My Aragorn Stories
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The Sword of Elendil: 15. The Haven of Rivendell
Stretched out on a couch, Dírhael spoke without opening his eyes. "He's only a week overdue, daughter. Surely you know better than to expect a Ranger on the hour."
Gilraen put down her handiwork. "Of course. But it's more than ten days, not a week. It's been nearly twenty years since I had all my loved ones together. And I fear Hallor will call you back before Estel comes."
"I will not leave before Aragorn comes," Dírhael said grumpily, emphasizing the name. "But I am enjoying the peace that his absence lends us."
"That's not the first time you've made such a remark, papa. What am I supposed to think? Do you dislike my son?"
Dírhael opened his eyes and gave Gilraen what she called his Father look. "That is an absurd question, daughter. You know how I regard my family. But he is not a restful young man, to say the least."
Resuming her work, Gilraen smiled to herself. True enough, father. And indeed I do know that you rarely let pass your lips how much you love us all. "Still, I worry. How can I not? Elrond does too, I know." Although he thinks he hides it from me, I know well he is distressed at this story of Estel's fall. She sighed to herself. Ever since her son's unfortunate entanglement with his daughter, she had felt uneasy in Elrond's presence. Neither of them had ever spoke of it, but it lay like a shadow across their earlier easy companionship. "Is it for nothing that Elrond sends scouts to find Gandalf? That Thranduil sends tidings of the Nazgûl returned to Dol Guldur?"
"Your woman's worry does no good," her father said sternly. "Else we'd all be safe if you just fret enough."
Gilraen smiled to herself again. How I love him, my difficult father! "Yes, papa."
"Humph," he said. "Now you are humoring an old man." But he lay back on his couch and closed his eyes again.
Gilraen resumed her work, and the slow peace of the day, like golden drops of honey seeping from a sieve, settled on her. Her father dozed. He has never had a true rest like this. May he visit me often in the years to come.
The brisk footsteps in the hallway signaled her mother's approach. Ivorwen's face glowed as she burst into the room. "Word has just come—Estel has crossed the Ford. He'll be here tomorrow."
"Aragorn," said Dírhael.
Ivorwen ignored him. "We will have a dinner for the family tomorrow. Elrond has announced a feast for all in three days."
"He is well?" Gilraen asked. "He is not hurt?"
"Not that anyone said. Don't worry so." Ivorwen patted her cheek fondly.
He is safe, Gilraen thought, relief washing over her. She had hardly realized how much anxiety had gripped her. He is safe. That's all that matters.
"The sentries," Gilraen said.
"Sentries who fly through the air to bring news to Elrond?"
"You know you are not to ask such questions."
"You mean I know better than to expect an explanation. Now I understand why Elrond is so famously courteous: it's to avoid answers. No doubt, if I asked, he would say how happy he is that Aragorn has returned to the Valley. Just as much of an answer as I got to my other question: a warm smile and sweet words about what an honor it was to house my daughter and grandson all these years."
Every time she thought of her father's interview with Elrond, Gilraen shuddered. "Even you would not dare question Elrond about his defenses, papa. For all your brave talk, I know you are too wise for that."
Dírhael snorted. "No worry, daughter. I know when to hold my tongue."
The next day she waited on the broad front steps of the House when Estel rode into the yard: Elladan and Elrohir had ridden ahead to meet him on the road, bringing another mount to speed his way. Weary, gaunt, and bearing a bloody bandage around his arm, her son resisted her embraces. "I am all mud, lady mother, and unfit for your company."
"Foolishness," she said, alarm spiking yet again. And yet somehow he looked older and taller, as if in less than a year he had aged several. "What happened? How were you hurt?"
"I ran into some Orcs east of the Weather Hills, but they had the worst of it."
She suppressed her urge to cry out, knowing he would hate her fuss. "You are bleeding."
Elrohir said, "The wound is healing, Gilraen. He needs rest and food, is all."
"First of all, a bath," said Aragorn. "Then a hot meal, then sleep. I will keep you company in the morning, mother."
And so she had to wait for the family meal, which became a late breakfast the next day. Looking much better without the grime of the road and after long night's sleep, her son ate heartily of the good food she set out and told them of his journey. His eager face and strong voice reminded her of the many times Estel had sat in that very place, telling her of his latest deeds in the Wild.
