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Epilogue – The Year That Followed – Part I
Excerpts from the Journals of Aragorn, Son of Arathorn, Chieftain of the Dúnedain
6 November, T.A. 3000
Seeing as how I am stuck in bed with not much more to do than stare down the length of my legs to my feet sticking up in twin lumps at the end of the bed (I really do seem to have big feet), or twiddle my thumbs, or count the ceiling beams (there are fifteen), I pulled down my old journal and have decided to add to it, jotting down whatever thoughts flit through my mind. Not that I have many, nor yet any that ‘flit’. I still am so tired that my thoughts move sluggishly, like leaves floating down a lazy stretch of the Bruinen. There is a portion of the river, well beyond Rivendell’s borders, where the channel spreads out into a sort of marshy area. There is still a current, but it is slow, and outside the main channel, debris piles up and it is a fairly nasty place to find oneself. I went in there once, chasing down a stag, and swore never again to do such a foolish thing. The stagnant water is dark and smells of sulfur and filled with dead things and leeches and stinging bugs. That is how my mind feels these days.
But it is still better than it was, so I must try to be patient. Or so I hear Ada’s voice admonishing me. We had a long talk yesterday, and cleared the air between us of many things (although not of the one thing that will always stand between us, I fear). Our conversation eased my mind considerably, but there are still so many hard memories... I see the faces in my dreams....
Some might tell me to forget, to put it behind me, but if I, the Chieftain, the leader of my people, do not remember the faces of those killed by this unspeakable evil... who will?
I will remember.
And I will repay.
7 November, T.A. 3000
Ada woke me up before dawn this morning. I was not happy about that, but he said he heard me cry out in my sleep. I do not remember crying out in my sleep, but maybe I did. The Black Breath is gone, but my dreams are still at whiles troubling and dark. But Ada assures me that there is really nothing wrong with me that time will not sort out. I just wish time would do its job more quickly.
Will write a letter to Arwen today, I think. She has been much on my mind of late.
8 November, T.A. 3000
Another adventurous day of doing nothing but lie abed. I think by the time I am finally recovered, I will have no strength in my legs. I may not even have legs; they might simply whither away entirely from lack of use.
My appetite is odd. I wake up feeling like I could eat enough food to feed an entire family of hobbits, but once I put the food in my mouth, it seems tasteless and often sticks so in my throat that I feel I will choke. Again, Ada told me not to worry; it is only that my stomach has shrunk from my illness, but I cannot help but wonder what has gone so wrong with my body that I cannot enjoy food. Good food, at any rate. There have often been times when I could not enjoy eating out in the wilds, but that was no fault of my body’s; that was the fault of my cooking.
Erestor came by and we spent a pleasant hour in conversation. His talkative ways are soothing when one is still too tired to hold up his end of the conversation. He told me many stories from my childhood, events I had long forgotten, and some that I do not recall whatsoever and really would rather no one brought back to my remembrance, like the ridiculous story of my wanting to be a hobbit named Trotter. I can see already that Ada has been reminiscing with all who will listen about that, and I dread the day when my brothers return, for I am sure he will share it with them as well. Sometimes I think Ada has a right cruel streak in him.
Erestor sat laughing at me until, annoyed beyond what I could endure, I feigned weakness sufficient to drive him guilt-ridden from the room for so tiring me.
Being bedridden has its uses.
9 November, 3000 T.A.
Nothing to report today. The sun rose; I did not.
This is getting quite tiresome.
10 November, T.A. 3000
I re-read the story of Beren and Lúthien this morning, the second time through since being bedridden. “Bedridden”... how I hate that word! It speaks of one who is old and used up and feeble and in my heart, I know I am none of these things... but my body still betrays me and it is a sore thing to accept that only time’s slow passage will change my situation. But at least in reading I can escape such dark thoughts.
