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A/N: I always wanted to write a little more to this but at the time I felt that the story block was finished. Now I am continuing it because I wanted to write this portion of the story! Tiny bit of background in case you haven't read the previous chapters. In this story I have given Gilraen a younger brother, Erithain. He has been regent of the Dunedain while Estel was growing up in Rivendell. Hope you enjoy it! :-)
Fornost settlement, Northern Eriador, TA 2951
Erithain looked at his nephew sitting across from him. He so looked like his brothers Elladan and Elrohir. Lean and strong, his long dark hair falling far past his shoulders and braided with the warrior plaits of the Elves of Imladris. Each symbolizing an achievement or honor bestowed by his Adar. He could see the tense way in which he held his body. He could feel his confusion. In the last five years he had had the privilege of getting to know his nephew when the Dunedain Rangers and the Elves of Imladris combined to tour the northern portions of the erstwhile kingdom of Arnor and Rhovanion after having promised the twins Elladan and Elrohir to not reveal to Estel who he was or who the boy himself was. Everything depended on Estel’s identity remaining secret to those outside those of the Dunedain of the North. Erithain had been true to his word and he had been rewarded with the privilege of getting to know his nephew and his nephew coming to know him as well. It had been a joy, for Estel was a fine young warrior and Erithain could not have been prouder of him.
He could not contain his joy that his nephew was back among his people but Erithain’s heart swelled with pity as well. Aragorn, as he could now begin to name him once again in his mind, looked so lost. He could only imagine what emotions were swirling in that heart. He knew that Aragorn truly loved Imladris, his Adar, his brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, his naneth, who curiously still remained at the Last Homely House. But now he had to go forth from Rivendell to fulfill this new destiny, so different from anything he had ever imagined for himself. Erithain looked into his nephew’s confused grey eyes. Aragorn smiled weakly at his uncle, “Who am I, Uncle? Am I Estel?” he stated. Within his heart that name sat comfortably nestled within all that he knew. “Am I Aragorn?” The name still sounded strange to his ears as if it were another person was being discussed and yet his heart did silently thrill at the sound at the same time.
“Nephew, I don’t rightly know the answer to that question and in any event I believe it is one that truly only you can answer in your heart. Know however that whatever answer you find, I am proud to call you my nephew!”
Aragorn hugged Erithain, “Thank you. Uncle. That does ease my heart greatly.”
They talked long into the night in what passed for Erithain’s study. There were so many questions Aragorn had about his father and their life here in Fornost. The stories Erithain told of Gilraen were so unlike the mother he had grown up with. “Up until a few weeks ago I would not have believed we could have been speaking of the same person. Naneth has always been more subdued and quiet. And sadness has never been far from her eyes. I learned very early to not ask too many questions about life before we came to Imladris. She would get a far-away look in her eyes and withdraw into herself. When that happened I immediately stopped and would look for any way to cheer her or to make her laugh before she slipped too far away. I would ask Adar or my brothers but they had no answers either. Or at least no answer they would give me.” Aragorn stopped suddenly and looked at his Uncle, worried that he might be troubled by the mention of his life in Rivendell. He worried that the “troubles” would come upon him as well and they would have to stop talking. A shadow passed over Aragorn’s eyes as he waited uncomfortably.
Erithain looked a little concerned at this sudden turn then the light dawned, “Aragorn. Look at me,” the young man met his uncle gray gaze, “It is all right that you talk about your life in Imladris and your Adar. They are your family and always will be. And remember, I have known and been friends with Elladan and Elrohir since before you were born.”
Aragorn’s eyes widen a little at this then he realised he indeed knew the truth of that statement and laughed a little, “So very true, I don’t know where my head is today!”
“Understandable, But what you say about your naneth is troubling. She was always so full of life, that one."
Aragorn looked thoughtful, "She has always been subdued...until the day Adar revealed my descent. She seemed, I don't know...to come alive again somehow..."
Erithain paused, thinking about the sister he knew, "I know she loved your father a great deal. I have never seen two people love each other more."
