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Midsummer in the Year of the Fall of Sauron  by Cairistiona

Aragorn fumbled and dropped the towel. Muttering under his breath, he snatched it off the floor. "I have faced orc and Nazgûl and Sauron himself, yet now I tremble worse than an untested, frightened stripling at the sight of his first warg."

He scrubbed at his face with the towel. He had yearned for this moment for years, so why this feeling of ... of abject terror?

After the formal wedding dinner, they had stood, he and Arwen, and said their good nights to friends and family, who returned them with knowing smiles and not a few winks, all of which served to make Aragorn’s cheeks feel as though he were standing far too close to an inferno. They had walked calmly out, hand in hand, dignified as King and Queen should be.

Aragorn would have preferred to have run as though fleeing from a cave troll.

In the hallway leading to their private residence, they separated temporarily, but not before sharing a kiss and a lingering embrace that had left him weak in the knees and ready to consummate their marriage then and there, right in the middle of the hallway, chance passers by be hanged. Arwen, though, had retained at least some semblance of self control and laughingly pushed him back as she made a promise to come to his bedchamber after, she said with a mysterious smile, readying herself.

"You look ready enough to me," he had protested. He tried to nibble her earlobe but she ducked away and gave him another gentle shove.

"I will need at least an hour," she said firmly, and laughed at the dismay on his face.

And so he had watched her disappear through a doorway at the other end of the corridor, a doorway he had not realized existed. He was forever discovering new corridors and doors and rooms in this place. At least three times the first week he had gotten hopelessly lost and had to ask passing servants the way, much to their poorly disguised amusement and his excruciating embarrassment. He was better familiar with the place now, but he still longed for a day when duties did not prevent him from fully exploring his new home. A king, he had always thought, should know every nook and cranny of his realm, and especially of his own home.

Aragorn wiped a hand across the steamy mirror. He had decided to kill time waiting by taking a bath of his own, hoping it would relax him.

So far, it had not.

He glanced through the doorway into the bedchamber at the clock on the mantel, a wedding gift from Bilbo Baggins, and swallowed. If she truly only needed an hour, she would be joining him in just a few minutes.

He frowned and took a deep breath, drawing the warm, moist air of his bathing chamber deep into his lungs, hoping that it would bring with it some sense of calm, some sort of steadiness... some sort of feeling that he was not about to step forward to plunge from the top of a cliff into a bottomless chasm.

Why was he feeling so nervous, so... so ready to fly to pieces?

He looked at himself in the glass as he toweled his chest dry. His moments slowed and he finally stood motionless, staring hard at his body, and the answer came to him.

It is the scars. How will she react when she sees them? I am no longer the untrammeled youth she fell in love with. The long years have etched their hardships on me in ways that I will no longer be able to hide behind a smile or easy movement. Gladly do I bare my soul to Arwen, but these scars ...

He dropped the towel and ran a hand along one that traced along his torso. A orc blade had opened him from below his breast nearly to his left pelvic bone. It had been a long time ago, but a long time healing, and it left a welt that still slashed angrily across his body.

And there were others: a thin line ran down his inner arm, where a bandit’s dagger had slipped under his guard. An ugly scar on his upper left arm, made by splinters suffered in an ill-fated attempt to save a child trapped in the wreckage of a burned-out building. A wider gash on his left side, by his ribs, where a Southron’s dagger had nearly ended his life. And a long scar running from his right knee up his leg nearly to his groin. Had Halbarad not quickly applied a tourniquet, that one would have drained his life’s blood in minutes. Those were the worst, but there were others, some only weeks old, left during the final battles at Pelennor and the Black Gate.

My life is written in the scars on my body. What will she think? Will she see them and shrink away? She has been so sheltered ... has she seen with her own eyes the handiwork of the Enemy, or will these come as a shock, repugnant to her and unacceptable?

He twisted to look at his back. What he saw brought a grim smile to his face. There were hardly any scars there, for rarely did he run from battle, and rarely did battle sneak up behind him to catch him unawares. There was a puckered spot here and there where orc arrows had punctured him, but they were barely noticeable. His smile widened to a grin. Maybe he should back into their bedchamber. He struck a ridiculous pose, placing an fist on one hip and flexing the other. "Prepare to swoon, fair maiden, for your brave hero has arrived, arse first!"

Laughing at his folly, and trying with mixed success to banish his doubts, he turned away from the mirror and sat on the ornate bench placed alongside the wall. He looked around at the bathing chamber, awed as ever by the grandeur of it. Even this small room, he thought, was fit for a king. It still startled him sometimes to think that he was now that king. He thought back to all the times when bathing was a matter of a quick dip in a river or stream, clothes on and weapon at hand because enemies did not politely step aside and wait for him to make himself presentable. Now he could... and did... bathe every day, and his weapons were in another room entirely. He still was not used to that. Many times he had awakened after dozing in the bathtub to lunge for his sword, unsure where he was or what was happening.

