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Place: Northern Eriador then Imladris
Chapter 1 – A Gift Received
The Chieftain’s son overlooked the tribal settlement on the forested shores of Lake Evendim from the high grassy bluff that stood off to one side some distance from the encampment. His father had been right. Dirhael’s tribe was nestled in for the winter, the men having returned to this place after their travels over the spring and summer to gather what they could to provide for the winter’s onslaught. Arathorn sat tall and proud in his saddle. His keen gray eyes surveyed the tidy enclave with approval. His father would be pleased at how well Dirhael and his people were getting on after the tragedy that saw a third of the northern tribal leader’s people killed in an Orc ambush six months earlier. Dirhael had not completely forgiven Arador for, as he saw it, allowing the ambush to happen. It had not been his father’s fault; the orc attacks had come thick and fast that spring and Arador’s forces had been stretched. His father had told Dirhael many times that, if Dirhael could only keep his tribe closer to Fornost, then Arador could offer more protection when need demanded it. Dirhael, unfortunately, would hear nothing of it. He said that his people always traveled that territory and would remain on their traditional lands. Arathorn ruefully shook his head and thought of the stubborn old man. Perhaps the gift of winter grains that his company bore would help bridge the gap between Chieftain and thane. It was Arador’s hope that it would, because he’d always had a great deal of respect for this northern thane, even given his stubborn temperament. He always said it was men of stubbornness and conviction such as Dirhael that allowed the Dunedain of the north to survive the destruction of their kingdom for over 1000 years and keep their identity and their ways living for as long as they have.
Erkenthal, a bearded, burly man with flaming red hair and a scar running across the breadth of his left cheek, rode up and said, “Beg pardon, my lord, but hadn’t we better be riding along before their guards approach.”
Just then horses came thundering up the bluff and blocked the most desired path of escape. A young, perhaps too young, guardsman, had his sword half-drawn sword and was perched upon a dappled gray stallion straining to be let loose. He demanded, “Who are you and what business do you have in these lands?”
Arathorn turned his horse to the young rider, brooch that proclaimed his heritage gleamed on his cloak as he said, “I come from the Chieftain, bearing gifts of winter grain and ale for Dirhael’s people, in token of kinship and love”
At seeing the flash of the brooch, the young rider motioned to those in his command to lower their weapons and stand easy. “Many pardons, Arathorn, son of Arador. These days it does not pay to be careless, as we found out to our great cost.” A look of pain across the young man's blue eyes, eyes that had seen too much to their short span of years. He said, “I am Erithain, Captain of the First Watch. I am at your service, my lord.” The solemn youth bent his dark head and touched his brow and heart in the way of the Northern tribes.
Arathorn returned the greeting in kind and replied, “Your fealty honors my father and I.” He intoned the formal response, and wondered who the boy was. In Dunedain tradition the thane’s oldest son was the watch commander, but this boy was too young to be either of Dirhael’s of-age sons. To cover his confusion he asked, “Now, tell me Erithain, how fares your people?”
“As well as can be expected, my lord,” came the somewhat guarded response. “Come let us return to the village. The Thane will wish to have words with you and thank you for this gift.”
Arathorn smiled inwardly. He noted the young captain’s choice of words and inferred from this short exchange that Dirhael had not yet forgotten his grievances with Arador and was not likely to do so quickly.
The winter village of Dirhael’s people consisted of neat rectangular houses, either made of wattle and daub or wood. Their dwellings had sloping thatched roofs out of which hearth smoke escaped and most appeared to be sunk into the ground. Many were attached to pens in which were kept a few goats and chickens. Off to one side of the village were kept the few communal sheep that were left to the tribe.
Erithain lead them to the largest house in the center of the winter village and bade them to tether their horses at the railing to the side of the small hall’s door. Arathorn motioned for his company of four to dismount and follow the dark youth.
Once inside, Erithain motioned for them to wait. The smell of fresh rushes and hearth smoke reminded Arathorn of his father’s hall. He looked around the relatively spacious room and saw that it was sparsely furnished. The hearth was ensconced in the center of the room and gave off some light and a copious amount of smoke, most which found its way to the upper reaches of the roof. He heard the familiar shuttling of a loom and looked in the direction of the sound. A young woman sat working deftly. He could not see her face but he noticed the graceful way she casually flicked the heavy single braid of honey brown hair back over her shoulder. He was mesmerized watching the rhythmic movements of the woman’s hands over the loom when a voice broke his concentration. He blinked and turned to the voice. Erithain was looking at him with a suspicious eye and looked in the direction of the loom. Arathorn thought he caught a glimmer of a frown on the young captain’s face but in a second or two it was replaced with a schooled control. Arathorn noted that with interest.
“My father will see you now,” said Erithain. Arathorn looked with surprise at the solemn young captain. He did not realize it was the thane’s son he had been dealing with. He had only known of Dirhael’s two oldest sons and, in a flash, remembered that both the northern thane’s oldest sons perished in the ambush. The youth, who looked all of seventeen, was now by right and tragic necessity the watch commander.
Arathorn noticed Erithain staring at him, muted anger and defiance shining in eyes that seemed to say, “Now you realize the extent of our loss, what have you to say?” Out loud the young captain said, “This way, if you please.” He motioned toward the opening in the partition. Arathorn and Erkenthal stepped forward to follow the solemn youth. Behind the partitioning wall sat Dirhael, an older but hale man of with piercing gray eyes and a stubborn and strong set in his square chin. Rare streaks of white were shot through his black beard and shoulder length hair. He sat at the end of a long table with benches on either side. He alone sat in a plain chair, clearly a mark of distinction, and was in discussion with counsel when Arathorn entered the partition. Two candlesticks the height of a tall man stood on either side of the plain chair. Erithain announced, “The Chieftain’s son, father.” Dirhael looked up and Arathorn noticed with compassion that the older man’s eyes born the pained testament to the tragedy his people had endured.
The thane broke off his conversation and rose to his feet. He said, “You honour us with your presence, my lord.” He touched his hand to his brow and his heart in the same fashion as his son. Dirhael spoke the traditional words of greeting but it was clear from his cool tone and manner that he still held Arador responsible for what had happened to his people.
“Your fealty honours my father and I, Dirhael-thane. I come bearing gifts from the Chieftain.” Dirhael surveyed him with keen gray eyes and as something inside seemed to relent he motioned for Arathorn and Erkenthal to sit. The thane called out, “Gilraen!” Arathorn heard the shuttle of the loom cease its constant motion and light footsteps cross the threshold of the partition to stop behind him.
She asked, “Yes, Father?” The voice was strong and sure of itself, if touched with solemnity. Arathorn looked up to see the owner of such a voice. His gray eyes met warm hazel ones that were not usually so somber. The deep laugh lines at each corner were proof of that. They stared at each other for a moment; Gilraen was the first to look away and he saw a faint blush come to her cheeks. He was absurdly pleased by that and barely heard Dirhael request that ale be brought for his honored guests. When he looked at his host to thank him for the courtesy he noticed a look of trepidation on the thane’s face that mirrored Erithain’s expression earlier.
With some reservation in his voice, Dirhael said, “May I introduce my daughter, Gilraen, my lord?" The thane looked his daughter, “Gilraen, this is Arathorn, son of the Chieftain.”
Arathorn stood and again looked into the hazel eyes and said, “It is an honour to meet you, my lady,” holding her gaze as she dropped a small curtsy, watching her colour again under his mild scrutiny.
Gilraen gazed into stern gray eyes and was held by what she saw there. Arathorn's eyes had resolve and command, to be sure, but they also had a gentleness that she did not expect to find within so stern a warrior. “The honour is all mine, I’m sure,” she managed to say, albeit a little shakier than she might have wanted.
“Yes, well. Be off with you and bring back the ale and a light repast.” said Dirhael, gently yet purposefully breaking the moment. Gilraen curtsied again and quickly left to fulfill her errand. Arathorn blinked and surveyed with interest the various expressions on the faces that surrounded him. Erkenthal smiled a knowing smile that made Arathorn want to forget who he was and punch his second-in-command. Erithain glowered at the table with a harsh frown on his face. He would have wiped it away immediately if he had known it was there. The counsel to the thane’s left was busily studying the carving on his wine cup. Dirhael, who stared at Arathorn in accusation and challenge before he schooled it away, was the most intense of all. He said, “To return to matters at hand, you say you have brought a gift.”
Bending his proud brow, Dirhael said with dignity, “They are gratefully received and I send many thanks to the Chieftain. Hospitality and good cheer have been sadly lacking at our table these past months and I’m sure this will help restore it.”
Arathorn heard the unmistakable quotation marks around “this” and his thoughts went again to honey brown hair and hazel eyes.
Gilraen was glad to depart the hall. She leaned against the wall of the smokehouse that was next to the ale stores and tried to calm the beating of her heart. That man, the Chieftain’s son unnerved her with his intense gray gaze and, as her father always proudly said, that was far from an easy thing to do. She felt as if he could see straight into her very thoughts but the more she thought about him the more she felt drawn towards him, even though he had unnerved her. She thought of the gentleness along with the expected strength that she had seen in his eyes. She wondered if she had really seen it or if it had been a trick of candlelight. She felt she had find out and, being rather a direct person, she vowed to find out right away. She gathered the ale skins, bread, sausage and cheese and returned to the hall.
Arathorn had kept up a good pretense of listening to what Dirhael and his counsel Ecthiel had had to say but he was really hoping that the thane’s daughter would return so that he could judge again her beauty, her presence, and how it easily captured his mind. He felt unbalanced by the whole experience and could not understand his reaction to her. He had seen beautiful women before but they had never affected him upon so short an acquaintance. He did have to wait overly long. After about fifteen minutes she re-appeared and briskly and efficiently set the table with wooden trenchers and set the light repast of bread, cheese and sausages in the middle of the table. She did this while avoiding his eyes. When it came time to serve up the ale, she served him last. She took his mug, filled it, and handed it back. She looked straight into his eyes, challenging him to continue staring. He was captivated and he saw her eyes fill with wonder in looking upon him. He could not imagine what she saw but it clearly pleased her. With laughter in her voice she said, “Is the ale not to your liking, my lord? It is for drinking and not for holding.” Arathorn realized that he had been staring, broke his gaze suddenly, and swallowed the slightly sweet ale, barely tasting it. He said, “It is truly fine ale.”
Dirhael, with every intention of breaking the mood, stated firmly, “Too bad then, that the master brewer died in the ambush, then isn’t it?” Arathorn was brought up short, turned, and looked at the northern thane before looking back at Gilraen. Her smile and the light in her eyes fled and were replaced by tears. He saw her shoot a hurt look in her father’s direction and flee the hall.
He turned back to the thane, angry with him for causing his daughter pain with his deliberate remark. In a clipped tone he said, “Yes, Yes, it is. If you will, please excuse me.” Arathorn got up, bowed, and left the hall. He looked for Gilraen, driven by his need to ease the pain he saw in her eyes. He knew that Erkenthal would tease him unmercifully for his behavior and he did not want to think of the insult he may have given Dirhael with his hasty departure but he could not bring himself to care about either man right now.
The soft sound of weeping reached his ears and he turned in the direction of the sound. It was coming from behind the smokehouse. He rounded the corner silently and saw her sitting against the wooden wall sobbing. His heart went out to her and he knelt at her side. He was unsure what to do, then he pulled off one of his leather gloves and stroked her honey-brown hair. In a gentle voice he said, “I’m sorry.”
Gilraen turned her tear-stained face toward him and, in half-accusing tones, said, “Sorry for what? For the death of my brothers? For the fact that my father is now so embittered that he has forgotten the sound of laughter? For the fact that we now need charity?”
Bristling, Arathorn almost spoke before he thought, an action most unlike him. He curbed his tongue and sat back on his heels. With a soft voice he said, “I am very sorry for your loss but please believe that there was nothing my father could have done. Your loss has filled his heart with sadness as it has mine.
Gilraen looked at Arathorn and was ready to accuse him further, but she saw the truth of his statement shining through his eyes. The kindness and strength she had seen earlier had not been a trick of candlelight. It glowed with its own fire in this stern man’s being and love for him took seed in Gilraen's heart.
After Arathorn had chased after Gilraen, Dirhael sat his chair glowering at his wine cup. Nobody had moved since the Chieftain’s son departed; all waited upon the Thane’s reaction. They were shocked when after several minutes of silence Dirhael jumped his feet and left the hall just as abruptly as Arathorn had.
Dirhael had to leave the stuffiness of the hall and feel the cool wind on his face. Thoughts warred for supremacy within his mind. Feelings of anger, helplessness and the ever-present concern for his people crowded in to make their presence known. Something inside of him recoiled at the thought of taking charity, but the realistic part of his mind knew that it was necessary if his people were to survive the winter. He was ashamed that he had been unable to protect his people; this weighed on him heavily. After all what was a leader if he could not protect his own?
He was still angry with Arador for his perceived indifference, but that perception was negated by this gift of ale and grain, presented by his son no less. It was a sign if there ever was one, of the Chieftain’s regard. By all accounts Arathorn was a stern man who expected much from those that served him, but garnered loyalty and even love from those he commanded. He could be severe when needed, but generally known to be a good man. Dirhael knew he should be happy that Arathorn had such a marked interest in his daughter. But something inside him denied the logic and the expedience of such a match. If he was a more political man then he would have encourage the man’s interest, even lobbied for it. Yet he had done the exact opposite and hurt his daughter in the process, he thought with shame. What caused such reservations?
Jealousy. The harsh truth stared him in the face. He loved his daughter; she was the bright spark in his life, full of passion and fire. Of late though, she had been a shadow of herself, weighed down with the cares and sorrows of the last several months. When she came alive in those few moments with Arathorn, a jealousy so strong that it overrode sense stole through Dirhael. He lashed out heedless of the pain he inflicted and the trouble he might incur. The thought of the son of the man who allowed the slaughter of his people even looking at his daughter, let alone making her laugh caused an illogical twisting in the Thane’s stomach.
Fear. Fear was also a factor in his irrational response towards Arathorn. What kind of a life could his beloved daughter have as the wife of a future chieftain? It held privileges, but it also held dangers. Rumours had abound; whispers that Orc numbers were multiplying and that information was being sought about any heirs of Isildur. Dirhael had accounted these rumours as just that, rumours, until the day he lost his two oldest sons. Now painful experience gave credence to these tales. Dirhael feared marriage to Arathorn would only bring sorrow to his beloved daughter.
Erkenthal watched the dark-haired young captain while he sat at table. He saw the dull red colour of anger stain the unscarred cheeks of the youth and observed the tense set of his jaw as the boy glared at his wine cup. He raised an eyebrow and waiting for the explosion of youthful wrath that he knew was only a matter of time. He was not disappointed. Within minutes of his father’s departure, Erithain stood up, drained his wine cup and set it down with an echoing thud and left the hall. Erkenthal thought Arathorn, be gentle with him for he is so young as a small smile widened his face. Erkenthal then drained his own cup, stood and inclined his head to Ecthiel and left to rejoin his companions outside.
Driven by an anger that he did not fully understand Erithain searched for his sister. He knew that he, the Chieftain’s son, had gone to seek her also and Erithain could not allow that slight against his sister's honour go unchallenged. The way Arathorn had looked at Gilraen made his blood boil. How dare he?
He found them behind the smokehouse, talking quietly. “Arathorn, son of Arador! Step away from my sister or you will have me to answer to!” he called out in what he hoped was a commanding voice.
Arathorn stilled for a second and then rose from his kneeling position next to Gilraen. He turned slowly towards the young captain and saw anger and earnest intent imprinted upon the tall boy’s body. He knew instantly that the boy was serious and would be insulted if Arathorn did meet his challenge with the dignity Erithain felt it deserved, especially now as the young captain had begun attracting the attention of his people. Holding the boy’s gaze Arathorn somberly inquired, “Why do you challenge me? What is your grievance with me?”
Erithain looked a little non-plussed. He had not expected to answer questions he had only prepared to fight for his sister. But he drew himself a little taller and stated, “You have sought out my sister, without the permission of my father or of me. That is unacceptable to our ways and I cannot allow it to go unpunished!”
Gilraen broke in at this moment, heedless of the need to preserve her younger brother’s dignity, “Erithain, stop this now! This is ridiculous! The Chieftain’s son merely sought me out to comfort me. Nothing improper has taken place!”
“Comfort! Is that all?”
In his rush to protect his sister the young captain was in fact impugning her honour himself with his rash words. Arathorn drew a deep breath and said, “Erithain, you have my word that nothing improper has taken place between me and your sister.”
Erithain’s voice was now shaking with suppressed rage and anguish, his hand on his sword ready to draw. “And what is that worth, the word of a son whose father allowed us to be slaughtered! Who allowed my two brothers to die?!”
Amid an audible intake of breath from the gathered few, a bellow reverberated, throughout the settlement, “ERITHAIN!” The distraught young captain turned to the sound of his father’s voice.
Disbelief and anger coloured the Thane’s face as he strode down the path toward his son. He grabbed him forcefully by both arms and cried, “What are you saying? Apologise to his lordship immediately!”
Erithain’s face crumbled as he exclaimed, “It’s true!! You’ve said it yourself, Father!” Tears of anger and despair fell down the boy’s face. Dirhael drew back a little and looked at his son. He realised that he had been so wrapped up in his own sorrows and recriminations he had failed to notice the changes in his youngest, and now only son. He realised then just how much the boy had changed over the past months as more and more responsibility had been heaped upon his shoulders.
“You are right, Erithain. I have said it and I was wrong. I realise that now, as I can see what such unguarded opinion has done to you, my son. I cannot stand to see you filled with anger and hatred. It is my fault. Can you ever forgive me?”
Erithain looked at his father as if he had never seen him before. The Dirhael that he had always known never apologised for anything and asked forgiveness of no man. Yet he was asking his son’s pardon. Erithain searched his father’s eyes trying to understand what he was asking of him. Since the death of his two older brothers in the attack, Erithain had felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities and sorrows that had fallen upon him. He had longed to speak with his father, but it never seemed the right time to intrude upon his grief. So he had muddled through on his own. Months of worry and torment broke upon him as he now looked at his father. One word escaped before he fell to his knees collapsing under the weight of his emotions. “Yes.” he said weakly, afterwards starting to sob, “I’m sorry, father. I am no leader. I try but I just do not know how. I have shamed you with my rash actions. I do not deserve your forgiveness or to be called your son.”
Arathorn was moved by such despair. He left Gilraen’s side and knelt by the boy. “No, Erithain. You have not shamed your father. You sought only to protect to your sister and uphold the honour of your family. There is no shame in that.” He pulled Erithain to his feet, “You were brave to issue the challenge. You were mistaken but you also had the courage to admit your mistake. I have much respect for a man who stands up for what he believes to be right and can also see when he has erred in judgment. I would be proud to have you serve with me.” He stated looking the youth straight in the eye.
The young captain looked at Arathorn at first warily, but soon he returned Arathorn’s gaze with the eyes of a man. “I am honoured that you would find me worthy, Arathorn, son of Arador.”
Chapter 2 - A Gift Bestowed
Within a few months of delivering the grain Arathorn had become something of a frequent visitor at the settlement on the north shore of Lake Evendim. Early in the spring the Chieftain's son and his second-in command again sat on their horses overlooking the settlement from the bluffs above. He heard a young and now familiar voice calling out from behind. "Arathorn, son of Arador! I see you have returned."
Arathorn wheeled his horse around and saw Erithain ride up the bluff with the First Watch at his command. He smiled to see the dark young captain. Erithain seemed to wear his command easier these days; the grim look of solemn determination had left the young face and was replaced instead with a competent and confident air. Erithain touched his head and heart in the northern greeting, "We honoured by your presence, my lord," he said formally and then smiled warmly, "It is good to see you again."
"It is very good to see you again as well, Captain." After their initial confrontation, Arathorn made the effort to spend a little time with the dark-haired youth and found him to be a bright young man with a quick mind and a desire to learn everything he could. He was surprised that Erithain could read but Arathorn discovered that Dirhael valued the idea of learning when he could afford to spare a thought for it and all his children had been taught to read and write. "Come let us return to the settlement. I am sure there are many you look forward to seeing." Erithain's face was split in two by a wide, knowing smile as he put emphasis on the word "many."
Arathorn glared at the young captain but a smile tugged at his lips and the dark haired youth laughed as he said, "Come! Let us ride!"
Dirhael sat alone at table pondering the events of the last few months. He knew that the Chieftain's son would return soon and ask for his daughter's hand in marriage. Nothing had been said, but Dirhael felt the certainty of it residing within the core of his being. He could not denied the Chieftain's son without causing grievous insult, but he had something of the sight and he could foresee little happiness for his beloved daughter in this match. It scared him. Dirhael rubbed his face with both hands and drained his wine cup, before getting up to seek out his daughter. He must know her feelings on the matter and perhaps then some of his fears could be allayed. If she did not desire the match, then he could prevail upon Arathorn's sense of honour to leave the question unasked. He found Gilraen working at the loom, "Daughter, may I speak with you for a moment?"
"Of course, Papa." Gilraen shot the shuttle through the loom to complete the colour and placed it on top of the weft threads. She grew concerned when she saw the furrow of her father's brow. "Is there anything amiss, Papa?"
Dirhael drew in and then let out a deep sigh, "Not necessarily, my child. A few questions need answering is all." This response did nothing to dispel Gilrael's disquiet, but instead of questioning him further she fell silent giving him space to reveal whatever was worrying him. "Let us walk outside in the air." When he would not say anymore, Gilraen's worries increased as she picked up her large wrap and followed him out into the brisk north wind. They reached the far end of the sheep enclosure before he sat her down on a large rock and looked into her eyes and said bluntly, "The Chieftain's son will ask your hand in marriage."
Gilraen's eyes grew wide, and her cheeks flushed a dark red, causing the cold wind to feel almost painful on her face. At first wordless, she simply stared at her father. Eventually she found her voice, tentatively asking, "Do you know this? Has he asked?"
"Not as yet. But he will and soon. How say you to this idea?" There was trepidation written on his daughter's face, but also a dawning interest. Dirhael inwardly sighed awaiting a more clear indication of Gilraen's feelings.
Gilraen's head was spinning; she had not thought to marry just yet. Dunedain women usually waited until their late thirties to contemplate marriage, thinking that any age younger was too soon; at twenty-two Gilraen was no different in this respect. But then her thoughts turned to the stern man with the gentle gray eyes. There had been an instant fire between them but she distrusted passion, thinking it too uncontrolled an emotion upon which to base life decisions, but his later kindnesses only strengthened the attraction. He'd sought her out when she had fled the hall in distress on the day they had first met and had showed her younger brother such compassion and understanding that her heart unwillingly warmed to him. Over the past months on his frequent visits she had come to know him better and she could not deny she was drawn to this man, but marriage had been unlooked for. She drew breath to give a cautious answer, "I shall marry him, if that is your wish."
Dirhael exploded, "Daughter! That is no answer!! Much to my distraction you've never willingly acceded to my wishes before, why start now? Answer me! Do you love the man?"
Gilraen was a little taken aback by this explosion, but not because of its force, she was used to that but for the ideas it expressed. But she looked the Thane straight in the eyes and said, "Since you asked. The answer is Yes, I think I do."
Dirhael sighed; this course had been in vain just as he had suspected. She loved him. Hiding his doubts and fears from her, he smiled saying, "Very well, my love," and kissing her on the forehead.
Arathorn entered Dirhael's hall after greeting various tribal members to which he had grown close over the ensuing months. Understandably, he was nervous. He'd wrung from his father his slow permission to allow him to offer marriage to Dirhael's daughter. He thought back on that conversation.
At Fornost, a few days earlier...
"Father, I shall marry her! I do not understand why you have reservations about the match!" Arathorn had abruptly arisen from his chair exasperation evident in his tone and the way he paced before the hearth fire.
"Son, it is not that I object to the match. Knowing Dirhael as I do, I am sure that his daughter is a worthy wife to have at your side. There's the rub, though. Knowing Dirhael as I do, I can't see him easily accepting this match." Arador looked at this son, "And he must willingly accept it. We cannot force a decision down his throat. That would only alienate him and his tribe and soon we may need all the strength the remnants of the Dunedain can muster. The Time is coming. I have been in discussion with Lord Elrond at Imladris and he is sensing that powers are shifting, but even he cannot tell when the storm will break. It may not come for some time but I wish to remain in readiness."
Arathorn ceased his pacing and looked at his father. "But if he can willingly accept the match, then will you?" The Chieftain looked at his only son. He had never seen Arathorn so insistent and so recklessly determined in an affair of heart. For that is what it was. The Rangers of the north since the fall of Arthedain, the last portion of the kingdom of Arnor, had nothing to offer other than themselves in a marriage. Certain kudos might be had from marriage to the Chieftain's heir among the Dunedain, but there was little of tangible value, save the legacy that held the Heirs bound to the Dunedain of the north. Their inheritance was their identity and it was a dangerous inheritance at that.
It had not always been so. Before Arthedain fell custom and tradition saw marriages made more often for gain than for love or so the stories passed on from generation to generation said. But the whole of society had been rent asunder after the fall. They were little more than a wandering people now. The Heirs of Isildur in an unbroken line back to Elendil himself managed to hold together the one thing that was left to them after their cities had been deserted and their power broken, their identity as a people. Isildur's heirs were recognised as the leaders of the northern tribes that were really nothing more than a loose confederation bound by history and the determination to exist until such time that they could regain much if not all that had been lost.
The Heirs had always understood this and it governed their behaviour regarding the disparate tribes. They were called Chieftains and it was their sworn duty to protect and serve the tribes, to help them survive as a people in preparation for the day that they would be called upon to help right a wrong and cast out a great evil. To right the wrongs of their illustrious, but flawed forbearer and wait for a time in which a just kingdom could be established for and by all the free peoples of Middle Earth was what drove the Heirs; it was their destiny and their calling. For any one Chieftain to lord it over the tribes and bend them to his own private will was an abuse that ran counter to everything that the Heirs of Isildur had built their lives around.
These were the reasons Arathorn could not force his will upon Dirhael. The Chieftain knew his son understood this and he had always had complete confidence in Arathorn's judgment. But in affairs of the heart, even the wisest have been known to stumble.
Arathorn had waited patiently for many moments as his father mused silently. Finally he had to speak, "Father, what is your answer?"
"I give you my consent. But I ask only that you tread carefully, my son."
Treading carefully was something Arathorn had become practiced in as the Chieftain's son, but he felt it was going to take all his skills gained through the years if he was to convince Dirhael to accept the match. Arathorn sighed as such thoughts whirled through his mind as he walked toward the small hall of the northern thane. Uncharacteristically, there was a knot in his stomach and his throat felt as if he had not touched drink for three solid days at the prospect of confronting Gilraen's father. He had been outnumbered three to one in Orc-battles and had not felt this apprehensive. "Yes, but one rarely has a conversation with an Orc, now do they?" Arathorn thought mirthlessly.
Upon crossing the partition he was greeted warmly by Ecthiel, Dirhael's first consul. Arathorn at first had been rather non-plussed by the slight man, mistaking his quietness for a lack of sharpness, but he had come to realise the man's value as he more closely viewed the relationship between thane and consul. Dirhael was a passionate man, given to emotional outbursts, both happy and sad. Ecthiel remained calm and restrained and could usually guide Dirhael toward the sound and the reasonable. They balanced each other perfectly. One was full of fiery passion and the other a bastion of calm, tempering the fire as he went.
Arathorn felt those qualities were also going to be needed in full force today. Dirhael's fiery temper bubbled just beneath the surface. Dirhael rapped out, "I see the Chieftain's son has again decided to grace us with his presence. So good it is to see you again so soon, my lord." Dirhael drew himself up even straighter, leveling a look into Arathorn's eyes.
Touching his head and heart in return of a greeting that had failed to come, Arathorn cursed his unwonted nervousness as he said, "It is my honour to be welcome among such good and noble people, Dirhael-Thane."
At that moment Arathorn heard a welcome voice, he turned and saw an older version of Gilraen step across the partition threshold saying, "My lord Arathorn, do not let my husband's sharp tongue convince you that he is not happy to see you. I tell you he is overjoyed at your arrival!" Gilraen's mother, Ivorwen finished with a certain asperity throwing a pointed look in Dirhael's direction.
Arathorn smiled as she crossed to where the Thane sat and kissed him on the forehead much to the clear disgruntlement of her husband before she seated herself on Dirhael's right next to one of the brass candlesticks. "Mae Govannen, my lady. Rest assured I have not taken Dirhael-Thane's words harshly."
"Well, if you are all finished discussing me and my temperament for the sake of your own amusement perhaps we can get on with the business of Arathorn's visit. I should think that there is something you are wanting to ask me?" Dirhael ended, abruptly shooting Arathorn a look that said in no uncertain terms what he thought of this unasked question.
Arathorn was slightly wrong footed by this challenge to his unvoiced proposal, but he rallied quickly enough. He stepped over to where Dirhael sat. Kneeling at the arm of the chair and bowing his head Arathorn said, "It is true I wish to ask of you a great gift; a gift that I value highly, above all else and would cherish all the days of my life, if you could find it in your heart to bestow it upon me. I know you have reservations about such a request and I can give you no assurances that would allay them. I have little to offer save my name and all that will bring. But if you would consider bestowing your daughter's hand in marriage to me then I would count myself blessed among the Dunedain in having such a fair rose as a gift." Arathorn had abased himself as he made petition to Dirhael as both Thane and father. He had spoken from the heart and could only hope that Dirhael would respond to the honesty of thought and feeling.
He looked up now to gage how well he had made this petition and saw Dirhael silently staring at him resignation and defiance commingling in his gray eyes and his lips pressed in a thin line behind his beard. In truth the Thane had not expected such a heartfelt and acquiescent proposal. He still feared for Gilraen's happiness and for that reason alone he had planned to deny Arathorn's request, regardless of the consequences. But something in Arathorn's voice had stopped him from denying the request out of hand. Arathorn, knowing nothing of the deliberations going on within the older man's breast thought for a harrowing moment that Dirhael was toying with the idea of saying no to his petition, but then he saw the thought fade from the Thane's eyes. Arathorn's relief was palpable.
"By evenfall you shall have answer, Arathorn, son of Arador. If you will excuse me while I debate a while." He stood, bowed his head and left the hall. Ivorwen looked after him furiously. She sent Arathorn a veiled look of understanding and stood, gathering up her skirts to follow her husband, stride full of purpose.
Arathorn, who had stood when Dirhael had taken his leave, bid Ecthiel farewell, turned on his heel and left the hall by an opposite door. Immediately upon leaving the small hall he was assailed by an, overenthusiastic Erithain, "Well, what did he say?"
"About what?" Arathorn replied, irked that his intentions were so easily read.
Erithain looked at him as if to say, "you know what."
Arathorn sighed, "The Valar preserve me from overexcited children!" he finished with aggravation, but Erithain merely smiled, "He'll say yes, Mother will work on him!"
Looking at the dark-haired young captain with the knowing look on his face, Arathorn said, "I should have thrashed you when I had the chance. Insolent pup!"
Erithain laughed, "Perhaps you should have! Come, let us drain a keg of mead in anticipation of Father's acceptance." He clapped the older man on the back as he guided him to the storehouse for mead and ale.
Ivorwen made her determined way down to the shore of Lake Evendim. She sought her husband and she had a pretty good idea where he was. Whenever he was troubled or had too much on his mind, she could always find him sitting removed from the settlement on a tall, rocky outcropping that jutted out onto the lake itself. She looked up from picking her way along the shoreline and could see a dark form sitting high up in the granite formation. She could almost sense from where she stood the storm of emotions that were coursing through her husband of forty some-odd years.
Dirhael sat atop the outcropping, listening to the waves crash upon the rocks down below. He came here to think. Watching the waves and looking across the lake always had a calming effect upon him and help to put all problems in perspective. But this time even the sound of the waves breaking against the rocks and stealing across his soul could not completely allay the feelings of fear and anxiety when he thought of the match between his only daughter and the Chieftain's son. He had already decided to deny the petition, but something stopped him. He had been impressed by Arathorn's humility, something he had not expected from the Chieftain's son, but something stopped the words of acceptance also, and they caught in his throat. He needed to leave the hall to further reflect on what had been a decision already made. So he came here.
Dirhael breathed a deep sigh as he spotted his wife down the shore. "Woman, when will you ever leave to me to debate within my own breast!" he voiced softly, exasperation clear in his voice. He smiled ruefully, "And the answer to that is, 'Never!'" he could almost hear her voice forming the words he had heard so often. For all the exasperation, though, it had been a good marriage. She brought consul, comfort and good sense into his life. She taught him the value of laughter. She bore him four children. Dirhael's heart gave a lurch of grief as he thought of Elassan and Alarael, his two oldest sons, killed before their time. With effort he turned his mind away from that grief and to the matter at hand. He would wish his daughter to have a long and happy marriage, as he had with Ivorwen and as her brothers would now never have. And he knew that if he granted Arathorn's petition, this would not be so. Still did he have the right to come between two who seemed to truly care for one another. He had seen with his own eyes, evidence of their love for each other over the past months. It grew from the initial flare to a steady flame of commitment and affection. He stared sightlessly over the washed blue of the lake's surface.
Ivorwen climbed over the last rock standing between her and her husband. She could see the tension in his back and tightness in his shoulders and her heart went out to him. She had thought to lay into him for his stubbornness, but instead she sat next to him in companionable silence and pulled her large spring wrap around her to ward off the cold wind sweeping in from the lake. After many minutes, she said, "The lake is so beautiful at this time of year," as she watched a flock of geese skim across the water.
"That it is," Dirhael murmured, "It never ceases to amaze me. The amount of different colours of the lake at any one time. Beautiful." He fell silent. After a few moments, still looking out across lake he admitted, "I'm at a loss. I don't know what to do. I know that Arathorn is a good man, but in my heart I know that Gilraen will not be happy. Yet they love each other and what's more something inside tells me that this match must happen." Finally he looked at Ivorwen, "What say you, wife. You are strangely quiet on this matter today."
Ivorwen had been listening to her husband and gazing at the blue water below when her vision clouded, when she blinked in an effort to clear them she saw that she was riding towards a distant mountain ravine in the wee small hours of the morning. The sun had yet to break across the sky and the twilight was making everything seem slightly unreal. She looked to her side and beheld her daughter on horseback, tears slowly falling down her face. Ivorwen tried to reach out to her, but found that she could not.
She watched as Gilraen rode along tears in her eyes. Suddenly the bundle she had been holding stirred, much to Ivorwen's surprise and she heard a child's voice. "Mama? Where are we? Where's Papa?"
Much to Ivorwen's despair, this only increased the flow of Gilraen's tears as she spoke, "Shh-shh, Aragorn, my little love. We must be quiet now. 'Tis very important."
The child squirmed in her arms and again asked, "Where's papa?"
"Shh, my child. 'Tis not the time for questions." She kissed the child on the forehead and drew him in tighter with the arm not holding the reins.
Up long the other side of her daughter's horse there came a tall, dark, beautiful man riding an equally beautiful roan horse. The Man had a rather worried look on his slender and fair face. At least she thought he was a man. Then she noticed his dark hair fell way past his shoulders partially in plaits and she could not be sure but she thought his ears were leaf-shaped. Upon hearing his voice she knew for certain that the being next to her daughter was not a man but an Elf. Low and musical, yet tinged with worry, the Elf said, "I'm sorry, my lady, but we must pick up the pace further. Imladris draws near, but we are not safe yet."
"Yes, of course, Elladan. We shall ride as fast as we dare."
Ivorwen saw the Elf lean over his beautiful roan's head and say softly, "Noro lim! Astraphel, Noro lim!'
The pace quickened and Ivorwen's vision again misted. She blinked to see that she was standing on top of a small hillock. Below was a plain and in the middle distance there was a great, tiered city of white stone. She looked around her and was horrified to see pyres of dead orcs burning and plumes of smoke rising from the white city. Coming up from all around her was an army. Those on horse crested the hillock first and she stared into the face of her husband wearing a blue livery bearing the silver tree and seven stars of Gondor. She realised in a flash that the man who had paused at the head of the great column was not her husband but her grandson, the small child who had been asking after his papa, and that the tiered and smoking city that was before her was the fabled Minas Tirith. She blinked and fought to stay within the vision but it was fading quickly and in a few seconds was gone entirely.
Dirhael looked at his wife expecting an answer and stopped short by the vacant look he saw there. He knew that look that now inhabited Ivorwen's lightly lined face. Slowly he saw the life come back into her eyes. She gasped for breath and then burst into tears. Dirhael sat and held his wife, rocking her gently until she could once again speak. At length, she calmed. Dirhael took her head in both hands and asked gently, "What is it you saw, my love, that has upset you so."
Ivorwen was quiet for a bit and looked way from Dirhael. "You were right to fear for Gilraen's happiness."
"Arathorn will die young, will he not?" Dirhael said gravely with much heaviness in his heart.
"Yes, but in my vision I saw that if these two wed, their child shall great among the great in this age of the world and he shall bring the Dunedain out of the shadows.** Our grandson, Dirhael will lead a great host out of Minas Tirith and fight against great evil. If he prevails the vision would not show." She now spoke sorrowfully but forcefully, "We must allow Gilraen to marry Arathorn. On this all depends." She quickly wiped away the stray tears that formed when she thought of the anguish on Gilraen's face in her vision. "My poor child." She stood up then wrapped her shawl a little tighter and with the cold wind blowing across her on this lonely and harsh rock formation in north Eriador it was hard to believe in the vision of large armies and individual fates that had been gifted to her. It all seemed so remote. But there was no questioning the validity of the vision. These things would happen and they must happen, but it did not bring her any joy when she thought of the pain her beloved daughter would have to endure in order for things to unfold as they should.
** = direct quote from History of Middle Earth, v.12
Chapter 3 – A Wedding Awaits
Gilraen looked at the door through which her mother had just left. She was confused. Her mother seemed to be happy when she came to tell her that Dirhael had just accepted Arathorn’s proposal of marriage. She said all the right things and talked of how kind and how handsome Arathorn was. All of which was true, but it was unlike her mother to prattle on needlessly. And though her face smiled at the prospect of the match, the smile never truly reached her eyes. They remained in a slight shadow. Gilraen asked her about it, but she brushed it aside saying that she was just sorry to be losing her only daughter. Gilraen did not quite believe her, but she decided to let the matter drop for the time being.
Walking back to the hall to finish off some weaving that she had been working on, Gilraen thought upon her betrothal. In truth she still thought she was too young for marriage, but her father had granted his permission. He would not have, had he thought this beyond her abilities. She could not lie; if early marriage was to be her fate then she was glad it would be to Arathorn. He was strong and admirable. He had compassion and a good heart. Her chances of happiness were as good with him as they were like to be with anyone. What she had told her father earlier had been true. She did love him in as far as she knew anything about the emotion. She had not looked to forward to marriage. She knew it was her fate, all Dunedain women owed their legacy a marriage and children to help their people survive on in defiance of those who would see them vanish from Middle Earth, but she had not relished the task. That was until she had met the stern and yet gentle man who was son to the Chieftain. She bent over her work, engrossed in these thoughts when she felt eyes on her back. She turned her head and saw Arathorn gazing at her. Laughter in her voice, she said, “My lord, you are staring again. Have you never seen a loom before? It’s for weaving fabric, quite useful.”
Arathorn broke his gaze and laughed, “I come to offer my hand in marriage to a vision of grace and beauty that I first saw sitting at this same loom and instead I find I’m betrothed to an impudent baggage with a waspish tongue. Some power that I do not understand is certainly at work here.”
Gilraen again laughed, “Who is this vision of grace and beauty and why was she allowed to sit at my loom!” flicking her long plait over her shoulder in indignation.
With a look skyward and a cry of “Valar, be merciful!” the Chieftain’s son walked over the loom and drew the Thane’s daughter up from her stool. In a swift shift of emotion, Arathorn took both of her hands in his and looked earnestly into her warm hazel eyes and smiled. “I think that we can be very happy together. It is my wish that we are.”
Gilraen felt her cheeks colour as she stared into his gray eyes wordlessly, lost in the gentleness that she first saw there. The plain honesty with which he spoke the words tugged at her heart and all doubt then fled her mind. It was her destiny to marry this man and bear his children. For once she let earnest thought, untempered by the humour she so often used to colour her words as a form of defense, flow from her soul. “I wish it, too, with all my heart, my love.”
Arathorn caught the endearment, it was the first time she had ever used anything other than his name or title. His eyes grew softer and he bent to kiss his bride-to-be.
Gilraen sat outside the door to the hall spinning wool and enjoying the warm late spring breeze. It had been almost two months since Arathorn’s proposal had been accepted by her father and the settlement had been a whirl of activity since. The ceremony was to be held at Fornost in accordance with Dunedain custom. Wedding celebrations between tribes were always celebrated among the groom’s people, the sooner the bride was within the bosom of her new tribe the sooner the couple’s lives could begin. Much preparation had taken place already before the wedding party could depart for Fornost in a week’s time. A special Mead spiced with heather and rosehips was being fermented for the occasion and would be the Thane’s contribution to the wedding festivities. Gilraen smiled when she thought of the day that the heather from the surrounding hills had been picked for this particular mead batch.
Two months earlier…
Arathorn had yet to leave for Fornost much needed to be done ahead of the wedding festivities and he would leave at first light the next day. Gilraen wanted to spend some time with him before he had to leave. She found him in the stables brushing down his horse and laughing with Erithain and Erkenthal.
“I thought I would find you three in here. Escaping duties again, Erithain?”
Her younger brother looked indignant, “I have finished mending the fence to the sheep enclosure, just as Father asked and I only came in here to return the mending tools when, when.”
Gilraen lifted an eyebrow and waited, staring at her little brother.
“Curse the Valar! All right, guilty! But I was headed out to fix the fence right now!”
Gilraen just laughed and ruffled her younger brother’s mane of dark hair. “It’s all right! I’ll not say anything!” and planted a sloppy kiss on the boy’s forehead with a motherly air that she was sure would embarrass him.
She was not disappointed, “Sister! Stop!” he shouted, obviously embarrassed by this show of sisterly affection around the two men he most admired. He glared at her.
Stifling a laugh, Gilraen looked at her baby brother thinking how good it was that he was no longer the sullen, angry young man of six months ago. It had pained her greatly to see her youngest brother change from a sunny-natured boy into the anger filled youth that had challenged Arathorn. He was now a confident young man on his way to becoming a fine warrior. She had Arathorn to thank for that.
She looked at her betrothed, who was trying not to laugh in order to save some of Erithain’s tattered dignity after this sisterly onslaught of affection, “Well, my lord! I cannot have you leading my family astray so I have decided that you are going to make yourself useful.”
Turning an interested look upon her, Arathorn drawled, “And just what do you have in mind?”
Gilraen held out a couple of flower baskets and stated emphatically, “We going to pick heather!”
“Pick what?!” Arathorn asked incredulously.
“You heard me! Heather!”
“But weed picking is woman’s work!”
Gilraen looked at him through slitted eyes and Erithain barked a short laugh saying, “My lord, I’ve seen that look in her eye. That’s not one you’ll be wanting to feel the force of very often.”
Tapping her booted foot Gilraen said, “Woman’s work it may be but, if you are going to drink the mead then, you going to have some hand in making it!” She looked up at her husband to be and did not give an inch. “Come! The hour grows late for picking.” She shoved the basket at his chest, turned on her heel and started out of the stables.
Arathorn caught the basket before it dropped and followed the Thane’s daughter out the door with a confused look on his face. He turned back to Erkenthal, shaking his head as if to say, “How do I get myself into these things?” Erkenthal chuckled wryly and after the couple had left the stable said, “Heather collecting, indeed! Young Erithain,” he said, clapping his hand on the slender youth’s back, “I’ve never seen a man so much in love as our Arathorn.” He looked at Gilraen’s younger brother, whose face splitting smile gave indication as to his opinion of the matter at hand and said, “Come, I’ll help you mend that fence and then we can get some swordplay in before they return. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” said the youth, now enthusiastic about fence-maintenance, due to the offer of swordplay to follow.
Arathorn’s face was a picture as he walked behind his betrothed fully sensible of the indignity being doled out in the form of heather picking or so he thought.
Looking up at her husband-to-be, Gilraen saw the storm brewing. “My lord! You won’t need to pick the flowers if you continue to glower like that! The buds will simply jump into your basket out of fear.” Arathorn continued to glower. Gilraen relented somewhat. She stopped and grabbed his hands at his sides. “I will never ask you to ‘weed-pick’ ever again. But it was the only way to get you alone before you left. And I very much wanted to do that. Forgiven?” she smiled, mischief dancing in her eyes.
Glowering still, Arathorn felt a smile tug at his lips. He tried to resist for as along as possible, but found it was no use. As the smile reached his eyes he looked down at his betrothed, “Wench, you are going to be the death of me!” he said sternly but trace amusement was in his voice.
Gilraen laughed and resumed her trek uphill. She looked back and saw he was still staring after her, bemusement in his eyes. “Well step lively, many heather blossoms to be picked!”
A look of dismay replaced the bemused expression as the Chieftain’s son said, “Do you mean we still have to ‘weed-pick’?”
“Yes!” came the oh-so-innocent voice, “I said I wouldn’t ask you again. But I have not released you from my service just yet. Oh wipe that scowl off your face! I’ll never breathe a word about the great Chieftain’s son gathering heather.”
Arathorn made a noise at the back of his throat that left his opinion about his current situation in no doubt, but he soldiered on anyway.
After about a half an hour of collecting the lightly scented, lavender buds, he looked over to where Gilraen was kneeling. He could just see a streak of dirt across her forehead, and some of her honey brown hair had come loose from the single thick plait that hung over one shoulder as she kneeled at the heather bush. A stray thought of that honey hair completely unbound and flowing across her bare shoulders caught Arathorn and held him in its pleasant, sensual grasp. Gilraen looked up from her cutting as if she could read his thoughts, she slowly smiled and flicked the plait over her shoulder as she laid down her basket and cutting knife and walked over to where Arathorn stood, slightly uphill from him, otherwise the top of her head would only reach his chin; this way she stood almost to his nose. Arathorn was staring at her intensely. He reached out a hand to smooth back a stray tendril, “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered. He saw her colour slightly at the compliment. “Has no one ever told you?” She shook her head. “Then they are blind,” he replied fervently. She smiled and he saw his whole world in her full hazel eyes. Their lips touched in first a gentle kiss, which slowly grew more passionate….
“Sister! Hello! You’re miles away!”
Gilraen shook herself from her reverie, looked up and saw her brother standing there with an amused look his face, “Where were you? Because you certainly were not here spinning wool that’s for sure.”
Gilraen looked down at her drop spindle and viewed the uneven mess that was spun around it. Colouring red, she snapped, “Never you mind where I was! Did you want something?”
Erithain smiled, “No need to bite my head off! And yes, Mother wants to see you. She said to tell you she’s at Nedraril’s dwelling.”
“Thank you! Now be off with you!”
Erithain left for the stables, whistling.
Gilraen turned her thoughts away from her impudent little brother and thought about what he just told her instead. Nedraril’s dwelling was on the edge of the settlement. Nedraril and Ivorwen were especially close, not only were they cousins but also devoted friends. Nedraril’s husband had died in service to the Rangers ten years back at least and since that time Ivorwen kept an eye on her and her two daughters, both married now with families of their own. She was the best weaver in the settlement and Gilraen had learned much about both weaving and spinning sitting at her knee, the current example notwithstanding. She looked at the drop spindle in her hand and quickly stored it inside the hall. She would pick it up later, too embarrassed to let such misbegotten handiwork be discovered as hers by the older lady who had taught her so much.
Her soft boots kicking up little puffs of dirt, Gilraen walked along the path until she reached Nedraril’s dwelling. She noticed that some of the thatching on the roof of the cottage needed to be replaced. Making a mental note to tell Dirhael about the repairs, she called out, “Mother! Nedraril! Erithain said you wished to see me?”
Almost immediately her mother’s voice bid her, “Come in, child.” Gilraen pushed open the wood plank door and was immediately enveloped by the smoky warmth of inside. That smell always filled Gilraen with a sense of warmth and love, many hours of her girlhood had been spent here watching and learning what she would need to know on how to make a house and home for a future husband. The hearth fire burned low and tallow candles had been lit in a corner where the two women sat near the loom, the most prominent feature of the little dwelling, save the hearth fire itself.
Ivorwen and Nedraril sat on two stools sipping what Gilraen assumed to be apple cider as it was her mother’s favourite drink. Nedraril motioned for her to sit on the hearthrug near them and offered her a mug of the cool cider, which Gilraen gratefully accepted and sipped as she sat cross-legged on the plaited rug of many colours. “What did you wish, Mother?”
Ivorwen looked at her daughter and smiled a sad smile that again failed to reach her eyes. Gilraen frowned with concern. “My daughter is getting married. How proud I am of you.” That strange something that Gilraen had noticed of late flared in her mother’s eyes and then quickly died away. “My child, Arathorn is a good man. Love him well.”
“I shall, Mama, “ Gilraen said slipping back into calling Ivorwen “Mama.” It was always a sure sign that she was feeling emotional or somewhat insecure, “Is there something that you are not telling me, Mama? Is there something wrong with Arathorn?”
“No,” came the somber answer, “There is nothing wrong with him. In fact everything is as it should be.” Ivorwen took a long sip of her cider, perhaps too long. Valar, give me strength, she thought, to show Gilraen a happy and untroubled heart. She suspects that something is not quite right and I CANNOT tell her what I know. It will destroy her few remaining years of happiness and I WILL NOT destroy what happiness she CAN have. By the time Ivorwen put her mug down she had gathered herself more completely than she would have imagined possible just a few moments earlier. She smiled at her daughter and when Gilraen smiled back without a hint of concern she thanked the Valar because she knew that her smile had finally reached her eyes.
“Now then,” Ivorwen started brightly, “To the business at hand.” She looked conspiratorially at Nedraril who, as if on signal, got up and walked over to the chest in the corner opposite them to retrieve something. “What is something that every bride needs?”
Gilraen quickly said, “A groom!” her eyes snapping with amusement.
Laughing, Ivorwen said, “True! And you clearly have one of those! But something else, something that you’ll treasure always. And that is something that cannot always be said of a husband!”
At that Nedraril laughed, “So very true!”
Ivorwen’s eyes sparkled as she looked at her friend and then back at her daughter, “Close your eyes, my child!”
After waving her hand in front of Gilraen’s eyes, Ivorwen silently took the package from Nedraril’s outstretched hands and placed it on her daughter’s lap. “Now open them.”
Gilraen open her eyes and on her lap lay a large cloth package wrapped with her mother’s best blue ribbon. After tugging at it Gilraen gasped; sitting amid the folds of cream linen lay a fitted surcoat of deepest blue wool. Intricate patterns had been woven into the fabric and a swirling design in silver thread decorated the hem and neckline. The surcoat was joined in the front with a brooch wrought of finely interwoven leaved vines. Gilraen recognised it as Ivorwen’ wedding brooch which she had admired since a child. “Mama!” she exclaimed, “You cannot give me this. It is yours!”
Ivorwen demurred, “It is yours now! My mother gave it to me for my wedding day and now I pass it onto you to wear on yours.” She reached out and smoothed a strand of the hair that so mirrored her own colouring back behind Gilraen’s ear. Her hand fell on the thick, single plait of hair sitting on her daughter’s shoulder. She sighed, “You will make a beautiful bride,” a tear forming in her eye. Her daughter smiled.
Lifting the blue surcoat from amid the folds of linen Gilraen saw beneath an undergown of brilliant white. Setting the surcoat to the side for the moment she ran a hand over the soft, snowy wool. It had a scoop neckline that had the same silver border as on the surcoat, encircling it. She stood up and shook out the undergown of twill weaving to hold it against herself. The sleeves were fitted at the shoulder and stopped at the elbow where wide trailing cuffs would reveal bare forearms. “It’s beautiful!” Gilraen breathed as she swirled the voluminous fabric around, not allowing it to touch the ground. “I love it! Mama!”
