Rolling onto her back towards the middle of the bed, she stretched the back of her hand out between the sheets to reach for Aragorn, but found nothing except the smooth linen. He was not there. She opened her eyes and blinked a few times, processing his absence. His scent still lingered on the pillow.
Arwen sat up and thought for a moment as her mind cleared, and rubbed sleep from her eyes. She knew where he was, of course. There was only one place he could be – nothing else seemed to be able to distract him so.
Still shielding her body with the heavy covers, she swung her legs smoothly over the side of the bed, and sneaked her toes into the slippers that waited for her. As she reached for her robe she saw a fire had already been thoughtfully prepared. The room was beginning to feel warmer.
She stood and stretched, and with a wry smile, set out down the hall to find her errant husband.
When the Queen entered the nursery she saw, as expected, her youngest daughter sitting happily on the arm of her father. Aragorn sang lightly as he paced slowly by the windows. He was still in his morning robes, not yet formally dressed for the day.
Elenna held her favourite soft toy to her mouth and listened to the cheerful melody, her light eyes looking in the direction of the windows but fixed on nothing in particular. She was awake, but calm.
Aragorn turned and saw Arwen at the door, and sent a smile her way. As she reached them his lips found her cheek, with the familiar brush of his beard against her skin.
Elenna reached out a hand to her, and she fingered it tenderly.
"Did you sleep well?"
"Wonderfully… though waking alone was a little disappointing," she finished with a raised eyebrow.
"I did not want to disturb you." He winked. " 'Twould have been a shame to upset such a sound sleep."
Between them, Elenna made her presence known. She was wide awake now, and happy to greet her mother. Aragorn relinquished her into Arwen's waiting arms.
"Good morning to you, too."
"She was already awake when I came, even though it was just dawn. Just lying quietly."
"Somehow that does not surprise me, given what Adina tells me." She turned to her daughter. "You were thinking on something, no doubt?"
At that moment the little girl lost hold of her toy and it fell to the floor. She gave a loud exclamation and wriggled in her mother's arms, reaching down for it. Arwen let her down and she retrieved it happily.
Aragorn was content to sit back and observe as Arwen held Elenna upright, helping her to balance as best she could as she busied herself by working new teeth against her cloth toy.
"We were trying to help her walk yesterday, but she is not quite there yet."
"I had wondered if I would miss it."
"She was only waiting on you, perhaps." Arwen then spoke in her daughter's ear. "Can you step over to your ada, and show him what you can do?"
Elenna held on to her mother's hands as she was directed towards Aragorn's chair. He held out his arms, his face brightening noticeably as he watched her totter forward.
Arwen helped her to reach her goal, and she eventually leaned forward, grinning, to grapple her father's knees.
"Well done, little star," Aragorn smiled.
It was then his turn to stand and help the little girl to another attempt across the carpet. Elenna was soon distracted, though, by her favourite set of blocks, and within a few moments she was happily crouched on the floor and reaching out for them. Aragorn sat down beside her, responding to little gestures and bright expressions.
As Arwen took her husband's place in the chair, and watched the two of them, she did not realise how quiet they had become, until Aragorn finally spoke many moments later.
"How is it that I could have missed all this?"
Arwen sat up, taken a little by surprise.
"But you have not missed that much with her, not really. She is still learning…"
He shook his head in thought.
"No, I meant before. With the girls and Eldarion, I mean."
Arwen opened her mouth to respond, but suddenly did not know what to say. It was true that, despite their best hopes Aragorn had still needed to travel often, when their children were small.
"It is only that, now that I do have time, I find myself wanting to make it up somehow. I think it was the right decision to bring Mírra with me this past month, but…"
"Of course it was the right decision, you saw the excitement on her face yourself."
She rose and slowly crossed over to kneel down on the carpet beside them, as Elenna made exploration of the toys in front of her.
"Before Elenna was born, I told myself that this time it would be different, that I would be here, even if before I was not."
