A Man's a Man
5. In the study of the King
“I know,” he murmured. “I am sure I know what Adar would have thought. I only wish Adar were here. But Adar would not have got here in the first place, now, would he?”
His onlooker did not reply, and indeed the king would have been very surprised if she had. She just gazed at him calmly, as always. She really was a perfect copy. The original, hanging in an airy chamber in Rivendell, Eledan had perfected and not been able to repeat- however, upon Aragorn’s request, Elrohir had reproduced it perfectly. Such were the ways of the sons of Elrond; it was best not to think to hard upon it. Lady Gilraen, as portrayed here, was about thirty, maybe a little older- it was hard to tell with a Dúnadan. She peered out of the canvas at her son, not exactly with a smile, but with a mild, warm look that suggested she might, soon- and Aragorn still found himself returning it. Which was probably why he kept it in here.
“She grows so like you,” he told her, “in her looks, at least.” Then after what had occurred to him sunk in a little deeper, he added: “The rest I really could not say. I did not know you young enough, or if I did then, well, you had no character as far as I was concerned, you were just Nanna, then.” Then what he had just thought sunk deeper again, and he said: “But then… well, that is neither here nor there. She does grow to look so like you. I would have named her for you, of course. I seem to have called them the wrong way about.”
That, of course, was merely circumstance- to whit, though Elensil was the elder by fully seventeen minutes, he had seen Annalindë first.
He had known that Arwen was to bear him twins, and, at the midwife’s request, had waited below, no less anxious than before, whilst Legolas sat upon a window-sill watching the moon, somehow managing to be invariably unhelpful by being insufferably reasonable. First he had heard healthful cries of newborn protest, and was glad. Then… then the woman had appeared with a small swaddled bundle in her arms.
“My lord? My lord, you have a fine fair maidchild above with your lady, who is quite well.”
The words made nothing of the omission, but the tone made it echo like a stone dropped down a dry well.
“A daughter?” he said. Then, as it was impossible to pretend that there was nothing unsaid: “One.”
The woman nodded, and indicated her charge.
Legolas held out his hands.
The woman handed the infant to the elf, then slipped away.
“A fine fair maidchild,” Legolas said. He twitched aside a piece of cloth, and Aragorn could just about see a white, doll-like face.
“Aye. And Arwen is well.”
“One daughter is good,” Legolas said, running a finger down a marble-hued cheek, “a daughter, ‘tis excellent good.” He rubbed the child’s belly, an inquisitive look crossing his face. “And yet… still…” Some moments passed. Then the elf leaned forward, and blew gently on the child’s forehead.
The baby had then screamed so piercingly that a guard came running. And by the time she had been returned to her mother, her father had been rubbing her back and mumbling: “There, there, Gilraen, hush, now.” for quite long enough that her sister would have to be named Celebrian. Arwen had quarrelled not, but had clearly been confident that their mother-names would eventually stick, as indeed they did- Gilraen Annalindë, Celebrian Elensil. One not quite belonging in this world, finally loosing her grip on it with almost careless ease; one rather, perhaps, too much of this earth, too much drawn by manifest and living things. Plenty of women, perhaps even most, heard the voice of Yavanna within them, urging- well, if one was to be decorous- “Marry! Marry!” But… but. Faramir had been right- most would reason with it- most would make plans of some kind, and make them first. But one morning, after months so bleak and chill, Aragorn saw his daughter on morning and fancied Vana herself had slipped through the King’s House at daybreak, and stolen into his daughter’s chamber to haunt her bed.
No he had not. He had thought her healed, or healing at least. Now he seemed to be telling himself that she had grown, in fact, out of melancholia to be more profoundly mad. And it would be a convenient thing to tell oneself, would it not?
He turned and glared at the chair where she was wont to sit, daring it to offer its own opinions. Faramir had left it there one day, with some agricultural reports stacked in front of it, and Elensil, about five at the time, had come in to see her Ada. He had, in truth, only been half-heeding that she was there, when he heard her say- “Seventy-six- eighty-four- ninety-seven- two hundred and thirty-four- four hundred and ninety-one- that is nine hundred and eighty-two- divided by three- Ada, this one is wrong!” In the spirit of investigation- and education, naturally- he had kept her occupied thus for most of the afternoon. And from then on, several evenings a month, she would slip in after supper: “May I do the numbers for you, Ada?” Not so much because her mind was useful- others could have done it, himself, for one- but others did not do it sitting in their nightgown, with bare feet, sometimes sitting upon the king’s lap, perhaps with a mug of warm milk in winter. Oh yes, he did read to her, too, along with Eldarion and her sisters. But this was different. This was special, especially when she grew older, and could do the numbers and talk of other things at the same time. But sometimes, when she was older still, she did not wish to talk, and filled her head with figures instead, as the logs split and sparked in the grate, and the guard changed outside at sundown.