Ivorwen smiled, “I’m so glad you like it, my child,” It is precious little to give when considering all that you will be asked to endure, was a thought her mother left unsaid, looking at her daughter through eyes that saw both present and future.
The velvet feel of the wool on Gilraen’s fingertips brought to mind thoughts of many winter nights sitting at the loom weaving by rush light and hearth fire. “When did you do this, Mama?” she inquired trying to think of times past when this rich, beautiful fabric could have been woven.
Her mother smiled enigmatically, “Times when you weren’t noticing. I have been weaving portions of this fabric since you were a little girl. Don’t you recognise the patterns on the surcoat. Nedraril taught you those patterns on the very cloth that was cut to make it. I taught you to spin with the wool that went into the undergown. When each length of fabric was finished I put it away for safe keeping, waiting for the time when you would marry. Granted nobody thought it would come so soon, but Arathorn is a good man. You will love your life with him.” That much at least I’m sure is true, Ivorwen thought. Out loud she continued, “Nedraril has had the actual sewing of the gown over the last two months and many of the women have helped with the embroidery.”
Gilraen looked at the beautiful gown and surcoat with new appreciation. Her mother had spent most of her daughter’s life preparing the garment. The private, peaceful times spent between a mother and her daughter when the mother passes on both knowledge and wisdom had been spent over the making of this dress. It was in essence a woven document of their relationship. All the love and care, laughter and tears throughout the years had been marked in its making. Gilraen studied the blue fabric of the surcoat and through tear-blurred eyes thought she could see a long ago mistake made by young hands weaving a pattern for a first time. She looked up and saw tears running down the faces of the two women who had taught her so much about life. “I love it!” She cried and hugged first Nedraril, “Thank you,” she whispered. She saved the longer hug for her mother, both crying at this point. Ivorwen whispered in her ear, “I want you to be happy, my dear.”
“I will, Mama. I promise.” Gilraen said wiping her eyes with her sleeve. Ivorwen smiled sadly, then said briskly, “Well, don’t just stand there holding the thing. Let us see how well it fits!”
Chapter 4 – Elvellon
The wedding party, consisting of Dirhael’s immediate family and the entire First Watch, set out from the Lake Evendim settlement a few days later. It would take a week’s travel, as they had to trace the shore path of the lake. It was safer than going further inland where the risk of Orc attack was greater.
The end of the third day’s travel saw the party encamped on the northern bank of the Brandywine and past their ancestral lands. The landscape that they now beheld was far different from their own lands of woods and hills. The landscape was flat plains and stretched out for miles with only a few undulations and rocky outcroppings. Some of the warriors had already served as Rangers before returning to their people and were used to the change in landscape, but for those of Dirhael’s people who had never traveled beyond their own traditional borders it was unnerving being attuned only to the rhythms and protections of their own woods.
It was this and other matters of security that saw Dirhael and Erithain in conversation with others of the First Watch. Out on the open plain with only the river at their back posed problems in terms of defending a position. Granted they could see any advance but they were also completely visible to unfriendly eyes. But this among other things was something they were going to have to deal with on this journey east. It was decided to set watches at four positions even spaced surrounding the encampment to provide as much warning as possible if the worst should happen.
Erithain has chosen to take the first watch. As he idly surveyed the territory that surrounded him he thought he saw a group of riders approaching from the east. They were not Orcs, of that he was sure but any further reckoning was not possible. He called the attention of the watch and a party lead by himself would ride out and meet these visitors and ascertain their business.
As the gap closed between the two parties, it was apparent that the inbound riders were indeed riding straight for the encampment, but their speed did not suggest attack. Erithain raised his arm in a signal to those who rode with him and those that closed the line behind, to stand down but to not break formation. He thought it best not to show outward hostility, but neither would he be caught napping if they suddenly accelerated to attack speed.
As it turned out precaution was unnecessary. Erithain noted that it was a retinue of six and atop the lead horse, a white stallion that radiated unusual strength and grace, sat an Elf who also radiated an unusual strength and grace. The sun itself seemed to be refracted through this bright being. Erithain had never encountered an Elf before as they had little cause to travel through Northern Eriador in these latter days, although he, like many of his tribe, had heard stories. From what his eyes were currently telling him most of them were true. He stared into the Elf’s eyes and within them he thought he saw starlight reflected back at him, although dusk had yet to approach.
A voice stern yet musical, broke through his thoughts, “Mae Govannen! Are you Dirhael of Lake Evendim’s people?”
Erithain blinked and broke his stare. Swallowing and hoping to hide his excitement at encountering such beings he stated, “Yes,” touching his head and heart in greeting. He did not trust his voice far beyond that simple affirmation.
“I am Glorfindel,” said the Elf Lord, inclining his head, “and these are the sons of Lord Elrond of Rivendell.” He motioned to two dark-haired Elves that Erithain had only just noticed, so dazzled had he been by the golden Elf. “Elladan and Elrohir.”
Each nodded respectively and Erithain returned the greeting. He now looked closer at the two Elves who were so obviously twins. Testing his voice he ventured, “Welcome, my lords. My father bears you greetings. I am Erithain, captain of the First Watch and son to Dirhael.” A flicker of recognition registered in the dark-haired Elves’ star-like pale blue eyes, which Erithain noted with surprised interest. “What brings you to this lonely place along the river?”
The dark-haired Elf who had nodded when named Elladan replied, “Erithain, you are friend to Arathorn?”
The young captain inclined his head saying, “I have that honour, yes.”
“Arador and Arathorn bade us seek you out before approaching your father. He has sent his best warriors to serve as escort.” He motioned to the mounted warriors just behind him.
Erithain touched his head and heart as greeting in welcome to the guard captain, a man with shrewd green eyes and blond hair sitting on a bay stallion, “We are honoured, Captain.”
The captain nodded and spoke the formal wording, “Our service is yours.” Erithain noted with dry amusement that he seemed surprised that Dirhael’s watch commander was so young. The dark-haired youth had long since stopped bristling over another’s opinion of his position and lack of years. He knew that he was still learning but his father and Arathorn had both shown great faith in him and he determined to never let them down.
“If you will have us, we are to be your escorts for the rest of the journey to Fornost,” the golden-haired Elf concluded.
Flattered that Arathorn had named him friend to these bright beings, Erithain quickly replied, “We would be honoured. Come let us ride back to camp. You shall break bread with us tonight!” He motioned for the First Watch to return and wheeled his own horse level with the three Elves.
The whole camp had come to a standstill from the moment the riders had been spotted. Now that they had obviously been accepted and given safe passage by the Captain of the Watch, the curiosity only increased.
Dirhael stood ready to meet these visitors, but he was apprehensive when he saw that they were Elves. Truthfully, he had had few dealings with Elves, but having grown skeptical over the years, he initially doubted all that he did not personally know. He had not always been so cynical, but life had been a hard teacher.
Erithain leapt from his horse and knelt in front of his father. After feeling his father’s hand on his shoulder, he rose to speak. “Father, Arador has sent these Elves and warriors from his own tribe as companions and guides for remainder of the trip into Fornost.”
“Has he now? That was most thoughtful of him, but we have no need of any guidance from the Chieftain.”
Erithain looked at his father somewhat shocked by his words, “Father--.”
Dirhael held up a hand to silence his son. He spoke directly to the golden-haired Elf Lord, “I am Dirhael, Thane to my tribe. You wish to escort my people?”
Glorfindel responded impassively, “Arador has sent us, but we will accompany you only if you will allow us.” He then, bowed low to the Northern Thane, “We are at your service.”
Dirhael had half a mind to send them back where they came from, but catching the hurt look in Erithain’s eyes, he belatedly realised that his son as Captain of the Watch had already in his name accepted the Elves’ services and that to deny them was to undermine his son’s authority and suggest that he did not trust his judgment. Dirhael was loath to send any such signals. Thinking of past mistakes, the Thane refused to allow his own bitterness about life to yet again poison his son’s outlook. Erithain had made such strides over the past months and Dirhael was very proud of him. So he put aside his own feelings on the matter and responded, “Very well, your service is most gratefully accepted. Please forgive an old man his earlier churlishness.”
“There is no offence between friends and allies,” Glorfindel graciously offered and bowed again as he motioned for Elladan to see the horses of the retinue properly bedded down. Dirhael stole a look at Erithain and inwardly smiled at the relief written on his young son’s face.
Ivorwen stepped forward and Dirhael said, “Lord Glorfindel, allow me to introduce my wife, Ivorwen.”
The Elf bowed low, “I am honoured, my lady.”
Unaccustomed shyness suddenly filled Ivorwen as she looked upon this bright and beautiful Elf. There was an unmistakable aura of goodness and nobility upon his brow and within his pale blue eyes danced a pure light of ageless wisdom. “As am I, my lord Elf!” She had spoken her greeting in as clear and strong a voice as possible, given her present flustered state. He seemed not to notice and said in a lyrical voice, “We are bound to the same legacy, the Dunedain and the Elves, to fight the good fight to the end. I am honoured to share company with those of like mind.”
Ivorwen inclined her head and then turned her mind to more practical matters in an effort to push through her present bedazzled state. “Come! Sit and break bread with us. We were about to begin the evening meal. Husband, escort to Lord Glorfindel to the cooking fires and offer him some mead. Step lively!”
She turned to give Erithain an order, but in his place she found standing next to her, not her young son, but to her shock the dark-haired Elf that she had seen in her vision. She felt a little light-headed and the Elf steadied her. “My Lady! Are you well?” He guided her over to where there was a small rock outcropping and sat her down.
Ivorwen had been shocked to look up and see the same dark-haired, beautiful Elf that had appeared in her vision. At first she was embarrassed, “I am well, Master Elf, forgive me!”
“There is nothing to forgive,” insisted the Elf.
A thought struck her and it was a mother’s need that drove her to clear her mind and speak with him about a very important matter; the desire to ensure as much of her daughter’s happiness as was possible. It might be a vain hope, but she felt she had to try.
She looked the dark-haired Elf in the eye and repeated in a stronger voice, “I am well, Master Elf.” She paused and then followed with, “Pardon my boldness, but is not your name Elladan?”
The Elf looked a bit shocked and eyed her curiously and said “Nay, my lady,” he inclined his head, hand on his heart. “I am Elrohir, son to Lord Elrond of Imladris and friend to Arathorn.”
Ivorwen blinked and looked somewhat abashed and stumbled, “Y-You are not Elladan?”
Noticing the Dunedain woman’s discomfiture, Elrohir gently informed her, “He is my brother. Do you wish to speak with him?” The Elf watched the lady with curious interest as she gathered herself once again.
“Yes, Yes I would. If you would be so kind as to guide me to him.” Ivorwen had now started upon this course and meant to finish it, cost what it may to her dignity. If no hope of lasting happiness could be had, then an assurance of her daughter’s comfort might be all Ivorwen could give her child. And this far outweighed trivial considerations such as her own dignity. She straightened her shoulders and looked the Elf in the eye, “Please.”
Regarding Ivorwen in a new and admiring light, Elrohir smiled at her, “At once, my lady. Right this way” he said in a soft voice resonating musically, offering her his arm.
They walked through the camp to where the horses were being tended. Elrohir touched her hand placed on his forearm to still her motion and said, “If you will wait here for a moment I will bring my brother to you.” She nodded her assent and watched as Elrohir approached his brother and saw him motioning towards her. Elladan looked over with interest. All of a sudden, Ivorwen felt ridiculously self-conscious. Who was she to ask anything of these bright and beautiful beings? But she steeled herself with resolution. Had not Lord Glorfindel said that they shared a common purpose and if her vision was to be believed then her daughter’s life was tied to that purpose. Surely the Valar were not so unkind as to deny her this small crumb of comfort. She shook off all thought of self-consciousness as she saw the Elven twins approach her.
Holding her eye and then bowing low, with hand on heart, Elrohir’s twin said, “I am Elladan, brother to Elrohir and son to Lord Elrond. What is it you wish to say to me, dear lady.” The dark-haired Elf finished, curiosity evident on his fair face.
Ivorwen, touching head and heart, stated, “My name is Ivorwen, wife of Dirhael and mother of Gilraen. I wish to ask a boon of you.”
Elladan’s dark brows shot up, “Do you, my lady? Ask it, and if it can be done it shall be done.”
Emboldened by the Elf’s seeming willingness, “I would ask that you look over my daughter and see that she wants for nothing all the days of her life.”
Elladan looked at her, “Have you no faith that Arathorn will be able to provide for your daughter?”
Realising the implied insult too late Ivorwen stumbled over her next words, “Nay, I do not wish to impugn Lord Arathorn’s abilities and commitment. He loves my daughter and will provide for her as long as he is able…” her voice trailed off and she looked imploringly at Elladan, “Please tell me you will do this.”
Elladan stared at the Dunedain woman and was moved by the emotions he saw playing across her face as she awaited his answer. She could not realise that both he and Elrohir were self-appointed guardians to the Heir and his family and that they would always protect Arathorn and Gilraen at the cost of their own immortal lives. She was simply a very worried mother who was seeking a way to protect her daughter in any way she could. He wondered why she had specifically singled him out but that question did not need an answer. His eyes glowed with happiness and affirmation as he fairly sang out, “Yes, my lady. I can promise you that I, and my brother here, will always look to your daughter and make sure that she wants for nothing. As we will for any sons or daughters that she may have with Arathorn. Will that ease your mind, dear lady.”
Ivorwen’s hazel depths glistened with tears as she beheld the love and commitment that she saw in the Elf’s star-like blue eyes. “Thank you, Lord Elladan, Lord Elrohir. You have eased my heart with these words. I will owe you a debt that I am not sure I can ever repay.”
“Give not a thought to debts owed and owing. Among friends there is never a need.” Elladan reached out to dry the few tears that had fallen from Ivorwen’s eyes. Then in a mercurial shift of mood he sang out, “Come, we have joined together for a joyful purpose. Let us not ponder unhappiness until it becomes necessary. Until such time let us rejoice and fill the day with laughter.”
Ivorwen felt her heart lighten as she then guided the Elven twins over to the cooking fires and sat them down. She spied her daughter on the other side of the circle speaking with Nedraril and called to her.
Gilraen looked up and saw her mother speaking with the two dark-haired Elves that had arrived with the golden one named Glorfindel. She had not been able to present herself when they spoken with Dirhael upon their arrival because the cooking pot stand had chosen that moment to collapse and it had taken quick thinking and a couple of strong men from the watch to properly shore it up, otherwise dinner would have been soaking into the silt of the river bank and she would have had some explaining to do to some very hungry and angry people not least of which would have been her father.
She approached them now with a feeling akin to wonder. She, like Erithain, had never encountered an Elf before and straight out of stories by firelight sat two of the fabled Firstborn, “Yes, Mother?” she inquired.
“Daughter, These are the sons of Lord Elrond of Imladris, Lord Elladan and Lord Elrohir.” Her mother met her eyes and Gilraen had the oddest feeling that she was being introduced to two guardian angels.
She bowed her head in the northern greeting, “I am honoured to meet two of the Eldar,” Gilraen said, suddenly catching her breath as she looked into the eyes of the dark-haired Elf nearest her. Love and loyalty she saw in his star-like pale blue eyes; it left her feeling a little confused and oddly comforted at the same time.
The dark-haired Elf bowed low, hand on heart, “Simply Elladan, if you please,” his musical voice requested, “Among friends titles are too burdensome to bear for very long.”
Gilraen smiled, “Very well, L-Elladan.” The Elf smiled back enigmatically.
The other Elf bowed an even lower bow, “Elrohir, at your service, my lady Gilraen.” His eyes twinkling at her, “Arathorn described your beauty, I can now see for myself the truth in his words.”
Gilraen coloured slightly at the compliment given by such luminous beings, “I’m sure he exaggerated.”
“Nay, he did not.” Elrohir continued, “He spoke not only of your outward beauty, but of your fire and love of life. Which are evident to all who can see..”
Gilraen was now blushing furiously, and seated herself on the plaited rugs used as ground cover to mask her discomfiture. The others, her mother included, followed suit. The Thane’s daughter sat thinking that she would soon be a widow, because she was going to kill Arathorn the next time she saw him for causing her this embarrassment.
“You must forgive my brother, my lady.” Elladan stepped deftly into the conversation, “He has an annoying habit of making beautiful women blush. I cannot take him anywhere really.” He laughed mischievously as he sent his brother a mock glance of warning.
“I only speak the truth, Elladan. You would have these two beautiful ladies think I am an idle flatterer. You wound me.”
Gilraen and Ivorwen viewed these two bright beings with something between wonder and confusion. They were clearly warriors, and of proficient skill if anything could be told by the grace and confidence with which they wore their light armor and bore their knives, bow and quiver. Everything about them attested to the fact they were born warriors, yet they seemed to be as joyous as children at times, in complete contrast to the Rangers of their own people, being somber men of war and purpose.
Elladan saw both emotions flitting across the ladies’ faces. He smiled wide and said, “Forgive us, dear ladies. It just brings us great joy to finally meet the one to whom Arathorn has given his heart.”
Containing her curiosity had become instantly impossible for Gilraen, “You speak of Arathorn as if you know him well. Are you friends?”
“Yes, of many years,” Elrohir said, mercurially somber, “And we had begun to worry that Arathorn would never give his heart. His young sister to whom he was devoted died many years ago in an Orc attack. For a long while he mourned and shared his pain with no one, but slew Orc by the hundreds in a feverish vengence,” a look of pain crossed his blue eyes, a look so incongruous with this merry Elf that it struck Gilraen to the heart. “We have known such vengeance and have long accompanied him when he goes to hunt Orc.”
Elrohir fell quiet, seeming to withdraw into himself. Looking compassionately at his brother, Elladan took up the story, “After years past he seemed to deny most emotion, save that of duty. It was only after he met you that he had started to live again. He laughs now.” Elladan looked gratefully at Gilraen, “You are responsible for that.”
Humbled by the Elf’s obvious gratitude, Gilraen grew silent, embarrassed by the fervent emotion she had seen in his star-like eyes. She was not quite sure what to say. She had known of Arathorn’s sister. Gwenrith was her name and his face always lit up when speaking about her. At length she said, “Arathorn has spoken of her often. She always seemed like someone I would like to have known.”
Both Elves stared at her. Elladan then said, slightly awed, “He has never spoken of her since the day she died. He must love you even more than we suspected.” He then cast a look at Ivorwen as he brought to mind the earlier conversation they shared and the boon he had granted. Ivorwen shifted her gaze downwards as the dark-haired Elf tried to catch her eye. Elladan could sense the pain radiating from the older woman, but felt it was the wrong time to delve into that private emotion. Besides he was not even sure he wanted to know. Turning his attention back towards Gilraen he inwardly smiled at her blushes, “Arathorn also told us that you do not take compliments well and to compliment you often so you could grow accustomed.” In another mercurial shift Elladan smiled impishly.
Gilraen went from embarrassed blushes to fighting back the desire to slap the Elf upside the head. “Oh he did. Did he? Wait till I see him next. He’ll learn what he gets for goading me!” Her eyes snapped as she stood quickly, “Stay seated, my lord Elves,” when the Elven twins sought stand, “I find that we are most definitely in need of liquid refreshment. I shall retrieve of a cask of mead.”
The rest of the journey passed safely enough. Erithain and Gilraen were enthralled by the Elves and spent much time riding even with them or talking by campfire. Elladan and Elrohir proved to be merry companions and it was found that Glorfindel, while at first a bit more aloof than the other two Elves, could tell a ripping good yarn when he felt so moved. Dirhael had even begun to warm to the Elven presence and on more than one occasion was seen sharing a mug of mead with the golden-haired Elf. What they discussed Ivorwen felt it better not to ask. Her husband seemed content in this unexpected friendship and that was what really mattered. Ivorwen smiled looking at the two, dark and light heads bent together. It was late and the rest of the camp was asleep, and they were so engrossed in their conversation that they would not notice if she slipped away for a few moments of solitude removed from the encampment. They would reach the settlement tomorrow and Gilraen’s new life would begin in earnest and Ivorwen needed a few moments alone to sort through her feelings.
It was with a heavy heart that Ivorwen pondered the coming day. A portion of her wanted to tell Gilraen what she saw; what she knew and then hope it would dissuade her daughter from the match. But Ivorwen knew such a motive was selfish and doomed to failure. Gilraen was in love and would most likely marry Arathorn anyway but with the foreknowledge that would ruin her chances for happiness while Arathorn still lived. What was to happen must take place, but another part of her was angry that her beloved daughter was chosen to make the sacrifice of her own life’s happiness. Well did she know that life was very rarely fair. Haven’t I already had to bear the loss my oldest two sons? she thought bitterly. Her throat constricted as she thought of Elassan and Alarael. Elassan, the oldest, had deep blue eyes, a gift from his grandmother’s side of the family, dark hair and had the strong build of Dirhael. He was quiet and calm, so unlike his father in that respect but whenever he spoke it was always with good reason. Idle banter did not come easily and Alarael frequently teased him, just to bring him out of himself a little. Alarael had been the bright spark that lit the family up, two years younger and taller than his brother, he shared his colouring with Ivorwen and Gilraen. He had possessed a unique ability to get people talking and seeing common ground. He had been a natural peacemaker. Ironic that he should have died by the sword, Ivorwen thought as she wiped away a stray tear that had escaped her attempts to remain stoical. Alarael also had had a lightening quick mind and a wicked sense of humour that often tried his father’s patience, Ivorwen remembered, smiling. He quite often used his sense of humour to break through the ice of a situation and then bring together the two warring factions, whoever they were, and get them to see sense.
The day of the Orc attack in which they died was terrible, Ivorwen flinched under the remembered pain. It was not often she had the strength to think of that day, but tonight the thoughts seem to come unbidden. The way it was described to Ivorwen and Dirhael by one of the few warriors to return from the attack, was sparse. But Ivorwen was able to piece together the last moments of her two sons. Elassan had fallen in the attack. Having witnessed this, Alarael raced back into the thick of the fight in order to rescue his injured brother. After reaching Elassan and attempting to pull him onto his horse, an Orc impaled him upon one of their spear-like arrows, killing him instantly. Alarael had perished trying to save his brother. It was so like him, to think of others before himself. Elassan was brought back to the settlement, but his injuries and the knowledge that his brother had died trying to save him were too much and he slipped from the world a few fevered days later.
All attempts at stoicism abandoned, Ivorwen closed her eyes; the tears now flowing freely as she remembered her two bright boys. She felt as if she and Dirhael had already given so much. “Curse the Valar! For asking this last thing of us,” she whispered fervently. She sat still for many moments, the only telltale signs of life were the tears falling gently down her face and onto her gown and surcoat.
“Why do you cry, my lady.” Ivorwen spun around on the rock upon with she sat to see Elladan. Her eyes were wide with shock and fear. The dark-haired Elf quickly apologised, “Forgive me for startling you, my lady. But if I may be so bold as to ask again, Why do you cry?” Elladan could not explain what had brought him here. He had been asleep with his back next to his brother when he awoke suddenly and felt the urge to walk about for a bit. Then he saw her sitting on that rock, silent as pain in waves flowed from her unmoving form. At first he had thought to leave her to her unknown sorrows. His father had warned him many times about growing too close to mortals and getting too involved in their world. But he had either been blessed or cursed with a soft heart; he could never figure out which it was. What was more, he felt compelled to speak with her and discover her troubles.
Ivorwen continued to stare at him wordlessly. The tears having stopped briefly in her shock, her wide sorrowful eyes merely watched him as he stepped closer to her. He stood at her side and then dropped to one knee. “Tell me,” he said imploringly, his blue eyes dark with concern, “After all, there is a bond between us. I have sworn to do your bidding. I should know what it is that troubles you.” Looking into those mesmeric eyes Ivorwen found she was no proof against them. She needed to tell someone not so closely involved in the pain and this Dark-haired Elf was offering himself as confidante.
Chewing her lower lip pensively, she began. “Gilraen must marry Arathorn, but it can only lead to her ultimate unhappiness.”
“Do you doubt that Arathorn will treat her well?” Elladan said in the pause of her telling.
“Nay, Elladan. That is not it! Do you want to hear my story or not?” Ivorwen said, a flash of her usual spirit cutting through her sorrow.
“Pray pardon, my lady. Please continue.” Elladan hid an admiring smile at the lady’s spirit.
“Well then, get off your knees and join me on the rock where we may both be comfortable!” Ivorwen lightly scolded.
“Aye, my lady.” Elladan hid yet another admiring grin as he moved to do her bidding.
Upon seeing the Elf gracefully fold his legs under him, Ivorwen began her story again, “I shall start from the beginning. I am gifted with the Sight. Either gifted or cursed,” she muttered under her breath, “And on the morning that Arathorn came to make offer for Gilraen’s hand, I saw that she must marry him, and that this union would bring forth the child who would lead the Dunedain out of the wilderness of our existence and restore what was rightfully ours. It was the only reason the Thane accepted the match.”
Elladan looked up at this revelation, which had just slammed into his consciousness. He stared into the Dunedain woman’s eyes and said, “And this troubles you?” Again Ivorwen gave him that warning look, and he quickly said, “Again, my pardon, my lady,” and fell silent.
“You see, Master Elladan. That was not all of my vision. You were in it.” Elladan’s eyes grew amazed at this revelation, but chose to stay silent, “You and my daughter amid other horses were rushing towards Imladris, with my very young grandson. Tears were pouring down my daughter’s face and Arathorn was nowhere to be seen.” She looked away from the Elf and over the downs that stretched out in the middle distance. “Arathorn will die soon, I do not know when or how, and my daughter will be left unhappy and alone, living in a strange place.”
“Are you certain?” Elladan asked gently.
Ivorwen nodded, “My visions are never wrong.”
“And that is why you sought me out,” the Elf continued. Ivorwen nodded, still looking out over the vista before her.
“It was a mother’s desperation,” She quickly looked back at the Elf, slight panic showing on her face, “You will still hold to your promise, will you not?”
“More than ever, my lady.” He looked deeply into her eyes as he took both hands in his. “You have my solemn promise that my brother and I will always look over your daughter all the days of her life.” He then kissed the palms of her hands, “My brother and I will forever be at your service. For your many sacrifices made in the name of the light, I name you Elf-friend, Elvellon in my tongue. All you need do is call and we will come.”
Ivorwen looked deeply into his star-filled eyes and saw that he would never fail her. “Thank you.”
Chapter 5 – Owing the past; Owing the future
The wedding party and Elven escort entered the settlement near the ruins of Fornost city around mid afternoon the next day. As they rode by dwelling after dwelling, Gilraen was mildly surprised to note that it did not look too much difference from her tribe’s own settlement near Lake Evendim. The same clean, rectangular thatched houses and connected pens filled with chickens and goats were to be seen scattered around. She could see the rooftop of what looked to be the Chieftain’s hall in the center, though perhaps slightly bigger than her father’s, but not by much. She did not know quite what to she expected from the Chieftain’s settlement but the unobtrusiveness of it all did give her slight pause.
Upon seeing the hall though all other thoughts left Gilraen’s mind. She looked and saw Arathorn standing next to an older version of himself, which could only be his father, Arador. Arathorn stood so proudly beside his father that you would have thought that he presided over the grandest palace in all of Middle Earth. Love flared anew with Gilraen’s heart. It had been a whole two months since last she saw him. Those two months had crawled past. They had been filled with activity but they had nonetheless seemed interminable.
As the party rode closer to the hall, Gilraen could more clearly see Arathorn’s face, his countenance was somber, but upon closer inspection she could see the twinkle in his eyes. The retinue stopped and Glorfindel gracefully dismounted, handed his reins over to waiting hands and walked to the few steps to Arador. Bowing low his musical voice called out, “My lord Chieftain, our errand is accomplished. May I present to Dirhael-thane of Lake Evendim and his son, Erithain, Watch Commander of his people.”
Both Dirhael and Erithain dismounted and it was a study of old and young. Dirhael approached with the jaded quality that many years of care and responsibility had bred into him and bent a somewhat grudging knee. By contrast, Erithain leapt from his horse and Arador noticed that it was all he could do to contain his excitement as he knelt awaiting the Chieftain’s words of greeting. Arador hid a smile while watching the young captain and thought My God! Was I ever that young? The Chieftain was careful to school his expression though, because he knew Dirhael watched him like a hawk and would take any perceived slight given to any of his people amiss. This was doubly true should he feel that a slight was being laid at his beloved youngest son’s feet. “We are honoured that you travel to us and welcome you to Fornost on the happiest of occasions; the celebration of the marriage between my son and your daughter. Rise and welcome,” Arador intoned with solemnity, but with joy evident.
Dirhael drew himself up to his full height and held himself proudly. Only Ivorwen, still seated upon her roan stallion could see the tension he held in his shoulders caused by the secret sorrow that was known to only one other beside themselves. She glanced at the tall dark-haired Elf to two horses to her right, but saw that he stared straight ahead. Her husband in answer to his Chieftain and said, “We are equally honoured and joyful about the joining of our children.” Dirhael stiffly bowed his head and place his hand on heart.
Arador wryly noted this stiffness and thought, this match is clearly not to your liking and yet you allow it. I wonder why? But the Chieftain pushed aside the thought and said, “I think it is time we allow the betrothed to greet one another. If we delay any longer I fear they shall both explode!”
At this Dirhael let out a genuinely amused chuckle. “I fear you may be right, my lord!” Looking at Gilraen atop her horse blushing furiously only increased his amusement. “May I present my only daughter, Gilraen.”
Still trying desperately to control her rising colour, Gilraen dismounted her horse and prayed that she would not trip on her skirts or fall flat on her face right in front of the Chieftain, soon to be her father-in-law. She managed to negotiate her way around the folds of her maroon dress on route to the foot of the Chieftain. She knelt on one knee and said in a nervous voice just above a whisper, “I am honoured to join into the family of the Chieftain.” She cursed herself that she spoke in near a whisper; she would not have Arador think that his son was marrying a soft-spoken nothing. But try as she would, she could not get the lump out of her throat. She felt a finger lifting her head and looked straight into the appraising eyes of the Chieftain.
He said after looking over her face for a few moments, “I can see why my son wishes to join with you.”
Gilraen’s hazel eyes flared and the lump in her throat disappeared as she said in a clear, strong voice, “I am not just a pretty face, my lord. You mistake me, if you see only that!”
The Chieftain’s eyes grew wide at that bald statement and he was silent for a few beats before bursting out with a loud laugh. Offering his hand to pull her from her kneeling position, he said robustly, “Never, my future daughter, will I ever think that. Rest assured. But this I already knew, because my son could never have been won by mere beauty alone.” He smiled at her; his gray eyes looking upon her approvingly as he handed her over to his son.
Arathorn had wondered how she would handle his father, who could be slightly intimidating at times. But looking at the fire in the eyes of his bride-to-be during this exchange with his father he knew had been silly to worry at all. He did not think that there was a situation in the world that Gilraen could not brazen her way through and love for this being of fire and ice flared anew in his heart.
The next day Arathorn called on Gilraen at the house that had been prepared for the bride’s family early in the morning. He needed to see her and spend sometime alone before the rush of activities enveloped them for the day.
After greeting Dirhael and Ivorwen as was proper, Arathorn turned to Gilraen, “Walk with me a bit?” Gilraen smiled and looked for her parents’ consent. Receiving it she reached for her wrap and followed Arathorn outside into the early summer morning, sunlight still yet to warm the settlement as it would later in the day.
“You’ve a secretive air about you today, my lord.” Gilraen teased.
“Have I?” Arathorn said, “Well there is something I wish to show you.”
Gilraen looked at him mischievously, “I’ve see that, my lord. And soon we will not have to sneak away.”
Arathorn looked at her and laughed, “Bawdy wench!” But then he sobered and stopped her in her tracks and stood in front of her looking down into her eyes, “I want to show you something that means a great deal to me.”
Gilraen caught her breath as she always did when he looked at her with that earnest look in his gray eyes. It somehow stripped away all her defences and found the core of her being. She whispered, “Whatever it is. I shall be honoured to have you share it with me.”
Arathorn smiled, “We go to the stables.” And he turned and walked in that direction and Gilraen followed. While walking he asked, “What do you think of the settlement?”
Looking a little non-plussed, Gilraen hedged, “It is very clean and well kept.”
Arathorn burst out laughing, “That is damning with faint praise! It is not what you expected, is it?”
Gilraen blushed and stumbled out an answer, “I mean no disrespect, my lord. I do not know what I expected. It is a lot like my father’s settlement,” she offered.
Arathorn again stopped her, “I’m sorry, I do not mean to make you uneasy. I know it is not much. As I said to your father as I sued for this match. I, as Chieftain’s heir, do not have much in the way of riches to offer you --”
“But I have never asked for --” Gilraen started to protest.
“Shh-shh! My love. I know you do not. What I do have I want you understand. This is what I take you to see.”
Gilraen nodded her understanding and wondered at his meaning. When they arrived at the stables, she saw that her horse, Ayre had been saddled and was ready to ride. She mounted and patted Ayre’s neck saying, “This should be an adventure, boy. Are you up for it?” The gray stallion whinnied softly, but with a slight questioning air. She smiled, “I know how you feel, boy, ” patting the stallion absentmindedly as she waited for Arathorn to emerge from the stables.
As they set out the sun broke through the early cloud cover taking the slight chill out of the morning air and held out the promise of a pleasant summer’s day. They rode in companionable silence for a few miles until Gilraen’s curiosity got the better of her and she asked, “Where are we headed, my love?”
Arathorn shushed her and pointed just ahead. Gilraen looked up and she saw a city of white stone emerging from around the bend of the hill path. The further they rode the more of the city came into view. Quickly she realised that it was not a city but a ruin. She knew from stories told around the hearth fire at night they were the ruins of Fornost city, but she had never thought she would ever see the fabled stones. The once proud towers and domes had fallen, some partially, some completely. As they crossed the threshold of what would have been the great gate to the city, she saw hinges that once held great wooden gates hanging from the sides of the entrance, broken in anger long ago. Moss grew on stone and overgrowth between foundations. Weeds had taken root between cracked paving stones. As they rode up through was must have been the main thoroughfare she saw houses grand, but deserted. Some intact and some not. Statuary of forgotten people lay in partial disarray. Broken debris from archways littered the path they took. Stones long ago fallen lay strewn around them, causing their horses to pick a careful path amid the rubble. She was filled with an awe for its grandeur and a sadness for its desolation. She looked all around her at what once was and she felt a tear fall upon her cheek. She looked at Arathorn to ask a question and was stopped short by the look of love on his face.
Arathorn had wondered what she would make of the ruins of Fornost. If it would affect her as deeply as it always did him. When he saw that tear fall from her eyes, he had his answer. He looked at her and said in a voice choked with emotion, “This is my city. This is my legacy. This is who I am. I am born with the hope to restore this city and return my people, all my people to the place that is rightfully theirs. It is the hope that we as the Heirs of Isildur live by and cling to. In the face of the enemy that would have seen us destroyed, we survive to one day see the glory of Arnor restored and the error of Isildur assuaged.” He looked somewhat abashed as he continued, “It is this I wished to show you and wanted you accept as part of me. Can you?” He looked at her hopeful, but uncertain.
Dismounting her horse Gilraen walked over to Arathorn, who quickly dismounted. She pulled his head down to her level, smoothed back the dark hair from his forehead and placed a kiss there instead. She then solemnly held his earnest gray gaze and kissed his brow. Finally, she kissed his lips and said, “I love you, Arathorn, son of Arador, Isildur’s Heir. And will follow you wherever this path leads you.”
Gilraen awoke from a sound sleep in the early morning on her joining day with Arathorn. She was not sure what jogged her awake, there was all the expectant joy and excitement, and also a new sense of responsibility, as if she now owed something to the future. She could not explain it. Perhaps it was the trip to the ruins yesterday. It had affected her more than she would have thought. She thought of the commitment and purpose that lit Arathorn’s eyes yesterday when he spoke of his inherited destiny. It had made her uneasy but also it gave her glimpse of hope that there could be and should be something else beside this simple existence for her people.
She had grown up knowing the history of her people, the Rangers of the North. This was told to her at her mother’s knee blended together as it was with her duties as a woman of the Dunedain. Marriage had come to symbolise their survival as a people in defiance of those who would see them destroyed. It was an affirmation of life, a joyous occasion and a duty. She now looked forward to that duty with joy in her heart. It could be her way of helping her people achieve their destiny. She shook her head at such grandiose thoughts and silently laughed them aside.
Realising she was not going to get any more sleep she rose and dressed in her clothes from last night as silently as she could and slipped outside, woven wrap in hand. She closed the door behind her, but before she took a step, she heard the voice of her father from behind her. “Could not sleep either, my child?” Startled, she just about managed not to cry out. “I’m sorry, I did not mean scare you.”
“Father! I’m sorry. Did I wake you? I tried to be quiet.” Gilraen quickly apologised.
“Nay! My child, you did not wake me! I, too, find sleep elusive.” Albeit for different reasons I’m sure, he thought. “Come, sit by me.” Gilraen joined him sitting up against the outside of the house looking out over the southern part of the settlement.
After a few moments of companionable silence, Dirhael said while still gazing outwardly. “You love Arathorn, do you not?”
Gilraen wondered at his tone, as if he was seeking reassurance, “Yes, Father, I do. He is a good man. He is loyal and kind. Noble and full of purpose. I feel as if we could achieve great things together.” She coloured as she stopped, realising how silly she must sound. She glanced at her father to see what he thought of these silly words and saw an expression on his face that she did not quite understand. He had tears in his eyes and yet he was smiling at her.
“You will, my child. Of that I am sure.” A single tear escaped the Thane’s eye.
That alarmed Gilraen for she had never seen her father cry, not even after the death of her two brothers. “Father, do you not approve of Arathorn? He is a good man. He will love me.”
Dirhael impatiently slapped away the betraying teardrop, angry with himself for such a loss of control, “No, daughter. Have no fear. I have no objections to Arathorn. He is a worthy man and anybody with eyes can see that he loves you. I am just a foolish, fond old man, who is sorry to be losing his daughter. That is all.” He paused and his mood seemed lighten. “After all, now who’s going to help me keep Erithain from bouncing off the walls!” Gilraen laughed and felt the rumbling laugh of her father as she caught him in a huge hug. They sat like that for several minutes, just father and daughter, and finally Dirhael announced, “As your mother is fond of saying, “Well, this butters no parsnips! We best get up and start the day.” At that they both rose from their sitting positions against the wall. As Gilraen was dusting off her skirts Dirhael looked at her. She stilled her motion and looked back. He took a step closer and raised a hand to smooth back a stray tendril of honey-brown hair that had escaped her sleeping plait during the night. His hand caressed her hair and pulled forward her long plait and placed it gently on her shoulder. His eyes were tender with regret as he said, “I want you to be happy. It is my fervent wish.”
“I will, Father.” As she again caught her father in another encompassing hug, Gilraen did not see Dirhael silently mouthing words as he looked skyward imploringly, “Valar be merciful and keep her safe! Nienna give her strength!” It was possibly all he could give her; he hoped it would be enough.
The Joining gown and surcoat fit beautifully after a few minor adjustments. Gilraen surveyed herself in the long piece of polished brass with intricate Elven borders that been brought over by Arathorn himself earlier in the morning. She remembered noticing at first his bashfulness and smiled, thinking how amusing it was to see a Ranger blush, and how very unusual. He had stumbled over his words as he said, “It was my sister’s and I thought that you might like to have it, to view yourself in.” Gilraen would have teased him about her supposed vanity, but to be given anything that had belong to his beloved little sister was an occasion to be treated with the utmost reverence, even Gilraen with her irreverent sense of humour recognised that. She was truly touched when she found out to whom the mirror had belonged.
So now she looked at her reflection in the treasured possession held by Nedraril. Nedraril had tears in her eyes as she looked back at Gilraen, “You look beautiful.” Gilraen felt beautiful and thought about all the love and care over the long years that it had taken to spin, weave and sew this dress. She swirled side ways and noticed again how the soft wool of the deep blue trailing surcoat flowed when she moved.
Her mother was fussing about the folds of the dress, straightening and nervously brushing off imaginary pieces of lint. She had never seen her mother quite so nervous as she was this morning. “Oh, that hem is not laying flat, I knew I should have re-tacked it this morning!” Ivorwen fretted. Gilraen followed her mother’s eyes to where she was finding fault and could see nothing amiss.
She grabbed both of her mother’s hands and held them in hers. She could feel them shaking. “Mama!” she said concernedly, “It is alright! I love the gown! I could not have a more beautiful one!”
He mother looked into her eyes. Gilraen saw strain there and thought for a second Ivorwen was about to burst into tears, but the moment passed and her mother smiled, “I’m sorry to fuss so! I just want everything to be perfect for you today! Nedraril,” She reached out a hand to clasp her friend’s, “I’m sorry, I did not mean to find fault with the sewing. It is beautiful!”
Nedraril lowered the mirror and to grasp Ivorwen’s outstretched hand and say warmly, “No offence taken, my dear. I remember my own daughters’ Joining days. I was a nervous wreck! Now enough of apologies,” she finished with a sparkle in her eye looking speculatively at Gilraen, “it is time dress your hair!”
The joining ceremony was to be held outside amid the winds of Manwe and the growth of Yavanna. The ceremony had changed over the centuries of their wandering. Before the fall of Arthedain, the last remnant of the northern kingdom of Arnor, marriage had more often than not been used to fortify political affiliation among the noble families of Arthedain. The sacking of Fornost not only obliviated the last political state of Arnor, it also rent the social fabric with which the nobility wove their lives. Marriage for political alliance was rendered meaningless in the face of the supposed annihilation of their people. Determination to survive made for the evolution of beliefs different from that of their forefathers. Marriage, or Joining as it was now more commonly thought of among the Dunedain, had come to symbolise hope and determination of their people to go on.
A marriage among the Dunedain was usually blessed and consecrated by the elder member of the groom’s family. But in the Joining of the son of the Chieftain, this duty fell not only to Arador, but also to Lord Elrond, the protector and advisor to the Rangers of the North, who had traveled from Imladris especially to bestow his blessing upon the union.
Gilraen, radiant in her gown of snowy white and her surcoat of deepest blue, wore a light wreath of flowers over her intricately plaited hair. Small plaits at her temple were turned up at the ends and tied back with a blue ribbon. The rest of her hair flowed freely down her back reaching almost to her waist.
On one side of the center aisle stood the First Watch of Arador’s tribe, on the other stood the First Watch of Dirhael’s tribe; their outstretched, unstrung bows touching in the middle to form an archway down which Gilraen and her father walked amid the gathered people of Arador’s tribe. In between the warriors of the guard stood the younger girls of the tribe, all with single blossoms tied in their loose hair and; lit candles in their hands.
Standing at the head of the column, and just inside the little gauze awning that had been erected over the space on the green where stood Arathorn and the rest of the immediate joining party, Erithain grinned proudly as Gilraen looked at him. She smiled at her younger brother as she strode the few extra steps to stand next to Arathorn. Standing next to her future husband were Elladan and Elrohir, both resplendent, their cloaks flipped back over their shoulders to reveal their festival attire of dark green and blue silk tunics and leggings. They both wore thin wreath of silver leaves upon their plaited dark hair. Arathorn had asked Elladan to serve as his pendant-bearer, a position of great honour among the Dunedain. The Imladris Elf held the pendant stone to be given as symbol of Gilraen’s acceptance into Arador’s family. Only those closest to the groom were given this honour.
Arathorn looked at Gilraen as she stepped even with him and smiled, “You look beautiful,” he whispered. Gilraen smiled mischievously and whispered back, “So do you.” Arathorn almost burst out laughing but checked himself as he saw Arador step forward, but his face still held the amused smirk of suppressed laughter.
Arador cast both of them an amused look, but quickly sobered as he joined their hands together in his intoning, “We gather here to celebrate the joining my son, Arathorn and Gilraen, daughter to Dirhael and Ivorwen. It is indeed a joyous occasion when we again see two souls coming together to form a bond stronger than themselves alone. They have found love and it has made them one. As one they shall face the future.” He bowed his head and stepped aside.
Lord Elrond of Imladris, of whom Elladan and Elrohir had spoken of much on their trip to Fornost, stepped forward, and Gilraen found him imposing, but he also inspired a kind of calm in her. Those pale blue eyes were full of wisdom and but also much pain. She felt drawn towards him.
Rivendell’s lord held her gaze and searched her feelings. Part of Gilraen wanted to break the gaze, but within his star-like eyes, so like his sons’ and yet different, she saw a compassion and a calmness that held her mesmerized. He seemed to find what he was looking for and his eyes grew soft. He then smiled at her and sent an approving look to Arathorn.
He began to intone the blessing, “ Have you both freely chosen each other?” Both solemnly nodded. “Very well, then kneel and speak the words of binding.” They knelt on small silken pillows facing each other. “Gilraen, daughter of Dirhael, will you join with me as I walk along the path life has given me,” Arathorn asked staring earnestly into Gilraen’s eyes.
Her world swirled with possibilities as Gilraen looked into those gray eyes and said, “I accept the road will be rough and the road will be smooth, but at all times I shall be with you, my beloved.”
Elladan in his duties as pendant-bearer handed Arathorn an unclasped necklace with the family stone and Arathorn gently clasped it around Gilraen’s neck, He then picked up the pearlescent moonstone pendant hanging from the slender chain and kissed it, saying, “My wife, you are one within our family as we go forth and I pledge my life to yours for as long as I shall live.”
It was Gilraen’s turn, “Arathorn, son of Arador, will you join with me as I walk along the path life has given me.”
Arathorn answered in a whisper, “I accept the road will rough and the road will be smooth, but at all times I shall be with you, my beloved.” Gilraen reached behind and took the unclasped necklace with the pendent of amber that was her family stone from Nedraril’s waiting hand and she clasped it around Arathorn’s neck. She kissed the stone and said, “My husband, you are one within our family as we go forth and I pledge my life to yours for as long as I shall live.”
Elrond then said. “Having pledged your lives to each other, the time has come to swear fealty to your past and to your future.” He motioned for Glorfindel to come forward and Gilraen saw that the golden Elf Lord was holding a flat wooden box of exquisite workmanship and extreme age. Elrond received the box and said, “You carry a destiny, Arathorn, son of Arador and now you Gilraen carry a portion of that same destiny.” He opened the box and within sat nestled between maroon folds of velvet sat two mithril circlets, each set with a single moonstone, intersecting each other. “These circlets had ever graced the brows of the Heir and his chosen one from long before the dwindling began and shall not be worn again until all that was lost is restored. Touch them and swear with me these words.” Both Arathorn and Gilraen reached out and felt the smooth silky silver. “I owe the past my memory, that I might remember who we are. I owe the future my life and my life’s work so that memory and the waking light of the present day might become one and whole again.”
Chapter 6 – A Seed is Sown
Summer 2930 TA
Ivorwen looked at her daughter. Marriage agrees with her, she thought. Gilraen looked happy and contented as she sat at her loom in Arador’s hall in Fornost. Ivorwen had just arrived the day before on one of her frequent visits to the Chieftain’s settlement. It did Ivorwen’s heart good to see her child happy. She knew it would not last but it gave her comfort to see that her decision to not tell Gilraen of her vision had been an acceptable one, even if it was morally ambiguous. Her daughter would have these years unburdened by the knowledge of the events to come to look back on in later days. Gilraen sat at her loom, the shuttle stilled for a moment as she changed the colour of warp thread. “Does Arathorn know yet?” her mother asked.
Gilraen looked at her mother, “No, not yet. I’ve only just missed my last courses and it has been two weeks since Arathorn and Erithain and their patrol departed for their trip to Imladris. They are due back soon I shall tell him then.”
Erithain sat by the campfire, sore muscles protesting the latest abuse. He had been traveling with the Rangers for three months now, having wrung from his father the permission for this six month-stint with Arathorn’s patrol. They had seen much activity and Erithain had slain more Orcs in three months than he had in a year as Watch Commander of Dirhael’s tribe. He would of course be returning to his people, but he had argued with his father that riding with the Rangers could only benefit the home watch as he would return a more experienced warrior.
The bruised ribs he received the day before when they fell upon the band of Orcs, caused him to wince as he reached down for the mug of ale at his side. “Ribs still paining you, boy? Ah, they make them soft up in the north-country these days, do they not, my lord.”
Erithain looked up and saw Erkenthal, Arathorn’s second in command, looking down at him with a good-natured smirk on his face, “Well,” he replied, a mischievous glint in his blue eyes, “At least I got in a good few kills and don’t swing my blade like a girl.”
Erkenthal barked a short laugh, and then clapped the young man on the back as he sat down, “Ever the insolent tongue! My lord, you should have thrashed him when you had the chance!”
Arathorn looked at his two lieutenants and ruefully chuckled as he sat himself down on the other side of Erithain, “Missed opportunities, they will be the bane of me!” He swallowed a mouthful of ale. “But what I can do? He takes after his wench of a sister!” Erithain saw Arathorn’s eyes light up at the thought of Gilraen.
They were on route back to Fornost after a council with Elrond when they came upon the Orc band. Luckily, Elladan and Elrohir decided to accompany the small company back to Arador’s settlement ever hopeful of a little Orc-slaying. They were not disappointed.
“Like sister, like brother we Elves always say!” said Elladan merrily, coming up from behind to join the group sitting near to the cooking fire.
Elrohir followed him carrying the newly obtained firewood to intensify the heat under the cooking pot. Laying down the pieces of wood, Elrohir said in as grumbling a voice as Erithain had ever heard him use, “What I would like to know is how did I get stuck with the cooking two nights in a row! I seem to remember that it was your turn tonight, Ell’.” He looked suspiciously at his brother.
Elladan deflected the accusatory look, “Well, Little brother, I am merely trying to protect the company’s health. You are always saying that my field cooking could be used as an offensive weapon. Besides you cook so well.” he said, mirth bubbling just below the surface at his brother's annoyance. Deftly avoiding the piece of wood that was chucked in his direction by his younger brother, Elladan clapped Erithain on the back and said flippantly, “So how is our youngest Ranger today?”
Erithain looked up at the Imladris Elf and behind the star-lit blue eyes he could see the deep concern that was masked by Elladan’s lightness of tone. In the battle the day before Erithain had been unseated from his horse and had fallen awkwardly winding him and causing the bruised ribs. When he shook his head to clear it he saw an Orc ready, to deliver the killing blow when an Elven arrow impaled the foul creature and quick as a flash a knife slashed across its throat finishing it off. Standing above Erithain was Elladan covered in dirt and blood and offering him a hand up. “Doing well, thanks to you.”
Elladan smiled and maintained his deceptively flippant tones, “Pure self-preservation instinct, you understand. Your sister would kill me if anything happened to you.”
Laughing, Arathorn said, “Excuse me, but Gilraen would first seek my death and then yours, if a hair on this head should come to harm.” Arathorn affectionately ruffled his young brother-in-law’s dark hair to cover the fear that he knew resided in his eyes over what had almost happened to the young man whom he had come to love like a little brother.
Erithain, preening just a little, said with mock arrogance, “As well she should, for I am worth ten of any of you!”
Barking another short laugh, Erkenthal announced, “Yep! My lord. You should have thrashed him when you had the chance!”
Hearing the jingling tack of horses arriving within the settlement, Gilraen abandoned her carding of wool and ran outside the hall. First she saw Arathorn. Assured of his safety, her eyes rove through the company to find her younger brother. Erithain sat on his horse and was talking to Elrohir. Gilraen began to breathe again. It was ever the same. Every time the Rangers went out on patrol or traveled far from home Gilraen fought to contain her worry. There was no help for it. It was a Ranger’s life, she had grown up with the realities of it. But even acceptance of a fact does not make the waiting anxiety any easier.