Theirs is my favorite tale, always has been, but now I feel more than ever a kindred spirit to my distant ancestor. Such a trial he faced to win the love of his heart; it makes my own challenge seem a breeze. At least I do not have to snatch the Silmarils from Morgoth’s crown. I merely have to regain the throne of two nations, snatching them from Sauron’s clutches and destroying him in the process. A lark, that. I can just hear Halbarad. “Should be an easy enough task,” he would say. “That is, if you happen to think it easy to fight through insurmountable obstacles to reach unattainable goals.”
I miss my friend. He cheers me up no end when I find myself, as he says, ‘all grim and gloomy skies’. He has recovered far faster than I have, and made his leave yesterday, promising to report back with despatches until I am able to join him. He will visit Windydale to see what help they may still need, then go on to Fornost to help ready our people for winter. Bilfen and Kenevir went with him, so I will no longer have the benefit of their company, either. Bilfen told me he is considering Fornost for his new inn. Fornost will someday be a thriving town again, or so I hope, so it was with great pleasure that I heard of his plans. In my wildest dreams, when I think of what I will do should I finally ascend Gondor’s throne, foremost in my thoughts is rebuilding the Northern Kingdom, and Annúminas. But that is so far in the future I almost dare not even hope. Yet I do, for it is central to my nature to be hopeful, which makes the loss of it all the more mystifying. May it never happen again.
Elrond came in at one point while I was reading. He glanced at the title of the book in my hands but he did not say a word. He simply checked my fever (which still comes and goes a bit) and then left with a brief nod. This cursed wall between us... despite our talk the other day, it is still there, sometimes almost invisible but other times rising to block all that we might speak to one another. Seeing the look in Ada’s eyes just now, I am saddened to the point where it seems Anor herself no longer can shine as brightly. I long to sit and talk to Ada, but the pain must simply be too much for him. It nearly is for me, but I cannot help but think if we could just talk, it might be an easier thing to bear. But like him, I remain silent, and my silence seems to scorch my heart with unsaid words that burn like coals.
Bah. I must be feverish again, to write such overblown, whining drivel. I never did claim to be a bard, and as I read what I have written, it is obvious that I never will be. I am ever better with a sword than with words. It is just as well that I do not have to face down Sauron with pen in hand.
11 November, T.A. 3000
Glorfindel is back! He came into my chamber and surprised me while I was eating luncheon (my appetite seems a bit better finally, and I can even toddle about a bit, at least to the table from the bed, and out onto the balcony. Tomorrow's grand adventure will be to finally conquer the corridor. I am not called Strider for nothing, after all). I bade him sit down and tell me everything and he did. To my relief, he said that my brothers and my men are all quite well. Elladan and Elrohir stayed with the Dúnedain, to add to their defense during the winter. Ever am I grateful for their willing strength.
Denlad suffered a blow to his shoulder but it will heal. Galadh came through unscathed, which does not surprise me. That whippy lad moves like lightning in a fight. Eledh’s treasured bow fell to an orc axe, but it saved his head from a similar fate. I will see if I can petition Ada to send to Lórien for a bow of the Galadhrim. It is a hopeless request, I know, for the Galadhrim do not give their bows lightly, and rarely to Men. But mayhap being Lord of Imladris, he might be able to ask on my behalf. What a pleasure it would be to see the surprise on Eledh’s face as I hand it to him! But if not a Galadhrim bow, then I will have one made here in Imladris. Eledh could do no better, save one from Lórien.
Glorfindel chased the wraith east, to the foot of the Misty Mountains north of Rivendell before turning back–he joked that he was wearying of shooing wraiths from these lands and would be pleased if I could try not to let such riffraff in again. I immediately told him that as the Wraith came from the East, perhaps it was his own lapse that let it in, which earned me a playful slap alongside my head that left my ears ringing. Sometimes I think Glorfindel does not realize his own strength.
