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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.”
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