Handing the reins to waiting hands, and quickly dispensing orders that they would meet with Arador within the hour for debriefing, Arathorn had eyes only for his wife. Her worried look drove a knife through his heart, but he knew she would never stop him from doing what he was meant to be doing. He only regretted the pain and the worry he cost her. He closed the gap between them quickly and captured her in a fervent kiss. Breaking apart a few long moments later, Gilraen said, “Welcome home, my lord! If I’m promised kisses like that I think you should go away more often!” Her hazel eyes, released from their worries, sparkled and snapped.
“Wench!” Arathorn exclaimed, looking down upon the fiery spirit that had warmed his bed and his life. He bent for another fervent kiss.
Breaking apart this time, Gilraen looked into his eyes, “My love, there is something I must tell you. Let us walk for a bit.”
Curiosity flared to outrageous proportions, but Arathorn nonetheless followed Gilraen calmly enough and waited until they arrived at one of their favourite places to be alone, the stream just past the settlement. Arathorn could hold his curiosity no longer, “My love, what is it that you must tell me.”
Gilraen saw that her husband’s expression was expectant yet cautious. That was soon about to change, she thought amusedly. “My lord, I have missed my courses two straight months.” Waiting and watching his face slowly change from confused incomprehension to a wide-eyed delighted understanding was a pure joy for Gilraen.
Stumbling through his words, Arathorn said, “D-Do you mean that you are with child?”
“Yes, My love. I think I am.” Gilraen bubbled happily.
Tears of happiness glistening in Arathorn’s eyes, threatening to spill their slight borders as he grabbed Gilraen and swirled her around. He quickly put her down earnest concern on his face, “I’ve not injured you have I?”
Seeing the genuine concern written on his face, Gilraen quickly sought to allay his fears, “Silly! I am with child, not made of Elven porcelain.”
“How far along? When will he be born?” Gilraen smiled at the automatic assumption that the child would be a boy.
“Well, I think that I’m two months along and he or she” she emphasised ‘or she’, “will most likely be born end of February, beginning of March.”
Arathorn looked abashed at his assumption that the child would of course be a son. He sheepishly smiled, “I can hardly wait for he or she to arrive.” Gilraen smiled stood on tip toes to pull him down for a kiss.
March 2931 TA
The waiting was driving Arathorn to distraction. First there was the waiting for the child to be born. Next there was the waiting through Gilraen’s confinement, never knowing when the child was ready to drop. He questioned the healers endlessly as to whether it was normal for the child to be late and if it boded well or not. He’d badgered them with so many questions that the healers had taken to ducking around corners and dashing into houses they had not planned on visiting just to avoid the Chieftain’s son and his search for answers. Erkenthal had taken to calling him a mother hen.
Gilraen’s water had broken early this morning and since then he had been banished from his own bedroom. It was now past midday and still he had to wait. “Son, sit down!” his father said sternly, “you will not make the child come any quicker if you continue to wear down the wooden floorboards!”
Arathorn stopped his pacing just long enough to glare at his father. But he flopped down onto the bench nearest Arador all the same. The constant motion stilled, Arathorn realised just how exhausted he felt. “What is taking so long!”
“Peace, my son. Nature cannot be rushed. The child will come when the child comes.”
Arathorn surveyed his father. Tall and broad chested he looked like no midwife he’d ever seen. “Just how do you know?”
“Do you think that you are the only anxious father to ever pace these boards,” Arador chuckled wryly. “Only problem is I actually broke through a floorboard when you were born and your grandfather, Argonui made me replace it right then and there.”
“He would not.” Arathorn thought back to his memories of his grandfather and none of them suggested that Argonui would do such a thing.
“Yes, well. Your grandfather mellowed with age.” Arador laughed ruefully. “Actually it was not such a bad idea, it kept my mind occupied while I waited.”
Mulling over the curious bit of wisdom his grandfather had employed, Arathorn sat on the bench wishing he’d had some similar occupation. The waiting was truly enough to turn a somber man to drink. Just then he heard a sharp cry that could have only come from a baby. He rushed towards the flap that served as a door only to be pushed back by the one of the healer women. “My Lord, your wife has just given birth to a son. I ask you to wait a few minutes while before you come in. We want get Gilraen settled before you enter.”
“She is all right, though? No problems with the birthing?” Arathorn’s voice was growing more emotional as he went on.
“She’s fine, my lord. A little tired are perhaps, but that is to be expected.” Arathorn began to breath again.
About fifteen more somewhat anxious minutes later, the other healer opened the flap and said, “She is ready now.”
Arathorn ran into their bedroom and was stopped short by the beautiful image before him. Gilraen was sweaty and red faced and she had never looked more beautiful. She looked at him with love in her eyes, “Come, my love. You were all right along. Come and see our son.” Arathorn was transfixed by the beauty of it all and did not move until one of the healers gave him a gentle nudge forward.
Standing at the side of their bed, Arathorn bent to give Gilraen a kiss on her sweaty forehead. He then shifted his gaze the small squirming bundle his wife’s arms. His throat caught when he realised how small, yet perfectly formed the infant was. “My son!” escaped as a whisper.
“Hold him,” Gilraen said offering the small bundle.
“Are you sure I should? What if I hurt him?” Arathorn’s forehead creased with worry.
One of the healer appeared at his side at Gilraen’s head. “Nonsense, babies are tougher than you might think.” She transferred the baby to his waiting arms. “Just remember always support a newborn’s head.”
Arathorn felt the small weight of the child and looked for the first time into his son’s eyes. His own gray eyes looked up at him, so trusting and new. Arathorn’s heart filled with love and in that moment knew he would give his life to protect this tiny life in his arms. He was mesmerised looking at the beauty that was his son.
“What shall we name him?” Gilraen broke into his thoughts with the pertinent question.
Without looking up from his son, Arathorn paused in thought and said, “Aragorn, it means kingly valour.” He knelt at the side of Gilraen’s bed so that both could see the little miracle that was their child. “What do you say my son, Will Aragorn suit you as a name?”
The newborn gurgled and blew a spit bubble at which Gilraen laughed and said “I think that means he likes it.”
“In that case Aragorn it is then,” he leaned down and placed a kiss on the tiny forehead.
Summer 2933 TA
The sturdy two-year old pulled at Gilraen’s skirts in an effort to pull himself into a standing position so that he could better see what his mother was doing. Gilraen looked smilingly at her young son as he grabbed at some of the soft off-white wool that she was carding. “The wool is not for you to play with, Aragorn. I’m going to make your papa a nice new cloak for when he goes to see Elrond.” When the little boy continued to reach for the uncarded wool again, Gilraen relented, saying, “you are far too curious, my little man.” Reaching out a hand to smooth back his downy soft dark brown hair, she kissed his forehead and gave him a little wool to play with.
“Not teaching him woman’s work I hope!” Gilraen looked up and saw her younger brother leaning forward against the fence.
“Erithain! What are you doing here!” Gilraen all but shouted. She had not expected to see her family until next month at Summer Solstice.
“I have come because Father needed some dispatches delivered to Arathorn, but if you do not want me here I suppose I can always leave them undelivered.” Erithain said faining hurt.
Gilraen laughed, “Obviously, little brother, the years of command have done nothing to curb your tongue! But seriously, how is everyone? Mother? Father? Well, I hope.”
Erithain strode forward, “Everyone is well and they send their love. Now, how is my little man?” he said merrily. With big gray eyes Aragorn looked up solemnly from the piece of wool he had been inspecting. Erithain bend down to scoop up his little nephew and said, “You are getting so big! Soon you will be big enough to protect Mama from nasty Orcs!” Erithain lifted up the boy’s tunic and blew a raspberry on his stomach. The little boy let loose with a squeal of delight. Erithain took great delight in trying to make the child laugh. Aragorn always had such a serious look on his little face that Erithain could not help but try and dispel it. “Do you want to see my horse, little man?”
The gray eyes lit up with delight and he said, “Horses!”
Erithain looked from his nephew to his sister. Gilraen said with amusement evident, “Oh did I tell you? Our little Aragorn is speaking now! He can now say many things, but “Horses” and “No!” seem to be his favourite words.
The young captain said, “My bright boy!” and hefted his nephew on his shoulders, “Let us go and see the horses!” Little Aragorn giggled; uncle and nephew then made their way to the stables with Gilraen looking after them chuckling with amusement.
Upon reaching the stables, Erithain saw Aragorn’s eye grow wide. He followed the little boy’s eyes to the little colt that stood in the stall next to Erithain’s Windfleet. The doting uncle placed the little boy astride the colt and held him in place as the child petted the colt and giggled happily. Grabbing at the thick dark mane, Aragorn bounced up and down. “This colt is yours, my nephew. And when you are older, you will learn how to take care of him properly.”
“You spoil him so.”
Looking up Erithain saw Arathorn smiling and leaning against the side of the stable door. Erithain smiled back. “I hope you do not mind. He is such a dear child. I know I should have asked you first.”
“Mind? Did I say I minded?” Arathorn pushed himself away from the side of the door and walked over to Erithain and his son. “Is he one of Windfleet’s get?” he asked, gently stroking the mane of the young colt. Erithain nodded, eyeing his brother-in-law. “Then he will be fast. He and Aragorn can grow up together. As it should be. Thank you, my brother.”
Erithain nodded, speechless whenever this man he admired so much, called him brother. He looked at Arathorn as the Chieftain reached up and took his son off the colt’s back to hold him in his arms. Arathorn had been through much emotional upheaval within the last year. The birth of his son had been a joyous occasion for all tribes of the Dunedain. A new heir had been born unto the line of Isildur; the link with the past and to the future remained unbroken. In his mind’s eye Erithain could still see the three of the line of Isildur, the grandfather holding the grandson while the son dropped the oils of blessing upon the newborn’s head and it gave one faith in the continuation of their people and their legacy. It had been a day of happiness and joy. Tragedy however stuck soon afterwards.
Two years earlier…
Fall 2931 TA
Arador was traveling back from Imladris with a small party when he had been slain in a battle of hill-trolls. Erithain had been riding again with the Rangers and had been in Fornost when the report came that Arador had been killed and that Arathorn was now proclaimed Chieftain. They had been in conference together with a few of the more senior Rangers when the messenger delivered the fell news. Erithain looked at Arathorn, and he thought he would never forget how quickly he saw the man’s face change. Arathorn ever had a look of command about him but Erithain could almost see an invisible mantle of responsibility settle upon his brother-in-law and friend. Those gathered fell to one knee and bowed in obedience and recognition of Arathorn’s new sovereignty. Arathorn’s words that followed were to remain imprinted upon Erithain’s mind. He said, “Rise, my friends. I now take on the responsibilities and cares of my father with a heavy heart. I can only hope that my stewardship of the legacy will be as charged with honour and service as was my father’s. Now if you will, leave me.” The others departed but as Erithain rose and made to leave, Arathorn stayed him with a hand. Erithain looked up at his Chieftain and saw the sorrow gather in his brother-in-law’s eyes. He returned a brief look of compassion, “I am so sorry, my brother,” he whispered earnestly. Arathorn placed a hand on his shoulder and they shared a look before Arathorn went find his wife to break the tragic news.
The ceremony of Stewardship that marked each passing on and renewal of the Chieftain’s commitment was simple. Elrond presided of the investiture of the each new Chieftain. The ceremony, which was held always inside and away from prying eyes, only required the new Chieftain to swear upon the hilt of the Sword-that-was-Broken, brought from its refuge in Rivendell. Erithain could still remember the words of the oath so clearly. Arathorn held the sword’s handle with both hands, broken blade downwards and intoned the words, “ I give my life to the service of my people and to the memory what was and shall be again. To serve and to never seek for my own gain but only for that of my people.” Elrond then held his hands over Arathorn’s head uttering the Blessing, “You hold the Sword-that-was-Broken, may the Valar guide us towards the day that we shall see the Sword reforged and the light restored.”
“Erithain! What has you so pensive? You seem miles away.” Arathorn looked at his young brother-in-law.
Shaking his head out of his reverie, Erithain smiled wistfully and said, “I was thinking about Arador and how much he would have loved to see on Aragorn grow up with the colt.”
Arathorn looked at his softhearted brother-in-law and smiled, “That he would have,” he kissed the forehead of his young son still in his arms, “That he would.” Arathorn grew thoughtful and he hugged his son and said, “What say we take the little colt out for a little walk? Hmm? Horses?”
The child beamed and said “Horses!” and reached out to stroke the colt’s dark mane.
Arathorn laughed and kissed his son again, “That’s right, my bright boy! Did you want to come, little brother?”
“Nay! Far be it from me to interrupt a father-son outing. I think I’ll go and bother my sister! She’ll enjoy that!” Erithain’s eyes twinkled at the prospect.
Arathorn laughed, “Just make sure you do not leave her in too foul a mood or it will mean a burnt supper for me!”
“I’ll try, but you do take all the fun out of things!” Erithain left the stable whistling to himself.
Looking at his son and smiling Arathorn said, “Well, my little man, where shall we ride?”
Little Aragorn grabbed at his father face and stroked his father’s dark hair and then turned to his colt and stroked his dark mane. “ Papa, horse, dark!”
Arathorn laughed and said, “Yes, my son, we are both dark!” He sat the little boy on the colt but not astride and pondered his son. He was amazed at just how much he loved the boy. He never realised that he could love anyone as much as he loved him. He reflected on Erithain’s words. He fervently wished that Arador had had longer to know his grandson. Grief that was still with him after nearly two years washed over him.
Little Aragorn sensed that his papa was not happy and said “Papa sad?”
He took up his young son of the colt’s back and hugged him tight. Smiling through the grief he felt, “Yes, Papa’s sad.” He pulled the little boy back to look into his gray eyes that mirrored both his father and himself. “You see, Aragorn, your Grandpapa whom Papa loved very much has gone away and left Papa to carry on. And it sometimes makes Papa sad.”
Aragorn had a very serious expression on his face and seemed to ponder these words very carefully. Arathorn was not sure how much the little boy understood but he did wish him to know. It was never too early to teach him about his destiny and Arathorn made a decision then and there. “I tell you what. We’ll take the colt out for a walk some other time. There is something I want to show you.”
Aragorn played with the hay in behind Arathorn has he saddled up Nestadren, his own chestnut stallion. Both then seated in the saddle, Aragorn in front with a protective fatherly arm around him bounced with excitement, “Ride horse!” Arathorn kissed the top of the dark, downy soft hair and smiled as he touched the sides of Nestadren, signaling a brisk walk.
They peaceably rode along the hill path, Aragorn ever so often pointed and shouted such things as “Bird!”, “Rabbit!” His running commentary on the flora and fauna of the area did much to soothe Arathorn’s grief and occasionally caused him to burst out laughing.
Just as the white stones were coming into view around the bend in the hill path, Arathorn stilled Aragorn’s flailing arms and said, “Shh-shh, my son! This is what I meant you to see.” He smoothed back the little boy’s dark hair and kissed the top of his head.
As they walked across what used to be the Great Gate, Aragorn stopped squirming and fell silent. His gray eyes grew wider as he looked around and he bit his lower lip pensively. Arathorn also fell silent as the aura of the place again worked its way into Arathorn’s very soul demanding that it be restored. Arathorn stopped Nestadren in the middle of the debris-strewn thoroughfare and dismounted. He looked around and then back up at his son still seated on the horse. He noticed the somber look upon the little face and carefully unseated the child taking him into his arms. Looking his son in the eye, he said, “Aragorn, you are heir to a great and tragic legacy. After me, you are Isildur’s heir. This ruin, this once great city of Fornost is the city of your forefathers. This is your city. This is who you are and who you will grow to be, my son.” He put the child down to allow him to walk on the streets of his forbearers. Aragorn walked quietly with his hand in his father’s down through the heart of the city. The gentle, whispering breeze flowed through the deserted buildings and crumbled archways and into the soul of the little boy, planting a seed of belonging that would not take root for many years and would flower only after many places traveled.
Author’s note: According to the Encyclopedia of Arda, online edition Tolkien played with the idea of Aragorn’s name meaning “kingly valour” but later discarded the idea. I needed something for Aragorn’s name to mean and decided to use the discarded idea as it seemed the best idea.
Chapter 7 – Torn Asunder
Late Fall 2933 TA
Arathorn sat in council with the captains of the various tribes. Orcs numbers were rising once again in Eriador and earlier in the year he had asked the Thanes to send special reconnaissance companies to scour their traditional lands for Orcs and any tidings ill or otherwise. Most of the patrols were in and the Captains of each First Watch had come to Fornost to report and discuss what information had been gleaned during the missions, only his own company had yet to report back. Arathorn decided, as all the Captains had convened it was time to start the council and his patrol, which was overdue by about a week, could impart such information as they had when they arrived.
Erithain said, “The news is not good, my lord. My patrol reported an increase of Orc presence in my father’s lands. We have never had a report of such increase.”
“It is true, my lord,” confirmed Vardil, son to one of the Eastern thanes, “Orcs are steadily increasing within our borders.”
Arathorn sat in his chair at the head of the long table, elbow on the armrest and his hand rubbing his left temple, where a throbbing vein hailed the beginning of a headache as he listened to report after report confirm his worst fears. The Shadow was growing. It had steadily encroached for centuries, a slow progress of evil. But now it was beginning to pick up momentum. He looked at the sons of Elrond, here as their father’s representatives to this council. The dark-haired Elves looked pensive. In fact, Elladan had a worried look on his face that slightly unnerved the Chieftain. “What say you, Elladan? Has your father any insights on this matter?”
The dark-haired Elf looked him and something in his star-eyed gaze gave Arathorn pause. It was not only that the shadow was encroaching; it was something different, something personal. The Elf gently shifted his eyes looking at the assembled captains, “Adar sees that powers are shifting further still. Happenings are not quite clear to him, but he fears a change is coming. For us all.” The Elf ended the statement quietly and somberly, but the effect was the same as if he had shouted the words. A time of trial was in coming, when it would break nobody at that table knew, but come it would.
Arathorn sighed, “My thanks to you all, we shall reconvene tomorrow morning to discuss matters further.” The Captains of the various tribes left. Some in pairs, some alone; all were somber. Arathorn had not moved from his chair since dismissing them. He stared at the small brass centerpiece in the middle of the table, not really seeing it, when he realised that someone was still in the room and standing right next to him. He looked quickly to his side, “Elladan! I thought you had left alongside your brother.”
The starlit blue eyes looked back at him impassively, Elladan seemed to be memorising Arathorn’s face, so intently did he stare at his friend. Arathorn having been fostered at Imladris had grown used to Elves and their mercurial ways, but he had rarely seen the older of the twins look so somber. “Arathorn, there were things that I did not tell the Council. Things that Adar meant for you alone to hear. We must speak privately.”
“At once, my friend. Let us walk.”
Going alongside the small stream that ran by the outer houses of the settlement they walked until they could be sure that they were out of earshot. Elladan than began his tale. “Adar has received word from the Lady Galadriel that servants of our enemy are starting to search the Anduin near the Gladden Fields.” Arathorn stayed his friend with a hand and looked at him, at once wary of this bit of news. Elladan looked at him in silent acknowledgement and continued his story, “It is feared by the Lady that he knows of Isildur’s end and that he seeks for its recovery.” Arathorn knew what “it” was. He had known all his life, having this knowledge passed down from his father, but it was never mentioned unless absolutely necessary and never outside lest unfriendly ears should happen to overhear. “And,” the Elf continued meaningfully, “It strongly rumoured that he now seeks if any heirs of Isildur survive.”
At that moment Arathorn felt a cold chill down his spine. “Aragorn,” he whispered holding the gaze of the Elf. The very thought of that foul evil touching, even thinking about his beautiful boy made Arathorn physically sick. A wave of fierce protectiveness rolled through him. “What must I do?”
“Adar thinks that it would be a good idea for Aragorn to come and live at Imladris and start his fostering earlier than is traditional. With these rumours, about the most protected place for him to be is Imladris. He will be safe there.” Elladan concluded.
Arathorn nodded. It was sound thinking and if there was anyone that outside his own family that could be trusted with the care of his precious son, it was Elrond. “How soon?”
Sad blue eyes turned to him, “Within the month. He wishes to take no chances.”
“But he is only two! Far too young to be separated from his mother and father.” The awful truth hit Arathorn full force. He was losing his family. Gilraen would have leave Fornost with Aragorn. He shut his eyes to ward off the awful pain of reality. All due to the shadow. He felt anger the likes of which he had never known since his beloved Gwenrith was murdered shuttered through him. With the utmost of effort he calmed himself. He winced with inner pain as he said, “So be it.” A single tear fell from his eye.
Elladan, knowing there was nothing else that he could do for his friend simply said, “I am so sorry. To have been the bearer of this terrible reality and for the sacrifices you are about to make.” Arathorn was silent. He turned around and walked back to the settlement to explain what must happen to his beloved Gilraen.
Arathorn reached the hall and entered. The scene in front of him nearly broke his heart. He had come to take it for granted and now that it was about to be ripped away from him it came into sharp focus. The smell of a stew was cooking on the kitchen hearth. Gilraen sat as ever at her loom weaving some dark green fabric. Little Aragorn sat near her playing with the small toy animals that Arathorn had carved for him last Winter Solstice. Unsurprisingly it was the carved running horse with the tail fluttering behind that was Aragorn’s favourite and was currently being made to gallop across the floor at full speed. Aragorn chose that moment to look up from his horse’s imagined romp through the meadows and shouted, “Papa!” Arathorn was almost bowled over at the force of the little dark whirlwind that was his son.
Picking up the little bundle of energy, Arathorn hugged his son tight and said, “Aragorn, my beautiful boy! I love you so much.”
Aragorn pulled away from his father just a bit, saying, “Love you, Papa!” His little face clouded with concern. “You crying? Why?”
“Yes, we’d both like to know why?” Gilraen appeared at Arathorn’s side, concern darkening her hazel eyes.
Arathorn looked at her silently and Gilraen disentangled Aragorn from his father’s arms and set him down, “My little love, Mama and Papa have to talk. Helgir,” she turned to the warrior who had accompanied Arathorn. “Would you like to take Aragorn to visit his colt?”
“Yes, My lady!” responded the guardsman, “Come little master!”
Aragorn looked a little doubtful and looked up at his father who said, “Go on, my little man! I’ll be all right.” With a last look backward, Aragorn put his hand in the warrior’s and they both walked to the stables.
With their child safely out of earshot Gilraen looked at Arathorn, “Now do you mind telling what this is all about?”
Arathorn simply stared at her.
“Arathorn, stop that! You are frightening me.”
After drawing a very long breath of air. “Elladan needed to deliver a few verbal messages today after the Council had been dismissed. First he said he bore a message from Elrond saying that Our Enemy was now searching the Anduin near the Gladden fields.” This elicited the same reaction from Gilraen as it had from Arathorn upon hearing. “Second,” he paused, eyes wide with emotion, “there are rumours that he is now seeking for Isildur’s heir.”
A short gasp escaped Gilraen’s lips, and her face went sheet white. Wide, fearful eyes looked to the door their son had just left by and then turned back to her husband, “Aragorn,” she whispered.
“Elrond thinks that it is best that Aragorn be taken to Imladris earlier than we had planned.”
Suddenly anger flared within Gilraen’s heart, “I do not care what Elrond thinks! He is our child and he needs his mother and father!”
“He will be safe there.” Arathorn’s quiet statement of fact settled in Gilraen’s mind amid her swirling emotions of anger, denial, resentment and finally understanding. The understanding was always there. It was just quietly waiting for Gilraen to accept it.
Hazel eyes full of painful acknowledgment, Gilraen said in a strong voice despite her rapidly beating heart, “He must go to Imladris then, soon as possible.” Her voice caught on her next sentence, “And I must go with him.” After pronouncing the words, a shadow of pain fell upon her heart. She looked up her beloved and saw the pain she felt in her heart reflected in his eyes.
“Yes.” That one little word that ripped apart his world. His heart rebelling again the cold reason of his mind would allow no more than that as he hugged his beloved to his chest smoothing her honey-brown hair as he felt her sobs shake her body. He did not even realise there were tears falling down his own face.
They held each other for a while, when Gilraen pulled away, impatiently wiping her tears, “We must be strong, for Aragorn’s sake.”
“Yes, of course.” Arathorn said, but all he was thinking at that point was how very empty he was feeling and how bereft without her in his arms any longer.
Striding towards the hall early the next morning, Erithain could not help but wonder at this early summons from Arathorn. The Council was due to meet later on and Arathorn had not mentioned anything at supper the night before. In fact now that he thought about it, Arathorn had not eaten much, but he had indeed put away a fair amount of mead last night. The Watch Commander of Dirhael’s tribe mulled that over in his head. Arathorn enjoyed a drink as much as anyone but was not generally one to drink himself into a stupor. Erithain shook his head. He would find out what has caused this early morning summons shortly.
Erithain smiled at the guard standing attention on the hall door, “Good morning, Helgir.”
“Good morning, my lord.”
“How are my brother-in-law’s spirits this morning?” Erithain asked with a knowing smile.
The guardsman looked at him, “Not well, my lord.”
Erithain looked at the guardsman, seeing the concern in the man’s eyes, “Indeed.” An inexplicable sense of dread flared within him for he sensed that Helgir spoke not of an innocent hangover but of something else entirely. He smiled reassuringly though at the guardsman and stepped across the threshold.
Entering the small room off to the side that Arathorn used for private audiences, Erithain was somewhat surprised to see both sons of Elrond also seated in two of the chairs that ringed the small hearth in the middle of the room. “Elladan, Elrohir, good morning!” he said, greeting them good-naturedly.
“Mae Govannen, Erithain,” Elladan returned, a somber look in his star-filled eyes. This gave Erithain pause. No teasing, no banter as was Elladan’s usual wont.
He turned to where Arathorn sat and was surprised by what he beheld. Arathorn looked to have aged ten years since last night. Immediate worry flared in his heart. “Brother, what is wrong?” He dropped one knee, hand on one of Arathorn’s armrests. “How may I be of any service to you?” he said, searching the gray eyes of the man who had won his loyalty and respect with kindness and compassion.
Arathorn smiled gently, knowing that he had made the right choice, “Rise, my brother and sit down. We have much to discuss.”
Erithain took his seat next to Arathorn and across the hearth fire from Elrohir.
Looking as if he was deciding how to begin, Arathorn at length spoke, “You ask to be of service. There is something that you can do for me.” Erithain looked up at his brother-in-law expectantly. Arathorn continued, “What I am about to tell you must never leave this room. Never speak of it.”
Earnest blue eyes stared back at him, “You have my word.”
Arathorn cleared his throat and began to relate the tale as was told by Elladan the night before.
Wide-eyed astonishment greeting him at the end of his tale, “But Aragorn is so young to be taken away from all that he knows!” Erithain exclaimed.
“Yes, he is. But in Imladris he will be safe. He will not lack for love and care.” Elrohir said quietly.
Erithain looked across the fire to the Elf that he had to come to think of as a friend, “Of that I am sure. But you will have him and we will not. That saddens my heart.” The Elf looked upon his friend compassionately for there were no words that he could offer to assuage the pain of what must be. Erithain pulled away from his sorrowful thoughts to ask the pertinent question, “Aside from my love for the boy why do you tell only me this? What do you ask of me?” He looked at his brother-in-law.
“After consultation with Elladan and Elrohir, I ask that in the event that should anything happen to me and Aragorn not yet old enough to take the oath of Chieftain, that you stand in his stead until he should come of age.” Arathorn leveled his gray-eyed stare at his young brother-in-law.
Stunned, Erithain sat pondering what was being asked of him. “Me, brother? Surely there are others more worthy, others of your own tribe. Older, wiser men than me.”
Arathorn inwardly smiled knowing this would be his brother-in-law’s reaction, “There are many good men, that is true, but none that I would trust above you, my brother, with such a charge. You are family and you have a good heart. My son’s legacy could not be held in trust by a better person.” He finished, solemnly looking at the conflicting emotions running across the young man’s face.
Erithain looked away from his brother-in-law steady gaze and stared into the hearth fire, watching the flames flicker and tried desperately to sort through this onslaught of information. Grief. Pain. Confusion. He was not ambitious, one day he would lead his tribe but that was something that fell to him through tragic necessity, and not through design or desire. One thing was clear though Arathorn willing to entrust him with a task that he obviously did not think beyond him. He did wish to be service to this man, his brother. Decision made, Erithain lifted his gaze to meet his Chieftain’s eyes. He straightened his shoulders as he said, “I hope that there will never be a need, but I do accept. He stood and he drew his sword placing the point down. With both hands on the guard between blade and handle he returned to one knee at his Chieftain’s chair, his head bowed, “I swear to hold the office the Chieftaincy in trust for Aragorn, son of Arathorn at the bidding of my Chieftain.”
Erithain looked up as he heard Arathorn say, “I accept your fealty and oath, Erithain, son of Dirhael.” The formal of words of the Chieftain concluded, the young man looked into the tear-filled eyes of a father saying, “Thank you.”
Accepting that these were extraordinary and dangerous times, the council of captains accepted the appointment of Erithain as regent for any possible minority of Aragorn with a minimum of objections. The council then disbanded the next day as was planned to inform their tribes of new developments.
Plans for the departure of mother and son were laid. Elladan and Elrohir were to stay in Fornost and help escort Gilraen and Aragorn to Imladris. Also it was decided that it was a good idea for Aragorn to get to know the sons of Elrond, so when they arrived in Imladris Aragorn should be familiar with somebody other than his mother. It would help him to feel more comfortable in his new home. Nobody deluded themselves that it would be an easy transition. They knew that it could not be. Aragorn adored his father and would not understand why the separation was necessary. They could only hope to make it less painful for the child. He would have his mother there and that was a lot. The only point that was debated constantly over the month of preparation was how much to tell Aragorn. Gilraen wanted to explain to the child why they were going away, in as much as she could. Arathorn thought it would needlessly upset the child. Better to say good-bye at journey’s end rather than its beginning, he said. There was no easy answer, only sorrow and impotent anger at the necessity that was ripping their family apart.
Chapter 8 – Never be afraid
Aragorn stood on a hay bale next to his colt, Gilgilath, named for the star shaped spot on his nose, rubbing him with a bit of hay imitating the motions that he saw his beloved uncle using. Erithain looked at the little boy trying to help curry the colt and tousled his dark curly mop of hair, blinking away tears before the sharp little boy could pick up on his distress. Aragorn could sense that the adults in his life were sad about something and it still had to be decided how much to tell the child. Erithain cleared his throat before saying, “That’s right, my lad. The straw helps to clean and relax a horse after a morning’s walk.” Aragorn beamed upon being praised by his uncle, “Ar’gon helps ‘lath. My horse.”
“And a fine horse it is, too.” Erithain looked at the stable door and saw as planned earlier, Elladan and Elrohir. It was decided that Aragorn should get to know the twins in a place he loved being so that he would hopefully relate them to warm and happy feelings.
Dropping the straw in his hand to gather up little Aragorn, Erithain waited until Elladan and Elrohir crossed the short distance to the stall where they and the colt stood. “Aragorn, I want you to meet two very special people. This is Elladan.”
Bowing low, and then speaking in his most gentle and musical voice, Elladan said, “Mae Govannen, little one. I am pleased we finally meet.”
“ ‘Dan!” Aragorn said. The dark-haired Elf smiled and nodded.
“And this is his twin brother, Elrohir.”
Elrohir, not to be outdone by his brother, bowed in similar fashion, “Mae Govannen, Aragorn. We are honoured to finally meet the little star that Arathorn and Erithain have talked endlessly about.”
“ ‘Roh!” Elrohir nodded, lifting an eyebrow at the quickness of the child.
Erithain bent the child’s head to look into the young gray eyes, “They are very special friends to your Papa and myself.”
Aragorn looked at the two and his eyes grew wide in looking at them. He looked back and forth at them, fascinated. He reached out a hand and grabbed one of Elrohir’s dark plaits, holding it up completely captivated. “Dark hair, long like ‘Lath.” He looked so pleased with his comparison that the Erithain and the two Elves burst out laughing. Aragorn beamed and clapped his hands in delight having made them laugh. Elrohir reached out to hold the child who, much to Erithain’s relief, went willingly. He held Aragorn, bouncing him gently, “Well yes! When you put it that way I guess we do!”
Erithain offered, “Considering his love of horses, that is a huge compliment.”
Elrohir chuckled, “I’m flattered, little one.”
Aragorn was not listening though, for he had just discovered Elrohir’s ears. He reached out a tentative little hand to touch one, running his fingers along the pointed shape of it. At the same time the other hand’s thumb was chewed between his teeth. The enthralled look on his face greatly amused Elladan and Elrohir, the latter holding his head very still so that the little boy could explore unhindered. Aragorn looked at Erithain and reached out to touch his uncle’s rounded ears. And then he felt his own. He looked confused. Elrohir took pity on the confused child. “You are right, little one. Our ears are different, because my brother and I are Elves, not Men like your uncle and your papa.” Mesmerised by the musical voice Aragorn looked again into the Elf’s blue eyes and saw the stars residing there. “Stars!” he said, wonder in his voice. He looked at Elladan and saw that stars resided there, too. He smiled and touched Elrohir’s ear again and laughed. He paused and seemed to make a decision and he reached down to grab Elladan’s hand to pull it toward Gilgilath, “ ‘Dan pet ‘lath!”
Elladan allowed himself to be pulled by the small hand, “Hannon le, little one. I think I will. He is a beautiful colt,” said the Elf, stroking the dark mane.
Erithain hid a smile as best he could, “I think he likes you! He does not allow just anyone to touch Gilgilath.”
Over the next month the stables became the place where Elladan and Elrohir would play with the little boy accompanied either by Erithain or Arathorn. Aragorn became used to the idea that Elladan and Elrohir were Elves and that meant that they were different from him or Papa or Uncle Erithain, but he still liked them anyway.
The journey to Imladris would take roughly three weeks. In the end it was decided that Aragorn should be told something of what happening. Arathorn and Gilraen sat on little Aragorn’s bed. Arathorn tried to think how to explain to a two-year about evil. It was a conversation that churned the inside of his stomach and one he wished he never had to have with his beautiful boy. But he knew the realities of the situation and it could not be helped. Gilraen was right. The boy needed to know something.
“Papa sad?” came the little voice that interrupted his thoughts and brought him back to the here and now.
“Yes, my beautiful boy. Papa is sad.”
“Why? Ar’gon been good,” said the confused little voice.
Arathorn snatched him under the covers caught him in a big hug. “It is nothing you did, my little love.” He said hoarsely, looking at Gilraen, at a loss for words. Gilraen stroked her son’s curly dark hair, “Papa’s right it was nothing you did.”
Aragorn pulled back a little and said “O. K. Papa sad though.”
“Oh, my beautiful boy, There are things in this world of which you do not understand.” Arathorn sighed deeply, caressing the boy’s cheek. “But I will try to explain some things to you. There are some bad men in this world who want to have everything their own way. They do not want to share and be nice to other people.”
“Why?” Aragorn looked confused.
“I do not know why, my little love. It is just the way they are.” Arathorn hesitated, unsure of how to proceed. Gilraen placed a gentle hand on his arm and taking strength from that, Arathorn continued. “These bad men, they do not like us and would harm us if they could.” Aragorn’s eyes grew wide and frightened at this idea, Arathorn tightened his hug to calm and reassure the child, “But we will not let them. I would never let anything or anybody harm you, my beautiful boy! This is why you and your mother are going to leave this place. You are going to live in a beautiful place full of rivers and woods meadows where you can learn to ride Gilgilath and be safe. You will like it there.”
“You come, too, Papa!” he looked hopefully at Arathorn.
“No, my little love. I must stay here and guard against the bad men.”
Aragorn’s lower lip started to tremble, “No! You come, too! Papa!” he started tugging at his nightshirt.
“I would if I could, my little love.” Arathorn smoothed back his son’s hair and kissed the child’s forehead. “But I must stay to make sure the bad men never hurt you. A man must sometimes fight to protect what he loves. And I will come and visit you as often as I can.”
Lower lip still trembling a little, Aragorn obviously did not think that was good enough but he only said, “Ar’gon miss Papa.” Tears to started slip down his little face as he hugged Arathorn’s neck.
His father’s arms closed in around his son, “My beautiful boy! I shall miss you, too. More than you will ever know.”
He looked at Gilraen and mouthed ‘Thank you’ for insisting on this moment with his son. Gilraen smiled through her own tears, glad to see father and son embracing.
It was decided that the First watch of Arathorn’s tribe would ride as the escort along with Elladan and Elrohir and that Erithain, given his new position as Regent should stay behind in Fornost. Aragorn’s toys were packed and Gilgilath was to be tethered to Ayre, Gilraen’s horse. If anything was to happen along the trip four of the guard were to ride as fast as possible away from any such trouble.
Aragorn was very unhappy. He had just found out that his beloved uncle Erithain would not be coming with them to the beautiful place whose name he could not pronounce. He stood in the middle of the settlement crying “No! won’t go! Want ‘Thain go!” It was too much. He had been good, but he just did not understand why everybody was leaving him. His papa, his uncle. It was too much.
His tears tore at Gilraen’s heart. He was just too young to understand what was happening to him. Gilraen picked him up and tried to comfort him but he flailed his arms and would have none of it.
“Aragorn!” the child stopped flailing and looked at his papa who had a stern look on his face. “You will cease this behaviour immediately!” Aragorn saw his papa’s face soften as he came closer. Gilraen smoothed back her son’s hair and kissed his forehead, bouncing him up and down in an effort to soothe him.
Arathorn reached for him and Aragorn climbed from one parent to another. Quickly Aragorn nestled his head in his father neck, snuffling. “Want ‘Thain go,” the little boy said again but this time in a plaintive little voice.
“I know you do, my little love. But he must stay here and help me protect you from the bad men.”
Aragorn scrubbed his eyes with two little fists, “Hate bad men!” he whimpered. And he did. They were causing his papa and his uncle to go away.
Arathorn hugged his precious son and said under his breath, “So do I, my beautiful boy, so do I,” as they walked back towards the hall.
After reaching the hall, Erithain, who had also been sought for, found them. Aragorn looked up from his father’s shoulder and shouted, “Thain!” Just behind him were Elladan and Elrohir. Aragorn saw them and shouted, “ ‘Roh! ‘Dan!” he struggled to get down from his father’s arms and was quickly surrounded by his uncle and the twin Elves.
“What’s this I hear! Tears for me?” Erithain smiled, hiding the pain those tears were causing him from his beloved nephew. He and the Elves knelt around the sad little boy. Erithain wiped the tears from Aragorn’s eyes, “I have to stay, if I don’t stay, then your papa will all alone, won’t he. And you do not want your papa to be lonely, do you?”
Aragorn paused as the idea dawned on him, “Papa be sad?” His lower lip started to tremble just slightly. He had not thought of that. He looked up at his father who was looking back at him. Then he said somewhat reluctantly, “Thain stay, Papa not sad.”
Encircling his nephew in a big hug, Erithain said, “That’s my little lad.” Erithain looked at Arathorn as he was hugging the boy and saw his Chieftain mouth, “Thank you.”
Disaster was diverted and preparation for the departure the next day continue.
Aragorn stayed seated on the grass near the hall with his Uncle and the two bright Elves.
Elrohir looked at the child and stroked his curly dark hair as he sat on his uncle’s lap and smoothed away a tear track from the small boy’s soft cheek, “Shall I tell you a story about Imladris,” he said, his voice gently musical. Aragorn gazed at the dark Elf with hair like his beloved Gilgilath and nodded. “Well, It is in a beautiful lush ravine. Rivers and small green meadows will be perfect you to explore…
There Aragorn spent the rest of the afternoon in the company of his beloved uncle and the two bright and beautiful Elves hearing stories of Rivendell and its people.
The escort left early in the morning. Arathorn, Elladan and Elrohir to took the lead and the rest of the First Watch encircled Gilraen and little Aragorn sitting upon Ayre with Gilgilath tethered behind. Gilraen looked back at the settlement of Fornost where she had spent some very happy years and wondered if she would ever see it again. Her eyes teared up slightly as she hugged her son closer to her. Just at that moment Arathorn looked back and smiled gently. Gilraen smiled back and threw her shoulders back. She would face whatever was due to come her way, she owed it to herself, her family and her people.
The journey would take them first south as they headed along the road to towards Chetwood which met up with the Old East Road. They set up camp and tried to keep the atmosphere as light as possible for little Aragorn, but they kept an ever vigilant eye out for Orcs and other foul creatures who were roaming more freely about Eriador, much to Arathorn’s despair.
They passed by marshes and on the times it was deemed safe for Aragorn to ride with his father, Arathorn would point out things of interest and tell him about the history of their people. They past Amon Sul and Arathorn spoke to his son about how it used to be a watchtower and held a great seeing stone that their forbearers used to contact each other. Aragorn looked with wide-eye wonder at the ruins.
One night near the Trollshaws past the Last Bridge, Arathorn sat an uneasy watch. Nothing of dangerous note had happened since they had left Fornost. This of course was a blessing, but Arathorn was uneasy all the same. His sixth sense honed over many years of battle, was letting its presence be felt. He scanned the surrounding area trying to see as far as he could in the scant moonlight. He looked to his side and seeing Elladan, silently beckoned him over. “My friend, what do your Elf eyes see,” he whispered.
The dark-haired Elf scanned the surrounding area. “Orcs! I’d say a pack of forty. They are a distance away but they are traveling in this direction.”
Arathorn looked intently at his Elven friend, “Do you think we can outrun them? Break camp and move.”
The Elf shook his head, “I think it is too late for that! They do not know we are here, but we are too many of us to hide.”
“We must set a defensive formation and protect my wife and my son at all cost. Take the horses into the Trollshaw and hide them. We will retrieve them after the Orcs are either dispatched or fled. Move quickly now and give the orders around. I must see to my wife and son.”
Gilraen was up already and was dressing little Aragorn. Arathorn looked at her in amazement, “How did you know, my lady.”
Gilraen smiled ruefully, “Call it a mother’s sense! What draws near?”
Arathorn mouthed the word “Orcs” so that a sleepy Aragorn would not realise what danger was coming their way.
Gilraen’s eyes grew wide in apprehension, Arathorn reached out a hand to caress her cheek, “Do not worry, my love. Nothing will through to harm you, I swear it. Come, we must go further back into this little outcropping of rocks.”
Nestled with the rocks Aragorn, now alert and dressed, noticed the concerned tone in his papa’s voice, “What wrong, papa?”
Arathorn looked at his precious son and his heart almost broke with concern and fear for him, “My beautiful boy! I will protect you both, no harm will come to you!”
Young gray eyes grew wide, “Bad men come?” His lower lip trembled.
Arathorn’s eyes filled with tears of anger and sadness to see his son so frightened. He kneeled on one knee in front of his young son and put a hand on his shoulder, “My beautiful boy! It is time now to be brave for your mama. I will protect you both. I love you, always remember that.” With that he hugged his son and kissed him hard on the cheek.
Arathorn stood and looked at Gilraen and unceremoniously handed her a long dagger and a bow with arrows. “I would be remiss if I did not give you these. And there will Rangers forming a loose perimeter around the rock cropping. Although it will not be strong as I would like as we are lacking in the numbers needed to form a more effective shield. I curse myself for not bringing more men” Gilraen silently accepted the weapons, looking into his stern gray eyes, even in the midst of danger and a battle looming she could still see that gentleness that had first attracted her to him.
“Do not berate yourself. You cannot see every eventuality.” She saw his love for her in reside in his eyes as he stooped to kiss her fervently before leaving to see to the camp’s defences.
She looked at the dagger and the strung bow he had given her. All Dunedain women were trained to shoot. They were not meant to fight, but it was thought among that Dunedain that they should at least know how to shoot should the need arise. She had never killed any thing before, but looking down at the fear and anxiety in her little boy’s eyes she knew that if it became a choice between his safety and another’s life, she would take that life and feel little remorse doing it. Nobody was going to harm her son. She strapped on the vambrace and slung the quiver over her back. She kneeled to her little son, “Aragorn, my son. You will not be harmed, we all love you far too much to allow that to happen. But listen to me, if any “bad men” do come, you stay behind me at all times. Do you understand me?”
The little boy’s eyes were wide with fear but he nodded his head, “Behind mama.”
“That’s right, my little man,” she whispered as she hugged him and planted a hard kiss on his forehead as she smoothed back his hair.” She thought Pray to the Valar there will not be a need!
The Ranger party did not have long to wait before battle was joined. The First Watch fired off a volley to bring down the charging first line and took out many of them. They managed to fired off a second wave, but had to resort to hand to hand combat immediately thereafter.
Arathorn spared as many a glance at the rocky outcropping as he could during the battle. He saw Elladan and Elrohir work their way over toward the outcropping dispatching Orcs as they went. An Orc came flying at him and he swiftly swung his sword in an upward arc disemboweling the foul creature. Then he saw a sight that harrowed his soul. A stray Orc had gained the rocky outcropping and was starting to climb.
He ran though the midst of battle, decapitating an Orc that stood in his way. He screamed, “Elladan!” and pointed at the Orc. The Elven bow sang as Elladan let fly an arrow that impaled the Orc just as it reached halfway up the formation. Arathorn’s attention returned to the next Orc to be slain. The battle raged on when he thought he heard a child scream. He looked to the outcropping and saw Gilraen fired off an arrow that killed an Orc just feet from their son. In that split second of distraction, he felt an arrow pierce his chest and he fell to his knees.
Elladan had looked in the direction of the scream as well and seeing the child safe he looked back to Arathorn and saw the Orc arrow pierce his chest, “NO!!!!!!!!” He screamed as he noticed that the Orcs were fleeing and that the Rangers were chasing the stragglers. He ran to where Arathorn had fallen and saw the arrow was close to his heart and he would not live long. “Be easy, my friend! It is not bad.”
Arathorn looked up at him, saying weakly, “You are many thing, my Elven friend, but a good liar is not one of them. I see it in your eyes.”
Elladan blinked back the pain that threatened to engulf him, looked up and saw his brother, “Bring Gilraen, he will not last.” Elrohir’s stricken face nodded and he ran to the rocky outcropping.
Gilraen saw that the Orcs were retreating. After killing two Orcs who had been within feet of her precious son, her nerves were stretched to the breaking point. She looked down at her hand noticed that they were still shaking. Looking at Aragorn, she saw he was sheet white and very frightened. She gathered him up into her shaking arms and tried to comfort the child as she searched for Arathorn.
Elrohir came up on her blind side and his gentle yet insistent, “My lady,” startled her already frayed nerves and she jumped. “I pray you pardon for startling you but you must come now.”
Fear flashed through her. “Where is Arathorn?” she asked with her heart in her throat.
“You must come.” The dark Elf was insistent.
She swallowed and blinked trying to focus on what the Elf was saying, but it was hard for the ringing in her ears was getting louder. She saw the Elf beckoned her forward and she followed holding tightly to the precious bundle of her son.
She found herself on the middle of the Orc strewn battlefield and Elrohir gently lifted her son out of her arms and gently pushed her forward. She was on her knees and she realised before her was her beloved. The sight of him snapped her out of her trance-like state. “Arathorn, my love,” she sobbed.
Arathorn looked at her and gulped and whispered, “My love, I am sorry I was not able to protect you. I have failed.”
It tore at Gilraen’s heart that Arathorn’s last thoughts should be of failure, “No! You saved me!” she said in an amazingly strong voice, a strength she most certainly did not feel. “When you walked into my life I was floundering in sorrow and regret. You brought me out of it, my love. You gave me life. I love you!” The tears were spilling down her face.
A cry of “Papa!” rent the air of the now eerily quiet battlefield. Aragorn had squirmed around in Elrohir’s arms and had seen his papa lying on the ground. “Papa!” Aragorn broke free of the Elf’s arms and ran towards his father lying on the ground. He was at his side, and said, “Papa, Ar’gon good, brave like Papa.”
Arathorn struggled for breath, “My beautiful boy. I know you were. Make me proud, my little love. Remember I will always love you,” he whispered faintly.
Aragorn had only at that moment noticed the arrow shaft and dirty rough fletchings that were sticking up from his father’s chest. All assembled would never have let him see his father in this state but he had been too fast for all them in his panic to see his father. He was fixated on it and his lower lip started to tremble. Arathorn saw that and as sternly as he could muster said, “Aragorn,” the boy’s wide sorrowful eyes shifted from the shaft to his father’s face. Arathorn looked gently into his son’s eyes, “My son, never be afraid of death, for I will be waiting for you on the other side.” After expending this last reserve of energy, Arathorn slipped from the world.
Author’s note: Actually in Tolkien’s timeline in the Appendices in ROTK reports are not made about Sauron searching the Gladden Fields until 2939 six years after Arathorn’s death, but I needed a spur to get Arathorn to send Aragorn and Gilraen to Rivendell urgently so I adjusted the timeline just a bit. Hope nobody minds! Also and while it isn’t strictly reported in the LOTR who’s to say what Galadriel and did and did not see in her mirror. :-))
Also Arathorn technically was killed by an arrow in the eye, rather like King Harold of 1066 fame, but as I wanted to have these last conversations with Gilraen and little Aragorn I simply moved the arrow down to near his heart. still lethal, but better for dramatic purposes. I beg the reader’s indulgence I thought about it and these AU elements did not seem to stretch the bounds of reason too harshly!
Chapter 9 – A Gift from the Valar
All was silent for a few minutes after the Chieftain’s passing until the air was rent again with a child’s scream, “Papa!” and the little boy began to sob unrestrainedly. Gilraen in her shocked haze of grief tried to soothe the child, but nothing worked. In the end Elladan had to take hold of the child and weave sleep around him. He did not know if he could touch a mortal child’s mind, and he was not as practiced at it as his father but as the boy did have trace amounts of Elven blood in him it might work and he knew he had to try. The boy was inconsolable. He sat holding the screaming and sobbing child, closed his eyes and ever so gently reached out to touch the child’s mind. At first the child’s spirit rejected him but soon he felt the pain and confusion of a young mind and he gently soothed it until the child had fallen asleep in his arms.
By now it was now daybreak and decisions had to be made. Elladan in his sitting position still held the sleeping child and Gilraen was leaning on him with one arm thrown over Aragorn protectively and finally fallen into an exhausted sleep. Elladan was not faring too much better but he knew what was required of him and his brother right now. Their own sorrows and they would be great as they had loved Arathorn almost as a brother would have to wait. “Master Erkenthal,” he called across the battlefield to the red-haired lieutenant to Arathorn, “what say you? I say Aragorn more than ever needs to be taken to Rivendell. He will need to be in a place where he can feel safe. I cannot keep him sleeping like this. It is not good for him.”
The grief-stricken lieutenant looked at little Aragorn, who was now his unsworn Chieftain and over to the body of his fallen friend and Commander and sighed, “My heart says take the boy back to his own people, but I know Arathorn wished him to go to Rivendell and I have not the heart to go against my lord’s wishes.” He knelt down to stroke the now sweaty and matted curls of his Chieftain. He kissed the little forehead. “This will nearly kill Erithain, he loved Arathorn like a brother. But Arathorn chose well for the little boy’s regent. It was almost as if he knew this would happen.”
Elladan looked down at the sleeping child and thought, I did know this was going to happen, I just did not know when. He silently cursed prophesies showing them the truth but giving them no power to change what must be and anger flowed freely through him until Aragorn squirmed in his sleep. Quickly Elladan calmed his anger and the boy returned to a peaceful slumber. Out loud he said, “Very well. What say you to splitting our forces. Half to Rivendell with Gilraen and the little one and half as a guard of honour for Arathorn,” his voice catching at the last word.
“It is a sound plan. I shall make the necessary arrangements.” Erkenthal bowed his head to his little Chieftain and went off to see the plans put into action.
Elladan’s shoulders sagged and his eyes closed. He felt so tired. Soon he felt a welcomed presence in his mind. Hello, my brother. He said in his mind as he felt his brother’s concern and quiet strength.
Elrohir’s presence in his mind said, You cannot keep doing this! You cannot keep giving of your fea to a Mortal child! It will only weaken you.