That thought made Aragorn happy and sad all at the same time. Happy to know that he came from such love and sad that his naneth had lost such a love. Slowly with this new knowledge he began to see his naneth through new eyes, perhaps from a more mature perspective. His heart was newly lit with the love that he felt for Arwen and he already knew the pain of separation, how much more did his naneth feel with such a severing as irreversible as death. He felt a wellspring of sympathy and compassion for his naneth. One that he ached to express to her but that was now quite impossible at least for a very long while. He sighed, it was another thing he would have to put aside lest it should eat away at his soul.
The next morning...
Aragorn looked at himself in the brass mirror. He saw himself. Elrond's youngest and Elladan and Elrohir’s little brother. Following them in everything they did. Always seeking his adar's approval. Only now he was not just his adar's son or the twins' little brother anymore. He was the Heir of Isildur, Chieftain of the Dunedain, the leader of the people he come to know and respect as a people. He looked at his warrior’s plaits woven into his hair. Plaits that he had worked so hard for and had taken such pride in earning the right to wear them. But he now had to deal with the reality of who he was and that was not an elf. Regretfully but purposefully, he began to unbraid each of the plaits. With each plait undone he felt a piece of his soul unravel, unbidden and unshed tears gathering in his eyes. The last two he did not undo. He cut the first off whole with his knife. He held it up and looked at it and remembering all that he had done to earn it and all that he had left behind in Rivendell. He tied it off and placed it in a small pouch. The second he cut off and a few tears dropped unbidden; Arwen's beautiful moon-light face appeared in his mind's eye. The longing for her almost undid the rest of his control over his emotions. He took a deep shuddering breath and tied it off; he kissed it and placed it the same pouch as the other and placed it around his neck. They would always be close to his heart but he also had to move past them and onto an unlooked for but now destined path that lead away from the home of his heart.
He then took a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut his long dark locks. Each lock shed left his heart open and wounded but he knew that he had to find a way through the pain to become who he must be. After the last lock had been shorn he again looked in the brass mirror. And the face he saw looked back in defiance almost daring him to accept this new image. Plaits gone and dark hair falling around a face that looked somehow thinner and older. Flecks of sadness in grey eyes and yet strong resolve to see this through. Aragorn studied the image for a few seconds more and then turned away. It was time to move on to this path that he did not know and could only feel his way along. At least that path started with someone he knew, loved and respected, his uncle. Aragorn's heart warmed with the thought of Erithain. His father chose well when he chose Erithain as regent. He heard a voice say, "I did wonder."
Aragorn turned around saw his uncle at the entrance to his room, "Wonder what?"
Erithain looked at his nephew's transformation, "I wondered what you would make of our ways and what changes you would make." Aragorn looked at his uncle speechlessly. Erithain walked over to the boy he had met five years ago, who had truthfully been, at the time, more elf than boy and he had seen him frequently over the intervening years grow and mature into the fine young man who stood before him trying so desperately hard to understand the new role that had been thrust upon him. He reached for a lock of newly shorn dark hair and placed it behind his nephew's very non-pointed ear. "What did it cost you to undo your plaits?"
Grey eyes shadowed with pain, Aragorn replied, "Practically everything." He admitted to his uncle, "But I am not an Elf. I could no longer wear them." Vulnerable young eyes looked at Erithain, "I must be what I am, not what I may wish to be. If I am not, if I do not find some way to fulfill this destiny that has been handed to me, then all the sacrifices my mother made; and the life my father lost defending me will have gone for naught."
Erithain looked at his nephew and felt his pain, confusion and yet his burning will to find a path through. He put both hands firmly on each shoulder and looked the young man in the eye. "I have come to know you these past few years. I have seen a boy grow into a man. Your heart remains the same, though. Elf or man it is your heart to which I will gladly entrust my life and pledge my loyalty. I have already for these many years." Erithain touched his hand to his forehead and heart, bowing his head. When he looked up his nephew's grey eyes were rimmed with tears and they held such a look of gratitude, "Thank you," Aragorn whispered.
