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The Heir Apparent  by Mirkwoodmaiden

Chapter 8 – Never be afraid

Aragorn stood on a hay bale next to his colt, Gilgilath, named for the star shaped spot on his nose, rubbing him with a bit of hay imitating the motions that he saw his beloved uncle using. Erithain looked at the little boy trying to help curry the colt and tousled his dark curly mop of hair, blinking away tears before the sharp little boy could pick up on his distress. Aragorn could sense that the adults in his life were sad about something and it still had to be decided how much to tell the child. Erithain cleared his throat before saying, “That’s right, my lad. The straw helps to clean and relax a horse after a morning’s walk.” Aragorn beamed upon being praised by his uncle, “Ar’gon helps ‘lath. My horse.”

“And a fine horse it is, too.” Erithain looked at the stable door and saw as planned earlier, Elladan and Elrohir. It was decided that Aragorn should get to know the twins in a place he loved being so that he would hopefully relate them to warm and happy feelings.

Dropping the straw in his hand to gather up little Aragorn, Erithain waited until Elladan and Elrohir crossed the short distance to the stall where they and the colt stood. “Aragorn, I want you to meet two very special people. This is Elladan.”

Bowing low, and then speaking in his most gentle and musical voice, Elladan said, “Mae Govannen, little one. I am pleased we finally meet.”

“ ‘Dan!” Aragorn said. The dark-haired Elf smiled and nodded.

“And this is his twin brother, Elrohir.”

Elrohir, not to be outdone by his brother, bowed in similar fashion, “Mae Govannen, Aragorn. We are honoured to finally meet the little star that Arathorn and Erithain have talked endlessly about.”

“ ‘Roh!” Elrohir nodded, lifting an eyebrow at the quickness of the child.

Erithain bent the child’s head to look into the young gray eyes, “They are very special friends to your Papa and myself.”

Aragorn looked at the two and his eyes grew wide in looking at them. He looked back and forth at them, fascinated. He reached out a hand and grabbed one of Elrohir’s dark plaits, holding it up completely captivated. “Dark hair, long like ‘Lath.” He looked so pleased with his comparison that the Erithain and the two Elves burst out laughing. Aragorn beamed and clapped his hands in delight having made them laugh. Elrohir reached out to hold the child who, much to Erithain’s relief, went willingly. He held Aragorn, bouncing him gently, “Well yes! When you put it that way I guess we do!”

Erithain offered, “Considering his love of horses, that is a huge compliment.”

Elrohir chuckled, “I’m flattered, little one.”

Aragorn was not listening though, for he had just discovered Elrohir’s ears. He reached out a tentative little hand to touch one, running his fingers along the pointed shape of it. At the same time the other hand’s thumb was chewed between his teeth. The enthralled look on his face greatly amused Elladan and Elrohir, the latter holding his head very still so that the little boy could explore unhindered. Aragorn looked at Erithain and reached out to touch his uncle’s rounded ears. And then he felt his own. He looked confused. Elrohir took pity on the confused child. “You are right, little one. Our ears are different, because my brother and I are Elves, not Men like your uncle and your papa.” Mesmerised by the musical voice Aragorn looked again into the Elf’s blue eyes and saw the stars residing there. “Stars!” he said, wonder in his voice. He looked at Elladan and saw that stars resided there, too. He smiled and touched Elrohir’s ear again and laughed. He paused and seemed to make a decision and he reached down to grab Elladan’s hand to pull it toward Gilgilath, “ ‘Dan pet ‘lath!”

Elladan allowed himself to be pulled by the small hand, “Hannon le, little one. I think I will. He is a beautiful colt,” said the Elf, stroking the dark mane.

Erithain hid a smile as best he could, “I think he likes you! He does not allow just anyone to touch Gilgilath.”

Over the next month the stables became the place where Elladan and Elrohir would play with the little boy accompanied either by Erithain or Arathorn. Aragorn became used to the idea that Elladan and Elrohir were Elves and that meant that they were different from him or Papa or Uncle Erithain, but he still liked them anyway.

