One inch Off: 1. An arrow misses

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1. An arrow misses

T. A. 2933

Gilraen heard the distinctive whinny of Halheryn approaching her home, and tried to remain composed as she rushed out.

"You are back! They would only tell me you had been sorely wounded, but that you would recover and return. Are you recovered?"

Dismounting, Arathorn son of Arador removed his hood, and turned to face his young wife. All the battle and death, all was worth it if he could come home to her, and their son. But he worried...

Gilraen could not hide her shock. Her husband's hair had been shaved, and the right side of his face was scored by a deep, ugly wound, swollen and fearsome.

"It will heal, my love. The poison was not bad. But I am marred - the healers say the swelling will depart within weeks, but the scar will remain."

Gilraen stopped short of her husband, before her mother's lessons came back - Scars are naught. A badge of courage for any of our men. But oh, what a scar! Yet Arathorn was the same man, the same heart, and just as easy to embrace if she did not look up.

The Heir of Isildur warmed to her touch. "Ah, my love, I must admit to having feared that a husband who is disfigured in addition to being old and stern would be too much for you".

"No, love, never! I will adjust.. the same heart beats within your chest, and that is what I cherish." She dared to look up, at the half-handsome, half-hideous face gazing down on her. "And I will always remind myself that you are far fairer thus than you would have been had the arrow flown an inch leftwards."

Arathorn shuddered. "Aye. I shall thank the Valar every day for the rest of my life for this scar - particularly every time I see Aragorn with living eyes. Is he about? You must prepare him, lest he be frightened of his own father!"

T. A. 2936

"It is time, my love." Arathorn said with great reluctance. All the heirs of Isildur had been fostered in Rivendell from the ages of five to twenty, for a thousand years. He remembered his own time there most fondly - Elrond had been as a kind if stern uncle, and he still counted Elladan and Elrohir as brothers. They, and later Glorfindel, Erestor, Hithriel, and others, had taught him more than he could ever have learned growing up in the Angle. Yet that did not make it any easier to let his own son go.

"It is time, Arathorn," Captain Haldor reminded him. "Delay will not make it easier." Gilraen's grandfather, he had been in the party which had escorted Arathorn to Rivendell nearly sixty years before, and well remembered his friend Arador's reluctance. 

"My brother has indicated all is in order?" the Chieftain asked.

"Yes, Halbeleg despairs of you ever accounting him more than your noisy little brother, but says all will go smoothly while we are away - more smoothly than with you here!"

Arathorn still laughed at this forty-year-old joke, begun when both were merely grandsons of Argonui. Though few would repeat it to his face, Haldor was family, and moreover had great standing in the Angle.

"Well, I suppose we had better go then."

He turned to his family. "Come. Aragorn, are you ready to see the Elves?"

"Yes, Ada!" the boy beamed. He had indeed been frightened of his father's wounds at first, but had come to accept them as natural - such were the gifts of childhood. He had been told that he would be moving to Rivendell for many years, and would perhaps see his parents only rarely, but that was imponderable for any five-year-old, even the Heir of Isildur.

But Gilraen understood all too well. She had known this day would come since before their marriage - yet it still made it no easier. So, she mounted her horse and joined the traveling party as planned. "Hand him up, please." she asked, and sat Aragorn before her in the saddle. Years later, all Aragorn would remember of this trip was his mother talking and singing softly to him, pointing out the names and forms of all the unfamiliar trees and plants. "For you will need to know them all someday, my son."

The couple did not weep until the journey to Rivendell had been completed, and they were back in the Angle, in the privacy of their own home, without their son.

T. A. 2937

"I am late, my love."

Arathorn looked up from the reports which sprawled across his desk. If Gilraen was late for something, she did not look regretful about it. Late for what? Her smile told him. "Oh!" he cried as he embraced her. "How late?"

"One month. But I have not as yet felt any sickness, as I did with Aragorn."