Elladan said, But I must! He is in such pain. I cannot bear to see it! Arathorn would have wanted this.
Elrohir’s presence sighed, Oh my brother! That heart of yours will some day be your undoing I fear! But if you insist on this course, then I must be allowed to help. A bright yet gentle light spread through Elladan’s mind and he felt refreshed.
Now who should warn who about weakening their fea!
Elrohir’s presence laughed inside his mind Well, you are not the only one with a soft heart. With a gentle kiss upon his senses Elrohir withdrew from his brother’s mind.
Elladan opened his eyes to feel his brother at his back and the sleeping child still in his arms. Gilraen stirred and started slightly when she realised where she was. Gilraen looked up into star-filled blue eyes looking back at her with compassion. “Good morning, my lady,” said Elladan greeting her gently.
Gilraen’s eyes filled with pain and she threw her hands up over her ears, “Do not ever dare to speak those words to me ever again!” she fervently whispered as she drew back from the Elf.
“What words, my lady?” Elladan inquired.
“My Lady!” She almost shouted. “Elrohir spoke those words just before he brought to me to where Arathorn….” Her voice broke.
Gilraen looked back at the stricken Elf cradling her child. The unspoken pain that was written across his face as he stared at her broke her heart and she realised that she had a compatriot in her pain. She kneeled beside the sitting Elf, “Forgive me, I know not what I say. My mind is all a jumble.”
“You are sad. You have had your life torn asunder. And I have unintentionally wounded you further. As it is I who should apologise, I think I can find it in my heart to forgive a few misspoken words,” the elder son of Elrond spoke gently, his eyes a mirror of the pain she felt before he looked away. He sounded so lost as he sat there cradling the sleeping Aragorn.
Awakened by the shouting Elrohir cast a concerned look at his twin. “Gilraen, might I speak with you for a moment.”
Gilraen nodded her acquiescence and together they walked off a fair distance from the battle site. Upon stopping she gathered herself together and stared into the concerned blue eyes of Elladan’s twin. “Elrohir, please allow me to apology again for speaking so.”
The Elf shook his head, “There is no need. As my brother rightly said, you are sad. Much can be understood. Understand also that my brother and I are very protective of each other.” Elrohir looked away to stare over the preparations being made to move the retinue in the two opposite direction of Imladris and Fornost, “I say this because I wish you to know what Elladan does for your son. He is giving of his lifeforce, his fea, to help protect and comfort your son. He has touched Aragorn’s mind and helped him temporarily find rest and a measure of peace. He does this out of choice because he is kind-hearted and loved Arathorn well; and also because he understands what the Heirs of Isildur mean to the future of Middle Earth.” Elrohir looked back at Gilraen, eyes full of concern for his brother, “Yet, you must understand it is not normal for a warrior to give of himself in this way. Normally only our healers perform this sort of connection, because the actions of healing and the taking of life run counter to each other. For a warrior to make this kind of connection weakens him, but he is doing it because he feels he must. Also he carries his own grief which is a danger in and of itself for our kind, yet he gives to Aragorn.” Elrohir sighed, “I do not fully understand why I feel compelled to tell you this when your own grief is still so new. But I felt you should know. I hope you do not think me unkind for telling you all of this.”
Gilraen stared back across the short distance to where Elladan sat holding her son “I had always heard that Elves did not trouble themselves overly with the trials of Men.” She looked back at the Elf standing before her, gratitude showing on her face, “I know now that is not true.” She reached up to the Elf’s neck and pulled his head closer to kiss each cheek and then his brow. “Thank you. I cannot think how I can ever repay your kindness towards me or my son.”
All were sick with grief and the wounded required at least a day’s rest, but it was decided that to wait any longer than they already had was not a safe or sound idea. So after a day spent on the preparations that Elladan and Erkenthal had decided on together were complete and a night waiting anxiously for an attack that blissfully never came; the two parties separated at that Rocky outcropping just west of the Trollshaws. Thankfully the horses and Aragorn’s little Gilgilath went unnoticed by the Orcs and were ready to be saddled up for the respective journeys.
Elladan shared care of the child with Gilraen. Since his initial outbursts Aragorn had said very little and only would allow Gilraen or Elladan to hold him. With anyone else he became fretful and or would start crying. On occasion he would ask where his papa was. Elrohir surmised that he might not remember exactly what had happened near the Trollshaws, at least consciously. It was not an easy journey for everyone was weighted down by cares and grief. It was the change in Aragorn that sadden those who made this journey the most. Just days before the little boy would chirp happily to anyone and everyone and his laughter had been heard throughout the camp. Now he barely spoke and would stay close to either Gilraen or Elladan, shying away from all others in the retinue.
It did not help that they ran into a far smaller band of Orcs just before the Ford of Bruinen. There were only about ten of them and they were dispatched in short order, but Aragorn had again become so distraught that Elladan had to risk weaving sleep around him once again. It affected both of them. Aragorn did indeed feel the rest he needed, but this last communion between the Elf and the Mortal child had left Elladan more susceptible his own grief and had caused him to withdraw into himself. This of course, in turn caused Elrohir to worry greatly about his brother.
Worry for her little son caused Gilraen to shove her own considerable grief to the back of her mind. She was constantly talking with her little child, playing with him, trying to get him to interact with her and the others and so far she had been met with very limited success.
After crossing the Fords however the spirits of the group lighten somewhat and one could tell by looking at Elladan that simply crossing over into his father’s lands was in some small measure starting to replenished his fea, although he was by no means healed of his self-inflicted wounds to his soul. He would not let them heal as long as he felt little Aragorn had need of him. But the trees and meadows of his childhood called out to his spirit and sensing that all was not well tried to coax him along with all the remembered joys of childhood. But for the most part the beauty of the ravine in which Imladris was nestled went largely unnoticed by the somber retinue.
About an hour after the crossing of the Ford three Elven archers, dressed in muted shades of green, dropped soundlessly to the ground out of nowhere. At least that was the way it seemed to the Mortals of the escort. Elrohir looked amused and said to the lead archer as Elrond's younger son gracefully dismounted, “You’re slipping, Tequin! I was expecting you to show yourselves fifteen minutes ago!”
The lead archer said, “A likely story.” He grinned and then saw Elladan holding the small Heir of Isildur whom they had been sent to seek word of. The Elf did not look up as he concentrated on the child in question. Concern crossed Tequin’s fair face and looked at Elrohir whose eyes said not to ask any questions at this time. Tequin obeyed the silent command from one who was essentially his superior officer, “I, Tilade and Cefzil will take any message forward you would wish to deliver in advance of your coming. What news?”
What news indeed, thought Elrohir sorrowfully. He related the barest details to Tequin, who upon hearing sobered immediately. He looked immediately to Gilraen, bowed and said, “You have my deepest sympathies, my lady.” At that Gilraen flinched involuntarily, but she managed to say, “Thank you, Tequin,” touched her head and heart in the greetings of her people. Tequin looked again at Elladan holding the little Chieftain, “And the boy, he is well.”
Elladan looked up with darkened and grief-filled eyes, and responded quietly, “He is well, Tequin.”
Shocked at his appearance, Tequin looked at the eldest son of Lord Elrond and thought, Yes, my lord. But are you? The question however remained unasked. “We will depart. And inform Lord Elrond of what has unfolded before you arrive.” The Imladris rangers rode forth to tell of the company’s return and the dark tidings of the Trollshaws.
A few hours later, Elrond, having been alerted to his sons’ approach, made his way down from his study to the bottom of the steps to the Last Homely House. He watched as Elrohir and Elladan dismounted their horses and waited for them to approach. Elrohir came forward immediately, but Elladan stayed behind to, first hand down to Gilraen the precious little bundle of child that he had been holding, and then to dismount.
“Adar.” Elrohir said, “We have returned home as soon as was possible. And yet there were a great many griefs to be had along the way.” Elrond then clasped arms with his younger son. Upon touching his eldest child, he noticed with concern that Elladan’s light had dimmed since last they saw each other. Elrond looked at his oldest child and stroking his dark hair, gently reached out into his mind. My son! What have you done to yourself?
Elladan turned dulled blue eyes to his father. What needed to be done, Adar. His thoughts answered quietly.
Oh my son. Elrond spoke quietly into his mind, anguished at what his eldest child had risked and endured. Both spirit and body encircled his son. Within his mind Elladan felt an enveloping and nurturing light caress his inner senses and replenish his spirit so that he might be whole again. His father gently left his mind. Looking into his son’s again unclouded star-filled eyes, he saw joy there once again. Smiling he kissed his son’s brow and looked up.
Worry lifted from Elrohir’s heart as he witnessed the communion between his father and brother. Elrond’s younger son then continued, “May I present the Lady Gilraen?”
Gilraen stepped forward still holding little Aragorn in her arms and bowed. “I am honoured that you have allowed us to call Rivendell home. Thank you.” She next said solemnly, “Might I introduce to you, my son, Aragorn.” She opened her arms out just a little to allow Elrond to see the now-shy child.
Elrond had been told of the child’s distress by the returning Imladris Rangers. He knelt before the little child in his mother’s arms saying softly, as if speaking to a little bird easily frightened, “Welcome my little one.”
Aragorn still hid his head in the crook of his mother’s neck. Using his most gentle and most musical voice, “Aragorn, we are very pleased to have you come and live among us.” The little boy lifted his head from his mother’s shoulder and turned tentatively to the melodic voice. Wide gray eyes sought out Elrond’s own pale blue and it broke Elrond’s heart to see the hurt and bewilderment residing in those eyes that were so young. Elrond understood then why his son had risked what he did to protect and comfort the boy. The child gazed solemnly at Elrond for many minutes. He seemed drawn to Elrond, but then hid his face again in the crook of his mother’s neck.
“I’m sorry My Lord,” Gilraen said, “He’s a little shy of strangers at the present time.”
“That is more than understandable,” Elrond said, “We share your grief, Lady Gilraen and offer our deepest sympathy. We loved him here in Imladris. I am sorry.” Elrond touched his head and heart.
“Thank you,” Gilraen answered bowing her head, her grief flowing freely through her briefly. She would only allow it only a few moments freedom before she tucked it away safely, allowing her to be a mother to this child who now needed her so much.
The suite of rooms of that was to be theirs had been thoughtfully furnished by Elrond, himself. The larger room contained a loom for Gilraen and furnishings made lovingly with fine Elven craftsmanship. The balcony overlooked the twin waterfalls that fed the Bruinen. It connected through a doorway to the room appointed for Aragorn, fitted with the same soft of furnishings and shelves filled with books and space for toys and such. Aragorn’s room also connected onto Elrond’s as well.
Gilraen carried her son over to the balcony, saying, “Isn’t it beautiful, my little lad? Look Aragorn, waterfalls and horses drinking by the stream.”
Aragorn did lift his head at the mention of horses and looked down at the two horses and their riders taking a cool drink at the small watering spot. He blinked once or twice and then returned his head to his mother’s shoulder. “It’s OK. My little love. You’ll begin speaking more when you ready.” She kissed his forehead as she turned away from the balcony to go back inside.
At that moment, a knock sounded at the door and she called “Come in!” An Elf in some sort of livery stepped through the door and bowed low, “Lady Gilraen, Lord Elrond wishes to speak with you, if it is convenient.”
“Yes, of course. Are we to go now?” Gilraen said politely.
“Yes, I am here to escort you to his study.”
Gilraen nodded, “Did you hear that, my little lad? We shall go and see Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir’s papa.” Aragorn looked at the servant Elf and looked back at Gilraen and simply continued to suck his thumb.
The servant looked at Gilraen then beheld Aragorn’s sad little eyes and smiled, “Might I say, we are very happy to have you here with us, little one.” When he received no discernable response the Elf looked at Gilraen, “He will be happy again. This much I know. Imladris is a healing place.”
Gilraen looked at the Elf, wanting to believe him, “Thank you for those kind words. You know my name but I do not know yours?”
“It is Elmiran, son of Diovan.” Elimiran bowed low and said, “If you will follow me.”
Gilraen followed Elmiran through two hallways and past many doors, some open, some not. She noticed various Elves going about their daily business much in the same way that the people of her settlement did. The tools might looked slightly different and she was unfamiliar with some tasks but, the industry of the place was similar. It surprised her, and she realised that she had not really thought about what it would be like to live daily among Elves. So many other thoughts had occupied her. On occasion she met the eyes of an Elf in passing and she found kindness in his or her eyes when she had expected arrogance, or so the stories went.
They reached an archway decorated in silver leaved vines reaching upward from the floor and meeting at the top of the arch. Elmiran knocked on the door, receiving a response of “Come in!” he opened the door wide and said, “You may go in, Lady Gilraen.” Elmiran then looked at Aragorn, who had looked up at his voice. “I will hope to see more of you later, my little one.” The Elf smiled gently at him, bowed to them and then left. Gilraen looked kindly after the Elf and then looked curiously through the door and stepped over the threshold.
The room was simple and yet more beautiful than anything her Dunedain bred eyes had ever encountered. All her life she had only known wood or wattle and daub housing. Even the Chieftain’s seat at Fornost had been no different, much to her initial surprise. But here in Imladris, she saw the beauty of delicately soaring stone. She was awestruck.
Elrond’s voice broke her reverie, “I trust your rooms are to your satisfaction.” Gilraen looked at Elrond. She had only met him a few times before that day and always these meetings had been in Fornost. Met within his own environment Elrond looked more imposing than she had ever known him to seem, but when she came closer and looked into his eyes she saw the same compassion that had always been in evidence.
Gilraen gulped and tried bring her emotions under control, “They are beautiful.” Unlooked for tears started spilling from her eyes. “I’m sorry, I do not know why I am crying! Everyone has been so kind to Aragorn and I.” Aragorn noticing his mother’s distress started to cry also. Gilraen sobbed, “And now I have made you cry, my sweet little boy!” Gilraen planted a wet kiss on the boy’s forehead. Elrond was by her side immediately. He embraced her and the little boy. Gathered into and surrounded by his arms and the rich silk robe that smelled of herbs and fresh air, Gilraen relaxed and sobbed her heart away. It was the first time she had felt safe and secure since they had left Fornost. She knew she had to be strong for Aragorn, but he was offering consolation and she had no strength left to resist the offered compassion.
“You have lost much, Gilraen, daughter of Ivorwen and Dirhael. There is no shame in these tears. The pain is still fresh. I am told in Mortals, it eases.” Elrond said softly as he stroked her hair in its unkempt travel plait. He gently swiveled her and her son back and forth until eventually her tears ceased.
Gilraen pulled away, wiping her tears with her child-unencumbered hand. Her hand felt the red puffiness that she knew was spread across her face , she looked sheepishly at Elrond. “I am so sorry and I have ruined your robe.”
Elrond looked her saying, “You and your son’s well-being are more important than a scrap of silken fabric. Pay it no mind.” He walked over to an ornate silver table near a sofa spread with a rich brocade, unstoppered a decanter and filled a tall fluted glass with an amber liquid. He motioned for Gilraen and Aragorn to sit on the sofa as he sat on a wooden chair with deep cushioning on the seat and armrests. Handing her the glass after she had seated herself, Elrond said, “Drink this, it will revive you.”
Gilraen took the glass and sipped at it and found that it tasted delicious, she quickly finished the small amount he had given her, “Thank you.” The liquid warmed and soothed her and suddenly she felt much better. Elrond smiled as he saw the strain on her face relax. The cordial had had its desired effect.
“Feeling better?” Gilraen smiled and nodded. “Good. As I said before we are very happy to receive you and this precious little one. You may consider this your home.” Seeing Aragorn looking warily at him, but with budding curiosity, Elrond got up from his chair and knelt in front of him, “Oh, my little one, I am so happy that you are here. Can you smile for me?” Elrond spoke gently as if he were coaxing a shy little mouse to come out his hiding place. Aragorn continued to look at this bright being with the kind blue eyes. “I’m going to think you do not like me?” and Elrond pretended to be sad and pout. “I’m sure you have a beautiful smile.” Aragorn looked at him and bit his lower lip pensively. Aragorn looked at him and then up at his mama, who was now smiling. Encouraged, Aragorn looked back down at Elrond and reached out a tentatively little hand to touch one of the older Elf’s pointed ears. “Ears, like ‘Dan and ‘Roh!” He again felt it and said, “Elf?”
Elrond face split in an ear to ear grin, “That’s my bright boy! I am an Elf and Adar to ‘Dan and ‘Roh!”
Aragorn then made a grab for one of Elrond’s dark plaits. “Dark like ‘Lath!” Elrond looked quizzically at Gilraen. “Lath?”
Gilraen was so happy so she was almost crying again, “ ‘Lath is his little colt, Gilgilath. You should feel very complimented.”
Elrond burst out with a joyous laugh that at first stunned Aragorn, he had not heard a laugh like that for what had been a very long time for a little boy of almost three. The next sound was one Gilraen never forgot as long as she lived, Aragorn laughing. After almost a week of unimaginable horror and grief to hear her silent child laughing was like a gift from the Valar. A small feeling inside her breast re-emerged which she at first did not recognise. It was hope.
Author’s note: The Elven concept of the fea I have taken from the HoME series “Morgoth’s Ring” The discussion of the fea does not specifically talk about sharing one’s fea as a healing process, but they do talk about how healing and hunting and being a warrior were not usually performed by the same Elf because “the dealing of death, even when lawful of under necessity, diminished the power of healing” p. 213 vol. X of HoME. I then extrapolated for dramatic purposes, and because it was fun to think “deeply” of the these ideas, that a warrior giving of his fea in purposes of healing would weaken his fea each time he did it.
The speaking onto another’s mind I sort of got from the films. Galadriel spoke into Frodo’s mind, I thought it might make sense that Elrohir and Elladan and Elrond would have this bond. I was also influenced by Nilmandra’s wonderful “May the Valar Protect Them.” I hope she does not mind that she was inspiration for part of this chapter!
Also I have been influenced by the many wonderful pieces of fanfic stories about Elves so if an idea sounds familiar the intention was not to outright lift it but rather I was so touched by the beauty of the idea and it remained in my imagination, but I also can’t remember where I got the ideas from. If those persons are reading this story, I thank you for the inspiration. Also I realise that Fea is supposed to have an Umlaut over the 'e' but I could not for the life of me find my alternate keyboards to look for the umlaut! So the umlaut exists in spirit only! :-)) MM
Chapter 10 – Acceptance
The first few weeks of their new life in Imladris drifted by in something of a blur for Gilraen. The chaotic times, that had come to characterise her life for the last few months had buffeted her about pretty hard and it had left her feeling slightly numb to sensations. What was more, all of the worry, fear and cutting edge anxiety, which were the resultant baggage of life-defining questions being dealt with, utterly ceased with their acceptance into Elrond’s house. It seemed an unreal calm had settled upon Gilraen. She felt as if she was sleepwalking through days upon end, drifting. There was still little Aragorn to be looked after and she put whatever attentions she could muster into his care and attention. But after he went to sleep or the twins came looking to spend the day with him, she was at a loss. This day was such a day. Elladan and Elrohir, who had both volunteered to spend the next few months within Rivendell’s border so that they could be near the little heir, had taken Aragorn to the stables to visit little Gilgilath. While she was anxious to for little Aragorn to continue his relationship with the twin Elves, especially Elladan and Aragorn had shared such a special bond, Gilraen felt lost without her focus in life, namely her son, not in arms’ reach and paced the beautiful gardens aimlessly.
Unbeknowst to her, Elrond watched her roam the gardens rubbing her arms and pacing from above on his balcony connecting unto his study. He turned away from balcony, walked back into his study and called Elmiran to him. The Elf appeared instantly, as he was on order to stand attendance on Elrond’s door in case he should be needed. “Yes, my lord?”
“Elmiran, you will find the Lady Gilraen walking in the rose garden down below. Please tell her that I wish to speak with her.”
“At once, my lord.” The Elf bowed low, hand on heart and set off upon his errand.
Elrond returned to the balcony and leaned on the railing, staring straight ahead, allowing himself a moment to drink in the beauty that surrounded him. The air was fresh and sweet and had that slight nip in the air that signaled winter was on the wing. Winters in Imladris were never harsh owing to Vilya, the ring that was one of the hidden three Elven rings and was Elrond’s cross to bear. He shook off such thoughts and the healing airs of Imladris did the rest. Elrond breathed in deeply and exhaled slowly and felt himself calming as he did. He was brought back to the here and now by the opening of the study door and the soft footsteps that gave away the identity of the person who entered.
“My Lord, you wished to see me?” Gilraen’s eyes looked slightly lost when he walked back inside to meet with Aragorn’s mother.
“Yes, I did,” he responded kindly as he motioned to the same brocade covered sofa she had sat on that first day in Imladris.
Gilraen sat on the edge of the sofa, quiet but with an expectant and slightly anxious mien about her, hands clasped in her lap and her back straight. Elrond sigh inwardly, wishing that she could relax but he guessed with all that the wife of Arathorn had been through, it was only to be expected.
“I thought that we might talk of little Aragorn’s future a bit.” Elrond said casually, standing at the table next to the sofa, filling two fluted wine glasses with a fine Dorwinian vintage that he had a penchance for.
Gilraen looked immediately tense, “You said that Aragorn and I could stay here!”
Elrond inwardly cursed himself for not broaching the subject more delicately. He walked around the chair and handed Gilraen one of the glasses as he seated himself in a subtle swished of deep green silken fabric. “Lady Gilraen, your home for as long as you want, is here in Imladris. I meant what I said.”
Colouring slightly, Gilraen bit back her lips and then in a low voice said, “I am sorry, my Lord. I seemed to have forgotten how to control my emotions these past few weeks, I do beg pardon.”
Placing a comforting and hopefully healing hand on Gilraen’s arm, “Think not on it. You have been through more than most could bear. It is understandable.”
Gilraen looked into pale blue eyes and could see from where the twins received their compassionate streak that she had come to count upon these last few weeks. She smiled gently and in a clear voice a little more representative of her own spirited personality, “Now, what was it you wish to speak of?”
Admiring the woman’s fortitude and ability to rise above her own pain, Elrond said, “We must discuss how we are to keep little Aragorn safely hidden from those who would seek him. Imladris can hide much, but I think it best that we take other precautions as well.” He paused shifting his gaze until it fell upon the ornate telescope that had been a gift from his children many years ago standing across the room. He was not sure how she would react to the suggestions he was about to make.
“What other precautions, my lord.” Gilraen studied the Lord of Imladris and saw him take a deep breath before he again spoke.
The Elf lord looked back at her, eyes soft but purposeful, “The boy must not be told of his heritage, not until he is of age. We cannot allow him to remember who he is,” the Elf seeing the pain that was again starting to build in Gilraen’s eyes, plunged ahead with what needed to be said, “For a time he must even his name behind.”
Gilraen felt a knife slash through her heart and in front of her eyes she saw her dying husband asking Aragorn to be brave. She stared at Elrond, at first speechless in her pain, “My husband is dead, and now you would rob me of my memories of him, too!” She whispered fervently. “My memories and telling Aragorn of his father and his sacrifices and his love for his son are all I have left of him and yet, you take it from me!! How can you ask this of me?” She asked as she leapt up from the sofa to wheel upon Elrond.
Elrond simply sat and allowed her unleash her fury upon him. At length he whispered, “It is the only way to keep him safe.”
Gilraen simply stared at him in her fury. She thought of Arathorn and the love he bore for his little boy and felt as hollow as she had ever felt, grieving that she would not be able to speak of many things to her son. That he would not grow up knowing of his father’s love. But Arathorn had given his life to see his son safe and she knew she could not fail him or his memory now. Anguished acceptance settled upon her, and she knew she would do anything to keep the child whom they both loved more than life itself safe. Tears glittered in her eyes as she sank upon the sofa once again. “What must we do?”
Breathing a heartfelt sigh at the tormented sacrifice he had borne witness to, Elrond said, “We will name him Estel.”
Bright, searing pain was coursing through him. He could feel the chair beneath him and he could see Erkenthal, Arathorn’s lieutenant, in front of him, his lips forming the words of the unheard report of the mission that had sent his family to Imladris. Next was a ringing sound in his ears as what he had heard, had begun to sink in. Another brother lost. Erithain realised that all eyes were upon him expecting him to do something, to say something. How can they expect anything of me after so much has been taken he thought angrily. He was regent now. An unwelcome task reluctantly agreed to was now thrust upon him. Through the pain he realised that he must make at least a token gesture of recognition of such news. He looked up from the centerpiece upon which he had been fixating. With blank blue eyes he gazed upon the stricken Ranger, “I thank you for this news,” he said in a lifeless voice. “I accept the responsibility that has been deemed mine by,” here his voice caught, “the former chieftain.” Erithain breathed in deeply, willing body and soul to be held together for only a few minutes more, enough to dismiss the collected Rangers with some semblance of dignity. It was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do. “Now, please leave me and tend to your families.”
Casting looks of various intensities at the young man who was to serve as Regent to the little heir, the Rangers left. When it was only Erkenthal and Erithain, the older man approached the chair in which the adopted little brother of his beloved Chieftain sat. “My lord---“
Erithain closed his eyes in reaction to the flare of pain that came with the newly minted title spoken sorrowfully by one who had ever teased him. He held up his hand to still the loved and respected man’s tongue. “Please, my friend,” he whispered fervently and quickly, lest more emotion than he cared to expose could escape the bounds of his sorrow, “I must be left alone.” He looked at the older lieutenant to his brother-in-law and dear friend.
Erkenthal beheld eyes full of shock and pain, but also a desperate desire for privacy. After many years and many companions lost he recognised this sort of grief and knew that it needed to find first expression in solitude, only then would it allow any kind of witness. “Of course, my lord.”
Erithain heard the older man’s footsteps leave the room but he was no longer paying close attention to the world beyond the extent of his sense of touch. He sat frozen to the chair, Arathorn’s chair, the chieftain’s chair. Suddenly he felt incredibly alone and completely unable to handle all that had befallen him. He sat for hours like just staring at the centerpiece and blinking. Assaulted by his memories, Erithain thought of his two beloved older brothers, Elassan and Alarael. Five years and the pain was still present. He had learned how to live with that pain and Arathorn had shown the way past it and towards manhood, that his own father Dirhael, had not been able to, wrapped up as he was in his own cocoon of sadness, anger and recrimination. And now Arathorn was gone.
Bitter tears of anger and sorrow began flowing and he could find no way to stop them. He was all alone. There was no one to turn to for comfort and advice. He placed his head on his crossed arms resting on the table and sobbed eventually falling into sleep.
He awoke to the sensation of a hand gently stroking his hair, at least he thought he was awake. He could not be quite sure. A sense of well-being filled him as he opened his eyes finding the room filled with a warm gentle glow. He looked up as the hand ceased its stroking of his hair and saw a luminescently beautiful she-elf wearing a silver filigree circlet of leaves standing beside him. She looked kindly on upon him, “Who are you?” he asked resisting the impulse to rub his eyes in an effort prove that she was really there.
The She-elf said, “I am the Lady of Light, Galadriel is my name. I come to you in this dream of borne of exhaustion. Erithain, son of Dirhael, you are in great pain and doubt. But Arathorn had great faith in you, this I know. And that faith is not misplaced. You will find a way through this pain and hold the Dunedain in trust for Aragorn. On this all depends.
Erithain looked at the beautiful she-elf at first disbelieving. “How, how can I go on? I am no leader, and I have never desired to be. I had only wished to serve Arathorn and now he is dead. I am at a loss.”
“It is in your heart where you will find your strength to go on. You loved Arathorn well. Serve him now by preserving the ways of the Dunedain until his son returns.” She gently lifted him from the chair and stood in front of him staring into his troubled blue eyes, “You will find a way.” She leaned forward to kiss him on the forehead.
Erithain awoke with a start. He looked around the now-darkened room and pushed the chair back to stand. At that faint noise Erkenthal entered the room. Erithain looked up at first a bit startled and then spoke with a dawning recognition, “Erkenthal, how long have you been waiting at my door?”
The older Ranger looked him square in the eye and said solemnly, “For as long as it was needed, my lord. I am at your service always.”
Tears clouded Erithain’s eyes. He looked Arathorn’s second in command, the man he had come to love and respect and saw the look of loyalty shining in the man’s eyes. He placed a grateful hand on the red-haired man’s shoulder and said in a heartfelt, full voice. “Thank you.”
A/N: The chapter is short but I felt that I needed to end it where it was.
Author's note: It's been a little under a year since I've done any work on this story, or any writing for that matter, so the writing might seem a little uneven! Tell me you think this chapter leads on well from the last one or not. Thanks for reading! :-))
Hope is kindled
Fall 2936 TA
Estel was very still. He crouched on the stream bank just as he had seen Elladan do the day before and watched the fish in question. It was a nice fat salmon and would be perfect for lunch that day if he could only catch it. Elladan had made it look easy. The sturdy five-year old thought back to the day before. His foster brother had crouched on the riverbank and stilled himself and quick as a flash reached out a hand and flicked the fish onto the riverbank. Estel imitated his actions now. He was crouching and was as still as he knew how to be. He eyed his quarry for a few seconds and then pounced. The next thing he knew he was sitting in the stream, soaking wet and listening to uproarious laughter.
"Muindyr nin! It was a valiant attempt! But I'm afraid that your quarry has slipped through your fingers."
Estel looked up from his berth in the stream to see his beloved foster brother, Elladan walking towards the stream, laughter written across on his fair face and lighting up his star-filled eyes. The little boy's grey eyes were earnest as he questioned the dark-haired elf. "What happened, ‘Dan? I did just like you and it didn't work!"
Reaching down to extract his little charge from the gentle rolling water and wetting his boots in the process, Elladan said, "It was nothing you did wrong, it just takes practice, Mithreneg nin! I fell in the stream plenty of times when I first learned the trick, "Estel looked at him, disbelief clear on his face. "It is true. Just ask Ada." He placed the incredulous little boy on the stream bank and knelt next to him. "I'll tell you what. Let's get you dried off before you catch your death out here sopping wet, but I will teach you all I know about fish-flipping tomorrow!"
Estel nodded so vigorously that water droplets splattered everywhere, including the forest green silk of Elladan's already wet tunic. The Elf laughed and said, "I think we are both going to need a change of clothes by the time we get inside. Come along, my little wet one!" The Elf took the little boy in hand and they walked quickly towards the house and dry clothes.
Upon approaching the house Estel spied his Ada on the front steps talking with a very tall personage. He broke into a full run with the intention giving his Ada a very big hug. “Ada! You're back!" Estel nearly knocked his foster father over with the force of his enthusiastic greeting.
Elrond sounded a rather winded laugh, "Yes, I'm back my little whirlwind! Have you been a good boy?" The Lord of Rivendell untangled the small wet child from his crimson robes looking at him with amusing incredulity. "You've not given your mother and foster-brothers any trouble?"
Estel shook his wet head so quickly water droplets flew in all directions as he said, "Nay, Ada! I've not given Nana any trouble. And ‘Dan has just been showing me how to catch a fish.”
The Lord of Imladris grinned, noting the child’s sopping wet clothes, “Has he now?”
Elrond shifted his amused gaze to his eldest son’s wet tunic, “How goes the lessons?”
“Swimmingly!” said the younger dark-haired elf without missing a beat.
The little boy nodded his head, dark, wet curls bobbing up and down, “’Dan is really good. I tried but I’m not so good. I fell in the river,” he ended confidentially.
Elrond burst out laughing and hoisted Estel up into his arms, “Just between you and me, I remember fishing Elladan out of the river a fair few times.”
The little boy brightened looking at his foster father and said, “That’s all right, then!” Elrond again burst out into peals of laughter. “Estel, ion nin! You are beyond all measure!”
Estel was distracted from this compliment by the sound of merry laughing. He located the owner of such a laugh. Standing beside his Ada was the most fascinating man he had ever seen in his short life. His face was obscured by a seemingly endless white beard and an enormous grey hat. Under the brim of the hat twinkled two grey eyes. Estel smiled broadly and reached out a hand to touch the beard. He proclaimed emphatically, “You’re not an Elf!”
Again the merry laugh sounded from the fascinating personage, “And what makes you say that, Young master?”
“You’ve got a beard! Elves do not have beards.” He stated in a confident tone looking at first his Ada and then his foster brother. Finally he turned his gaze back toward the man in the hat. “Also your faced is crinkled, not even my Ada has a crinkled face. He says that Elves do not age, except maybe in spirit.” Estel added earnestly.
The merry eyes regarded him and, “Well if that is what your Ada says, then it must be true.” the fascinating man said with a note of amusement in his voice. “And you are right little Master. I am not an Elf. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Gandalf the Grey.” At this he traced a deep bow.
Estel’s eyes were round as saucers as he watched the man bow low. A liking of the man in the grey robes took seed in the little boy’s heart. Met again with the twinkling grey eyes, Estel climbed down his Ada and grabbed the old man’s hand. “I have a horse named Gilgilath! He is really pretty! You’ll see!” and started to pull him toward the stables that were located down the hill.
Elrond laughed and declared, “Mithrandir, you are clearly among the favoured! Estel does not show his horse to just anyone!”
Gandalf laughed, “I am honoured.” Just then Estel let out a tiny sneeze as he pulled at the old wizard’s hand with the intention of leading him off to the stables.
“Wait, my little man! Was that a sneeze I just heard?” Elrond interjected, giving the little boy a stern look. “You had better pack yourself off to your Nana before you catch your death of cold. I’m not having a repeat of last summer when she gave me an earful when you came down with the sniffles. Elladan,”
The younger dark-haired elf looked up and did not bother to hide his smile at the memory of the Dunedain woman lecturing his august father like he was a forgetful schoolboy. “Yes, Ada?” he said as innocently as he could muster.
Elrond raised a quizzical eyebrow at his son’s mirth and then recognition dawned in his pale blue eyes he replied dryly, “Take our wet little charge to his nana and make sure he gets there!” He switched his gaze to pointedly stare at the small child. Preempting the protest that he could see forming in the precocious mind, “You can meet us in my study and then you can show Gandalf the stables after you have changed into dry clothes!” Estel closed his mouth around the unstated protest and meekly nodded, “Yes, Ada.”
Gilraen stood at the balcony’s railing, the russet coloured gauze-like curtains blowing across her face, and gazed upon the twin waterfalls that fed into the Bruinen. Residual mist fell lightly upon her face. It had been a little under three years from when she and little Estel had crossed over Rivendell’s borders. She closed her eyes to the beauty that surrounded her in remembered pain. Three years. At times it seemed that she had never lived anywhere else, that she had never lead a different life than the one she lead now. Other times it seemed like only yesterday she arrived, tired to the bone and heartsick, and was received into Elrond’s hospitality.
She thought back to that day, beyond it she tried not to go, because of memories both happy and sad that she simply could not deal with even now. Elmiran had spoken true. Imladris had brought a healing of sorts. It had been a slow process but Estel emerged from his self-imposed cocoon and blossomed under the care and attention lavished upon him by Elrond and the twins. In fact all of Rivendell had taken the bereft mother and child into their hearts. The depth of Gilraen’s gratitude for the kindness shown to her and her son by the Elves was boundless. They had given Estel back his smile.
The shouted word shook Gilraen from her musings. She chuckled softly to herself wondering what “treasure” her little love had brought with him today. His little chests and shelves were laden with treasure-turn-debris. Many of the same keepsakes found residence on her tables and shelves. She crossed the threshold of balcony and suite only to find her son hurriedly wringing out his dark green tunic making a small puddle in the middle of her weaving room floor and Elrond’s eldest son tapping his shoulder to gain his attention.
“Young master,” he said, motioning toward the balcony window.
Estel stopped wringing and looked where Elladan was pointing. “Nana! ‘Dan is going to teach me how to flip a fish. I tried myself but I fell in the river!”
“Really,” Gilraen said straight-faced, looking at Elladan sharing the laughter that she saw in his eyes. “Not before time, I should think!” she continued in mock sternness. A small sneeze prompted the immediate motherly response, “All right, ion nin. Time to get out of those wet clothes before you catch your death.” She crossed to where her still-damp son stood and looked at the eldest son of Elrond, “Thank you, Elladan, for delivering my mischievous little imp.”
“It was my pleasure, my Lady Gilraen.” the dark-haired elf’s star-filled eyes twinkled as he bowed touching his heart in farewell. “See you later, Muindyr nin,” he said, ruffling the already drying partially plaited black hair before his departed.
Gilraen turned her attention to her damp son, “Right,” she said emphatically, “Let’s get you out of these clothes, shall we? Arms up!” she commanded. The little boy flung his arms over his head as he was gently extracted from his wet clothes. Gilraen heard muffled words as she pulled the shirt up. Laughing she said, “Let’s try that again in words I can actually hear, hmm.”
Estel repeated his words in an excited fashion. “Ada’s back and he’s brought someone with him!!”
“Has he now?” Gilraen stated in a mildly disinterested way. Her interest in the world outside of Rivendell had grown less and less over the years since Arathorn’s death. It hurt less that way. To be too involved only reminded her of all that she had lost. She had achieved a fragile peace within herself and allowed very little to disturb it.
“Aye, he has! But he’s not an elf.” Estel imparted confidentially, “I think he is a man! Tall and all in grey and with a long, white beard.”
Gilraen stopped untwisting the wet shirt from inside out. She looked at her son long and hard. “What did you say he looked like?” she asked, a small, but undeniable flare of panic beginning to flare within her breast.
Estel stilled and looked at his naneth, noting the emerging signs of the “troubles” that plagued her infrequently. It always scared him she became sad and distant and at these times he feared that she would never find her way back. He nervously stumbled over his description this time, “He had a white beard and a long staff.” He added, “He looked very nice.” hoping to halt the onset of the her “troubles.”
Gilraen looked at the wide, worried eyes of her son and drew a deep breath in an effort to calm herself. She sensed his unease and drawing him close and gently rubbing his back saying, “I’m sure he is my love, I’m sure he is.” She hoisted him up into her arms and said, “It is time we get you into the bath, young master!”
Estel emphatically stated, “I don’t see why I have to take a bath! I’m already wet!”
Gilraen laughed again and carried her wet little charge to the bath. “Enough of delaying tactics.” As she undid her son’s plaits that drew his dark hair away from his face readying him for a good scrub, Gilraen reflected on how Elven Estel had become. In the few years since they taken refuge in Imladris, Sindarin had all but supplanted the Common Tongue, spoken by her people, as Estel’s native tongue. Or rather the two languages were melding themselves together in an uneven mix, with the Westron rapidly receding amid the onslaught of Sindarin words and ideas. He no longer called her “Mama” as he had started to. To him she was “Nana!” the endearment short for the Sindarin word for mother. He more often spoke Sindarin rather than Westron, in fact they both did. He remembered many words of Westron and within their own suite of rooms Gilraen spoke the Common Tongue to her son for it was important that he know and understand the language of his people, but by virtue of where they were living Sindarin had become his native tongue, whereas it would never be anything other than a second language for Gilraen.
As she combed his hair free of the tangle from the undone plaits, she felt a chagrin bordering on sadness that this was so, but like so many other things in her life they were unchangeable. Fate had decreed that Estel would grow up in Rivendell with no knowledge of whom he really was. It was unlike any fostering before him. All heirs of Isildur before Estel had known what their destiny was, for they had come to be sheltered in Imladris much later in life. Seven or eight had been the usual age for the child to be sent to Lord Elrond and taught the ways of the Eldar. Times and tragedy told differently for Gilraen and her son.
Just then a splash of water broke her train of thought and she looked at her bath-ready son quickly noting that his smile did not reach his eyes. Upset that she had yet again allowed her son to see her melancholy she quickly smiled and said, “All right, young master, into the water with you!” At this she tickled the sturdy five-year-old and promptly plopped the giggling child into the scented water of the sunken stonework bathing tub, splashing both she and the little boy. Laughing, Gilraen reached for the white, leaf shaped soap, wet it and began soaping down her son. She heard an indistinct little croak and looked back toward Estel’s crumpled clothes and saw his leggings move, a sure indicator that they were not alone. Estel had managed to bring along a little friend. She wondered who he was going to “introduce” the frog to next. Chuckling to herself, she began to scrub the boy in earnest. He needed to be clean for the amount of trouble he was about cause.
Properly dried off and dressed in a fresh tunic and pants of russet and forest green Estel bounded out his suite of rooms leaving his nana smiling after him. Excitedly he made a beeline for Elrond’s study. Not looking where he was going he rounded the corner and ran straight into solid midnight blue silk. Looking up he saw a mixture of amusement and bemusement sitting on an Elven face. “Young Master Estel you are simply going to have look where you are going when you are bounding about places!”
Putting his best earnest look, Estel stated, “Sorry, Elmiran.”
“You cannot fool me with that look, young master. I know it too well.” Elmiran said in mock sternness. The elf knelt on one knee to tickle the sturdy child. He loved this little boy and thought of the contrast between the precocious talkative child in front of him and the withdrawn little soul he had been he had first arrived a little under three years ago. Since then he had taken it upon himself to help bring the boy out of his shell. He stopped by the suite of rooms set aside for the boy and his naneth whenever his duties as Elrond’s page allowed him to do so bringing the then silent child little presents or simply sitting and talking. Eventually Estel opened up again and behind Elladan and Elrohir with whom the small boy shared a special relationship, Elmiran was one of his favoured companions. “So what is so important that you rush around corners heedless of another’s safety.”
Estel bubbled, “Ada has a companion in his study and I want show him ‘Lath!”
Knowing the child’s love for his horse, Elmiran nodded sagely, “I see. Well by all means you must be on your way for such an important mission.” He ended, humour evident in his voice. “Off you go, little master,” Elmiran stepped to one side in a grand sweeping motion. Estel giggled and with a backwards look to the young Elf he continued hurriedly in the direction of Elrond’s study looking forward just in time to avoid another Elf going about his daily business. Elmiran watched as the collision was narrowly averted. He closed his mouth around the almost shouted warning and chuckled instead as he again made his way along the corridor that had been temporarily impeded the small bundle of energy known as Isildur’s heir.
Estel ran into the study eager to see his Ada and the tall grey man. “Ada! I’m back! All clean and scrubbed!”
Elrond and Gandalf, sitting on the chair and divan sofa at corners in the center of the room, immediately stopped their whispered conversation and turned amused looks onto the small whirlwind that had just burst through the door. Gandalf, somewhat unsuccessfully, tried to hide a smile, as the boisterous child launched himself into Elrond’s lap, eliciting a rather undignified “Umph! from the Lord of Rivendell. Elrond shot him a look of amused forbearance as he adjusted the rambunctious bundle of child on his lap. “You smell so fresh and clean, my young master! Any dirt behind the ears?” At this Elrond’s voice rang out with mock sternness, “I do not know. I think I will have to check!” Elrond bent one ear and then the other. “All right. Inspection done. I deem you properly clean and fresh enough to speak with our honoured guest.”
Estel giggled and turned his attention to the tall grey personage sitting on the divan sofa. He scrambled down from his Ada’s lap and seated himself on the open portion of the sofa looking at the fascinating man in an expectant fashion. This seemed to amuse the old man and his face broke into a wide smile. “Well now! My good little man. You are so big and strong. Whatever are they feeding you here in Imladris?”
“Mostly stuff that’s good for me they say,” Estel said wrinkling his nose is distaste. “But sometimes my nana makes me honey-cakes and Elmiran brings me spiced candy! It’s really good! Also I go fishing and Elladan says that I can eat whatever I catch!”
Gandalf laughed, “And how many is that?”
“None so far,” the small boy replied looking aggrieved, “But,” the little face bore as stern a resolve as a five-year old can hold, “I will, though. Just watch!” Gandalf saw the serious look and replied seriously, “I believe you will, my lad, I believe you will.” Just then, all present all heard a rather indignant croak and Estel’s leather pouch began to move. Gandalf laughed cheerily, his serious mood evaporating under peals of delighted laughter. Estel reached into his pocket and pulled out a rather large frog.
Elrond, eyes to the heavens, said, “Estel, come here.” The little boy slid off the chair and walked over his Adar. “What have I told you about taking frogs out of their pond homes and carrying them around with you. Hmm.”
“You said that it was not fair to the frog to be removed from its home. That frogs need to be around rivers and ponds in order to be happy.” The little boy replied biting his lower lip fretfully. He looked at his Ada with eyes showing trepidation, “Am I in trouble now?”
Elrond hoisted the child, frog in hand, up onto his lap, sitting him across his legs. “No, you are not in trouble, Estel.” He replied briskly, “Only you have to remember,” the Elven lord continued, “All living creature thrive best where there is a place to grow and be happy. We must learn to respect their ways. Do you understand?” Elrond looked into the earnest grey eyes and saw that his point had at least started to work its ways into the heart of the little boy.
“Aye, Ada. But he was injured!” Estel said in his own defense. “See!” At that Estel put the frog on top of the table next to at Elrond’s chair and dangerously close to the decanter of fine Dorwinian vintage that Elrond and Gandalf had been sharing. Just as the frog’s feet hit the table, he hopped in a completely uninjured way and straight into the decanter. The frog stopped, momentarily stunned, and the wine went flying. Estel, eager to correct the situation, quickly reached across his Ada to save the frog and in the process a knee caught the edge of the table toppling it back, the momentum taking Estel and Elrond’s empty wine glass with it. Landing with a gentle bump amid a crumpled tablecloth and the broken crystal of glass and decanter Estel sat and triumphantly held up his left arm clenching something, “My frog!”
For the first few seconds after all had become still again, Elrond sat in his chair looking at his charge, anger and amusement warring for supremacy upon his brow, “Estel, you have got to be more careful!” he began reprimanding, but relief that his little son was uninjured and the delighted look on his small face cooled Elrond’s anger. Estel began to stand, “Stay where you are!” commanded the father and the son immediately stilled. Getting up, Elrond explained, “There is broken glass all around and I do not want you cutting yourself.” Grey eyes wide, Estel nodded his understanding and waited as his Ada lifted him from amid the debris, placing him closer to the door. Elrond called to his page waiting attendance on his door, “Send for some help to clear this up,” Intal, a dark haired elf dressed in Rivendell livery, spied the glass on the floor and sent a knowing yet indulgent look in Estel’s direction.
“Right away, my lord.” he intoned with his hand over his heart and sped away upon his errand.
“Well, then,” Elrond turned back to his guest and his charge, “Did not you say you wanted to show Gilgilath to Gandalf?” he finished, careful to stand in front of the broken glass so that his little son would not run through it in his excitement.
“Oh Aye, Ada!” the boy ran around his Ada’s chair to get Gandalf off the divan and drag him towards the stable. “I want to you to see my horse!” He grabbed at the old wizard’s hand and pulled as only a five-year-old on a mission can pull. Gandalf laughed and looked down his long crooked nose at the dark-haired child with the eager gray eyes. He tossed an amused look at Elrond and said, “Lead the way, young master!” With this the tall and the small walked out of the study down to the little flowering path that lead to the stable. Estel began chattering away about his horse.
“Gilgilath and I have grown up together! I have had him ever since I can remember! ‘Dan had a special saddle made for me, and he and ‘Roh have started teaching me how to ride. Although I’m not supposed to ride ‘Lath when they’re not with me.” Estel stated earnestly.
Gandalf was listening with interest not only at the words being said, but the language they were said in. Estel, as would any small Elven child, spoke Sindarin as if he were born to it. Thinking about it Gandalf realized with a bit of a shock, in essence he was to born to it. Elrond had written three years ago that the child had arrived, so he had been living in Imladris for most of his young life. No wonder then that he should speak Sindarin. Curious, Gandalf thought to test something. In Westron, he casually enquired, “How often do Elladan and Elrohir take you riding?”
Without looking up or missing a beat, Estel answered in Westron, “When they are not too busy. About two or three times a week.”
Thick white eyebrows shot up in mild astonishment. He can understand and speak both Elvish and Westron without thought. Casting his mind towards a desired future Gandalf thought that this spoke well for the task that was to be set before this little boy happily dragging him to towards the stables.
Estel released the old man’s hand and ran toward a black stallion with a star-shaped spot on his nose that clearly knew its own worth. The stallion whinnied softly as he recognized his little master and gently nuzzled the boy’s face, licking his ear. Estel laughed delightedly and flipped up the top of a wooden hinged box to retrieve a carrot as treat for the black stallion. Gandalf immediately recognized the horse as one not of Elven get but a northern breed. Making a mental note to discuss this interesting development with Elrond when the opportunity suggested itself Gandalf cheerily sang out in Sindarin again, “He is a fine horse, indeed.” as he strode forward. He waited however for little Estel to give permission for him to touch Gilgilath.
The little boy looked up at the tall man towering over him. The young boy had had very little experience with Men having lived as long as he could remember among the Eldar nestled within the verdant ravine of Imladris. In fact he had never been beyond its borders and yet he felt somehow that he could trust the man with the long grey beard. After all he sensed that his Ada trusted this stranger and that was good enough for Estel. Pensively biting his lower lip, the boy looked back at Gilgilath and then peered up at the tall man. “You could put me on ‘Lath’s back. I’m sure that Ada would not mind.” Earnest grey eyes sought Gandalf’s acceptance of such sound reasoning.
Gandalf looked down at the precocious grey eyes of the child. Laughing just a bit before giving in Gandalf said, “Well, my lad! I think you just might be right!” He unlatched the gate to Gilgilath’s stall and fed him a carrot out of the same wooden box petting the silky black coat while the horse munched on the treat. Lifting the nearby leather saddle exquisitely etched with twinning leaves upon the seat Gandalf placed it upon the horse’s back, receiving a slight, food-muffled whinny for his troubles. After cinching the saddle in place, he reached down for the solid little boy and hefted him into the saddle of the strapping black stallion. Boy and stallion seemed made for each other. Gandalf wondered again who had presented him with such a fine horse as he checked the adjustment of the stirrups and said, “The paddock adventurous enough for you today, young master?”
Estel nodded his head; his black curls and plaits bobbing enthusiastically. Gandalf looked at the young boy of whom so much was to be asked, of whom so much was hoped. Estel. He was aptly named by Elrond. Looking at the child, Gandalf sensed that he would indeed bring hope. The Maia smiled into those expectant young eyes as he led the dark stallion out of his stall and into the bright light of the paddock.
A/N: In the timeline Aragorn doesn't actually meet Gandalf until after he's left Rivendell and is in his 20s, but I thought about it and I thought it was be nice to actually bring Gandalf into the story while Aragorn is still a child, so further strengthen the bonds between future king and wizard. Also I thought it would be fun!!
About Estel speaking both languages more or less fluently I read up what the effects of large exposure to two different languages on very young children just beginning to acquire language are. It turns out that if children are exposed young enough (i.e. at the time of first language acquisition, around age 2 or 3) then they will more learn both languages very well. One might take precedence, but not necessarily. I have chosen Sindarin to take precedence over Westron because I think it will help generate storylines later on in the story! Hopefully! :-))
Chapter 12 “I will learn”
Summer 2941 TA
The bowstring sang and the arrow flew straight and landed with a predictable and yet still satisfying “thuwp!” as it hit the practice target boss made of tightly bound together straw placed 30 feet away. Elladan lowered his bow and looked down at his young charge, holding his own specially carved bow and enviously looking at the perfect placing of the arrow. “Estel, can you see what I did? Can you tell me why the arrow flew true and straight?”
The ten year-old boy looked back at his foster brother, and for a moment Elladan thought he saw his dear friend, Arathorn looking back at him through young eyes. The moment passed as the child’s voice answered, “Aye, your elbow was straight and you stilled your release hand and then released the arrow. But ‘Dan I did exactly the same thing and mine still did not fly right!” Estel ended with an exasperated tone.
“That’s only because you need the practice, muindor nin!” came a voice from behind him. Estel looked in the direction of the voice and saw Elladan’s twin brother, Elrohir joining them, bow in hand. “You know,” he said a theatrical whisper, “My brother was not always this good, I remember when he was not much older than you, shooting a squirrel when he was aiming for the target!”
Elrohir shot an amused look at Elladan, who laughingly leapt to his own defense, “I was aiming for the leaf behind the squirrel, the poor squirrel just happen to get in the way!”
