12. Travellers Return
Arwen was already awake when dawn came in Minas Tirith, as if her mind anticipated the coming daylight even while she dreamt.
She rolled over to the other side of the bed, which had been empty for the last many weeks. Nestled under the covers, for a long while she lay quietly, watching as a faint beam of light peeked through the curtains. Moments passed slowly as the room became filled with the dim brightness of early morning.
Why do you linger here, when the day awaits you?
Arwen chose not to answer that thought, and only turned over again onto her back, closing her eyes contentedly as she lay against the pillow. It was simply too tempting to stay in the comfort of the bed for as long as she could.
She stretched lazily, and as she relaxed once again, hugged her elbows above her head. The room was getting bright now.
Pushing back the covers, she discovered the room was not as chilly as she expected. The weather was warming, with the onset of late spring. On a whim, Arwen decided against her slippers. As she stepped over to the balcony doors she felt the coolness of the marble underneath her feet.
Opening the curtains, she realised yet again how wonderful it was that their chambers faced east. Arwen smiled at the welcoming picture the sky gave her.
She gave a small shiver and rubbed her bare arms, having also neglected her robe. There was still a smile on her face as she went to dress, recalling who was returning to the City today.
“Please, nana?” Lúthea pleaded, resting her hands on the front of the desk.
“I am almost finished, darling, just wait one more moment,” Arwen replied, suppressing a grin.
The Queen sat in her study, completing a last bit of correspondence; it was to the Lady of Ithilien, and she did not want to leave it waiting.
Lúthea was eager for her mother to go with her to the library, as she had been all week.
Just nearby on the desk there was a small stack of letters, the ones that had not been diverted to Edoras. Among the stack were three letters, one for each of the returning travellers, from the Lords of Rivendell. They had arrived last week along with the rest of the delivery.
“There is always more for me to do when your father is absent, I cannot help it,” she finished, momentarily distracted from the last sentence of her letter.
“But he is returning today, so it will not matter now.” Lúthea came around the table, twirling a bit of dark hair between her fingers, and leaned on the back of her mother’s chair.
“Hmm, yes, this afternoon. I suppose you are right.”
Arwen reached for her teacup and took a quiet sip as she waited for the ink to dry; Lúthea assisted the process by blowing softly on the page. After setting the cup down, Arwen folded the parchment neatly, only to find her daughter holding the sealing wax at the ready.
“Alright, I have taken the hint,” the Queen chuckled.
As she at last pressed the stamp into the soft wax, the letter was finished.
“There.” Arwen said, standing to leave.
Before they reached the door, Lúthea paused.
“You do want to look at the new books as well?” she asked apprehensively. “They are from your home, are they not.”
Arwen collected her breath, and gave her daughter’s hand a squeeze.
“Of course.” She smiled carefully. “I’m glad you are interested in them, darling.”
This seemed to relieve the young princess.
“Oh good,” she answered, somewhat pleased. “We can finish organising them on the shelves. When I read more, can you help me with any words in the Elvish that I do not know?”
“That I can do,” replied Arwen, with a nod.
They soon reached the small section of the library where space had been made for the new collection from Rivendell. Elladan had been as good as his word, sending more than a few trunks worth of leather-bound volumes. One of the reading rooms had been made available, a more private setting.
Over half of the books were already shelved, and the others simply waited to be catalogued. But it did not seem to matter, as they had arrived only a week ago.
Arwen did not know what was in all of them, but she recognised some collections of poetry, and some fables she had liked when she was young. It seemed well enough for Lúthea though; the young princess’s eyes were almost glazed over as she tried to take it all in.
After glancing through one or two books, the princess paused. She fingered one sleeve
“Maybe we should shelve them first, and then go through them more carefully.”
“Alright,” Arwen looked up from the sonnets she had found. “I can help you with that, if you like.”
They decided to begin a separate shelf for the fiction, apart from the histories and journals that were also among the collection.
As Arwen took book after book from Lúthea, and added them to the shelf, she began to wonder why she had felt such uneasiness at the prospect of this gift from her brothers. Perhaps, in following her daughter’s interest, it might be possible to go back, back to her father’s things…
Fortunately she did not have time to dwell on the thought, because before long there was a knock at the entrance to the reading room.
Lúthea turned first. “Eldarion!”
She rushed over to greet her brother, who was still in his travelling clothes, his gloves in one hand.
“Now this is a friendly greeting,” he chuckled, bending to receive a hug from Lúthea.