The battles were over, but the memories were too fresh, and the combat-honed instincts to survive did not easily lie themselves down to sleep, even when peace and safety were all around.

Time, he thought. Time will take care of the nightmares that still haunted him. The over-reactions to small sounds. The fear that still washed over him when an unexpected shadow caught his eye. He had tried to hide his jumpiness, but Faramir had seen the signs; indeed, they had talked of it, for Faramir suffered the same sort of thing, and the conversation had eased both their minds. Aragorn had been fearful to admit it, but he finally told Faramir of his occasional worry that he was losing his mind when those spells fell upon him. How great was his relief when Faramir had nodded vigorously and assured him that he had the same worries and that from talking to Boromir back in the days when he yet lived, and in talking with other soldiers, he knew that he and Aragorn were far from the brink of insanity. This would pass, Faramir assured him, and if not, well then, he had said with a crooked grin, at least they could be locked away as madmen together.

He ran a hand through his still dripping locks. Arwen, do you know what you have gotten yourself into? Marriage to a battered old warrior still jumping at shadows? A regent who feels more like a ragtag soldier?

He looked at the gold fittings on the tub. They felt like they belonged to someone else. This room, this citadel ... this title of king. It did not quite fit him yet, or perhaps it was he who did not fit.

Even after these weeks in office, sometimes I feel very much like a small boy only playing at being king, waiting for his mother to call him in to supper.

Only his mother was many years dead, her hope failing her in the end. Nana, do you know how it has all turned out? Can you see this city, the towers... can you see me? Have the Valar granted you that boon, to see a glimpse of what your son, your little Estel, finally managed to somehow accomplish? That he is king, that he is now married?

That your hope was not given in vain?

His eyes stung and he blinked rapidly. How he wished she had lived to see his coronation, and his wedding. Not for himself, not because he wanted to preen before her, but as a reward for her sacrifice. "You gave hope and kept none for yourself. It was as much you that saved Arda, Nana, as I," Aragorn whispered. He looked at the late evening sun shining through the window, and a glimmer of peace stole into this heart. She knew. Somehow, he was sure of it.

He stood. He should not wasting time lost in daydreams. Arwen would be arriving any moment, and he had to be ready for her, galloping nerves notwithstanding. He slipped on a silk robe and tied it around his waist, hiding the scars for at least the moment. There were slippers sitting neatly beside the door, but he left them there. They were too... womanish. He had never worn slippers in his adult life and he was not about to start now. Boots or bare feet, and since putting his boots on now smacked of the ridiculous, bare feet it was.

He opened the door and stood for a moment, eyeing the bedchamber. All was ready. Candles shone softly from niches in the wall and in clusters on the tables throughout the room. And a large bunch of white roses amassed in a vase stood on the bedside table on what would be Arwen’s side. Petals from the White Tree, that he had gathered himself that afternoon, were scattered across the floor and across the bed. He had felt a little foolish, carrying a basket and squatting on the ground as he sought only the most perfect ones, but the guards ignored him, as though they were used to monarchs duckwalking along the ground like beggars searching for dropped coins. But it was something he felt he needed to do himself and not delegate to a servant. And now, as he looked at the effect, he knew the momentary sacrifice of his dignity had been worth it.

He frowned as he looked at the roses. Maybe she preferred the left side of the bed. He hurried to the vase and carried it to the other table and set it down, then stepped back and eyed it critically. No, that was his side. He somehow knew it was his side of the bed. He moved the vase back, pausing to smell deeply of their beautiful fragrance.

He pulled one rose out and placed it on her pillow. Then he turned it a bit more sideways, and then back the way he had first placed it. He frowned and picked up the rose and put it back in the vase and found another one, with a tighter bud. He put it on the pillow.

Better.

He stepped back and looked again at the entire room. It was perfect.

Now all that was left was ... the waiting.

He sat down in a chair by the fireplace, but it was too warm. So he moved to the window seat. He sat down sideways, but the robe fell open. He hurriedly gathered it back to cover himself. Ashamed of his manhood he was not, scars notwithstanding, but he did not think he needed to flash himself so wantonly at her first step in the door. He grinned and turned to face the room. He sat straight up and placed both hands on his knees.

He felt like a schoolboy.

He relaxed and leaned against the window frame... and nearly pulled the drapery down. He scrambled to feet and reset the drape in its hook and promptly abandoned the window seat.