"We spent spring at Sarn Ford, and scouted south and west of the Shire. What odd creatures those Hobbits are! I had to force myself not to stare. So comical and harmless, and surely their land is the safest place in all Eriador. There is nothing to fear there. But in Bree—'the grandest town in your realm, my lord,' Halbarad said to me—we heard tales of Trolls east of the Weather Hills. Rangers later told me some of the hillfolk had fled to the downs. Some trouble between their tribes, I understand. I stayed the summer at Fornost, up the Greenway, with our people there. Did you know the Breelanders call it 'Deadmen's Dike'?"
Dírhael snorted. "That's the least insulting name they have for it."
Aragorn's eyes twinkled. "And what is their name for you, grandfather?"
Dírhael's lips twitched. "The Old Wolf. They are not stupid, for all their innocence."
Aragorn laughed. "Indeed not."
"I think they deemed me too new for a special name. At least, I did not hear any. I traveled as 'Anborn,' however, for safety. Well, a month ago, leaving Fornost, Halbarad and I went across the downs to the northern reach of the Weather Hills to join the post there. There'd been one Orc raid from the north—not Uruks this time, but lesser goblins, nothing seemingly beyond the usual but that we know Mordor is awakening. When it came time to leave for Rivendell, I struck out alone across the country toward the Hoarwell. And it is well I did, because I saw signs of Troll activity there. I did not see them, but only the debris of their wrecking."
He paused for a long drink of hot tea—his favorite, Gilraen knew, with honey to sweeten. "And then I ran across two Orcs—scouting ahead, I guess, since their fellows were not long behind. Well, I took them, but got this wound in the process, and the others caught on to my presence and began to tail me. So all the way across the downs it was hide and seek. There were too many for me to take, so I had to hide in the night, alert without sleep, and run in the day. As a result, I slept little and ate less."
"Foolhardy," Dírhael said as he speared a muffin with a fork and lifted it to his plate.
Aragorn raised his eyebrows. "To run from Orcs?"
"To go across such dangerous country alone."
Aragorn shrugged. "We must, I think. Too few men and too much territory to cover. And I mean to see every part of Eriador as soon as my feet will take me there."
"A long journey," said Dírhael skeptically.
"Have some of this gooseberry jam," Gilraen said, lifting a small blue pot. "It is superb."
Ivorwen laughed. "You will not distract them from a disagreement, my darling."
"I shall try all the same," Gilraen said. "How long I have dreamed of this day! Nearly all my dear ones together. We are lacking only Iorlas."
"It could happen often if you would agree to return to the Angle," said Dírhael, "as I wish."
"My dear," said his wife, "do not be quarrelsome."
"I mean to enlist Aragorn's support in this."
"You will fail," said Aragorn. "I would prefer her to remain here, where she is safe. That should count for much with you."
"She can be safe in the Angle."
"Not like here."
"We protect our own people, at whatever cost," said Dírhael, frowning. "Despite Elrond's views."
Ivorwen laid her hand on his. "Husband, let's not have this argument again."
"Since you raise it," Aragorn said, "I would like to know if you have spoken to Elrond about this."
"Yes, I did," said Dírhael. "Of course."
"And he said?"
"He told me nothing. He said his answer was you."
"That's what I would have expected."
"I appreciate his point," Dírhael said, "as far as that goes. But he still does not answer why he believed us unable to protect our own children. I did not want to join my voice to the protest at the council meeting, but I, too, wonder about this. Why refuse to tell us anything? Why leave these questions, whether you and Gilraen even lived, causing such anguish to your family?"
"It seems to me that everyone knew quite well that we were here, whether Elrond admitted it or not," Aragorn said. "No one expressed surprise, just anger or perhaps relief."
"All the more reason not to have this secrecy. And to keep us out of the Valley for all these years? I will never accept that necessity."
Gilraen was looking from her son to her father and back again. "Do you always argue so?" she asked.
Ivorwen chuckled. "They butt heads, my dear. It's on account of being so alike."
Dírhael snorted. "He is a young pup, heir of Isildur or no."