Arwen came down from her step-stool, and took her turn to embrace her son warmly.
“Suilad, naneth,” Eldarion smiled.
“You did not return alone?” his mother asked with wry curiosity. “Or was Rohan simply not to your liking?”
“No, not to worry, I simply rode ahead,” he reassured her. “Adar should be following with Mírra in just an hour or so.”
“Everything is well, then?” Arwen asked quietly.
Eldarion noted the tone of her voice. His father had written to Minas Tirith to let his mother know of what had happened, but he did not know how much Lúthea was aware of. He related only as much as he needed to.
“It is,” the prince replied cautiously, “there were some… unanticipated events on the initial journey. But all is well now. I am sure Mírra can tell you more.”
Arwen laid a hand on his arm. “I will look forward to that.”
Lúthea, looking from one of them to the other, piped up again.
“You must see what we have been doing Eldarion. Our uncles did sent the books after all, just as promised!”
“Ah, wonderful! But you will have a head start on me now, I think,” he finished with a wink.
“It is not a race, you know,” replied the princess in mock jest.
“Of course, how silly of me.” The prince set his gloves down on one of the tables, and began to remove his cloak. He did not need to go to change yet. “So tell me, what is there to see here?”
“Mmm,” Mírra sighed with some satisfaction, as she began to work a comb through clean, damp hair, “As exciting as travelling is, I will never grow tired of returning to hot baths.”
Arwen chuckled, sitting on the edge of the bed in her daughter’s chamber.
“I am glad there is something in the city that still tempts you,” she said with a wink. “You enjoyed seeing some of Rohan, then?”
“Oh, what wonderful country it is. So different from here. There is plain all around Edoras, except for the hill of the city.”
“Perfect for riding, but windy, as I recall.”
Mírra nodded. “The plains do not have nearly so many trees, though, to make chases as interesting,” she finished with a laugh.
Seeing her daughter begin to finger a section of her hair into a braid, Arwen extended a hand. “Come, let me do that for you.”
Mírra came over amiably beside her mother. The two women sat in comfortable silence for a few moments, as Arwen formed one long, tight braid in the dark hair. It was simple and neat, which was all Mírra wanted.
“There, that should stay,” Arwen said as she finished, smoothing a hand over the dark queue of hair.
“Thank you,” Mírra smiled.
The princess sat in her robe. In front of her on the bed was her sable travelling dress that she had discarded before bathing. She took it up on her lap, noting the torn pocket on the front. There had seemed to her no reason not to continue to wear it, despite its present condition.
“How I used to hate wearing dresses for riding,” she said with a sigh, “The skirts would always be in the way.”
“This garment has certainly seen better days,” observed Arwen.
Mírra at first only nodded in response.
“I hope you were not too concerned… when you received word?”
“I was of course, sell-nîn,” said Arwen softly as she drew an arm around her shoulders, “But then I was only glad to hear you were safe. And to hear you found help, from friendly folk.”
Mírra ventured a smile.
“They… they were so very kind to me. Even before they knew who I was.”
Mírra nodded, telling her mother of the people who hosted her for two nights. But Arwen could see she did not want to dwell on such tales. After a short while Mírra drew in a breath, and blinked as if bringing herself out of reflection.
“I should perhaps dress, for dinner will be soon.”
“Of course. I should like to hear more tales from your adventure tonight.”
“No doubt Lúthea will as well,” said Mírra conspiratorially.
Arwen hesitated before rising to leave, and as she drew her arms around her daughter once more, Mírra hugged back.
“I’m alright naneth, I promise.”
“It is still good to have you back,” whispered Arwen.
Mírra only silently embraced her mother in reply, not wanting to admit, despite the excitement of the Rohan capital, how much she had wanted to return home.
Arwen kissed her daughter’s forehead, and with another squeeze of her shoulder, rose and left the chamber.
Now alone, Mírra looked down at the dress on her lap, fingering the torn section of fabric. She could not explain why she had wanted to keep it, nor could she explain why she had kept the scrap that had been torn.
Crossing over to her dressing table, Mírra found the small piece of sable cloth that Doran had given to the King, at her urging. Her father had returned it to her, when they had met up again, along with her lost necklace.
She ran her fingers over the figure of the white tree, over the texture of the embroidery. She still remembered how it had felt to press it into his hand, and how warm his eyes had been when she had met his gaze.
It had been over a month ago, and despite the weeks at Edoras, the part of the journey that was foremost in her mind were those two nights in the country. Is that sensible? she chided herself. It certainly was not expected.