~*~*~*~*~

The journey to Imladris would take roughly three weeks. In the end it was decided that Aragorn should be told something of what happening. Arathorn and Gilraen sat on little Aragorn’s bed. Arathorn tried to think how to explain to a two-year about evil. It was a conversation that churned the inside of his stomach and one he wished he never had to have with his beautiful boy. But he knew the realities of the situation and it could not be helped. Gilraen was right. The boy needed to know something.

“Papa sad?” came the little voice that interrupted his thoughts and brought him back to the here and now.

“Yes, my beautiful boy. Papa is sad.”

“Why? Ar’gon been good,” said the confused little voice.

Arathorn snatched him under the covers caught him in a big hug. “It is nothing you did, my little love.” He said hoarsely, looking at Gilraen, at a loss for words. Gilraen stroked her son’s curly dark hair, “Papa’s right it was nothing you did.”

Aragorn pulled back a little and said “O. K. Papa sad though.”

“Oh, my beautiful boy, There are things in this world of which you do not understand.” Arathorn sighed deeply, caressing the boy’s cheek. “But I will try to explain some things to you. There are some bad men in this world who want to have everything their own way. They do not want to share and be nice to other people.”

“Why?” Aragorn looked confused.

“I do not know why, my little love. It is just the way they are.” Arathorn hesitated, unsure of how to proceed. Gilraen placed a gentle hand on his arm and taking strength from that, Arathorn continued. “These bad men, they do not like us and would harm us if they could.” Aragorn’s eyes grew wide and frightened at this idea, Arathorn tightened his hug to calm and reassure the child, “But we will not let them. I would never let anything or anybody harm you, my beautiful boy! This is why you and your mother are going to leave this place. You are going to live in a beautiful place full of rivers and woods meadows where you can learn to ride Gilgilath and be safe. You will like it there.”

“You come, too, Papa!” he looked hopefully at Arathorn.

“No, my little love. I must stay here and guard against the bad men.”

Aragorn’s lower lip started to tremble, “No! You come, too! Papa!” he started tugging at his nightshirt.

“I would if I could, my little love.” Arathorn smoothed back his son’s hair and kissed the child’s forehead. “But I must stay to make sure the bad men never hurt you. A man must sometimes fight to protect what he loves. And I will come and visit you as often as I can.”

Lower lip still trembling a little, Aragorn obviously did not think that was good enough but he only said, “Ar’gon miss Papa.” Tears to started slip down his little face as he hugged Arathorn’s neck.

His father’s arms closed in around his son, “My beautiful boy! I shall miss you, too. More than you will ever know.”

He looked at Gilraen and mouthed ‘Thank you’ for insisting on this moment with his son. Gilraen smiled through her own tears, glad to see father and son embracing.

~*~*~*~*~

It was decided that the First watch of Arathorn’s tribe would ride as the escort along with Elladan and Elrohir and that Erithain, given his new position as Regent should stay behind in Fornost. Aragorn’s toys were packed and Gilgilath was to be tethered to Ayre, Gilraen’s horse. If anything was to happen along the trip four of the guard were to ride as fast as possible away from any such trouble.

Aragorn was very unhappy. He had just found out that his beloved uncle Erithain would not be coming with them to the beautiful place whose name he could not pronounce. He stood in the middle of the settlement crying “No! won’t go! Want ‘Thain go!” It was too much. He had been good, but he just did not understand why everybody was leaving him. His papa, his uncle. It was too much.

His tears tore at Gilraen’s heart. He was just too young to understand what was happening to him. Gilraen picked him up and tried to comfort him but he flailed his arms and would have none of it.

“Aragorn!” the child stopped flailing and looked at his papa who had a stern look on his face. “You will cease this behaviour immediately!” Aragorn saw his papa’s face soften as he came closer. Gilraen smoothed back her son’s hair and kissed his forehead, bouncing him up and down in an effort to soothe him.

Arathorn reached for him and Aragorn climbed from one parent to another. Quickly Aragorn nestled his head in his father neck, snuffling. “Want ‘Thain go,” the little boy said again but this time in a plaintive little voice.