Arathorn frowned with concern. "I have heard second babes are often easier. My mother says that Halbeleg was far easier to carry than I was, and Lalaith found the same with her sons." Indeed, Halbarad had come into the world much more easily than Halladan, much to his marriage-sister's relief. "But is a month enough to be certain, do you think?" Arathorn had been well trained in all aspects of healing by Elrond, except midwifery, and he had paid so little heed to Hithriel's attempts at lessoning him in that art that the latter had given up.

"I am sure, husband! How could I not be?" Gil scolded gently.

Seeing his wife's beaming face, Arathorn was again reminded of how young she looked, but then, Gilraen was young, not yet thirty. He could do naught but smile at her strength. The reports were forgotten, for a little while.

And so, with the first snows, Laereth sister of Aragorn was welcomed into the world. Both parents were relieved to have a child they could keep.

T. A. 2941

Arathorn walked into the house with a scowl, throwing his pack against the wall and frightening little Laereth. Such behavior was uncharacteristic of her husband, and Gilraen started to scold him before realizing that something indeed must be amiss to trouble him so, and he could hardly display such frustration in front of his men.

"The Enemy in the East is indeed Sauron, not the King of Angmar." he spat. "The White Council has elected to drive him out, and we are to hold the mountain passes."

The Dunedain traditionally regarded Arnor as their responsibility. The eastern border of that land had always followed the spine of the Misty Mountains, but the Rangers had not fought pitched battles in the Mountains since Arassuil's day. Although the wiser among them recognized Thranduil's Silvans, the scattered Wood-men and the distant Dwarves as folk worth fighting for if need be, defending three major passes was a desperate stretch for their forces. Nearly all would have to be removed from their postings, leaving most of Eriador unguarded.

"Is there no time to recall those who serve in the South?" Gilraen asked, though she already knew the answer.

"No, and what would we do if there was? Become known for abandoning our oaths of service en masse? No, we can not call any back. We need the coin, and in the last need, the alliances."

The many young Rangers who served five-year terms in Rohan and Gondor brought back much of the Angle's income upon returning home. No few married and did not return, but these also helped. Although they theoretically served in guise, their origin could hardly be hid from the lords and captains of those realms as they rose in service, and secret agreements existed. Rohan, in theory, was promised to ride to the North if the need was dire, but Arathorn doubted the world of Fengel. Turgon in Gondor could be depended on to send companies of his own Rangers, but the journey was so long that they would likely arrive too late, if the defence of the passes was breached. And this entire arrangement would be destroyed forever if the Lost, as they were called in the South, suddenly deserted their posts.

"No, love, we must make do with those we have here."

So, the Dunedain left Eriador unguarded, and sent all but the oldest and youngest Rangers to the three passes. Remarkably, the feared rush out of Dol Goldur never game. Arathorn held Caradhras without difficulty, encountering and dispatching only a few Orcish stragglers who had escaped the vigilance of Lorien. Haldor, holding the High Pass, came under attack from the Orcs who dwelt there, but they were not of Sauron's forces, and had seemed poorly led, so losses had been light.

Halbeleg's forces, who held the Northern pass nearest Gundabad, returned having met nothing but eerie silence and the usual dull-yet-tense watch.  But upon returning to the Angle, Arathorn's brother and Steward reported, "Countless Orcs had passed north before we had arrived, going towards Gundabad - I would say thousands. I cannot but conclude they are massing there for a major assault. But will it be eastwards or westwards?"

So, the Northern and High passes had to be strongly held for two more months, in foul weather, before the miraculous news that Smaug and most of the Orcs of the Misty Mountains had been destroyed. But before the so-named Battle of Five Armies, the company holding the Northern pass was attacked by a large force of Orcs coming unexpectedly out of the west, attempting to win towards Gundabad.  Though the Orc-host was destroyed and the pass held, the battle was disastrous.  Most of the Rangers fell, including Halbeleg, son of Arador.

