My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Where the Stars are Strange: 9. A Lesson on Parting
Arwen sat in the grass, back against the tree trunk, booted legs crossed under her. She was appearing to listen intently to Gilraen's discussion of the Dúnedain, but her mind wandered. The lady sat in a chair near by, seated so the sun would warm her. The silver threads in Gilraen's blond hair glistened in the sunlight. The plants in the walled garden of her cottage were brushed with drab late fall colors on this, one of the last warm days of the season.
"The Dúnedain plant no flower gardens in the North, except for herbs and vegetables…we often have to leave them unattended for weeks…" Gilraen was saying. Arwen had listened diligently most of the summer to lessons on the Dúnedain, their history, politics, and the traditions handed down from Numenor, but she had been distracted lately. Also, it seemed Gilraen had completed her important instruction for this discussion of gardening did not fit with the rest of the wisdom she shared. Arwen guessed her father and the lady had planned the extension of the lesson to fill her time.
As she watched the woman, Arwen saw Aragorn in his mother's face, the plane of her cheekbones and the slant of her eyes. She bit hard on the inside of her cheek and focused on the lady's words. If her mind strayed too much, she could lose her iron control, her world would shatter into scintillating shards, and a sob would break unbidden and unwelcome from her heart. In privacy later at the waterfall, she would sit as she did most afternoons now, knees drawn up, sobbing until the cuffs of her coat pressed against her eyes were wet. Although the others pretended it was not so, maybe for her sake, maybe for their own, she knew he was dead.
This was the pain her father had cautioned so against: this pain rarely felt by the Eldar; this pain of parting that seemed to curse her family. She had overheard her father and Gandalf about a week after her tirade at the midday meal when she had found his sword leaning so carelessly in the corner behind her father's desk. She was passing by his study and halted when she heard the note of anguish in Ada's voice.
"It's been months, Gandalf." Elrond was saying, "Three seasons have come and gone, winter is near upon us. He could have walked back from any point in Arda by now. We've had no word and we've send subtle inquiries to all points north and west. We must face that he has passed beyond us." Elrond fell silent. Gandalf was slow in answering.
"Aye, I think you are probably right. We may never know what really happened, whether he was taken by accident or evil design," Gandalf said finally. She had never heard him sound so tired. "I've searched the length and breath of Eriador, and Elladan and the Dúnedain still futilely hunt."
"My sons will hunt a long while yet; it will take time for them to accept this. I do not want to believe it yet," Elrond said. Arwen heard the crinkle of paper and Gandalf's voice again.
"Those he left in my keeping, if ever---if ever there was need."
"I'll see they are delivered," Elrond said and Arwen's heart lurched as Ada's voice broke. "M-mine, I'll open when I can."
Arwen slumped down against the wall, not caring if she was discovered. Elrohir, coming in exhausted, found her there, staring unblinking and unseeing, and led her to his rooms across the hall. She sat with her head against her brother's strong chest, sobbing out her pain until all her tears were gone, he setting aside his own grief to murmur words of comfort to her until she finally fell asleep. She awoke in her own bed the next morning, covered with Aragorn's Ranger cloak. The pain suddenly became overwhelming again and she buried herself under the cloak, inhaling his scent and trying to gain solace and a shred of her sanity.
"Arwen? Lady Arwen? Perhaps we should continue later?" Gilraen was looking at her kindly. She understood her grief. The two sat in silence for a time and Gilraen saw a tear roll unheeded down Arwen's flawless cheek. Even though the two had grown close, neither could broach Arwen's fear of hope lost. "Perhaps you'd like to ride now?" Gilraen suggested. Arwen nodded wordlessly and rose, walking toward the stables.
The gateway horns announcing an arriving visitor redirected Arwen's steps toward the western bridge. She wanted to see no one, especially as the welcoming lady of the house. The horns sounded again, this time ending in a rising note, indicating the arrival was a household member, probably Elladan returning. She could not bear to see his sorrow-filled eyes any more than she could welcome a stranger, so she quickened her pace away. The third bugle, loud and echoing off the cliffs, exasperated Arwen. Enough! Who was here? Trumpeting like that could only be for someone of importance…only her grandfather! She turned and hurried back to the stables. Her grandfather had long been her confidant; the comforting Celeborn was the only person she would welcome now.
The roan the stable hand was leading to the fountain was unfamiliar. The tack was strange: blue embroidered swans on the saddlecloth and golden embossed medallions on the horse's bridle. A prince's mount, or perhaps a messenger from a prince. A messenger with news!
Arwen ran quickly up the outside stairs to her father's study, made dizzy in her haste. Her eyes were on her feet, being careful not to misstep, so she ran directly into him.
