you believe someone will be here so soon?"

Just as he spoke, a knock rung throughout the living room and after a moment the door opened to reveal a middle-aged woman. "Good morning, my lords."

"Good morning, and immaculate timing as always, madam," greeted Aragorn.

The servant smiled broadly before continuing, "Will both of you be breaking your fast here, my lords?"

"I have yet to eat," Faramir confirmed to Aragorn's inquisitive look.

"Both of us, and we will be eating in here today," he told the woman. She nodded, curtsied, and closed the door.

"They are very efficient," said the steward.

"Very flexible, too," Aragorn added. "Mithor usually runs over my week's schedule with the head cook, but I have found that they will adapt to my constantly changing plans quickly. Granted, I am not sure if they will ever become used to my unexpected visits to the kitchen," he said with a chuckle.

"I suppose it is unusual," the other man said, "though perhaps none of them have worked in the steward's kitchen; whenever we were home, Boromir and I made our own runs for food rather often. My brother used it as an excuse to get away from the desk." He chuckled and a slight smile came to his lips as he remembered him.

Aragorn smiled. "Boromir was always a man of action." Faramir did not reply, and the king let the silence sit for a moment before continuing. "As it is, I wish to freshen up before our food arrives. I apologize for leaving you thus, but I do have something that may keep you entertained while I am away." He stood and pulled a small book from his bookshelf. "Legolas found this in a shop on the fourth level and was beside himself with laughter when he gave it to me. It is supposed to be a book about Elves, but you will find that the writer knew little to nothing about them. His favorite story was about the Elves that live in the Northern Wastes and make children's toys, while Gimli was partial to the one about the Elves that killed young woman and drank their blood in the dark of night."

"Drank their blood?" Faramir asked with a short laugh as he took the book. The king just shrugged and went into his bedchambers to wash up.

Twenty minutes later, Aragorn entered the living room and found his steward reading the book, ill-contained amusement in his eyes. He looked up from the passage he was reading and chuckled. "Legolas was right. This is terribly amusing."

"I am afraid I haven't had a chance to read it yet," the older man admitted, "yet it is good to hear your recommendation."

"I am not sure if I would call it a recommendation," he confessed. "It is completely ludicrous— worse than some of the tales about Elves that come from our northern neighbor."

"Hopefully those tales will become rare in Rohan now that Elves have traveled through their country recently," said Aragorn. He sat down once more and looked straight into the younger man's eyes. Faramir immediately noticed the bright, almost youthful light that shone in their grey depths. He put the book aside and focused upon his liege. Finally, Aragorn began, "For many days I have been waiting for some sort of sign that my own dreams would come to fulfillment. The finding of this sapling in the snows of Mindolluin I believe— I am certain— is the sign that I have been waiting for. The White Tree flowers once more, and so shall my own line. Faramir, my friend, very soon my lady will be here, and I shall be married."

Faramir's face split into a wide grin. "That is wonderful news, Aragorn. When shall the wedding be?"

"I cannot be sure, but my heart tells me that Midsummer would be a good date."

The steward nodded thoughtfully and smiled. "I started the plans for a wedding when you first told me of your betrothed, though I did not tell your chamberlain. Am I to assume that I may share my plans with him now?"

The king laughed heartily. "Yes, you may tell Faithoron of your plans."

They were interrupted momentarily by the arrival of their morning meal: eggs, various types of meats and cheeses, a platter of fruit, different types of rolls, and a selection of beverages to choose from. The two ceased conversation to eat for a few minutes.

"You have yet to ask her name," Aragorn pointed out.

"You were unwilling to give the information last time, sire," he answered with a raised brow. "Do I have the honor of knowing her identity?"

"As you have already spent the time planning the ceremony, and I know you will not divulge the information to anyone else, I thought it fair that you did," he said, a lingering smile on his face.

"I am honored by your trust," he replied graciously.

"You have earned it," said Aragorn, his amusement falling aside for a moment. His serious disposition quickly disappeared, however, when Faramir said nothing. The two stared at one another, stormy-grey eyes upon steel-grey ones, the latter swiftly becoming more amused as the stoic expression of the former continued. While the steward was well accustomed to the battle of wills, he was not sure where the older man was going with this one. He obviously expected something of him, but Faramir still waited for the revelation on his part.

Finally, he let his curiosity overtake his instincts and said, "Well?"

"Well, what?" Aragorn asked. The amusement was still clearly there.

"You have yet to reveal her name," he said.

Aragorn laughed heartily. "You have yet to ask for it!"

Faramir stared at him blankly for a split moment before joining him. "You are enjoying this game far too much!" he laughed. Never before had he seen this man so content; even with the Periain he was not so mischievous. "Very well then, who is she?"

The king's amusement faded as his eyes stared at something only he could see. "The fairest creature to bless this world," he murmured. "And not only fair is she, but willful, intelligent, and great of heart. It was her beauty that first caught my eye; it was her that caught my heart." He smiled gently. "She is Arwen, Arwen Undómiel, daughter of Elrond of Imladris."

Out of all women to name, this was the least expected. "An Elf," he said softly. "And Lord Elrond's child. I have read his name in history; I did not realize he had a daughter."

"She is not just an Elf, but a peredhel of Eärendil's line," said Aragorn. "Just like her father, she too has a choice between immortality and the Gift of Men. She has chosen the latter," he ended softly.

Faramir let the silence sit as he saw his king venture far on a path that only he saw. When Aragorn came to the present again, the steward said quietly, "Her coming shall remain secret."

"I know." He smiled softly upon the younger man. "And you need not keep it a secret for long; on Midsummer the world shall discover the love between Aragorn the Elfstone and Arwen the Evenstar."


June 29, evening

"I will be leaving in a few days," announced Balandor suddenly over supper.

Bregon lifted his head up, surprise evident on his features. "Leaving? To where?"

"My estate in Lossarnach."

The older man looked at him expectantly. When he did not continue right away, Bregon demanded, "And what of myself?"

"That," he answered with a small smile, "depends on what you think of my plans."

"Plans?" he repeated.

The smaller man's smile only grew before he suddenly stood. He went to both doors in the room and, to the other's surprise, locked them before taking his chair and bringing it closer to Bregon. His bright green eyes bore straight into the older man's skull with what could only be described as excited anticipation, an emotion he had never seen Balandor wear before.

"It was fate that brought us together, Bregon," he began, "and with that fate we can change the future of this country."


Balandor smiled. "Gondor will no longer be ruled by my corrupt colleagues and their newfound king. No, rather it will be ruled by a true, hardworking citizen of Minas Tirith: you."

Bregon was glad he had nothing in his mouth, for he would have surely spit it out in his amazement. "You are not proposing—"

"I am. Elessar will continue to rule, but it will not be the Elessar that sits on the throne now."

He shook his head in disbelief. "I cannot pretend to be him! I know nothing concerning the art of warfare, nor horseback riding, and my writing is— that is why you have had me learning how to write in Sindarin and Westron fluently, isn't it?"

"I am glad to see your surprise has not left you completely devoid of wit," the lord stated with a wry smile. "That is so, and at my estate you would learn how to use a horse and how to spar, and there will be no questions, for none there know of your resemblance to the King."

"And that explains why you asked me to grow a beard; Elessar has been clean-shaven these last weeks. You wanted me to be less noticeable," Bregon muttered to himself. He blinked and shook his head once more, running his hand through his dark hair nervously. "That is all well and good that I will not be recognized at your estate, but even then, it is not as if I can go into the Citadel and simply ask him to leave. He is always guarded, and he is a trained warrior himself. I am no dotard; I could not beat him in a fair fight."

"There will be no need to fight him, fair or not," Balandor reassured him. "I do not yet know when the switch will be made, but as the months pass he will become lax and less careful, believing that he has no enemies— at least within the City. A time will come, and when it does, you will be ready." Bregon still looked unsure about the proposal, so the young lord tried another tactic. "Do you want to be the only one to possess your face?"

"Well, yes."

"Do you not hate him for taking away your identity?"

"Of course."

"Then do him more harm and take his. You will be in a better position as Elessar than when you were just Bregon, and you can do so much more good as king rather than when you were a cobbler."

He nodded silently as the man spoke, a small smile forming on his features as he thought about the possibilities. Balandor echoed that smile. "As I said, I will not be leaving for a few days, so you have some time to think about it."

"No," Bregon shook his head. "No, I've decided now, and I will go with you on this. When the time is right, I will take the throne."

Balandor's smile widened. "I am glad we have come to an agreement. This country will be better off in your hands."


1 Lithe, late afternoon

After his finding of the sapling of the White Tree, Aragorn had sent watchman to the northern part of the ruined wall of Rammas Echor to wait for the company that he was sure would come, though he had not told the guards their exact purpose in detail. Indeed, Faramir was the only Gondorian who knew of what was to come; even his chamberlain had yet to discover who the bride was, though it was not through lack of effort that he came to no information. Faithoron had toed the line of propriety to try and discover who the mysterious lady at the Midsummer wedding would be from both the steward and the king. Aragorn, if he were to be quite honest with himself, found the sight of the usually uptight, meticulous man so agitated and unsure of the situation rather amusing.

The days passed by unbearably slowly as he waited for news from Rammas Echor. When news finally came, it was not a guardsman from the wall that came to him but rather messengers from Amon Dîn, the closest of the beacon-hills to Minas Tirith. They had come yesterday evening with information about a great host.

"From whence do they come?" he had asked, not daring to presume anything until his suppositions were confirmed.

"The North, along the Great West Road, my lord," said the captain of the group. "It is a mighty procession filled with fair folk. If I had to guess, I would say they are Elves. They were headed to the wall and should likely be in the City on the morrow."

The king had not even bothered to hide his pleasure. To the messengers' credit, they did not stare as Elessar grinned. "Thank you for the information. You will be shown to your quarters, and I recommend you stay for a couple days; if your suspicions are correct, tomorrow will be worth your journey."

He had not slept well that night, so great was his anticipation of the morrow. He was glad that he had made sure there were no appointments or council meetings for the days surrounding Midsummer, for Aragorn could hardly concentrate on the documents that lay on his desk, never mind the ramblings of his peers.

It was sometime in the afternoon when Aragorn abandoned his desk for the outside world. He eventually found himself leaning against the outer wall gazing to the North. He knew not how long he stood there in his own thoughts, watching and waiting, but it was not too soon when he saw the procession make its way past the ruined Rammas Echor and onto the Pelennor Fields, where even now people were reconstructing their homesteads destroyed in the War. The king fought the urge to saddle Roheryn and gallop out onto the Pelennor to meet them himself; he could not do that in his position.

Not until the people were used to his oddities, at the least.

He smiled at the thought and turned away from the wall, knowing that if he watched the Elves much longer he just might forget himself in order to see Arwen sooner. Instead, he sent down a procession to meet them and had Galdir lead them. Watching his confusion was nearly as enjoyable as observing his chamberlain's frustrations over the past few days.

"Lead a procession?" the captain asked, surprise evident in his voice. "If you wish, my lord. May I enquire as to whom we are meeting?"

"A large company of Elves," he replied. "Be quick, though, for once they arrive, the wedding will commence soon after." Aragorn only smiled as the other man's brow furrowed in confusion.

Once they were gone, Aragorn spoke quickly with Faramir and Faithoron, and between them they had not let any details over the wedding slip. They had the foresight to set aside a large number of tables for the guests of the bride, as well as guestrooms upon the sixth and seventh levels made ready. Food in great amounts was already being prepared, and extra cooks were hired for the days of celebration. Elessar had informed his steward early that he wished as many of his citizens as possible to be a part of the festivities and so the man, with the help of Húrin and Imrahil, had looked through the last census and all recent records of births and deaths and came up with lists of people to invite to Merethrond to feast. It would make the wedding over two weeks long, though no one seemed to mind; after all the country had been through, there was a need to celebrate, and they finally had the resources to be heedless of the amount consumed for a couple weeks.

Messengers were sent out to inform those who were invited to the first night of feasting about the festivities and Aragorn made to his rooms to change. Outside of the door he found Meluion waiting for him.

"I saw the procession of Elves coming to the City," he said in greeting. "I knew it would be soon, seeing as you have been as giddy as a boy these last few days."

"Can you blame me?" he retorted, opening the door to his private rooms and stepping aside to let his kinsman in. "Where is Halvagor?"

"Galdir took him as well as Tandor and Lachamdir to meet the procession. I cannot imagine why he usually selects Halvagor over me."

"I haven't the foggiest," the younger man remarked sardonically. "What of Dolmagor? I have not seen him recently."

"You know him; he's just as forthcoming as young Halvagor. I haven't seen him today, but I spent more time looking for you as is."

"Now that you have found me," said Aragorn, opening the doors to his bedroom, "perhaps you could be so kind as to assist me into my outfit. I'd rather not summon the valet; the boy is still rather intimidated by me."

"It would be my honor," he replied and, to the king's surprise, not in jest.

Aragorn opened his wardrobe where his outfit hung, clean and ready for this moment. It was the same attire he wore when he was crowned, or at least in part. He wore a suit of mail when he came to Minas Tirith, but he did not want to be remembered just as a warrior when he first greeted the Elves. Over the black chain mail he wore a long tunic of silver and white similar to the one he wore when he encountered Arwen in Lórien. He took the same white mantle he wore for the crowning and pinned the Elfstone upon it. Upon his belt hung Andúril, as was customary whenever he ventured into the City, for the people expected to see it. Once Meluion was finished adjusting his cloak, he looked his kinsman up and down.

"Well?" asked Aragorn expectantly.

"Just one more thing," he said, indicating to a large case sitting upon his dresser.

"Of course." Aragorn went to the container and opened it, revealing the White Crown. He took it out and set it upon his head, and the other Dúnadan looked at him appreciatively.

"You wear your mantle of leadership well, my Lord King," he said with a short bow.