On his return, Gwaihir the Windlord found him and gave report that the wraith had indeed crossed the Misty Mountains and traveled at haste south toward Gladden Fields. He followed them, high in the air, until he saw them at last turn toward Mirkwood and presumably Dol Goldur, and Glorfindel deemed it safe to assume that the Nazgûl was done with whatever mission sent him into our lands–or that the defense of said lands was stronger than he expected. Considering Glorfindel’s power over the Nazgûl, I have to think that is the only reason the foul thing fled. It surely was not anything I or my men brought to bear against him that instilled such terror in whatever passes for his heart.
Glorfindel, Elrond and Gandalf counseled with one another long into the night but could not come to any sort of definitive conclusion as to what brought the wraith here. The only thing that really makes any sense at all is that it was after me, the Heir, and that is a chilling thought. Although I know that the Enemy has long held great hatred toward Númenor and its dwindling descendants, it is something else entirely to think of his wrath being poured out on me personally. I have ever kept to the shadows, even as Chieftain, and kept my name and ancestry hidden except among my own people. To think that someone may have leaked such information to the Enemy, and, although it is apparent that I am still unknown to Sauron, that the information was enough to bring a Nazgûl to our lands... to think of the treachery of it... my hand even now shakes with barely suppressed rage.
But I must put aside my anger. Spies are everywhere; there is nothing for it. I must simply accept the fact that for some, my life is worth no more than a handful of coin. I must stay vigilant.
If only I were not so blasted weak!
13 November, 3000 T.A.
Gandalf left today, off on another of his mysterious treks through Arda. I thought he might tell me what it was he had only hinted at that night I fell so ill, but he remained his mysterious self, merely twinkling his eyes at me and smiling and saying absolutely nothing.
I did not bother writing anything yesterday. What entertainment is there, after all, in reading, “Stayed in bed all day except to walk ten paces down the corridor and back”? I can attest that there is no entertainment in living it, nor in writing it.
I fear I am turning into a right curmudgeon. An Elleth brought in clean bedding and I nearly snapped her head off when she asked me to please move to the chair. She turned red and nearly burst into tears and I felt shame down to my very marrow. I apologized profusely and she forgave me but it still horrifies me to think how badly I treated her, when all she was doing was taking care of me.
There is much weakness in me yet, weakness of character... selfishness that I must learn to subdue. A king cannot be so quick to anger, especially when there is no reason for such fury.
20 November, 3000 T.A.
A week has gone by, and it was not a pleasant one at all. Something went awry in my arm and the fever returned in force. I do not know for certain but I may have wrenched it helping the Elleth make my bed–I was so filled with shame, I wanted to do it all myself but she would not hear of it, so I tried to help. I lifted the mattress for her and felt a sharp pain in my arm but thought nothing more of it until that night, when it started throbbing and the sick feeling of fever came on me.
Elrond was terribly unhappy with me. I was not very happy with me, either. But when he checked the wound, he pulled forth one (hopefully) last splinter, and now I am doing somewhat better.
I hate to think how long this will delay my return to my people.
21 November, 3000 T.A.
The weather turned cold and rainy, even for Imladris, and the dampness seems to settle deep into my bones. I feel like an old man. I shiver and ache and sit by the fire with a blanket over my knees and another around my shoulders and I think what a pretty pass the Chieftain of the Dúnedain has come to.
30 November, 3000 T.A.
First day able to write. Adar said the fever had settled in my lungs.
16 December, 3000 T.A.
I cannot believe Mettarë is nearly upon us and I am still so weak and useless. Oh, I can walk about now, even down to the Hall of Fire and back if I go slowly, but the lung infection set me back so far that now it will be well after the New Year before I can return to my people. I have been called the hardiest of living men, but I feel anything but hardy these days. I cannot seem to take a breath for coughing.
Halbarad sends despatches often. Things seem well enough at home...