"I won't argue with that," Aragorn said.
"For myself," Ivorwen said, "I'm glad you both were here in the Valley all those years, and I agree with Gilraen and Aragorn that she should stay here. I am well aware, Dírhael, of your reason: you simply want your daughter nearer. It gives credit to your heart, husband dear, but not your head. Have you forgotten how difficult these last years have been? Perhaps we would have lost Aragorn to the fevers that took so many children fifteen years ago."
Gilraen shook her head. "I am still shocked and grieved over Ariel's death."
"That was perhaps the biggest single blow since you left us," said Ivorwen. "Her pregnancy had gone well, but then the child—a son—was stillborn. We had no sign of trouble until the very end. Beleg has never gotten over it. I felt so helpless, but I will say no more lest I spoil the occasion."
Aragorn said, "There are troubles enough today. I have not yet asked about Saelind."
Ivorwen laid her hand on his. "She died last February. You had not yet heard, I gather."
"Not formally," Aragorn said. "But I knew. She died at night on the fifteenth, is that not so?"
"In her sleep," Ivorwen said. "A peaceful death. But how did you know that?"
His eyes seemed to look inward. "I saw it."
"Ah," Ivorwen said softly. "I thought you had some of the Sight, and so it is. But it is better not to speak too much of it.
Aragorn nodded, and returned to his hotcakes.
Ai, my son, your gifts are too much burden. Gilraen sighed, and took up her glass. "Well, then," she said softly. "This morning we will remember our lost ones, too, as we enjoy each other's company here for the first time." And she smiled through her tears, as the face of her dead husband, so like her son's, filled her mind.
Knowing the importance that Elrond placed on such formalities, Gilraen had passed her mother several of her treasures in colors to suit her plainer style, and had arranged for a fine brocaded tunic to be delivered to her father. "We must look more than our best at the feast," she said. "It is more than a welcome to Estel, it is an honor to all the family."
"Just so, my darling," said Ivorwen.
For herself Gilraen chose a flowing, soft blue gown with a girtle of silver, and arranged her braids in a tressure netted with opals. She brushed soft, curling tendrils to frame her face, and took a good look at herself in the polished mirror in her dressing room. She would be forty-five in December, in several months time—for a woman of Dúnedain blood, still young.
She heard a step behind her and turned to see her son in the doorway. He bowed. "You are enchanting, as always."
She laughed and cast a critical mother's eye over his tall figure. "You will do—plain dress as usual, but you do wear it with a lordly air."
He wore a simple deep green tunic, his only ornament the Ring of Barahir on his finger, his hair and beard well trimmed. To her eye he looked well but pale beneath the sunburn of his summer on the northern downs. He held out his hand and opened it so that she could see what lay there. "I asked for this from Elrond. Will you pin it on my breast?"
Cupped in his strong, capable hand, the Elendilmir gleamed—small, but so exquisite. Taking it, she fastened it to the rich cloth on his right shoulder. "Kingly, I should say," she said with a smile, and smoothed out a wrinkle. "An appropriate honor for the occasion."
He bowed again and held out his arm to her, and together they left for the Hall of Feasts. And how much of this kingly appearance is for the sake of a certain daughter of Elrond? Lady Arwen, will you break my son's heart yet again? Underneath her worry for her son's happiness was a sting of hurt pride: for all his love and guardianship of the line of Isildur, Elrond would never consider the Chieftain of the Dúnedain to be a suitable husband for his daughter.
The mellow light of the late summer afternoon gilded the great hall, where the candles were as yet unlit. On her son's arm, Gilraen joined her parents and Elladan and Elrohir at the high table on the dais. Elrond and Arwen had not yet entered, but soon Gilraen's quick ears caught the rich tones of Arwen's musical voice. She tried to be discreet about watching her son's reaction as Arwen and Elrond approached. He appeared composed and calm, but Gilraen knew that look of quiet intensity in his eyes.
Ai! She is so lovely, how can he not lose his heart? I am fortunate that Arathorn never knew her.