"Your pardon, sir." She stepped back and looked up into his merry grey eyes. "Aragorn…mel-meleth nin? I thought you were dead!" Arwen blurted out. She stepped against him and felt his warmth. Her arms wrapped around his waist and she pressed her head to his chest, taking comfort in his solidness and listening to the thrumming of his heart. When she still seemed unable to move some time later, he picked her up and carried her to an armchair inside.
Erestor, awed and overjoyed himself, took the news of Aragorn's arrival to Gandalf and Elrond, and then went searching for Elrohir. They found the pair still seated in the study; her dark head resting against Aragorn's chest; he still cloaked and gloved from his arrival, sitting silently. Aragorn's eyes met his father's over Arwen's head and Elrond gently took Arwen's hand and raised her to her feet. She still did not speak.
"Go now, my dear, and collect yourself. Let us welcome Aragorn home and send him off to be refreshed. He has a story of surpassing interest to many here and I would he tell it to us all soon."
Arwen staggered to her rooms as if in a dream. He was alive! He was home! She shut the door as hot tears spilled over her cheeks as offering in thanks to the Valar. She would have gladly offered blood if they had so demanded. A sound that was half-sob, half-laugh escaped her. There was a soft knock at the door and it opened before she could wipe her tears away. Aragorn took in her state and was to her in two steps, gathering her to him again.
"I would not have you endure the grief I saw out there in your eyes for all the kingdoms in Arda or Valinor. I truly thought a message would have reached here long ago. I would not have tarried if I thought otherwise." Aragorn held her gently to him.
"Nay. I am so happy now. The rest is but a fading memory," she whispered.
He kissed her forehead and stepped back as if to leave. "I must go now. The family gathers in an hour's time in the hall so that I can tell the story of where I've been."
"Nay, do not leave me so soon." His smile melted her heart.
"Love, I smell of horse and sweat and road dirt. I am not fit to be in your presence, let alone touch you." He kissed her lips lightly with promises for later and she reluctantly let him leave.
Arwen sat in the garden with Gilraen. Autumn had lengthened it seemed in celebration of Imladris' joy, and they were blessed with a continued string of warm days. Gilraen shared the pleasure of the household in her son's return, but she always knew with a mother's foresight he would. The girl, for Gilraen saw Arwen as a girl, although she was nearly older than any tree that grew in the valley, was aglow with happiness but pensive. Finally, Gilraen asked.
"Lady, what still troubles you? I know my son's presence pleases you."
"Aye, he pleases me." Gilraen thought she detected a blush on Arwen's cheek that she chose not to question. "I endured the pain of thinking him dead. I think on Father's warning of what my life will be if I give up my grace of immortality. I don't know if I am strong enough." Gilraen knew all the things she had told Arwen about the Dúnedain paled suddenly in importance. She realized this was what the Valar had set her there to say: to speak to an immortal elf about mortal love.
"You were strong and you would have continued to be so, and if he had been dead, you would have the strength to go on. As do I," Gilraen said. She had never spoken to anyone in Rivendell of her past and her pain.
"Do you miss his father still?" Arwen touched her hand.
"Daily," the widow confessed. "Often still when I wake in the morning, I reach for him and then the grief washes over me as if fresh. And he's already been gone a lifetime to many, his memory fading into history. But, I remember him. I hold my memories most dear; those and Aragorn are what sustains me."
"How do you have the strength to continue? If Aragorn hadn't returned just then, I question whether I could have endured my grief one moment longer. Father says one day Aragorn will die whether it be in battle or taken by time, and I will be alone. I've tasted that grief and I do not like it."
"Yes, you will be without him then. But, if you deny your love now, you will not have those memories of time spent with him to sustain you. For Arwen, you can deny his love now and sail into the West, but your heart will betray you to yourself all the days of your long life into forever. And you will have nothing.
"And, my dear, in that distant time, you will have sons and daughters and friends to help you through." Gilraen was silent then spoke softly. "I believe I will be with Arathorn again." The widow smiled. "I continue here now because of my son. But when the Valar took immortality away from the Dúnedain, they gave us the ability to die when we feel our work is ended here. When I feel I can offer my son nothing else, I will find a quiet place, perhaps at home in the Angle or at Fornost, and I will pass beyond this world."
"Lady, make it not soon. You will be missed." Gilraen was surprised and touched by this immortal lady's simple confession. And she was pleased when the elf-maiden wrapped her arms around her.
"Thank you, child." She saw her son come out onto the terrace, looking for Arwen. "Now, go to my son. We are done for today." She watched Arwen walk with dignity through the garden gate but break into a run as only an elf can, through the swirling sunlit leaves to where Aragorn stood waiting on the steps. She watched them embrace. "Take what happiness that is given you." Gilraen whispered. "And fight for more in the time you have."
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