In writing those words, an ache suddenly stirs in my heart, for I realize that although the home of my heart is Imladris, a part of my heart now belongs out there, in the wilds of the north with the scattered remnants of my people. I miss my men. My sworn brothers. I miss the children who laugh and play in the settlements. I miss seeing the calm grey eyes of the women as they look upon their men with love and pride. If not for Arwen, I would be proud and humbled to have a Dúnedain woman as my wife. There can be no more beautiful women in all of Arda, beautiful for their strength and compassion and pure hearts.
Windydale still haunts me. I will go back to that place first, to try again to make amends, although I fear the people there will never truly forgive me, despite the words of the men that dark night. I would try especially to talk to the woman who lost her babe, whose shattered grief still flails at my spirit even as her fists flailed my chest. So much grief and loss... it is something from which I doubt my heart will ever truly heal.
I need to go home. To my Dúnedain home.
20 December, T.A. 3000
Mettarë is nearly upon us, and the Last Homely House is filled with secrets. Good secrets. Ada is going around looking very pleased with himself; Erestor has a constant twinkle in his eye, and Glorfindel keeps chuckling at me with no explanation. I have no idea what to think of it all.
I have not been idle in preparing for Mettarë. My father is kind to celebrate the Winter Solstice in the way of the Dúnedain whenever I am home (the Elves mark the Solstice in quiet contemplation and of course song and tales, but nothing like the way the Dúnedain carry on), and I must repay in what kind I am able. So I have been busy making gifts for the three of them, and for my brothers. Nothing fancy, just simple scabbards for their hunting knives. Dûrion sought out and found what I needed to make them, as, while I am stronger and able to get around, I am not up for a hunt through Imladris for deerskin. I tooled the emblems of the House of Elrond into the leather. I am no artist, so I cheated a bit and used a tracing Dûrion had made from a plaque by the front entrance. He managed to do it without Elrond or anyone seeing, and it is no easy thing to sneak past the likes of Glorfindel and Elrond. Erestor, I know from personal experience, can be easily eluded. You simply wait until he is so engrossed in an old manuscript that an oliphaunt could sit on him without his notice.
I hope they like the scabbards and do not think them too crude to be worth keeping. I probably should not have even attempted such artistry, but I could think of nothing else to give them. I owe them so much.
I wove a bracelet for Arwen. She will not receive it until spring when it can be sent to Lórien with a messenger or a patrol, but I wanted to be sure she knew I was thinking of her in these quiet hours before Mettarë. But as I look at it laying on the desk, I have about decided that it is too ugly for her to ever wear, and not worth giving to her at all. But I do not have any other thing to offer, and have no way of obtaining anything finer short of pillaging the treasures in Rivendell’s library, and I doubt somehow that such a thing would put me in better graces with Adar. I did work in several strands of blue silk the color of Arwen’s eyes, taken from a leftover scrap Dûrion found in the seamstress’ workroom, so it is not entirely drab. But compared to her beauty...
No, I do not think I will give it to her. It is not worthy of her.
If only she could come for a visit this Mettarë.
21 December, T.A. 3000
It is now almost midnight, and I am very tired, but very, very happy.
Erestor, Glorfindel and Ada professed much admiration over their scabbards. I have a feeling they were only being kind, for to my eyes, a twelve-year-old elfling could have done better, but I suppose after all, it is the thought and effort that went into the gift that gives the gift value.
Their gift to me ... how to tell of it? What a surprise it was, and completely unlooked for.
Halbarad is here! As are Denlad, Galadh and Eledh.
Ada is far too sneaky for an Elf of his station, that is all I can say.
He had already given me what I thought was his only gift–a beautiful sword to replace the one shattered by the wraith. Thinking that was the extent of it, I was fully content, or as fully content as I could be without Arwen by my side and without my Dúnedain kinsmen around me. I sat with my legs stretched out to the fire, admiring the etchings on the new sword, trying to convince myself that a quiet, introspective Mettarë in the way of the Elves was really what I needed more than one spent with Arwen in my arms or one spent in boisterous, noisy celebration with the Dúnedain. But I could not convince my heart of the same, and an odd loneliness settled onto my spirit.
