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Chapter 7 – Torn Asunder
Late Fall 2933 TA
Arathorn sat in council with the captains of the various tribes. Orcs numbers were rising once again in Eriador and earlier in the year he had asked the Thanes to send special reconnaissance companies to scour their traditional lands for Orcs and any tidings ill or otherwise. Most of the patrols were in and the Captains of each First Watch had come to Fornost to report and discuss what information had been gleaned during the missions, only his own company had yet to report back. Arathorn decided, as all the Captains had convened it was time to start the council and his patrol, which was overdue by about a week, could impart such information as they had when they arrived.
Erithain said, “The news is not good, my lord. My patrol reported an increase of Orc presence in my father’s lands. We have never had a report of such increase.”
“It is true, my lord,” confirmed Vardil, son to one of the Eastern thanes, “Orcs are steadily increasing within our borders.”
Arathorn sat in his chair at the head of the long table, elbow on the armrest and his hand rubbing his left temple, where a throbbing vein hailed the beginning of a headache as he listened to report after report confirm his worst fears. The Shadow was growing. It had steadily encroached for centuries, a slow progress of evil. But now it was beginning to pick up momentum. He looked at the sons of Elrond, here as their father’s representatives to this council. The dark-haired Elves looked pensive. In fact, Elladan had a worried look on his face that slightly unnerved the Chieftain. “What say you, Elladan? Has your father any insights on this matter?”
The dark-haired Elf looked him and something in his star-eyed gaze gave Arathorn pause. It was not only that the shadow was encroaching; it was something different, something personal. The Elf gently shifted his eyes looking at the assembled captains, “Adar sees that powers are shifting further still. Happenings are not quite clear to him, but he fears a change is coming. For us all.” The Elf ended the statement quietly and somberly, but the effect was the same as if he had shouted the words. A time of trial was in coming, when it would break nobody at that table knew, but come it would.
Arathorn sighed, “My thanks to you all, we shall reconvene tomorrow morning to discuss matters further.” The Captains of the various tribes left. Some in pairs, some alone; all were somber. Arathorn had not moved from his chair since dismissing them. He stared at the small brass centerpiece in the middle of the table, not really seeing it, when he realised that someone was still in the room and standing right next to him. He looked quickly to his side, “Elladan! I thought you had left alongside your brother.”
The starlit blue eyes looked back at him impassively, Elladan seemed to be memorising Arathorn’s face, so intently did he stare at his friend. Arathorn having been fostered at Imladris had grown used to Elves and their mercurial ways, but he had rarely seen the older of the twins look so somber. “Arathorn, there were things that I did not tell the Council. Things that Adar meant for you alone to hear. We must speak privately.”
“At once, my friend. Let us walk.”
Going alongside the small stream that ran by the outer houses of the settlement they walked until they could be sure that they were out of earshot. Elladan than began his tale. “Adar has received word from the Lady Galadriel that servants of our enemy are starting to search the Anduin near the Gladden Fields.” Arathorn stayed his friend with a hand and looked at him, at once wary of this bit of news. Elladan looked at him in silent acknowledgement and continued his story, “It is feared by the Lady that he knows of Isildur’s end and that he seeks for its recovery.” Arathorn knew what “it” was. He had known all his life, having this knowledge passed down from his father, but it was never mentioned unless absolutely necessary and never outside lest unfriendly ears should happen to overhear. “And,” the Elf continued meaningfully, “It strongly rumoured that he now seeks if any heirs of Isildur survive.”
At that moment Arathorn felt a cold chill down his spine. “Aragorn,” he whispered holding the gaze of the Elf. The very thought of that foul evil touching, even thinking about his beautiful boy made Arathorn physically sick. A wave of fierce protectiveness rolled through him. “What must I do?”
“Adar thinks that it would be a good idea for Aragorn to come and live at Imladris and start his fostering earlier than is traditional. With these rumours, about the most protected place for him to be is Imladris. He will be safe there.” Elladan concluded.
Arathorn nodded. It was sound thinking and if there was anyone that outside his own family that could be trusted with the care of his precious son, it was Elrond. “How soon?”
Sad blue eyes turned to him, “Within the month. He wishes to take no chances.”
“But he is only two! Far too young to be separated from his mother and father.” The awful truth hit Arathorn full force. He was losing his family. Gilraen would have leave Fornost with Aragorn. He shut his eyes to ward off the awful pain of reality. All due to the shadow. He felt anger the likes of which he had never known since his beloved Gwenrith was murdered shuttered through him. With the utmost of effort he calmed himself. He winced with inner pain as he said, “So be it.” A single tear fell from his eye.
Elladan, knowing there was nothing else that he could do for his friend simply said, “I am so sorry. To have been the bearer of this terrible reality and for the sacrifices you are about to make.” Arathorn was silent. He turned around and walked back to the settlement to explain what must happen to his beloved Gilraen.