The Lady of Rivendell moved across the room with a dance-like step as natural as breath. Rising onto the dais, she bowed gravely to her guests, her eyes courteous, remote. After murmuring words of welcome to Gilraen and her parents, she turned to the Heir of Isildur. "Welcome, Lord Aragorn, our guest of highest honor. I regret that I have not greeted you until now, but pressing duties occupied me."
He raised her hand to his lips. "Lady."
She bowed her head and moved deliberately to her seat under a silver canopy, too far away for them to talk to each other.
Seated next to her son, Gilraen was painfully aware of his quiet distraction throughout the feast. As always, his grave courtesy charmed, but his mirthful side, usually a delight at such occasions for merrymaking, was not in evidence. Rivendell's kitchens had poured out their very best, and their best was a feast few in Middle-earth ever enjoyed in their lifetimes, but Aragorn seemed to have little appetite.
Gilraen noticed her mother watching him curiously. She said, with a gesture at his plate: "Do you not care for the salad, Aragorn?"
He looked down at his untouched plate of delicate summer greens. Everyone else at the table had done with that course. The servers were waiting for him to finish before removing his plate.
"Usually," he said hastily. "But it does not suit me today." He nodded to the server to take the dish.
Dírhael said, "You look like you would rather be slaying dragons."
Aragorn smiled, and picked up his goblet of wine. "I am more thirsty than hungry."
"A wine worthy of quenching the thirst of a god, I say," said Dírhael, and he raised his cup to his lips. Aragorn joined him.
Good, father. Distract him.
By the time the celebration moved to the Hall of Fire, her son's eyes were bright with wine and some of the strain lurking in his jaw had gone. Relieved, Gilraen sank into the enjoyment of the music. Aragorn stood nearby, talking with friends from his youth. With satisfaction she saw that he had his back to Arwen, who sat with her brothers by the fireside.
The music rose and fell, as voices entered and left the melody, all the while a flute and harp trilling like soft birdsong.
Her father's voice, raised in argument, cut through her peace. He loved to talk philosophy and ancient lore with Lindir and Erestor; now they were engaged in a sharp exchange about the sons of Fëanor.
"Dior should have given them the Silmaril, it's that simple," Dírhael insisted.
Gilraen heard her mother groan softly. "Not again."
"You don't understand," Erestor said. "The Silmaril was far more than an extremely valuable jewel. Dior rebuilt Doriath with its power. Without it, they would have been unprotected."
"It didn't protect them from Celegorm."
"Nothing could have done that," Lindir said.
"Do you persist in your neutrality, Lindir?" Dírhael asked him.
"I follow Elrond in this. He will not speak against either side, as you know."
"He has a good reason," Dírhael persisted. "You, in contrast, are not Dior's grandson and Maedhros's foster son. Nor did Celegorm's manservant leave your mother's brothers to starve in the wilderness."
Ivorwen snapped her eyes to her husband and his companions. "Perhaps you will take your argument outside? It's quite lovely with the waxing of the moon," she said sweetly.
Well done, mother. At least Elrond was not yet in the room to overhear this unwise conversation.
Obediently, the three moved off through the arched doorway into the fragrant evening. Ivorwen sighed with contentment, but Gilraen did not rediscover her peace. Her son now stood at Arwen's side in a shadowed corner. His two hands held one of hers, his head bent over her as he spoke into her ear. She stood motionless, not speaking, her eyes cast down, the pale oval of her lovely face hard to read.
Across the room, with the lilting music filling her ears, Gilraen could not hear his words. My son, so unwise, give up this hopeless love.
Everyone else had to be seeing it too. Gilraen tried not to look at Elrond, who had just entered the hall and now sat in his great chair at the fire, his eyes filled with light. A king of the Elves, for all he refuses the title, heir of Doriath and Gondolin. Fortunately—or not, Gilraen hardly knew—Arwen withdrew her hand from Aragorn's and, with a small but firm shake of her hand, walked away. He stood gazing after her for a long moment, his face full of the mania of love, and then swiftly left the hall.
At least now I will not have to watch the disaster unfolding before me. Perhaps there will be a few hours of peace and music. And father, at least, was out of the room. May it be that mother did not notice.
But she knew there was no chance of that.