She tilted her head in almost teasing reproach, that he was only one day returned, just out of bed, and already grown pensive.
"You have not been idle, meleth-nîn. Think of what has been done, in so little time, there is no shame in being proud of that."
"Yes, but I do still wonder, if I know the children as well as I could. It does not seem fair to them."
She stretched out a hand to one of his, and slipped her fingers underneath his palm.
"I would say you know them better than you think you do. Thanks to your encouragement, Lúthea is now so settled in the library that she seems to need no other hobby."
"And you know I am glad for it… Eldarion, though, I think only humours me sometimes."
Elenna chattered to herself, emitting unintelligible sounds as she sat and chewed on her cloth toy. Arwen flashed an overly dazzling expression to her, before responding to Aragorn.
"But it surprises me you should say that, for I know he has been preparing hard the last month. He wants to do well in Ithilien."
Aragorn almost frowned.
"But of course he will do well, as he has done on his other journeys with the White Company."
"Ah, but this is the first time he will be going without you."
Aragorn considered this, and spoke without doubt in his voice.
"He is of age now. He has the skill to lead a campaign on his own." He thought a moment longer. "I do not think it will harm anything, for me to stay in Minas Tirith for a season?"
Arwen shook her head.
Elenna kept a close hold of her chewing toy while inspecting blocks. Arwen watched as she took one block and held it up to Aragorn, with a bright smile. He returned the smile and took the proffered toy.
It was a gesture that had been repeated many times before, but seemed more meaningful because of the reaction that her father granted it.
Aragorn's eyes finally showed a small twinkle.
"I know you think I am being peculiar, for speaking of such matters now."
"No…" she smiled, despite herself. "Only that if this is the conversation you are starting the day with, I hate to think what the audience at the throne will have to contend with."
He suppressed a laugh.
"There is no terribly pressing business today, I think that may wait a while longer." He held his hands at the ready as Elenna crawled closer to where he sat. "Something else simply seemed more important this morning."
Arwen chuckled as she saw her daughter giggle, clutching at Aragorn's sleeve to hoist herself to a standing position.
"I cannot argue with that."
And so morning was well underway by the time the King had taken up his business. The Queen returned to her chambers briefly, and set out again to begin her own activities, which had also been delayed.
She was heading through the corridors, still fiddling with the cuffs of her gloves, when Mírra found her. They now met eye to eye.
"I was just coming to look for you," said the princess royal, smirking. "We will miss the whole day, if we do not leave soon."
"I am sorry, mell nîn." Arwen took her daughter's arm. "To make up for it, you shall choose our journey today."
"Ah, but I was going to do that anyway," Mírra returned, with a nudge.
"You are quite sure you do not wish to rest today, after travelling yesterday?"
Mírra winked. "Quite. I must make sure everything is still in the same place that I left it."
Lúthea reached her fingers as high as she dared, but still could not get to the book she was after. The shelf was simply too high for her, but not high enough to warrant a ladder. She found a stepping stool and brought it over, and tried once again.
When Eldarion soon passed by, his sister was nearly on the tips of her toes, just barely gripping the end of the book's spine. She had just managed to edge part of it off the shelf, but had to steady her balance.
He stepped over quickly, and being taller than Lúthea, even with the added height, easily lifted the book. It was of medium size, with burgundy leather spine and cover.
"I could have got it myself," she said a little defensively.
"And ended up on the floor yourself, too."
She took the book from her brother and stepped down, turning to her corner of the library where a small stack of reading awaited her. Eldarion followed her to the reading room. Lúthea had been spending so much time in the library lately, that she now had a section reserved for her use alone.
"It seems you must grow taller, if library work is to be in your future."
She wrinkled her nose at him.
"Just because you don't like studying, you don't have to tease me."
"It isn't that I don't like it, I just like to do other things too." He moved to the table and sat down across from his sister. "I suppose I simply wonder, how you can spend so much time here, never grow tired of it?"