Late in the following year, a most unusual Council was held. Mithrandir was not an infrequent visitor to the Angle, nor were the sons of Elrond, but the Lord of Imladris himself and his lieutenants Glorfindel and Erestor had not been seen there in over a hundred years.

Arathorn, as host, addressed the Council.

"My friends, last year we lost some fifteen percent of our men in one battle, against only a part of the Orc-hordes of the North. Although I am assured of Thranduil's gratitude and that the greater battle further to the East might have been lost, to the ruin of all, had we not been willing to hold the passes, I must say that we cannot do it again. Not for many years, and perhaps not ever. We are too few now to ride to massed battles. With stealth must we now hunt our enemies, and risk fighting in large groups only in the last need, to defend our own small land, the Angle itself."

The Elves nodded sadly. They knew all too well the agony of dwindling numbers. Elrond endorsed the new strategy as wise. Erestor offered to send several of Hithriel's assistants so that fewer babes would be lost and more would heal from wounds; the counsellor estimated the strength of the Dunedain could be restored in one generation, and be significantly increased in two, if there were no more heavy fighting. If there were no more heavy fighting!

Glorfindel delicately suggested that all endeavor to have more children, even if it meant reducing patrols. "We can fill the gaps, for a time. A number of our soldiers are planning to sail shortly, but I can persuade them to remain for a few twelve-years longer, at least. Inglor, Gildor and their followers will aid you."

"Have more children, to fall in battle like their fathers, or dwell in widowhood?" Arathorn wondered aloud. "You suggest we do what you are unwilling to do yourselves."

Gandalf stirred, but Arathorn saw only sadness on the face of the Elves.

"I am sorry, my friends. Well I know that things are not the same for you. It has been a hard year. I am honored to accept your aid."

While arrangements were made by Arathorn's and Elrond's counsellors, Chieftain, Lord and Wizard held a further private meeting. "What do you see, Uncle?" the Man asked.

"Little to no hope for us. More for you, though I know not why I feel it." Elrond responded.

Gandalf interrupted. "Sauron but feigned resistance, and led a well-prepared retreat. The battles in the North deprived him of many allies, but the greater part of his forces simply moved South, beyond our grasp."

"South, and perhaps also East?" Arathorn responded with a shudder.

Gandalf looked almost ashamed. "Aye - to Mordor, there can be no doubt. Gondor's troubles will increase, and soon. We delayed too long." The Wizard looked as if he were going to say something more, but thought better of it.

Arathorn frowned. "If you think this is good news to me, you are mistaken. Even if the Men of Gondor and Rohan were not our brothers, many of our young men serve in their ranks, as you well know, and it does little good to us to have the greater danger fall on them rather than on the more experienced men here."

"I did not say it was good news to anyone.  But what more can we do? I can think of no better plan than for the Dunedain to change tactics as you described, for a time, and accept the aid of Imladris as you have done. For now. But I fear that before your son is old, Sauron will make war on all free lands, and the Dunedain will have no choice but to ride to open battle."

"Let us hope, then, that we are granted enough time to recover our strength." the Chieftain replied, yet his scarred face belied his words; fierce determination, but little hope.

T. A. 2946

It had been a quiet five years in the North. The Dunedain remained few, but were beginning to recover from the hard generation between the Fell Winter and the Battles of the Passes. By custom, Arathorn and Gilraen visited their son just two weeks out of the year, but that was enough to see the boy promised to be a great Ranger and Chieftain when his time came. Laereth likewise was fair and a joy to all who knew her. So, in the summer, the couple welcomed their second son, Adrador, with high heart. Aragorn already was showing gifts as a healer, so at Hithriel's suggestion, the boy was allowed to visit the Angle "to gain experience with infants", but more so to bond with his new brother. In this time Arathorn's son met many of the Rangers, and befriended his cousins Halladan and Halbarad in particular. Halladan, ten years older, was a good role model, while Halbarad was a peer. The different natures of these two friendships made a lasting impression on the boy.