When at last, in the wee hours of the night, they returned to Gilraen's chambers, the door to Aragorn's room was firmly shut and dark. Either he already slept, or had gone out to spend the night with the trees and the stars—a habit of his from childhood, when he would disappear for a day, or two, to work out his distress. He called it "practicing his woodcraft," but Gilraen knew the real purpose.
"All right," said Ivorwen, as she threw open the doors to the balcony. "We are quite alone, and now you are going to tell me all about it."
"Father?" Gilraen asked.
"Already snoring. His arguing wore him quite out." Ivorwen gestured her out into the air, where the summer night smiled upon them. "What is going on between Aragorn and Elrond's daughter?"
Gilraen groaned and wrung her hands. "I was so hoping he would get over it."
"I'm listening. Tell me."
"I don't really know. He would not tell me much. Something happened between them, and then there was a quarrel. It happened right before he left the Valley for Thurnost. Oh, mother, it will not do. It will not do at all."
"Elrond's daughter? Isn't that enough?"
"Does Elrond dislike it? He seemed to me to be keeping to a studied indifference."
"I don't know for certain what Elrond thinks about it, but I can guess. The Elves regard such matters very differently from the practices among the Dúnedain."
"So I have noticed," said Ivorwen wryly. "They have an ease and freedom that I quite envy—especially the women."
"I have never gotten comfortable with it, but Estel was brought up to it. He has kept company with a few of the women here—not that I know any details." She laughed uneasily. "I don't want to ask any more than he wants to tell. A man's own business, as my father taught me."
"He did at that," said her mother. "And speaking of fathers, you were saying about Elrond?"
"Well, Elrond would see it as his daughter's private affair. It is not uncommon for Elf-women to take lovers, and I would be very surprised if Estel were the first—"
Ivorwen rolled her expressive eyes.
"—but I'm sure Elrond would dislike it if it goes on. For Estel's sake, more than hers, I think. He believes my son must dedicate himself to his path, and turn away from all else. It's his destiny—such a burden for a young man. And as you can see, Arwen Undómiel is a large turn in the wrong direction."
"I don't know," said Ivorwen slowly.
"If you knew what kind of woman she is, you would see it."
"I see that she is utterly beautiful and wields a power of her own, as a veritable queen of the Elves."
"She is indeed. From what I understand, she has all but vowed to never marry, to spend her days protecting her people, until they seek the road West. She is Galadriel's granddaughter, you know."
"I figured she must be. Why have I never heard of her before? I knew only that Elrond had two sons. Then I come here and find a daughter."
"There is a mystery about it," Gilraen said. "All I know is that since her mother's capture and torture by the Orcs, she has lived in Lórien, and she is not spoken of to outsiders. It is five hundred years since she was in Rivendell—why should the Dúnedain know her? Neither Estel nor I had even heard of her until suddenly she appeared in Rivendell last August. If only she would have stayed away another few decades."
Ivorwen huffed. "Nice to have so much time! Well, I understand some things better now, like why he is so oblivious to the young women in the Angle. It was beginning to worry me."
"He must marry some day, although that day may be far off, if Elrond is right. There is time. He will get over it," Gilraen said.
"And why are you so sure he will not marry her?"
"Mortals do not wed with the Elf-kin. Only for a great purpose, as the old Tales tell us. You know that. Even he knows that. I did bring it up, and he said he knows better than to expect that. What he does expect I think he hardly knows himself. And she clearly has turned away from him. He will only break his heart."
"I don't know. I don't need my Sight to know that he loves her. The question is, what does she feel about him? I cannot tell, nor See it. But there is some future there, something of great importance. I know, because I Saw her in a dream with the green stone."
"Don't say that," Gilraen said. "You must be wrong. When did you See this?"
"Oh, I am not wrong, my dear. The dream came to me before I ever met her, and I have been wondering since what it means."
"Whatever you do, don't tell him about this dream, mother," Gilraen said. "Please. It will only feed his hopes, which are so very wrong. You don't know him. He feels things too much, you may not know it—"
Ivorwen smiled fondly at her daughter. "My darling, I do know it. There's a lot stirring underneath that young man's quiet. But if there is a future between them, it's for Arwen to tell him, not me, and at a time of her own choosing."
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