“Poor squirrel indeed! Elladan was so upset that he took the little thing to Adar to try and save it.” Elrohir continued.
“Adar said that he would try. I remember being racked with guilt. I could not even eat supper that evening. ”
“Good thing you did not! As I remember we had squirrel pie!”
“We did not. Later Adar said that the squirrel made a full recovery.”
“He said that, aye. But what really happened…well.”
Elladan glared at Elrohir, who was clearly enjoying baiting his older brother. Elrohir was always commenting upon his brother’s soft heart saying it would be his downfall. The truth was they shared the same heart, but Elrohir was loath to admit to such weakness. If he did then he could not taunt his older brother, something he took far too much delight in.
“Just shoot your bow and have done with this silly conversation.” Elladan said with mock sternness. Turning his attention upon the smirking ten-year-old, “My Little brother,” Elladan’s voice emphasized “little”, “does have one good point at least,” An undignified “gawf!” was heard from Elrohir’s direction after he let fly a perfectly loosed arrow landing dead center of his chosen target. Estel emitted a short laugh before returning his attention back towards Elladan and his instruction, “You will improve; all it takes is practice. When you are older you will develop into a fine archer.”
Estel sighed; it was all he was ever told. When he was older. Practice. Practice. Practice. Determined to make a good shot he lifted his bow and made ready to shoot. He calmed his mind, stilled his elbow and aimed for the target and let fly the arrow. Five more of his specially made arrows found their path into the boss before Elladan would allow him to retrieve. Anxious to read his success Estel, still clutching his small bow, fairly ran the thirty paces to the boss, leaving his foster brothers, who needed to retrieve their own arrows, in his excited wake. “ ‘Dan! ‘Roh! Look!” His grouping was not entirely successful. Two had strayed far off the mark, but sitting there nestled in the dead center of the target was one of his small white fletched arrows and another was close to it.
“Most successful, muindor nin! Most successful! I think we will make an archer of you sooner than expected!” Elladan said, kneeling next to the excited child, and tousling the boy’s long braided hair, his smiling blueeyes filled with praise for the child.
A laugh was heard from the adjacent boss, “ I think we will indeed, and no poor squirrel will have to pay the price for such achievement, either!” Elrohir chimed in to further tease his older brother. Elladan shot him a look of amused annoyance, “Just keep at it, ‘Roh, and I’ll start to list a few of your less successful training escapades, Hmm! Like the time you tried to mount Adar’s horse thinking that…”
“All right, all right! Truce! Truce!” Elrohir quickly cut off his older brother, laughing. “No more mention of the unfortunate squirrel and its untimely demise!”
But by this time Estel’s interest had been piqued. “No! What happened!?” The boy looked Elrohir expectantly.
“Aye, ‘Roh, What happened?” Elladan echoed, looking his younger brother’s discomfiture with a mischievous glint in his eye.
Elrohir shot his older a murderous ‘I’ll get you for this’ look, which of course caused Elladan’s grin to grow even larger. “Not much, I tried to ride Adar’s horse.” Elrohir stopped and shrugged, hoping that would bring an end to the embarrassing episode.
But Elladan would not let allow the story to remain untold. “You are being far too modest in the telling of this tale!” The older dark-haired Elf looked back after Estel. “Allow me to flesh out some of the details that Elrohir seemingly wants left out.”
The younger Elf harrumphed and returned to pulling from the boss with a little more energy than was needed and nearly losing the point from one of his arrows.
Elladan continued, “Well, it was when ‘Roh was not much older than you. Adar had this big black stallion named Niphredil--”
Estel barked out a laugh, “He named a big, black stallion Snowdrop?”
Elladan smiled, answering, “Oh Aye! Adar can have a rather ironic sense now and then. As I was saying, he had this big black stallion that only Ceredir, our master horse trainer who sailed for the West centuries ago, could tame. Well, Roh had taken to riding most quickly--”
“Even quicker than you, mellmuindor nin! I might add.” Elrohir interjected.
Elladan shot him an amused look, “I grant you that, he did learn quicker than I.” Turning back to Estel, “But you know what they say, ‘Pride goeth before the fall,’ in this case literally!” he announced with glee. “Roh, here, fancied himself a great horseman and bragged one morning at break fast that he had watched Ceredir all afternoon and saw the masterful way the master horseman handled Niphredil and that he fancied that he could control the black stallion as well as, if not better than Ceredir. Naneth said something about she was sure when Roh became older that he could and maybe he would like to study the art of the horse master when he got older. Well, I remember looking at Adar who had been peaceably drinking his wine, setting his goblet down and looking hard at the excited look on my brother’s face. He quickly said, ‘Elrohir, look at me. You will not bother Ceredir and you will not try to ride Niphredil. Is that clear?’ Roh played innocent saying that he had not even thought of such a thing. Adar looked doubtful saying ‘Aye? I know you too well, ion nin!’ ”
“Well, needless to say, Roh did not listen and that day he told Ceredir that Adar needed to see him.” Elladan broke off his story to look at Elrohir, who was again doing his best to look innocent and convincing no one. Elladan just laughed and continued on with his story. “Within minutes Roh did gain Niphredil’s back, just quickly he gained the ground after Niphredil threw him. But did that deter our intrepid horseman? Nay, it did not. I think he was thrown three times before an even more frightening situation presented itself. Adar appearing at the paddock fence with a concerned Ceredir at his heels.”
Elrohir interrupted with a shudder, “I do not recall ever seeing Adar more angry than at that moment. It was not a pretty sight! I can still hear him shouting in that commanding voice, ELROHIR HALF-ELVEN, you will stand before me NOW! I stood there quaking in my little leather boots. After he examined me thoroughly to confirm whether I was hurt or not, (it might have gone easier for me had I been!)” Elrohir mused, “he said in a tight, low voice, ‘You will apologise to Ceredir to for your lie!’ I remember saying in a small voice, because that was all I could muster at the time, that I was sorry. Adar then sent me to our rooms! I could not sit about a week and I had clean out the horse stalls for a month. But I did manage to sit that horse for a few seconds.” Elrohir finished triumphantly. After a pointed nudge from Elladan he added “But of course, it was the wrong thing to do. I should not have disobeyed Adar like that.”
Elladan looked at the small gleam of interest in Estel’s grey eyes and thought it best to continue on with their archery practice, “Let us finish retrieving arrows and continue on with our practice and afterwards perhaps Cook will have some spice cakes ready for us to eat for a little treat.”
“Spice cakes!” Estel began to pull his arrows with energy and started to run back to the shooting line.
They spend another half hour shooting, and Elladan thought Estel suitably distracted from the tale of Elrohir’s mishap with the horse. Alas, small boys with an idea are not easily distracted, even when a spice cake is involved.
At break fast Gilraen should have known that something was going on in that precocious little mind. When she asked what Estel had planned for that afternoon after he finished his lessons with Glorfindel, he was rather noncommittal. All he said was, “Oh I don’t know. I’ll find something to do.” Gilraen looked at Elrond seated across from her at the breakfast table and saw the Sindarin Lord raise an eyebrow. As experience had taught them over the years, an idle Estel could only get into mischief. The child was too curious by half. The kitchens and the craft rooms had learned of the boy’s rapacious curiosity the hard way when he peered into to pots too tall for him and asking endless questions about this or that or having accidentally unraveled a day’s work. They learned it was best to have “projects” ready for him should he pay them a visit. It was not that they minded the boy’s company. He was a delightful child, but could still be an inquisitive handful when not occupied with something.
“Estel,” Elrond began, setting down his berry cakebread, “I’ll be busy in council in the early afternoon but if you want you can join me in the herbarium afterwards, say half past midday?”
“Could I?” Grey eyes lit with excitement at the thought of sharing time in the herbarium with his Ada. Herbs held all kinds mysteries and secrets to learn about and when Elrond extended the rare invitation with work with his herbs it was not to be missed.
Elrond with a conspiratorial look at Gilraen thought the matter closed and again picked up his berry cake. Gilraen returned the smile, but cast another look at her son. She would also like to think the matter closed, but she knew her son’s face far too well and looking at him now trying to look innocent made her suspicious. Unfortunately there was nothing to be done about it. She, too, was busy in the early afternoon, supervising the daily weaving in the solarium. She looked back at Elrond munching peacefully on his cake and perusing a parchment in front of him. Their relationship had developed during the almost eight years she had been living in Imladris into one of friendship built upon their mutual love of the little boy that ate his break fast between them.
Elrond had been extraordinarily kind to not just Estel, but to her. He had done his best to give her some sort of structure to her life in Rivendell so that she did not feel so completely an outsider in this beautiful haven of Elven peacefulness and cheer. As he had no wife of his own through tragic circumstances, as she was to come to understand, he allowed her to have her own responsibilities in the running of his household. He said it would be nice to have a woman’s touch about the place. The Last Homely House ran quite smoothly from what she could tell, but again she appreciated having duties and responsibilities once more. She sensed that he still remembered what it was like to lose the one whom you loved more than life itself and he had somehow managed to live through the pain of separation. Of course all of this remained unsaid, for Elrond did not confide in her with regard to such feelings. But theirs was a friendly relationship and the pain of needful separation from her people and her family were made less by these considerations. Primarily they spoke of Estel and what was best for him, along with matters dealing with the running of his house. Such thoughts brought her back to her son and the look of strained innocence upon his face.
Breaking into her thoughts were the words, “And is my young pupil yet ready to enter the realm of study?” Glorfindel announced his presence in this way as he bowed slightly to Elrond.
Estel crammed the last of his hot buttered berry cake into his mouth and said, “Aye, Ah um!”
Glorfindel laughed, “Chewing your food before engaging your mouth to speak might work just a bit better, young master! Let us try that again and then you can answer me in an intelligible fashion. Hmmm!” The Elf Lord peered down his nose at his young charge.
Estel swallowed some black currant juice from a silver goblet and then did as Glorfindel instructed. “Aye, I am ready. Let’s go! What are we talking about today?” Estel eagerly looked toward his Ada to be excused from the table.
Elrond nodded his permission, saying, “Ah, So eager, Estel. It is good to see.”
“Aye the sooner we start the sooner we finish!” Estel stated emphatically.
Glorfindel laughed, “And here I thought it was an unquenchable thirst for knowledge that had you so excited!”
Estel had the decency to looked slightly abashed and turned earnest grey eyes upon the Elven Lord, “Oh I did not mean that! It just that I have don’t have archery today and there’s lots I want to do.”
Glorfindel chuckled, “Well, let us get to it then, I would not want to keep you from your busy schedule.”
Estel hopped down from his chair to make his way out only to be stopped by Elrond, “Remember, ion nin, half past midday in the herbarium and,” he said more pointedly, “No getting into mischief,”
Estel quickly shook his head, “I’ll remember!”
“Off you go now and give your mother a kiss!” Gilraen said. Estel obliged and then trotted off after Glorfindel.
Gilraen peered at Elrond, “Just what do you think that was about.”
Elrond shook his head, “I do not know, but I am afraid we will find out soon enough,” and returned to his berry cake and parchment.
It was during the time that the stable hands took their afternoon meal so the stable was empty. Estel approached his Ada’s stables where his new strawberry roan stood. This animal had scared him from the first time the little boy saw the great beast. It was funny that it should because Gilgilath was almost as big as the roan, but there was something in Carannin’s eye that unnerved yet challenged the boy.
As soon as Estel entered the stable Gilgilath’s head picked up quickly, expectant that he would soon be lead out in the paddock and out on the many favoured trails that he and Estel loved to trace. So it was much to Gilgilath’s surprise that Estel merely patted his head and fed him a carrot out of the small feedbox near his stall before moving past him in a determined fashion.
Estel neared Carannin’s stall; as soon as the roan sighted the boy it started to snort and stomp slightly in its stall. Estel stood there, at first mesmerized by the size of the animal, but then shook himself slightly and emboldened by Elrohir’s story of horse-taming strode forth in what he hoped was a confident, commanding fashion.
First he tried to appease the large snorting animal by feeding it a carrot. Gilgilath loved them so he figured that perhaps Carannin would, too. He was right, at least partially; the horse readily took the carrot, but did not show any signs of calming down. Estel remained undeterred.
With some effort he lifted the saddle, that had been made for Gilgilath, to place it on the strawberry roan’s back, but he stopped to wonder whether it was a good idea to place a foreign saddle on Carannin’s back. He thought back to the last time the stable hands had the horse out in the paddock for training and replaced the saddle remembering that Carannin had been broken without a saddle. He paused to briefly think about the wisdom of this adventure, he had only been riding bareback for only a few months and only on Gilgilath, but he decided that he had come this far, there was no backing out at this point. He would prove that he was every bit as good a horseman as Elrohir was at his age. He was no longer a child; he was ten years old. Estel opened the stall door and under the disapproving eye of Gilgilath, he started to lead the horse out of his stall. The boy looked at back his horse and said, “Don’t you look at me like that! I will be fine!” Gilgilath snorted disbelievingly and continued to look on sternly. Estel pointedly ignored him and resumed leading Carannin out into the paddock murmuring what he hoped were comforting and reassuring noises.
He mounted the horse with the help of a fence and sat atop the huge strawberry roan and surveyed his world. This sense of achievement lasted exactly two seconds. This was how long it took Carannin to realize that an inexperienced horseman sat him. He reared up and the last thing Estel heard was the stableman’s voice call out, “Young Master Estel, dismount immediately!” That instruction was quickly followed, Carannin threw the boy and all went black.
When he opened his eyes and he immediately wanted to close them again as the world started to spin. Opening them again, he looked up into the worried face of his Ada. Elrond was kneeling at the child’s head and whispering, “Shhh-Shhh! How do you feel? Can you move at all?” Estel thought he heard a tenor of worry running through a voice striving to remain calm. The boy made to get up only to be restrained gently by his Ada’s hand. Estel nodded his head, tried to move his right arm, which was pinned at a strange angle and shrieked with pain. His Ada’s face went ashen white and but calmly said, “Where does it hurt?”
“My arm, it hurts, Ada! It hurts!” the little boy cried.
“I know it does, my love. Does anywhere else hurt?”
“My head. I’m all dizzy, Ada! Make it stop!”
“I will, my love. First things first though, hmm. Famvir!” he commanded.
The Elf that ran attendance on the Lord of Imladris knelt at his Lord’s side, “Yes, milord.”
“Run to my herbarium and bring me my medicine bag!”
“At once, milord.” The elf ran off to complete his task.
The Lord of Imladris turned his attention back towards his injured charge, “Now, my love, lie still,” he said as he took off his outer robe, wadding it up to make a pillow for his son’s head. “I must look you over to see if you are hurt anywhere else.”
The child whimpered as Elrond laid Estel’s injured arm a bit straighter so to examine the rest of him.
“Tell me if this hurts.” Elrond said, as he motioned the stable hand to help straighten the boy and keep him calm as the Lord of Rivendell examined the rest of the boy’s body. Seemingly nothing else had been broken.
During the examination a frantic Gilraen had made her way to the paddock after being paged about the boy’s fall.
“Estel!” she sobbed as she dropped on the side opposite the one being tended by Elrond. “What happened? How is he?”
“It seems that our headstrong son, my lady, tried to tame Carannin! And none too successfully at that.”
At this the stable hand stepped up and continued the story as far as he knew it. “You see milady, Intal and I broke for lunch. When I came back to the stables a bit early after my morning skin of wine I had forgotten, I saw little Estel on top of Carannin. I shouted that he get off immediately, but by then the horse had reared and bucked throwing him into the grass.” Gilraen’s complexion grew more and more ashen as she heard the story unfold.
Elrond looked up at this point his calm voice belying by the worry deep in his pale blue eyes. “It is only a broken wrist and a blow to the head. I think there will be no permanent damage.”
“I feel funny, Ada.” Estel said in a sleepy voice, “Like I want to fall asleep.”
Immediately Elrond sat the boy upright causing him to cry out, as his broken wrist was none too gently jarred. “My Lord, what are you doing? His wrist.” Gilraen said, stunned that Elrond could be so ungentle.
He paid her no mind as he stared into Estel’s sleepy grey eyes. “Estel, ion nin! Listen to me. I know you are feeling sleepy, but you must not give in to sleep. If you do you may never wake up. Do you understand me, ion nin! You must stay awake.”
Gilraen was quite panicked by now. “My Lord, what do you mean?” she asked in a quick worried voice.
“I mean, My Lady, that Estel received a knock on the head and if we are not careful the sleeping sickness will fall upon him. From this I may not be able to revive him.”
“Famvir!” He shouted as he spied the running elf just entering the paddock area, “Inside my bag there is a herb extract that will cause wakefulness. It is a dark syrup stoppered in red.”
Famvir quickly located and unstoppered the vial and passed it to Elrond who smelled it to assure himself that it was the proper vial then quickly upended it into Estel’s mouth holding the child’s nose closed to ensure that the medicine was indeed swallowed. The boy winced at the bitter taste, but his eyes looked a little more awake as the minutes passed.
Content that the boy would remain wakeful at least for the moment, Elrond gently placed the injured arm in a sling and he picked him up and carried him up the path to his suite of rooms, Gilraen following. Upon entering Estel’s bedchamber he sat the child on the bed held by the arms of his naneth. The two healers that he sent Famvir for had already arrived and were preparing a tea for the pain and special wrappings for the broken wrist. Elrond went to check on their process and brought the tea over for Estel to drink.
Sitting on his bed Estel looked pale but alert and was staring after Elrond. Big grey eyes watched as Elrond walked back over to the bed with the mug of tea in his hand. “Drink this, Estel. It will help with the pain.” Elrond put the mug into his good hand and Gilraen helped him drink it all down.
Elrond was preparing the splint and wraps when from behind him when he heard a small, “I’m sorry, Ada.” The band of worry and anger that had been tightening around his heart since he had heard that Estel had tried riding the horse slowly began to loosen at those contrite words. He turned around and saw the little boy encircled by his naneth’s arms looking at him with pain-dulled wide grey eyes.
“Thank you, Estel. But it is not to me you should be apologizing, but to yourself.” Seeing confusion cloud the child’s eyes he withheld the necessary lecture until a time more conducive to understanding. “But that discussion is for another time. Just answer me one question. Where in Iluvatar’s bright world did you get the idea to try and ride Carannin?”
“Yesterday during Archery practice ‘Roh was telling me about the story about how when he was an Elfing and tamed your Niphredil.”
Elrond’s eyes grew wide with shock and astonishment. Will my two sons EVER learn? He would be having a discussion with those two when they returned from their trip in a few days’ time. Outwardly he said as he gingerly swabbed Estel’s arm with a salve intended to reduce swelling and aid in the healing of broken bones, “And did Elrohir tell you what happened afterward.”
“He said he could not sit for a week.
Elrond hid a smile. Well he remembered the event. He had been so frightened when he saw Elrohir up on that horse. Much the same fear had flooded over him today. “I seem to recall it was longer than that. But that is also story for another day.” He looked at Gilraen, “I think I need to have a talk with my sons.” Gilraen, looking chagrined, nodded her assent.
“I’m sorry, ion nin that I cannot give you anything stronger for the pain but I cannot have you sleep until tomorrow night, so setting your wrist is going to be painful,” He handed the little boy a wooden spoon that had many other teeth marks are already on it. “Whenever you feel pain bite down this spoon. It will help you deal with it.”
After fifteen minutes of painful work Elrond had the bones set in a splint and clean ointment soaked bandages wrapped next to the skin. Estel was then cleaned up and placed in bed with a mug of healing tea placed within good arm’s length.
“I will stay and keep first watch and make sure that he takes his medicine,” Gilraen said to a tired Elrond.
“That will be good. I will tend to a few matters and then return to check in. Remember no sleeping.”
“I’m not likely to forget.” Gilraen said a bit wryly.
“No, of course not. Forgive me.”
He looked at Estel and saw in his eyes that the painkiller was started to take full effect. “You are not to give you Nana any trouble.”
“I promise, Ada,” came the earnest reply.
At that Elrond left naneth and son alone. Elrond gained his study before giving in to the swirling emotions within him. Anger, fear, panic and genuine worry crowded around him as he stood on his balcony overlooking the two waterfalls that fed into the Loudwater. Of course little Estel was the hope to restore the Dunedain and best hope to defeat the darkness that would try to engulf Middle Earth. But it was more than that, he had provided refuge for the Heirs of Isildur for generations, and seen each in their turn travel beyond the veil to receive the Gift of Iluvatar. He mourned them in his own way as the passing of a mortal friend. But Estel was special, he was not just the Heir of Isildur, the representative Dunedain hope, the difference was that Elrond loved him, he realized in a flash, as his son. He was not just his foster father but his Adar, the only Adar that Estel had ever really known. And the fact that he had come close to death this day both angered and scared him more than he would like to admit to anymore. Elladan and Elrohir would have quite a bit of explaining to do when they got back after the morrow.
Elladan sat on his horse and sipped from his wineskin as his horse slurped the fresh, clean waters of the Bruinen. He felt at peace now that they had slipped across the border of his homeland. As he looked around at the lush green hills that lead to the ravine in which Imladris was nestled, he could feel the trees singing their welcome into his heart and he was made whole once more. He and his brother loved this land more than life itself. He knew others who were called to the Sea to take ship for the Undying Lands, but he could never understand such longing. Given all that he and Elrohir traveled among the lands of Men in their quest to rid said lands of such filth as Orcs, he knew that he could never forsake Imladris for his heart and soul bound to this land. Sever it and he would die.
Elrohir broke into his thoughts, unsurprisingly putting voice to feelings that mirrored his twin brother’s, “It is good to be home once again, is it not, muindor nin.”
“Aye, it is.” Elladan smiled gently. “My only regret is the news that we bring from the White Council. The conflict begins, muindor nin. And I know not how it will end. Adar has long looked for this, but its beginning will sadden him greatly.”
“Aye, but we best get on,” Elrohir said as he mounted his horse, “Bad tidings only get worse with the delay of telling.”
Within an hour they were in sight of the Last Homely House. As they stabled their horses, Elmiran appeared bowing slightly with hand on heart, “Mae Govannen, milords, your Adar wishes to see you as soon as you have settled.”
“Mae Govannen, Elmiran. We have much to say.” Elladan returned the greeting, wondering the worried look on the face of Elrond’s chief attendant. Had they already heard? he wondered.
“As does Lord Elrond.” Elmiran bowed and took his leave without another word causing Elladan to first look quizzically at Elmiran’s departing form and then at Elrohir, who shook his head, saying only, “We shall find what Adar needs to say in due time.”
After quickly settling, they were at the entrance to Elrond’s study as the page announced their presence to Lord Elrond.
“Mae Govannen, ionnath nin. I trust your journey was eventful.” Elrond was seated at his desk and motioned that they should help themselves to the wine sitting on the near table. Elrohir noticed the strained tenor in his Adar’s voice and a flare of worry lit inside his heart as he poured wine into the crystal goblet sitting next to the decanter.
“Aye, Adar. We have grim tidings.” Elladan replied after taking a little of the fine vintage that Elrond kept in his study.
Elrond’s face darkened slightly at the words and he leaned forward, elbows on desk pyramiding his fingers at his mouth, “Continue.”
“It has been agreed that the White Council should form an attack on Dul Guldur itself, to drive the Necromancer from his fortress. It has begun, Adar.”
A look resigned sadness crossed Elrond’s face. “So it shall be. Which renders what I have to say next of tantamount importance.” Elrond tenor changed to one of suppressed anger. “Right now, little Estel lies in his bed asleep after a long wakeful night because he was thrown from Carannin after trying to ride him.”
Both twins visibly paled, “Is he all right?” “What happened to him?” “Can we see him?” they questioned after hearing the dire words spoken.
Elrond looked daggers at his miscreant sons. “He received a nasty blow to the head from which I feared the sleeping sickness would take him and he has broken his right wrist. You may see him later, he has finally been allowed to sleep and I would not have you disturbing him. First you must deal with me.” Elladan realize that it was not only sorrow that darkened his Adar’s eyes but anger as well. Anger leveled at he and his brother. He did not have wait long for its explanation.
“Do you know why he tried to ride Carannin?” Not waiting for an answer, “I asked him why he would try such a foolhardy thing. And do you know what he said?” Elrond’s anger was on a slow burn growing hotter by the second.
Elladan ventured, “No, m’lord. We do not.”
“Because you gave him the idea.” Elrond leveled.
Elrohir looked genuinely shocked, “What? How? We never suggested that he ride the beast.”
“Not in so many words, no. But you did tell him the story about your riding Niphredil? Did you not?” Elrohir paled and gulped. “And that is enough to put ideas in his child’s mind.” Elrond paused to see the effect his word had on his two sons. Gratified, he continued in a less angry tone, “He idolizes you two. You are his brothers and he looks up to you and wants to someday be your equal.”
Realisation flooded over Elrohir along with acceptance and responsibility and as he cast his eyes downward he said, “I’m sorry, Adar. I did not think. I did not realize.” Looking up into his Adar’s eyes, “I never meant to cause him harm.”
Elrond’s eyes softened at his younger son’s contrition, and he stated solemnly, “I know you did not, ion nin. But you must remember that he idolizes you two and it is your responsibility to set a good example so that he will learn. Now more than ever, considering that the Time is at hand. He must be ready. Besides.” Elrond’s tone lightened considerably, “He finds quite enough mischief by himself without you two giving him ideas.”
Elrohir’s eyes lightened as he smiled, “That he most certainly does.”
Elrond looked from one of his grown sons to the other. They returned the look. Elrond pushed his chair back and came around his desk to stand before them and place a hand on each son’s shoulder. “You may see him in the morning. He needs his rest. Now join me at the sofa. You must tell me all that was said at the White Council.”
There they sat for the next hours discussing all that would involve the coming of the storm.
The next morning Estel woke to more than one familiar face. His naneth was wiping his forehead, but sitting on the bed and a chair near were Elladan and Elrohir, both looking rather sheepish. “Dan! Roh!” Estel struggled to get into a sitting position.
“Shh-Shh! Tithen-nin! There is no need to get up.” Elladan hastily stated as he got up from the corner of the bed. “We’ve just come to see that you are all right.”
Estel chimed, “Oh, Ada says that I will be fine. I’m feeling much better now that you are here! Did they tell that I tried to ride Carannin!?” He looked excitedly at Elrohir who immediately looked abashed and somewhat scared, which confused Estel a great deal. He had never seen Elrohir look so unhappy.
“Yes, they did,” Elrohir said in a quiet and subdued voice. “Promise me you will never try to do anything like that again.” He finished sternly.
Estel looked confused and a little upset, “I thought you would like it! And be proud of me.”
The dark-haired Elf rose from his chair to stand closer to the bed and grasp Estel’s good hand, “Proud that you risked your safety needlessly. No, My little love. You should never risk your life needlessly. What I did as an Elfling was silly and foolish, but I did not injure myself so perhaps I did not fully appreciate the silliness of my actions. But when I heard that you had almost killed yourself because of something I did,” The Elf paused for a moment, “It is not something that I am proud of. Taking risks is part of life and it must be done, but to risk your life trying to impress someone is never a good idea. Promise me you will not.” Star-filled solemn blue eyes met and held the earnest young grey ones.
Estel nodded, “I promise.”
“Good.” A weight seemed to lift from the Elven shoulders and Elrohir bent over to kiss the boy on the forehead, “Now you rest up and get better and then we shall have many adventures in store for us I am sure,” he ended in a much more jovial fashion.
“Heed your brother’s words, ion nin. For they have the ring of truth to them.” Elrohir turned around and Estel looked up.
“Ada! Roh and I were just talking about grown up things.” Estel announced proudly.
“I could hear that, ion nin. Now you and I must discuss other grown-up things.”
“I’m going to be punished aren’t I?” Estel added with trepidation.
“That may well be true, but we have yet other matters to discuss also.” He turned to the others, “Can you leave us for a few moments?”
Elladan kissed his little brother’s forehead, “Be well, we will return.” He and his brother left quickly. Gilraen followed more slowly, straightening her son’s bed sheets and then motioning for the healers to depart as she closed the door behind her.
Elrond waited for the door to shut before turning back to the anxious-looking boy sitting in bed. Elrond pulled the chair that Elrohir had been sitting in closer to the bed and sat down. For a moment he look at Estel with those inscrutable pale blue eyes and sighed. “Estel, I first want to say that I love you and your mother loves you. Your brothers love you. Nothing can change that. But you will be punished because what you did was wrong. You caused your mother and I and many others much worry and that is wrong to do without good reason. But that is not what I want to discuss with you right now. Right now I want to talk to you about responsibility. Do you remember yesterday just after we brought you up here to tend to your injuries? Do you remember what you said to me?”
Estel thought hard and then he remembered, “I said I was sorry to you.” Wide earnest eyes stared into his Adar’s.
“That is right. And do you remember what I said to you?”
Estel screwed up his face and trying to remember back through the pain, “You said ‘Thank you,’ but that I should not be apologizing to you, I should really be apologizing to myself.”
“Very good. Do you know what I meant by saying that?”
Estel shook his head sheepishly.
Elrond reached out a hand to gently stroke his son’s dark brown plaited hair, “Let me explain then. Was it a smart thing to ride a horse that you knew you were not allowed to and without supervision?”
Estel again shook his head sheepishly.
“Then why did you do it?” Elrond continued.
Estel shrugged, “I don’t know.”
Elrond sighed, “While you did worry your naneth and me, what you really did is let yourself down by acting so foolishly.”
“I did think maybe it wasn’t the best idea.” Estel began in his own weak defence.
“But you went ahead and did it anyway. Did you not?” Elrond pressed.
Again Estel nodded.
“I realize that you are yet young, even by Men’s standards, but I do not think that can excuse you from realizing a few things. I want you to take to heart what your brother said about taking foolish risks with your life. There will be times in your life that you may have to take risks and do things that are dangerous and cause those you care about to worry. But what you have to learn is the difference between risking your life in a needful cause and risking your life foolishly. That is the difference between bravery and recklessness. There will be many times in your life where you will be working to protect others, say for example you needed to protect your naneth or me and what you had to do was considered dangerous. That would be acceptable, responsible, and even brave because you were doing it to protect another, to serve another. But if you choose to do something dangerous without a good enough reason to justify that risk, such as trying to ride a horse you should not ride just to impress someone, even someone you love then you are being foolish and letting yourself and those who love you down. Do you understand what I saying to do you, ion nin.”
Estel chewed his lower lip before replying, “Riding Carannin was foolish because I worried you and Nana and ‘Dan and ‘Roh and I only did it because I thought it would impress ‘Roh.”
Elrond nodded, “Now promise me that you will think about what your brother and I have said here today.”
Estel looked at his Adar and said solemnly, “I promise.”
It broke his heart to see Estel trying to act so grown-up, but he supposed it was a necessary thing. However it still saddened him. Elrond again reached out a hand to stroke his son’s hair, “The path you are destined to follow in life, ion nin, will take you into many dangers. I wish I could protect you from it all, but alas I cannot.” He gazed mournfully into his son’s young grey eyes and could only imagine what his son would have to endure in the years to come. Times that would change the boy into the man he would need to become. Elrond felt sad and old beyond his years pondering such hardships.
Estel looked at his beloved Adar and saw the sadness he was trying to hide. “Don’t worry, Ada. I will learn.”
Elrond smiled ruefully, “I know you will, my love, I know.” He bent over to kiss his son on the forehead. “Rest now.” Rest. He thought of the word as he straightened his son’s blankets further. In the coming storm there would be precious little of that commodity, but for now, Estel remained safe within his hands, to guide him as best he could. He only hoped it would be enough.
Note on the Sindarin usage: These are mostly my own shaky constructions. I have only a rudimentary understanding of lenition and any corrections or suggestion for shaping endearments would be very welcome.
mellmuindor nin: my dear brother
muindor nin: my brother
ion nin: my son
Carannin: (rough trans.) my red one (Literally: red my)
Tithen nin: My little one (Literally: little my)
Author’s notes: Happily (at least for the author J) Estel’s tenth year happens to coincide with the convening of the White Council. I noticed this during the writing of the story and needed to send somebody to the Council. Granted Elrond would have been the logical choice but for story purposes he needed to stay home and the whole White Council meeting allowed me to tie Estel’s life in Rivendell with the larger story outside of Imladris, and it gave me a shape and end to my chapter. Yeah.
Chapter 13 – The Memory of Love
Early Spring 2946 TA
Approaching the archway to his Adar’s study, Estel was filled trepidation. He had many questions to ask and he was not sure what kind of answers he was going to receive.
“So lost in your own thoughts, young master, that you cannot acknowledge a friend?”
Estel blinked and looked up a bit startled, “I’m sorry, Elmiran. I did not see you.”
“Apparently,” Elmiran smiled and looked towards the study he had just left, “Going to see your Adar, I take it.” Estel nodded. The Elf looked at his young friend a little more closely, “And what you have to say is weighing heavily on you, I sense.” Again, Estel nodded. Elmiran raised the youth’s chin to look into his eyes, “Talk to him, he will listen.” Estel again nodded and moved on leaving the Elf to look after him. Somehow I do not think Lord Elrond going to like what that young man has to say, he thought as he sighed, continuing on his own errand.
Estel waited until he was announced and then entered his Adar’s study, finding Elrond in a familiar position bent over a scroll seated at his high writing desk. Upon hearing Estel’s footsteps Elrond looked up. “Mae Govannen, ion nin.”
“Mae Govannen, Adar.” Elrond inwardly sighed at the formal word for “father” that Estel had recently started using. He longed for the years past when Estel still called him Ada and a spice cake could solve any small problem that his little foster son might bring him. He had noticed of late that Estel was often quiet, as if he had something on his mind, something he did not share with Elrond. Looking closely at his son’s somber face however he felt that discovery was at hand and all of a sudden he was not sure that such knowledge was a good thing after all. “Are you ready to depart for the herbarium,” he ventured, hoping to delay whatever it was laying heavily upon his son.
It was not to be. “Before we go,” Estel stated, “There is something I wish to discuss.”
Inexplicable panic flared in Elrond’s breast, but outwardly he strovefor an appearance of serenity. “Aye, is there?” he said rolling up the parchment he had been studying and setting it aside.
Estel chewed his lower lip and began, “Whenever I have asked why if we are not Elves do we live here in Imladris, both you and Naneth have always said it was the best place for us to live.”
“Aye, that is what we have always said. Are you tiring of Imladris? Are you not happy here?” Elrond asked trying to divert attention away from things Estel was not yet ready to know.
“I love it here! It is my home. It is just,” Estel paused then decided there was no help for it but to blurt out everything he needed to know, “Why did we come here? Who was my real Adar? Why does Naneth look so sad sometimes?”
Estel looked at his Adar who wore a pained, saddened expression mixed with another emotion he could not quite fathom. It scared him. Quickly he said, “I have offended you. I should not have asked, Adar. It is not important.”
Elrond looked at his son. Estel had grown tall and lean, his long dark plaited hair in much the same style worn by his older brothers. He was an intelligent and compassionate boy, Elrond knew that from the myriad animals Estel found in the woods of Imladris and had brought him over the years to heal or to end their pain if nothing else could be done for them. He still had a taste for adventure, but after breaking his wrist when he was ten he had learned what was an acceptable risk and what was not. He still had an insatiable desire to learn and experience new things. He had grown into the sort of boy that Elrond had hoped he would. In short, Elrond was proud of him. But it was that insatiable curiosity that he knew one day would lead to the questions Estel had just asked.
“There is no cause for worry, ion nin. You have not offended me. Have you talked to your naneth about this?”
“I have, she would not answer and looked too upset for me to press it any further, so I did not.”
“I see,” said Elrond. He thought that might be the case. It had never sat easily with Gilraen to keep Estel’s past from him. She, at first, had argued stringently against it but in the end it was a sacrifice that she knew must be made if Estel was ever to have a chance to fulfill his destiny. Elrond knew, however, how much pain such concealment had given Gilraen, though she had rarely spoken of it in the years since Arathorn’s death. Turning his mind back to the matter at hand, Elrond in his very core knew that now was not the right time to completely reveal Estel’s past to him, but he must give the boy some answers. Estel would not rest until he had at least that.
Estel looked concerned, “Is it wrong that I ask; that I should want to know?”
“Ion nin!” Elrond quickly got up from his desk and came to stand before his son and look into his eyes, “It is not wrong that you should ask.” Elrond said holding his son’s head in his slender hands, “Come, let us sit,” he said, steering the confused boy toward the sofa and chair in one corner of the room.
Elrond pondered how to answer the questions so that Estel should have some answers without telling that which he could not yet know. “How do I begin?” without outright lying the thought continued in his head. “You are from the North, your naneth and adar were of the northern tribes.” That much at least is true.
Estel’s interest was piqued, “You mean the Dunedain, the Northern Rangers?”
Elrond thought, I should have monitored more of what Glorfindel has been teaching the youngster. “Did you study about the Dunedain with Lord Glorfindel?”
“Aye, we studied the history of all Middle Earth. The Dunedain are the remnants of the kingdom of Arnor and they are the sister realm to Gondor, which lies to the south. The two realms were ruled by Elendil. Both descended from Elendil who together with the Elves fought a great war to rid the lands of Sauron and his evil influence and thus usher in the Third Age.” Estel intoned as would a schoolboy reciting his lessons. “But,” his tone changed to one more of sorrow, “Elendil along with Gil-gilad, the High King of the Elves lost their lives and Isildur, Elendil’s son defeated Sauron, but was seduced Sauron’s ring of power and later killed by Orcs.”
Estel was stopped by the haunted look his Adar’s face, “Adar, are you all right?”
Elrond quickly recovered himself, “Aye, Aye, I am well, ion nin. You are right. That is the way of events. Suffice to say Arnor’s fortunes waned. But to continue, you are born of a northern tribe. This northern tribe suffered great losses and it was thought that it was best that some of its children were spirited away to live in other places and thus keep some of their people alive. You and your family were chosen and your Adar was killed en route to Rivendell bringing you to live with me.” Again a portion of the more painful whole, Arathorn did die bringing you to me Elrond thought.
“But why did you never tell me any of this before.” Estel inquired.
The boy is too inquisitive by half. Elrond mused. “For a long time it was too painful to talk about especially for your naneth. She loved your Adar very much,” he said aloud.
“Did you know him? My real--,” Estel struggled to find the right word, “my father.”
Elrond gave a rueful smile as he sensed that the boy’s desire to know and his desire to not hurt his Adar conflicting within him. “Father is a good word to use.” Elrond confirmed helpfully, albeit perhaps selfishly. He was Estel’s Adar. Arathorn had been his father. “And aye, I did know you father. He was a good man.” He paused then added, “Is there anything more you would like to ask?” with a tone of finality.
Estel wanted to press Elrond for more information on his father, but he sensed he would truly get no more answers about his past from him this day. So switching tack Estel thought perhaps a question on the future could find more fertile ground. “Adar?”
“Aye?” Elrond grew suspicious. Estel only used that tone when he wanted something. “What is it?”
“If I am northern born, I think I should like to learn more about their ways and their people.”
Elrond was not too sure that he liked the direction in which this was going, but he remained quiet while Estel thought aloud.
“Soon Elladan and Elrohir will begin another tour of the northern territories and portions of Mirkwood. I should dearly like to go and learn of these people.”
“No! The northern territories are very dangerous. Far too dangerous for a boy to travel.” As soon as he said it he knew it was a mistake.
Estel bristled, “I am not a boy, I am fifteen! 'Dan and 'Roh, and Master Seroquel say that I have made great strides in my sword work and I know much about healing. Tilade cannot make the journey as she has yet to fully recover from her injuries, I could go as a healer and be a useful member of the party and not just a young encumbrance.”
Elrond listened to the youthful tirade and he had to admit the boy’s plan had merit for more reasons than Estel could realize that moment. But still his heart refused to give in. Estel was young, too young. He was not ready to face the outside world yet. Or was he? Elrond wondered who was he really protecting, Estel or himself, and he realized that he had to let him go.
“Very well, but I have only one thing to ask you.” Elrond stated.
“What is that?” Estel could hardly contain his excitement.
“That you do not tell your naneth about this. I will tell her and explain why it should be.”
A few weeks later…
Gilraen had relented after much discussion with Elrond and cajoling on Estel’s part, although she was still none too pleased about the dangers that Estel would be riding into. The youth thought about the days of tensions that lead Gilraen’s eventual capitulation and shuddered at the thought as he slid his sword home into sheath after a third inspection of the blade.
“Is everything ready for your departure on the morrow?”
Estel looked up and saw his Adar standing in the doorway.
“Aye, I think so.”
“Good. Have you packed all of your necessary herbs and have a secondary supply of the most important ones.” Elrond continued on, somewhat needlessly.
“Oh Aye! Of course! You have taught me well, Adar. I know what I am doing.”
Elrond smiled ruefully, “Aye, of course,” as he sat down on the corner of Estel’s bed. He remained quiet, surveying the various objects to be stored in Estel’s saddlebags.
“Is there something you wanted to say, Adar?”
“Hmm, aye,” Elrond looked deep into his son’s eyes, “I know you are excited about the upcoming months. There will much to see and experience. You will be riding into many dangers ion nin. You must promise that you will not take unnecessary risks.”
“Adar! I am not ten any more. I will not charge recklessly into danger. I remember all you and Glorfindel have taught me. I will do you proud service.” Young, earnest grey eyes looked back at Elrond. The Elven Lord realized just how much his son had grown up in the past few years, “I know you will, my love,” he said with a heavy heart. Elrond stood and picked up Estel’s sword looking at it. “Meet me where the waterfall meets the river in fifteen minutes. There is something I wish to give to you.”
“Aye, I will be there.” Estel answered, now filled with curiosity.
Fifteen minutes later Estel was walking toward the spot where the river met the waterfall and in the distance he could see his adar, the twins and his naneth all waiting there for him. Gilraen stepped forward and held out a hand to bring him into their small circle and let his hand go with a reassuring squeeze and a smile in her eyes. Estel smiled back, relieved to see his beloved naneth happier than she had been since the news of his imminent departure. Elladan stepped forward and strapped a new quiver of deeply engraved leather and gold along with thirty newly fletched arrows over his back. Estel was about to speak but Elladan brought his finger to his lips to still Estel’s words of thanks. Elrohir then stepped forward and unsheathed and sheathed a beautifully crafted mithril dagger with an pearlescent handle in a quick, deft motion and handed it hilt first to his little brother with a smile on his lips and pride in his eyes. Estel smiled his thanks.
Elrond came forward holding a sheathed sword across his outstretched arms, and amid the noise of the crashing waterfall and the misty moist air, he presented the sword to his son. Estel handed the dagger to his naneth and grasped the sword by its scabbard. “Unsheath the sword, ion nin. Unsheath it and look upon it.”
The youth pulled the blade from its leather casing and looked upon the sword, starting with the hilt. It was made of a warm, deep coloured rosewood and inlaid with gold filigree vines that wrapped around the handle and wound their way down past the hilt and flowed in etched gold halfway down the length of the slightly curving blade. His hands followed his eyes as Estel read the inscription engraved upon the blade past the golden etchings, “Read the inscription,” Elrond requested, Estel read it in a loud, clear voice, “Estel broniatha a togithon (Hope will endure and I will lead)” and fell speechless with the beauty of both word and sword.
“Now, mellion nin, I will bestow upon you the blessing given to all Elven warriors who come of age. This blessing is traditionally bestowed amid the winds of Manwe to remind Elven warriors in times of trial what it is they are truly protecting. On one knee mellion nin and hold your sword blade down and imbed it in the earth that you will swear to protect.” Estel placed his sword in the ground and looked at his Adar. Wide grey eyes met pale blue ones full of emotion, pride and sadness chief among them as Elrond began to speak the formal incantation holding his son’s gaze. "May you strive all the days of your life to fulfill your warrior's destiny."
Estel bowed his head and felt Elrond's hands upon it, "May your mind be clear in purpose."
At this he lifted his son’s chin and touched his eyes, "May your sight see what needs to be seen."
He then placed his hands over his son’s as they held the sword at the meeting of hilt and guard, "May your limbs be strong and sure of purpose."
Elrond stepped behind him and placed a hand on either shoulder, saying, "May you never draw bow or raise sword except in the protection and service of others. You were born to fight against evil, but never with evil in your heart. May it know joy and love and service to others and in turn earn the respect of those you serve and who serve you."
He put a hand on each of his son's temples, the newly woven plaits of dark hair signifying his coming of age falling past his shoulder, "Wear the warriors' plaits with pride and may the Valar guide and protect you!" Inside Estel’s mind came a gentle bright light and he heard his Adar’s voice speak within his mind and heart. I will be with you always my mortal son, for as long as you have need. I love you. With a gentle kiss of the light upon Estel’s senses, his Adar departed his mind.
Estel opened his eyes and was lifted from his knee by his adar, “Hannon le, Adar.”
He turned to his brothers, “Hannon le, mellmuindyr nin.” The twins bowed and touched hand to heart before embracing their newly blessed warrior brother.
He then turned to Gilraen and bowed his head, “Hannon le, Naneth.” She smiled wide as she wiped tears from her eyes; moved as she was by the simple, spoken blessing; the words laden with deeper meaning that her son did not yet comprehend. “I’m so proud of you, my son, you will have my love always.” She kissed him on the forehead and then touched her hand to her head and heart, “The blessings of the northern tribes upon you, my son.” Estel looked into her eyes, surprised that she should mention their people. Her eyes shone with a pride that he had rarely seen and it was an image that never left him all the days of his life.
The next morning…
The sword blade was sharp. Estel made sure of that, he had spent an hour the night before going over its smooth edge with the whetstone that had been a present on his last naming day from Elmiran. At the time he could not understand why Elrond’s chief attendant had given a whetstone when he did not possess his own sword. That question was answered yesterday when his Adar gave him this specially made sword as a present. He had turned fifteen yesterday and Elrond, in a moving and simple ceremony, gave him the sword. The youth began again a thorough inspection of the blade, starting with the hilt. Estel re-read the inscription engraved upon the blade past the golden etchings, Estel broniatha a togithon “Hope will endure and I will lead” and was filled with a desire to fight bravely on this his first tour of the northern borders and Mirkwood beyond with Elladan and Elrohir, to honour the sword and his Adar who had bestowed it upon him, albeit reluctantly. He re-sheathed the sword and buckled up his saddlebags; it was time to depart for the stables.
Tearful good byes were quickly said and the patrol embarked upon their mission of more than two months duration. The departing party was a small traveling unit that would meet up with a portion of the Rangers and ride the northern reaches on patrol near the Misty Mountains. They would then part company with the rangers and cross the mountains to pay a long overdue embassage to Thranduil in Mirkwood. Northern patrol always held the possibility of danger but Elrond realized that Estel had made a valid point. He needed to know something of the peoples that he would lead, and that he needed to become battle tested by the self-same minions of darkness that it was hoped he could ultimately defeat.
The patrol consisted of Elladan, Elrohir, Estel, who would also serve as the healer in the group, Vivelle, Cefzil and Diovan, all seasoned warriors, and a young she-elf named Amaryl, who mostly been on short patrols much closer to Rivendell. This would be only her third long-term patrol. All warriors in the party were aware of Estel’s true identity and knew that Estel had been told only that he was a native of the Northern tribes. Also they had been told that Estel’s life must be protected at any and all cost.
Elladan had noticed that Amaryl and Estel had become much closer over the course of the planning stage of the expedition, so he informed her that she was to be Estel’s shadow during the expedition as it would be less obvious than if he or any of the older Elves in the group kept such close watch upon the young Heir of Isildur. As tasks went it was far from onerous, she rather liked the youth and fell into line easily with Estel atop Gil-gilath as they drew closer to Rivendell’s border.
They made camp that night along the Bruinen and Estel had the chance to sample some of Elladan’s famous or rather infamous field cooking. After settling next to Amaryl near the cooking fire Estel sniffed at his bowl of broth tentatively. Elrohir, seeing this laughed, saying, “You are right to be cautious, muindoreg! Elladan’s field cooking should not be taken internally.”
Elladan glared at his younger brother, “Aye, well I see your bowl is full often enough when I cook!”
“Filial love, muindor. I eat only to show my love and support for all your endeavors.”
“Hmm, That’s what you call it? I was wondering.” Elladan ended disgruntedly but with an amused glint in his eye.
Estel apprehensively lifted the spoonful of broth to his mouth under the watchful eye of both twins. An indescribable taste spread across his tongue and he had to quell his first instinct to spit it out, only because his beloved, but obviously culinarily challenged, oldest brother was looking on, expectant. “Mmmm!” he managed to voice without opening his mouth and swallowed the vile concoction down in a sacrificing show of filial love.
Elladan crowed, “You see! He does like it! So I will thank you to remember that, muindoreg!” With a triumphant look at his brother he walked to the riverbank to refill the water skins of the company.
Elrohir looked at Estel, whose face held a slightly sick look, and sat next to his little brother, “You can confide in me. It was not to your favour, was it?”
Estel looked him and in a fervent whisper said, “It was horrible.”
Amaryl laughed softly and said, “Then why did you eat it?”
Estel shrugged, “I did not want to hurt ‘Dan’s feelings.”
Elrohir put his arm around the boy’s slender shoulders and pulled him in for an affectionate, quick hug, “Oh mellmuindoreg nin. You’ve inherited my brother’s soft heart. I fear we’ve been a bad influence on you.”
“But you ate it, too.”
“Aye, but I have built a strong resistance to muindor nin cooking disasters, so I can eat them with no real harm done. And extra spices do a world of good. I tease him but I would never deliberately insult him by not eating it. But yours is a virgin stomach. We must be careful and expose you to it in small doses.” He removed the offending bowl from Estel’s hands, “I think that is enough for one meal. What do you think, Amaryl?”
“I think so! One bite was all I could manage on my first experience.” She smiled knowingly.
“Why do you allow him to cook, if it is so bad.”
“Because, it is not really harmful and Elladan thinks himself a good cook and I will not allow him to be hurt in any way, so I protect him from the truth. Perhaps it does not make sense to another, but it is our way. In the meantime, the next time he cooks, only eat a little, and then invent a chore that needs seeing to. You will get used to it.” Elrohir smiled at his little brother and squeezed his shoulder before he got up to help Elladan with the water skins
Amaryl looked after him as he walked away. “There is a special bond between those two. I cannot bear to think what would happen to one, if the other should come to harm, or worse.”
Estel shook his head, “I do not know. And I hope we never find out,” he said as he looked at his two brothers at the riverbank, filled with wonder anew at the depth of their relationship and the lengths each would take to protect the other from all harm.
On the edge of the Trollshaws a few nights later after the watches had been set, the party was bedding down for the night when Estel set his bedroll next to Amaryl’s. He lay upon advice his bow, quiver and sword to hand, ready should a night attack come. It had been peaceful up until now, but the whole party was starting feeling anxious, waiting for an attack to come. He whispered to Amaryl, “When do you think an attack will come?”
Amaryl shushed him, “Never ask for an attack for there will always be one not long in coming. Try to get some rest.” Taking her own advice, Amaryl pulling her blanket further over her shoulder and closed her eyes falling into a light sleep. Estel as ever was amazed by the Elven ability to call sleep whenever they chose. Estel was not quite so calm and could only lay there wondering if an attack would happen. He must have dozed briefly, though, because the next sound he heard was Vivelle’s call to arms. He threw off his blanket and grabbed bow, quiver and scabbard, strapping and buckling as he made for the tree nearest him as had been discussed earlier when setting the watch. He gained the most advantageous branches with near Elven speed, schooled into him over many years of training by Elladan and Elrohir, knocked his first arrow and waited for the first Orc neck he could impale. The wait was not long in coming. A small band of Orcs began stomping through the campsite ruffling belonging and upturning cooking pots.