The king smiled upon him. "It would be easier if my ceremonial clothing were just as simple as when I was merely your chieftain."

"You will learn soon, young one, that life is never simple," said Meluion with a smile.

"I am hardly young," the other complained good-naturedly. "I already sport a few grey strands."

"Not as many as I do," he rebutted, "and even when you do, I won't forget you toddling about when you were a babe."

"What every ruler needs to keep his humility is a relative who remembers his youth," he said with a smile. "I pray you do not mention those years to my bride."

"I need not to," he rebutted. "I am sure her brothers have done so for me." Aragorn only groaned good-naturedly in reply. "Now come, my lord, your lady is waiting for you." The king smiled and, taking one last glance at his appearance to make sure he did not look as nervous as he felt, followed his kinsman out of his bedroom.


At the entrance of the seventh gate Aragorn and Meluion found Dolmagor waiting for them. The middle-aged man stood starkly apart from others around him not only because of his livery; a long, ugly scar went across his forehead and through part of his left eyebrow, just narrowly missing his eye before it ended at the top of his cheek. He remained stoic as the two Dúnedain approached him.

"Captain Galdir requested that I wait for Your Highness," said the guard in explanation for his presence.

"He would," the king remarked. "Come, we will ride down to the Great Gate and meet the procession."

"The horses are already ready, my lord," said Dolmagor. The two kinsmen followed the guard as he led them to the stables right outside the gate on the sixth level.

"Of course they would be ready," muttered Meluion to Aragorn. "He's just as meticulous as your chamberlain."

"Is that meant to be an insult?" the king asked with a glint in his eye.

"It is whatever you interpret it to be, my lord," the other retorted lightly just as they reached the stables. True to Dolmagor's word, all three of their horses were ready in their stalls, Roheryn especially standing out with an elaborate saddle and sleek, smooth hair.

"You look just as magnificent as the day I received you, my dear friend," Aragorn murmured to his steed, rubbing him on his forehead. He nickered softly in response and the man smiled at Roheryn before mounting him.

The three men, mounted on their steeds, rode out of the stables and the horses kept a steady light trot as they made their way down the City and to the Gate to meet with the procession of Elves. Already people were making their way down to see the great host, but when they saw their king, dressed as finely as he was, coming down as well, even those who were not already interested in the procession began to descend upon the Gate, for it surely had to be people of importance for the king to meet them adorned as he was.

It was well that they were mounted, for not even the king could part the crowds that flooded the streets near the Great Gate if he were on foot. In the end both the City Guards and the horses managed to clear a path for Aragorn and his Guard, and within a few moments they rode beyond the Gate. A few paces from the Gate of the City the three halted and waited.

These last few moments before the elven host finally came felt like days to Aragorn. He was no stranger to long waiting and the need for patience, and yet it seemed that these last minutes were just as long as the span of years that spread between his betrothal and his kingship. He took to quietly observing the scene around him. Facing him across the clear road were his friends and acquaintances, old and new. Éomer was not there, having gone to Rohan soon after his coronation, but Erkenbrand his marshal and other representatives from the Riddermark who had stayed behind were all at the gate, alongside representatives and lords of Gondor that had come down to watch.

The Fellowship was all together right next to the Rohirrim, the hobbits and Gandalf in front and Legolas and Gimli behind them. Frodo said something quietly to the wizard and then caught the king's eye. Aragorn allowed a brief smile to touch his features as the Ring-bearer gazed upon him, and then glanced away to see Faramir, who stood right by Gandalf, watching him. The steward subtly nodded in his direction before turning to respond to Imrahil concerning something he could not hear over the crowd's loud murmurs. Húrin and Mithor were quietly, but animatedly discussing something with one another right behind them; Húrin was perhaps interrogating his friend for any information he had. Beyond the entrance into Minas Tirith he could see that the City Guards had finally managed to push the crowds back and clear a large area in the courtyard for any who came before they ascended into the City.

He continued to look through the yawning gate where he could see the people of Minas Tirith. A sea of dark hair and happy faces, people old and young were gathered to see one of the greatest moments of his life. A few people avoided the crowd and hung out of the several high windows that surrounded the area. Some young children were sitting on the shoulders of their fathers and brothers, and others had made their way to the front of the crowd, sitting on the edge of the road and peering between the legs of the tall guards. He caught the eye of one such boy and smiled gently at him. Just as the boy turned excitedly to his companions, a trumpet was sounded and Aragorn turned his attention back to the gate. The procession had arrived.

The stars were twinkling in the sky with a rising waxing moon and the last golden light of Anor was fading in the West when the first of the procession entered Minas Tirith. Elladan and Elrohir came first, the former carrying a banner of silver representing Rivendell. Elrohir caught Aragorn's gaze and what could have been a nod of acknowledgment came his way, but they passed too swiftly for him to tell. After them came Glorfindel, Erestor, and a great portion of the household of Rivendell but for two very significant people. He immediately quelled the doubt that seized him when Galadriel and Celeborn rode in with their people and he did not see them. He knew they were there; he knew it with all his heart.

His short flash of doubt was indeed proved unfounded, for at the end of the procession, riding just before the guards he sent out to meet the host, rode Elrond and Arwen. Arwen.

He knew he was staring, but he did not care. She was Elbereth herself come down to Middle-earth, with a jewel that shone like a star upon her brow and her hair flowing behind it like the night sky. She turned to him, and the light within her eyes engulfed him, leading him far away from Minas Tirith, from Middle-earth. It was only when she turned away to dismount that he came back to the present.

The king dismounted with the procession and made his way to Arwen and her father, careful to keep his eyes upon the Elf-lord lest he forget himself. His foster brothers, as well as the lord and lady of Lórien, had come to join them.

"My lords and ladies," he began, loud enough for those surrounding them to hear, "I bid you welcome to Minas Tirith. May your time in the City be one of happiness and peace."

"We thank thee, King Elessar of the Reunited Kingdom, for welcoming us so graciously," said Elrond. He paused briefly. "As heir of Arvedui of the Northern Kingdom, and as is thy birthright, I surrender to thee the Sceptre of Annúminas." Aragorn took the sceptre with a slight bow. "And," he continued softly, his face carefully neutral, "as was promised, I give my daughter to thee. Forever will the Eldar and the Edain be united." He took Arwen's hand and laid it in Aragorn's empty hand.

The man finally allowed his gaze to move from him and to the fair lady whose hand was intertwined with his. His eyes fell upon hers and he held his ground. 'I will keep my composure. I will keep my composure.' And then she smiled; it was that small, coy smile that he knew held a whole different meaning.

Oh, to Mordor with propriety.

The King of the Reunited Kingdom captured her in an embrace, and she eagerly met his lips, bringing her hand around the back of his neck to be closer to him. The rest of the world disappeared as they met, her sweet taste mingled with his, his eyes closed but the rest of his senses alive.

They noticed not the mixed reactions of the crowd, nor the look of open surprise upon Captain Galdir's face. Next to him, Meluion was grinning. "He never was terribly fond of formality."

By the time they finished, any mutters of shock or distaste had been blocked out by the approving shouts and applause of the crowd, some of the people openly grinning. Aragorn and Arwen noticed them not, and it was only the impatient noise from her palfrey that reminded him he had other guests that were surely weary from the long journey. Reluctantly he let go of her and turned to the host. Most of the other Elves remained carefully expressionless, but Elladan was openly grinning at them.

"Come, let us make our way into the City, and you shall be shown to your quarters," said Aragorn.

Remounting their steeds, the king and his bride, along with the bride's family and the King's Guard, made their way to the front of the procession. Elladan and Elrohir took their place on either side of the couple. Elrond, Galadriel, and Celeborn fell behind them, and surrounding the group were the men of the Royal Guard, Captain Galdir at the rear so to could keep a close eye on his king— and the family of the bride.

The bride. He heard rumor that there was a bride from the North, but never in his wildest dreams did he imagine it was an Elf. And what an Elf she was! Never before had he thought such beauty existed in Middle-earth. And her blonde companion garbed in white was just as fair.

"Careful, Captain, your eyes look ready to pop out."

Galdir schooled his expression and glanced coolly to his right at Meluion. Before he could speak, the man on his left, Tandor, spoke in his defense.

"Not all of us are used to seeing such people, you know. I didn't believe Elves really existed until you all came."

"Oh, you'll grow right used to them. I am sure a couple will stay with Lady Arwen for a few years, at least, and many more will visit."

"Is that the lady's name, then?" Tandor asked. "She looks young, about as old as your son, Captain."

"With the Elves, looks can be deceiving," Meluion warned with a bright, dancing glint in his eye. "I know something of her heritage, being friends with her brothers, and while I haven't seen them before today, I know that those two fair-haired Elves right there, the Lord and Lady of Lórien, are the Lady's grandparents."

Galdir held his surprise in check, but Tandor's eyes bulged. "You jest!"

"I promise you, I jest not." His look grew contemplative. "And I know a thing or two about elven senses, and they hear and see far better than any Man, including the Dúnedain. Indeed," and here, his smile grew wide, "if I know their hearing abilities as well as I believe I do, I wouldn't be surprised if they heard every last word of our conversation, despite the loud noises of the crowd." Indeed, even as he said this, Elrohir turned his head to glance at him, winking quickly before turning his head again.

Tandor opened his mouth, and then shut it when he realized his words would be overheard. Both of his companions settled instead for glaring coolly at him, though it had no effect on him; Meluion simply laughed.

The wide streets were littered with flowers and petals thrown by the people, and the citizens of Minas Tirith cried with joy and stared in awe at the procession of Elves. Often their eyes went to the Elf-maiden riding at the side of the king, her left hand intertwined with his right. Despite the fact that the sun was now set and the sky all but dark, she was easy to see, for she seemed to glow like a star.

Oil lamps were lit all throughout the City, and the sixth level was bathed in light when the procession started to break off to go to available housing on that level. The company alighted and the horses were led away to the stables. Aragorn saw Faithoron nearby, one of the few citizens of Minas Tirith who seemed completely unfazed by the Elves and merely ready to see business done; he was not surprised by his chamberlain's seeming indifference to their presence.

Arwen took his hand, and his thoughts immediately went back to her. Indeed, if he was still not holding the Sceptre of Annúminas in his other hand, both of his hands would be on hers.

"My lord," said Faramir, bringing Aragorn out of his thoughts. 'Where did he come from?' "When would you have the wedding commence?"

He opened his mouth to say 'now', but then shut it and glanced at his guests. They were perhaps weary from the road, and maybe wanted some time to rest. He hoped that time was not too long.

"As soon as possible, my lord," said Arwen to Faramir. "How much time would be needed to prepare?"

"Not much at all, my lady," he answered. "Most of the preparations were done before your arrival, and in a couple of hours all can be made ready."

She nodded thoughtfully. "Let us have it tonight at midnight, when the stars are at their brightest in the sky." Aragorn held back a grin; it seemed she wanted to be married as quickly as he did.

Elrond frowned a little, but Galadriel smiled. "The midnight of Midsummer for the union of Elessar and Undómiel seems most suitable." Aragorn glanced at her for a brief moment, hoping she caught his look of gratitude. The Lady of Lórien had supported him ever since he first met her nearly two score years ago, and it was partially because of her that his union with Arwen was a reality. A slight touch in the back of his mind told him that she saw his appreciation.

The Lord of Imladris relented. "Very well. Midnight it is," he said to Faramir.

The steward glanced at the king, who slightly nodded. "Very well, then. I will speak with Faithoron and see that all is made ready. My lords, my ladies." He bowed and departed.

The Elves that were to be housed on the sixth level were already in their apartments, and the remaining Elves were led to apartments still open in the Citadel. Arwen and her family were temporarily led to an empty building near the Court of the Fountain; they would move into the King's House after the wedding.

He did not wish to be parted from Arwen so soon, despite the fact that he knew he would see her in but a few hours. Still, he could only think of her as he made his way to his rooms. What could he do for the next few hours?

Aragorn glanced at his bookshelf before quickly disregarding the thought. He could never concentrate on a book. There was, of course, the pile of papers in his study— no, what was he thinking? If could not concentrate on a book, then how could he see to the work that awaited him?

Realizing he had not eaten in hours and would not eat until after the wedding, he grabbed an apple from the bowl on the small dining table in the outer room of his chambers and ate it, though he did not really taste it. After finishing it, he found himself still restless and looked around him for some way to spend his time.

He glanced at the door that led to the washroom, and then looked down at himself. He could always have another bath, he supposed. 'It might help me relax, at the least,' he thought wryly.

After he bathed, he realized that it had not helped at all. Indeed, after the tension in his muscles faded, the tensions in his mind merely increased as he realized the impact of what was happening in but a few hours. Nearly seventy years of longing and labor he endured, and now Arwen was finally to be his wife. But first they had to put on a show for everyone else, considering his position. He frowned; what wedding vows were they to use, the vows used in Gondor or the vows of the Elves? His frown deepened; he was sure he discussed this with Faramir at some point, but he could not remember the decision they agreed upon. Indeed, if he was to be honest with himself, he could not remember any details very well at the moment.

He stared at his reflection in the mirror. Well, at least he did not look as nervous as he felt.

Aragorn nearly jumped when a knock came through the door. Frowning, he made sure he was composed before opening it. "Elladan. What are you doing here?"

"A couple of reasons," said the Elf as he stepped through the entryway. Aragorn led him to a seat and they both sat down across from one another. "Firstly, I come upon an errand from my sister. She thought it best you carried this, as you are expected to give it back to her in the ceremony." He gave to Aragorn a slender band made of mithril that bore a single green stone upon it; it was the same type of stone that made part of both the Elessar and the Ring of Barahir.

"Her betrothal ring," Aragorn muttered. "My thanks, brother." As was custom in elven betrothals, rings were exchanged between the betrothed, rings that were meant to be given back on their wedding day. The day they plighted their troth, Aragorn gave to her the Ring of Barahir, and she gave to him the slender band of mithril that had once belonged to Elrond's mother, Elwing. He feared to keep it on his person as the days grew darker, and so Arwen kept it for him, and he only wore it on a chain around his neck when he was in Rivendell.