So I sat, hoping I was hiding my sudden melancholy, and admired the sword and chided myself for my self pity. So deep in thought was I that the singing did not at first register on my ear. I started humming, though, without realizing, and finally I stirred enough out of my reverie to realize that there were voices coming down the hallway toward the Hall of Fire, voices loud and raucous and deep and strong and nothing like the ethereal, hauntingly light voices of the Elves. This singing was a raspy, untrained and off-key affair that I normally hear only in taverns.
Or around Ranger campfires.
My head shot up and I stared toward the doorway, and as Elrond started chuckling, the door flew open and in walked Halbarad, his wife Miriel and their two children, followed by Eledh and Galadh!
Never had melancholy so quickly released a man from its grip! I leaped to my feet (and had to apologize later to Ada for letting my new sword clatter to the floor... I fear I nicked the blade) and ran to embrace my kinsmen. There was much back-pounding and not a few tears mixed in with the smiles. Halbarad looked fully healed. He gave me a once over and declared that while he was glad I was no longer grey, I had lost far too much weight, and I found I could not argue with him. I had seen myself in the mirror, after all, and knew how my clothes hung on me with no more grace than on a scarecrow. I merely shrugged and turned my attention to his wife, for to my delight, Miriel was heavy with child. I kissed her gently on the cheek, noticing the fine mithril chain that graced her neck. I glanced at Halbarad and he gave me a wink, and then Miriel placed my hand on her belly. The baby immediately kicked and I laughed and it felt good to be so light of heart.
But that was not the end of the surprises. Denlad came in then, with such a red-faced, shy smile that I wondered what had gotten into him. He had been to Rivendell before, and had seen me dressed in the finery of Elrond’s house, so surely it was not that he felt intimidated... and then I saw the reason for his bashfulness: he had Neala by the hand! He led her into the room and stopped before me, his arm protectively around her waist. I know I must have stood gaping at them like a landed fish, but how great was my surprise to see, as I had suspected that long ago day at her farm, that love had indeed blossomed between them. I finally collected my wits and bowed my head to Neala. “I am happy for you, my lady,” I murmured. Denlad beamed like he was the man who had invented love, and Randir, who was standing behind them both, gave me his own shy grin as he shook my hand. I pulled Denlad aside and whispered to him wryly that I was glad that, since I had to have suffered such misery during those days on her farm, at least he had taken full advantage of it, and he threw back his head and laughed.
But as I watched him guide Neala to a couch and as I watched Halbarad fuss over Miriel’s cushions, I had to turn away. The longing to have my own beloved beside me to fuss over and cherish nearly overwhelmed me. Not wanting to be the curmudgeon who darkens the day, I moved quickly to the wine table and busied myself with pouring glasses. While I was furiously telling myself to cease this exasperating self pity, Erestor came up behind me.
“There is no fault in feeling sorrow when your own beloved is absent,” he said quietly.
I kept my eyes on my hands as I carefully put each glass on a tray. “It is hard, sometimes.”
He took one of the glasses and sipped from it, eyeing me over its brim. He held up the goblet and let the light shine through it. “This is a good wine,” he said. “It has mellowed with time, and has developed character that can only come through long years of aging.” He said no more, but patted me on the back and walked off.
I smiled ruefully. It was impossible even for a dullard like myself to miss his meaning, and it gave me some measure of comfort. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and carried the tray of drinks to the happy group by the fire. As I served each one of them, I was reminded that this, too–serving my people in even the smallest ways–was a source of joy to me, and the loneliness faded to a more manageable ache. Halbarad took a goblet, lifted it to me, and murmured, “To Arwen.” Once again, my friend knew the right words to say.
I touched my glass to his. “To good friends.”
It was a Mettarë to remember.
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