The shores of Nenuial were golden under the early spring sun, lapped quietly by sapphire waves. Occasionally a gaggle of birds passed overhead, returning from their wintering in Gondor or Ithilien to settle on the spires and turrets of once-proud Annúminas. Calling and fluttering to and fro, they created an ever-increasing cacophony as their numbers swelled.
The black-cloaked rider who stood on the crest of a hill overlooking the lake and the ancient forsaken city noticed none of this. His mount snorted and stamped, troubled by the other’s strange, fearful anxiety. The Man unconsciously stroked the sable neck of his companion, muttered, “Be easy, Roheryn,” as he regarded the city with dread and indecisiveness. Now and again he gathered the reins as if to ride on, but each time apprehension stayed him. “Halbarad’s message was not hopeful,” he said softly to himself. “But if she yet lives, and I arrive just too late…” The thought decided him, and resolutely he spurred down the hill toward the city.
Annúminas had once been the glory of Arnor, but its heyday was long past. The great gates through which the horseman passed had been destroyed and never rebuilt. What was home to thousands some centuries ago now sheltered a few dozen – a remnant of the surviving Dúnedain of the North, chiefly those who were too old or ill to forge their living as Rangers, who dwelt in small houses in the centre of the abandoned city.
It was into this settlement that the black horse galloped. Its rider halted and dismounted, then waited. For a minute, there was no sign of life. Then the door of a relatively large house opened, and a single slender figure issued forth. Dark copper hair caught the sun in a blaze of flame, and piercingly green eyes widened in recognition of the dark-clad newcomer. “Aragorn?”
“Elwen. Healer.” Aragorn stepped forward, hand over heart, saluted her courteously, though his mind was clearly not in the gesture. “I had wondered if the place was truly deserted.”
“Not yet,” she replied, also preoccupied with the reason for his presence. She hesitated, then asked, “You have spoken with Halbarad?”
His knuckles whitened at his sides, but he answered evenly, “Yes. It is true, then?”
She averted her gaze. “I am sorry, Aragorn.” Then she looked up, touched his arm tentatively. “She is in no pain—”
“I would see her,” he said abruptly.
Whatever reservations Elwen might have had, she firmly set them aside. “Then come.”
She reentered the large house and led him along a corridor. All was quiet, an eerie quiet that bespoke bedside vigils and grievous mourning. Pausing at a chamber door, the girl turned to him, saying in a low voice, “I must warn you, Aragorn…she has not long left.” Mutely, the Man nodded, steeling himself as the door was softly pushed open.
The room was sparely yet tastefully decorated, and a fire burned low on the hearth, but Aragorn had eyes only for the bed which lay in a warm glow of sunlight from the window. The figure in the bed – thinner than an Elf, ethereal as a moonbeam, pale skin nearly translucent against the bedclothes – was much changed since Aragorn had seen her last. But the smile that turned to greet him belonged to but one person in the whole of Middle-earth, and a hand was lifted in the same welcome that was once extended to a small boy returning from a tramp in the forest. A breath was drawn and released on a single tender word: “Aragorn.”
His legs moved of their own accord, propelling him automatically across the floor. He took her hand, cautiously, lest he break it. So fragile did she seem, made of milky glass, who had hitherto been his fount of strength, the steadying presence that he had never known in a father. “Mother…”
“It gladdens my heart to see you, my son…one last time.” Her speech was phrased slowly, with careful, deliberate breaths interspersing the words.
Aragorn discovered that his throat would not open to allow his response. He had been unwilling – no – unable to comprehend the tidings he had heard from Halbarad of her failing health. Yet now, faced at last with the truth, stark reality seemed too much to bear.
“You look so like your father,” Gilraen added. Her lips curved gently upward, and she looked toward the window, the sunlight gilding the pallidness of her face. “I am eager to meet him again.”
A silvered tear traced its meandering way down her son’s cheek. “Will you leave me, then, Mother? Surely it cannot be your time yet.”
Her thin hand reached to his face, fingers smoothing away the tear as they were wont to do so long ago. “Weep not for me, my son.” The beloved voice was little more than a sigh, and her gaze wandered, straying aimlessly across the room. “I have known many years…very much love…I am content.”
“Mother – I – I know so little, of kingcraft and such – I cannot fulfill this duty, not alone—” For all of his seventy-six years, Aragorn sounded suddenly very like a child.