"The second reason I came," continued Elladan, "was to keep you company. You look as tense as a bowstring, Estel."

"I am getting married," he replied dryly. "Is my nervousness so obvious?"

"You forget, brother, that I have known you since the day you were born," the other retorted. "You can hide little from me."

"That is true." He sighed and stood. "Yes, I am nervous. I wish we could simply skip the ceremony and be married privately. Perhaps then I would not be as nervous." He began to pace about the area.

"I have attended such weddings of both Elves and Men in the past, and I assure you that a calm bridegroom is merely a man that can hide his emotions very well. There is no such thing," the other reassured. "You, however, are doing a horrible job of hiding your feelings. And do stop pacing, you will create a hole in your floor and bring your chamberlain and the storm he carries in here."

"I presume you've already met him," said Aragorn, his lips twitching.

"More than once, unfortunately," Elladan muttered. "There is a man who spends his life as a taut bowstring!"

"Faithoron does his job well," Aragorn said in his defense, though he was unable to hide his amusement over the peredhel's frustration.

Elladan only shook his head, but anything he was about to say was interrupted by a knock on his door. Opening it, Aragorn found two of his kinsmen behind it.

"Halvagor, Meluion, please come in," he said, ushering the two in.

"We came to give support to a kinsman about to embark on the greatest adventure you have thus had: marriage," said Meluion. Seeing Elladan, he added, "But it seems that someone came up with the idea before us."

"You, at the least, have married before, Meluion, so perhaps are better suited for the task!" said Elladan with a smile. The older Ranger nodded and smiled softly, his face unnaturally sober as he remembered his long-dead wife. He quickly came over his melancholy.

"Oh, no, not even a married man can prepare one who has never married for it," he said.

"But your support is nonetheless appreciated," said Aragorn. He turned to Halvagor. "Where is Halborn?"

"My brother is with Lord Faramir, going over any last-minute details before the ceremony," he said. He suddenly smiled, a rare sight in itself. "Both of them, along with Lord Húrin, are also trying to calm down Faithoron, for some Elves have been adding their own touches after speaking with Lord Faramir."

"Yes," added Meluion. "Faithoron is not very appreciative of their assistance, despite the Steward's blessing."

Aragorn laughed aloud. "He would not be! He considers himself the sole ruler of such matters, and I do not believe he has yet forgiven me for having Faramir draw up most of the wedding plans."

"Speaking of the wedding," said Elladan, glancing at the clock on the mantle above the fireplace, "the hour is growing late. You are expected to be there earlier than the bride."

"Am I?"

"Yes. The wedding is following the traditions of Gondor in that aspect, my lord," said Halvagor. "Lord Faramir mentioned discussing this with you."

"Yes, yes, of course." He vaguely recalled that conversation, now that he thought about it. The other three in the room, even the usually reserved Halvagor, stared at him, expressions mixing from slight concern to amusement. He ignored them. "Come, let us go." He swung his white cloak over his shoulders and pinned the Elfstone in place before placing the White Crown on his head once more. Meluion glanced at his outfit curiously.

"You will not wear the chain mail?"

"Nor Andúril," he said. "This is my wedding, not my coronation, and any expecting to see a warrior this night will simply have to be disappointed."

Meluion nodded in acceptance and, after casually adjusting his younger kinsman's cloak for a moment, glanced at Elladan. "Will your sister like it?"

"At this point in time, she'll be content with him in any shape or form," said Elladan. "It was only fear of Adar's wrath that kept her from saying 'now', I believe." The thought that she was as eager as he to have this over and done with calmed Aragorn's nerves a little.

"With due respect, my lords, but time is passing," said Halvagor.

The king took one last glance in the mirror. Taking a deep breath, he turned away and passed through the door, his brother and kinsmen close behind him.


Aragorn was rather sure it was close to midnight, though even then he was not sure of himself, for it seemed every skill he ever once possessed had disappeared the moment he found his designated place for the exchange of vows. They were to be married in front of the small, but blooming White Tree with Gandalf overseeing them. Gathered around them would be family of both the bride and groom, with close friends, high-ranking lords, and emissaries sitting in the few rows of benches in front of them. Beyond those seated would be minor lords, merchants, and all others Faramir and Faithoron found necessary to invite to represent Gondor, standing alongside most of the peoples of Rivendell and Lórien, who were unaccustomed to sitting during such ceremonies.

Already with him were Halborn, representing his closest kinsman present as his cousin's eldest son, and Meluion, both old enough and close enough to represent his father, as the one who had raised him during his childhood was to lead the bride. Beside him stood Gandalf, and across from him were Arwen's grandparents and brothers. Celeborn nodded cordially to him and Galadriel smiled softly. Her smile was nearly identical to Arwen's, and that observation only made time seem to pass even slower. Where was she? He began to distract himself by scanning over the crowd, counting all the people he knew.

He was somewhere around two dozen when a sudden hush came over the crowd near the entrance of the house where Arwen was preparing herself. A bend in the pathway prevented him from seeing the cause of the silence, but even a fool would have realized that only one person could cause such awe. The bride— his bride— approached.

He did not have to wait long for her. Soon enough, led by her father, she appeared. His Arwen.

She looked even more glorious than before. The jewel still shone on her brow, but now her hair was strung with small gems that shone like the stars in the night sky. A bright white stone gleamed on her neck, and she wore a simple, but elegant gown of beige, the outfit only seeming to cause her glow to brighten.

Her eyes were only on him, and as before, he felt engulfed in her gaze. Nothing else existed in the world except the two of them and all the bright stars of Elbereth to witness their union.

She came to the dais, and Elrond released her and stood by Celeborn, his gaze unreadable. The bride and groom only had eyes for each other, and they immediately grasped each other's hands once she was in place. Gandalf cleared his throat.

"My lords, my ladies, we are here gathered today to witness the union of Aragorn Elessar, son of Arathorn, and Arwen Undómiel, daughter of Elrond. Dost thou, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, in the name of the All-Father Eru Ilúvatar, vow to cherish Arwen, daughter of Elrond, in good times and bad, in joy and sorrow, unto the ending of the World?"

"I, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, take thee, Arwen, daughter of Elrond, to be my wife, to cherish in good times and bad, in joy and sorrow, unto the ending of the World. I pledge to thee, Arwen, to be thy constant companion, thy light in the dark, and thine one true love under the guidance of Eru Ilúvatar."

"And dost thou, Arwen, daughter of Elrond, in the name of the All-Father Eru Ilúvatar, vow to cherish Aragorn, son of Arathorn, in good times and bad, in joy and sorrow, unto the ending of the World?"

Arwen raised her right hand to rest it upon the Elfstone, the gift Galadriel bestowed to Aragorn when he last passed through Lórien. "I, Arwen, daughter of Elrond, take thee, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, to be my husband, to cherish in good times and bad, in joy and sorrow, unto the ending of the World. I pledge to thee, Aragorn, to be thy constant companion, thy light in the dark, and thine one true love under the guidance of Eru Ilúvatar."

Gandalf nodded in satisfaction. "Now you both exchange the rings that you bestowed upon the other at the beginning of the betrothal." Aragorn took the slender mithril band and placed it upon Arwen's left index finger. His bride then took the Ring of Barahir and placed it on his left index finger. The wizard smiled, and held their hands together. "Now your lives are forever bound by one path. May Eru watch over that path, and bless it with beauty and happiness through all the years." He released his hold upon the newly wedded couple, and as one Aragorn and Arwen came together and embraced, their love for one another passionate and true.

When they parted, Arwen raised her hand to his cheek, her eyes as bright as the stars above her. "Estel nín," she muttered.

He raised his hand to the side of her head, his hand relishing the softness of her midnight tresses. "Undómiel nín," he replied. He spared a glance behind her to Elrond. The emotionless expression had fallen and the Elf-lord was smiling gently at them. He caught Aragorn's eye and bowed his head slightly. He had come to acceptance, and held no anger against him. It relieved him to see it thus.

Together they walked down the isle, acknowledging the applause and cheers with smiles and laughter. Their guests followed them to Merethrond, where they feasted and exchanged stories. Afterwards, the tables were moved away for dancing, and the first dance of the night was Arwen with her father. Both the groom and the bride danced with many of their guests, as well as each other, but long before the night was over, the couple quietly retired to the King's House. Family and friends sent knowing glances to them as they departed, knowing that their marriage would be sealed before the dawn.

Adar: father
Estel nín: My Estel (hope).
Undómiel nín: My Evenstar.


*I had already half of this chapter written when I realized that Arwen came a day earlier than the wedding. I interpreted the "day of Midsummer" as the whole 24 hours rather than daytime and figured they could be married at the stroke of midnight XD

*Valar/Eru- In case you haven't read the Silmarillion, the Valar are something like demigods, or angelic creatures with a good amount of power. They're the folks that live in 'the West' that the Elves sail to. They helped shape the world, Arda (Middle-earth is one of the continents on Arda). Eru is the God-like figure in Tolkien's mythos; he created the Ainur (Valar and Maiar), and Elves and Men (Hobbits are an off-shoot of Men and Dwarves, well, their creation is another story found in the Silmarillion).

*The whole wedding scene is loosely based off what Tolkien wrote about elvish weddings in History of Middle-earth. I don't own the actual book that has that content, though, so hopefully the internet has not failed me. I was inspired with the wedding vows from several traditional vows of various religions and cultures.

*After rereading the beginning of Many Partings and comparing it to the timeline in Appendix B, the wedding is basically celebrated for a good two weeks, if not a little bit longer. I was trying to figure out how the people could celebrate for so long, and that ended up with the conclusion that basically every registered citizen in Minas Tirith and Pelennor fields, along with many people within a few days of the City, feasted at the Citadel at least once. Why not, eh?

Thanks for the reviews!

Chapter 5: Preparations

Midsummer, morning

He awoke feeling groggy, but incredibly comfortable. He associated the comfort with the wonderful mattress underneath him; such luxury could only be his room in Rivendell. As he breathed deeply through his nose, he realized that none of the smells he associated with the valley came with it. The scents themselves were not at all unpleasant, but most certainly different. Too tired to open his eyes to see where he was, and sensing nothing even remotely dangerous in the vicinity, he slightly shifted and relaxed, not yet ready to wake.

Aragorn felt something move beside him, and before he could fully absorb that thought, something light settled on his bare chest.

Eyes popping open in surprise, he saw a pale, graceful hand. His gaze followed the length of the arm until it came upon a fair face crowned with waves and waves of dark hair. Such a beautiful creature could only be one person.

"Arwen!" he cried, sitting up in shock. What was she doing in his bed? As he went to scurry off the bed, he suddenly realized that he was wearing nothing. 'What have I done?'

She stirred and opened her eyes, smiling at him sleepily. "Good morning, my love."

He blinked, wondering why she was not as shocked as he was, and glanced at the room for the first time. They were in some sort of large bedchamber made of white stone and covered with expensive silks, soft rugs, and detailed tapestries. Suddenly, all the memories of the last few months came to him, and he took a deep breath. Minas Tirith. King. Yes, these were his bedchambers. And Arwen… Arwen was his wife.

When Aragorn did not immediately respond, she glanced at him worriedly. "Estel? Are you well?"

He turned to her and smiled. Lying back down, he said, "How could I not be, I who have the greatest, the most brilliant, the most beautiful wife in Arda? How am I so lucky?"

Her own smile widened as he spoke and she answered by embracing him. In his ear she whispered, "And how am I so lucky to have the noblest, the most selfless, the most loving husband there has ever been?" She kissed him softly near the ear, then his cheek, and then his lips, and Aragorn gladly returned her advances.

A few minutes later they lay there silently, content to simply be in each other's arms, listening to the soft sounds of the other's breath. Aragorn gently stroked her hair with slow repetitions while she softly inspected his free hand. Her heart cried for her husband as she saw the old, permanent scars beginning at his knuckles and continuing up his arm, but she kept her face peaceful and remained silent. Those were stories for other days; for now, Aragorn seemed not to worry about them, and she did not want to break the bliss of the morning by recalling his days of woe and terror.

After a moment of gazing only at the top of her head, his eyes strayed to the window. It was bright out and it was much later than he usually woke. 'How late is it?' he wondered. He glanced down again at the woman in his arms. He decided it didn't matter.

Before long, Arwen rolled to the side and glanced at him, a playful smile on her face. "It is growing late, Estel. Do you have any plans to rise from bed before the day is gone?"

He shrugged lazily and smiled. "Not if you are here."

She smirked. "Well, my husband, then I am afraid you must rise. I have a family that is expecting to see me at least once today— and they would like to see you, too, of course. Adar worried about you after you left Imladris, though he admitted it not to me."

"I will certainly see them," he said. His eyes followed her and he could not help but watch as she left the bed and put on a robe to cover herself. He did not notice the robe last night; then again, there was little he noticed the night before if it did not fully concern his beloved.

Aragorn turned again to look at Arwen, and a smile came unbidden to his lips. Last night was exhilarating and wonderful. So wonderful.

She felt his eyes upon her and turned. When she caught his look, she started laughing. "I now understand that look, o husband mine! But you must be content with memories for now, for the breaking of the fast has passed and we will miss the midday meal if we linger about much longer."

"You know as well as I that we can have food any hour of the day."

"But some sort of structure would be preferred," Arwen rebutted with a smile. She indicated to a door behind her. "I shall be in my bathing chambers. Best ready yourself for the new day, Estel, for it is our first together as husband and wife." With a parting smile, she left the room, closing the door behind her.

He watched the door for a moment longer before pulling himself out of bed, grabbing the robe at his bedside before heading to his own bathing chambers. He smiled to himself as he opened the door. Yes, today was a magnificent new day: it was the beginning of a beautiful new life with his beloved.