Suddenly Elladan’s voice cut through the chill air, “Hado i philinn! (Release the arrows!*)” Estel loosed his first arrow straight into the thick neck of the Orc down below. He quickly knocked another arrow and let fly straight into the neck of another and still another. Then came the command to leave the trees and fight on foot, so lessened were the number of Orcs. Estel landed with an almost soundless thwump. He whipped his bow around his shoulder and drew his sword to block the downswing of an orc blade headed straight for his head. The next stroke slashed the same orc across the chest, dropping him. Estel turned and parried the blade of an oncoming Orc. It was almost too strong a thrust for him to deflect, but he turned the Orc’s weight against him and stepped to the side in order to bring his blade down over the dark creature’s back. He heard the sound of oncoming horses but he paid them no mind, because the next Orc was upon him, trying to separate his head from his body. Estel dodged the blow. With the force of momentum his next swing separated Orc head from body. In the distance he heard Elladan shout that the few orcs remaining were fleeing and for Vivelle and Diovan to finish them off. It was over. It had happened so fast that only now did he feel any fear, the ground beneath him suddenly gave way and he started to crumple to the ground, only to be caught in the strong arms of a man dressed in dark green and black. A face of grey eyes and dark hair stared at him with astonishment and then he knew no more.
Erithain and his rangers had not been camped far from where the Elves had set up and as soon as they heard the sounds of battle they saddled up and rode to give aid. As it turned out they arrived just as the Elves were chasing the stragglers down. He had seen an Elven boy dodge and then behead an Orc. As he went forward to inquire about the size of the Orc troop and if anyone was in need of assistance, the Elf fainted in his arms. Looking at the boy’s face he realized that he did not have leaf-shaped ears. In a flash he realized that it was his nephew that had collapsed in his arms. Tears streamed down Erithain’s face as he tried to revive the boy. “Aragorn!” he said sharply trying awaken his nephew.
After sending Vivelle and Diovan to kill off the remaining Orcs, Elladan chased back to the clearing to in a panic to see how Estel had fared. He had kept track of him until he made his first kill on the ground and then two Orcs charged the dark-haired Elf at once and it was all he could do to keep body and soul together. He spotted Estel just as he collapsed into his uncle’s arms. At first fear like he had never known before, coursed through him, thinking Estel grievously injured. But that fear passed as quickly as it had flared and somehow Elladan knew Estel had only fainted. He walked up to Erithain holding the boy.
“He will most likely not answer to his name, mellon nin.”
Erithain looked up and standing there, out of breath and bloodstained, although otherwise uninjured was his friend, Elladan.
“Elladan! This is my nephew, then.” Elladan nodded as he checked the boy for injury with a nervous and shaking hand. In his heart he knew Estel was uninjured; his head however would not accept that fact without a thorough look, hence the shaking hands. “What do you mean? It is his name. Why wouldn’t he answer to it.” Confusion mixed with grief and surprise shone through the Ranger’s grey eyes.
“Adar thought it best to conceal Aragorn’s name and ancestry to even the child himself. He does not know his past. Adar named him ‘Estel’ which means ‘hope’ in our language.”
“He does not know who he is? Not even his own name.” Erithain was incredulous, and he stroked the unconscious boy’s long dark plaits, “How could Elrond rob him of his heritage?”
Elladan looked on his friend with compassionate eyes, “Adar does not mean to rob him of his heritage. It was what was needed, mellon nin, for his own safety. And I must ask you not to reveal the truth. The time is not right.”
“Elladan, how can you ask that?” Erithain looked down longingly at his nephew, stroking his hair, “I have not seen him since he was two. My heart aches with the pain it has been forced to endure.”
“If you honour what we have all sacrificed for, you will not reveal the truth.” Elladan said with empathy, “I understand your pain, but this must be.”
“You understand my pain!” Erithain countered in a low, fervent voice, “You who have been allowed to see him grow up, you who have become his family. You who have stolen years from me and my fam--.” He looked to continue his tirade born of years of longing and uncertainty but stopped midword at the look of deep pain and sorrowfulness on the Sindarin Elf’s face. “Elladan, please forgive my rash words. The shock of seeing Ar--Estel after so many years has seemingly stripped me of a civil tongue."
Solemn star-filled eyes looked upon his friend, “I am sorry, too, my friend. The years have been long, but as you say we have had Estel to light our days. Know that Adar nin does only what he feels is necessary, but regrets as I do the sacrifices you have been asked to make.”
Erithain nodded his thanks, “I will abide by your wishes,” he agreed reluctantly, “I will not reveal to him the truth. It is enough that I see and talk with him, even if he does not yet know who I am.”
Estel began moving then, coming around to the world around him. He looked up and saw the man with the kind grey eyes and dark hair look down at him, concern written on his face.
“Estel,” the boy tore his eyes away from the strange man and towards a familiar voice.
“ ‘Dan. The Orcs are gone?”
“For now muindoreg. Are you hurt? Can you stand?”
Erithain made to move and help the boy to his feet, concern still glowing in his eyes, Estel was non-plussed by the older man and his somewhat unnerving concern.
Elladan, noticing the boy’s discomfiture, immediately introduced Erithain. “Estel, this is Erithain he is captain of the band of Rangers who came to our aid and has been a friend of mine for many a year.”
Estel had recovered enough to remember his manners, and now looked upon the stranger with interest. He bowed his head, hand on heart, “It is an honour to meet a Ranger of the North and if Elladan calls you friend then I hope that I may also.”
Erithain shot a thankful look in Elladan’s direction, and then returned his gaze to his nephew, and with a full voice, touching his hand to his head and heart in the way of the northern tribes, “The honour is all mine, young master Estel, I hope I may always call you friend,” he paused, “You swing a blade well.”
Estel colored slightly, remembering the battle and all the killing, “Thank you,” he said shakily, “But tell me one thing,” pausing with a slightly haunted look in his young grey eyes, “Does one ever become used to the killing?”
Elladan put an arm around his little brother, “No, muindoreg. One does not.”
“Do you think me a coward for asking such a question?” When asking this question he looked at Erithain. He could not have explained why, because he had only just met the Man, but for some reason the chance that the Ranger should think him lacking in courage bothered Estel. He wanted the Man to think well of him.
Erithain was a bit taken aback when the question was directed at him, but he stumbled out a response nonetheless, “N-No, Estel. I do not think you are a coward.” Gathering his thought a little more clearly, he looked into his nephew’s eyes, “A man should never grow to relish battle and the taking of life. As warriors, it is something we must do. When the battle rage comes upon us, we react as we have been trained to do. We must to stay alive and help protect those we love and a way of life we cherish. But grow accustomed to it, no. That is not a man with who I would want to claim fellowship. That being said you fought well and bravely.” He smiled and ruffled the boy’s plaited dark locks as the boy returned a relieved smile.
When the boy bent to pick up and clean his sword, Erithain looked hopefully at Elladan as if to say Do you think he somehow remembers me? Elladan smiled at the look of happiness and hope in his friend’s eyes. Elladan thought back to the time when little Aragorn had been taken away from his uncle and all that he knew. The two-year-old had been distraught, tears streaming down his face, when he discovered that his beloved uncle Erithain would not be making the journey to Imladris with him and his mother and father. He had been near inconsolable. That kind of bond never leaves the soul even if it has left the conscious memory. So in some portion of Estel’s soul the memory of love for his uncle lived. Of this Elladan was sure.
Note on Sindarin usage: Practically all construction are my own, any constructive criticism on my Sindarin usage gratefully accepted!
Estel broniatha a togithon: Hope will endure and I will lead. I gave the gloss in the text (hope it wasn’t too distracting, but I wanted it both in Sindarin for effect but also to have the meaning straight away.) :-)
mellion nin: my dear son (lit. dear son, my)
Hannon le, Adar: Thank you, father
mellmuindyr nin: My dear brothers (lit. dear brothers, my)
muindoreg: Little brother
mellmuindoreg nin: My dear little brother (lit. dear brother-let, my)
*Hado i philinn: quote from TTT film.
Chapter 14 – “I am not alone”
The Elven party and the Ranger troop joined forces as planned and began again in earnest their stint of patrolling the northern portion of Rhudaur toward the Ettenmoors in what was in times past the eastern stretches of the kingdom of Arnor. Erithain relished the opportunity of getting to know his nephew and Estel seemed to blossom under the attentions of a Man he was coming to respect and admire.
Elladan kept a watchful eye on the two. Not because he was wary that in some way Erithain would let slip the secret that was yet to be told. The Ranger had given his word and Elladan knew that once given he would never break his promise. Rather he watched because it gave him a secret joy to see the two reunited if only for a short time. These were Estel’s people; he belonged to them and although the words were spoken in anger Erithain had been right, for however necessary a reason Elrond had stolen Erithain’s family. Over the many centuries that Elladan had ridden with the Dunedain of the North he had developed a deep love and respect for the Rangers and their devotion to what will be and he regretted the pain that had been caused to such good and noble people. Through the years they remained unchanged, steadfastly working and hoping for the days that would see the return of the king. As he sat at the campfire along the path towards the Ettenmoors sharpening one of his white knives he looked at Estel across the fire and whether it was a trick of the light or it was truly a vision of the future he could never be quite sure but he thought he saw a crown of starlight and eagles’ wings descend upon his young brother’s brow. Elladan blinked and the vision was gone, only firelight remained and the Elf thought upon the expectation that sat on those young, unknowing shoulders and sighed.
“What are you thinking muindor nin?” His brother’s words interrupted his musings. Elladan looked at his brother who had silently seated himself next to his older sibling.
“He is so young, ‘Roh, for all that is expected of him,” he said sadly.
Elrohir looked at his older brother ready to tease, but something in Elladan’s eyes stopped him, “You’ve seen something, haven’t you?”
“Yes, but it is not foreboding, it has only caused me remember how much depends upon him.”
Elrohir confidently, “He will learn.” He added, “And succeed, he can do nothing other. Now eat your stew. It is actually quite good. You did not make it.” A mischievous glint crossed his eye and a smile lit his face.
Elladan first flashed a look of annoyance at his younger brother, but then in a mercurial shift, shared a laugh. “Just for that. Next time…Double helpings.”
Erithain sat on his horse and looked beyond the plains to the far away hills that protected Fornost from the harsh winter winds that buffeted the plains of Arnor.
“You have a far away look in your eye,” came a voice at his side. Estel cast a concerned eye out in the direction of his uncle’s gaze, “What do you look at? Are there Orcs on the horizon?” Erithain turned and saw his nephew sitting on Gilgilath and his heart swelled with love and pride for the boy.
“No, there are not,” he said looking back across the plains afraid that Estel might see too much in his eyes. Estel had grown so tall and strong, he would do the Dunedain proud when he came back to reclaim the Chieftaincy of his people. Erithain looked forward to that day when he could pass on the responsibility for the tribes to his nephew. He had never sought to rule; never thought the burden would ever fall to him being the youngest of three sons. Memories of his two older brothers nudged their way into Erithain’s thoughts. He could see their faces as clear as they were standing in front of him, Elassen looking very serious and Alarael always laughing. He had accepted their deaths many years ago but he still missed them and rued the twists of fortune that saw him sitting atop his horse, Steward to his people and their ashes spread to the winds of Manwe twenty years past. Erithain sighed and continue to look west towards home.
“If not Orcs, then what do you look at so wistfully, my friend.” Erithain smiled at the use of the word “friend” and looked back toward his nephew.
“Was I wistful?” he asked, not realizing that he had let so much feeling show on his face.
“I look toward home. It has been a long journey.” Erithain gazed at his nephew almost mournfully. “And I wish to go home.”
Estel had the feeling as he looked into the Ranger’s eyes that he was talking about more than the current tour of the Ettenmoors, but he could not fathom what that might be. It reminded him of the look of longing he would see on his mother’s face watching him when she thought he was not looking. Likewise, it gave him the most curious feeling, like he should know something, but he did not know what.
Erithain, noticing the pensive look on his nephew’s face, realized that he had let too much emotion slip and said more robustly, “Never mind. We will be home soon enough and I can rest these old bones in front of a warm fire.” Estel smiled. The mood had past; but the feeling of knowledge lost lingered on.
The time had come for the two companies to part. The Rangers would turn toward Fornost and their homes but the Elven band would continue on, cutting through a small northern pass in the Misty Mountains and enter Mirkwood from the north. Estel was very sad to be parting company with the Dunedain Rangers. He had come to respect and admire these men of the West for their dedication to their cause and their humour in the face of adversity. He would especially miss Captain Erithain. Estel could see by their reactions towards their captain that all held Erithain in high respect. In battle he was fierce, but at rest he was a man who enjoyed a laugh as much as any in his company. He had a quiet strength about him and a way of giving confidence and comfort to his people. Estel felt drawn towards him and they had talked much over the weeks the two parties patrolled together.
On the morning of the parting Estel went over to bid farewell to his friend. Erithain did not look up from cinching his saddlebags at the sound of light footfalls. “Elladan and Elrohir will not be pleased. I could hear your approach many steps away!” he finished with a chuckle.
“I was not trying approach silently, if I had I would have been up on the horse before you’d even known I was around.” Estel added with a proper touch of Elven superiority.
Erithain laughed and ruffled the boy’s long, dark partially plaited hair, “You have most definitely been raised in Rivendell with that Elven attitude!”
“And just what attitude would that be, Master Ranger.” Erithain jumped and turned at the breath of a spoken word brushing past his ear. Elrohir stood less than a foot behind him, an impish grin on his fair face.
“A Elbereth! Must you do that! Every time you do it takes five years off my life!” Erithain glared at Elrohir and then laughed, “All right, point proven! Enough of this Elven mischief. Let us break camp.”
Elrohir laughed and moved toward his own bedroll and camp pack, “Yes, let us. We must make ready to reach the mountain pass by nightfall. There we will camp and get a start early on the morrow.”
Estel hung back to say a few private words to his friend before they all departed. He did not where to start and looked at his foot scuffling the ground when he felt Erithain’s hand lift up his chin to look into his nephew’s earnest grey eyes, “I am sorry that the camps must part, but that is a warrior’s life. We hold all that are dear to us in our hearts. That way we are never truly parted.”
Estel chewed his lower lip, “I know all that. But I will miss you all the same.” A stray tear slipped the slight boundaries of his eye only to be brushed away impatiently. Erithain saw the youth’s face colour slightly in embarrassment and put his hands on his nephew’s shoulders. “Estel, look at me. There is no shame in tears, not when shed for those you hold in respect and affection.” Erithain had wanted to say “love” but he did not trust himself to use the word for fear that his emotions might break through his restraints and show much more than could be explained at this time. “It does not make you less of a man. In fact it shows that you are man enough to have emotions and unafraid to express them.” Erithain thought of his words and of all the emotions he was unable to express and smiled mirthlessly. His heart was bursting, unable to show the boy the love that he had for him. He tucked away in a small portion of his heart the knowledge that Estel shared at least a portion of his affection. That thought filled his heart and perhaps a little selfishly, he was happy.
Estel sniffed and nodded wiping his nose on his sleeve, “Maybe you can come to Rivendell and visit! Adar would welcome you, I’m sure.”
Erithain closed his eyes against the flare of pain in his heart and prayed to for the strength to turn down the invitation in a dignified fashion. “I would love that, but I-I’m afraid that will not be possible.” It broke his heart to see the refusal darken his nephew’s grey eyes with disappointment as he tried to shrug it off as if it really did not matter.
“T-That’s all right. I realize you are busy being a Ranger and do not have time to pay visits. It’s not important.” Estel tried to turn away quickly, to escape before he really shamed himself with tears.
Erithain was not proof against such obvious disappointment and caught the boy up in a great bear hug. Estel, at first, resisted, but then hugged his uncle with all his might. “It’s not that I do not want to visit you,” He started in a voice far strong than he felt at the moment. “It’s just that I cannot for reasons I cannot explain right now." He pulled away a little to look his nephew in the face. “Do you understand.” The boy nodded, his face tear-stained. “We will see each other,” he said fervently. “That much I can promise you. Never be afraid of that. We will join together and fight the good fight once more. Now go, and make ready to depart.” Estel smiled and left to tend to his pack and horse. Erithain leaned against his horse, weakened by the full force of restrained emotions now raging through him. He had kept his word; it was all he had left to him. Still it was cold comfort as his eyes followed his nephew across the camp.
“Hannon le, muindor nin,” said a quiet voice from behind him, “Sorry, but I heard a portion of your conversation.” Elladan approached his friend from the opposite direction than Estel’s departure. “I sense the great pain that caused you.”
“Yes, well. Where does my loyalty lie, except here?*” Erithain stated in a embittered, care-worn voice. He looked at the reflected pain in the Sindarin Elf’s eyes and relented, “Be safe, my friend. And take care of my nephew.”
“Always, Mellon nin. Always. Namarie.
The pass through the Misty Mountains was narrow and the incline dangerous for mounted riders so Estel slipped off Gilgilath’s back and walked him through the steep narrow passage. He now understood why Elrohir wanted to attempt this crossing in full daylight because a nighttime passing would have been treacherous indeed.
At a portion of the pass that had widen enough for two Elves to walk abreast leading their horses, Elladan walked along side his young foster brother. “You are so quiet, muindoreg nin. Does something weigh so heavily on your mind?”
Estel looked briefly at his older brother and shrugged, “No, not really. Just thinking.”
“About the Dunedain Rangers we’ve left behind, I should think.”
Estel stopped short briefly and then continued on, “How did you know?”
Elladan chuckled, “Because I know you far too well muindoreg nin. You miss them?”
Estel nodded, and then tried to excuse his feelings, only to be interrupted by Elladan, “It is right that you should miss them. They are a fine, honourable people, worthy of admiration and affection.”
Estel smiled and then sobered, “Do you think they will ever restore their kingdom?”
His older brother looked at him somberly and then said, “I think they will. It is what they live for and I think it will happen someday.”
Estel returned the look, “I hope so.”
“I know so,” his brother replied and under his breath Estel heard him utter, “Or we are all lost.” This muttered statement frightened Estel and filled him with a sense of foreboding, but he did not mention it anymore to his Elven brother. He did not wish to worry him needlessly. He was still pondering his conversation with Elladan when the attack came half an hour later. And because of this slight delay in reaction he was slow to draw his sword and the Orc blade caught him off guard, he barely parried it away before the next blade came slashing across the area of space where his mid-drift had been seconds before. He was able to bring his blade swishing in a downward arc separating the Orc’s head from his body. He saw Vivelle to his left disembowel an Orc and continue moving toward him. No sooner had he noticed that when a light exploded before his eyes and all went black.
Elladan had been keeping one eye on Estel during the battle, Elrohir and Vivelle had manage to form some sort of perimeter around Estel and yet to his horror he saw an Orc come up from the rear and strike a glancing blow across the back of Estel’s head and the boy crumpled as the Orc swept him up and deposited him none too gently over his shoulder. Giving a long roar he ran up a small mountain pass toward a cave in the middle distance. Immediately the Orcs broke off the attack and followed their leader up the mountain pass. Elladan saw this unfold and shouted, “NOOOO!!!!!!!!” and quick drew his bow picking off the trailing Orcs one by one. Elrohir ran up to him just as he taking aim at the Orc carrying the unconscious Estel, “Stop, Elladan, he’s out of range you will hit Estel. Elladan turned crazed eyes upon his brother and shook off his hand to resight the running Orc, only realize that his brother was right. The filth carrying Estel had shifted the unconscious boy’s limp body to use him as a body shield for his back foiling even an Elf’s deadly accuracy in using a bow. “A Elbereth!!!!” the older Elf twin screamed as he stormed up the mountain path after the Orcs that taken his young foster brother. Elrohir shouted to the stunned Elves around him, “Diovan, Cefzil guard the horses! Tilade, Amaryl, Vivelle follow me!” He ran up the path after his twin. They caught up to a perfect still Elladan standing at the entrance of a cave amid the rubble and floating dust of a recent cave-in. So still was he standing that had it not been for the wind blowing through his hair and rustling his crimson cape, Elrohir might have mistaken him for a statue. Until he looked into his eyes. There he saw abject misery, pain and a growing rage. Elrohir had seen that look in his brother’s eye only once before. When he had seen what the Orcs had done to Celebrian, his beloved mother. “Brother, what shall we do?” Elladan looked at him, blue eyes darkly intense, then past him to where many an Orc lay impaled by his arrows. He shifted his gaze further down the hill. Elrohir followed his gaze and saw slight motion; one of the Orcs moaned in pain, nearing death. Elladan wordlessly stormed down to where the Orc lay writhing, Elrohir following close upon. The older Elf grabbed the Orc by the throat mindless of the further pain he was causing. “Where have they taken the boy,” Elladan snarled in a low, intense voice through clenched teeth.
“I do not know what you speak of,” spat the Orc in a contemptuous voice. “One Elf looks just like another to me!”
Elladan tightened his grip around the Orc’s neck, his voice louder and more frenzied, “DO NOT PLAY WITH ME, FILTH. I MUST KNOW!”
“I know nothing,” the Orc whispered in the same contemptuous voice.
“You will tell me or I will squeeze the life out of your pathetic, disgusting body,” Elladan snarled, his beautiful face a contorted mask of rage and helplessness; his hand slowly tightening its grip on the Orc’s throat.
“I am already dead and I will tell you noth--” the Orc gave a short gasp of breath and went limp in Elladan’s hand. Behind him was Elrohir withdrawing his knife and cleaning it of Orc blood; his eyes wide with anger and concern. Elladan threw the limp Orc body aside and wheeled on his brother. “You have two seconds to explain why you did that--” he said in a threatening voice.
Elrohir drew himself up to his full height and defiantly stood his ground, “Or you will what?” he stated intensely, “Squeeze the life out of me also! He would have told us NOTHING! And you scar your very soul with such vile thoughts and actions. Do you remember nothing of the oath we took at the Coming of Age? You heard those very same words at Estel’s Coming of Age. ‘You were born to fight against evil, but never with evil in your heart.’ Can you honestly say evil had not entered your heart at that moment? Can you?”
“You overstep yourself, Muindor.” Elladan said, his eyes still blazing with barely contained rage.
“Do I? Do I?” Elrohir said, “Well should I just step aside and watch you grow into a distorted shadow of yourself.” He finished, showing no signs of relenting. “We will find Estel and we will mete out the punishment this filth so richly deserves. But not like this. Not at the expense of your soul. I will not allow it.”
The twins stood three feet apart, eyes locked in a battle of wills. Slowly, Elladan’s mask of rage and helplessness began to crumble and with it his resolve, “I am sorry, muindor nin,” he said in a whisper, “I am sorry.” Elrohir bridged the gap of three feet and in a voice filled with emotion, “Think nothing of it” Elrohir smiled as he placed a brotherly kiss upon his older brother’s sweaty and begrimed brow. Inside his mind Elrohir’s voice spoke gently, I will always be here to protect you, even from yourself if need be! You must forgive yourself for we have much work to do! With a kiss upon his inner senses Elrohir departed his mind. Elladan turned apologetic eyes onto the crew of assembled Elves, “We will clear the passage and follow along the last known direction they have taken Estel.”
The harsh bouncing eventually brought Estel to consciousness. In total darkness he could sense nothing beyond the exacerbated pounding in his head and the oppressive smell of Orcs. Orcs! The thought brought him around quickly enough. The last thing he remembered was beheading an Orc and watching Vivelle run towards him. Afterwards nothing until he came to in this black stinking hole that could only be a cave. He tried to listen for clues to his whereabouts, but could discern nothing. He knew only a few rudimentary words in Orcish, not enough to really determine anything of value. He thought he felt the air become less oppressive indicating that they may be near their intended destination. He was right as they entered into a dimly lit area. The dim light seared through his optic nerve coming as he had from total darkness. He moved a little and that small motion expended the last of his energy and he again knew nothing.
He came around again to dim light and feeling harsh cloth underneath him; and a smooth hand touching his forehead. He moved only slightly and again all the muscles in his body protested, “Shh-shh! Lie still” came a lyrical voice in Sindarin accented Westron, “I do not believe you are injured but I have not finished my examination yet.”
“Where am I?” Estel answered in Sindarin as he tried to get up.
Two strong yet smooth hands held him in place as the surprised voice said, “You speak Sindarin? And you wear the garb of an Elf and yet as I see by your ears you are not an Elf. Curious, my friend. Who are you?”
Opening his eyes, Estel focused upon a gleam of blond, plaited hair falling over a shoulder and a concerned, slightly confused countenance surveying him. He struggled into a semi-sitting position and looked around with great effort. “I am called Estel, foster son to Lord Elrond of Rivendell.”
“Foster-son you say? I did not know that Lord Elrond took in those were not Elves.” The elf said with a slightly dismissive tone.
“Lord Elrond is a good, kind Elf, who would help all who came in his path.” Estel shouted in defence of his Adar to this unthinking Elf and paid for it with a searing pain starting at his eyes and ripping its way through to the back of his head.
“Steady on, Master Estel. I meant no offence,” said the blond Elf.
Estel glared at this strange Elf, and then relented, “I am sorry Master Elf. I am not feeling my best.”
The blond Elf smiled, “Do not think on it. Neither of us is quite at his best at the moment,” as he brushed his hands on his dirty surcoat sighing as he surveyed his surroundings.
Estel wished to continue cordial relations with this strange Elf and asked, “And who might you be? And why are we both here?”
“I am Legolas Thrandulion, youngest son to King Thranduil of Mirkwood. At your service,” he said, touching his heart in welcome. “As to why we are here, I can only answer for me. The Orcs wish to gain my Adar’s acquiescence. They think to do this by keeping me here.” Here he lowered his voice, “What they do not realize is that nothing is more important to my Adar than Mirkwood. He will not bow and I will be left here, unless I can make my own way out.”
“That is terrible. My Adar would never do that.”
“That is the way of things in Mirkwood.” Legolas shrugged, trying to sound casual and matter of fact, but even through the dingy light and his aching head Estel could still tell that Legolas was far more bothered than he wanted let on. Elven pride, he mused, would appear to be universal.
“I do not wish to imply that my Adar does not care for me. That would be untrue. He loves me very much," Sometimes too much, Legolas thought though he quickly squelched that disloyal thought. His father had his reasons for his decisions, Legolas understood this. He continued out loud. "But he is driven by his desire to do what is right for his kingdom. Having any dealing with Orcs is something that he would never do.”
Estel nodded. In truth his head hurt a little too much to fully comprehend what Legolas was saying. Although he completely understood one thing. Legolas’ Adar was right. One did not make treaties with Orcs. Orcs were Orcs; they were good for only one thing: killing. An unpleasant truth, but a truth all the same.
“How long have you been here?” Estel asked changing the course of the conversation.
“It is hard to tell down here.” Legolas shuddered a little, and tried to warm himself by folding his arms across his body. “It is so dark and enclosed. My Adar’s halls are partially submerged so I am no stranger to living underground, but his halls have an air of beauty and spaciousness where this cave is nothing more than bare rock. But guessing I would say no more than two days.”
Estel wanted to ask how Legolas had been captured, but he could not think of anyway to ask the question without insulting his newfound friend, and that was something he did not wish to do. He ventured in a low voice, “How do we get out of here? There must be a way.” He had to get out here and back to his brothers. He did not like to think of the worry that he was causing them at this point.
Legolas looked at him in the dim light. “There must be a way, but I have yet to find it. I was shot by what must have been a poison arrow and had not been conscious for more than a few hours when they tossed you in here. In truth I do not think they know I am yet awake. I prefer it that way.” For a few seconds Estel saw a haunted look inhabit the blond Elf’s blue eyes, but it fled as quickly as it came and Legolas looked away quickly, as if he had inadvertently let Estel see a little more than he had meant the boy to see. The blond Elf got up from his sitting position and walked towards the entrance. “How are you feeling? Could you start walking now?” asked the Elf looking back toward Estel.
Estel got gingerly to his feet and immediately felt his headache redouble its efforts to pound its way out of his skull. “I could try.”
The blond Elf looked at Estel concern furrowing his brow, “I would not ask,” he said as he noticed Estel’s greenish tinge, “But the doorway is unguarded. Perhaps they still think we are unconscious. I would rather that they did not find us awake,” Again that haunted look crossed Legolas’ fair, but begrimed face, Estel noted through his own discomfiture.
“I think I can make it,” Estel ventured in an attempt to be bold and brave.
“You should not say such things if you are not sure. Foolhardiness in the face of danger can lead to further danger.”
Estel just looked at him, “You sound like Adar.”
“Do I?” The blond Elf looked surprised and then bemused, he laughed softly, “In fact I shock myself as I realize that I sound like my own Adar.” He looked at Estel, mirth in his eyes, “Who knew I was listening.”
Estel smiled and carefully walked over towards the door, “Shall we try?”
“I think so,” Legolas said quietly and then looked into the dim light extending beyond their rooms and into the rough-hewn passage. Motioning Estel to follow him the Elf slipped beyond the doorway’s borders. Estel followed, stepping as quietly as Elladan and Elrohir had taught him. The path Legolas had chosen looked much the same as the others, rough hewn and slightly damp to the touch, but with one small difference; it had a slight incline, perhaps leading to a way out.
After walking for about five or so minutes in silence Estel felt the blood rushing to his ears as he heard a faint rumbling sound. Legolas recognized the sound a few seconds earlier and whispered, “Orcs!” Muttering an unintelligible curse word in Sindarin, he hissed, “They are coming this way!” he motioned to Estel. Following, Estel looked up the path and noticed a slightly dark spot along the rough wall that probably indicated another tunnel. Reaching the spot, Estel noticed that this particular tunnel had more of a downward slope. Legolas started down the slope until Estel reached out a hand to stop him. “It’s going down.” He fervently whispered. Legolas answered, “Yes, but in a very few minutes, anyplace will be better than here. We must disappear and quickly.” Estel nodded at this sage advice and followed Legolas down the tunnel. As they were heading down the side passage, Estel looked behind him and saw about six or seven tall brutish figures lumber past the opening. The boy shuddered as he realized what might have happened and what could still happen at a moment’s notice. He thought about the weaponry he carried. He still had his boot daggers; he knew as he could feel the warm leather sheaths sitting against his skin. He realized belatedly, however that he did not have his sword. He wondered what might have become of the blade, given to him by his Adar at his Coming of Age. He thought of an Orc touching, much less possessing his beautiful giftsword and the thought made him physically ill.
He need not have worried. His sword and his bow were safe in the hands of his foster brothers. Elladan had found it lying on the befouled ground not far from where Estel had been pole axed by the Orc.
The cave-in was proving difficult to shift. They had been removing rocks and debris for hours and every time some small bit had been cleared away another portion collapsed under the shifting weight of the cave. Elladan had left the digging to return the area of the fight in the hopes that it would yield any clues. They were quickly dashed. The dark-haired Elf crouched on the ground, absentmindedly trying to clean off the dried Orc blood from the golden-etched blade and did not hear his brother’s approach.
“Did you find anything?” Elladan started just a little at the sound of the voice. He looked up, anger suddenly evident on his fair features.
“Nothing!” He said in disgust. Rubbing his eyes, he said, “It grows late. It is not safe to dig in such conditions. We will make camp here as best we can and start again on the morrow.”
Elrohir nodded his agreement and then took a closer look at his older brother. There was exhaustion in his eyes coupled with a sadness and anger. “We will find him, muindor nin.” He said in a tone more confident than he felt. His brother turned his eyes upon him.
“Of course. We must.” And there it lay. The unadorned truth. They had no choice but to find him. On this all depended. Elrohir simply could not face any other alternative.
Resignation settled in his brother’s eyes. “Yes, we will.” Bow and blade in hand he headed back up the path to tell the others to stop for the night.
The preparations for departure buzzed around King Thranduil and questions remained unasked for it was dangerous to approach him when this mood was full upon him. The King of Mirkwood sat his horse completely motionless, emanating an anger that was palpable to all. “They’ve taken my son.” The phrase repeated itself over and over in his mind. He had been overcome by an anger so profound when he had received word of Legolas’ capture that it had taken the better part of a day for his oldest son, Celebren, to convince him not to take a full force of arms to scour the mountains from the Ettenmoors to the Gap of Rohan looking for his youngest and killing all in his wake. Celebren had finally convinced him that efficiency lay with a few smallish parties could move quickly and cover more likely areas than a full scale assault upon all Middle Earth.
So he sat his horse staring at the stars seeking the solace they had always offered him in the past. Eventually the stars’ cool light found their way into his soul and managed to soothe away the blood lust that was raging through his veins. He could think once again. His eye fell upon the nearest Elf and demanded, “Where is Celebren!” The Elf jumped at the booming voice of his king, but managed to respond in a strong enough voice for he knew his king hated any signs of weakness. Given the towering mood that Thranduil was exhibiting it was wise not to try his patience. “He is speaking with Sadron, he said that there were a few last minute details that merited discussion before the southern party departed.”
“I see, then we are ready to depart, then.”
“I believe we are, My Lord. We now only wait upon your son.”
“I am impatient to be off! Every second is precious!” Thranduil said, his anger igniting once again.
“Then let us be off!” said a voice from behind him. Thranduil turned and saw Celebren, his oldest son ride up in full battle gear. Thranduil saw the anger that was slow to kindle in his eldest son’s eyes and he was satisfied. They were ready to do battle with verminous forces that dared capture Legolas, youngest and most beloved.
Legolas slowly crept back toward the ascending passage that they had traveled upon before the small troop of Orcs had lumbered past. Estel crept after him, and wondered out loud, “Is it safe to return to that path.”
Legolas looked back, “No, nowhere is safe as long as we are within these Orc caves. But at least this path leads upwards and a chance of escape.” Estel was forced to agree with this logic.
A slight movement caught the boy’s eye. Legolas was unsheathing his white knives. Alarmed, he reached down and pulled both daggers from his boots and with knives in hand, he calmed his mind for battle in the way his foster brothers had schooled into him. His breathing slowed and he felt his senses sharpen in the dim light. It happened so fast; no sooner had they reached the intersection of the two passages than they sprung upon two unsuspecting Orcs. A flash of a bone handled knife and Estel quickly slit the throat of the first Orc so that he could not cry out. Legolas held his knife hard against the second Orc’s throat. “You will tell us the way out of this stinking hole or you will meet the same fate as the filth that lay upon the ground at this moment.”
“I will tell you nothing,” came the snarl.
“Very well. You die!” Legolas said as he summarily cut the Orc’s throat and dropping him where he stood. “We should hide the carcasses so they are not so easily detected.” Estel nodded as he attempted to wipe the foul, dark Orcish blood from his dagger.
Dragging the two bodies into a more out of the way spot spent the last of Estel’s energy. With the battle rage gone, the pain of his head injury returned with re-doubled energy and Estel felt unsteady on his feet.
“Are you all right?” Legolas asked, noticing the pallor of Estel’s face even in the dim light.
“Just a bit light-headed. That is all.” He took one step and crumpled to the ground.
As he came around at first he wondered why it was so dark and then the stench hit him and he remembered. He moved quickly, “Sh-sh! We are safe for the moment.” It was pitch-black but Estel recognized Legolas’ voice and calmed somewhat. “You are almost as heavy as one of those Orcs,” softly sang the lyrical voice of the Elf, albeit in a slightly teasing tenor.
Estel chuckled and then said, “Don’t make me laugh. It hurts!” He sobered, asking, “Where are we?”
“We are hidden for the moment,” said the lyrical voice in the dark. “I picked you up and dashed towards the passage we had just left and found this small cavern. I think it is not much more than a large hole in the wall. I slipped back into the passage to retrieve a light and looked around for a bit before it burnt itself out.”
Estel looked at him, “How long have I been unconscious.”
“For about two hours. And I think that you only passed out from exhaustion and stress.”
Estel was glad Legolas could not see the embarrassment written on his face. Elladan and Elrohir would never let him live it down. Just thinking about them brought pain. Physical pain he could deal with, but imagining the torment that his brothers were enduring at this very moment was almost beyond what he could bear. “I will return to them. I must,” he muttered.
Silence. And then he heard, “You will and so will I.” Determination sounded strongly in Legolas’ voice. The blond Elf thought upon his own father and his reaction to the news of his youngest son’s abduction. It did not make for pleasant musing.
“The darkness is so complete, Legolas. Keep whispering so that I may know that I am not alone.”
Something in that voice, so young, so plaintive and yet so embarrassed to admit such need reached into Legolas’ soul and touched him. A bond had been formed this day and in this dark place between this boy and him. Somehow he knew that it would never be broken.
* ROTK screenplay: It's Faramir's line to Gandalf when they are riding out to retake Osgiliath. The line spoke to Erithain's feelings also, so I borrowed it. :-)
Celebren: Legolas’ oldest brother.
Sadron: Legolas’ second oldest brother.
Chapter 15 is here! A bit of violence in this chapter. Hope nobody minds.
Chapter 15—Hannon le
Mirkwood soldiers had been riding since early morning and were stopped briefly, to allow the horses drinking time from the stream leading out of the mountains. Thranduil sat his horse wearied to the bone, yet he needed to continue. He could not stop; the image of Legolas’ face contorted with pain was waiting if he dared close his eyes, as if imprinted on the inside of his eyelids. That and the never faded memory of the fate that had befallen his beloved Lasgalen, waiting in the Halls of Mandos these last two thousand years is what drove him forward. He shut his eyes to stop the memory of his wife’s death, but the faithful image of Legolas in torment greeted him as he did. It would seem that he could not stop the memory. It would visit him again.
Circa 1100 TA
“Do not go this month, Melldanya! There is an ill-favour in the air and I would ask that you postpone your journey.” Thranduil was referring to the trip to Imladris to visit with her cousin, Celebrian that Lasgalen would depart for on the morrow. “I can have my messenger send to Elrond that you will come next month.”
“You just do not want me visiting with the Lord and Lady. That is why you speak of ill-tidings, my love. I know you far too well.” Lasgalen smiled as she looked over at her stern husband and then walked over to put her arms around him.
He looked down at his petite wife. Golden haired and smiling, he often wondered why this little ray of sunshine had decided to marry him with his foul moods and his slightly jaundiced view of the world. He had over the centuries asked that very question, and she always gave the same answer, “Because I knew I would never marry anyone else.” And that he was perfect for her. To this day he did not understand, but he had learned to not question the bounty given to him by the Valar. He knew that Celeborn and Galadriel would be in Imladris and it did not please him, but it was more than the guest list that worried him. “It is no secret that I dislike the Lady. But Las’ it is more than that. Orcs have been spotted more and more since the strange habitation of Dol Guldur.” He looked into her laughing eyes. “You cannot go! I will not allow it.” He watched the laughter in her eyes turned to anger.
“You cannot stop me, I will go! Celebrian’s letter said to come immediately and that is an end to it. I will go now and say good night to Legolas and then I will go to bed, my lord.” With that she disentangled herself from Thranduil’s arms and in a flutter of pale green silk she was gone.
Thranduil cursed and ran after his lovely yet stubborn wife. She only called him “My Lord” when she was very angry. He knew that to forbid her to go was the surest way to invoke her ire, but his worry overrode all else. He saw her enter their youngest son’s bedchamber and was about to open the door when the beautiful sight within caught his eye, the golden hair of mother and son softly blending together. He listened to their whispered conversation.
“Why do you have to go, Nana!”
Thranduil listened intently, “Because I must, mellion. The sea calls to my cousin. She can resist no longer and I wish to see her before she leaves these shores.”
“Why does the sea call her, Nana?”
“Because she is not well, mellion. The sea beckons and it is her hope that by returning across it she can be whole again.”
“Was it the Orcs? Did they do this to her?”
Lasgalen looked at her young son. “How did you know about that?”
“I heard people talking.”
Lasgalen paused, regretting that her youngest should have heard the truth in such a haphazard fashion. Mistakely perhaps, they had purposefully not told him, because what happened to Celebrian was not something that children should know. She looked at her youngest and realized that soon he would start the training to become a warrior. He was no longer a child, no matter how much she wished to think he was. “Yes, my love, it is because of what the Orcs did to her.”
“I hate them.”
“Shh-shh. So do I, my love. For they are driving away a very dear friend to me. But now is not the time to dwell on such matters. Now is the time for sleep.” Thranduil watched as Lasgalen smoothed her son’s brow and wove a kind of contented sleep upon him, softly singing a melody from their childhood long ago. In a soft voice she said, “Thranduil, you can come in now. Legolas is asleep.”
Startled Thranduil hrumphed and quietly opened the door, entering. “How did you know I was there?”
“I heard.” She turned slightly aggrieved eyes upon her husband. “How much did you hear?”
“Enough. Why did you not tell me that the sea-longing had come upon Celebrian?” inquired Thranduil, somewhat aggrieved himself that Lasgalen did not trust him enough to share.
“Do not vent your ire upon me. I did not say because I knew it would only upset you.” Thranduil started to protest. “I see your face every time the sea-longing falls upon one of our own people. I would spare you that.”
Thranduil still continued to look somewhat aggrieved, but now realized that no amount of argument would stop his wife from making the appointed journey. His countenance softened as he reluctantly gave in, “Be safe. My heart.”
“I will, I do not travel unprotected, my love. And the reports of Orc attack are not so much taking the northern route. I will be fine.”
She had not been fine. A fresh sear of pain slashed through Thranduil as he shook himself from his reverie. He thought of the messenger who brought the tidings and his beloved’s body being presented to him wrapped in her dark green traveling cloak. He still did not remember much of the weeks after her death. Dark times they had been, he was not very sure how he had survived to live on, but he had. He looked around and realized that they stood at the foot of the very same mountain pass that had seen Orcs take and torture his beloved Lasgalen. Only now it was their youngest who was missing and in danger.
“Adar? Adar?” Thranduil turned eyes of blazing intensity upon his oldest child.
“Yes!” He snapped.
Celebren bowed his head in apology, “I am sorry, Adar. If I have disturbed you.”
Thranduil shook his head in his own apology, “It is I who should apologise, ion nin.” He rallied to answer in a more forceful voice, “In fact I should thank you for disturbing me for I was dwelling on memories that should not be dwelt upon.”
Celebren gave him a knowing look, but wisely said nothing. Calming his father’s demons was never easy, now least of all and it was best not question further. He changed the subject, “Do we proceed through the pass now or do we wait for light of day?”
Thranduil paused before answering. He wanted nothing more than to tear down the mountains stone by stone and tree by tree to find his youngest, yet he knew how treacherous the pass was after dark. After a protracted inner struggle Thranduil pronounced, “We shall wait for first light. Make camp.”
“As you will, Adar!” Celebren bowed his head and turned his horse to announce to the collected warriors that they were to dismount and set up camp and as a result did not hear his father mutter, “And may the Valar have mercy upon my soul if we are too late.”
Morning came and Thranduil’s company entered the mountain pass. His intent was clear. He would not stop until his youngest son was found. They saw an Orc scrambling toward a cave in the mountainside. Thranduil looked to his son again his eyes blazing with intensity, “It is time we sent a calling card, do you not think? Pin him to the nearest tree. Do not kill him. We need him alive…for now. If you wing him a little. Oh well.” Thranduil finished with a slightly wild look in his eyes.
Celebren nodded. He deftly knocked an arrow to his bowstring, stilled his breathing and let fly the arrow. It pinned the Orc to a scrubby little tree near the entrance. Thranduil whispered coolly, “Well shot, ion nin! Well shot!” as he dismounted. Celebren motioned for four archers to dismount and provide cover for the King and another two to bind the Orc’s hands and feet. Thranduil walked purposefully and carefully toward the pinned Orc. He stood imperiously over the immobilized Orc, gazing down over him contemptuously for a full minute before speaking, the four archers set for cover waiting with arrows knocked and ready to fire upon their King’s word.
After the Orc had been none too gently bound, he looked at the Elven King and spat upon the ground where the King’s foot rested inches from his head. One of the archers drew and made ready to shoot him for the insult, only to be stayed by his King’s hand. “Hold! I need this filth alive…for now,” he again added, maliciously.
“You hold my son.” Thranduil began in a cold, quiet voice that chilled the blood of the four archers. They knew what rage was being suppressed within their King at this very moment.
“I do not know what you speak of,” spat out the Orc.
Thranduil’s hand whipped across the Orc’s distorted and grotesque face, “Be silent!” he hissed. “I care naught for your lies! You will carry a message back to your lair. You will bring my son to me within the hour or you will all die!” Thranduil bent a little closer ignoring the repulsive stench emanating from the foul creature. “Even if we have to tear apart the mountain stone by stone, we will retrieve my son,” he said in that quiet, cold voice. “If you do not have him, I suggest you find him. My forces will not stop until you are all dead.” He stepped aside so that the Orc could see the array of Elven warriors ready to mete out swift justice. The Orc’s face lost some of its arrogant smugness and turned his eyes back on the Elven King. “Do we understand each other?” Without waiting for an answer he looked at the two Elves had been detailed to bind the Orc. “Release him and let him crawl back to his filth and deliver our message.”
His legs unbound, the Orc let out a bellow of impotent rage, and ran into the dank cave. Thranduil stood staring into the darkness of the cave for a few moments to bring his rage back into check before turning back to his warriors.
“Now we prepare for a sneak attack,” he said to Celebren after stomping back down to his son and the rest of his company. “We have angered them and when they come out to fight we will kill them all. Nobody holds my son.” He finished with a finality of steel and anger.
Estel awoke. At least he thought he was awake. Pitch-black darkness can easily fool the senses, but as he could hear the even breathing and warmth of Legolas’ body next to him he was fairly certain that he was no longer sleeping. He whispered, “Legolas, are you awake?”
“Yes,” came the whisper back.
Comforted more by the sound of Legolas’ voice than he cared to admit, he ventured, “Do you heard that? It sounds like lots of movement, like scurrying.”
“I hear it. What do you suppose is going on?”
Estel shook his head and then remembered that Legolas could not see such a gesture and added, “I do not know. But I do know that I do not wish to spend any more time than is necessary in this dark hole.”
Legolas’ voice shared his weariness as he said, “I completely agree. This is a darkness that would steal the heart. Shall we venture forward? Do you think you can walk?”
“There’s one way to find out,” Estel said as he slowly began to move his limbs and flex his hands and feet in an effort to get the blood flowing faster again.” The pin and needles assailed all parts as he realized just how still he had been, afraid to move lest he should attracted attention.
“I’m going to move toward the opening now,” came Legolas’ whisper. “Keep close as you can.”
“I’m right behind you,” Estel confirmed.
Slowly, feeling came back into his legs as Estel tentatively walked forward, taking each step on faith that there would indeed be firm ground beneath his feet. He anchored his hopes onto Legolas’ slight footfalls, listening intently for each one, trusting it would lead him back into the light or at least the dimness of the passage ways of the cave. Suddenly they were no more. Panic flared in Estel’s heart. “Legolas!” he whispered as loudly as he dared. Nothing. He realized that his eyes were still closed, before in the pitch black it had not mattered and it was more comfortable to keep them closed but he opened them now out of necessity. He saw dimness and lightly walked towards it. He froze as he heard voices. From the few words of Orcish that he knew, he could tell that there were two of them and from the faint sounds of struggling he knew Legolas had been captured. He had to think fast. He could not allow Legolas to be taken away. He hugged the wall and listened for as much information as he could about the location of everyone in the passage and thought back to what Glorfindel had taught him about being outnumbered. Thankfully there were only two he thought as he unsheathed his knives, readying to one to throw. More he did not think he could handle. And surprise was on his side, nominally. He would have to incapacitate one of them very quickly. He stilled his breathing and prepared his mind, finding the calmness that Elladan and Elrohir had taught him how to find. He mouthed a quick prayer to the Valar and then burst out of the doorway. He stabbed the first Orc in the back. The gasping noise caused the Orc carrying Legolas over his shoulder to turn around and Estel quickly took aim and planted the flying blade deep into the Orc’s thick neck. He gurgled his shock and outrage looking at the boy who managed to take his life from him as he slowly collapsed, pitching an unconscious Legolas onto the ground.
Estel stilled his motion and listened for any more signs of life from either the two Orcs he had just killed or any others that might happen upon them. All was silence. He bent to retrieve his bone handled knife that was imbedded in the second Orc’s neck and wiped the foul Orc blood on the Orc’s clothing. His own clothing was befouled enough without added more to it. Storing both of his knives back into his boot sheaths, he bent over Legolas. His shoulders sagged in relief as he heard the unconscious Elf breathing. “Legolas!” He gently slapped the blond Elf’s cheek to bring him around and he suddenly remembered that he had some hartshorne in the little pouch on his side. He felt for the little kernel of essence, snapped it and stuck it under the Elf’s nose. Immediately the Elf gasped and his eyes fluttered open. “Ow, What hit me?”
“A two-hundred pound Orc and his friend, that’s what.”
Legolas looked around, and muttered at the pain such an action caused, grabbing his head. After the wave of pain had passed, he said, “You killed both?”
Estel shrugged, “This one,” he pointed to the Orc closer to them with the pool of blood around his neck, “had you over his shoulder and that one,” pointing toward the first one he had killed, “was following behind. They seemed bent on taking you somewhere. And that I could not allow.” Legolas struggled into a sitting position and looked at his young friend. There was a more serious and somber look behind the boy’s eyes. He already looked less innocent than when he had first regained consciousness in Legolas’ dim cell. He ruefully smiled, “I was meaning to protect you and it turns out that you are my saviour. Hannon le, mellon nin!” He touched his hand to his head and heart, albeit gingerly. Estel smiled shyly as Legolas saw the young boy once again take the place of the man in his countenance. “I only did as I was trained.”
“You were trained well, but courage is innate, that cannot be taught. My Adar will want to thank you. If we ever get out here, that is.”
Estel ruefully nodded and then paused saying after, “Legolas, have you noticed something.”
“We have been sitting here in the middle of this passageway talking and no one has discovered us.”
“Tis most odd. Where do you think they have all gone?”
Estel shrugged, “I do not know. And I do not want to stay around to find out. Can you walk?”
“I think so,” Legolas stood with the help of his friend. “What direction were the Orcs headed?” Estel pointed toward up the passage. “Well if it is all the same with you, I think I should like to travel in the opposite direction!”
“I most definitely agree.” Estel said with feeling. He had had enough surprise run-ins with Orcs for one day.
The path they had chosen was the path they had initially started to follow when they first left the cell. At least the upward incline seemed to suggest that it was. There was really no way to tell. One thing was for certain, though. There were no Orcs anywhere in this portion of the cave. The two Orcs that Estel killed were the last Orcs they had spotted. Estel was not about to question this sudden turn in fortune, though. No Orcs to hinder their path meant that they were likely to find the surface sooner rather than later. This thought pleased Estel on many levels, because now that the immediate threat on their lives had lessened, time allowed Estel to worry about what torment Elladan and Elrohir were suffering. He tried not to think on it, but the pit of his stomach had tightened into a hard knot of concern. He must return to his brothers at all cost and as soon as possible.
Many times they had to double back and try pick up from where they had made the mistaken turn, each mistake only deepened Estel’s worry. Legolas, too, he noticed had become more quiet and withdrawn. Worry hung over both of them and they pressed ever onwards trying to find the path that would lead them back to the surface and those that cared for them. Slowly Estel realized how thirsty he was. Neither he nor Legolas had had anything to drink since they had drained the last dregs from Legolas’ small wineskin while waiting in the pitch black hole. He could not even be sure how long ago that had been. Time seem to lose all meaning within this Orc enclave.
Hour upon hour they slogged on and making missteps and retracing their steps. Eventually the air they were breathing in and out did not seem quiteso stale and stifling. Estel looked Legolas and rasped, “The air. It seems fresher somehow.” He swallowed drily, “Or is it just my too hopeful imagination?”
Legolas shook his head and said with some strain, “If you are imagining it, then so am I. For I, too, smell a certain freshness.” He looked around moving their meager torch through the air in an effort to illuminate more of the passage. The fire from the torch flickered slightly towards Legolas once and then a second time. “Estel! Air! Something is causing the flame to flicker!” They both paused briefly to gaze at the meager light hoping it would flicker again. Gazing upon it, Estel found himself praying to the Valar for a sign, any sign that they were near the surface. Just as he finished his brief supplication the flame flickered again, this time more substantially than before. Legolas looked in the direction opposite the flicker and started walking. “This way,” he whispered, not so much because he was afraid of being overheard, but rather it was all that was left of his voice.