Fifteen year olds were not allowed to patrol, so Gilraen instead used the time to show her son how the women of the Dunedain performed their duties, and what and how important those duties were. Lack of understanding of such duties had hampered the performance of many Chieftains (to say nothing of damaging the lives of many ordinary families), and the Lady was determined that her son appreciate these matters.

The boy learned well, and even found some spare time to learn many of the songs and dances of his people. Gilraen saw that her son did not escape the notice of the young maidens, and thanked the stars that Elrond had drilled into him the tradition that a young Ranger not allow himself to become close to a woman until after completing many years of service.

All too soon, the allotted time passed, and the brothers Elrondion came and took Aragorn back to Imladris, but none wept at the parting, for the future looked bright.

T. A. 2951

"Maybe it has been appointed so, that by my loss the kingship of Men may be restored. Therefore, though I love you, I say to you: Arwen Undómiel shall not diminish her life's grace for less cause. She shall not be the bride of any Man less than the King of both Gondor and Arnor."

Aragorn was astonished. A simple 'no' would have been understandable, but the ill will emanating from his mentor was bewildering. It seemed, for all that he had been raised and loved by Elrond and his household, he would never be accepted as one of them. The gap between Elves and Men was too great. Even that he could understand, but to use Arwen in this way? This was not the Elrond he knew. Anger rose within the young Man.

"I might reply 'For little price, do Elven-kings sell their daughters.' and boldly promise to to win the Kingship of both realms. I had not thought you would repeat Thingol's maneuver. At least Thingol sent Beren on a mission to assail Morgoth - but you would send me to overthrow my own kin - and yours!"

Arathorn's son took a deep breath to calm himself before continuing. "Had you merely said 'Arnor', it would have been reasonable. To renew the kingdom of Arnor is my wildest dream. If making Eriador safe for my people and yours is not enough for you, then you shall sit here disappointed. For even if we somehow, beyond all hope, defeat the Enemy, no matter how great a role I play, I am but Isildur's heir. The House of Hurin has led Gondor well and faithfully, and the claim of my line to the Kingship in the South was rejected a thousand years ago. Why would they change? No, I will not ignite another Kinstrife, even to win the hand of Arwen Undomiel!"

He paused another moment, trying to restrain his words, but failed once more. "In any case, why do you say this to me while my father leads our people? Unless you speak of something that might happen fifty or more years from now, or foresee some other ill fate, he would be the one to win the Kingship, not I. I do not want to hear anything more from you!"

Elrond merely fixed his gaze on the youth.  Though the main lesson of his own long life seemed to be 'Do not speak or act rashly,' he was again reminded it was a lesson few could either fully learn or teach, including, regretfully, himself.

So, Aragorn turned his back on Imladris. But not all in Imladris would turn their backs on him. As he rode out of the valley in anger, his foster brothers caught up to him.

"Estel, really! Why did you have to say those things? Had you born Adar's anger with grace, perhaps he might have changed his heart in time, but now he is wroth, and will not soon forgive you." Elrohir scowled at the hotheaded youngster.

Elladan, however, snickered. "Elu Thingol indeed! I do not know why Ada prefers to forget how much of the blood of Men flows through his own veins. But I agree, your angering him was pointless.  You lost our father's good-will for nothing."

Aragorn could not hide his grief - his life's dream destroyed and the one he had loved as a second father lost in one day. "But why, why could he not have simply said 'Never.'? To name such a price - I thought, in my anger, that he desired my death. But I cannot believe that!"

Elrohir sighed. "Adar did not think the price impossible. It may seem insensible now, but who knows what will happen in the South over your lifetime? At any rate, we are as angry with Arwen as we are with you and Adar.  Arwen should have spoken more plainly. She does not desire you, Estel! Is that not answer enough?"

"Then I will spend my life in bitterness."