2 Lithe, midday

Bregon hardly touched his food as he watched the young lord sitting quietly on the other side of the table, barely veiling his impatience. The older man, confined to the house for obvious reasons, nonetheless heard from the servants about the arrival of Elessar's bride, and the unexpected fact that she was an Elf. An Elf; that made their already complicated situation even worse.

Balandor had arrived very early in the morning yesterday, and was out most of the day on business and most of the night for feasting. It wasn't until now that they had a moment to actually discuss this new development, and thus far, the other man was proving to be less than communicative.

"Well?" Bregon asked, minding to keep his short temper in check. Balandor raised his eyes to meet his, and wordlessly beckoned him to continue. "What are we going to do?"

"About what?"

'About what?' he silently raged. Out loud, he said, "About the Elf! It is said that Elves are unnaturally canny; we have no hope in tricking her, especially if she is as close to him as the servants seem to think she is. There is no hope of this working, not with her as Elessar's wife."

"You doubt too soon," said Balandor. He was silent for a moment as he mulled over what he wanted to say. "This operation is delicate. We must move slowly if we are to have any sort of success. There are other things to prepare before we begin to plan for her—or Elessar, for that matter. Be patient, and concentrate more on your studies and less on the future. From what I have seen, these sorts of situations tend to right themselves, and opportunities come at the most unexpected of times. Ours will come." With that, Balandor turned back to his food.

The older man was dissatisfied with the answer, but he realized that he would hear no more from the man upon the subject. He, however, was not so willing to let the matter of the new queen be set aside so easily. He made a note to think upon it over the coming weeks, and perhaps he would have a solution even before the well-prepared Balandor. It would, perhaps, show this self-assured, indeed, smug lord that he was not a simpleton. And, he had to admit, he would enjoy proving that.


July 1, afternoon

Bregon allowed himself a smile of self-satisfaction as the words came easily from his lips and neatly onto the paper. He always prided himself on being a relatively quick learner, and that small talent was proving more useful than he ever thought it would be. And ever since Balandor told him why he wanted him to study, he only increased the hours in a day that he practiced. The tutor nodded slowly as he glanced over the man's writing.

"Good. Very good. Well done," he said. "You still need some practice, but you are fast. Soon enough, all of this will come naturally."

"It nearly is already," said Bregon. "Well, the Sindarin letters and runes," he amended. "Quenya is strange, despite some similarities with Sindarin."

"It will come soon enough, if you keep up your studies," said the tutor as he prepared his belongings for departure. "As you likely know, this was our last day together. I wish you the best of luck in your future studies."

Bregon raised his head and watched the old man wordlessly. While he would not admit it, he would miss his guidance a little; he proved to be a brilliant teacher, even if he did tend to digress often. There was still one thing, however, that bothered him, and while he was sure that Balandor wished him to say nothing on the subject, he could not remain silent for any longer. He had to hear the tutor's part in the young lord's ambitious scheme.

"How deep are you in Lord Balandor's confidence?" he asked suddenly, even as the tutor stood to leave.

The other man turned to him, confusion evident on his features. "Confidence? What do you mean?"

"You know exactly what I mean," he retorted. He knew that this old scholar had to be part of the plans; why else would he say nothing about the obvious similarities between him and the king?

The tutor's brow furrowed as he gazed deeply at Bregon. "I am not sure what you think I am," he said, slowly, "but I assure you, Lord Balandor has not made me privy to anything that may seem disreputable to anyone."

The younger man did not believe the tutor was lying, but if that was so, then his lack of comments concerning his appearance was even stranger. "Why would you agree to give me tutelage if you do not know anything? Surely you must know something."

"I do not know anything," said the elderly man. "I have known Balandor for a long time, and it was a simple request of tutoring an acquaintance of his. I was happy to make it, and I am glad that I did, for it proved to be an interesting time."

"Yet you— a learned, observant man— have said nothing on what every fool notices about me the first time they see me!" said Bregon, his brow furrowed in confusion. "Why do you not acknowledge the obvious when I cannot escape it elsewhere?" Would all the educated lords of Minas Tirith immediately see that he was not Elessar as this tutor seemed to know the first day they met? Was Balandor playing him for a fool?

The old man was silent for a long moment. Just as he was about to leave the room in frustration, the tutor replied quietly, "Loyalty and the assurance of living the rest of one's years needless can convince a man to turn a blind eye to even the most apparent of schemes, Master Pupil." With that, he bowed and left the office and Bregon alone to mull over his last words.


July 2, morning

The carriage rattled uncomfortably over the uneven dirt path, the bumpy road made all the more noticeable by the tense silence within the cabin. Little was said between them as they left Minas Tirith for the countryside, and, judging by the other's consistently pensive mood ever since Elessar's wedding, Balandor doubted he would speak much, if at all, during the ride to Lossarnach, and he did not bother to try and engage him in unwanted conversation. It was to the young lord's surprise, then, when Bregon did speak once they were about an hour out of the City.

"Why did you not tell the tutor my name?" asked Bregon.

"It is safer that way," he replied.

"How so? He turned a blind eye to my appearance and your scheme; what difference does it make that we not know one another's names?"

Balandor seemed to hesitate for a moment before answering, though the former cobbler immediately wrote it off as a misinterpretation; the lord never hesitated. "If something was to go wrong and suspicions arose, you could not reveal his part in this and he could not be used as evidence against your legitimacy because neither of you can name the other."

The dark-haired man nearly did not catch the last part of the statement. 'If something was to go wrong' rolled through his head a few times before he realized the full impact of the statement. "If something went wrong? What is that supposed to mean?"

"We are taking this plan slowly for a reason," Balandor stressed. "You must have many more months in lessons before you can even hope to imitate Elessar in public, never mind privately. If you prove to be as quick in learning swordplay, riding, and politics as you have been in reading and writing, we might make our move around the new year."

"The new year! That is several months from now!" argued Bregon. "I shall be ready by the end of this summer, surely."

"Do not be a fool," retorted the other. "Elessar's skills in battle are renowned; even if they are exaggerated, he was surely trained well, he knows a fair bit of lore, and is certainly fluent in reading and writing Sindarin. We are taking the course that allows as few chances of mishap as possible, and that will take time." A bright glint entered his green eyes as he studied Bregon. "Do you wish not to go through with this after all?"

Bregon turned towards the window on the door, idly taking in the various pastures and small clusters of homes that formed loose villages before replying. "You know my answer has not changed. I saw it in your mocking gaze."

"My mocking gaze? You misread me," said Balandor, his sandy hair waving slightly as he shook his head. "Your disapproval of Elessar trumps mine."

"My reason is personal," answered Bregon. "Yours is merely politics."

"Hardly," he answered, but did not clarify. "Nonetheless, does your loathing for the man overcome any inherent desires to reveal everything at the first sign of trouble?"

The other laughed bitterly. "You fear that I would reveal this all to be your doing? I imagine that one of your informants would dispose of me soon after if I made such a decision."

"I thought we were past this distrust," Balandor noted wryly. "I have, after all, given you my reasoning for seeking you out in the first place."

"And I know that I am merely a means to an end," Bregon snapped. "I am no dotard. The only reason you find me so compliant is because I have the same desire as you. But to answer your question," he continued before Balandor could retort, "no, I shan't speak of you at the first sign of trouble. By that time we will have come too far to do anything but adjust to whatever comes."

"I am glad we are of the same mind," said the young lord. "Your eagerness to bring change to Gondor is invigorating."

He could not tell if the other was being sarcastic or earnest and so said nothing on it. "It shall be simple enough to act as Elessar; all I must do is act arrogant and haughty to all those of a class lower than I, such as you lords always do."

"You once again mistake me for my colleagues," was Balandor's only reply, and a silence engulfed the cabin and remained with them for the rest of the day.


July 3, evening

Balandor and Bregon reached the lord's estate by the afternoon of the second day after setting out from Minas Tirith, and once they cleaned up from the road (and Bregon had shaved off his beard, which had become rather long and unruly after so many weeks of unkempt growth), they supped privately. It was during this time that Balandor explained Bregon's daily schedule.

"It will be a rather dull schedule, I fear," the lord said in between a bite of his meal. "Swordplay and archery after breakfast, luncheon, time at the stables, time with the tutor learning history, arithmetic, and of course continued reading and writing practice, supper, and finally time amongst ourselves where we will continue to mark your progress and map out the course for the future— and I train your voice."

He was utterly surprised by his last statement. "My voice? What do you mean?"

Balandor chuckled. "You do not believe that because you share looks that you share his voice as well?"

The other man's grey eyes lit up with the clarification. "I had not thought of that."

"You have had little contact with Elessar," the lord's small frame moved in a half-hearted shrug, though his bright green eyes revealed his amusement. "I have heard him speak often, thankfully, and while your voices are not the same, they are not too different from one another, either. With enough practice you shall soon enough be speaking like him naturally."

"How does my voice differentiate from his?"

"Your voice is higher, and you speak a little slower than he does, especially in Sindarin. He also has a slight Northern accent that you will have to learn to emulate. These should all be easy enough to correct. Do not look so forward," he warned, "easy enough to correct, but you must make his voice second nature if we are to have any hopes of this succeeding."

Bregon only nodded and turned his attention back to his food. The sound of two men enjoying their meal was the only noise that broke the silence for the next few moments. "How long will I be in this routine of yours?" he asked. "You mentioned we would not move forward with the plan for at least six months, but I cannot imagine this routine remaining constant for so long."

"Your progress will be observed, of course, but as I said before, we shall not go back to Minas Tirith until you have become very proficient in all of these skills. Besides," he added, the candlelight creating a dancing light within his pupils, "even if this takes years, will not the reward be worth it?" The young lord idly wondered if the man's impatience would overcome his desire to be rid of the newcomer who possessed his features.

The slight upturn of Bregon's lips was the only answer Balandor needed.


The next morning Bregon was woken early by none other than Falasgal. "Good morning, Master Bregon," he greeted cheerfully. "Lord Balandor is seeing to a few things, so I am to keep you company this morning. When you are ready, I will be waiting outside your door to escort you to breakfast, and then to the grounds for swordplay."

Bregon swiftly dressed himself in a plain tunic and comfortable leggings before allowing the other to lead him down to the dining room, where there was already a light meal laid out for him. He finished quickly and soon enough the two were outside.

"Lord Balandor wishes to see you trained in the art of swordplay, and he has hired a master swordsman to teach you. Tell me, Master Bregon, have you ever heard of Master Rangil?" At Bregon's negative response, the servant continued, "He lives at Erui's Crossing, the large town that, as you might have guessed, is right at the Crossings of Erui. This estate is only about a mile northwest of it; if you climb the large hill just west of here, you'll be able to see the town and the river quite clearly. Master Rangil is rather renowned about these parts. He was, for a long time, a part of the patrols that went into Ithilien when none ventured there."

"He was an Ithilien Ranger?" Bregon asked, surprised. "Does he have the blood of the Dúnedain in him, then?"

"Not as far as he knows— aye, I speak the truth!" Falasgal laughed at the taller man's disbelief. "I have spoken to him many times about it, and he swears he has none that he knows about. He certainly doesn't look like most of the Rangers, anyhow; you'll find that you are much taller than him, and his hair was nearly as light as a Rohir's back before it started going grey."

"How did he end up with the Ithilien Rangers, then? I have heard that only those with Dúnedain heritage are of those patrols."

"For the most part, yes, or so Rangil told me. Nonetheless there are a few there who are not obvious Dúnedain— some, like Rangil, who look like they better belong to Rohan than Gondor. When I asked him how he came to join a patrol of such men, he answered vaguely; he mentioned something about being at the right place at the right time. He does not speak much about it.

"Nevertheless, as I said, he is very renowned around these parts. I know he trained my lord a bit in the art of swordplay when he was younger, as well as other lords and their sons around Lossarnach. He knows a fair bit on archery, too, and you will likely learn something about that from him as well. You are privileged to be under his tutelage."

Bregon nodded, and he could not help but feel eager over Falasgal's description about this sword master Rangil. If he was as brilliant as the servant claimed he was, then he would certainly become skilled enough to pass off as the king.

They came to a large, penned-off dirt area, where sat an old man that Bregon spared a passing glance. As they continued towards him, slow realization dawned on him, and when they stopped at the gate and no one else came into sight, he slightly frowned. 'Surely,' he thought, 'this is some sort of trick.' When Falasgal only gently nudged him towards the ancient creature, he knew this had to be a jest on Balandor's part. This man looked old enough to be his grandfather; surely he could not be a master of the sword, not at such an age.

He slowly opened the wooden gate and approached the old man, stopping about ten feet in front of him. He shortly bowed his head to him, and the other nodded slowly in return as he watched him with sharp, emotionless eyes.

"You must be Bregon. I am Rangil, and I'm to teach you how to use a sword. Tell me, have you ever used a sword before?"


"Hmm. Very well, then." He leaned over to his side and picked up two blunt, plain steel swords, handing him one pommel first. "We'll start off easy. This sword is meant to be used with two hands, though you could try with one, if you are inclined. Hold it in a way that seems most comfortable to you." Bregon removed the sheath and held out the sword in front of him, readjusting his grip as the old man remained sitting with his open blade. When the younger man stopped shuffling about, he slightly smiled.

"Are you prepared?"

Bregon nodded, hoping that the frail-looking old man would not break a bone when he struck his sword.

He did not even see the other's sword fall upon his. In a move faster than his eyes could catch, Rangil's sword struck his and his blade went flying out of his hands before landing a few feet away.

"I was not fair," Rangil said to Bregon's rather open-jawed look. "You obviously were not prepared; you seemed deep in thought. Again?"

Managing a nod, Bregon retrieved his sword and eyed the old man warily this time, his grip tight on the two-handed sword.

"Are you prepared?" Rangil said once more. The other man nodded, not once taking his eyes off him.

