Many Guises and Many Names
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The Commander of Gondor: 15. A Parting Promise
The final banquet before the Rivendell delegation left Minas Tirith was breaking up. The Elves were planning a dawn start and to the men that meant that the music and feasting must end early to allow for sufficient rest. Thorongil did not mention that his experience with these three Elven lords was that they could drink and ride anyone into the ground, sing ballads all night, and leave at dawn for a three-day orc hunt without an hour of rest.
Thorongil had been distantly polite to the guests in front of the courtiers, and to Fallon, who had made one of his rare palace appearances, he seemed downright cold to the Lady Arwen. She seemed unruffled, and laughed with the charming captain. She knew Thorongil would ride with them on the morrow with an honor guard the ten miles to the Rammas. She was surprised, though, when he did not appear to bid her good night. Perhaps duty had called him away, but she was saddened, nonetheless.
Arwen was escorted by Finduilas' ladies down the corridors of the palace. She thought back to earlier in the day when she had been summoned to Finduilas' apartments. There, the Lady had apologized that she would not attend the banquet. She was taking her meals in her rooms. Her excuse was that it was near her time and she was feeling unwell, but Arwen sensed a pain and disquiet in her that had not been apparent before.
"Lady," she began as Arwen turned to leave. "Long ago in Dol Amroth, he told me of the woman he loved. I believe he said she was unattainable. You are that woman, aren't you?"
Arwen nodded. "Not really so unattainable." The lady took a deep shuddering breath as if she were terribly nervous.
"Please be kind of him. In bearing and manner, he is a strong and noble lord; in truth, far nobler I feel than any of us really know." She stopped as if searching for the right words. "But, under that, his heart…his soul…I fear he can be badly hurt. I owe him debts I cannot repay. His happiness means much to me." She looked shyly at the beautiful Elvish woman.
Arwen smiled and took her hand. Finduilas felt very comforted by her touch. "I know. Fear not, I guard his heart with all my grace. He is well loved." As Arwen turned to leave, Finduilas spoke again.
"Lady, do not wait too long. Do not wait until it is too late and you must live for ever with your regret." The woman's words, so akin to the reason she had come here, had shaken Arwen.
Now, the attending women turned down a lamp-lit passageway away from her, wishing Arwen safe journey tomorrow. Her room was just a few yards further on. She sighed. Her time with Aragorn had been too short; always it was too short. Suddenly, he was beside her. Aragorn had stepped from a doorway where he had been waiting and took her hand in his. Silently, they walked to her room and went inside. The shutting door echoed down the corridor.
Aragorn woke in the dark, and for one disoriented moment, couldn't remember who he was. The bed hangings were opulent and the sheets beneath his cheek were silk. Then he remembered and turned to reach for Arwen. She was gone. He opened his eyes and started up. The candles had burned low; it was near dawn. Arwen sat in a chair across the room, knees drawn up, wrapped in his tunic. The Evenstar, most serene of beings, was sobbing uncontrolled. She pressed his sleeve against her mouth to muffle the sound and blotting at her streaming eyes.
Aragorn got up and went to kneel before her. They had parted many times and a few tears from both were usually the payment for their time together, but this was much more. She could not catch her breath to speak and would not look at him.
"What is it, my love?" he asked tenderly. She fiercely pulled him close and he held her until she gained control.
"I had a dream---a vision of smoke and fire---of you in chains before Sauron." Aragorn knew the dream well; he had spent many nights in that environs, the heat of Orodruin on his face, the metal shackles digging into his flesh.
"Hush. 'Tis but a dream; a vision of the night that will fade with the dawn." He stroked her hair.
"No, it was more. I can no longer endure this! The danger is so close here. And at home, I am as a carrion bird, waiting for word of your death!" she said vehemently. "Come to Rivendell and I'll convince Father to care nothing about kingship. We can live quietly and ride and hunt and read and have children. And," she added, "forget about the outside world."
"It tempts me greatly, but I find I do care about kingship. Gondor needs me. I will be fine, I swear. You have my promise. I will be home by Midsummer two years hence. I swear to hold true to this as long as I am alive." He smiled and stood up. "Come, love, it's nearly time to go. I must be away and be sitting on my horse with the escort when you come down." He went to the bed and pulled on his boots. Arwen reluctantly gave back his coat.
A short while later, the Elven lords and Lady Arwen, booted, spurred and dressed for riding, came down the palace stairs with the Steward and his son. Six mounted Gondor guardsmen sat at attention with Commander Thorongil and Captain Fallon at their head. The emissaries sprang onto their horses and the troop clattered through the just awaking town, downhill to the main gates and out to the North Road at the crossroads. Elrohir and Elladan rode on either side of Thorongil, speaking low but animatedly. Fallon rode with Arwen and Legolas; the pair was silent and the Lady looked terribly sad.
It was not long before they were at the northern defense line. The sentry saluted the troop and Thorongil halted his men. The Elves dismounted and Thorongil swung down, handing Fallon his rein. They walked away from the troop. Elrohir embraced him, looked directly into his eyes and said, "You do this family proud." A quick embrace for Elladan and Thorongil turned to Arwen. In front of the Honor Guard and sentinels, he kissed her fiercely, and tossed her back up on her horse. He rested his hand on her thigh a moment, and said.
"Do not worry. Remember, by Midsummer, two years hence, no later. I will let nothing stop me."
"Legolas," he turned to the prince, gripped his forearm, and leaned close. Aragorn spoke no words to him; none were needed. Legolas nodded.
"I shall see her home safe to Imladris," he pledged.
Thorongil mounted his horse and watched them ride away. Fallon ordered the honor guard to start back to the city, then sat beside his commander, waiting. When the Elves were out of sight, Thorongil silently turned, and putting spurs to his horse, caught up to the column, taking his place at the head. Fallon, for once, respected his commander's mood and it was a silent ride back to the White City.
Thorongil rode along, deep in thought, not in this place or time. His tunic smelled of Rivendell: the mist off the falls, sweet honeyed wine, autumn woodsmoke, and her elusive perfume. He looked up to see the sunlight catch the Tower of Ecthelion, Mount Mindolluin behind, and heard the trumpets announcing their return. He hoped two uneventful years would pass by quickly. Then he saw the messenger on a lathered horse galloping from the South.
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