Lúthea's fair face lit up.
"But that is just it, Eldarion, there is so much, you can never grow tired of it."
With a soft sweep of her arm she gestured to the shelves behind her.
"It isn't only the reading itself though." She smoothed slender fingers over the book she had just retrieved. "They are so beautiful, the way they are made… the lettering, the artwork. I could spend a whole day with only one."
Eldarion had to admit, when Lúthea undertook a task she did it with devotion. Mírra had been right about her enthusiasm.
"But what are you doing all the way down here?" she asked, realising how rare it was to see her brother in the library.
"Believe it or not, there is something I need to find here, that is not in father's study," he admitted.
Turning to leave, he stood at the door of the reading room, confronted with the myriad shelves in the main library hall.
"Where might I find the atlases of Gondor?"
Lúthea closed the burgundy leather book cover, and stood from her seat.
"I think I know. I'll show you."
She took her brother by the hand and they went to seek out the right section. And if she did not take the simplest route through the mazes of shelves on their way, she did not let on.
Later, Eldarion sat semi-comfortably in the study he shared with his father, hunched over the pages of the atlas he had retrieved from the library earlier that day. The torches on the walls were lit as always, since the study had no windows, but the prince had brought a lamp to the table to supplement the lighting level. Unlike his middle sister, he did not have much patience for reading in the shadows.
As reading material went, however, he preferred atlases. Each one in the palace's collection seemed to be slightly different from the rest, with different annotations and illustrations. It could sometimes be tricky to tell what differences were artists' concessions, and what were genuine corrections, but that was all part of scholarship, he supposed.
Eldarion turned the pages until he found the relevant section. As the closest land to the enemy, Ithilien had taken the greatest damage in the great war, and so had been the most active site of renewal over the last four decades. Eldarion himself had taken on different tasks with each visit, but he looking forward to patrolling once again with the White Company.
He inserted an index finger next to the spine to mark the page, and flipped to another section. In all honesty it was the land he did not know that intrigued him the most.
Sitting up slightly, he sighed as he perused the maps of Gondor's western provinces. On his one journey to Edoras last year they had kept almost entirely to the Great West Road, to Eldarion's disappointment. He was curious about the White Mountains. Places like Erech, that he knew had been important for his father during the great war, were completely unfamiliar to him.
Just then the door opened, sending a slight draft to make the lamp flame flicker.
"I am sorry to have kept you," said Aragorn with an apologetic sigh as he entered.
Eldarion sat up straight, and gave a small wave across the room to his father. He realised how long he had been sitting, staring at the pages, and stood to stretch.
"Shall I pour a drink?" These days, when he and his father sat down with books and maps, they were at it for a while.
"If you would like, by all means," replied the King.
Eldarion moved to the table at the side of the study, and poured wine into two pewter cups.
When he returned to the large desk, he saw his father examining the map, an odd expression on his face. It was still open to the same section of the White Mountains, near Erech.
"I'm sorry, I meant to get back to Ithilien, I was only curious about some of the other places." He still could not read his father's eyes. "Is something wrong?"
Aragorn looked up, his expression clearing.
"No, forgive me, it is only that I had not considered that part of the country for some time. We have been focusing on the east so much, I often forget how other areas may have changed."
Eldarion found himself remembering snatches of detail from stories he had heard long ago.
"You went to Erech, did you not? Before the end of the War of the Ring?"
"Yes… on the way to Pelargir…"
He suddenly was not sure how much he wanted to discuss about those events, just at this point.
"…but that is a different matter entirely, one I will not get into now. I am more interested to hear what you have researched."
Eldarion reached over and turned a corner of the atlas, to get a better perspective, and turned a few pages.
"This looked the best atlas of the selection I saw," Eldarion explained, settling a bit, "Lúthea knew where to find them, of course."
"She would." His father smiled knowingly.
Eldarion placed the tip of an index finger somewhere near the top of the page.