Despite his concentration, he still could barely see the sword master's blade before it connected with his own. Once again his own sword went flying and landed, again, a few feet away, clattering miserably in the dirt as it fell.

"You were not prepared," Rangil said with a slight shake of his head. "Pick up your sword, Master Bregon. We will do this again."

By the time half an hour passed, he was able to handle one strike from the old man while he was sitting. It took another half an hour before he was able to keep the sword from flying away when the old man stood. He could not imagine how long it would take for him to withstand him in a duel.

"I believe that is enough for today," Rangil said, calmly taking away the blunt sword from Bregon's limp hands. The sword master had hardly broken a sweat after the hour while the cobbler could feel the muscles in his arms burning. "Tomorrow we shall start the real work; your stance is atrocious."

Bregon ignored the comment, still coming to terms that he was soundly disarmed again and again by this frail-looking, ancient man. "Master Rangil, where did you learn such skills? Never did I see my son use such tactics as yours when he practiced."

The sword master, noting the use of past tense, mentioned nothing about the other man's son and directed his response to the question. "Long ago, when I first joined the Guard in Minas Tirith, I had the honor of learning under a skilled master. He was a lieutenant when I first came to the City and enjoyed teaching new soldiers with the old masters, though he certainly did not look much older than me. By the time I came into my third year in the Guard, he was a captain, and I had the honor of being part of his company. In all my years ever since I still have yet to come across as great a swordsman as Captain Thorongil."

Rangil smiled softly as he remembered his younger days. "The captain had us train often to meet his standards, and even when we did meet those high standards, he would still have us practice whenever there was time to do so. But mastery of the blade aside, Thorongil was also respected for his honor, wisdom, and loyalty. Too often are such virtues unappreciated." The swordsman sighed lightly as he sat back down. "But as it is, those are days of the past." He glanced up at the dark-haired man. "Tomorrow I will not be as lenient with you, and we will train for much longer. Are you prepared?"

'He calls what he went through today lenient?' Bregon thought in dismay, but only nodded in response. The sword master grunted, sheathing both of the blades swiftly, and with a quick farewell, left the younger man to ponder all that he had learned in the hour.


After luncheon, Falasgal led him to the stables. In the stables there was the carriage, about a dozen horses, and several tools, horse-related and otherwise. Leaning against one of the stable gates was a middle-aged, cheery-looking man. His short hair was a shade darker than his heavily tanned skin, and a rather large, dark mole sat on the edge of his nose. Bregon carefully kept himself from staring at it.

"Lithor, here is your new student. Master Bregon, this is Lithor, the stable master here. You won't find a man more knowledgeable about horses in Gondor."

"He exaggerates," Lithor protested, but he grinned. "Master Bregon, welcome to Lossarnach! I understand you came with our lord but yesterday."

"Aye, Master Lithor, that is so."

"Well, if you ever have a chance, explore the grounds: the grass is trimmed and well-kept, the vineyards are beautiful, and Lord Balandor keeps a colorful garden that he allows all in." The man caught Falasgal's expectant glance. "Ah! But yes, I have a job to do. Go on, Falasgal, I am sure you have other duties. I shall watch our guest for a while." The other rolled his eyes, but smiled and lifted a hand in farewell as he left. "Come with me, come inside." Lithor led him to the stalls, which stood on both sides of them. "Now, Master Bregon, have you ever ridden a horse before?"

"No; there are few horses in Minas Tirith."

"Ah, well, that is not a problem; it is never too late to learn. And we have the perfect horse to start off with." Lithor went and stood in front of a stall that held a buckskin horse. "This mare here is as gentle as a mother and won't let you fall off. She's perfect for any beginner. Once you become more comfortable with riding, you can use another horse." He jumped over the stable gate and grabbed the halter hanging on a peg on the post that stood in one of the corners of her stall. "Here, Bregon, you will put on the halter." He quickly showed him how to slide and secure the halter on the horse's head, and then grabbed the lead rope. Attaching it to the halter, he signaled to the other man to move out of the way as he opened the door and led the horse out. He showed him how to correctly coil and hold the rope and then handed it to him. "Here, you lead her outside to the hitching post."

As they walked the mare outside, Lithor continued to chat. "The best way to get used to a horse is to spend time around it, and there is no better way than preparing it for a ride. As it is, Master Bregon, you'll have to learn sooner or later; even Lord Balandor has seen to his horse from time to time! Sometimes there are not enough men, or time, for even lords to simply let others do it. So best we start now, so you can learn how to care for a horse quickly."

He merely nodded and led the horse to the hitching post. He made to tie the rope around the post, but Lithor stopped him before he could begin. "No! There is a certain way to tie it, a special knot that comes undone in an easy pull but cannot be undone by the horse." He showed him how to do the knot slowly a couple of times and then had Bregon practice until he had it memorized. Satisfied, he went back into the stable and brought out the rest of the horse tack, as well as a couple of brushes and a pick.

"It's important to keep a horse clean. You always should clean the hooves and brush its coat before and after every time you ride. Always look for brambles and other such things in the horse's mane and tail, and be sure to brush them from time to time to keep them from getting too tangled.

"Let's start off with the hooves. What you'll want to do is stand about here, closer to the front of the leg you're cleaning so you aren't kicked by the horse. If you're dealing with a horse that's being a little skittish, be sure to calm it down before trying to get it to raise its hoof for you. Now, start here with the horse's foreleg. And what you'll do is slide your hand down her leg and grab here, just above the pastern." He held her leg and she automatically raised her hoof. The man grinned. "Now, if a horse you work with is a bit more stubborn than this girl here, you can say 'up' or 'hoof' or whatever commands the horse responds to. Be sure to hold the hoof rather than the leg." He let the hoof go and moved away. "Now, you try."

Bregon, to his knowledge, did everything that Lithor had done, but it still took a couple attempts before the mare would lift her hoof. The stable master nodded in approval. "Right, well done." He handed him the pick. "Now, when you clean the hoof, work away from you, from heel to toe, and avoid that soft spot right there." The man did as he was told, and soon enough he had cleaned all four of the mare's hooves. Lithor then showed him how to properly brush the horse, and before long they were working with the tack.

"I tend to put on the saddle first," he said, "though I've seen others put on the bridle at the start. Putting on a saddle is easy enough. First you lay on the saddle blanket, then the saddle, and then you fasten the girth to the saddle and bring it around the underside to the other side of the saddle. You want it secure, but not too tight, and be sure not to do it when the horse is in the middle of a deep breath— girth will be too loose, otherwise. Look out for wrinkles in the saddle blanket." Bregon, with Lithor's help, soon had the mare saddled; the horse was impeccably patient, idly swishing her tale from time to time as they worked.

"The stirrups are attached to the saddle and can be adjusted for your length. The easiest way to find a good length for you is to attach the stirrups, and then, with your hand touching this area where the stirrups are attached to the saddle, adjust it until the stirrup is the length of the bottom of your arm." Soon enough, both stirrups were adjusted for his height.

"All that is left now is the bridle," said the stable master. "Now, while some horses are trained well enough not to wander off, many still will if they are not secured, so we'll leave the halter on as we're putting on the bridle." He undid most of the halter but left it hanging loosely around the mare's neck. "I'll put on the bridle today while you watch, and you can give it a try tomorrow."

He slowly put the bridle on the horse's head, explaining each step as he went along. After he was finished, he swiftly attached the reins and handed them to a surprised Bregon. As Lithor undid the halter, he said, "We'll need the brushes, pick, and halter again, so we'll leave them here for now. You can lead her out to the ring."

Within minutes, they were in an enclosed ring and Lithor was expecting Bregon to mount the horse. He glanced at him, unable to quite conceal his trepidation. Now that they were actually there, he was not quite sure he wanted to do this right now. While he was not afraid of horses, he knew well that they were powerful beasts that could easily throw him off.

Lithor smiled gently at his expression. "Don't worry; it's not that bad once you're seated. All you have to do is get your foot in the stirrup and swing yourself into the seat. You generally mount the horse from the left, or near, side. I've seen some horses that will allow you to mount them from their right side, but not all are trained to accept that; it's best not to try until you know the horse! Now, just place your left hand about here, keeping a good hold of the reins, step, and mount. Come, Master Bregon, the mare is looking bored and wishes to walk about."

Taking a deep breath, the man did as he was told, placing his hands on the saddle and his foot in the stirrup. After another breath, the man jumped, swung his leg over, and collapsed into the saddle. The horse under him stirred and flicked her ears.

"Not so roughly next time, Master Bregon!" he laughed. "Try and lower yourself onto the horse rather than fall upon the saddle. She will thank you for your gentle handling."

He nodded distractedly, looking at the world around him. He was tall, yes, but the couple of feet the horse gave to his height altered the perspective amazingly. He glanced down at the reins in his hands, wondering how in the world they worked.

Lithor followed his gaze and grinned. "Are you ready to ride, Master Bregon?"


"Great. Let us start; the day is wasting away."


He really did not want to go down to dinner. He was exhausted after the day's work, every muscle in his body felt sore, and he really had no desire to bandy words with Balandor at the moment. His mind could not handle it.

He needed a drink.

Bregon heard a knock at his door and rolled onto his stomach, groaning into the fluffy white pillow that currently gave him no comfort. He really did not want to see Balandor. The knock came again, and he heard a muffled call of his name. Falasgal. Sighing, he picked himself off the bed, ignoring the throbbing in his legs, and grudgingly opened the door.

"Greetings, Master Bregon," said the servant cheerfully. "Dinner is just about ready." He blinked, and his smile fell as he looked upon the man's face. "Are you well?"

"No." He left the doorway and began rummaging through the room's cabinets, annoyance clear on his features as he continued opening every drawer in the room.

"Are you searching for something?"


Falasgal folded his hands together. "I could help you find it if you allow me to know what it is you are searching for, Master Bregon."

He shot the unnaturally good-natured servant a dark look, but quickly turned back to his rummaging. "Something strong to drink."

"Well, Master Bregon, I do not believe there is any sort of drink in your room, but I do know that there will be plenty at supper, where Lord Balandor awaits you." He looked expectantly at him.

Bregon sighed. He was not sure what was stronger: his desire to drink or his desire to keep away from Balandor. Within a moment, the former won out, and he let the servant guide him to the dining room. There, he saw the young lord was already sitting at one end of the table. When he saw Falasgal enter with the other, he slightly smiled.

"Good, you are here. Now we can eat." He nodded to Falasgal, and within a moment platters of food were brought to the table. Bregon eyed the pitcher of wine, turning to the food before the younger man caught his stare. While he did not feel particularly hungry, he ate normally, hoping to look distracted by the food. He quickly drank down his cup of wine once it was poured, and a servant poured him another. As he reached for it, Balandor cleared his throat.

"How was your first day here?" he said casually, making Bregon immediately suspicious.

He shrugged half-heartedly, attempting to relax his nerves. More wine would help, he knew. "Well enough." He drank the glass more slowly this time, well aware of Balandor's green eyes upon his figure.

"How did you find the sword and the horse?"

He shoved a piece of meat in his mouth, wondering how he should answer. What was the other looking for? If he lied about anything, he was rather sure that the lord would hear the facts from Rangil and Lithor, so he supposed the truth was best. He could think of nothing particularly condemning to him about the day in the truth, anyways. "Rangil mostly knocked the sword out of my hand. I managed to stay on the horse, though not much else." He drank the rest of his glass.

Balandor nodded slowly. "It will take time, of course, for you to learn. It will be interesting to see your progress in a month, or even a week from now. But there is something else I would discuss with you."

The servants were gone, so Bregon grabbed the pitcher on the table and poured himself another glass. He would need another dozen of these to last through one of the other man's discussions.

The lord watched the falling red wine silently. As the dark-haired man put down the container and reached for his cup, he said, "Tell me, Bregon, when did you begin drinking like this?"

Bregon stopped mid-motion, his eyes lifting from the cup to the man across the table. "Like what?"


He lowered his hand, his grey eyes blazing as he spoke. "What are you accusing me of?"

"It's not an accusation, Master Bregon, but a fact. My servant found you heavy with drink at the Old Guesthouse before we met. Near every day in my house in the City you drank more than necessary, leaving you despondent and vulnerable. I had hoped you'd leave the habit behind once you agreed with my plans and we left Minas Tirith, but you seem to have brought it with you. Now, I ask again; how long?"

The man grunted noncommittally, but after a moment, answered, "Sometime after my son's death last year."

"I see," he said, staring at him expressionlessly. "And I imagine that, with the return of the King, it has only worsened." Bregon said nothing. The lord remained silent for a moment as he thought about the issue, and then said, "Well, that is something that must also be taken care of before you can ever hope to ascend the throne. We shall have water and juice with our meals for a while, until your body has been cleared and you are ready to practice temperance."

Bregon remained silent. He stood, glanced at his full glass, and then wordlessly left the room, loudly shutting the door behind him.


July 6, early afternoon

While the nightly celebrations over the wedding of the King continued, business during the day commenced once more. The lords gathered in the large meeting hall exchanged pleasantries as they waited for the luncheon served before the session. In the meanwhile, Aragorn hoped that the first joint council meeting since his wedding would be filled with less conflict than the last.

"My Lord King," said someone behind him. Aragorn held back a sigh; it was Galabor. He turned to greet the young Lord of Anórien with a smile. "Many blessings to you and the Lady Queen in your union." He thanked him graciously, wondering how many times the man would congratulate him before he stopped. Perhaps he had a poor memory; it would explain why he always brought up the issue of currency once every other session.

Before Galabor could continue speaking, Lord Bavanor approached, his portly body and confident bearing easily overtaking the other lord's almost frail frame. "My lord," he said with the tilt of his head. "I trust you have looked over my plans concerning the redesign of the buildings destroyed on the first and second levels?"

