10. Epilogue: The Changing World
When they emerged from the Blue Mountains, the mighty eagles were awaiting them as well as the horses that had borne Arwen, Eowyn and Melia throughout their journey northwards. While the eagles offered to bear the Ranger back to the house of Lord Cirdan at Mithlond, Melia had declined for she had no intention of allowing her trusted steed to make such a long journey back without her. Eowyn and Arwen felt similarly about their own horses, given to them by the Lord Celeborn but bowed to the wishes of their husbands who were not at all eager to let either woman out of their sights again. Thus Legolas offered to accompany the Ranger back to the Grey Havens despite the lady’s protestations that she was more than capable of handling herself. To ensure that both were still alive when they reached their destination, Gimli decided that it was probably best that he accompanied the two since there was only thing worse than travelling on the back of the horse and that was travelling upon the back of an eagle.
With the departure of the others, the three began their journey home with Legolas leading Gimli’s horse since it was somewhat larger than the pony he was forced to leave at the Shire. It was certainly more dignified than riding in Gandalf’s saddle pouch that was for certain. The Ranger said little as they traveled though Legolas’ reasons for this journey was inspiring Gimli’s amusement to no end despite the elf’s claims otherwise. It was clear that she was more than capable of taking care of herself and leading the horses back to Mithlond alone. However, Legolas insistence that it was a journey unsafe for a lady did not earn him her gratitude but rather her utmost consternation.
On the second night of their journey back to Mithlond, Gimli had become more than accustomed to hearing the two bicker about what thing or another. If he did not know better, he would think they were married already.
"I do not see why you insist on following me about everywhere, I have been taking care of myself quite a while before your vaunted presence in my life Prince of Mirkwood." Melia grumbled as she returned to the camp with firewood she had been gathering. For some odd reason, the elf had chosen to accompany her on this task and Melia was starting to think he did not believe her capable of doing anything for herself.
"I thought you might like the company," he remarked with just as much exasperation wondering if there was something wrong with this particular mortal that made her impossible to please.
"I am a Ranger!" She dropped the load of wood in her hands and growled. "I am accustomed to being on my own! In fact, I pride myself being able to endure being out there in the wilds alone. It is something of a job requirement."
"Fine," Legolas frowned walking towards Gimli who had been saddled with the duty of preparing the meal. "Obviously my concern was unfounded. I thought a lady was not safe travelling alone in the wilderness. It is hardly proper."
"Proper?" She glared at him, hands on her hips. If Legolas had known a little more about women, he would have seen that was a posture taken by the gender when preparing for battle. Gimli wondered if he ought to tell the elf that.
Then he came to his senses.
"I am a lady in every sense of the word, Prince of Mirkwood," Melia glowered imperiously, "I merely do not need the assistance of an elf who seems to think that without him holding their hand, every woman in Middle Earth would fall to ruin!"
"I have no intention of holding your hand, lady." Legolas retorted.
"If you do not play nice together, I shall have to put you in separate woods." Gimli quipped good-naturedly. Both of them ignored him.
"I’m going to check on Lomelindi," Melia replied sourly before storming off beyond the radiance of the campfire.
"Are you sure you do not require company?" Legolas called out after her, knowing the annoyance that would inspire but unable to help himself.
Gimli rolled his eyes in resignation, wondering how a three thousand year old elf could behave like a five year old.
Melia did not respond but Gimli was certain he heard teeth gnashing.
Legolas sniggered to himself as Gimli thrust a plate of food into the elf’s hands, shaking his head in something that was lost between of reproach and amusement.
"When I remarked that you were in sore need of female company, I had no idea that you were in this bad a state." Gimli remarked giving Legolas a look.
"Female company?" Legolas stared at him with incredulity. "You think I have feelings for that?" He gestured at the path taken by Melia.
"Obviously not," Gimli replied with a straight face. "That is why you insist of following her around like a puppy."
"I resent the implication," Legolas glared at the dwarf, who until a moment ago he thought was his friend. "The lady is resourceful to say the least but I am only keeping an eye on her as I would anyone, including you."
"Were you to keep an eye on me in that fashion Legolas, people would talk." Gimli teased.
"I am not having this discussion with you," the elf retorted turning to his meal.
"Just as matter of curiosity," Gimli asked, not about to let the subject go, at least without a few more digs at the elf’s expense. "How long has it been since you were with a woman?"
"I do not see what that has to do with anything," Legolas answered, suddenly uncomfortable.
"That long," Gimli muttered under his breath.
"She is something though isn’t she," the elf found himself admitting a moment later. His voice was soft, not at all filled with his earlier sarcasm. It was reflective and thoughtful.
Gimli cracked a little smile, "she is at that."
"Maybe I ought to see what’s keeping her," Legolas put down his place and stood up.
Gimli would have told him that was not entirely the best idea but the elf was already striding towards the horses. Instead, the dwarf lord enjoyed his meal and braced himself for the inevitable scream of exasperation that would tear through the night in a matter of seconds.
He did not have long to wait.
Someday people would speak of the grand age when elves walked the earth among men and magical creatures of wonder and the fantastic roamed the woods and the mountains. It was age of glory and of great battles, where kings were built and empires created, where fair maidens awaited their beloved return from war. It was an age that would be chronicled in the legends of time until the world itself turned no more and the stories like everything else would disappear. The Third Age had been the last age of such wonder, when the world that had been, faded into the horizon with fleets of ships sailing the straight road to lands that would never again exist in the sphere of man.