Now Elrohir chuckled, "If Daeradar were here, he would now say that you are repeating Daeron's folly, even as Ada repeated Thingol's. Oh, it seems that way now, and you will feel the pain of this always, but your heart will recover in time, if you let it. Of course it will! That is another of the Gifts of Men, and in our opinion the greater. One day, King Aragorn of Arnor will laugh with his grandchildren as he tells them the story of how he once loved an Elf-maiden, and called her Tinuviel! But then, some years later, he met their grandmother, his own Luthien. That is what I forsee - or at least hope to see."

Aragorn tried to smile at this, but failed. He felt a fool, and wondered how many of his forefathers had received this same compassionate lecture from the twins. This, he did not really want to know. "Blast it all!"

"Much my opinion, Estel. Blast it all!" Elladan replied enthusiastically. "But in the meantime, you must take up your station as a Ranger, son of the Chieftain. We will ride with you and see that you return to your people in one piece."

As they rode, Erestor and Glorfindel caught up to them. Glorfindel pretended nothing was amiss - he knew that nothing but time could heal this wound, and nothing he could say would be of comfort - indeed the circumstances reminded him all too sharply of Idril. That wound had healed, though it had taken a fiery death and a fair bit of time in Mandos to do so.

Erestor held Aragorn in a warrior's embrace for a moment, saying only "Now you know sorrow and regret. Unwelcome companions, and there will be more to come, but we must all bear up." These words, coming from one who had lost both of his children, reminded Aragorn that there were worse fates one could suffer.

Erestor looked in his eyes and nodded sadly before returning to his favorite sport, Peredhil-baiting. "But we did not come to give you cold comfort. We have some business to discuss with your father, and can hardly leave it all to these two youngsters!"

"And you, Aragorn, I advise not to mention any of what transpired today to your father, at least not for many years, unless he asks you directly. You must live fully as a Man now, and if it is known that the Chieftain's son loves an Elf, it will undermine both him and you."

Aragorn could only nod assent.

The return of a Chieftain's Heir at the end of his fostering was a rare occasion for some pomp and ceremony in the Angle. Arathorn presented the Sword that was Broken and the Ring of Barahir to his son, and Aragorn gave them back to his father upon swearing his oath of fealty. Erestor, Glorfindel, and the twins joined Aragorn's extended family in witnessing the ceremony and in the feast held after its completion.

It was one of the happiest days of Arathorn's life.

The next day, the Chieftain held council with the Elves and his own senior captains and advisers. Now officially an adult, Aragorn was invited as well, though expected only to listen and learn.

"Scouts report that Sauron is rebuilding Barad-Dur." Erestor reported grimly.

Arathorn did not bother to ask how this was known; his old tutor had strange sources.

In any case, he already knew it. A Ranger, Galadan, grandson of Haldor and cousin of Gilraen, had dared climb the fences of the Ash Mountains after completion of his service in Gondor, and then returned to the Angle via an extreme easterly path that took him through Rhun and Rhovanion.

"I have heard the same; activity in Mordor was already increasing two years ago." Arathorn responded. "And the timing is ill for both Gondor and Rohan. Turgon's health is failing, as is Fengel's. Ecthelion is not the man his father is, and Thengel, well..." It was not even clear that Thengel would take up the Kingship from his despised father - some reports suggested that having married a great Lady of Gondor, he would remain there, perhaps becoming one of its princes.

"But, as always, the question is, what can we do?" the Chieftain asked. "My heart tells me that we should declare ourselves and fight openly alongside our Southern brothers once more, or at least open lines of communication so that we may do what we can to aid them directly, here. It would give them heart to know the North is more than just the direction from which Sauron returned to assail them."

"But though these lands have been quiet for some years, we are just beginning to recover our strength. We are too few to turn the tide if Sauron mounts a major attack."

