'But my home, such as I have, is in the North. For here the heirs of Valandil have ever dwelt in long line unbroken from father unto son for many generations.'
- Aragorn, the Council of Elrond
The road to Carastar, mid September 2951
Their journey on the Great East Road went smoothly, and in the early evening of the third day the four Dúnedain reached reached a bridge that led over a deep ravine with a river rushing far below them. Their path branched off at their left, though it could not be considered much more than trampled earth, which the eye could easily miss.
Not far off the road they were greeted by the two watchers of the bridge. They spent their night in their shelter and talked long about the travelers that had passed. Apparently they had just missed a group of dwarves.
The morning dawned bright and clear. It had rained last night and now the air was fresh and cool. Aragorn breathed deeply, trying to relax. His sleep had not been dreamless last night, but this time he had seen his mother rather than strange faces. Not for the first time he wondered how she fared. He could almost hear Elrond admonishing him. 'Do not worry, you have left her before.' Aragorn shook his head. But it is not the same. I am not hers any longer. From this day on I am theirs.
He rolled his shoulders to relieve the tension.
Their journey was now very slow and in more than one place their horses had problems picking their way.
On both sides tall pine trees rose high above them and from deep down Aragorn heard the soft rush of the river. The leaves rustled and small twigs snapped under the tread of their horses but nothing else penetrated the strange silence and Aragorn felt himself grow more and more alert the farther they went. His eyes restlessly scanned the dense woods to their right.
"This area is heavily patrolled," Hirgon commented from behind him, "we are now riding in relative safety."
Aragorn had learned years ago that there was no such thing as safety in the Wild. He wanted to trust the old ranger who had certainly more knowledge of orcs and other dangers in the Wild, but he could not shake off the uneasy feeling. When something finally came crashing through the trees, it was not a surprise. But the orc was alone and quickly killed by Baragund's spear.
They had not finished dealing with the corpse when a man with a silver star on his cloak came walking purposefully from the same direction as the orc. The ranger halted in front of Gildor and saluted. Aragorn looked at his companions. Gildor was frowning, Baragund looked surprised, but he could not read Hirgon's expression. His face was grim as he stared at Gildor.
"Ranger Hatholdir" he addressed the man, "report!"
The man swallowed nervously. "A band of orcs attacked us from the north-west. No fatal injuries. We slew all but this one. I followed his tracks as soon as we discovered them, Captain. It seems like the stupid creature made a run for it and ran straight into you in its haste."
Gildor's expression had become dark as he glared at the other man. "You know the possible consequences of an escaped orc, do you not? Especially if it is so close to one of our villages. Try and be more careful next time. Your task here is ended, go back to your patrol."
Aragorn wondered why Gildor scolded the Ranger so severely. He shook his head at his own foolishness. He should have remembered that they had no resources to strengthen their defenses. One spy returned might prove disastrous.
Hatholdir vanished the way he had come and Gildor turned to Aragorn and his companions.
"Their numbers seem to increase daily and what we thought protected is so no longer. I am only waiting for news of a ravaged village. We can do nothing but be more vigilant." He shook his head, "It is frustrating."
"What will you do when we get home, Gildor?" Hirgon asked.
"Do? Nothing. We discussed the matter before we left. If you, lieutenant, can tell me where to get the men, I would give you better defenses. A band of orcs will not change the patrols!"
Hirgon snorted and mounted his horse. Aragorn wondered what the two men had quarreled about, but kept his thoughts to himself. If Gildor did not want it addressed, he would not mention it either. Nobody made any further comments on this and they rode on in silence. Their path now went gently downhill and the ravine gradually broadened into a wide valley.
Sometime later there came a strange, unnatural birdcall and Hirgon whistled something in return. A moment Aragorn heard a rustling in the undergrowth.
"We have just passed the line of sentries." Gildor elaborated, "see, here he comes."
To their right a boy emerged from the vegetation. His black hair hung in wild, wavy strands down to his shoulders and a big grin was plastered across his face.
"Haldor." Gildor addressed the boy.
"Welcome home, father." Haldor answered, then turned huge eyes on Aragorn. "And welcome, my lord." Aragorn smiled at him, reaching down to clasp hands with the lad.
"Aragorn, this is my youngest son. Enough staring, Haldor. Now run along and inform your mother of our arrival." With that Haldor was off and Gildor leaned over to Aragorn.