“I know you do, my little love. But he must stay here and help me protect you from the bad men.”

Aragorn scrubbed his eyes with two little fists, “Hate bad men!” he whimpered. And he did. They were causing his papa and his uncle to go away.

Arathorn hugged his precious son and said under his breath, “So do I, my beautiful boy, so do I,” as they walked back towards the hall.

After reaching the hall, Erithain, who had also been sought for, found them. Aragorn looked up from his father’s shoulder and shouted, “Thain!” Just behind him were Elladan and Elrohir. Aragorn saw them and shouted, “ ‘Roh! ‘Dan!” he struggled to get down from his father’s arms and was quickly surrounded by his uncle and the twin Elves.

“What’s this I hear! Tears for me?” Erithain smiled, hiding the pain those tears were causing him from his beloved nephew. He and the Elves knelt around the sad little boy. Erithain wiped the tears from Aragorn’s eyes, “I have to stay, if I don’t stay, then your papa will all alone, won’t he. And you do not want your papa to be lonely, do you?”

Aragorn paused as the idea dawned on him, “Papa be sad?” His lower lip started to tremble just slightly. He had not thought of that. He looked up at his father who was looking back at him. Then he said somewhat reluctantly, “Thain stay, Papa not sad.”

Encircling his nephew in a big hug, Erithain said, “That’s my little lad.” Erithain looked at Arathorn as he was hugging the boy and saw his Chieftain mouth, “Thank you.”

Disaster was diverted and preparation for the departure the next day continue.

Aragorn stayed seated on the grass near the hall with his Uncle and the two bright Elves.

Elrohir looked at the child and stroked his curly dark hair as he sat on his uncle’s lap and smoothed away a tear track from the small boy’s soft cheek, “Shall I tell you a story about Imladris,” he said, his voice gently musical. Aragorn gazed at the dark Elf with hair like his beloved Gilgilath and nodded. “Well, It is in a beautiful lush ravine. Rivers and small green meadows will be perfect you to explore…

There Aragorn spent the rest of the afternoon in the company of his beloved uncle and the two bright and beautiful Elves hearing stories of Rivendell and its people.

~*~*~*~*~

The escort left early in the morning. Arathorn, Elladan and Elrohir to took the lead and the rest of the First Watch encircled Gilraen and little Aragorn sitting upon Ayre with Gilgilath tethered behind. Gilraen looked back at the settlement of Fornost where she had spent some very happy years and wondered if she would ever see it again. Her eyes teared up slightly as she hugged her son closer to her. Just at that moment Arathorn looked back and smiled gently. Gilraen smiled back and threw her shoulders back. She would face whatever was due to come her way, she owed it to herself, her family and her people.

The journey would take them first south as they headed along the road to towards Chetwood which met up with the Old East Road. They set up camp and tried to keep the atmosphere as light as possible for little Aragorn, but they kept an ever vigilant eye out for Orcs and other foul creatures who were roaming more freely about Eriador, much to Arathorn’s despair.

They passed by marshes and on the times it was deemed safe for Aragorn to ride with his father, Arathorn would point out things of interest and tell him about the history of their people. They past Amon Sul and Arathorn spoke to his son about how it used to be a watchtower and held a great seeing stone that their forbearers used to contact each other. Aragorn looked with wide-eye wonder at the ruins.

One night near the Trollshaws past the Last Bridge, Arathorn sat an uneasy watch. Nothing of dangerous note had happened since they had left Fornost. This of course was a blessing, but Arathorn was uneasy all the same. His sixth sense honed over many years of battle, was letting its presence be felt. He scanned the surrounding area trying to see as far as he could in the scant moonlight. He looked to his side and seeing Elladan, silently beckoned him over. “My friend, what do your Elf eyes see,” he whispered.

The dark-haired Elf scanned the surrounding area. “Orcs! I’d say a pack of forty. They are a distance away but they are traveling in this direction.”

Arathorn looked intently at his Elven friend, “Do you think we can outrun them? Break camp and move.”

The Elf shook his head, “I think it is too late for that! They do not know we are here, but we are too many of us to hide.”