Arathorn reached the hall and entered. The scene in front of him nearly broke his heart. He had come to take it for granted and now that it was about to be ripped away from him it came into sharp focus. The smell of a stew was cooking on the kitchen hearth. Gilraen sat as ever at her loom weaving some dark green fabric. Little Aragorn sat near her playing with the small toy animals that Arathorn had carved for him last Winter Solstice. Unsurprisingly it was the carved running horse with the tail fluttering behind that was Aragorn’s favourite and was currently being made to gallop across the floor at full speed. Aragorn chose that moment to look up from his horse’s imagined romp through the meadows and shouted, “Papa!” Arathorn was almost bowled over at the force of the little dark whirlwind that was his son.
Picking up the little bundle of energy, Arathorn hugged his son tight and said, “Aragorn, my beautiful boy! I love you so much.”
Aragorn pulled away from his father just a bit, saying, “Love you, Papa!” His little face clouded with concern. “You crying? Why?”
“Yes, we’d both like to know why?” Gilraen appeared at Arathorn’s side, concern darkening her hazel eyes.
Arathorn looked at her silently and Gilraen disentangled Aragorn from his father’s arms and set him down, “My little love, Mama and Papa have to talk. Helgir,” she turned to the warrior who had accompanied Arathorn. “Would you like to take Aragorn to visit his colt?”
“Yes, My lady!” responded the guardsman, “Come little master!”
Aragorn looked a little doubtful and looked up at his father who said, “Go on, my little man! I’ll be all right.” With a last look backward, Aragorn put his hand in the warrior’s and they both walked to the stables.
With their child safely out of earshot Gilraen looked at Arathorn, “Now do you mind telling what this is all about?”
Arathorn simply stared at her.
“Arathorn, stop that! You are frightening me.”
After drawing a very long breath of air. “Elladan needed to deliver a few verbal messages today after the Council had been dismissed. First he said he bore a message from Elrond saying that Our Enemy was now searching the Anduin near the Gladden fields.” This elicited the same reaction from Gilraen as it had from Arathorn upon hearing. “Second,” he paused, eyes wide with emotion, “there are rumours that he is now seeking for Isildur’s heir.”
A short gasp escaped Gilraen’s lips, and her face went sheet white. Wide, fearful eyes looked to the door their son had just left by and then turned back to her husband, “Aragorn,” she whispered.
“Elrond thinks that it is best that Aragorn be taken to Imladris earlier than we had planned.”
Suddenly anger flared within Gilraen’s heart, “I do not care what Elrond thinks! He is our child and he needs his mother and father!”
“He will be safe there.” Arathorn’s quiet statement of fact settled in Gilraen’s mind amid her swirling emotions of anger, denial, resentment and finally understanding. The understanding was always there. It was just quietly waiting for Gilraen to accept it.
Hazel eyes full of painful acknowledgment, Gilraen said in a strong voice despite her rapidly beating heart, “He must go to Imladris then, soon as possible.” Her voice caught on her next sentence, “And I must go with him.” After pronouncing the words, a shadow of pain fell upon her heart. She looked up her beloved and saw the pain she felt in her heart reflected in his eyes.
“Yes.” That one little word that ripped apart his world. His heart rebelling again the cold reason of his mind would allow no more than that as he hugged his beloved to his chest smoothing her honey-brown hair as he felt her sobs shake her body. He did not even realise there were tears falling down his own face.
They held each other for a while, when Gilraen pulled away, impatiently wiping her tears, “We must be strong, for Aragorn’s sake.”
“Yes, of course.” Arathorn said, but all he was thinking at that point was how very empty he was feeling and how bereft without her in his arms any longer.
Striding towards the hall early the next morning, Erithain could not help but wonder at this early summons from Arathorn. The Council was due to meet later on and Arathorn had not mentioned anything at supper the night before. In fact now that he thought about it, Arathorn had not eaten much, but he had indeed put away a fair amount of mead last night. The Watch Commander of Dirhael’s tribe mulled that over in his head. Arathorn enjoyed a drink as much as anyone but was not generally one to drink himself into a stupor. Erithain shook his head. He would find out what has caused this early morning summons shortly.
Erithain smiled at the guard standing attention on the hall door, “Good morning, Helgir.”
“Good morning, my lord.”
“How are my brother-in-law’s spirits this morning?” Erithain asked with a knowing smile.
The guardsman looked at him, “Not well, my lord.”
Erithain looked at the guardsman, seeing the concern in the man’s eyes, “Indeed.” An inexplicable sense of dread flared within him for he sensed that Helgir spoke not of an innocent hangover but of something else entirely. He smiled reassuringly though at the guardsman and stepped across the threshold.