One evening in spring, when Elensil was fourteen, he had, for once, found himself struggling alone with a table of revenues from Pelegir, and, finding the numbers dancing before him, making a different answer every time he went through them, he had gone in search of his eldest daughter, and, heading for the chamber she shared with Annalindë, had passed the next study down the passage. He knew he would not find Faramir there, for his Steward was, at the time, convalescing in Ithilien from an alarming bout of illness; but the King did pause to express the annoyance of impudently complex columns of numbers to Elboron instead. The young fellow did not need checking on, at least- despite his open, easy manners and his amiable, honest countenance, the lad had turned out to be considerably more astute- not to mention competent- than one might have supposed if one looked no further than his broad smile and his tendency to say things like ‘do cheer up, old horse’.
He had looked in, and there the candlelight showed, bent over the desk, one golden and one dark head… their eyes on the ledger spread out in front of them, but nevertheless slightly inclined towards one another.
“Eighteen to every three,” Elensil said. “And there is no ‘e’ in ‘ratio’.”
“Very good, my lady,” Elboron said. “yes, thank you, Ellë, I shall remember that.”
Aragorn had laid his hand on the latch, which clicked, and the two of them looked up, smiling. And somehow Aragorn did not feel that they smiled solely for him.
“Well,” Aragorn told the now-cold chair, “of course I did not throw a black mood or turn him out of the house. That would be ridiculous. I mean, I was, well, when I thought upon it, it pleased me. I spoke with Faramir, and it pleased him. Well, yes, of course it pleased him, but not just for that reason. They are fond of her. And they think well of her. People tend to.” After a heavy pause, he added: “And they are right, for the most part. And they may continue to do so, one can hope.”
So much for saving her name. Oh it had been saved, yes. Squirreled away and hoarded and put aside til it could be spent in even more profligate style later.
Éowyn, to her credit, had not said it yesterday: I told you so. Well, he could not know that. He only had the knowledge that Éowyn was patroness of the Infirmary, as the row of hygienically white buildings outside Orsgiliath was coyly referred to in the White City- only for that reason could he suppose that she unshakably thought it was a good idea. After all, what doesn’t Éowyn know about the barking mad? he had found cause to growl to himself- uncharitably and he knew it, but that was the sentiment that a sympathetic look from the White Lady could arouse on such a day.
Perhaps it was not too late, for that matter. Éowyn had recounted the last time they had met: a young wife of a merchant from the Sixth Circle had been committed there some months ago, on the grounds of Moral Insanity. The woman, a handsome, intelligent and entirely agreeable creature of twenty-three, had seemed, as far as any could tell, entirely sane: her only maladies appeared to be some angry and mysterious bruises, and an unfortunate infestation of crab lice.
Moral Insanity? In this house? How exactly would that be ‘saving face’? In any case, no need for that. Plain madness could be conjured quite easily. The only question would to be explain why she was not interned earlier.
“Yes,” he replied to the unspoken question that Lady Gilraen might have chided him with. “Yes, I could have sent her away earlier. I could have had good reason.
“Then again, ‘twas more than honour. ‘Twas nothing to do with honour, in fact. I did but want to keep her close. You would have done the same for me. I am certain of this.”
He had hardly thought of honour, after all, when the page had run in: “My lords- an accident- the Ladies’ party- your Lady daughter- blood all over the place- quickly, my lords!” And of course Faramir and he had got to their feet- honour had had naught to do with it- if Aragorn had thought of honour, he would have not wasted his breath to say: “Who?”
He had realised later that, though he was more than old enough to be Faramir’s own father, the man had disappeared behind him before they had even left the King’s House. Which was unfortunate: unlike the former, the house of the Stewards had been subject to every fashion in building over the last few centuries, and the way the structure had been added to, to make a colonnade here, a long gallery there, meant that it was a maze of passages that appeared to go somewhere and then did not, or thoroughfares that looked like plain and private rooms. Then when at last Faramir had found him and the two of them had made for the solar, they had crashed through the doors to find the place abandoned, save a maid dabbing ineffectually at a sickeningly large stain on the rug in the centre of the room (Ellë, on reflection, always had quietly nursed a flair for the dramatic), with an expression of disenchantment- perhaps she had always thought that royal blood would look different to the commonplace sort (Aragorn had already seen enough of it- mostly his own- to know otherwise).
When at last he had found the women he sought, it had been all over- though not ended ill, at least; Éowyn had heard his tread, and come out to cut off his path, though with the words: “She is out of danger!” he had ceased to charge about the house like a berserker. Elensil had been laid out on one of Faramir’s absent sons’ beds, a very canny bit of needlework on her right shoulder, pale but warm to the touch- unconscious, but that stupor apparently being chiefly drugged, it turned out, at Éowyn’s hand.