But then, there were so many aspects of the journey that had been unexpected.
Reluctantly Mírra tucked the scrap of fabric into the pocket of her robe.
Through the windows she could see the last hour of daylight fading from the sky. She stepped over to the casement, and opened one window to let in a faint breeze of early evening.
Far below the palace was the city, but there was not much sound to be heard. She knew she would not hear any crickets tonight, but she strained her ears all the same.
Supper passed with enthusiastic conversation from all sides. They were content, the six of them.
It surprised Mírra to hear so much conversation from her sister, as Lúthea explained all the things that had happened over the last month – the new addition to the library not the least cause of her excitement.
The drama of Mírra’s accident was soon forgotten as she and Eldarion told of the family that had so kindly hosted them.
Aragorn was happy to keep quiet, contributing his own tales when necessary, but for the most part enjoying Elenna’s company. The youngest princess sat on her father’s lap, and even as her bedtime drew near, she shared as much laughter as she inspired in her family members; trying to keep up with the conversation was easy enough, even if her words made sense to noone but her.
Following the meal, the King returned to his study to find what waited him, and he found that the prince was equally eager to get to his own correspondence. Despite the ease in Eldarion’s posture, an ankle resting on one knee as he read, Aragorn saw his son concentrating intently on the letter in his hands.
“Is there much news?”
Eldarion looked up to reply.
“Lord Faramir tells me of the White Company’s plans for this year.” Seeing his father nod, Eldarion continued slowly. “And… my uncle Elrohir writes again. He is curious about recent news from Ithilien.”
“That is all?” Aragorn knew of his brother’s interest in the prince’s travels.
Eldarion let out a breath.
“He also invites me again to come to Arnor, if I wish.”
“But you have not decided yet.”
“No.” Eldarion scratched his cheek, that was once again clean-shaven. “Should I go?”
“You are asking me for advice, after your last journey?”
“I ask you for advice, especially after what has happened on my last journey.” He straightened, setting both feet on the floor. “I thought I had done everything right, planned it all well.”
“You could not have expected Mírra’s accident, Eldarion, no matter what your previous experiences had been.”
“I fear though, it will still sting my memory for some time,” the prince sighed. “I should have seen the storm coming. I would have, if I had not been… preoccupied.”
The prince fell silent a moment, as Aragorn began to understand.
“You still have not said, why it was you went to Erech. It was the reason for taking the South Road, was it not?”
Eldarion nodded in confirmation. His only surprise was that this conversation had not come sooner, but he had been too careful about raising the issue himself.
“At the time, I was not even sure, myself,” he began slowly. “But I only wanted to see the place for myself, people speak of it with such reverence. People speak of your deeds with such reverence.”
He saw his father shift in his seat, sit up a little straighter as he folded his arms.
“What I mean is, people do tell such tales,” continued the prince quietly, “but I never had a sense of the place itself, and I suppose I wanted only to lay eyes on it. But then when I did see it, it was somehow not what I expected.” Briefly he paused. “The tales are not incorrect, are they?”
“No, I do not suppose they would be,” said his father. “You did once ask me, and I should have been more forthcoming about it.”
Eldarion leaned forward, silently encouraging him to continue.
“It was dark, when I came to Erech. Almost midnight.” Aragorn’s face was a mask, though his voice was calm enough. “At that time it was such a very strange country, there was so much uncertainty surrounding everything we did.”
“Not knowing if the ring-bearer would succeed?”
“And how much Sauron himself was truly aware of. The Battle of the Pelennor could have ended very differently, had we not arrived with the fleet. Truly, there was no other path for me, no other choice but to seek that way, difficult though it was.”
Eldarion shook his head, thinking. “Still, I cannot fathom it… the Dead.”
“Neither could I, to tell the truth. It haunted me for a great while. But I remember at the time, being so focused only on completing the journey.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “I think now, you must have had a better sight of it than I did.”
Eldarion met his father’s eye.
“It is not shadowy, or ill-favoured. In fact the place is green with grass, and very quiet, but for wind. Even the great stone seemed calm.”
Aragorn gave a curious smile.
“These are indeed two different places, that we speak of.”
“Yes… and I think I wanted to see what you saw, the way you saw it. But that is impossible, I now realise.”
“I am glad you see it that way. I cannot tell you how to face your future, Eldarion, but it will be your experiences, not mine, that shape who you will be.”
He nodded in recognition. “I know this now. I only wish it had not taken me so long to understand.”