"The hills are well detailed, but it is the southern province that is less clear. There is hardly anything of note east of the Harad Road, not until the source of the Poros."
"Mm" – Aragorn replied just as he had taken a sip of wine – "No, there would not be. That region has been quite desolate since late in the Third Age."
"But the White Company has kept a close patrol near the road, has it not?"
"The road is safe, yes, but the extent of the dangers in the south eastern lands is not yet known." He raised a hand in recollection, thinking of something. "As a matter of fact, something I learned on my last visit may prove useful in that respect."
Aragorn rose briefly and went to the other large table of the room, to collect a few leather folders of parchment that he had been given by the Lord Faramir. Eldarion glanced slightly less than enthusiastically at the sheaf of papers that was added to the table.
"I know it is getting late in the day, but there are still some things we should look at before tomorrow. Bear with me a few hours?" said Aragorn with a note of sympathy, "All great rulers were first great scholars."
The prince was quiet a moment. He knew he was nowhere close to being a leader yet, but he obeyed the King's wishes.
"You are frowning, ion-nîn."
"Oh?" Eldarion relaxed his face as he looked up to answer his mother, caught somewhat by surprise. "I did not realise it, I suppose I was only thinking."
Dinner was just ending. Aragorn had been led away by Lúthea, anxious to ask him questions about her day's reading, and Mírra had soon followed. The prince however, remained, staring forward at his glass. Arwen recognised that expression well, of being so lost in thought.
"Thinking on what?" Arwen questioned her son simply.
She took the seat next to him, which had been Mírra's; she noticed the princess royal had left her wrap behind, not unpredictably.
"On nothing, really… just what adar and I were working on this afternoon."
"Preparations for your journey with the White Company?"
Eldarion nodded. As he met his mother's eye, he realised she would not allow him to let the matter drop, though all she had really done was wait for him to answer.
"Do you truly want to hear? I fear I will only sound foolish."
"I have a hard time believing that. What is it?"
Sitting back in his chair, he fingered his wineglass, circling thumb and forefinger around the base.
"I hadn't expected how it would feel to be going on my own, without father there, I mean."
"You are quite ready for it though, from what he says."
"I hope I am." He let out a slow breath. "The maps we were looking at though, so much of it is new to me, and I had so many questions."
He cast a brief glance of dark eyes to his mother.
"Adar knows the answers to each of them. I do not think there is any part of this country he does not know."
"And so he should, he has done much travelling. Do you think this makes you unqualified by comparison?"
He looked back down at his glass. "Perhaps…"
"Eldarion, you would not be making this journey if you were not ready. If your father thinks you are able to lead a party, then you can do it. And you will have Brennan with you, will you not?"
"I know. It may be I am anxious over nothing."
Arwen gave a half-smile and cocked an eyebrow.
"Why do I think you will still be occupied by this, even after our conversation is finished?"
He only shrugged and turned up his palms.
As Arwen stood, she collected the shawl that her daughter had left behind.
"You have a few days yet before you depart. Please tell me you will not spend them mired in such heavy contemplation?"
Eldarion finally hazarded a smile.
"I will do my best."
She gave his shoulder a squeeze.
Exiting the hall, Arwen encountered her oldest daughter heading in the opposite direction. Mírra reached for her shawl.
"I knew I had left this behind." She wrapped her shoulders. "Is Eldarion still at dinner?"
"Yes, and apparently happy to be alone with his thoughts, for the moment."
As they headed back to their quarters, Arwen turned to her daughter.
"Please, tell me we will be going riding again tomorrow?"
Mírra halted in surprise, but then grinned as curiosity got the better of her.
"Alright, we will ride tomorrow, but why?"
"I think it is more cheerful than the alternative. The men in this family are being far too serious at this time."
meleth-nîn = my love
mell-nín = my dear
ada = dad/daddy (adar = father)
ion-nîn = my son
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.