“We must set a defensive formation and protect my wife and my son at all cost. Take the horses into the Trollshaw and hide them. We will retrieve them after the Orcs are either dispatched or fled. Move quickly now and give the orders around. I must see to my wife and son.”

Gilraen was up already and was dressing little Aragorn. Arathorn looked at her in amazement, “How did you know, my lady.”

Gilraen smiled ruefully, “Call it a mother’s sense! What draws near?”

Arathorn mouthed the word “Orcs” so that a sleepy Aragorn would not realise what danger was coming their way.

Gilraen’s eyes grew wide in apprehension, Arathorn reached out a hand to caress her cheek, “Do not worry, my love. Nothing will through to harm you, I swear it. Come, we must go further back into this little outcropping of rocks.”

Nestled with the rocks Aragorn, now alert and dressed, noticed the concerned tone in his papa’s voice, “What wrong, papa?”

Arathorn looked at his precious son and his heart almost broke with concern and fear for him, “My beautiful boy! I will protect you both, no harm will come to you!”

Young gray eyes grew wide, “Bad men come?” His lower lip trembled.

Arathorn’s eyes filled with tears of anger and sadness to see his son so frightened. He kneeled on one knee in front of his young son and put a hand on his shoulder, “My beautiful boy! It is time now to be brave for your mama. I will protect you both. I love you, always remember that.” With that he hugged his son and kissed him hard on the cheek.

Arathorn stood and looked at Gilraen and unceremoniously handed her a long dagger and a bow with arrows. “I would be remiss if I did not give you these. And there will Rangers forming a loose perimeter around the rock cropping. Although it will not be strong as I would like as we are lacking in the numbers needed to form a more effective shield. I curse myself for not bringing more men” Gilraen silently accepted the weapons, looking into his stern gray eyes, even in the midst of danger and a battle looming she could still see that gentleness that had first attracted her to him.

“Do not berate yourself. You cannot see every eventuality.” She saw his love for her in reside in his eyes as he stooped to kiss her fervently before leaving to see to the camp’s defences.

She looked at the dagger and the strung bow he had given her. All Dunedain women were trained to shoot. They were not meant to fight, but it was thought among that Dunedain that they should at least know how to shoot should the need arise. She had never killed any thing before, but looking down at the fear and anxiety in her little boy’s eyes she knew that if it became a choice between his safety and another’s life, she would take that life and feel little remorse doing it. Nobody was going to harm her son. She strapped on the vambrace and slung the quiver over her back. She kneeled to her little son, “Aragorn, my son. You will not be harmed, we all love you far too much to allow that to happen. But listen to me, if any “bad men” do come, you stay behind me at all times. Do you understand me?”

The little boy’s eyes were wide with fear but he nodded his head, “Behind mama.”

“That’s right, my little man,” she whispered as she hugged him and planted a hard kiss on his forehead as she smoothed back his hair.” She thought Pray to the Valar there will not be a need!

~*~*~*~*~

The Ranger party did not have long to wait before battle was joined. The First Watch fired off a volley to bring down the charging first line and took out many of them. They managed to fired off a second wave, but had to resort to hand to hand combat immediately thereafter.

Arathorn spared as many a glance at the rocky outcropping as he could during the battle. He saw Elladan and Elrohir work their way over toward the outcropping dispatching Orcs as they went. An Orc came flying at him and he swiftly swung his sword in an upward arc disemboweling the foul creature. Then he saw a sight that harrowed his soul. A stray Orc had gained the rocky outcropping and was starting to climb.

He ran though the midst of battle, decapitating an Orc that stood in his way. He screamed, “Elladan!” and pointed at the Orc. The Elven bow sang as Elladan let fly an arrow that impaled the Orc just as it reached halfway up the formation. Arathorn’s attention returned to the next Orc to be slain. The battle raged on when he thought he heard a child scream. He looked to the outcropping and saw Gilraen fired off an arrow that killed an Orc just feet from their son. In that split second of distraction, he felt an arrow pierce his chest and he fell to his knees.