"When we arrive at Carastar, the town will be in commotion and my Araneth will have everything ready for your arrival. Let us wait here for a while so she can organize a proper welcome for you."
Agreeing to the suggestion, they dismounted and let the horses graze for a while. The grass was long and still wet with last night's rain. Aragorn listened to the birds calling to each other and felt relieved to hear friendly tones. He scratched Baranor behind the ears and the stallion pushed his head into Aragorn's chest before joining the other horses who were already ripping out tufts of grass. After what had seemed a very long time, Gildor got up from the log he had been using as a seat. Pulling at the reins to get his horse to lift his head, he called for them to mount again.
Their way became gradually steeper until at last they had to follow a winding path down into the valley. Now Aragorn had a fine view over Carastar. On their side of the river he could see a fortress of stone and pastures beyond it, while there were fields on the other its other side of the river.
Aragorn could only stare. He had not expected something like this in such a place.
"Aye, breathtaking, is it not?" Gildor commented, "this and the river-street when you are coming from the Bruinen are the only ways to the town."
"I expected it to be built of wood."
"This village is an exception and we are proud of it. Before the fall of Rhudaur, all of this," he indicated the valley with a sweeping motion of his hand, "was used as a quarry. Later, they built the fortress against the invading hill-men. It was never discovered, not even in the wars with the Witch-king."
They had now descended into the valley and walked the horses on a little road that ran along the river, through the gates and right towards the centre of the village. The people they passed were clapping their hands, shouting greetings, some where even crying. As he passed, the men presented their spears and the woman threw flowers.
Their love for the Chieftain shone in their eyes, and Aragorn hoped that in time it would become love for him as a man.
They rode slowly towards the center of the settlement, Aragorn reaching down more than once to collect flowers from a little girl. Finally they crossed a spacious square and halted in front of a huge house built, like the other houses, of the red-brown stone that could be found everywhere.
In front of the house they dismounted and Gildor led Aragorn to the doorstep while Hirgon, Baragund and two other men led their horses away. A tall and regal looking woman stepped outside. A smile graced her beautiful face and her grey eyes glistened with moisture. She took his hands in hers and squeezed them.
"Welcome home, Aragorn, welcome home indeed. To have you here again lifts all our hearts. I am your aunt Araneth. Come, let us go inside and I will introduce you to the others."
She left him no time to answer and ushered him before her through the open doorway into a great hall with a very high ceiling. On the wall on the far side was a large fireplace and even though it was very warm outside, the fire was burning. Like the Hall of Fire in Imladris.
In the middle stood a table surrounded by benches. And in front of the table stood the members of his family, or at least a part of it.
Araneth presented him to Arador's widow Ellemir, an elderly yet still very impressive lady with eyes the colour of steel.
One by one, Araneth introduced Aragorn to the others. Ivorwen and Dírhael, many years younger than Ellemir, embraced him joyfully. But the look of disappointment on their faces was clearly visible. Even until now, they had hoped that Gilraen might have come with Aragorn.
His cousins Míriel and Halladan were the last to be introduced. Halladan did not smile. His face showed nothing, he did not even try to be polite. On his left temple Aragorn could see a faded bruise. He extended his right hand to clasp Halladan's, but the other man only stared at him. Angrily Aragorn withdrew his hand again and looked down. As his gaze fell on Halladan's right, he had to fight the urge to step backwards in shock: Where there should have been a hand two crippled fingers dangled. Do not be a fool, Aragorn. You will see such things often enough.
No words passed between them. They stood still for a few seconds, then the moment passed and Halladan turned on his heels, walking away.
"Now then," Ivorwen spoke into the silence that had descended after the abrupt departure, "do not take his actions to heart. He is undergoing difficult times at the moment and is not easy to handle even for those who know him well. Just leave him be."
Aragorn looked after Halladan's retreating figure. No, I will not let you be.
She laid a hand on Aragorn's shoulder, squeezed it, then continued.
"Now to other things. I give you greetings from your aunt Gilmith. She would have liked to come here, but she is unwell and must lie abed. She looks forward to a visit from you, though."
After the greetings, Araneth took Aragorn to show him his rooms.
"You must be tired after the journey and want to rest." She said.
Aragorn would have rather liked to remain in the hall and said so.
"Should I not remain here and give the people outside the chance to meet me? I do not feel the need to rest now."