Maybe he should simply lie on the bed. He walked over and gingerly lay down, trying not to scatter the petals or muss the bedding. He stared at the ceiling for a moment, then hitched himself up to lean against the headboard. The cursed robe fell open again and he snatched it back. He crossed his legs at the ankles and tried a smile.

He felt utterly ridiculous.

He lunged to his feet, smoothed the counterpane and then simply started pacing. It took many steps to cross the room and just as many back and he realized if he kept this up, he would be too exhausted for any sort of lovemaking.

He sat down on the bench at the foot of the bed and gnawed on a hangnail on his thumb. The robe insidiously slid open again. He growled and marched into the bathing chamber and yanked the robe off, exchanging it for a pair of breeches and a loose tunic. He pulled on the breeches and then the white silk tunic, leaving it untied at the throat. He looked at himself in the mirror and nodded. The silk robe might be more sumptuous but it was not him, any more than those ridiculous slippers were. He shoved the shirttails into the waistband of the pants, frowned, then yanked them back out again. There.

Easier access, he thought with a wicked grin. Much better.

He pulled his hair out from under the collar and picked up a brush and smoothed out the snarls. He again inspected the results in the mirror. Beard trimmed, teeth clean. Eyes worried and skin marked with more lines than he would have liked, but features all present and accounted for and in the right spots–nothing in his long years of fighting had gotten knocked askew or gouged away, at least. He was no Elf, but he supposed he would do. His lips quirked in the corners as he remembered his boyhood days, when not being an Elf seemed the end of the world at times.

A knock on the door sent his heart clawing up into his throat. He swallowed back panic and hurried into the bedchamber. He bolted to the door, only just bringing himself to a halt before yanking it open. He took a deep breath and shut his eyes as he counted to five, then, calmer, he opened the door with a broad smile.

It was a kitchen maid, carrying a tray.

His smile faded.

"Begging your pardon, your Majesty, but the Lord Faramir sends his regards and thought some wine and cakes might be welcome," she said with a curtsey.

Bemused, Aragorn stepped back to let her in. She deftly arranged the repast on the table by the fireplace and exited the room swiftly, without meeting his eyes. He nonetheless thanked her as he closed the door behind her. Sometimes he felt... invisible. No one seemed to want to look straight at him. It was all scraping and bowing and formalities, even between Faramir and himself at times. With Halbarad gone, often it seemed the only ones he could depend upon treating him as a true friend were the Hobbits. And even then, Sam sometimes became flustered in his presence. Merry and Pippin, however, seemed to hold him in little awe.

Thank the Valar for good plain hobbit sense.

He walked to the table and looked at the food. Biscuits, chocolate from the looks of them, or some sort of very dark spiced confection. He picked one up and sniffed it. Chocolate. Word had already gotten around that the new King liked chocolate.

He sniffed the decanter of wine. It smelled of strawberries. Chocolate and strawberry wine. He wondered if that was Faramir’s doing or if the cook in the kitchens had done the pairing.

Another knock on the door scattered his wits like quail before a hunter. He smoothed his sweating hands on his pants and then walked calmly... very calmly, one foot in front of the other for Valar’s sake do not trip and fall ... to the door. He opened it, and it was her.

He took a sudden sharp breath and it seemed he could not let it out. She stood before him, beauty incarnate as beauty had surely never graced Arda until this moment. She was dressed in some sort of filmy, floating dress that seemed made of the air itself, her dark hair loose and free as it had been that night long ago, when he had first descried her at twilight among the beeches and thought he had walked into a dream. No one accompanied her, and the hallway was empty. Indeed, it seemed all of Minas Tirith had gone silent, as if to give their King and their Queen this night together in utter and perfect peace. He reached for her, touching her cheek lightly with his fingertips. "Arwen. My queen," he whispered, his voice a husky shadow of its usual self.

She smiled then, and it seemed as if every shadow on Arda vanished. Certainly every shadow in his own heart melted under the warmth of that smile and the Elven-light of those eyes. She took his hand and he led her in. She gasped in pleasant surprise as she looked at the candles and the wine and cookies. Then she saw the roses. "Oh, Estel, they’re beautiful!"

"Not as beautiful as you," Aragorn murmured. "They are of the day, which fades, but in you is found all the beauty of the evening stars, which are everlasting." He stood behind her and, lifting her heavy dark hair to one side, placed a gentle kiss at the base of her neck.

She turned in his arms and then her lips were on his and her body pressed against his and he moaned softly in his throat as he tasted the sweetness of her breath. He moved his hands down her back to the base of her spine and pulled her hips against his and she met him in a way she never had allowed herself before, letting him feel the warmth of her body against his and then somehow, he knew not how, he was carrying her and laying her on the bed and stretching out beside her and touching her face and looking at her. Simply looking at her.