"I have skimmed them over," said Aragorn, watching from the corner of his eye as Lord Galabor ambled away, seemingly unperturbed by the interruption. "But first the walls must be fully repaired. Master Gimli is seeing them reinforced with a substance called concrete, which he claims will make them stronger against attacks."

"Yes, I well know the strengths of concrete," the head of the Stonemason Guild sniffed. "There is still documentation of the buildings in Númenor made of it, and some of its advantages over stone and lime mortar, though sadly the recipe for creating it was lost with the island."

"Most thankful then should we be for Master Gimli's assistance," said Aragorn. "The new walls will be very strong."

"I suppose so," said Bavanor. "But soon enough construction must start in the damaged areas of the City."

"Of course, but only when the repairs on the walls have progressed," he said. "Despite the Dark Lord's fall, we still have enemies and cannot let the walls remain as such for too long, and there are not yet enough people to fill the empty buildings still standing in the City, never mind new ones."

Before the other man could argue, they were called to be seated. While Bavanor was arguing with him, as usual, at least he was not questioning the eligibility of his beloved to be the Queen of Gondor. No, he thought with an inward smirk, there were certainly no more doubts about her lineage not being high enough for the king.

He sat at the head of the table, with Faramir and Imrahil on either side. To Faramir's other side sat Húrin, and by the Warden of the Keys was Mithor. Next to Imrahil was Angmoth, and by the son of Angbor was Lord Camaen of Lebennin. That was as far as Aragorn could politely converse without shouting, for which he was somewhat thankful; already there seemed to be a heated discussion on the other side of the table between Lord Siranor of Pelargir, Lord Iorgil of Harlond, and Lord Hador of the Merchant's Guild. It sounded as if they were arguing about tariff rates— again. At least, he noted with some relief, Lord Bavanor did not seem to be raising any conflict; he seemed to be laughing about something with Lord Dervorin of Ringlo Vale and not at all being antagonistic.

'Then again,' he thought dryly, 'the only person he seems to actively antagonize here is me.'

Aragorn let that thought die and brought his mind to the conversation taking place around him. Camaen, a rather tall, but slightly built man that bore the common dark hair of Gondorrim, seemed to be in the middle of some sort of story.

"… and that is when my brother, furious at the thought that our sister told this suitor not to even bother to ask for his permission, went to hunt down this man himself, she angrily yelling at him even as he left the house." He suddenly chuckled. "He was readily relieved when he learned that the man was honorable and part of the large House of Dol Amroth."

"Yes," Imrahil agreed with a smile. "I lost track of my grandfather's many siblings and all of their heirs long ago, leaving such following of our family history to my sister, but I have yet to hear of one that has been dishonorable or careless."

"Does your brother rule there as you represent your area of Lebennin here in the City?" asked Angmoth.

Camaen's smile faded. "I am sure my lords remember the sickness that came to Gondor in 3012." Even Aragorn nodded; while the sickness did not reach Eriador, he heard news of the bout of illness that came that winter, for it was worse than any winter colds in many years. "My brother, sadly, fell ill and succumbed, and I inherited his place as heir. As he did, I chose to come to the City to be part of the Council of Gondor, and remained here after our father passed a year later. While the land belongs to me, I am content to leave it currently in the hands of my sister and her husband— they lost their estate, which was on the Anduin, to Corsairs. I am glad that I do not have to travel back and forth, for I enjoy Minas Tirith."

"It is a beautiful city," said Faramir with a smile, "and it shall only grow in beauty now with the fall of the Enemy and the return of the King." Aragorn nodded his head in acknowledgement towards the steward.

"To the King," said Angbor with the slight raise of his glass. Those within earshot lifted their glasses with him.

"And to the new Queen of the Reunited Kingdom," said Húrin. "May your years be long and blessed." Aragorn raised his cup to this toast.

After luncheon, now with their stomachs contented, the council commenced. Much of the same topics were discussed and reported upon, and there seemed to be a slow, but steady progress in the war recovery efforts in both the City and Gondor as a whole.

"There has been word from my uncle, the lord of Pinnath Gelin who rules there in my stead, concerning the seed and food available now," said Lord Hirion, a young man only come to his position after his father Hirluin fell in the War. "Just as it was when our company left the Green Hills early this year, that land has only heard rumors of war, and their crops and seeds are bountiful. He understands the needs of much of Eastern Gondor, and while some of the landowners have grumbled, there have thus far been no outright protests over the temporary tax."

Lord Siranor reported gladly that there was word that traders from the South had begun to finally come to Pelargir once more, and thus far there were no reports of hostile activity from them. "The high tariffs, however," he said a little stiffly, "they are unhappy about, and there have been complaints from them that we are robbing them."

"Those Southrons shouldn't have made war with us, then," Lord Dervorin of the Ringlo Vale said shortly.

Siranor glanced at the other lord coolly. "We do not conduct trade with Black Númenóreans or Southrons that aided the Enemy, and it is now known that not all of the tribes in Harad worked with Mordor, and many did so due to the threat of annihilation. We have also had traders come from beyond Umbar, happy to be able to travel so far north without fear of the Corsairs raiding their ships. They bring goods that have not been seen in Gondor for many a long year, and the tariffs deter them from more business."

"Nonetheless, the merchants of Gondor need time to rebuild their businesses and the economy," argued Lord Hador. "Business has suffered over the last few years in Minas Tirith, coming to a near standstill this last winter and early spring, and it is the same all around Gondor. We need time to reestablish our place in the Gondorian economy, and if my colleague Lord Balandor were here, he would agree with me."

The Lord of Pelargir made to argue, but the king held up a hand. "We've had this conversation before, my lords, and my verdict remains the same. The tariffs shall remain as is until Gondor's people have sufficiently recovered to offer competition to foreign trade. We shall review the matter after the Mettarë recess."

Lord Siranor bowed his head deferentially in the king's direction, his expression carefully schooled. They soon moved onto other subjects, topics old and new discussed and argued, until all topics on the agenda were covered.

Before Aragorn released the council, he made a short announcement. "I have received word from King Éomer of Rohan that he will be here in about two weeks time to escort the late King Théoden to his homeland. I, the Lady Queen, and the Lord Steward shall be joining them, and it has been decided that all of Minas Tirith's northern guests will begin their journey home with the Rohan procession, departing Edoras after the funeral. The King of Rohan has graciously offered an invitation to all here to join the procession, though he understands if duty keeps many from taking the offer. Húrin of the Keys shall rule the City while Lord Faramir, the Lady Arwen, and I are away. While we are gone, there will be no joint council sessions, and I will see to the decisions made in my absence once I return."

"How long do you expect to be away?" asked Lord Eradan of the Woodworking Guild.

"I must see to Isengard, as that is still part of Gondor, so it will likely be a couple of months," said Aragorn. "I expect that most of the procession from Gondor shall remain in Edoras and return to Minas Tirith sooner." Scattered nods met this comment, and when there were no other enquires, he adjourned the council.


July 12, afternoon.

Despite the continued celebrations every evening, during the day Aragorn eventually fell back to the normal routine with one great exception: Arwen was by his side. Her presence, even when he was working, made his life complete.

As he read over a report detailing the repair work on the walls of the first level, his wife suddenly spoke up.

"I will not go beyond Edoras."

Aragorn raised his eyes in surprise. "You will not travel with me to the northern border of Rohan?"

She shook her head. "Nay, dear, I had another thought in mind." She set aside her embroidery and rose from her chair to join Aragorn. He put down his paperwork and allowed his bride to sit on his lap. She leaned against her husband and sighed contentedly before continuing. "I spoke with Lord Imrahil's daughter, Lothíriel, a couple days ago. She told me a little about her mother and the travels she made with Imrahil throughout Dor-en-Ernil when he came to princedom. She personally went out to meet with her people.

"While I realize you shan't be able to make such a trip for a while, there is nothing preventing me from doing so. Despite the readings I have done and the stories I have heard, there is still little I know about Gondor. I would hear the people's concerns and relay them to you— and perhaps even abolish some ridiculous superstitions and rumors while I am at it." She chuckled and shook her head, but her lightheartedness did little to ease Aragorn's worries.

"Travel through Gondor by yourself, and so soon?" He frowned. "I do not understand your reasoning."

She stood and sat across from him so as to look her husband straight in the eye. "We have been married for but a fortnight and already you are back to work. I cannot read and sign laws and contracts for you, meleth, but I can listen to our people, hear their concerns, and save you the time, since you have none to spare. Besides," she added with a smile, "I would hardly be alone. I have already spoken with my father, and he is most interested in speaking with you about a few Elves traveling with me alongside any sort of royal escort. It will ease his worries if you acquiesce to his request."

"It would ease my worries, as well," he said. "I know the warriors of Imladris better than the warriors of Gondor; it has been long since I've been in the South."

"So I thought," she said. "I will also be in the company of Lord Imrahil for some of the time, and once he hears my plans, I imagine he will expand my escort. As it is, my brothers think it is a good idea."

Aragorn was surprised by this. "Elladan and Elrohir agreed to this?"

She laughed at his wonder. "They rode through the very lands I plan to see, and they saw nothing I and a royal escort could not handle. If I rightly recall Elrohir's words: 'A land of peasants with a minor lord here and there, most unfit to weald a sword'. They are a peaceful folk, Estel, many who were unused to war until they were called to it."

"Aye, there are very few warriors," he agreed. "Most fled in terror as we rode to the Anduin, and those that joined us to fight were warriors among the coasts fighting the Corsairs."

"Exactly," Arwen said, smiling. "And I am no stranger to the blade; my brothers saw me well trained."

Aragorn nodded, unable to argue with that. He had only seen her practicing once, when he had come unexpectedly to the valley after many months away. She had been just as beautiful then; slightly flushed and hair askew, but graceful and deadly with Elrohir, who had been practicing with her. He did not doubt that the granddaughter of Galadriel and the daughter of Elrond could defend herself if need be.

Still, he hated to think of her away for so long. "How long do you plan on being gone?"

She shook her head. "I have yet to map out a course. Imrahil, too, will be staying in Edoras, and so I will come back to Minas Tirith when he does, and travel to Dol Amroth with his company. From there I am not sure; it will likely be two or three months."

"The shorter course I ask of you then, my dear lady," said Aragorn. "I cannot say no to your request, especially since you have the support of Elladan and Elrohir, but I do beg that you come back to Minas Tirith as fast as you may."

"That is why I will not journey with you to Isengard," Arwen said with a smile. She joined Aragorn once more and planted a kiss upon his lips. "I, however, shall not distract you any longer. I have seen the amount of work awaiting you."

"I'd rather you distract me," he muttered into her ear, pulling her closer to his body. She laughed in delight and eagerly gave into his slight pressure, shivering as he began to bestow kisses over her face. As his lips traveled down her neck, she reluctantly pulled away.

"Later, meleth nín," she said. "The Lord Chamberlain is expecting me soon, and I would not have him come by and see what is delaying me."

"I do not mind," he whispered, a bright glint in his eyes.

She chuckled. "Neither do I, but I'd rather not have the Council's wrath over your delayed signatures." Arwen stood and let her hand linger upon her husband's a moment longer before leaving the room.


*Meleth nín: 'my love' in Sindarin.

*Falasgal's and Bregon's view of the Ithilien Rangers is based upon Frodo's view of the Rangers when he first comes upon them in Ithilien, and a few passages following his observations.

*The character Rangil's actions are largely inspired by sword master Bob Anderson, who trained many of the actors (including Viggo) in the LOTR films.

Sorry for the missed update last week, guys, you know how life is! I will be at the Comic Con in San Diego until next Monday, as well, so chapter seven may be delayed, too. If you're going to the con, I'll be the tall brunette passing out stuff at TheOneRing's panel on Thursday morning, so come and say hi! :-)

Also, a couple readers have pointed out a couple nasty homophone errors that I happened to miss, and one who knows much more about astronomy than I has given me a short lesson on where a moon would be during certain times. ;) I will correct these errors within the next couple of weeks, hopefully straight after vacation.

Chapter 6: High Summer

July 21, afternoon

Part of Bregon's overall schedule was familiarizing himself with history, a study that seemed to vary in terms of keeping his interest. Some parts of it were fascinating, while other parts he merely skimmed over when he could. At the moment, he was reading silently about the Downfall of Númenor, a read that captivated him more quickly than duller parts of the island's history. To think that the Enemy who managed to bring the destruction of a whole island was now gone! Part of him was unsure if he was truly gone as everyone else said, but even if he was not, at least he would unlikely appear again in his lifetime.

Over the last couple of weeks, the enforced sobriety brought effects he did not expect— effects that only made him want to drink, at least at first. He frequently had headaches throughout the day, and at night he felt sweaty and it often took him a long time to fall asleep. In those first days, he avoided Balandor to the best of his ability, afraid that if he saw too much of him he would end up punching him simply to give the lord a similar headache. Within the last couple of days, however, the symptoms were all but gone, and as he thought about drink less and less, he was able to concentrate more on his daily lessons. It had even come to a point that he could speak pleasantly with the young lord.

Reading Sindarin, too, became simpler when his want of drink became less. He now understood the greater part of all he read, despite the fact it was written in a tongue he could barely read but two months ago. When Balandor's hired tutor from Erui's Crossing visited biweekly, any words he could not read or understand were explained, and he found it easier, day by day, to understand them. He had yet to say anything to Balandor about the forced temperance and his diminishing withdrawal symptoms, but by the looks the sandy-haired man sent him, he had a feeling that he already knew his thoughts.

Despite all this, he still wanted wine again.

Bregon was interrupted by the arrival of the lord, his small frame still imposing even after living with him for a month. It was a fact that bothered him more than he could describe. His face expressionless, as usual, Balandor crossed the room and took the seat across from him.

"The Akallabêth?" he said in greeting, glancing at the book in his hands. "A sad story, though an important one."

"That Ar-Pharazôn was…" he trailed off.