Araneth, who had already taken a few steps towards the stairs, turned around to look at him. "Now is not the time for further introductions. The people have much to do yet and must not tarry. And you have to unpack your things. Haldor has gone ahead so he can assist you in unpacking your. We should not let him wait."
Aragorn considered gainsaying his aunt, but feared he would offend her. After all, he di not know all their ways.
The two traversed the great hall, ascended the stairs and walked down a long corridor. The dimly illuminated hallway seemed to run the length of the house. To the left, they passed doors that must lead to the individual rooms of the family members and on the right Aragorn could see the hall below through window-like openings.
"As soon as we heard that you would return to us, we began readying your parent's chambers for you." Araneth continued, "it has not been used since your father's death. The chamber has always been the Chieftain's, and so not even we dared to occupy it. It has been waiting for you all theses years."
They had reached the end of the corridor and Araneth opened the door to a large corner chamber. Aragorn had to blink a few times to adjust his eyes to the bright sunshine after the gloomy corridor. She led him through the outer room, apparently a study, into the sleeping chamber.
There they found Haldor standing amidst Aragorn's belongings, holding a familiar scabbard in his hands. He dropped Narsil and stammered an apology.
"I did not mean to pry, believe me, but my mother told me to help you unpack your things. I opened this chest and found the sword. Only when I drew it did I realize what it was. Please forgive me."
Aragorn picked it up and laid it on the bed. "Do not worry, no harm was done."
"But you will get your punishment later, young sir." Araneth admonished her son. "For now, you will help Aragorn with his things. I will leave you now." She turned and walked away.
Aragorn turned to his cousin. "Will your punishment be severe?"
Haldor shrugged. "I do not think so. It will likely consist of extra work in the house. Nothing I could not manage. Now, how can I help you?"
Aragorn looked around. The room was pragmatically furnished and held no personal items.
"All clothing comes in here," he indicated the large chest at the foot of the bed, "you can leave the rest to me."
He placed his pack on the bed next to Narsil, then went into the study, flipped through the books and placed his own books next to them on the shelves. Haldor was soon finished with the clothing and Aragorn let him go. He wandered around the bedchamber, looking here and there, searching his memories for something familiar, even getting on his hands and knees to see it from the perspective of a little child but he found nothing, all was strange and new. In the corner a door caught his eye and he opened it.
The door revealed a dark room and he lighted the candle on the nightstand to have a look. It was tiny and empty but for a chest similar to that in his chamber. He searched for the latch and opened the heavy lid. He could not see much in the pale candle-light except that it contained some kind of cloth. He dug in with his free hand and removed a item - a man's shirt. You were simply put aside to make room for a new Chieftain. Oh father, if I could but remember you! He brought it to his nose and sniffed, hoping it still had his father's scent, but it only held the musty smell of time. He closed the chest, but kept the shirt.
Once in the light, he looked at the shirt again. It was the colour of a dark forest and already well worn. On impulse he removed his tunic and put his father's shirt on. He stepped in front of the polished metal plate and studied his reflection. The shirt was a bit wide at the shoulders and the sleeves were too long.
He flopped on the huge bed and closed his eyes for a while, letting the bright sunlight caress his face. A strange feeling came over him and he found himself wondering how it would have been if Arathorn had not died all these years ago. He could not even begin to imagine how different his life would have been. Ada would not be Ada and his brothers mere instructors. His world would have been this and home would not be so far away. Then, he breathed in deeply and opened his eyes again.
It felt so strange to feel feel something so personal of his father's on his skin. He had spent years wondering about his true father, who was, he had been certain, a great hero and died single-handedly battling dozens of orcs . It was so real now. Even though he had wished for a real father, he did not regret anything in his life. He had conquered the hearts of many elves and for nothing in the world would he give this love away.
"I have to conquer other hearts," he told the ceiling. "Why not begin now?"
His gaze fell on the shards of Narsil and he wondered where best to place them. He did not want to lean it on a wall. It must have been here before. Finally he settled for the mantelpiece in the study.
When he had finished, Aragorn left in order to explore the house. He followed the corridor until he came to another bend. There the corridor opened to a wide light-flooded gallery. On his right were the windows of the hall, he looked down and found it empty. On his left many real windows opened to the street below. He leaned on the the sill of one of them and watched the people below him going back and forth.
He ambled down the the gallery until he reached the staircase to the hall below.