Elladan had looked in the direction of the scream as well and seeing the child safe he looked back to Arathorn and saw the Orc arrow pierce his chest, “NO!!!!!!!!” He screamed as he noticed that the Orcs were fleeing and that the Rangers were chasing the stragglers. He ran to where Arathorn had fallen and saw the arrow was close to his heart and he would not live long. “Be easy, my friend! It is not bad.”

Arathorn looked up at him, saying weakly, “You are many thing, my Elven friend, but a good liar is not one of them. I see it in your eyes.”

Elladan blinked back the pain that threatened to engulf him, looked up and saw his brother, “Bring Gilraen, he will not last.” Elrohir’s stricken face nodded and he ran to the rocky outcropping.

Gilraen saw that the Orcs were retreating. After killing two Orcs who had been within feet of her precious son, her nerves were stretched to the breaking point. She looked down at her hand noticed that they were still shaking. Looking at Aragorn, she saw he was sheet white and very frightened. She gathered him up into her shaking arms and tried to comfort the child as she searched for Arathorn.

Elrohir came up on her blind side and his gentle yet insistent, “My lady,” startled her already frayed nerves and she jumped. “I pray you pardon for startling you but you must come now.”

Fear flashed through her. “Where is Arathorn?” she asked with her heart in her throat.

“You must come.” The dark Elf was insistent.

She swallowed and blinked trying to focus on what the Elf was saying, but it was hard for the ringing in her ears was getting louder. She saw the Elf beckoned her forward and she followed holding tightly to the precious bundle of her son.

She found herself on the middle of the Orc strewn battlefield and Elrohir gently lifted her son out of her arms and gently pushed her forward. She was on her knees and she realised before her was her beloved. The sight of him snapped her out of her trance-like state. “Arathorn, my love,” she sobbed.

Arathorn looked at her and gulped and whispered, “My love, I am sorry I was not able to protect you. I have failed.”

It tore at Gilraen’s heart that Arathorn’s last thoughts should be of failure, “No! You saved me!” she said in an amazingly strong voice, a strength she most certainly did not feel. “When you walked into my life I was floundering in sorrow and regret. You brought me out of it, my love. You gave me life. I love you!” The tears were spilling down her face.

A cry of “Papa!” rent the air of the now eerily quiet battlefield. Aragorn had squirmed around in Elrohir’s arms and had seen his papa lying on the ground. “Papa!” Aragorn broke free of the Elf’s arms and ran towards his father lying on the ground. He was at his side, and said, “Papa, Ar’gon good, brave like Papa.”

Arathorn struggled for breath, “My beautiful boy. I know you were. Make me proud, my little love. Remember I will always love you,” he whispered faintly.

Aragorn had only at that moment noticed the arrow shaft and dirty rough fletchings that were sticking up from his father’s chest. All assembled would never have let him see his father in this state but he had been too fast for all them in his panic to see his father. He was fixated on it and his lower lip started to tremble. Arathorn saw that and as sternly as he could muster said, “Aragorn,” the boy’s wide sorrowful eyes shifted from the shaft to his father’s face. Arathorn looked gently into his son’s eyes, “My son, never be afraid of death, for I will be waiting for you on the other side.” After expending this last reserve of energy, Arathorn slipped from the world.

~*~*~*~*~

Author’s note: Actually in Tolkien’s timeline in the Appendices in ROTK reports are not made about Sauron searching the Gladden Fields until 2939 six years after Arathorn’s death, but I needed a spur to get Arathorn to send Aragorn and Gilraen to Rivendell urgently so I adjusted the timeline just a bit. Hope nobody minds! Also and while it isn’t strictly reported in the LOTR who’s to say what Galadriel and did and did not see in her mirror. :-))

Also Arathorn technically was killed by an arrow in the eye, rather like King Harold of 1066 fame, but as I wanted to have these last conversations with Gilraen and little Aragorn I simply moved the arrow down to near his heart. still lethal, but better for dramatic purposes. I beg the reader’s indulgence I thought about it and these AU elements did not seem to stretch the bounds of reason too harshly!





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