"Arrogant. He let his arrogance overcome him, bringing the downfall of his people." He paused. "A story I hope you remember well when you are crowned."

He said nothing for a moment. "Did you come here for a specific reason?"

"Speak not so deeply, and less emphasis on the vowels," said Balandor; Bregon now only spoke in Elessar's voice, another thing that was slowly becoming easier as the days passed. "And yes, I did." He pulled a letter from his pocket. "I just received word from the City that Elessar, the Queen, the Steward, and all of their guests have departed Minas Tirith with the King of Rohan for the funeral of their last king, who fell in battle on the Pelennor. They are expected to be gone for a few weeks."

"Oh." He paused. "And what will I be doing during this time?"

"What you have been doing these last weeks, and more. You still have a long way to go to be Elessar."

"I am doing my best," he snapped.

Balandor ignored his outburst. "Next week, you shall begin archery after your sword practice with Master Rangil, and you will begin to focus more upon Quenya in your studies. The King spoke in the old tongue at his coronation, and it is no great stretch to believe that he is fluent in the tongue. Fortunately, I am as well, and I will see to your studies in the tongue at least three times a week."

"I look forward to it," he muttered dully, glancing back at the book in his hands. He frowned as he came upon a word that he could not decipher, and wished Balandor would leave so he could do his compulsory studying in peace.

The young lord studied him silently for a moment. "Remember our goal, Master Bregon. Though you may rue it, there is a reason for everything we do here. With patience, your time will come, and it will be worth it."

Bregon said nothing and simply went back to his book, but when the other man left, he lowered the text, his brow contorted as he wondered about the lord's words. The man was certainly preparing him in every way possible, and it seemed even less likely than before that he would simply abandon him to the wolves with some ill-planned plot. And getting back at Elessar would surely be worth all this trouble, would it not?

'In the end,' he mused, 'I have little choice. The days of meager meals and tasteless ale were just as mundane as these, if not more so, and less comfortable. And this tediousness will not last forever. It is not what I thought it would be, but not the worst that it could be. I must simply continue to bear it and veil myself more from Balandor so he cannot use my emotions against me anymore. It will be over soon enough.'

With that last thought, he put down the book and went to the desk, where the stationery lay; the handwriting of a king had to be better than where his skills currently were.


July 23, evening

Halvagor stared silently into the fire, the food on his plate untouched. He purposefully found a fire unoccupied by others for he needed a moment alone to figure out his chaotic thoughts.

It was an offhand comment Tandor made as they broke camp that reminded him of the day, and he was ashamed that it took so long for him to remember the date. He was no man who easily forgot time as the days flew by and he knew long that this date was approaching. Yet when it actually came, he forgot it until it was nearly passed.

What disturbed him just as much, if not a little more, was that it seemed that no one else remembered the day but him. Not one of his kinsmen made mention of it. Not Meluion. Not Aragorn. Not even his brother.

He wondered if they had forgotten it already.

A hand suddenly fell upon his shoulder, shaking Halvagor out of his reverie. Startled, he looked up and found both Halborn and Meluion looking down upon him. Irritated by the fact that he had been caught so off guard, he carefully schooled his expression as he eyed the two older men.

"Do not bother trying to fool me, brother," said Halborn in greeting, swiftly making his way around the fire and sitting down across from him. "You haven't touched your food, and the only time you don't eat is if you are sick or morose."

"And I'm too old to be tricked by such facial expressions," Meluion added, sitting down beside the young Ranger. "Come, tell us what bothers you. You have been grimmer than your usual self for the last couple hours."

Halvagor stared at them and they stared back. He knew their levels of patience were as great as his, if not sometimes greater, and he was in no mood to stare at them for the next hour. And, if he was to be honest with himself, he was curious as to what they would say, though he feared their responses. "Do you know what day it is?"

"July 23rd," said Meluion, his brow furrowing as he answered.

Halborn slightly smiled. "Adar's birthday."

He blinked, clearly surprised. "You remembered?"

"Yes." He studied his younger brother thoughtfully for a moment. "You feared that I had forgotten?"

"I feared that we all had forgotten. I just remembered but a couple hours ago," Halvagor confessed bitterly.

"Worry not about it," Meluion said, shaking his head as he pulled out a pipe. "Halbarad wouldn't have you fret about such a thing. Besides, you have an excuse. You were not there the day he turned fifty; everyone who was at that celebration has absolutely no excuse not to remember his day of birth."

A sudden grin lit up Halborn's face. "That is a day to remember. Father was little pleased with all of the commotion— at first."

Meluion smiled. "He asked for it after how greatly he mocked Aragorn after his fiftieth birthday celebration. I had to give him the same."

"It was much worse!" said Halborn with a laugh, causing his brother to slightly smile.

"The story seems to grow in the telling," said Halvagor softly.

Halborn sobered and gazed upon his younger brother seriously. "Meluion is right, Halvagor. Adar would not have you bemoan the fact that you did not immediately remember his day of birth. Knowing you, you have thought about it long for at least a month, just to have it slip out of your mind at the last minute."

"And if you do not believe me or your brother," said Meluion, "ask Aragorn. With exception to your mother, I would say he knew him best. He will say the same as us."

"Aragorn remembered?" the young man asked as the thought entered his mind, immediately wishing he could retract the comment. If they both remembered, Aragorn certainly would.

The other two, however, did not scold him for what he thought was a foolish question. "Yes," Meluion answered softly. "He woke early and left his tent, asking us to leave him for a moment. The Captain, well, you know how Captain Galdir can be, but I managed to hold him back for a while. Aragorn returned some minutes later, his expression carefully schooled to hide all sign of emotion. You know the look; it fools others well enough, but I've known him too long to fall for such acts. Still, at my look, he said nothing, but I knew, and he knew that I knew." The older man sighed softly. "We all miss Halbarad. It is unfair that he, and so many others, were never able to see the fruit of their labors."

"Our father knew," said Halborn. "He knew he was going to perish in battle, but he went nonetheless. He also knew— believed before anything else— that Aragorn would be crowned king. He may not have seen the days of the King, but he knew they were to come. That thought holds little comfort for the living, but we must take what comfort we can when there is none else to be had."

Halvagor nodded thoughtfully. "Thank you, Halborn, Meluion." He did not need to say any more; they understood. Glancing at his plate of now cold food, the young man sighed and put it aside before standing up. "Perhaps there is something left over that is warm."

"Go, eat," said Meluion. "Halbarad would even less like it to see you missing meals on his account." The young man smiled softly at the comment before turning and leaving the light of the campfire.


The moment the queen exited from her tent, Tandor and Dolmagor began to discreetly trail her, for Galdir assigned both of them to keep watch over her that night. He did not care how many people were in the camp or how many warriors surrounded her; as Elessar's wife, she was under the charge of the Royal Guard, and there were still dangers out in the Wild, dangers that could possibly sneak into a camp as great as theirs.

"I wonder where she is going," Tandor muttered to his companion. His older companion only shrugged slightly, his eyes cautiously darting over the numerous tents and scattered bodies; everyone but the guards on watch were deep asleep. Arwen did not seem to notice them as she silently walked through the campground, her feet bare on the summer green grass beneath her. There was little light in the camp and the moon was only a crescent, but it seemed as if she glowed in the starlight. To the young guard, it looked like she was a being of another world, even more so than all the other Elves— with perhaps the exception of the Lady of Lórien.

She wandered to the edge of the campsite, close to where all the Elves were camped. Suddenly she stopped, and before the guards could react, called softly, "Good evening, gentlemen. Please feel free to approach."

Glancing at each other, the two men silently approached her. The queen turned around as they came, a slight smile gracing her features and her eyes bright with midnight light. "I understand that your captain had you follow me out here, but you need not remain in the shadows. I enjoy company."

"Yes, my lady," said Dolmagor with a swift bow. Tandor followed his action, but found himself unable to speak; the queen still moved him to dumbness.

"You must be wondering what I am doing out here at such a time," she said, her eyes still twinkling.

"Well— well, admittedly, my lady," Tandor stammered.

She laughed lightly, the sound sending the young man's head reeling; it was the sound of silver bells and bright song, a sound that he could not properly describe if he was ever asked about it. "Elves need less sleep than Men, and I slept long the night before; I will only sleep a little tonight, if I sleep at all. But worry not; I will not keep you long here."

"It is no bother, my lady," said Dolmagor, but she shook her head.

"I understood long ago that Men need many hours of rest each night, and I would not deprive you of it. As much as I love the night and the beauty it offers, I come here for a purpose. I am meeting with an old friend." She glanced behind them and smiled. "Suilad, Elthalion, mellon nín."

The two guards looked behind them and saw a male Elf but a few feet away from them. Dolmagor held his surprise in check; how did he come so near without making a sound? The First-born held strange powers, powers he would never become used to.

"Mae govannen, hiril nín," said Elthalion with a slight bow. "Greetings, masters," he said politely to the two guardsmen.

"My lord," they both muttered.

The Elf came to Arwen and embraced her, and she smiled at him before turning to the two men. "I will not require your services tonight; you may take your rest."

"I will be sure to see her safely escorted back," said Elthalion.

Dolmagor hesitated. "My lady, perhaps it would be best if we waited nearby…"

She nodded in understanding. "You worry, but you need not to," said she. "Elthalion has been a dear friend of mine for many generations of Men. If you doubt him or me, you may speak to my husband about our meeting."

He did not flinch, but his face did visibly pale in the dim lighting. "My lady, I did not mean—"

"I understand, truly," she interrupted with a reassuring smile. "You are simply doing your duty, but your services are not needed for now. Good night, gentlemen."

Realizing he would not win this argument— and he would not argue against the queen— he bowed in response, sensing his younger companion doing the same beside him. Satisfied, the two Elves turned away, leaving the two guards alone.

"I— what just happened?" Tandor asked. He blinked and turned to his companion. "Was that supposed to happen?"

He stared for a moment at the night, a slight frown darkening his features, before finally saying, "When you've been around the nobility long enough, Tandor, you'll start seeing that they do strange things from time to time, and it doesn't seem to hold any different with these Elves."

"Oh. Well, I'm glad that you have some knowledge on these matters." Tandor paused. "Since you are older and more experienced than I, you can report to the captain tomorrow about all this." With that, he quickly turned around and started heading back. Dolmagor watched him, his scar stretching as his face elongated into disbelief, before acquiescing with a soft snort and following his lead.


"Well, my lady, it cannot be denied that you are very well-protected."

Arwen laughed softly as they retreated beyond the campsite and from the ears of any curious eavesdroppers. "The Captain of the Guard is rather protective of my husband and me, and most of the Guard is of the same mindset. I fear that Estel is already starting to weary of them."

"Estel would," said Elthalion with a smile. He eyed her for a brief moment. "You glow more brightly than ever before, Undómiel. Even a fool could see that you are happy."

"So I have been told," she answered, her eyes sparkling. "I did not understand before the light in your eyes when you spoke of your wife, but now I do, more than ever."

"She would be glad to see you thus, dear heart."

The Elf-maiden smiled once more before sobering, her youthful gaze growing serious. "Will you be sailing with my father when he leaves Middle-earth? You must miss her."

"I do," Elthalion admitted, looking up into the starlit sky longingly, "but— but I cannot leave just yet." He turned back to Arwen with a slight smile. "Long have I been friends with your family, and for many years you have been as a sister to me. Elladan and Elrohir will be busy maintaining Imladris for some years yet, and so in their stead I shall remain with you, at least until they can see you more often, and maybe longer."

"Stay here in the South?" Her eyebrows rose in surprise. "When?"

"Why, now, of course," he laughed. "Your brothers told me of your interesting scheme to travel Gondor, and while your father has already arranged some of Imladris' finest to stay with you, they suggested that I join the party to keep a 'brotherly eye' on you, or so I believe was mentioned."

Arwen rolled her eyes. "You certainly do not need to listen to their 'suggestions' if you do not wish to."

"I would not have agreed to it had I not wished to," he said softly. "And it is not only for your journey that I will be with you. With your and Estel's blessing, I would live in Minas Tirith for a while yet."

Her eyes widened in surprise. "You want to live in Minas Tirith? But what about your wife?"

"My wife is a strong lady," Elthalion said with a smile, "and what are a few decades to the Eldar?" His smile faded. "Besides, Arwen, the world of Men is a strange and different world and I hope I can help make your adjustment to it a little smoother. As it is," he smiled again, "I will certainly not be the only one from Imladris who will be staying in Minas Tirith for longer than a short visit. I believe my sister will move to the City for a while."

"Lalaith? Move to Gondor?"

"Indeed, yes! She has some affairs to settle still in Imladris—"

"She's still chasing Elrohir."


Arwen sighed. "I do wonder if my brother is blind at times. She has been attempting to grab his attention for several years now. I am surprised Elladan has not yet lost his patience and pointed out what was in front of him."

"I am afraid he still only looks upon her as a sister," said Elthalion. "Lalaith is setting herself up for disappointment." He sighed. "But that is another topic. As it is, she enjoyed the City and what she saw of the Second-born and expressed interest in coming back, after Minas Tirith is better recovered."

"And, perhaps, a place of refuge if my brother remains blind to her interest," she murmured. He only nodded.

"In the meanwhile, I shall remain with you after your brief escapade about the country— and do not even bother to try and convince me otherwise, for my mind is quite made up," he added before she could speak.

Arwen only shook her head. "Let me not deter you, then, for you seem quite set with your road!" Her amusement faded into a gentle smile. "Thank you, my friend. I must admit that I am most grateful for your company, and will be in the coming months."

He only nodded, and then glanced at the sky. "The hour grows late. Come, my lady, I will escort you back to your tent."

She smiled and took his arm, a comfortable silence lying between them until they departed ways at her camp. Arwen embraced him one last time before retreating into her tent for the night, her heart all the lighter knowing that she would not be fully sundered from her kin in Gondor.


July 24, late morning

"Quicker on your feet!"