He heard the faint noise of sobbing. It seemed to come from the attic, and so Aragorn searched for the stairs that would lead him up. It took him a while until he found a little door that led upstairs. Here the ceiling was lower and he had to had to duck his head.
He followed the sounds until he reached a door. It was ajar and as he opened it wider, he could see a small form on the bed. A young woman - Aragorn now saw - curled in on herself. What has happened here?
He entered the room and knelt next to the bed. He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and she started. Apparently she had not heard him coming. The girl looked at him, fear and confusion clearly written in her reddened eyes.
"Easy, young lady," Aragorn said, extending his hand, and she shied away as if awaiting a blow. "Do not be afraid. I will not harm you. Do you know who I am?"
She shook her head slightly, sniffling once. "No, sir, I know you not."
Aragorn nodded once. "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn." At this she started, her eyes widening. "But fear me not, I pray you. What is your name? And what makes you so sad that you hide here and cry?"
"My name is Indelin, my lord, sir, and I live here," she answered, gesturing around the small chamber. Then she shook her head. "And you do not need to worry about me, it is nothing, I but miss my parents. I am newly come here and have never before left my home."
"I can understand," Aragorn said, though he was not fully convinced. Her reaction to his approach told an entirely different story. She might be homesick, but that was not the cause. He was sure that there was something she feared and Aragorn felt sadness enter his heart at the thought. "If I can do anything for you, just tell me. I want you to feel well under my roof. Though I am your lord, I will not bite." He smiled to reassure her.
Only then did it hit him what it really meant to be Lord. She is in my keeping and I am responsible for her. And for so many other people. I have the authority to help her. There is so much I can do, but so little that I know. Oh, if I were wiser.
Indelin smiled back at him, then shyly averted her face.
"Where does your family live? Surely you can visit them."
Indelin shook her head and new tears started to fall. She dashed them away with her sleeve. Aragorn sat on the bed and laid a comforting arm round her shoulders.
"No, it is not possible. I lived with my family not far north of the road. The orcs found our village and destroyed everything. Many were killed, my family amongst them. The lady Araneth, in kindness, has taken me in."
"I am sorry."
"It is not your fault, my lord. At first I was angry at the rangers, I accused them of not doing their work. But now I know that, hough they are doing all they can, it is not possible for them to be everywhere at once. I do not blame anyone for my family's death."
"It must have been a big step to realize this."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"And do you like it here?"
Indelin shrugged again and pushed herself away from him. "I am well fed and want for nothing. This is more than many can say." She said in a tone that made Aragorn realize he had gone too far. It was not a good idea to push her when she was obviously not well.
"I repeat. Is there anything I can do?"
"No, I thank you for your kindness, my lord, but there is nothing you could give me now. I will not forget it if ever there should be something."
"Nor will I," he answered, then got up. He would have liked to stay for a while, but the way she had turned away told him that she wanted him gone.
Reluctantly, he opened the door and left the room, closing it behind him. I will find out what is going on.
Instead of going back to his chamber, Aragorn descended the stairs and arrived in the hall. He wondered why nobody was there. Hearing voices raised in a song, he followed them to another room and stuck his head into it. He was in the kitchen and had found his aunt and both his grandmothers sitting at the table, preparing the food.
Aragorn knocked at the doorframe to get their attention. Ellemir turned and smiled at him, but it vanished as soon as it had come. She put her kitchen knife on the table and waved him over. She reached out and touched the shirt Aragorn was still wearing.
"For I moment I thought I was seeing your father. It was his," she said softly, "I made it for him myself so long ago. He never took care of his clothing and often enough he would come home with a ripped sleeve and hand it to me to be repaired. I know every thread and every stitch."
"Do you mind me wearing it? I could take it off if the sight distresses you."
Ellemir shook her head. "No, 'tis nothing. It was only a memory that is now gone. Do not think the women of the Dúnedain weak. Though our hearts may forever mourn him, we are not overcome by this. All his things are yours and you may do with them what you like. And this suits you much better than that elf-clothing. But forgive an old woman her many words. Is there anything you want?"
Aragorn cocked his head to the side. "I went down to see if someone was there, but found the hall empty. I heard your voices and followed them." He took a seat next to Ivorwen. "I would use the opportunity to get to know you better, I even bring two helping hands, if you have need of them,"
Araneth handed him a knife and instructed him how he had to cut the meat. The three women asked him numerous questions about him and his mother, soon making him hold up his hands and complain about their inquisitiveness. The women only laughed.