“The influences on your life may not be the same as mine,” said Aragorn, “but you have one thing that I did not, the freedom to decide your path.”
Eldarion let this sink in, feeling as though a gap had been bridged between them, a weight lifted from his shoulders.
“Then I will make the choice I desire.” He laughed, glancing back at his uncle’s letter. “What ever it turns out to be, at least I will make it freely.”
It was not long after supper when Arwen returned to their chambers, having paid a last goodnight to her daughters.
She found Aragorn on the balcony, hands folded, elbows resting on the railing. His gaze was vaguely directed down, in the direction of the city, but she could tell there were other things on his mind than the activity below.
If he was pensive before departing on a journey, he was no less so upon returning. As Aragorn turned to see his wife come near, she was shaking her head, bemused.
“Will there never be a journey,” she asked as she came to stand beside him, “when you do not return with more questions than answers?”
The King turned light eyes to his wife. Arwen pressed her palm over his, and they laced together their fingers.
“I think you know me well enough to predict the answer to that,” he replied wryly, “but in this case it is our son that returns with the questions.”
Arwen considered his expression, which had the unforced calm of heavy contemplation.
“You mentioned Erech in your letter…” Her voice was soft. “But you did not reveal everything, I could tell.”
He held her gaze for a moment, and drew in a slow breath, exhaling with the same measured pace.
“I had not thought about it for many years. But I should have expected Eldarion’s curiosity.”
“You are not unhappy, that he and Mírra saw it?”
“No.” He gave his head a shake. “No, as strange as it may be for me to remember those deeds, the War is part of their history. And I think that Eldarion rather blames himself more for taking Mírra into danger, than anything else.”
Arwen frowned at this mention.
“I should have accompanied them, perhaps.”
“No, you were right to stay here with the girls, to help Lúthea with the new collection.” There was a reassuring glint in his eye. “Next time.”
“Of course, next time.”
Arwen bit her lip in a smile. She turned to face him, their linked hands falling between them.
“There is one thing though, that I love about when you go away.”
“And what is that?” said Aragorn, bending his forehead to her. She could feel his heavy air of contemplation begin to lift.
“Welcoming you back, when you return.”
His own lips stretched into a smile, against hers.
“Ah, yes,” he replied softly, bringing his free hand to rest lightly on her waist.
Neither one had yet ventured to bring the kiss to completion, as they hovered so very near to each other.
Silently grinning, Arwen’s smile only widened as each time she tilted her head, he found a new position to match it, attempting to ply her lips nearer to his, but without success.
“Do you toy with me, lady?”
“Oh…” She rounded her lips around the syllable in mock pity, stroking her fingertips across his forehead. “Is not my lord happy?” she teased.
“Hmm,” he replied, raising an eyebrow. “I think I would feel more welcomed indoors, perhaps.”
Aragorn bent slightly at the knees, only to wrap his arms tightly around Arwen’s waist. She felt the pace of her heartbeat increase, as it always seemed to when he held her so securely.
As he stood, she was lifted just off the ground, and giving a small sound of delight, Arwen comfortably set her arms around his shoulders.
“I believe the bedroom is very welcoming, this evening,” Arwen replied low, with a serious nod. Her husband’s only response was a quiet growl, and again a teasingly lifted eyebrow.
Glancing behind him once, to be sure he was headed in the correct direction, Aragorn slowly stepped back in through the balcony doors, into their chamber.
When they came to the bed Aragorn sat down, only to be pushed farther back on to the mattress by his wife.
“You were saying?” he prompted, pushing hair away from her face as she settled herself atop him.
She only smiled again, her eyes dark. Bending down, she finally kissed him, his warm breath mingling with hers, between parted lips. Aragorn continued to hold her face as they tasted of each other, combed his fingers deep past her hairline.
Parting at last, his gaze was locked with hers.
“And about that welcome?” said Aragorn with a wink.
“Hmm,” Arwen murmured, “I do not think I can tell it to you.”
He felt her hands smoothing over his chest, finding the fastenings of his tunic. When she looked back at him there was a renewed glimmer in her eye.
“No, indeed I will have to show it to you…”
Just as she began to slip her hands underneath his tunic, Arwen felt Aragorn’s hands moving over the fabric of her dress, one on her thigh, as the other went over her back.
Their mouths met again, as Arwen leaned in, fitting her body over his, feeling Aragorn unclasp the back of her dress, making way for far less innocent, far more intimate caresses.
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.