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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
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