The two wordlessly continued on in the hope that the flickering of the flame would lead them well. After about ten minutes they heard voices. They were indistinct, but lacking the gruffness of voice that characterized the Orcs that had held them captive. Estel felt a thrill in his heart. He knew these voices, had known them all his life. He looked at Legolas’ firelight face and whispered hopefully, “We are found!” He stepped forward carefully trying pinpoint where the voices were coming from. “Elladan!” he tried to yell but his voice was nothing more than a tortured whisper. He swallowed painfully and tried again. It was no use. Legolas tried banging on the walls with a rock lying near his foot. It echoed around the passage but neither could tell if the sound was traveling beyond the passage or just echoing back.
Estel sank to a sitting position. He was bone-weary and to have come so close and not be able to make their presence known sapped what was left of his strength, both mental and physical. He was so tired. His head was pounding and he was heartsick. Legolas dropped into position at his back and they sat. Neither spoke. Neither had the energy to. Estel just kept thinking, “Elladan, please find us. We are close. Please.” He kept thinking and imaging his eldest foster brother’s face.
Elladan was digging threw the rubble and was very carefully removing a larger rock when he felt rather than heard a faint voice. He replaced the rock and stilled his mind. “Please find us. We are close.” The “we” confused him but he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt whose voice that was. Estel. Alive and well. He surveyed the work they had done. They had made progress at clearing the entrance. He saw a small opening near where Vivelle had been working and he made his way towards it. Elrohir noticed the sudden movement and met his brother at the opening.
“I know where Estel is. He is not far. I’m going in.” He looked pointedly at his younger brother, “Alone.”
Elrohir just shook his head and said, “I’m following you. You will need somebody to watch your back. We do not know what is down there.”
Elladan looked at his brother. Warring emotions conflicted within him. Part of him yearned to keep Elrohir out of harm’s way. He knew he could not bear it if any harm should befall his younger twin. The other half, selfishly perhaps, wanted him right by his side. Elrohir was the other half of his soul and he relied on him in all things. Reluctantly Elladan nodded his consent.
Elrohir smiled, “As if you could have stopped me!”
Elladan smiled, eyes twinkling, “I had hopes!” then sobering he turned to Vivelle, “Keep watch and continue clearing the entrance. I hope we are not gone overly long. If we are, ride to Mirkwood and seek out Thranduil and see if he will aid us.” Vivelle looked him a little dubiously over that last order. Elladan smiled slightly, “I know relations have not always been cordial between Adar and the King of Mirkwood. But Adar seemed to think that Thranduil would be more receptively of late. It was one of the reasons we were to seek an audience with the Elven King.”
Vivelle put a hand on her heart, “As you wish, my lord.” She added, “May the Valar guide your steps.”
Elladan nodded and gingerly placed a foot upon the small threshold of the opening, hoping that it would not give way. It held firm and he lower himself nimbly into the cavity, landing lightly upon the ground below amid small billows of freshly disturbed dust and debris. He moved quickly into the dark of the cave to make room for his brother. He looked at the portion of the wall lit by the opening they had made. He saw an empty crude iron sconce and realized he did not have flame. He called up to his brother for two lamps. While he waited he touched the wall of the cave. It felt cold and damp to the touch and felt a pang of regret that his little brother had been held in this dismal place. Granted Estel was not Elven, and not as susceptible to the deprivation of light and air experienced by Elves when forced underground. He embraced that small crumb of comfort as he waited for light. Thankfully, it was quick in coming. Elrohir dropped the lighting taper through the hole before landing gently upon the spot just vacated by his brother. Quickly the lamps were lit, and they poured a small amount of light into the dismal, cold tunnel.
“All right, muindor, we are in. Now where do we go?” Elrohir looked quizzically at his older brother, noticing through the dust and grime his twin’s face bore an expression of expectancy.
Elladan looked as far as the light would let him, “This way.”
After traveling for about five minutes they came to a fork in the passageways. Elladan closed his eyes, breathing in and out, “Let’s try this direction.” He pointed towards a passage with a slight downward inclination and Elrohir wordlessly followed him. After about three minutes they saw the faint glow of a torch blazed then guttered out. Elladan quickened his pace against all caution. Within the fall of light from his lamp, he saw Estel, sitting on the ground his back against a blond Elf that to his shock Elladan recognized immediately as Legolas Thrandulion, youngest son to Mirkwood’s King and kinsman to him and Elrohir, through marriage.
He would discover the mystery of Legolas’ presence here in the fullness time, but his only real concern was the welfare of his little brother. He set his lamp down by his brother’s side and prayed to the Valar he was only sleeping. Elladan place his hands on the side of Estel’s head cradling it gently, “Estel” he said in a voice choked with emotion, clearing his throat, he tried again. “Estel, muindoreg! Awaken, please, my love!”
Estel’s eyes fluttered and then fully opened. Elladan was weak with relief. Tears stung his eyes, as he gasped, “He is alive!” to Elrohir now kneeling on Estel’s other side.
“The Valar be praised!” Elrohir exclaimed softly, tears partially obscuring his vision.
Estel blinked, “Dan? Roh?” he rasped. A slightly stunned look across his face, “You found me!”
Elladan just looked at him to convince himself that they had indeed found him alive and whole. The fear and blame that had been gripping his heart and darkening his soul slowly released him. Estel sat in front of him grimy and bedraggled and his clothing bore evidence of fighting and rough treatment; Elladan had never seen his little brother look more beautiful. He was alive and seemingly uninjured. “Are you well?” he said in a choked voice, smoothing back the boy’s unkempt dark hair and caressing his cheek.
Estel answered in a whisper, “I am now, but I am awful thirsty.” Elrohir uncorked his wineskin and handed it to Estel, who hungrily drank so much so quickly that he coughed and sputtered which in turn woke up Legolas.
The golden-haired Elf blinked twice and then rasped, “Elladan? Elrohir? You found us! Thank the Valar!”
“Yes indeed.” Elrohir said, wiping his tears on his sleeve. “But the next question is, ‘what in all of Arda are you doing here?”
After Legolas had also gulped a sufficient amount of wine from Elladan’s wineskin, Estel at last discovered how it was that Legolas was captured by the Orcs. He had been riding along with his scouting party within the borders of Mirkwood, albeit near where forest met plain. They had been attacked just before dawn and Legolas had been grazed with an arrow dipped with some crude form of potion and taken back to their cave in the Misty Mountains.
“I was to be a hostage until Adar met with them to agree to stop killing them, they had gold and jewels to give Adar if the killing stopped. Later they told me this was the message they sent back with the rest of my party.”
Elrohir looked incredulous, “Even given your Adar’s love of such things, Orcs could not be so stupid as to think this could work?”
“Orcs are not given to understanding the better natures of others. Adar is known to have a penchance for such things, so to an Orc mind this plan could work.” Legolas said by way of some sort of explanation.
Knowing what he knew of Thranduil, Elrohir smiled slightly saying, “This can only end badly for the Orcs. Your Adar is not the calmest or most sanguine of Elves.”
Legolas replied, “Understatement is a gift I see you have been practicing.” sharing the smile with the Imladris Elf.
“I do my best.” Elrohir spoke with a glint in his eye.
“This bandying of words is all well and good, but I think we should get our two foundlings out of this dark place and up into the light!” Elladan interrupted, “And I think we should see the youngest prince of Mirkwood safe into his realm before his Adar tears up half of Middle Earth looking for him.” This last was spoken playfully but all knew the torment that Thranduil would be suffering at this moment. All save Estel knew of what Thranduil had lost at the hands of the Orcs. In fact if deeper hatred for Orcs glowed within any heart it was the twins of Rivendell for they too had lost one very dear to the foul creatures.
The rays of the morning sun were diffused by grey clouds allowing only a few gentle beams to fall upon the discoloured field of slaughter, Orc blood mixed with the dirt and scant grass thatches, staining the ground a dark red. Thranduil overlooked the field of battle scarred with the bodies of Orcs. Anger still burned brightly within him, not even the slaying of Orcs had assuaged it. A few Orcs remained alive for questioning after which they would be put summarily to death. Thranduil could not think past his anger; it was the only thing that was driving him forward. Beyond were a debilitating fear and sadness that he could not give into lest he become useless to his youngest son. Find Legolas he would, find Legolas he must. He could not see past it, their youngest son was Lasgalen’s last gift to him and he would not lose him.
Celebren walked up to the side of his Adar’s horse. “The prisoners are ready for questioning, my lord.” Thranduil drew a deep breath to calm his anger and looked down at his somber son. Inwardly, Celebren was a bit taken aback at the anger still in his Adar’s eyes and thought Woe betide any who crosses Adar now! He hated Orcs to the very core of his being but his hatred paled in comparison to his Adar’s. He could almost pity the Orcs about to be questioned. Almost. Thranduil in full wroth was a frightening sight and one to be avoided by those blessed with even a modicum of common sense.
Thranduil dismounted his horse, landing lightly upon a blood soaked patch and quickly made his way through the litter of bodies to where the last two Orcs remained bound. He surveyed them for a few minutes; his visage painted with disgust and barely contained rage. Both stared back, defiant. This only served to anger him more. At length, he spoke in a voice of cold steel, “Now tell me what I wish to know.” He paused, “Where is my son?”
“I will tell you nothing.” snarled the first.
“Tell me now and spare yourself.”
“Hah! He’s dead. Could not take our ‘hospitality’ if you take my meaning. Much like his mother, now that I’m thinkin’. She died screaming and cursing that you did not come for her.” The second Orc said, joining the exchange, “That was, of course, after we had taken turns, you see.”
Celebren’s eyes went wide with shock and anger and his eyes flew to his Adar. In a lightning flash Thranduil had unsheathed a jeweled handled dagger gifted to him by his beloved wife and from behind, had it at the Orc’s throat, “You lie! Tell me or I will rip out your throat myself!” Thranduil roared into the Orc’s ear.
“Kill me, then! For I will say noth—” His last word was cut short by Thranduil’s blade. Thranduil turned eyes of blind fury upon the first Orc as he pushed aside the other still gurgling filth. Drawing himself up imperiously, he then crouched down next to the first Orc. Slowly cleaning the bloody jewel-encrusted dagger upon the torn collar of the Orc’s tunic, he said, “If you do not tell me now. I can wait. I have all day,” he said pointedly as the sun choose that moment to slip from behind a cloud, spilling early morning light onto the field, all but blinding the tightly bound Orc. “I’m sure you will be most cooperative by noon when the sun is at its zenith.” Thranduil ended in a low, threatening voice. The Orc gulped and lost a much of his arrogant expression. “Tell me what I want to know and I will make your death quick.” Thranduil said quietly. “Remain silent and,” Thranduil paused, “You will wish you had spoken. Many, many ways I can think of to make you regret your earlier silence.” Thranduil looked straight into the eyes of the already injured Orc, poising his knife blade at the Orc’s shoulder and gently dragging the blade along the Orc’s arm, just enough to draw blood, “Slowly, but surely, you will beg me for death.”
Celebren heard the words his Adar was uttering and he could not believe his ears. He had always known that Thranduil had something of a cold streak, but never had he heard such language coming from him before. He looked at the worry-worn face bent over his prey and wondered had he ever really known his Adar, for behaviour such as this came as a great shock. Granted they had always had different temperaments, he was always more the scholar than his Adar wanted him to be, but this. This behaviour was frightening. “Adar!”
At first he did not believe Thranduil had heard him, but when his Adar turned his head to behold his oldest son, the frosty blue eyes leveled on him spoke to the fact that Thranduil had heard the uttered entreaty. They locked eyes and might have remained in the battle of two wills if the Orc had not shouted, “The Elf is not dead.” A look of triumph crossed Thranduil’s embittered face as he turned back to the Orc, “Good. Now where is he?” the Elven King’s voice grew hard as nails.
The Orc paused and then blurted out, “I don’t know. We went to get him and he was gone.” A thrill ran through Thranduil. His youngest was alive and had escaped. He was almost dizzy with relief.
“Very well, you have served your purpose.” He looked to the nearest Elf, “leave his hands and feet bound. And leave him here. We shall depart to continue the search for Legolas. Perhaps someone will untie him, perhaps no. It matters not, for he is no longer of any concern to me. We ride.”
Thranduil looked at his son and was stopped cold by his look.
“If I offend you, I do beg pardon. You needn’t have listened if it offended you so.” The older Elf bit off each word and spat them at his oldest, his contempt clear in his voice.
Celebren did not falter, “Adar, This was not the way! The information could have been found differently.”
“I’m sorry my methods do not find favour. They are however effective.”
Celebren broke his stare to mount his horse, “Yes, but at what cost?” he muttered under his breath.
Thranduil looked on as his son mounted and heard what Celebren thought inaudible, at what cost indeed, ion nin! Suddenly he felt very tired. He got had gotten what he had desired, but his methods allowed a possible gap to begin between father and son. He would never have stooped to the torture that he had threatened the Orc with. At least he told himself that. Had the Orc not broken when he did there is no telling where Thranduil would have stopped. The very realization chilled him. Sometimes unpalatable actions were necessary, though. They were a means to an end. Celebren would understand that someday. At least he hoped he would. Thranduil sighed and closed his eyes. Blissfully, the vision of Legolas in torment was gone. Replacing it, though, was Celebren looking at his Adar in incredulous horror. What must I seem in my beloved son’s eyes, mused Thranduil, saddened beyond measure. The thought stayed with him long after he had dispatched orders to heap the Orc bodies into a funeral pyre and they began to undertake a search of the surrounding area.
Elladan looked at the two sitting together by the fire, breaking their fast. A young boy and a young Elf, for Legolas by Elven terms was still considered a young Elf. He was only a little over five hundred years old. One dark-haired youth, one blond Elf, an unlikely pair, but they seemed to fit together the one at the other’s side. Elladan ruefully smiled when he thought of Thranduil’s reaction to Legolas forming a friendship with somebody other than an Elf. Wood Elves, more than the Elves of Rivendell, kept to themselves. They tended to shy away from frequent contact with others, even other Elves. Thranduil had grown more reclusive since the battle of the Last Alliance. His Adar had told him that the Mirkwood Elves bore the heaviest losses during the last battle with Sauron. Thranduil had lost his Adar, Oropher and at least half of their numbers and Elrond said that Thranduil held him and Gil-galad responsible for such a high number of casualties among the Wood Elves. Men he held in even less esteem, his Elves had borne such loss and through the actions of one man all their sacrifice was held at naught. Isildur, son of the King of Men, did not destroy that which should have been destroyed, leaving the battle not yet won, not yet lost, only postponed and to be fought again. He dealt with the Men of Laketown through necessity and could bare their presence tolerably well for short periods. But he would not take well to the idea of his beloved youngest son forging such a strong bond with this young boy. He would like it even less if he knew the boy’s heritage. Never the less, noticing the strength of the newly forged friendship between the two, he thought Thranduil would be wise to accept the bond.
The musing prompted Elladan’s next action. “We’d best break camp and depart for Mirkwood with all speed for I think keeping ion and Adar apart for much longer would be most unwise!”
Legolas looked up and with anxiety creasing his brow, “Let us be off! I do not wish to contemplate what has happened in my absence any further.”
Within the hour they were riding along the trail leading downward towards the plains that gave away to the forest of Mirkwood. As they rode Estel noticed a plume of smoke rising in the west. He mentioned it to Legolas seated behind him on Gilgilath motioning toward the plume dissipating into the air. The worry on Legolas face intensified. Just then the wind shifted and an unmistakable stench floated in with it, the burning of flesh.
Legolas looked at Elladan and without a spoken word the dark-haired Elf quickened the pace on the still narrow path. Myriad images of what they would find at the origins of the smoking plume raced through Legolas’ mind. None were very positive. The further west they rode the stronger the stench became.
At last they rounded a bend and came upon a small clearing. From the blood stained earth to the bruised and broken thatched grass, signs of slaughter were everywhere. Legolas looked off the side of the clearing and saw the source of the smoke. A funeral pyre. Riding swiftly to the base of the mound, Legolas dismounted and quickly began leafing through remains with his sword. Orc remains and nothing else. Legolas almost sagged with relief. “Orc remains,” he informed the others catching up to him at the pyre. Elrohir spoke for all as he uttered, “Thank the Valar! But if this pyre was for Orcs where is Thranduil?” No one doubted, not even Estel, who had been responsible for the slaughter.
Just then the sound of a horse and then another distracted them from their musing. Legolas looked towards the noise opposite from the way they had come. Cresting a small incline was an older silver-haired Elf. “Celebren!” Legolas exclaimed as he saw his oldest brother and ran towards him.
“Legolas! Praise the Valar! You are safe!” Celebren dismounted quickly and caught his brother in a bear hug. “We had feared the worst when your scouting party came back with the dire news! How did you escape?” Celebren pulled back to look at his youngest brother.
“With the help of this young boy! His name is Estel. He saved my life, Celebren!” Legolas motioned for Estel to come forward. Estel dismounted Gilgilath and stepped forward shyly.
“Mae Govannen, my lord.” Estel said, touching his hand to his heart and bowing slightly, “It was an honour to help your brother.”
Celebren surveyed the boy with kind, but curious eyes, and lifted Estel’s chin to look into the boy’s face and noticing for the first time the boy’s ears, “Mae Govannen, Estel. Hannon le! I cannot thank you enough for what you did for my beloved brother!” and bowed deeply hand on heart, “We owe you a debt we may never fully be able to repay.”
Estel coloured deeply at the praise, “We helped each other really. He helped me more than I helped him.”
“Nonsense,” Legolas exclaimed, “I had been held at knifepoint and you killed both Orcs to free me!”
Celebren paled upon hearing how close Legolas had been to danger and looked upon Estel, respect evident in his eyes. “You did?”
Estel nodded, “Yes, but only because it was necessary!”
Elrohir laughed out loud, “That’s our Estel. Acting bravely ‘only because it was necessary’.” He looked with love at his little foster brother and stepped forward to put an arm around the slender shoulders, “You needn’t ever explain away brave and noble actions, mell muindor nin!”
Celebren caught the endearment and again his curiosity was piqued, “A man child living among Elves, most unusual.”
Elrohir looked at Celebren, “He and his naneth came to live in Imladris after his Adar died. Adar took them under his wing.”
“Indeed?” Celebren said, raising a quizzical eyebrow.
“My Adar is very kind to all! So it is no surprise that he take should Naneth and me in!” Estel interjected in defence of his Adar.
Celebren raised his hands and smiled approvingly at the show of loyalty and said amiably, “You are right, Master Estel. I did not mean to imply otherwise. My apologies?”
Estel nodded and said strongly, “Accepted, my lord.”
Legolas heard the footfalls of more horses and went to inspect the noise. From another path leading deeper into the mountains emerged a beautiful horse of a unique strawberry colour. Only one Elf rode a horse of that particular shade. Legolas looked up into the eyes of his Adar. Father and son held eyes a few seconds and in one deft motion Thranduil was off his horse and sobbing in his youngest son’s arms. The tears from his usually stern and controlled father somewhat unnerved Legolas and he had found himself trying to comfort him as he would his niece and nephew. “I’m all right, Adar! I’m safe. Nothing has happened to me.”
Thranduil pulled himself away to look at his youngest and most beloved son. He could not believe his eyes. He looked his son up and down. Aside from grime and a few blood stains that he told himself were too dark to be Elven blood he looked well. He looked into Legolas’ blue eyes saw no darkness, no sadness and pain that he was trying to hide from his Adar. The tight bands of worry around his heart began to loosen for the first time since the scouting party had returned, one short in their numbers. “You are safe. Mellion nin! Valar be praised.” Finally Thranduil noticed a little ways off a few Elves arrayed differently from those of Wood Elves. “Imladris Elves?” he continued with more of his customary suspicion, recognizing Elladan and Elrohir.
Legolas noting the return of a more normal tone to his Adar’s voice inwardly sighed as he said, “Elrond’s sons are good people, Adar. You know this.” At the mention of Elrond, Thranduil turned a sharp look upon his son. “Hear them out, Adar. They have helped me greatly.”
Thranduil continued to look at his son but relented. Not even mention of Elrond could dampen the joy of his son’s return, whole in body and spirit.
Elladan first noticed the two approach and quickly dropped a low bow, “Mae Govannen! Thranduil King!” The others quickly followed suit.
“Mae Govannen! Sons of Elrond Half-Elven! My son tells me that you have aided him greatly. For this, Hannon le!”
Elladan unbent and said, “My Adar sends you his warmest greetings and yes. It has been our honour and privilege to have been of aid to your youngest and our kinsman.”
Something behind Thranduil’s eyes flashed at the mention of the link of marriage between the two families. Celebren saw it and decided to turn Thranduil’s attention away from that vein of thought. Stepping forward he said, “My lord, I wish to present to the one to whom Legolas owes his life.” Motioning to Estel to step forward. “His name is Estel.”
“Yes, Adar! He saved my life in the caves!” Legolas added with great fervour.
Estel was unaccountably nervous as he stepped forward and prayed he did not trip over his own feet as he bowed low to the Elven King. “Mae Govannen, my lord.” He said tremulously.
Thranduil aside to his son, “Did he?” Legolas nodded. Thranduil looked at the youth kneeling, and lifted his chin with his hand to behold clear grey eyes and an earnest face. He saw a trace of nobility that reminded him of something, of what he could not place. “Is this true? Did you save my son?”
Estel looked into stern blue eyes and an imperious face, “Yes, but we helped each other, my lord. I was scared, and Legolas made me less so. What I did, I know he would do for me. We needed to protect each other.” He answered strongly and clearly.
Thranduil looked at the boy, “You are of the race of Men?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“And yet you speak the Elven tongue and wear Elven garb. Why is that?”
“Lord Elrond is my foster-adar, my lord.”
Thranduil looked at Elladan for the truth of this odd statement, “It is true, my lord. He is our brother.” Thranduil raised another eyebrow at the statement and turned his gaze towards his newly found son and then upon the kneeling boy musing for several seconds, then smiled for the first time. “Estel. It means hope.” Grasping the boy’s hands resting on the bent knee, he raised the boy up. “Ion nin, you are aptly named. You have given me hope and have returned my son to me. For that I will owe you a great debt. Hannon le.” Thranduil bowed to the youth, hand on heart. As did their king, so did the Mirkwood Elves. Elladan watched his young brother receive thanks and homage from the Woodland Elves and again a vision sat in front his eyes. He saw a much older Estel crowned with a star-lit circlet shaped with eagle’s wings and the air suffuse with a sad, yet joyous song. There were people, many people and then the vision was gone.
Chapter 16: A Father’s Love
2951 TA—The hills past Fornost
Estel looked at the sleeping forms of his two older brothers, as always back-to-back, together in sleep as in all things. Normally they did not sleep so deeply for that was not the Elven way, but it had been a particularly hard few months. Orc numbers were growing in northern Eriador, for this reason the Elven band had again joined forces with the Rangers of the north to try and release the land from the oncoming darkness. His Adar had spoken of it many times. Dark times were coming and the Elves and the Men of the West had to make themselves ready for what was to come. He could not say when the threat would reach its peak and need would be greatest. He only knew that it was coming and sooner, rather than later. Estel smiled ruefully at that. Sooner had a different meaning for Elves than it did for men, being immortal beings, they tended to take the longer view of things.
“What has you smiling in so pensive a fashion on this late night, my friend?” Estel turned around and saw the leader of the Ranger patrols that he had come to love and respect over the five years they had known each other. Erithain’s shock of dark hair and dark clothing nearly hid him against the backdrop of midnight horizon behind. Only his face lit by the firelight and the concerned look it held were clearly visible.
Estel smiled more genuinely at the Ranger, “I was just thinking of Adar’s warning of danger and ill tidings.”
Erithain’s eyebrows arched slightly, “Do you not believe your Adar’s warnings.”
Estel replied, “No, the dark times are coming. If my Adar says it, then it will happen. I was only musing upon the word ‘soon’. What is soon to an Elf may take an entire life span of a man.”
It was Erithain’s turn to smile ruefully, “True, very true!”
Estel shared the smile and then sobered, “Do you think we will be ready when the time comes?” he looked at his friend and saw that odd, yearning look that crossed Erithain’s face from time to time that reminded him so much of way his Naneth would sometimes look at him. Brushing away the feeling of loss always evoked by that look Estel pulled his cloak around his shoulders a little tighter.
Erithain realised he had again let a little too much show on his face and quickly turned his eyes toward the fire before he said, “I think we will be, my friend. But much will be asked of us all.”
Estel nodded and stared into the fire watching the flames jump and listening to the crackle as he pondered the future. “We are heading home on the morrow. Did ‘Dan tell you?” he said changing the tenor of conversation from the imponderable future to the imminent departure on the morrow.
“He mentioned something about it.”
“It has been a long and difficult couple of months and I will welcome my warm soft bed in Imladris. And there’s also,” he added in a slightly more carrying voice, “the bonus of eating food NOT cooked by Elladan.”
A “Hmmph!” was heard from behind them and Elladan seated himself next to Estel. “Insult my cooking. Go ahead! some day my genius will recognised!” posturing and throwing a hurt look upon his face.
“It already has. One of the Orcs who trampled through our camp just two days ago decided to help himself to a bit of stew. Fortunately it had been your cooking and he keeled over dead.”
“Could not have had anything to do with my sword in his gullet now, would it?” Elladan inquired giving Estel the gimlet eye.
“Details, details!” Estel said, a glint in his eye as he waved his hand in a dismissive fashion. “It was the stew I tell you. Too bad he knocked it over and we could not any more in the morning. Shame really!” Estel finished with a big grin on his face.
“Keep it up, muindoreg! And I may not watch your back so closely next time!” Elladan leveled, trying not to grin himself.
“Oh! Now he impugns my abilities as a warrior! I see how it is!”
“Children, children! Can I not get a moment’s sleep without you fighting!” Elrohir loomed above them rubbing sleep from his eyes, the grin pulling at the corner of his mouth belying the sternness in the rest of his visage.
Erithain laughed, “I will miss you all when you return to Imladris. Pity you cannot stay and complete the tour.”
“No, it is our appointed time to return to Imladris. To delay would be to cause unwarranted worry on the part of our Adar.” Elrohir stated.
“A Elbereth! We would not want to worry the Lord of Rivendell over much!” Erithain finished with a playful tone. “I bid you a fair night and good rest.” With that the Dunedain Ranger stood and made his way in the dark towards his sleeping roll on the other side of the fire.
Imladris, One week later…
Gilraen sat at her loom finishing up her daily work on a new rug for the hearth in the council chambers. She thought back to the twists of fortune that saw her sitting in the Last Homely House weaving a rug for Lord Elrond. Even after all these years she still could not think of him by his given name only. Theirs remained a close partnership in the raising of their son. It had even developed into a friendly one, but she could never completely see her way past the fact that Arathorn had died bringing Estel to Imladris at Elrond’s bidding, and too soon at that. Her once-happy life had been torn to shreds by that act forcing her to muddle through without even the comfort of family. She had been forced grieve alone. Not that he did not offer himself up as a confidante, he had and helped her through some very rough times but, he denied her the joy of teaching her son about Arathorn and his love for his small son. She understood the reasoning behind it and had agreed to the strictures only because Arathorn had sacrificed his life so that little Aragorn could have the chance to fulfill his destiny.
Gilraen sighed deeply, “Aragorn.” She whispered the long-ago name gently. He had even been denied his name she thought ruefully. The pain of separation from Arathorn through death and her family through necessity ebbed and flowed within Gilraen. She was for the most part sanguine about her new life. She had lost much, but would sacrifice more if it meant that Aragorn could live and be free to fulfill his destiny. Elrond, beyond the strictures he had places, had been extraordinarily kind and living in Imladris among the Elves was pleasant. The Elves made every effort to make Imladris a home for the Dunedain woman and her son. And home it was. There still were times however when she felt the sadness grow upon her, she could not seem to help it from coming. Estel, as a child, recognised them and would learn to tell when were the best times for a hug and when were the best times to leave Nana alone. Gilraen shook herself out of the depressed reverie into which she felt herself sinking, chuckling slightly, “This will butter no parsnips!” returned to preparing her loom for day’s end.
She was startling by a voice at the door. “Aragorn. He will soon know his true name.”
She turned and saw Elrond standing at the door a somber expression darkening his visage. “What do you mean?”
“When he returns from his journey I will tell him all.”
Gilraen sat dumbstruck over what she had heard. “Is it time that he should know?”
“He is young, yes, but I believe it is time.”
Elrond watched as a burden seemed to lift from Gilraen’s shoulders. Her eyes lit with a kindled fire that he had not seen in a long time. Years seemed to fall from her as she smiled saying, “I am glad.”
The next day…
Elrond was standing on the balcony leading off his study when he saw five horses enter from the south passage. He immediately recognised the twins, but it took him more than a few seconds to recognise his youngest son. It had been five long months since he had seen Estel and even from far away he could tell how much Estel had grown, how much more mature he was than when he left on tour of northern Eriador. Gazing at Estel an overwhelming sadness filled him. He was about to lose his youngest son. Elrond drew a deep breath and thought of a five-year old Estel paging through his Ada’s leaf collection or tearing through the halls with Elmiran or one of the twins in fast flight behind. A ten-year old Estel shooting his first bow or listening enrapt to the stories Glorfindel would tell him. A fifteen-year old Estel receiving his first sword from Elrond, his eyes shining with pride. An unbidden tear slipped down his face as Elrond turned away from the window at the sound of a knock.
Elmiran entered, inclined a small bow, and waited for the permission to speak. Elrond glanced at his page of many years and said before the younger Elf even began speak, “Send for the Lady Gilraen and after bring Estel to me, I must speak with him.” Elmiran saw the intensity on his lord’s face and knew immediately what conversation was about to happen. He bowed his head in acknowledgement, saddened eyes cast down. Elrond thought, You are right my friend, Imladris will be a sadder place without my youngest. But he pushed that thought aside and breathed deeply in an effort to steel himself for the task ahead. He walked over to two deeply engraved doors behind the large table that served as his desk and felt the delicate design of a tree with seven stars encircling beneath his fingertips before his reached inside his tunic to withdraw an key, darkened with several hundred years age, on a blue velvet ribbon. He inserted the key into the lock and felt well-oiled hinges slip into place. He opened the door and reached inside past a wooden oblong box lined with silk to a small cube. He withdrew his hand and carefully opened the box. Inside, protected from the ravages of time, was a ring. Two snakes coiled around an emerald it had been in Estel’s family since before even Elrond had been born and now it would belong to Estel in token of his lineage and responsibility. Elrond set the ring box down and reached again into the cabinet sunk into the wall and pulled out the Sceptre of Annunminas. Younger than the ring, it held no less grandeur, being the symbol of Kingship of the Numenoreans since before the Downfall. This Estel would receive only if he succeed in the task he was born to and not before. Elrond replaced it back in the cabinet and locked it afterwards safely tucking the key inside his tunic.
Elmiran appeared once again at the door, “The Lady Gilraen, my lord.”
Gilraen walked in with a bounce in her step that was unusual. Normally she tread so lightly as not to disturb anyone. Elrond stopped himself. No, she had not always tread so. When Arathorn still lived Gilraen exuded a confidence and a verve that he had always found quite refreshing. He startled to realise the change that had come over her in the eighteen years since his friend’s passing and was even more startled to realised how little he had noticed. But this moment was not given to introspection, he needed to focus on the task at hand and he would mull over his failures at another time.
“My lady, Estel has returned. And I have sent for him. This can wait no longer.”
Gilraen touched her hand to her heart and smiled, “I have long waited for this moment, my lord.” Then noting the anxiety in Elrond’s pale blue eyes, she added, “Though I do understand that all has been done through necessity.”
After too many anxious minutes strung themselves together, they heard the expected knock upon the door and Elrond’s head snapped up from the unread document upon which he had been fixating. Though it were only a light respectful tap the sound cut through his nerves and straight into his heart, and breathing deeply Elrond spoke under his breathe, “What must be, shall be,” and quickly placed a happy look on his face lest Estel should sense anything was amiss. “Enter!”
The door strung open and in walked his youngest son, “Adar! You asked to see me?”
Much forced lightness was mixed with genuine happiness at seeing the young man as Elrond said, “Ion nin! It is good that you are home again! ” Whatever happens after today this will always be your home. I can only hope you will realise that! Elrond collapsed the distance between father and son and caught Estel in a fatherly hug, which a somewhat bewildered Estel returned the hug.
Next he was captured in a big motherly hug and said, “Naneth! I am so glad to be home! You are well?”
Gilraen smiled brightly, “Quite well, ion nin. Quite well.”
Estel noticed the marked difference in emotions displayed by his parents. Elrond was quite somber and anxious looking and his normally so calm and sanguine mother was quite the opposite.
“Adar? Is something wrong?”
Too clever by half, either that or I am not very successful at burying my emotions at this moment. “No. Ion nin! There is nothing wrong. Everything is as it should be.” Elrond said fully, his eyes betraying the pain that he felt and quickly looking away.
“I do not believe you. There is pain in your eyes. Tell me. I would know.” Estel paused and paled, “Are all well?”
Elrond looked back and saw the worry gather across his son’s brow. “Yes. I mean No.” He stopped himself. “All are well.” He said in a calmer voice.
Estel had never seen his father as flustered as he appeared before him now. “If that is not the matter, then what is?”
Elrond rubbed his face with both hands templing them at his mouth appearing deep in thought. Or so it seemed to outside eyes. In reality he was quelling the desire to keep silent and allow things to continue as they had for so many years. With effort he pushed his own feelings aside as he began, “Ion nin! Please let us sit for a moment.” Motioning towards the settee in the corner by a shelf filled with scrolls of different sizes.
Alarm bells sounded softly in Estel’s mind, “No thank you, I’ll stand.”
Elrond looked at him, “Please.” Panic started to rise in his breast. Estel looked to his mother for reassurance. She smiled and nodded and Estel did as his father bade him.
When the other two were seated, Elrond remained standing and poured Gilraen and himself a glass of the Dorwinian vintage he favoured so much, handed Gilraen hers, but set his down untasted. He looked across the room through the billowing russet curtains to the far twin waterfalls as he began to speak, “You have often asked why you and your naneth came to live here in Imladris.”
Estel grew still as he listened to his father’s words. Elrond seemed to be awaiting a response, “Yes, but neither you or Naneth would ever tell me.” Estel looked at her mother. Normally when he when raised such questions a shadow crossed his mother’s face and a sadness filled her eyes. He had learned to stop asking and was concerned how his father’s words were affecting her. He was pleasantly surprised to see her unfazed by the mention of that which had always caused her such pain before. In fact she looked radiant, which gave him much confusion. He felt explanation, however, was at hand.
Elrond turned his head to look his son straight in the eye. “I am about to tell you now.”
Estel drew himself up straight as he gazed into his father’s eyes.
“You have not always been named Estel. I named you that when you came here with your naneth. Your true name is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. Chieftain of the Dunedain.” Elrond intoned in as clear a voice as his emotions would allow.
Estel’s eyes grew wide and he quickly looked to his mother for confirmation. She nodded, “It is true.” He noted the pride that filled his mother’s eyes at the affirmation. Her emotions began to inform his as a hint of pride swelled within his breast. All the history lessons that Glorfindel had taught him, many of the stories he had told the eager, young student began to resonate within his mind.
Elrond saw a dawning comprehension within the young man’s clear grey eyes. “Yes, you are descended from Elros, my brother. The line unbroken of Numenorean Kings. The heir of Isildur.”
The dawning pride and comprehension turned to shame as Estel recalled the failure of Isildur to destroy the ring of power. “The sword, the shards. You were the one Isildur would not listen to.” Estel stated in a low toneless voice as history lessons collided with reality.
“Yes.” Elrond waited silently as the impact of what he had just revealed work its way through his son’s consciousness. He saw warring emotions flit across Estel’s face. Pride, shock, shame, amazement, but true to Estel’s essence it was the desire for knowledge that won out.
“Tell me everything. What happened to my father?” A salve to Elrond’s heart Estel had instinctively used the Westron word for “father” and not the Sindarin word “Adar.” “Is he still alive?” he asked, looking between his mother and father. Hope flared briefly in Estel’s heart only to have it extinguished by the pain now living his mother’s eyes.
Elrond’s face grew gaunt with restrained emotion as he remembered his friend, “No, he died before you turned three.”
“How did he die?” he asked somberly, “Were you there?”
It slashed Elrond to the heart to be the bearer of such sad tidings, even belated as they were. “Sadly, I was not. But your brothers were. As was your Naneth.”
Estel looked expectantly his mother, “It is best to ask your brothers. I still do not remember quite all of it. I don’t think I ever want to.” The remembered pain etched across her face dissuaded her son from asking any more of her.
“Why did you never tell me of this before? Why did this have to be kept from me? All knowledge of my father denied me.”
Gilraen looked at Elrond with eyes that said Well, now’s your chance. Explain to him because I really can’t. Elrond received the look with aplomb but paused nonetheless to gather his thoughts on the subject. He knew that this question would be soon in coming once the subject had been broached and before, the reasoning had always been so clear. But at this moment with his son sitting right in front him, realising that a portion of his life had been stolen from him, it was harder to explain why it had been necessary. He looked into his son’s clear, but questioning grey eyes. By way of explanation he began, “What did Glorfindel teach you about the Dunedain?”
Estel stated, “Essentially that they were a noble, yet dwindling people. Their one great hope for themselves and for Middle Earth was that through the unbroken lineage stretching back to Elendil himself, would come a great leader, the hope for their people to restore them to greatness and rid the world of darkness.”
Elrond noticed that Gilraen remained silent but only with great effort. Given this show of restraint he continued on.
“The Elves of Imladris have had their share in this destiny. I have fostered every heir of the Dunedain since the destruction of Arthedain but it has always been done in secret. Sauron could never know that the line of Isildur had survived unbroken and that an heir might some day take back what had been stolen.”
“Stolen?” Estel questioned the use of the word.
“Yes, stolen,” Elrond countered. “The good and noble person that Isildur had been was stolen away by the power of the ring. It corrupted him.”
Estel looked his father, whom he loved and respected. The impact of what he was being told was growing in his mind, “Am I to be this great hope?” He paused, hearing the resonance within his own name. “I was your son. Am I now nothing more than the latest in a long line of fosterlings.” Estel ended feeling bereft and hollow, casting his eyes into the distance.
“No! Never!” Gilraen interjected. She turned her son’s face to her and caressed one side with her hand. “Elrond has always loved you. This I know.”
Elrond gave her a look filled with his gratitude over her defense of him. Gilraen smiled gently in return.
“Estel look at me,” Elrond requested. Estel looked his father through eyes of doubt and pain despite his mother’s words. “I have fostered many. Cared for them. Taught them. But they all knew their destiny and what might be asked of them. They were mine only for a short time and then they were gone. You came to me when you were only two, a sad, withdrawn little soul who had lost so much. It has been my duty to foster the Heir of Isildur, but I loved you from the moment you came to live under my roof. You will always be my son, if you can forgive me for keeping the truth from you all these years.” Elrond looked at his son, hoping that the Valar would not punish him for the error in judgment that could sever the bond between father and son.
Estel looked at Elrond through new eyes, Estel no longer but Aragorn. Aragorn, the name rang true within his heart and stirred a sense of greater purpose, yet he did not feel worthy of such a destiny and was completely overwhelmed by these revelations. But whatever else was true or false in his life, whatever revelations that would cause him to sift the shifting meanings of his life, in his heart there would remain Elrond and Gilraen. His adar and naneth. The ones who had raised him. Whatever else, he loved both and always would. Aragorn smiled at his adar, “I forgive you, how could I not forgive the one who gave us shelter and a life.”
Elrond visibly relaxed and then retrieved something from across the room. He opened the box “Here is the Ring of Barahir, the token of our kinship from afar**. This was given to Barahir from Finrod Felagund, brother to Galadriel, in reward for saving his life. Rescued at dear cost by Beren, it has been in the House of Beor since the First Age. Tradition has seen it passed down from father to son, descendant from the House of Beor, through the centuries and now it has come to you. Wear it well.” Elrond finished handing his son the box. Gilraen watched as her beloved son carefully lifted the ring out of its box and ponder its existence. As he slowly placed the ring upon his middle ring she could see the weight of legacy settling upon his shoulders. She had waited for this day for eighteen years, the day that she could finally speak with her son about his legacy, his destiny and what she and his father had sacrificed in order for him to succeed. All this remained of greatest importance, but she stopped short when she looked into her son’s eyes. The grey depths held bewilderment, shame and sorrow mixed pride and expectation. Gone was the youthfulness eagerness and in its place was a sense of awesome responsibility.
Gilraen sought to encourage her son, “Aragorn,” she said, secretly thrilled to be speaking the name aloud to him for the first time since he was two, “I know you will make us proud,” she said gently and reassuringly.
Aragorn said somberly, “I will try, Naneth.”
Elrond had also been watching as the responsibility settled on his youngest son. He was sorry to bring such responsibility to one so young, but it was necessary. The dark times were coming. Of this he was sure and the more time Aragorn had to understand his destiny and his role in the fight against the shadows the better it would be. The father inside him however wanted to keep him always in Imladris to protect from the hardships and struggles along the road that Aragorn must travel. His heart ached to see responsibility chase away the little boy that he loved so well.
Aragorn stood and two pairs of concerned eyes followed him. “Naneth, Adar, I thank you both, but I must ask if I may take my leave now. I want to go and settle Gilgilath in his stall and unpack.” He said all in a carefully controlled voice. The mundanity of the tasks and the very control he sought to emulate spoke volumes to the confused state of Aragorn’s mind.
Elrond readily granted his wish and after kissing his naneth on the cheek and bowing hand on heart to them both, he departed, closing the door quietly behind him.
“Do you think we should have told him earlier.” Gilraen asked looking at the closed door after him.
“I do not think there ever by a good time to tell him, but he needed to be told.” Elrond sighed, his heart full.
Aragorn left his father’s study with the express intention of escaping into the trees, finding solitude among them. But instead his feet took him toward his brothers’ suite of rooms. Throughout his life he had always relied upon the twins to provide solace and comfort. The door, one corridor away from his own, was open. Walking in, Aragorn sat down upon the large double bed belonging to Elladan and watched as his brothers unpacked their gear from their saddlebags. He simply sat and watched until Elladan said, “Muindoreg! You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” noting his little brother’s shocked look and pale complexion.
“I think I have.” He paused purposefully, “I know.” The last two words resounded in the suddenly silent bedchamber the twins exchanging looks and together realising the reason for the solitary summons from their father.
Elladan dropped the tunic he had been holding and walked over to the bed. Kneeling before his young brother he looked up into his face. “We wanted to tell you, Estel. But we could not. It was not our secret to tell.” He ended solemnly.
Estel looked at the slender and beautiful face of his Elven brother, “You knew my father. What was he like? Adar said that he was not there when my father died, but that you were.”
Elrohir broke his silence and walked over to Aragorn, “He was a good man. We loved him. It was tragic the way he died.” He sighed as he sat down on the bed next to Aragorn. “And yes, we were there. So were you, although you would not remember it.” Aragorn looked at Elrohir, surprise in his eyes.
Elrohir said, “Did not Adar tell you that?”
Aragorn shook his head. “Tell me.”
Elrohir drew a deep breath, “We were ambushed by Orcs bringing you to here to Imladris. Arathorn died trying to defend you and your Naneth.”
Aragorn listened, tears glistening in his eyes, but only nodded for Elrohir to continue.
The dark-haired Elf breathed deeply once again, but continued, “but as his notice was distracted, an arrow pierced him in the chest. He did not linger for very long, although you saw him just before he died.”
“What did he do? Did he say anything?”
Elrohir fell silent and Elladan, sparing a thoughtful glance for his brother, took up the story. “You were right by his side. You had broken free from Elrohir’s arms.” Estel looked at Elrohir for the truth of the statement. The younger elf nodded. “I’ll never forget what your father said to you, although you are probably too young to recall it.”
He said, “My beautiful boy. Make me proud, my little love. Remember, I will always love you. Never be afraid of death for I will be waiting for you on the other side.”
Estel stared into his brother’s star-lit eyes. His heart told him that he had always known these words, but it was not until Elrohir had spoken them aloud, did he realise this. These words that spoke of a father’s love for his son. Somehow in his core of memories that moment was engraved. Love enshrouded by pain.
Author’s notes: I decided to stop the chapter here. Originally I had planned to have Elrond revealing Aragorn’s true identity and Aragorn and Arwen meeting within the same chapter, but it was not to be. Once again the writing process throws a wrench into my plans!! J He will also at handle the shards of Narsil next chapter! I could not make it fit into this chapter!!
Chapter 17—Reckonings of the heart
Aragorn left his brother’s suite and his footsteps found their way to the shards of Narsil. The shards of memory, of what was lost and what could be again. He had never touched the sword since that time when he was ten and his Adar had told him the true tale of the Sword-that-was broken. The sword and its story had haunted him ever since that time. Ten years it had been but Aragorn still remembered the awesome feelings the mere touching of it had evoked.
He stood before it and it somehow called to him silently, touching his consciousness. His hand, of its own volition, reached toward the hilt. Cool steel greeted the touch of his fingers followed by the now expected warmth. He wrapped his hand around the worn leather strapping on the hilt of the blade. Gone were the feelings of desperation and anxiety. It felt as if he were born to carry this sword. As the warmth of the metal spread though his arm an image appeared in his mind. Aragorn thought he heard the strains of a haunting melody floating past him as the vision of himself standing upon the prow of what seemed to be a great stone ship, the kind of ship that Glorfindel spoke of in the stories that he used to tell Aragorn when the boy was much younger. The vision revealed a sea of people, a happy people. Looking beyond the stone prow, he saw a large golden plain stretching out to the horizon.
“The sword is yours, it has always been yours.” Aragorn turn towards the voice, sword hilt in hand. It was his father. At first he was at a lost for words, looking into his father’s somber light blue eyes.
“Is that why I have always been drawn towards it?” He finally asked.
“I think so,” Elrond replied quietly still looking his son in the eye. Aragorn broke the gaze and looked at the hilt, jagged edge pointed up.
Elrond took a step closer so that he was standing only a step away from his son. He reached down for Aragorn’s other hand and placed it on the sword hilt, then he cupped both of his son’s hands with his own. Holding Aragorn’s grey gaze, he gently intoned, “You hold the Sword-that-was-broken, may the Valar guide us towards the day that we shall see the Sword re-forged and the light restored.” He then placed his hands on Aragorn’s shoulders and drew him forward placing a kiss on his forehead. Aragorn felt his father’s gentle light enter his mind and speak the words “You were born to this, mellion nin. You will do well. Of this I am certain.”
Arwen rode along the path leading through the ravine in which Imladris was nestled. She could hear the trees singing softly in welcome, rejoicing in the return of the fair one called the Evenstar of her people. She looked around, gazing at the willows and birches, green leaves swaying in the light breeze on this warm spring day. She looked at one of her attendants, “It is good to be back, Brelinn, is it not?”
Brelinn, one of her attendants for many years, smiled noting the look of contented happiness settling on his lady’s face. “Yes it is, My lady, yes it is.”
Lothlorien was beautiful, it had an ethereal essence that the other Elven enclaves did not possess and spending time among her mother’s people always contained certain joys, but lush, green Imladris was home. She had missed both her father and brothers terribly.
“Welcome home, my lady!” A voice interrupted her musings. “Brelinn, it is so good to see you again!” Arwen looked toward the sound of the voice. Cefzil had dropped silently from the trees and stood along with Diovan in front of the small retinue of Imladris and Lorien archers.
Brelinn laughed, “Cefzil! I see you are still on sentry duty! Who did you insult this time to get placed on duty back here!”
Cefzil feigned innocence, “Well how was I to know that last jug of wine was meant for the main table. It was just sitting there unattended!” he smiled impishly.
Arwen laughed, “Stealing wine from Adar’s table. Cefzil you have not changed since you were an Elfling! It was tarts and sweet meats then and now it is jugs of wine! What is Adar to do with you?”
Laughing, Diovan said “There is nothing to be done with him, my lady, except to keeping sending him away hoping that he will develop some sense of propriety while he is away.”
Arwen looked at the usually more quiet, dark-haired Elf that had been Cefzil’s friend since their training days. With smiling eyes, she said, “Still you keep company with this one?”
Diovan feigned resignation, “Well, my lady. I feel somebody must and I guess that is me. Somebody must try and keep him out of trouble!”
“Hah!” An incredulous Cefzil eyed his friend and companion of long years. “We leave the confines of Imladris to do a tour of duty with the Northern Rangers or the few times we have served south of here and who is it that is constantly having to make his apologies for his rather “spirited” friend.
Diovan said innocently, “I do not know what you speak of.”
Cefzil looked sternly, “Do you not, I have one word for you. It might jog your memory. Elderberries.” Cefzil looked at his friend raising an eyebrow.
Diovan’s eye grew wide with memory, and his mouth opened, and then closed after better thought. Cefzil laughed, “I see that memory has finally served my absent-minded friend.”
Diovan shot his friend a warning glance, which of course caused Cefzil to smile even broader. “My lady,” the dark-haired Elf began, ignoring his grinning friend. “It is our pleasure and honour that you have again decided to grace us with your presence.”
Arwen laughed merrily and with a knowing look said, “I am very happy to be back home again, Diovan. Tell me, how is Adar?”
“He is well.”
“And my brothers?”
“They are well, also. Your timing is well, my lady. They have just returned from a tour with the Rangers of the North.”
Slight alarm ran through Arwen. For time out of mind her brothers had ridden with the Dunedain Rangers and she knew them to be passing excellent as warriors, but nothing would assuage the remnant fear for their safety.
Diovan saw the fear chase itself across Arwen’s fair features, and immediately sought to allay her fears. “All have returned safely, my lady.”
Arwen smiled her thanks to the guardsman, who was gratified to see the slight furrow in her brow smooth itself away.
“We’d best ride on, My lady. We are within the borders of Imladris, and my bed is calling to me.” Brelinn said without a hint of self-consciousness. Arwen looked at Brelinn, she smiled at his utter lack of pretention. For as long as she had known the plain-speaking Elf she never tired of his direct way of seeing the world. Men, it was told, often said never ask an Elf a question for you will get back all possible answers. She thought that many would change their minds after a few moments conversation with Brelinn. “Yes, my old friend. We shall continue on.” She returned her attention to the guardsmen. “We will see you at the Hall sometime soon, I hope?”
“You will soon. Our duty is nearly over and we will very soon see you for an evening meal or two.”
“Good! Until then we shall part. Brelinn onwards.”
“Yes, my lady!” And with an whispered word their horses took up a light trot through the forested ravine that lead to the Last Homely House, leaving their compatriots to their watch.
As Arwen traveled further into the ravine that protected her father’s small fiefdom she could feel the warmth of welcome from the trees and the whispering light winds. She had been away too long and had almost forgotten the suffuse joy of Imladris. She could no longer restrain herself, she needed to be alone among the trees to hear their song and feel the lifeforce of the woods. “Brelinn,” she stopped her horse, causing him to do the same, “Go on without me. Tell my Adar that I have arrived. But I must stay here, for a while. It has been too long.” Brelinn thought at first to argue. His standing orders from his lord were always to see his daughter delivered safely to home to him. But then he saw the light of joy shining in her eyes, coupled with the stubborn streak inherited from her father and knew that no argument that he could make would dissuade her from this idea. In truth he could hear the call of the forest himself and would have gladly joined her, but he knew where his duty lay. “Yes, my lady,” was all he said smiling a knowing smile. “Shall I take your horse, my lady.”
Arwen chuckled lightly, “You know me far too well, Brelinn,” she said as she lightly dismounted and handed off the reins to her faithful attendant.
“It is my job, my lady.” Brelinn answered with a twinkle in his eye. “Do not be overly long, you know how your Adar will worry.”