"Arwen," he husked, and he held her face tenderly in both hands and kissed her forehead, and then her nose, and her cheek, then her mouth, ever so gently. She was so beautiful, and so unspoiled, and the joy within him nearly had him weeping.

She reached up and laid a hand on his cheek. "Estel?"

And he realized he was weeping, and it made no sense but to feel this perfect joy at last, untainted, unstained by shadow... it was too beautiful and he started to shake and it made no sense... he should be laughing and dancing and loving her but all he could do was cry...

He buried his face in her shoulder and she held him and he held her and as he lifted his face to hers, he felt her tears mingle with his, and somehow he knew she understood even though he did not understand it himself.

"I am sorry," he murmured, his voice trembling. "I do not know what is... why..."

"Why you weep?" she finished for him.

He nodded.

She stroked his hair gently. "Perhaps it is because the journey to this moment has been paved in so much sorrow."

He sighed. She was right. Sorrow smote his heart even as it sang for joy. So much was now in within his grasp, but so much also had been lost. Friends, kinsmen... even Arda itself was broken in ways that could never be restored.

His tears spent, he touched her hair, winding it around his finger as he studied the play of light along its silken strands. "I wonder if it is right, to feel such joy when so many still grieve, when so many have paid so high a cost for us... for me... to be here."

She moved, rolling over a bit so she look at him squarely. "Would we let their sacrifice be in vain? For their sakes, we cannot always grieve. We must rejoice in the good things, or the struggle has all been for naught."

He took a deep breath. She was right. They had a world to rebuild, a new age to start, and they must move past the sorrow and enter that place of joy. His heart suddenly lighter than it had been in years, he propped his head up on his elbow and wiped away the tears still lingering on her cheek. "As always, you give to me what my soul lacks. I love you, my wise Arwen Undómiel. Queen of Gondor."

"As I love you, Estel Elrondion. King Elessar." She smiled, and suddenly an impish twinkle danced in her eyes. "Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Heir of Isildur. Chieftain of the Dúnedain. Wingfoot. Lord of the North. Lord of the Western Lands. Lord of the White Tree. Thorongil. Envinyatar. Strider. Or Telcontar, since in Quenya it does not sound so ill." By now she was giggling and so was he. It really was ridiculous, the number of names he had.

He kissed her nose. "You sound as though you have taken on a baker’s dozen of lovers."

"Who is it that loves me tonight?"

He smiled softly. "A Dúnadan," he said simply. He ran his finger along her jaw. "A man on whom the Valar had mercy when he dared to hope for one so much higher than himself." And then he pulled her to him and she met him with all the fullness of desire so long denied.

~~~

He lay beside her, half drowsing, sated by their lovemaking and enjoying the wondrous sensation of her body curled against his, with nothing between them. Then he felt her move and cool air slipped along his body where her warmth had been. He opened his eyes to find her propped on her elbow, looking at him. At his body.

He could not help tensing.

The candlelight and the light from the fire flickered in the room but Aragorn knew it did little to soften the ugliness of those scars. He started to pull the sheet across him, but she stopped him. "Let me look."

And she did, and he forced himself to lay still and let her. They had made love, but in their passion, looking at one another had fallen second to feeling, to touching, to scent and warmth and eyes shut to simply exult in the being of it. And it had been glorious beyond anything Aragorn could have imagined, the love of this woman. His woman. His queen.

His Arwen.

But now, she lay beside him, naked and free of any self consciousness. As well she should, for his gaze found only perfection in her form.

But what must her eyes see...

He looked away, afraid of the expression that might leap to her honest, beautiful eyes, for he knew she would hide nothing from him. Even revulsion.

"Estel," she whispered, and he felt her in his spirit, closer than she had ever been and it was warm and enveloping and gentle and fierce and protective. But he still could not bring himself to look at her.

She reached out and turned his chin gently toward her. "Look at my eyes. What do you see?"

He hesitated, then finally met her eyes. "Love," he whispered. "I see love."

He felt her take his hand and place it on the worst of the scars, the one on his leg. She moved it along with hers, slowly up its entire length. He trembled, and then she took his hand and placed it over her heart. "You endured that pain for Arda. For Middle-earth. For me," she whispered, "and my heart thanks you."

He gazed at her, unable to speak, to move, to breathe. She bent and kissed his forehead, then his lips. Then she slowly and gently kissed each of his scars, touching them with featherlight caresses of her soft lips and by the time she reached the last one he was shattered. He gathered her in his arms and crushed her to him and his lips found hers and once more he was lost and found at the same time, and he did not try to understand but let the joy of her acceptance sweep away the final shred of horrid doubt.

...and at Midsummer in the year of the Fall of Sauron he took the hand of Arwen Undómiel, and they were wedded in the city of the Kings. - The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen






        

        

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