Arathorn turned to Glorfindel. "I appreciate your aid these past ten years. Inglor and Gildor and their men have been wonderful. Inglor has taught us much of the craft used in the defense of Nargothrond. I had not thought we had much to learn about stealth, but it seems we did."  And why in the world were these lessons not offered centuries ago?  Perhaps they were.

"Yet for the life of me, I cannot think how we can use this to strike a major blow against our Enemy, other than sending more men to serve Gondor, as Rangers, infiltrating the territory Sauron has won, striking behind his lines. Yet Turgon already has many who do such deeds. We can pass on what we have learned and help increase their effectiveness, over time, but have you any ideas for actions we could take here in the North?"

Elrohir answered "Dol Goldur is still a very evil place, but that should be a matter for Elves, not Men. We try to persuade Daerada to attack it - and Daernaneth also has power which could be well used against it, but ... it is complicated." And hard for Imladris to persuade other realms to do what it is unwilling to do itself, the unspoken thought hung heavy in the air.

Aragorn spoke up. "What of Thranduil's folk? You have said many times they are numerous and brave. Can we not all make alliance?"

Glorfindel and Erestor shook their heads simultaneously. The golden one spoke for both. "They are numerous, and indeed brave, but assaulting a fortress is ... not their style. It is not the same as destroying an enemy in the woods. Yet we of the Eldar who are equipped for such assaults are also few in number. I think assaulting Dol Goldur over-ambitious for now, Estel."

Elrohir's eyes lit up. "Angmar! Do you know what passes in Angmar? None of us have been in that land for several lives of men. It is a place where stealth and courage could be of great value - if only to discover what if anything the Enemy is doing there."

Arathorn's face was grim. Angmar. Yet he had asked, and Elrohir's idea was sound. That Troll-infested realm had not threatened lands outside its borders for years, yet it could easily do so again, if its inhabitants came again under the will of Sauron.

"I think you have given us a mission." the Chieftain replied. "It will be done. If Dol Goldur is too great a target for the moment, might Imladris aid us in Angmar? I know the four of you have been there, but I have not, and very few of my men have ever done more than approach its borders."

All four Elves immediately nodded. "Pending Lord Elrond's approval, of course, but he will approve this." Glorfindel added hastily. "Not many of us need go. I myself have unfinished business with the former Lord of that land. Perhaps he is there; if so I hope to meet him."

And so, the Angmar patrols were set up, to which typically were assigned about one hundred of the most experienced Rangers, led by Arathorn himself, and twenty or so soldiers of Imladris.

Aragorn was ordered to follow something close to the usual path of young Rangers, serving from the lands about the Angle west to the Bree-land and the surroundings of the Shire. So, though he had come home, he was most often many leagues from either parent. Gilraen was glad for the presence of Laereth and Adrador, without whom she could not have borne this arrangement.

To be continued..

A/N: The famous Elrond quote regarding Arwen's bride-price is from 'The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen' in the LOTR Appendices. In the canon, however, it was delivered in 2980 rather than 2951; the younger Aragorn's less temperate response partly sets up this AU (the other factor being Arathorn's survival).  'The Lost' and the idea of Northern Dunedaïn serving in the South follows Anglachel's 'Hands of the King' and other fanon works, but I take it a bit further.  I realize that Aragorn's questioning of his right to be King of Gondor is deeply anticanonical; here it is attributable, as we shall see, to the influence of his father.

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.

Story Information

Author: maeglin

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 02/12/10

Original Post: 09/20/09

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WARNING! Comments may contain spoilers for a chapter or story. Read with caution.

One inch Off

Aiwendiel - 31 Jul 11 - 8:42 AM

Ch. 1: An arrow misses

Well, well! Found this WIP and am very intrigued and wondering if any updates are planned? This is a terrific idea for an AU tale and is richly developed so far. Inquiring fans would like more!

One inch Off

maeglin - 01 Aug 11 - 7:21 PM

Ch. 1: An arrow misses

Thanks, again!  Alas, it'll probably be a while - have lots of ideas but they're still dischordant.

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