“Be gone!” Arwen said lightly, “I shall follow.”
Brelinn placed his free hand over his heart and inclined his head, “My lady.” Looking over his shoulder to the remainder of the small retinue, he commanded, “We ride!”
Arwen looked after them briefly and then began to wander among the trees, reveling in the sounds of the woods, the gently swaying of the branches in the wind and the soft chittering of the woodland animals. The sweet song of the birches and willows were welcoming her home. It was not only the call of the woods caused her send her retinue traveling ahead. It had been strong indeed, but something else, a nameless desire to walk among the trees had overcome her. So she walked and sang among the trees.
Aragorn walked among the trees of his favourite path, his father’s words filling his heart. He could almost feel the life coursing through the boughs of the green leafed trees; could almost hear the trees whispering their gentle song here in verdant Imladris. He loved these woods, they were a part of his soul. He grew up among these hills learning not only the names of each living thing, but also learning of their essential essence. The twins and his other adopted Elven brethren taught him to see as they saw. To think as they thought. If Aragorn concentrated greatly then he could almost to feel the thrum of the woods as a living thing. He had come here not only to think, but to allow the woods to calm his inner conflict, to assuage the fear that he was not equal to the task. To allow the truth of what he had heard only the day before sink into his soul and calm his doubts. He could feel the possibility of what could be singing through him. He could also hear the whispered difficulties in the back of his mind.
The woods calmed him, as he knew they would. He began to sing with the joy and contentment that was filling his heart. He walked among the trees singing softly the lament of Luthien and Beren One-hand. At the edge of his consciousness he heard a sound more beautiful than any he had ever beheld before. He followed the sound through the woods to a clearing and there he beheld the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on. He stood motionless by a beechwood he climbed often as a boy, beguiled by the soft lyrical voice blending in so perfectly with the song of the woods around her. It slowly dawned on him what song it was she was singing. It was the same tale, the tale of Luthien and Beren, of love undeniable. He thought of the whole tale, having heard it at Glorfindel’s knee. The story had come to life before his very eyes. “Tinuviel!” He heard a voice call only to realise in dismay that the voice was his own.
The lyrical voice stopped and the heavenly soul turned eyes of clearest pale blue unto him. Aragorn stood there transfixed, drinking in the beauty before him.
The pale blue eyes widened slightly with a curious, polite interest, “You call me Tinuviel. Why?” The musical voice stated directly.
Aragorn, at first was tongue-tied, then deciding that honesty was the best policy, spoke softly, “For I believed that I had for a few moments been granted the gift of the Elf-minstrels, conjuring what I had sung. For I, too had been singing the Lay of Luthien. If you are real, please tell me, so that I rejoice in the fact that such beauty can actually exist outside my dreams.” Aragorn stopped talking and felt a warm red colour his face, embarrassed that so much had slipped from his mouth before he could stop it. He looked wide-eyed at the lady.
“Many have made the comparision, but alas, I am not her.” A slight breeze blew lifting a few strands of the lady’s raven black hair across her face, “Although I may not be spared her fate,” she stated in a soft voice filled with wonderment as she gazed upon the young Man standing in front of her. “Tell me, who are you?”
“I was called Estel, but I have only recently learned that my true name is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Chieftain of the Dunedain,” Aragorn paused, the restored title that had filled him with such pride seemingly of little worth when compared to the beauty and dignity of such a lovely personage as this.
The pale blue eyes grew wider, “I am Arwen and in a way, we are kin. I am Lord Elrond youngest and his only daughter.”
It was Aragorn’s turn to stare in a wide-eyed fashion. “You are Adar’s daughter? Neither Adar nor my brothers have ever mentioned a sister.”
“I have been visiting for a time with my naneth’s people in Lothlorien.”
At the word “Lothlorien” Aragorn looked into Arwen’s eyes and saw the starlight within them. It was then that knew her for Elfkind, known too late, for within those seconds he knew he loved her.
Elrond was standing on his balcony overlooking Imladris as he saw five horses arrive. His heart leaped as he glimpsed the dark hair of the first rider. It was his daughter, his only daughter and the Evenstar of her people. She had always born a special light that was her and hers alone. He turned and called to Elmiran who was standing attendance upon his door. “See that as soon as she is settled that…” He stopped himself. “Never mind! I shall see to it myself!” He rushed past a curious Elmiran. “Formality has its proper time and place. When you’ve not seen your daughter for some twenty years is not one of them.” The curious look on his attendant’s face changed from one of confusion to amusement. “As you will, my lord.” He called after Elrond, Lord of Imladris, bounding down the stairs and out the door leading to the stable.
The path to the stables seemed alive in a way Elrond rarely noticed these days. Approaching the stables he felt a lightness of heart that he did not fully understand.
“Daughter! You have returned!”
Arwen looked at her father, “Yes, I have returned. Lothlorien is beautiful but it is not home.” Elrond saw love light her star-filled eyes when she looked at him and yet there was something else. Something that he had never seen settled in her eyes. He did not know what to make of it but he put aside the thought and reveled in the joy of seeing his only daughter once again. “We shall have a feast in honour of your return.”
“No fuss, Adar! I am only glad to be home.”
“Nonsense! Daughter! We must and shall celebrate.”
“Adar!” she said in a warning voice. Relenting before the joy written on her father’s face she conceded, “Only a small feast.”
“Very well. If that is your wish,” Elrond said earnestly.
Arwen was looking through her window mesmerized by the beauty and splendor of the twin falls that fed the Loudwater. The breeze gently blew her dark tresses away from her face as she felt the feather soft spray upon her face. Her rooms were closest of all the suites to the waterfall. Her father gave her these particular rooms when she came of age knowing her love of the falls themselves. She had not realized how much she missed them until she stood once again listening to the soothing and soft crashing of the falls into the water below.
“You always did love the sound of water upon water!”
Arwen turned around and there stood her beloved brothers standing in the doorway. Running she quickly found herself smothered in a great bear hug. Two pairs of arms encircled her planting kisses on the top of her head. Breaking apart, Elladan said holding her at arms length, “So good it is to see you!” joy lighting his whole face. “how are Einadar and Einnaneth.”
“They are well. They send their love and mentioned that their only grandsons could come and visit more often.” Arwen finished with a twinkle in her eye.
“Ah, I see. Long distance guilt. Einnaneth does not miss a trick does she?” Elrohir stated amusement evident in his voice. “The next trip south.”
“I will believe it when I see it. What has kept you in the north so consistently these years. I missed our visits.”
Elladan and Elrohir exchanged looks, “It has happened,” the elder twin said. “We have found the one.”
At first Arwen looked quizzically at he older brother, then a dawning comprehension grew in her star-filled eyes. “The one, you say.”
Elrohir nodded, “His name is Estel. Well truly his name is Aragorn. Adar named him Estel when he came to live with us. You will meet him at the feast.” Arwen looked at her brother and saw the light of affection for the young man in his eyes. Arwen was about to tell her brothers that she had already met Estel, but something caused her to hold her tongue. “He must be special to keep you from the South.”
Elladan said, “He is. You’ll see. Well! We’ll let you settle and will see you after a while.” He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “Welcome home, little sister. Oh sweet and wonderful one!” At which he proceeded to trace an over-elaborate bow. Arwen slapped him upside the head. The dark-haired Elf grabbed the offended ear, “Ow! Abuse!” Elladan comically cried.
Arwen laughed and looked completely unrepentant, “That’s what you get for being silly.”
Elrohir stepped closer to examine his brother’s ear, “I don’t know, sister.” He clucked solicitously, “It looks pretty bad.”
With a hand so quick it was a blur, Arwen delivered the same treatment to the younger twin, and laughingly replied, “Now be off with you both.” The twins beat a hasty retreat, laughing as they went.
Elrond surveyed the party field with satisfaction. Arwen was home and his heart felt lighter than it had in many a year. He reached out to halt the progress of one of the attendants roaming about the party with a cask of wine and motioned to have his goblet refilled. “Lovely evening for a feast is it not, Rhianon?” he inquired of the cask bearer.
The young blond elf nodded, “It is a fine night, my lord. So glad I am that Arwen has returned.”
Elrond smiled widely, “You and me both, Rhianon. You and me both.” Elrond returned the cask having lightened the young elf’s load in no small portion. “Make sure you get some wine also. Serving others is a fine thing, but do not let opportunity pass you by!”
Rhianon laughed, “I shall not, my lord.”
Elrond returned the laugh again and glancing across the field saw his foster son walking up the path toward the party. Again Elrond was struck at how tall and strong Aragorn, in his forest green tunic and pale green leggings, had grown in the six-month duty of tour he just returned from. He picked a goblet off the nearest table and motioned for Rhianon filled the new goblet. The attendant elf followed his lord’s eyes and saw Aragorn. He glanced back and saw the pride and love lighting his lord’s face. He smiled and said, “Young master Estel has turned out well.”
Elrond glanced back, “Yes he has,” he said with just a hint of sadness, “If you will excuse me?”
“Of course, my lord,” Rhianon bowed slightly and began again to move about the field proffering wine.
Elrond approached his foster son and offered him the fluted goblet of wine. “Ion nin!
You are well, I trust.” He looked into his son’s eyes seeking the answer and any residual forgiveness for his deception of many years.
Deep grey eyes smiled back at him, as Aragorn said fully, “I am well, Adar.”
At the use of the word “Adar” Elrond’s heart sang. He had been forgiven.
At that moment Arwen entered the party field and walked straight over to her father. “Adar!”
Aragorn shifted his gaze and saw Arwen, a vision of diaphanous beauty in flowing green silk. He was mesmerized by her light.
Words broke into his thoughts, “Aragorn! I would like to present Arwen, your foster-sister!” Elrond said in a slightly pointed voice.
Aragorn turned an abashed look upon his father, “I am sorry, Adar!” Aragorn tried to look upon Arwen with nothing more than polite interest.
Arwen responded with a polite interest of her own, but against her own instincts her eyes lingered upon his longer than she knew they should.
A small flare of fear lit in Elrond’s heart as he looked upon the two souls that were among those he loved most in the world and then dismissed it from his mind. It could never be, so therefore it was not worthy of further consideration. At least he tried to, he found himself looking upon the two whenever they were together and at times the same small fear flared briefly and then died away. He filed away such thoughts, he would not allow anything to dim his happiness this night. His family was together and all was right with the world.
A month later…
Gilraen was at her loom weaving an intricate pattern for the bedspread that was promised to Elmiran when she saw her son pass by the solar.
“Estel, may we speak please?” Gilraen gathered her thoughts as she waited for her son to reappear in the doorway.
Her son’s dark head peered around the doorjamb, “Yes, Naneth? Is there something you needed?”
“Come in here, son. We must speak.”
Aragorn noted the furrowed line of concern that had taken up residence upon her brow as he stood next her loom watching her send the shuttle of vibrant green wool through the warp threads. He had loved spending time in this room on soft rainy days as a child, watching as his mother’s deft hands wove creation after creation and listening to the stories and discussions among she and the Elleth unwind around him. He now watched as she completed a colour pattern and tie off her work.
“Sit, son. Please.” Gilraen indicated a wicker stool near an unoccupied loom. He drew the stool near and sat down noticing that the crease of concern troubling his mother’s brow had yet to unfurl itself.
“Is anything the matter, naneth?”
Instead of answering Gilraen raised a hand to gently caress Aragorn’s cheek. She smiled gently, “You have grown so strong, my son. I am so proud of you. Your father would have been proud to, I know. ”
At the mention of his father, Aragorn felt a wave of the newly minted emotions of pain and loss flow through him. He did not remember his father, but from the stories he was hearing, he felt that Arathorn was a man he would have liked and respected and within the core of his being Aragorn felt stirring a nascent desire to honour his father’s memory. “I am glad,” he replied in a full voice.
Gilraen’s mouth curved into a smile but Aragorn noticed it did not reach her eyes. She sighed, “Estel,” a pause drew out as if Gilraen could not quite decide how best to begin a very difficult subject. “You have, of late, been distracted. Every time I had wished to speak to you of it, there was always a need pressing. I have presumed none of it intentional, but now that we have these moments, can you tell me what has captured your attention so completely.”
Aragorn almost squirmed in his seat, but he checked himself just in time. Instead he straightened his shoulders and looked into his mother’s eyes. “I have found the one.” As he spoke Gilraen saw joy light in his eyes.
“The one?” Gilraen began, then comprehension dawned. “Indeed,” she continued caution and curiosity weighing in equal measure. “And who might the one be?”
As Aragorn spoke the name, Gilraen paled. “You aim high, ion nin! But it must not be. The path you are destined to travel is long and there is not space for two on the journey.” It tore at Gilraen’s heart to see the light in Aragorn’s eyes fade to shades of anger and disbelief.
“How can you say that? I feel she is my life and soul.” Aragorn said, his voice taut with anxiety and pain.
“Your path,” she began, “is an uncertain one. The Dunedain have denied the enemy its final victory. We have lived on in the hope that we shall survive to one day see the glory of Arnor restored and the error of Isildur assuaged.” She finished using the words that Arathorn spoke to her so many years ago when he first brought her to see the ruins of Fornost city. She remembered even now the look on Arathorn’s face when he spoke them. It had been etched in her soul, shaping and defining who she was forever since. “You are the heir to that destiny. This you cannot deny.”
Aragorn looked at his mother’s face shining with a fire that did not match the usual reticence in her personality and a purpose that he had seen only a few times in her face, the few times she spoke of her people. Aragorn had come to know the Rangers of the North over the last five years. They were a dedicated and steadfast people and he admired them greatly, from the outside looking in. His destiny revealed to him showed him so much more. So much that was possible; so much that was expected. He had always suspected that there was more to life, more to his life than anyone would tell him, but such large expectations weighed heavily upon him. “I have no wish to deny it, but in choosing it must I deny myself?”
Gilraen was silent for many moments strung together, “I have,” she replied quietly. “The heir is not usually fostered at Imladris until much later in his childhood, but the forces that would oppose us are on the move and because of this Elrond requested that your father and I send you to the safety of Imladris much earlier. You were too young to be without at least one of your parents and as Chieftain your father needed to stay at Fornost. Our destiny as a people required me to follow a path that lead away from my people. This I have done because it was necessary.”
Aragorn looked at his mother, “I’m sorry.”
“It is not for you to be sorry. It is what it is.” Gilraen saw the troubled look in her son’s eyes and reached a hand to caress a newly scarred cheek and smiled. “I have not been unhappy here. Elrond is a good and kind Elf and he has made my life comfortable. I would not have lived half so well if I had remained in Fornost.” She remained smiling, but her eyes said what she could not. Aragorn could see a longing in them, the same longing that he had often seen growing up but only now was beginning to understand. She had given everything to see her son fulfill his destiny. “Elrond is an understanding Elf and has long stood in aid of the Dunedain and given much. But in this my son, I feel he will not be so sanguine. Without his goodwill I fear the end of the Dunedain and the end of our hope.”
Elrond paced back and forth, tracing a path that well might have worn a groove in the floor in front of the book-ladened table that served as his desk in his study had a knock not interrupted his pace. He stopped and his heart lurched within his chest. In an effort to calm himself he drew a deep breath before he answered the knock. The sound came again before he could answer and he caught his voice just before answering hoping that it did not tremble with the suppressed emotions he was trying so desperately to control.
“You wished to see me, Adar?”
Elrond looked up into the expectant face of his beloved foster son, “Yes, Estel, please take a seat! Would you care to crush a cup with me?”
Aragorn looked at his Adar and noted a trepidation in his tenor and movements, “Thank you,” he replied as he watched his Adar pour the wine, noting with alarm the shaking of his hands on the goblet and decanter. He tried to catch his Adar’s as he reached for the goblet, but Elrond looked away. Truly alarmed Aragorn said, “Adar, what is wrong? Please tell me.”
Elrond sat down and arranged his robes with an air of delay about him before answering, “That entirely depends upon your answer, ion nin.” He looked straight into his son’s eyes. “You understand your destiny well, do you not.
Aragorn quizzically looked at Elrond, “I think so, Adar. I’m the Heir of Isildur. The Chieftain of the Dunedain. I work and wait for the day to come when I can wield the re-forged sword and unite the world of Men.”
Elrond continued to stare into his son’s grey, somber eyes. “And would you agree that nothing is more important than fulfilling that destiny.”
“Nothing.” Aragorn had only been alive to his destiny for only a short time, but in a way it felt that part of him had always been in preparation for such a life.
An incredible sadness warred with an incredible resolve within Elrond’s pale blue eyes yet he held his son’s gaze. “Then,” he paused, resolve at last showing the stronger in his eyes, “She is not for you. Nor is anyone, yet.”
Elrond’s last words went unheard. His first however broke across Aragorn’s consciousness, initially met with incomprehension and then the sense of everything shuttering to black within his soul. “Why not?” the words fell from his mouth, their sound deadened, leeched of all meaning. “How?” “Naneth?” the thought behind the word uncomprehending that his beloved Naneth would break such a confidence.
“No. Gilraen has said nothing to me. All that was needed to see you together. My heart tells me it cannot be.”
“Why can it not?” Aragorn said, the shards of pain lancing ever word. “I love her. She is my soul.”
Elrond broke the gaze, closed his eyes against the memory of love he had had for Celebrian. Memories that were pulled through to the forefront of his consciousness by his son’s words. Love shattered and denied by the scourges of this world. Not only had he lost Celebrian, but his twins, born of mercurial light and joy had traveled through the dark places in their souls for so long after their mother’s departure that he despaired of their deliverance from grief and revenge. “It cannot be.”
“You keep saying that!” Aragorn answered in a low voice, taut with restrained emotion. “But you have not given a reason.”
Elrond held the gaze of a soul tearing itself apart, “Arwen is Elfkind. She has lived in the world so many years that you may seem to her as a yearling shoot to a young birch that has seen many summers.**” Elrond stopped when he saw the doubt and torment building in his son’s eyes. “I do not mean to be unkind, my son. I only wish to prepare you for what might be.” Elrond forged ahead because what followed needed to said. “Even if for her these things matter not, a doom still awaits her. When the time comes and I depart these shores,” Aragorn looked at his father in alarm, Elrond instantly sought to placate the fear in his son’s eyes, “That will not be for many years by Men’s reckoning,” He continued “When I depart for the West my children must choose either to depart with me or separated forever in a bitter parting in this world.”
Seeing the torment still residing in Aragorn’s eyes, Elrond felt his heart relenting, he stood as he said, “It is not time yet for such decisions. Only after you have fulfilled your destiny may you turn your eye towards my daughter. Then…” his voice trailed off, “We will not speak of this matter until such time. You must leave Imladris and begin to learn that which aid you in fulfilling of your destiny.”
Aragorn rose from his chair, his clear grey eyes filled with silent reckoning. He hugged his father and departed. Elrond stared after him and it struck him that his Estel was taking his leave of him as silently as when he had arrived. Elrond thought back to the silent toddler that he first beheld in Gilraen’s begrimed and battle-besmirched arms. He thought his heart would break then beholding the little soul. It had not, until this moment when Aragorn, tall and strong, and no less tormented walked out the door of his study to begin the shaping his own destiny in the hope of someday claiming that which was necessary to his soul.
** quoted from ROTK appendices.
Chapter 18 – A Story to Tell…
Aragorn rode onwards. He passed the Trollshaws, his thoughts dark now with revealed memory. His father had died on this land. He shuddered with almost a remembered pain as he slowed Gilgilath to a walk. Ever conscious of his surroundings, as he had been trained by Elladan and Elrohir, he surveyed the landscape. He saw an outcropping of rocks, readily defensible and a flash of recognition ripped through him. This was the place, the exact place where his father died. It met the description Elladan had shared with him, albeit reluctantly. Or perhaps no, maybe it was just a flight of fancy; he wanted so much to believe and to belong to some memory beyond his life in Rivendell. He did not belong in there any longer. His Adar had made that clear. He said it was time he learn what Elrond could not teach. He thought of his Adar and closed his eyes against the pain. Imladris was home. It was all he had ever known. Its lush woods nestled safely within the sheltering ravine filled him with a sense of contentment; of belonging, now denied by destiny. Traveling with the Rangers of the North had opened his eyes to the wider world around him, but Imladris held that special place in his heart, that no other could enter. Part of him wanted nothing more than to return to Imladris and feel the whispering wind through the trees welcoming him home once again, but he knew deep inside that he would never live in Imladris again. The realization nearly broke his heart but with squared shoulders and determination in his eyes he rode forward through the Trollshaws. He rode to a home he could not remember and a future filled with uncertainty. His destiny, as revealed by his Adar, weighed heavily upon him.
One thought cheered him and propelled him forward. He was to be among the Rangers of the North whom he admired greatly. One, above all, he was most anxious to behold in full knowledge of the bond that held them. Erithain, friend and uncle, awaited him in Fornost. There had always been a special bond between the boy and the quiet man who lead his people, but it was not until now did Aragorn understand why the bond was so strong. He greatly admired the Man of strong character and quiet manner. Seeing his friend again and calling him “uncle” was the thought that held together the pieces of his fracted and homesick heart. His destiny began its uncertain journey in Fornost and there waiting was a friend.
Erithain leaned his back against an unadorned pillar as he sat on the steps of the Hall in Fornost and looked out over the settlement and past towards the hills that bordered Fornost to the east. Every night for the past week had seen him on these steps, pondering.
“Thinking again, my lord?” a voice said at his side, “You know no good will come of it.” Erithain broke his reverie, looked up, seeing Erkenthal, his friend and long-time councilor. He smiled as he took the proffered wooden mug of warm honeyed mead and took a sip, savouring the warm sweet liquid as it slid down his throat. “That is a good mead, my friend. Rhianon’s?” he asked, referring to Erkenthal’s wife of many years.
“None other. That woman has many talents. And this is one of them.” Erkenthal spoke with gruff affection.
Erithain smiled again and resumed is his perusal of the distant hills. His earnest grey eyes darkened with concern. “Scouting parties say that the Orc activity is growing toward the east.”
“I have heard the same, my lord.”
Erithain thought of his friend’s words. “My lord” A title he never wanted. Even after eighteen years of being regent it still did not sound right to his ear. He had learned to bear it over the years, but he yearned for the days when Erkenthal would tease him and call him “Kid” and “little brother.” Those days however were long past; ended abruptly by events nearly twenty years ago that Erithain silently commemorated in his heart this day and all week. Events that saw Erithain’s life ripped to shreds and placed him as regent to his people. Erithain closed his eyes in remembrance of Arathorn, his Chieftain and his friend.
Erkenthal seated himself next to his lord on the step and proceeded to examine the younger man’s face. Strain and worry had added lines to the youthful face he first encountered in the far-away settlement on the shores of Lake Evendim and grey now streaked the dark hair that fell a little past the shoulders of his friend. Shoulders that he now noticed slumped a bit in weariness. Concern for his lord and friend crossed Erkenthal’s weather-beaten face as he realized the time of year it was.
“Eighteen years this day, my lord, is it not?” the older Ranger broached softly, looking at his friend.
Erithain opened his eyes and looked towards Erkenthal, sadness evident, “That it is, ‘Thal. That it is.” He replied ruefully, “It has been so long, too long.”
Erkenthal knew that Erithain did not only speak of Arathorn’s death, which grieved all the Dunedain, but also of the needful separation of his sister and young son, safely sequestered in Rivendell. But this thought remained unspoken yet understood between the two Men, for it was Dunedain tradition that the Heir to the chieftain was never spoken of out of doors where a careless word might be overheard. “Soon, I hope.”
As he traveled through the Trollshaws on his way further into Dunedain territory Aragorn realized how much he missed Elladan and Elrohir. They had been ever-present in his life and now they were gone, taking of a part of his soul with them. Their ever-present teasing of one another. It was natural to him as breathing. And now it was gone. He could hear their laughter in his mind and it made the silence now surrounding him that much more deafening. He had traveled far beyond the boundaries of Imladris when riding with the Rangers and his brothers, but he had always been in their company. He thought back to his leave-taking and a pang of sorrow reverberated within his heart.
A week earlier…
Aragorn sat upon his bed in his suite of rooms and looked around. He had grown up in this room; it had been the center of his world nestled as it was between his Adar on the left and his naneth on his right. His saddlebags were packed and ready to go. There was nothing keeping him here except thought and memory. He walked over to the small balcony and stood there breathing in the fresh air. He closed his eyes and listened to the waterfall off in the distance. A small breeze blew across his face and he opened his eyes again to behold the beauty of the scene in front of him. Lush green foliage spilled out onto the river as it made its gentle way out of the ravine in which Imladris was nestled. Soon he would be following that same path. The thought filled him with sadness. He felt a hand upon his squeezing gently in a reassuring way. He looked to his side at the proud figure of his Naneth. She smiled gently, “It is hard to leave, I know, ion nin. But you do not truly leave. Imladris will always be a part of your soul.”
Aragorn looked at his mother. Such a change had come over her since it was revealed to Aragorn his destiny and parentage. She looked alive, more alive than he had ever known her to look. Gone was the haunted look that had always hid within her visage, replaced now by a spark of life that was in truth a joy to see. This was coupled with a fervency that almost took Aragorn aback, so strange it was to behold in his normally reticent and subdued mother. Aragorn chewed his lip before staring into his mother’s eyes, “I wish it so.” He broke his gaze to stare at a long forgotten pinecone unearthed due the recent bout of packing. Memories of simpler times flooded in to his mind unbidden. He looked back his mother, “Naneth,” He whispered, “Tell me true. Am I ready for this challenge? I do not know that I am.”
Gilraen looked into young grey eyes so full of doubt and promise and a knife pierced her heart when she thought of the many things her beloved son would have to endure before he would achieve his destiny, but achieve it he would, of this she was sure. She reached out to pull both her son’s hands into her own so she could face his and directly at stared into his eyes before she said, “I will not lie ion nin. The path you must follow will be hard, and there will times when you will despair, but I know your heart and you will prevail,” Gilraen reached up and caressed the side of Aragorn’s face, “Come, it is time to go.”
Elrond and the twins were waiting for Aragorn at the entrance to the stables. Elladan and Elrohir came forward and the younger of the two looked solemnly into his foster brother’s eyes. “Mellmuindoreg nin! The time has come and you must leave us,” began the dark-haired elf, a deep sorrow shadowing his star-filled eyes, “My heart has no joy of this parting, yet it must be. The Valar protect you, muindoreg,” he whispered as he kissed Aragorn’s forehead.
Elladan cleared his throat and spoke with a full voice, “Where ever you go, we will never be far away. Just think of us and we will be there. Until such time keep this,” Elladan dropped a small, carved wood amulet into his little brother’s hand. Aragorn’s eyes misted over. He thought back to the time when his brothers taught him to carve in wood. This amulet was the result. He rolled the roughly carved amulet around in his hand noting the child’s handiwork that created the curves and hollows of the piece. He smiled, as he looked up with teary eyes at Elladan and Elrohir, his brothers, ever present in his life. Aragorn, at that moment wanted nothing more than to stay, never to be parted from those he loved. “Your amulet, I cannot take this,”
“Take it, it is yours now and let it be a symbol of remembered love and a bond unbroken by distance.” Elladan said, grey eyes intent upon his little brother, brimming with unshed tears.
Aragorn hugged his brother and blindly sought the arm of the younger of the twins to bring him into the fold. Briefly they remained locked in the embrace, until Aragorn broke away. He looked at his Naneth and Adar and he strode toward Gilgilath and as he opened the gate to his stall, saw that the black stallion had already been saddled and merely awaited his master. For a few moments busied himself with the mundane tasks of checking the riding tack in an effort to pull his emotions together, and lead the black stallion out of his stall and into the crisp air and gentle light of the fall day. With a practiced air, Aragorn gained the saddle and sat astride. He looked at his Naneth and Adar, “Namarie,” he said softly, “I must go now. Or I fear I never will.”
With a heavy heart Aragorn sat Gilgilath and trotted alongside the riverbank, the sound of hoof beats pulled him from his musings, He looked up and in the distance amid a voluminous forest green traveling cloak he glimpse flowing raven black hair and knew within a flash who approached.
Arwen slowed her horse to a walk as she approached Aragorn. Noting the full saddlebags, she said, “You are leaving?” Aragorn thought he heard trace of regret in her voice, but he dismissed it as wishful thinking.
Aragorn lost himself the starry blue depths of her eyes then willed himself to remember his voice, “Yes, My lady. Adar says it is time. So I must go.” Regret richly coloured every word. Regret that he was leaving Imladris. Regret that he was leaving her.
“Why was I not told that you were leaving today?” Disappointed sounded gently within Arwen’s question and allowed Aragorn the small hope that she would miss him, at least somewhat.
“ I know not, lady. But go I must.”
They locked eyes and Aragorn felt a connection between them. Looking away he wondered if Arwen had felt the bond as strongly as he did. Venturing to glance back he saw that Arwen looked calm, but he thought saw longing and the seeds of love hidden within the depths of her eyes. With this hope nestled within the recesses of his heart Aragorn turned and followed the river out of Imladris’ sheltering ravine.
Aragorn shook himself from this pondering chiding himself for not paying attention to the world around in possibly unfriendly territory. “Elladan and Elrohir would have my hide if they knew I allowed myself to become distracted in such a way.” He muttered under his breath. He shuddered at the rebuke he would have received from his brothers, “You would keep me safe, though. Wouldn’t you, boy!” he said softly to Gilgilath. The horse whinnied his affirmative reply. Aragorn laughed softly as he patted the horse’s neck. “Come, let us leave this place of unhappiness.”
Later as the day neared dusk and Aragorn was starting to make camp for the night he looked up at the sound of hoof beats, although he could not tell the direction from which they came. He knew it could not be Orcs but he thought it best to be wary and quickly drew the blade that had been presented to him by Elrond at his coming of age.
The next sound he heard fell unexpectantly upon his ear, merry laughter. “I see that Elrond has taught you well. Away with your sword, there is no need.” Aragorn looked back up the trail and quickly realized the truth of the statement. “Gandalf!!” he sheathed his sword and ran toward his old friend. He clasped the old man’s hands and found himself in a sturdy embrace instead. Walking back towards the spot where his camping equipment lay untended, he said to Gandalf. “It has been an age! So glad I am to see you!”
“And I you, my boy!” Gandalf said, eyes twinkling with delight.
“Come! You must share my camp tonight!”
“It would be my pleasure, young master!”
Sitting down to a hot bowl of vegetable stew, Gandalf examined his young friend. He noticed the slight slump of the shoulders and the downward gaze. He sat the bowl down and puffed on his pipe, allowing the smoke rings to waft through the air in their ever-thinning circles as he looked on and waited. He waited for his young friend to speak; he knew it was only a matter of time.
“Did my Adar send you out here to keep me company, Gandalf?”, Aragorn inquired.
“Would it bother you if he did?” The Maia inquired watching the younger man’s face.
“No,” came the quiet answer, “It would comfort me to know that he cares.”
Gandalf smiled as he said, “Well in that case, yes, he did send me. Although he told me not to tell you, lest you should think he was interfering.”
Aragorn laugh softly and then fell silent again, looking across the horizon. Several more minutes passed before Gandalf heard a subdued voice at his side asking, “Am I ready for this, Gandalf? Do not lie. My Naneth says that I am. But in truth I do not know.”
Gandalf puffed once more before answering, “My friend, you show great wisdom, greater than you realize, by even posing the question. I have great hope for you. I could answer the question for you with any number of reassurances or cautions. And none of these answers would have any relevance. What I think does not matter. What your Naneth thinks does not matter. What matters is what you believe. It is your heart will be tested, your resilience to be examined. You must look inside your heart and find the truth within. There you will feel pain, the pain of separation, the pain of uncertainty, the pain of loss. If you are succeed you must find a way through that pain which will lead you toward your destiny. It will not be an easy route, but find it you must.” Gandalf’s voice stern up until now softened with his next words, “And find it you will, of that I am certain.”
Aragorn looked into the eyes of his old friend and found the unadorned truth of Gandalf’s words. The wizard was not merely mouthing platitudes to comfort his friend. Gandalf truly had a belief that Aragorn would succeed. Aragorn was comforted much by his friend’s faith in him. Somehow Gandalf’s faith eased slightly the burden that fallen upon Aragorn’s shoulders. Aragorn had known Gandalf since he was a small boy and he trusted him implicitly and if the old man thought he was equal to the task then perhaps he would be. He smiled gently and saw the smile reflected in the old man’s eyes. “Thank you, my friend.” His smile broadened as he asked, “So tell me how does my Adar?”
Erithain sat by the hearth fire reading missives from the tribal thanes. They all spoke of a growing darkness. Orc numbers were indeed growing. He reached for his cup of warm mead and drank. The heather-scented liquid warmed him as he pondered the future these missives were sketching for him. Something was in the offing and not even the momentary warmth from the mead could completely chase off the chill that was beginning to settle in his bones when he thought of the future. The Dunedain had survived generation upon generation always looking towards the day that would see the Heir of Isildur unite the kingdoms and avenge his people upon those who would see them perish. His thoughts traveled unbidden towards Imladris where his beloved nephew had grown up within the lush green of the secure Elven enclave, surrounded by love. A pang of longing resounded within his heart. He understood the need, but the pain of his loss had never truly lessened. Aragorn had grown strong and proud, though; he could not fault his upbringing. He smiled as he stared at a tongue of flame devouring an unsuspecting piece of wood, thinking of the handful that he knew Aragorn had been growing up. After all he had seen at least a portion of it himself. Gandalf and Elrond had gifted him with the opportunity to get know his nephew as long as he did not reveal who he was to the boy. Erithain cherished these moments; laced though they were with the bittersweet knowledge that Aragorn or Estel as he was named then did not know who Erithain truly was. It warmed his heart that Aragorn truly seem to hold him in affection and it was this warmth that had carried him the last few years. Glancing down at the missives he mused about the future and what it would bring.
“My Lord?” Erkenthal’s voice interrupted Erithain’s musings. Erithain’s head looked up, curiosity aroused by the strange tenor in his second in command’s voice.
“Yes, Erkenthal? What is it?”
“I think you had best come and see for yourself.”
A pit formed at the bottom of Erithain’s stomach, one of expectation or dread he could not tell as he set aside the missives and reached for his cloak off the side of his chair. He flung it over himself and was securing the circled clasp as he strode through the door. He looked up and froze; the half secured clasp forgotten. Standing at the gate was Aragorn, looking a little travel-worn, wearing the most indescribable look on his face. “Uncle.”
The word hit Erithain and set forth a storm of emotion raging through him. That one word changed his future forever. He smiled as he ran forth bouncing the gate back with such force that it rebounded back into place and he enveloped his nephew in a giant bear hug. “Aragorn! I’ve so waited and so longed for this day!”
A clearing of a throat distracted Erithain and for the first time he noticed that Aragorn had not arrived alone, “Gandalf! When did you get here?”
A smile crinkled the old wizard’s eyes, “I arrived with Aragorn, standing right next to him.”
Erithain’s earnest grey eyes grew wide, “Forgive me, Gandalf! I only had eyes for my nephew!”
“And that is perfectly permissible, my dear boy! But it is also why we should take this conversation inside.” Gandalf finished pointedly.
The import of Gandalf’s words dawned upon Erithain as he gestured towards the door, “Yes, of course.”
After allowing Aragorn and Erithain to enter, Gandalf touched Erkenthal’s arm to stay him. “Let us give them a small time alone. Matters can keep long enough for that.”
Erkenthal smiled and nodded his agreement.
Once inside Erithain looked at his nephew who was now smiling, “I have so looked forward to this day. How is your mother? I wanted to visit but it was forbidden.”
Aragorn smiled at his uncle, newly restored to that title, “Naneth is well. In fact more than well I think she is the happiest I have ever seen her. It is strange, it is almost as if she is a different person now. Before she was always quiet and subdued and now it is as if a fire has been lit from within.”
Aragorn’s words stopped Erithain short. He had in passing heard to Aragorn refer to Gilraen as “Naneth” and not “mother”, but it had never entered his mind until this moment how Elven his nephew had become. He looked at him. At 20 he was tall and sinewy and his plaited dark hair fell far past his shoulders in the Elven style. He held himself with a self-confidence and assurance and with a trace of arrogance that if not for the rounded ears would mark him as an Elf. He was also puzzled by his nephew’s statement about his mother. Gilraen had always had a fire about her. It was her fire that she was most known and feared for. He could only assume that the years had changed her. The thought saddened him. “I cannot speak to the former, but I am glad that she is well. And how are you?”
Aragorn looked at him, eyes bright with hope and intelligence, curiosity sitting right behind, and Erithain realized in that moment that although he could be at a glance mistaken for an Elf anybody who truly looked into Aragorn’s grey eyes would see that he was indeed Arathorn’s son.
“I am well. And so happy to see you, Uncle.”
“Uncle” again. The word warmed his heart. “Can you forgive me for not telling you who I was when we first met? I wanted to. I desperately wanted to, but Elladan and Elrohir asked me not to.” Erithain looked into his nephew’s eyes hoping to see absolution. What he saw was love.
“There is nothing to forgive. You only did what you needed to do.” Aragorn looked at Erithain, his uncle and the Man he had come to greatly respect over the years. Aragorn paused, “Many things are still unclear to me and I still have a great many questions, but one thing is clear, in journeying from Imladris, I knew you would be here, waiting. It was the thought I held onto through all my doubts and questions about this new destiny of mine. It was the thought that held me and guided me here.” He smiled at his uncle.
And Erithain smiled back, and the pain of loss that had bound his heart for eighteen years, ever since he had held his weeping two-year nephew on the path just outside this very door and said goodbye, finally loosed itself allowing the bond between uncle and nephew to become whole again.
“Tell me about my father. Elladan and Elrohir told me some, but they also said to ask you. That you knew him best.”
Erithain smiled thoughtfully when he heard that. While Aragorn had called his mother “Naneth” he had not called Arathorn “Adar.” For reasons inexplicable, this cheered Erithain greatly. “Your father was a great man and a good man. Those distinctions are important. Many are destined for greatness, but this does not mean they are always good. Your father was a great warrior, but he also had a good heart. Good enough to take an angry young boy who tried to kill him under his wing and show him how to be a man.”
Aragorn looked at his uncle quizzically, Erithain paused at the puzzled expression on his beloved nephew’s face and smiled, “Pull up a chair, Aragorn. I have a story to tell.”
A/N: I always wanted to write a little more to this but at the time I felt that the story block was finished. Now I am continuing it because I wanted to write this portion of the story! Tiny bit of background in case you haven't read the previous chapters. In this story I have given Gilraen a younger brother, Erithain. He has been regent of the Dunedain while Estel was growing up in Rivendell. Hope you enjoy it! :-)
Fornost settlement, Northern Eriador, TA 2951
Erithain looked at his nephew sitting across from him. He so looked like his brothers Elladan and Elrohir. Lean and strong, his long dark hair falling far past his shoulders and braided with the warrior plaits of the Elves of Imladris. Each symbolizing an achievement or honor bestowed by his Adar. He could see the tense way in which he held his body. He could feel his confusion. In the last five years he had had the privilege of getting to know his nephew when the Dunedain Rangers and the Elves of Imladris combined to tour the northern portions of the erstwhile kingdom of Arnor and Rhovanion after having promised the twins Elladan and Elrohir to not reveal to Estel who he was or who the boy himself was. Everything depended on Estel’s identity remaining secret to those outside those of the Dunedain of the North. Erithain had been true to his word and he had been rewarded with the privilege of getting to know his nephew and his nephew coming to know him as well. It had been a joy, for Estel was a fine young warrior and Erithain could not have been prouder of him.
He could not contain his joy that his nephew was back among his people but Erithain’s heart swelled with pity as well. Aragorn, as he could now begin to name him once again in his mind, looked so lost. He could only imagine what emotions were swirling in that heart. He knew that Aragorn truly loved Imladris, his Adar, his brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, his naneth, who curiously still remained at the Last Homely House. But now he had to go forth from Rivendell to fulfill this new destiny, so different from anything he had ever imagined for himself. Erithain looked into his nephew’s confused grey eyes. Aragorn smiled weakly at his uncle, “Who am I, Uncle? Am I Estel?” he stated. Within his heart that name sat comfortably nestled within all that he knew. “Am I Aragorn?” The name still sounded strange to his ears as if it were another person was being discussed and yet his heart did silently thrill at the sound at the same time.
“Nephew, I don’t rightly know the answer to that question and in any event I believe it is one that truly only you can answer in your heart. Know however that whatever answer you find, I am proud to call you my nephew!”
Aragorn hugged Erithain, “Thank you. Uncle. That does ease my heart greatly.”
They talked long into the night in what passed for Erithain’s study. There were so many questions Aragorn had about his father and their life here in Fornost. The stories Erithain told of Gilraen were so unlike the mother he had grown up with. “Up until a few weeks ago I would not have believed we could have been speaking of the same person. Naneth has always been more subdued and quiet. And sadness has never been far from her eyes. I learned very early to not ask too many questions about life before we came to Imladris. She would get a far-away look in her eyes and withdraw into herself. When that happened I immediately stopped and would look for any way to cheer her or to make her laugh before she slipped too far away. I would ask Adar or my brothers but they had no answers either. Or at least no answer they would give me.” Aragorn stopped suddenly and looked at his Uncle, worried that he might be troubled by the mention of his life in Rivendell. He worried that the “troubles” would come upon him as well and they would have to stop talking. A shadow passed over Aragorn’s eyes as he waited uncomfortably.
Erithain looked a little concerned at this sudden turn then the light dawned, “Aragorn. Look at me,” the young man met his uncle gray gaze, “It is all right that you talk about your life in Imladris and your Adar. They are your family and always will be. And remember, I have known and been friends with Elladan and Elrohir since before you were born.”
Aragorn’s eyes widen a little at this then he realised he indeed knew the truth of that statement and laughed a little, “So very true, I don’t know where my head is today!”
“Understandable, But what you say about your naneth is troubling. She was always so full of life, that one."
Aragorn looked thoughtful, "She has always been subdued...until the day Adar revealed my descent. She seemed, I don't know...to come alive again somehow..."
Erithain paused, thinking about the sister he knew, "I know she loved your father a great deal. I have never seen two people love each other more."
That thought made Aragorn happy and sad all at the same time. Happy to know that he came from such love and sad that his naneth had lost such a love. Slowly with this new knowledge he began to see his naneth through new eyes, perhaps from a more mature perspective. His heart was newly lit with the love that he felt for Arwen and he already knew the pain of separation, how much more did his naneth feel with such a severing as irreversible as death. He felt a wellspring of sympathy and compassion for his naneth. One that he ached to express to her but that was now quite impossible at least for a very long while. He sighed, it was another thing he would have to put aside lest it should eat away at his soul.
The next morning...
Aragorn looked at himself in the brass mirror. He saw himself. Elrond's youngest and Elladan and Elrohir’s little brother. Following them in everything they did. Always seeking his adar's approval. Only now he was not just his adar's son or the twins' little brother anymore. He was the Heir of Isildur, Chieftain of the Dunedain, the leader of the people he come to know and respect as a people. He looked at his warrior’s plaits woven into his hair. Plaits that he had worked so hard for and had taken such pride in earning the right to wear them. But he now had to deal with the reality of who he was and that was not an elf. Regretfully but purposefully, he began to unbraid each of the plaits. With each plait undone he felt a piece of his soul unravel, unbidden and unshed tears gathering in his eyes. The last two he did not undo. He cut the first off whole with his knife. He held it up and looked at it and remembering all that he had done to earn it and all that he had left behind in Rivendell. He tied it off and placed it in a small pouch. The second he cut off and a few tears dropped unbidden; Arwen's beautiful moon-light face appeared in his mind's eye. The longing for her almost undid the rest of his control over his emotions. He took a deep shuddering breath and tied it off; he kissed it and placed it the same pouch as the other and placed it around his neck. They would always be close to his heart but he also had to move past them and onto an unlooked for but now destined path that lead away from the home of his heart.
He then took a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut his long dark locks. Each lock shed left his heart open and wounded but he knew that he had to find a way through the pain to become who he must be. After the last lock had been shorn he again looked in the brass mirror. And the face he saw looked back in defiance almost daring him to accept this new image. Plaits gone and dark hair falling around a face that looked somehow thinner and older. Flecks of sadness in grey eyes and yet strong resolve to see this through. Aragorn studied the image for a few seconds more and then turned away. It was time to move on to this path that he did not know and could only feel his way along. At least that path started with someone he knew, loved and respected, his uncle. Aragorn's heart warmed with the thought of Erithain. His father chose well when he chose Erithain as regent. He heard a voice say, "I did wonder."
Aragorn turned around saw his uncle at the entrance to his room, "Wonder what?"
Erithain looked at his nephew's transformation, "I wondered what you would make of our ways and what changes you would make." Aragorn looked at his uncle speechlessly. Erithain walked over to the boy he had met five years ago, who had truthfully been, at the time, more elf than boy and he had seen him frequently over the intervening years grow and mature into the fine young man who stood before him trying so desperately hard to understand the new role that had been thrust upon him. He reached for a lock of newly shorn dark hair and placed it behind his nephew's very non-pointed ear. "What did it cost you to undo your plaits?"
Grey eyes shadowed with pain, Aragorn replied, "Practically everything." He admitted to his uncle, "But I am not an Elf. I could no longer wear them." Vulnerable young eyes looked at Erithain, "I must be what I am, not what I may wish to be. If I am not, if I do not find some way to fulfill this destiny that has been handed to me, then all the sacrifices my mother made; and the life my father lost defending me will have gone for naught."
Erithain looked at his nephew and felt his pain, confusion and yet his burning will to find a path through. He put both hands firmly on each shoulder and looked the young man in the eye. "I have come to know you these past few years. I have seen a boy grow into a man. Your heart remains the same, though. Elf or man it is your heart to which I will gladly entrust my life and pledge my loyalty. I have already for these many years." Erithain touched his hand to his forehead and heart, bowing his head. When he looked up his nephew's grey eyes were rimmed with tears and they held such a look of gratitude, "Thank you," Aragorn whispered.
"I will always be at your side," Erithain stated in a clear, strong voice. His hands on both the young man's shoulder, "to advise or to warn. Upon that you can trust."
Walking among his people in the settlement of Fornost was a surreal experience for Aragorn. As he walked he had the most odd feeling of remembering, but not quite remembering. He did not consciously remember but deep in the recesses of his soul he did. He stopped at almost at the exact spot where, as a child not quite three, he had sobbed inconsolably when he discovered that his beloved uncle would not be going with them. He looked at Erithain with a questioning look on his face, "Did something happen here? I get the oddest feeling."
Erithain just looked at him, "Do you?"
Aragorn nodded, "Aye!" He muttered in Sindarin, "Im ceri- ú- heni-? How tur- hi n- nadren?" Erithain looked at him not quite understanding. Sindarin was not unknown to the Men of the West. What they spoke was in effect had evolved from Sindarin into what was essentially a different dialect, blending with Westron. Aragorn spoke Sindarin as if he were an Elf which would have been only natural considering where he grew up. He looked apologetic when he realised that he had lapsed into Sindarin, "I'm sorry uncle, I was merely saying "I do not understand? How can this be possible?"
Erithain demurred, "It matters not, but do you really feel something right here?" The memory of the little boy crying inconsolably had been burned into Erithain's soul but that Aragorn should somehow remember as well had been inconceivable until his nephew had just said it. Aragorn weakly nodded his head and grey eyes looked to his uncle for answers. "It was here when you were not quite three, and cried and cried and cried when you found out that I wasn't going with you and your mother to Rivendell. We sat in right there and I hugged you and talked to you until you stopped crying and seemed to accept what had to be."
Aragorn looked at his uncle sheepishly, “I did? I don’t know if I specifically remember that but I feel in my heart something did happen here.” He continued walking with Erithain. The people of the settlement looked at him and bowed their heads respectfully, both men and women touching their heads and hearts in greeting and respect. Aragorn kept bowing his head in the same manner. When they arrived at a dwelling at the edge of the settlement, Aragorn turned to Erithain, “Why does everyone keep bowing to me?”
“Because they know who you are and they rejoice that you are at last among us!” Aragorn turned towards the voice and what he saw astonished him. It was his naneth, or at least an older version of her. She walked up to him with an indescribable look in her wise hazel eyes and a smile of her face. She was almost vibrating with joy as she beheld him. “Praise the Valar that I should live to see my grandson come back to Fornost!”
“You are not old, Mother. You could never be old.” Erithain responded affectionately as him leaned down to kiss his mother’s cheek.
“Idle flatterer!” the older woman looked at Aragorn, who just stared looking a little stunned. She took one of his hands and her lower lip started to tremble, “My dear, dear boy. I am your grandmother, Ivorwen.”
“Mam nin?” Aragorn again lapsed into Sindarin. “Im had U ista.” He shook his head and repeated in Westron. “My grandmother? I never knew…” At that he surprised himself and hugged the older woman who lovingly returned the embrace. Tears falling. “You must forgive me. Naneth never really spoke about her life here. I do not know why. I think it was maybe too painful for her.”
Ivorwen was troubled to hear of her own daughter’s pain living so far away from everyone she had known. It was a hard road she had been asked to travel. Ivorwen had asked the Valar nightly these many long years to ease her daughter’s road. She looked at her grandson, smoothed a stray lock of hair behind his ear. “You do have the grace of the Eldar about you. You have grown into such a fine man, my son. Erithain has told us many stories of your exploits.”
Aragorn looked at Erithain. Erithain shrugged, “Guilty. Mother wanted to hear about you.” Suddenly and completely without warning Aragorn did not feel so alone. He left everything he knew and everyone he loved in Imladris only to find a new family here in Fornost. His uncle, his grandmother, the people of the Dunedain settlement. He felt overwhelmed and embraced; he felt loved.
A/N: The Sindarin is my own probably pretty bad construction.
Epilogue: Beyond the veil.
Aragorn opened his eyes and the image slowly fading as the last remnants of a dream within his mind’s eye was that of Arwen. Her radiant, ethereal beauty had been the light of his life. She had given his life purpose and meaning and touched his soul filling it with laughter and joy. He truly regretted their parting, but he knew within his heart that it was time. Eldarion had grown noble and strong and was ready to lead their people, continuing his father’s work. He thought of her last words, “Nay, dear lord. That choice is long over. There is now no ship that would bear me hence.” The words had sliced open old wounds. She had given away so much to make her life with him and now he would leave her. He never understood why she chose as she did, but he had been forever gratefully that she had. He would forever carry her in his heart, but it was time to move on. The gift had been given back.
He looked around and realised that he was sitting on a beach with his arms wrapped around his legs, hands lightly clasped together. It was at once strange and familiar. The white sands shifted as he moved his bare feet. He reached down with a hand and felt the fine silk sand slip between his fingers. He cast his glance across the azure blue of the ocean reaching to the horizon and then closed his eyes feeling the gentle sunlight warm his upturned face. Aragorn felt at peace. After an eternity of moments, or so it seemed, Aragorn sensed rather than heard the footsteps approach. After a lifetime spent in readiness Aragorn realised that he need not be wary on this sandy beach. He looked up and saw a figure of a man standing with the sun behind him.
With that one spoken word emotions slammed into Aragorn’s psyche. “Father?”
The figure in backlight nodded. Aragorn rose to his feet and faced the man he had last seen when he was far too young to consciously recall, although his heart already knew. His eyes were wide and filling with tears as he faced the man he had so wanted to remember more about. He looked upon grey eyes that were a copy of his own. And said, “I was not afraid.”
Tears clouded Arathorn’s eyes, “And I have been waiting for you, my son.” He opened his arms wide and Aragorn, with a lightness of spirit that he had not felt in many years, ran into the waiting arms of his father.
Author’s notes: Arwen’s words are a direct quote from the ROTK appendices. How do you think this works as an epilogue? I thought of a few other ways, but in writing the first portions I came to realize that they would work better as companion ficlets.
Thanks to all who read my story! I loved writing it!! Another secondary epilogue may appear, but it is finished for now!
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