"Aunt Araneth?" he addressed her after a while.
"I was wandering through the house a bit and met a girl, Indelin, what does she do in this house?"
"Ah yes, she helps me with the cleaning of the house and the cooking. She is a nice young woman. You said she was in the house? I wonder..." Araneth trailed off.
"Aye, she is. I found her in her chamber, she was weeping."
"Well," Ellemir put in, "the poor girl, she is new here and misses her parents."
"She looked frightened when she noticed me."
Ellemir and Araneth shared a concerned look, then continued to work in silence.
Not long after, Míriel entered the kitchen, her hair braided and her face flushed.
"The men are returning for the midday-break, naneth."
"Ah, yes then let us prepare lunch for our hard workers. Would you be so good as to fetch Indelin, Míriel? She is upstairs." Araneth answered, and Míriel left.
"Where have they been?" Aragorn inquired.
"In the fields, bringing in the last of the crops. They should have been finished days ago."
It did not take long for the men to come, most of whom Aragorn did not know.
One presented himself as Beleg, the husband of Gilmith. Hirgon brought his two sons Ingold and Valacar and his wife Idril with their young daughter Eirien. Many more followed them, men, women, children, until the hall was full. It was noisy and Aragorn talked to many.
"Where is my eldest?" Gildor asked when they had all seated themselves.
Araneth looked at him, surprised. "Did he not go with you into the fields?"
"No, neither did he go with me nor have I seen him there. I know not what to make of it. But if he has no wish to come, we shall leave him. He has never been a great help in such things, anyway."
Araneth did not comment on the harsh remark and they ate in silence. Halladan did not come.
"So Aragorn," Gildor said after he had swallowed the last of his bread, "my wife tells me that you have already seen the house. Would you like to see the town?"
"Aye, I would like that," Aragorn paused, "it is a very intriguing idea to live in a disused quarry."
Gildor laughed, "Yes, it might seem so to a man newly come here, but our people have been living here for generations." He stood up then. "Come now, there is much to see and surely you want to be back before the evening meal."
The sun stood high and it had grown hot as the two of them left the house. Now, there were only a few people in the streets and those were busy doing there work. A few guards greeted them on their way out.
"Most of the people are in the fields right now. You want to see them? Then let us go."
The two took the road in the direction of the river. After a few hundred yards Gildor stopped. They had reached the pastures.
"Here begins the fertile part of the land," Gildor began, "which we use as pastures and, on the other side of the river, as fields."
They continued their way past the animals grazing there towards the fields.
"You have come at the right time for the end of the harvest, Aragorn. Almost everybody is up on his legs to help finish it in time."
"In time for what?"
"For the thanksgiving feast. We have a fixed day on which we have a celebration to honour the Valar for gifting us with the harvest. And it is a much-needed break for our people. We see too few happy days. And of course we will use it to celebrate your return to us."
They walked in silence for a few moments, leaving the pastures with the animals behind them. Finally they reached the river. Here it was broader but shallower and a bridge had been built in order to access the fields. And indeed, Aragorn saw many people working.
After a time Aragorn turned to Gildor and asked. "I have never done this before, but I would like to help them. Do you think it possible?"
The elder smiled. "But of course, Aragorn. It would gladden the hearts of all to see their lord work among them."
Evening found many people in the hall. Even Halladan was present, sitting quietly before the fire, carving something. Indelin looked as if she had completely recovered and was setting the table with Míriel's help. Some men were present, already sitting at the table and conversing while they waited for dinner to be served. The females seemed to have assembled in the kitchen.
Aragorn went over to the fire and seated himself on the floor next to Halladan, looking into the flames for a moment.
"What is it you are carving?"
Halladan gave him a dark look, but showed him the carving. The piece of wood was in the rough shape of a horse.
"It will surely be beautiful when it is finished."
"How would you know? You have never seen anything of my work."
"No, but I see it in your strokes. I know something about carving, I have been taught by my... the twin sons of Elrond."
"Good for you, I was my own teacher."
Aragorn looked at the two fingers that held the wood while the left hand was holding the knife that worked it.
"How did this happen?" he asked, pointing towards Halladan's right hand.
Halladan stared into the fire. "That is none of your business. But it was nothing heroic."
He threw the figure into the fire and walked off.
Aragorn remained for a while, watching as the horse was consumed by the flames.
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.