“Camwort. To slow the bleeding, chiefly.” Éowyn explained.
The extra word caught him like a thorn on what had looked like heather.
“What mean you by ‘chiefly’?”
“Please tell, Éowyn.”
“…also the fact that she did not greatly… want to be helped.”
“She did not?”
Within the room, Arwen was sitting upon the bed, leaning low over its occupier, trailing her fingers across the fair skin of her daughter’s cheeks, nose, forehead. Of course Aragorn wished nothing more than to go to them, even if there was naught he could do but wait there, just to be within eyesight of them both. But…
“Éowyn, if I were to ask how, in fact, my daughter received such a wound at a tea-party, would you give me a direct answer?”
“Because am I to understand that this was- or rather, was not entirely an accident?”
“No. That is to say, it was no accident.”
“A dramatic gesture that went wrong, perhaps?”
“…In a way…yes.”
“Éowyn, please. Do but tell me the worst.”
“Well the worst is, how might I put it? I did not see myself, but I believe she picked up a cake-knife with the desire to wield it on Halafindë.”
“That is… worrying, Éowyn.”
“Well, that is what I understood from what she said afterwards.”
“You have spoken with her?”
“Not as such, no.”
“What do you mean, not as such?”
“I mean, after she either decided not to stab Halafindë, or whether to wound herself had been her intention all along, a lot of words came out, all in a rush. I could not really catch anything, though Arwen can probably tell you more about it. Hal was swooning very noisily-“
“How does one swoon noisily?”
“- oh trust me, Hal can- and I was trying to tend to the wound, and send the maids for my remedial box, and to have the twins show the ladies into the drawing-room, out of my way… Arwen did hold her head in her lap and try to speak with her, if you can call it that. She was fainting, but not without some fight.”
Aragorn watched his wife stroke their daughter’s hair from her unnaturally-sleeping face. He could see tears rolling down Arwen’s face, and he realised that they were not, as he had first believed, tears of frightened relief.
“Do you mean to tell me she wished- wished to take her own life?”
“I do not know. I think not. Why, she has a little grounding in healing, and any fool knows where the jugular is, how can one sober, however… distracted, miss one’s own throat by four inches? No, my lord, I think not, if you will forgive my speculation.”
“A dramatic gesture that went wrong.” Not Aragorn’s own words- Legolas’, in fact, to explain the (very fine) needlework that he himself had put on Elensil’s arm a few weeks previously. Of course Aragorn had known it for, well, a lie, mostly, but had also hoped that Ellë’s secrecy, in which his gwador had colluded, had been covering some innocent stupidity on her own part. A fool’s hope.
“And no,” he said to the writing set as he put it away, “I still do not know exactly what she was doing, though I have a good idea what exactly she did with his knife. I suppose Legolas did not think it my business, and Ellë was certain that it was not.” He glanced up at Gilraen. “I understand her reasons. I think she is wrong, but then, I suppose I would, would I not?” He almost laughed, humourlessly. “Ada cannot understand the rules of ‘the Wooden Rabbit Game’, he does not understand why your doll is called Telba, he does not understand how Eldarion can wash only one hand, how could he be expected to understand… that? Adair and Nanaith were never young and full of difficult thoughts, or if they were, your birth made them forgot all of that. But in all sober judgement, the fact still remains. This house is full of maids to watch and guards to aid. I am learned in many healing arts. Arwen has been tending sick men for near three thousand years. Why should I send her so far from me? So far from Arwen, moreover, who did learn so quickly her griefs, much faster than some stranger.”
Under Gilraen’s eye, in time, very slowly he ventured: “And she became well, in time, when she had better news. And… there are some- many- who would say that foolishness is not one with madness. Yes, foolishness! And foolishness is not one with wickedness either, at least I-“
Thankfully, at that moment Kolloin knocked at the door.
“Enter!” Kolloin did so.
“Forgive me my lord, but the Honourable Hurin of the Keys prays audience, if you are not busy, my lord.”
“Not as such, no. I am busy discussing the vexed question of the true definition of sanity with my office furniture.”
“Really? What do the chairs think, my lord?”
“Oh do be sensible, man. What does Keys want, anyway?”
“A, er, decree of the definite terms of assistance for the Duke of Umber, my lord.”
“Is it not written down? Why do you not just give it to him, instead of badgering me?”
"It is not my place to hand over such a scroll, my lord.”
“Oh, blast it.” The king rose, and made his way out of the office. “You are very rude to me, Kolloin, very rude indeed!”
“You are very rude to me, my lord.”
King Elessar stopped in the doorway, and straightened up.
“Yes,” he said, proudly. “But I am a great man.”
He closed the door behind him.
“You’re a silly old bugger,” Kolloin muttered. But with affection.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.