Her eyes returned to him, clear and keen once more, as she interrupted firmly, “You need no kingcraft, no pomp and pageantry, Aragorn, heir of Isildur. You are the son of Kings; that is honour and dignity and humbleness enough for any man to bear.”
For a moment she was transfigured, radiating a light and energy that seemed beyond the capacity of her weary, bedridden body. Aragorn stared at her, amazed, as her brilliance filled the room. Then it faded, and she smiled lovingly at him. “Oh, my precious son…” Her breath rasped softly in her throat; the luminous display of strength had overtaxed her. “Ónen i-Estel Edain…”
His tears fell freely as he finished, “ú-chebich estel angen,” clasping her hand in his.
Her fingers twitched, the lightest intimation of a squeeze of his hand. “Neither may Hope keep me unto himself, my love,” she reminded him gently.
“No?” he asked with near-fierce defiance. Gilraen restrained her rebuke, sighed, contented herself with a small shake of her head. “You are stubborn, Aragorn. That much you have not grown out of.”
He grimaced but did not gainsay her. After a brief silence, her lips quirked. “I suppose I ought to give you some maternal advice.”
Aragorn managed a smile in return. “To look after my horse, and protect my sword from rust?”
“Something like to that,” she replied wryly. “Though that is the advice of a master-at-arms to a soldier, not of a mother to a son.”
Her hand was lifted and held to his cheek, and he whispered, “Then advise me, dear my mother. Tell me what you think I ought to know.”
She laid a finger lightly on the tip of his nose. “Eat well…keep your clothes clean…”
He laughed. “Naneth, I am not that much of a child, am I?”
“You are my child. I hold the right to give such useless advice.” Her finger trailed to his lips. “In love you have set your aim high, but not impossibly so. Do not despair or doubt yourself, no matter what darkness you must face.” She paused, thought, then added, “And remember Elbereth.”
The words recalled to Aragorn a tempestuous midnight, a desperate, rain-drenched search for the hidden vale of Rivendell.
“Come, little one, be not afraid.” The eyes of Elladan – or perhaps Elrohir – shone at him through the wet black blanket of night as the Elf lifted the toddler to sit before his mother atop her horse. The forced gaiety was overscored by the shouts and muffled curses that pierced the storm and darkness from the escort party.
A childish piping that was nearly lost in a smash of thunder. She heard, nonetheless, and drew him tightly to her, swathing him in folds of her own cloak to keep off the sheeting rain. “Hush, my love, be still now.” Her voice was strained and hard, with none of the tearful trembling of the past several days since Elrond’s sons had arrived, bloodied and sorrowful.
A clear voice came reassuringly from beside them. “We will reach Imladris safe. Fear not, princeling—”
“Whist, Elladan!” Gilraen interrupted sharply. “Speak not of that!” She turned to glance pointedly at the Elf, who apologised quickly and softly.
A black-clothed figure brushed past Aragorn’s leg – in the dark unrecognisable as Dûrendil, one of Arathorn’s closest friends – and he shrank into his mother’s sheltering arms. “I’m frightened, Mama.”
She pressed her lips to the top of his head. “Send a prayer to the Star-kindler. She will not forget us.”
And I did, and She did not. Aragorn shook himself from his memories as Gilraen raised a curious eyebrow at his distraction. “I will remember, Mother.”
She smiled. “She will always watch you, Estel e-Ennor.” She drew breath as if to say more, but a sudden tremor tensed her slight frame, robbing her of speech momentarily.
“Mother?” Aragorn’s grip on her hand tightened, as if by that physical hold he could keep her from slipping from her body. Battle-hardened and experienced though he was, this was one loss that he could not face. “Mother!”
“Peace, my love.” It was her voice – fainter now, but still hers. Her hand was heavy in his, as if she were not strong enough to hold it up. “For a Dúnadan, this is an easy death. I am grateful…I am grateful that you were here.”
She speaks in the past…Aragorn dropped his eyes, blinking furiously in an attempt to check his tears, and concentrated very hard on chafing the cold fingers that refused to warm to his touch. He heard her sigh, whisper, “It is enough.” Then, with the sudden lilt of a smile, “Ara…”
Aragorn looked up quickly. “Mother.” But there was no response; though her countenance glowed with a joy near rapturous, her eyes were closed, and no movement disturbed the stillness of her features. “Mother…please…” Finally, childlike, as his grief broke forth, “Nana…”
Ónen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim – "I gave hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept no hope for myself." The linnod that Gilraen recites to Aragorn in Appendix A of RotK, here changed to the second person when Aragorn finishes the statement.
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