Rangil lunged and swiftly struck Bregon's sword. The dark-haired man clumsily parried and scurried backwards, breathing heavily.

"I am as quick as I am able!" he retorted. The old man's speed and agility simply astounded him.

"And yet not fast enough to avoid a deadly blow," he retorted. "A clumsy orc could beat you."

Exhaling heavily, he charged, lifting his blunt blade high above him. Rangil easily side-stepped him and pushed into him, causing the taller man to lose his balance and fall into the dirt, his sword falling away from him. His breath completely lost, he let himself lay for a moment as he breathed deeply and summoned back his willpower.

His teacher lowered his own blunt sword. "You are tall, and easier to push off-balance. Keep that in mind as you fight. Always be wary about your footing."

Bregon managed to pull himself into a sitting position. "You have said that many times before."

"And yet you do not listen."

"Of course I listen," he snapped back. "Not everyone is born a warrior, and I am not one."

Rangil watched him, his body still save for the slight breeze that stirred his snow-white hair. "No, you are not," he said quietly, the sudden change in his demeanor utterly confusing Bregon. Gesturing for the man to follow him, the younger man pulled himself off the dirt and followed the sword master to a shady oak just outside of the pen to rest under. The old man lowered himself to the ground, leaning against the cool trunk of the tree. "It has been a long time since this country has trained men for sport rather than necessity," he said. "I forget you are not training to be a soldier against the Enemy's army, for the Enemy has been destroyed. You are not some green recruit in Thorongil's company, looking to battle orcs before the season has passed."

The former cobbler frowned. Thorongil. While he had no grudge against this old war hero— he admired him as much as the history books in Balandor's library did, though he'd never say that to Rangil— whenever the sword master mentioned the man, it usually came along with some lengthy lesson he did not need to hear. "What would you have me learn about Thorongil's methods now?"

The other startled slightly as he was brought out of his memories. "Oh, nothing. I'm just remembering old times. Strange how so much has changed within just a few short months."

'You have no idea,' he thought. "Then why bring up Thorongil now? I understand he was your mentor, Master Rangil, but surely there is no need to bring him up every day we practice."

The old man chuckled lightly. "My apologies, Master Bregon." The other man nearly missed his next words as he absorbed the fact that Rangil apologized to him. "I cannot help it. I suppose I should have explained this before, but I thought the feeling would go away; it did not. You see, when I first saw you walking here with Falasgal the day we met, I would have sworn you were a ghost. You bear an uncanny resemblance to Captain Thorongil.

"Of course, I knew you could not be him, for if the Captain is still alive, he's around my age now. All lingering doubts were soon dispelled by your swordsmanship." He chuckled, and Bregon could not help but slightly smile, even if it was a sardonic one. "Your personalities greatly vary, too. He was more patient and less swift to anger— two skills you should learn soon, should you ever find yourself in a fight."

Bregon's grey eyes simmered in quiet contempt, and he wondered if Rangil was talking with Balandor about all his faults, which seemed numerous and horrible when either of them criticized him.

The other ignored him and continued. "Still, as the days went on, I could not— still cannot— help but seeing Thorongil rather than you from time to time, and my memories come alive with each glimpse. I suppose I simply miss my old friend, for friend I counted him."

As Rangil's voice softened, Bregon's annoyance faded into a strange sort of understanding. "Well," he said after a pause, "I am not him, nor will I likely ever be as good as him, but I'm willing to learn with the methods you learned from him." That was the only reason he was at this estate, after all: to learn. And while the sword master often angered him, at least mastery over a blade was a useful skill.

"Good," said the old man. His moment of reminiscence done, his voice was back to the short, commanding tone that Bregon was used to. "Come on, we've rested long enough. I want to see what you remember about parrying."

He stood and began following the sword master back to the ring, thinking over what he had learned. Soon he concluded that being compared to a dead, respected war captain was no bad thing. It was certainly leagues better than being the mirror image of some royal usurper from the Wilds.


August 14, late morning

Aragorn watched silently as his wife repeatedly lifted the comb through her hair; the reflection on the mirror in front of her showed her eyes unseeing, her sad gaze somewhere beyond the room they shared. Exhaling softly, he silently approached her, laying a gentle hand of support on her shoulder. She sighed and brought up her hand to meet his.

"Did you sleep at all last night?" he asked softly.

"Very little," she admitted, "and it was restless."

The king softly squeezed her hand in understanding, and Arwen leaned against him, a slight quiver running down her body. "I shall miss him so much."

"As shall I. Your father has always been like a father to me."

"We spoke long last night. It will be the last time I ever talk to him." He felt her quiver again and he closed his eyes; his own last moments with Elrond would be in but a few short days.

"Does he—" He paused, unwilling to finish the sentence. He could not ask Arwen such a question.

She seemed to read his mind, however, and answered. "He does not begrudge our love, Estel. He never did."

Aragorn shortly nodded. "I know. It was a foolish thought." She said nothing, but she continued to hold onto his hand, her grey eyes still far away from their room in Meduseld. Clearing his throat, he pulled himself away from the remorseful topic in some attempt to help his wife, though he feared it would do little. "Returning to the City with you will be Faramir and Imrahil. I have told Prince Imrahil of your intentions, and he has agreed to travel with you until Dol Amroth, at the least. He will be leaving his son Amrothos in Minas Tirith as a representative of his city in the Council.

"Also journeying with you when you travel Gondor will be Lieutenant Lachamdir as well as several handpicked Guards of the Citadel who are eager for a promotion to the Royal Guard."

Arwen smiled slightly. "The lieutenant is a kind man. I shall enjoy traveling with him— and he seems less intimidated by my people than most Men, which will make my companions more at ease."

"Then some Elves will stay and travel with you?"

"Yes. Three will stay with me as I travel Gondor, for my father's peace of mind, including Elthalion. Indeed, he has told me that he will stay in the South even longer than the others to see that I am well-situated before traveling to the West to join his wife." A smile twitched at the corners of her mouth. "I told all my friends back in Rivendell that they were under no obligation to stay with me in Gondor, but he seemed to simply ignore me."

"Yes, he was always stubborn," Aragorn agreed with a smile. "And so our brothers still wish to travel North and not stay with you awhile?"

"They want to be with me, but they know that Adar needs them, and so they will travel with him and support him in the coming days. Further on, they will help make the transition of the rule of Rivendell a smooth one, for Adar has already said he will not stay in Middle-earth much longer and will not see us again." Any happiness lingering on her face faded away, and the peredhel turned away, her dark hair shielding her face.

Aragorn went to her side and knelt down beside her, taking her hands gently in his. "I am sorry."

She shook her head quickly. "Do not be. I have made my choice, and I am happy with it. I cannot imagine my life without you by my side."

"Nor I, you," said the man. "Nonetheless, I wish it were not so painful."

"As do I, but we cannot change what is." Sighing deeply, she stood, and Aragorn stood with her. "Come, my love, you must prepare to depart. The hour of farewell is soon to come."

He suddenly took her in his arms. "I shall miss you in these coming months."

"And I will miss you," said Arwen. "But compared to all these long years of waiting, what are but a couple months, where you will be so busy repairing the country that you would have seen little of me, anyways?"

"The little is worth a lot," he murmured into her ear. She smiled and brought her lips to his in a quick, but passionate kiss.

"I will make the wait worth your while," she whispered. Slowly she released her own hold on him and parted from his embrace, saying, "Now, go. Your men surely await you, and I must finish readying myself."

"I will count down the days until we are again together in Minas Tirith," said Aragorn. She smiled and nodded, and he gave her one last kiss before leaving their bedchambers to prepare for his journey.


August 22, afternoon

He knew this day would come, but now that it was here, he was reluctant to do what he needed to do.

The farewells began in the afternoon. After wishing the best to friends from Rivendell and Lórien, he bade farewell to his kinsmen.

"I promise to visit the North and stay for a long time, once things are more settled in Gondor," he said to Halborn in parting.

The new Steward of Arnor grinned. "I promise you a rebuilt Annúminas for your arrival, and it will be a city that will rival Minas Tirith in size and glory!" The sentiment received ready approval from the rest of the Dúnedain.

Aragorn smiled. "I would expect no less." He embraced the son of his cousin. "Give your mother my regards, and my apologies."

"She will happily take the former and will hear nothing of the latter," the younger man said quietly. "What happened to my father was not your fault, my lord."

He said nothing, but nodded appreciatively. Embracing him one last time, he left the Dúnedain to see to his friends of the Company. The Fellowship stood together as one, exchanging hugs and promises to visit. The Ring-bearer only smiled but made no promises, something that Aragorn noted; he feared what that could mean. Soon enough— and too soon for Aragorn— the group split to bid goodbye to others. Only Gandalf remained with him.

"Well, my dear friend," said the wizard after a moment, "this is the end of the road for our journeys. I doubt I will visit Gondor again in my last days here."

"Will you not reconsider?" he asked. "There is still strife between Men and it will take many years until Gondor has fully recovered; I would welcome your counsel."

"There will always be strife between Men," said Gandalf. "But do not worry!" he added at the king's dismayed look. "While there will always be strife, there will also always be kindness and hope. And you, Aragorn, have kindled hope for the people of your kingdom; they look to you for prosperity and peace."

"It is a heavy burden," he admitted, "but one I am glad to take. It will be good to see both Gondor and Arnor rise again."

Gandalf smiled. "I have no doubt that they will see glory again." He took Aragorn's hand and grasped it firmly between his gnarled, strong fingers. "Farewell, my lord Elessar Telcontar. May your reign be long and prosperous."

The king smiled and embraced him. "Thank you for your friendship and for all that you have done for me."

Smiling, the wizard winked and replied, "All in a day's work, my friend. All in a day's work." They parted, and Gandalf, still smiling, caught the eyes of someone behind his friend. "Now, there is someone else who wishes to speak with you, and so I will leave you." Aragorn turned and found himself face-to-face with Elrond.

The peredhel bowed his head slightly in greeting. "Do you have time for a short walk?"

He nodded. "Of course."

They walked away from the procession, along a secluded path that the new trees of Isengard created. Despite the several thoughts and emotions racing through him, Aragorn could think of no words to say. This was the last time he would ever speak to one of the most influential people in his life and yet he was struck dumb.

A squirrel suddenly darted across their path, startling Aragorn out of his reverie. Elrond stopped and suddenly smiled. "Do you remember when you asked your mother and me if you could have a pet squirrel and keep it inside the house?"

He turned to the Elf-lord in disbelief. "You jest."

"You were four or five at the time, and you were fascinated by this large squirrel that took home in the tree beside your balcony. We found that you were leaving food for the animal and calling it 'Carch'."

"I named a squirrel Fang?"

Elrond laughed at his look. "I speak the truth! You may ask Elladan or Elrohir, if you wish; it is one of the fonder memories I have of your childhood. All children are delightful, but children of the Edain were always the most unpredictable and creative."

Aragorn smiled. "I cannot wait to see my own." He fell silent as he realized the full meaning of his words to the person before him. "I beg your pardon, I—"

"Estel." The man stopped speaking; it had been a long time since Elrond last had called him that. "I have since long come to terms with my daughter's choice, and have long since accepted it. Indeed, it would give me no greater joy than to see your children."

"And I would have it so they could see my foster-father— my adar," he said softly. "I would ask you to stay in Middle-earth longer, but I understand it cannot be." He was one of few who knew that Elrond bore one of the three Elven rings, and he knew the consequences the Ring-bearers suffered with Sauron's fall.

"Both Galadriel and I do, as well," said Elrond, "but we slowly wear away as the seasons pass, Galadriel faster than I. We will stay for a couple years yet to settle our affairs, but we will not travel to the South again. Our final journey lies West." His sober expression faded away to a knowing half-smile. "Celeborn, however, believes he will stay in Middle-earth for a while longer with Elladan and Elrohir, though he does not want Arwen to know, for he is still not certain."

"I— It would be wonderful for him to remain here a while longer." Aragorn could not quite conceal his hesitation. It was no secret— to the amusement of the rest of the family— that Celeborn had never quite warmed up to Isildur's heir, and that the man did his best to stay away from him without outright avoiding him.

Elrond's slight smile only grew as he sent him a knowing glance. "If he does remain, Arwen will very much love the surprise. I am sure she will invite him to Gondor as often as feasible."

"Yes, yes, of course." She, unlike he, was very close to her grandfather.

He only smiled further, and Aragorn could not help but chuckle. "It is clear to see where your children developed their lighthearted mannerisms."

"Ah, it comes from their mother as well." Elrond's eyes unfocused as he thought about her. "I will be glad to see her again."

Aragorn said nothing as the other thought about his wife, and the man's thoughts turned to his own. He missed Arwen, and while the short months were nothing compared to the years he went without seeing her, after the wedding he felt more strongly connected to her than ever before, though he could not say how it was possible.

Elrond's gaze was on him once more, and Aragorn turned his thoughts back to the one who fostered him as a babe, who taught him much of what he knew, who molded his character throughout his youth, and who permitted the marriage with his daughter. As all of this went through his mind, he was rendered all but speechless, and he could only manage a few words. "Thank you. For everything."

He was engulfed in an embrace, an embrace Aragorn readily returned. They stood there for a moment, the mute trees the only witnesses to this exchange, before separating. Elrond smiled briefly before glancing up at the sky. "The afternoon wanes, and the hour of parting approaches. Come, we must return to camp ere we are missed." Aragorn only nodded in response, and two turned around and slowly made their way back to the encampment.


*There seems to be some slight continuity confusion, at least on my part, from what's in 'Many Partings' and what's in Appendix B. Appendix B lists them leaving Edoras Aug 14, four days after Théoden's funeral. The chapter seems to say that they have Théoden's funeral, then his funeral feast straight after, and right after the feast, leave Edoras, with no hint of really any time passing. I followed Appendix B, with the feast happening on Aug 10.

But, as I said, it could just be me. :-P

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