"I will always be at your side," Erithain stated in a clear, strong voice. His hands on both the young man's shoulder, "to advise or to warn. Upon that you can trust."
Walking among his people in the settlement of Fornost was a surreal experience for Aragorn. As he walked he had the most odd feeling of remembering, but not quite remembering. He did not consciously remember but deep in the recesses of his soul he did. He stopped at almost at the exact spot where, as a child not quite three, he had sobbed inconsolably when he discovered that his beloved uncle would not be going with them. He looked at Erithain with a questioning look on his face, "Did something happen here? I get the oddest feeling."
Erithain just looked at him, "Do you?"
Aragorn nodded, "Aye!" He muttered in Sindarin, "Im ceri- ú- heni-? How tur- hi n- nadren?" Erithain looked at him not quite understanding. Sindarin was not unknown to the Men of the West. What they spoke was in effect had evolved from Sindarin into what was essentially a different dialect, blending with Westron. Aragorn spoke Sindarin as if he were an Elf which would have been only natural considering where he grew up. He looked apologetic when he realised that he had lapsed into Sindarin, "I'm sorry uncle, I was merely saying "I do not understand? How can this be possible?"
Erithain demurred, "It matters not, but do you really feel something right here?" The memory of the little boy crying inconsolably had been burned into Erithain's soul but that Aragorn should somehow remember as well had been inconceivable until his nephew had just said it. Aragorn weakly nodded his head and grey eyes looked to his uncle for answers. "It was here when you were not quite three, and cried and cried and cried when you found out that I wasn't going with you and your mother to Rivendell. We sat in right there and I hugged you and talked to you until you stopped crying and seemed to accept what had to be."
Aragorn looked at his uncle sheepishly, “I did? I don’t know if I specifically remember that but I feel in my heart something did happen here.” He continued walking with Erithain. The people of the settlement looked at him and bowed their heads respectfully, both men and women touching their heads and hearts in greeting and respect. Aragorn kept bowing his head in the same manner. When they arrived at a dwelling at the edge of the settlement, Aragorn turned to Erithain, “Why does everyone keep bowing to me?”
“Because they know who you are and they rejoice that you are at last among us!” Aragorn turned towards the voice and what he saw astonished him. It was his naneth, or at least an older version of her. She walked up to him with an indescribable look in her wise hazel eyes and a smile of her face. She was almost vibrating with joy as she beheld him. “Praise the Valar that I should live to see my grandson come back to Fornost!”
“You are not old, Mother. You could never be old.” Erithain responded affectionately as him leaned down to kiss his mother’s cheek.
“Idle flatterer!” the older woman looked at Aragorn, who just stared looking a little stunned. She took one of his hands and her lower lip started to tremble, “My dear, dear boy. I am your grandmother, Ivorwen.”
“Mam nin?” Aragorn again lapsed into Sindarin. “Im had U ista.” He shook his head and repeated in Westron. “My grandmother? I never knew…” At that he surprised himself and hugged the older woman who lovingly returned the embrace. Tears falling. “You must forgive me. Naneth never really spoke about her life here. I do not know why. I think it was maybe too painful for her.”
Ivorwen was troubled to hear of her own daughter’s pain living so far away from everyone she had known. It was a hard road she had been asked to travel. Ivorwen had asked the Valar nightly these many long years to ease her daughter’s road. She looked at her grandson, smoothed a stray lock of hair behind his ear. “You do have the grace of the Eldar about you. You have grown into such a fine man, my son. Erithain has told us many stories of your exploits.”
Aragorn looked at Erithain. Erithain shrugged, “Guilty. Mother wanted to hear about you.” Suddenly and completely without warning Aragorn did not feel so alone. He left everything he knew and everyone he loved in Imladris only to find a new family here in Fornost. His uncle, his grandmother, the people of the Dunedain settlement. He felt overwhelmed and embraced; he felt loved.
A/N: The Sindarin is my own probably pretty bad construction.
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