Entering the small room off to the side that Arathorn used for private audiences, Erithain was somewhat surprised to see both sons of Elrond also seated in two of the chairs that ringed the small hearth in the middle of the room. “Elladan, Elrohir, good morning!” he said, greeting them good-naturedly.
“Mae Govannen, Erithain,” Elladan returned, a somber look in his star-filled eyes. This gave Erithain pause. No teasing, no banter as was Elladan’s usual wont.
He turned to where Arathorn sat and was surprised by what he beheld. Arathorn looked to have aged ten years since last night. Immediate worry flared in his heart. “Brother, what is wrong?” He dropped one knee, hand on one of Arathorn’s armrests. “How may I be of any service to you?” he said, searching the gray eyes of the man who had won his loyalty and respect with kindness and compassion.
Arathorn smiled gently, knowing that he had made the right choice, “Rise, my brother and sit down. We have much to discuss.”
Erithain took his seat next to Arathorn and across the hearth fire from Elrohir.
Looking as if he was deciding how to begin, Arathorn at length spoke, “You ask to be of service. There is something that you can do for me.” Erithain looked up at his brother-in-law expectantly. Arathorn continued, “What I am about to tell you must never leave this room. Never speak of it.”
Earnest blue eyes stared back at him, “You have my word.”
Arathorn cleared his throat and began to relate the tale as was told by Elladan the night before.
Wide-eyed astonishment greeting him at the end of his tale, “But Aragorn is so young to be taken away from all that he knows!” Erithain exclaimed.
“Yes, he is. But in Imladris he will be safe. He will not lack for love and care.” Elrohir said quietly.
Erithain looked across the fire to the Elf that he had to come to think of as a friend, “Of that I am sure. But you will have him and we will not. That saddens my heart.” The Elf looked upon his friend compassionately for there were no words that he could offer to assuage the pain of what must be. Erithain pulled away from his sorrowful thoughts to ask the pertinent question, “Aside from my love for the boy why do you tell only me this? What do you ask of me?” He looked at his brother-in-law.
“After consultation with Elladan and Elrohir, I ask that in the event that should anything happen to me and Aragorn not yet old enough to take the oath of Chieftain, that you stand in his stead until he should come of age.” Arathorn leveled his gray-eyed stare at his young brother-in-law.
Stunned, Erithain sat pondering what was being asked of him. “Me, brother? Surely there are others more worthy, others of your own tribe. Older, wiser men than me.”
Arathorn inwardly smiled knowing this would be his brother-in-law’s reaction, “There are many good men, that is true, but none that I would trust above you, my brother, with such a charge. You are family and you have a good heart. My son’s legacy could not be held in trust by a better person.” He finished, solemnly looking at the conflicting emotions running across the young man’s face.
Erithain looked away from his brother-in-law steady gaze and stared into the hearth fire, watching the flames flicker and tried desperately to sort through this onslaught of information. Grief. Pain. Confusion. He was not ambitious, one day he would lead his tribe but that was something that fell to him through tragic necessity, and not through design or desire. One thing was clear though Arathorn willing to entrust him with a task that he obviously did not think beyond him. He did wish to be service to this man, his brother. Decision made, Erithain lifted his gaze to meet his Chieftain’s eyes. He straightened his shoulders as he said, “I hope that there will never be a need, but I do accept. He stood and he drew his sword placing the point down. With both hands on the guard between blade and handle he returned to one knee at his Chieftain’s chair, his head bowed, “I swear to hold the office the Chieftaincy in trust for Aragorn, son of Arathorn at the bidding of my Chieftain.”
Erithain looked up as he heard Arathorn say, “I accept your fealty and oath, Erithain, son of Dirhael.” The formal of words of the Chieftain concluded, the young man looked into the tear-filled eyes of a father saying, “Thank you.”
Accepting that these were extraordinary and dangerous times, the council of captains accepted the appointment of Erithain as regent for any possible minority of Aragorn with a minimum of objections. The council then disbanded the next day as was planned to inform their tribes of new developments.
Plans for the departure of mother and son were laid. Elladan and Elrohir were to stay in Fornost and help escort Gilraen and Aragorn to Imladris. Also it was decided that it was a good idea for Aragorn to get to know the sons of Elrond, so when they arrived in Imladris Aragorn should be familiar with somebody other than his mother. It would help him to feel more comfortable in his new home. Nobody deluded themselves that it would be an easy transition. They knew that it could not be. Aragorn adored his father and would not understand why the separation was necessary. They could only hope to make it less painful for the child. He would have his mother there and that was a lot. The only point that was debated constantly over the month of preparation was how much to tell Aragorn. Gilraen wanted to explain to the child why they were going away, in as much as she could. Arathorn thought it would needlessly upset the child. Better to say good-bye at journey’s end rather than its beginning, he said. There was no easy answer, only sorrow and impotent anger at the necessity that was ripping their family apart.
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