Aragorn knew that this day was coming and he had known it for a long time. However, no matter how much he had expected it, seeing the day finally arrive was a slash of pain against his heart. There was no reason for him to make the journey and with a wife who was heavily pregnant and awaiting him at home in the White City, it was not wise to leave her alone for too long. Yet this was a journey that he would have made no matter what the cost because before he had been king, he was Strider and too much of him was still Strider to forget the friends who made him what he was today.
The ship was almost fully loaded with passengers, Galadriel and Elrond had already embarked. It was almost impossible to say goodbye to Elrond and he understood why Arwen had chosen not to make the journey. At their last meeting father and daughter had said their farewells and Arwen had wept for a week after. Aragorn thought his heart would break hearing her weep but instead, he remained strong for her because she needed him to be. It was fortunate that her brothers, like Celeborn had chosen to stay in Middle Earth a little longer for it made the departure of her father not so hard to bear. However, he stood alone when he made he faced the lord of Imladris, a man who had been a friend to him since he had first arrived in Rivendell as a child. Elrond had shaped his life the way only a father could. He had taught Aragorn to cherish life, to fight for it when necessary and to accept the terrible burden of destiny no matter what the personal cost. It was difficult to face someone who had so much impact upon his life and know that they would again meet in this lifetime.
However, not even that parting was as hard as the one he was going to face now.
Gandalf the White stood at the gangplank and with him was Frodo. Frodo’s condition had not improved and had even deteriorated in recent months. When they had returned to Bag End after their quest to Nargothrond, the Ringbearer had fallen ill again and Aragorn saw for himself the extent of his sickness. Only then did he understand just how much Frodo had sacrificed by setting himself the task of destroying Sauron’s ring. As much as he hated to see the Ringbearer sailing away to the Undying Lands, he knew that if Frodo were to remain in Middle Earth, he would die far sooner than anyone who had endured what he had, should. Sometimes, to save the ones that were dearest to the heart, it was necessary to let them go.
The rest of the Fellowship had said their farewells and Aragorn arrived to see Merry hugging Frodo and wishing him well upon his journey. All fell silent at the arrival of the King.
"So Mr. Underhill," Aragorn smiled. "You’re ready to begin your journey then?"
Frodo smiled and for a moment Aragorn spied the hobbit he had been before the Ring had changed him so. "I am, Strider."
"I will miss you Frodo," Aragorn placed a gentle hand upon the halfling’s shoulder. "You showed me courage I never thought existed and took from me a burden that I cannot even begin to imagine. You gave me a choice to become more than I had ever dreamed and you will always be dear to me for that. Safe journey, Frodo Baggins. Find happiness for yourself."
Frodo blinked, trying to hide the emotion that gripped but with eyes like his, it was impossible. They were a mirror to his soul, a reflection of himself clearer than any Galadriel had in her possession. "You will be a great king Strider," Frodo swallowed, "but you will always be a better friend."
With that, the hobbit embraced him hard and parted from the king who sadness at his leaving was almost as deep but not quite as heart breaking as one other.
As Aragorn stepped aside to say goodbye to Gandalf, Frodo found himself facing the one person in this world that was harder to leave than any other. Sam stood before him, unashamed of his tears, his face etched in a mixture of acceptance but also of sorrow. They had seen things together that no other could ever understand and as a loyal friend to aid him on the quest, Frodo had found no greater than Samwise Gangee. Sam had seen him through the best and worst of times. He had been devoted before the quest, during the journey to Mordor and had helped him recover in the days after.
"Mister Frodo," Sam started to say but Frodo stilled him with his own words.
"There are no good-byes between us Sam," Frodo replied, his voice thick with emotion. "No words that can say adequately how much you mean to me. This is not goodbye Sam for I do not believe we are destined never to meet again but until that day comes, know that I carry you in my heart wherever I go."
"I know you have to go Mr. Frodo," Sam swallowed thickly, unable to hold back his tears. "But I’m still going to miss you terribly."
With that the two hobbits embraced in a parting gesture of a friendship that would bind each other’s destinies for all time.
The Fellowship of the Ring stood together one last time before Gandalf and Frodo walked across gangway into the elven ship and an age drew to a close in Middle Earth that would never come again.
He paced and ran into Legolas.
"Sorry," the king apologised blankly and resumed a little father away from Legolas who also did the same.
Faramir had contented to occupy his time with a deck of cards and realised that perhaps his mind was not on the game since he was playing himself and losing. Gimli sat patiently at the window, watching the display between king and prince. Outside, it was raining heavily. The wind lashed at the palace and the rain filled the air with a fierce pitter patter that only served to aggravate the tempers of all those present. Occasionally a bout of thunder would rumble through the air and the king would pause, curse the fact that he had been startled and resumed his pacing all over again.
This had been continuing for better part of six hours now and the entire palace was going through the time in something of a state of limbo. The anticipation in the air was so heavy that no one could think of anything else. Maids and servants spoke in whispers, soldiers at their posts glanced periodically at the section of the palace where the queen’s chambers were situated. Indeed, Gimli would not be surprised if the whole of Gondor were charged with the same anticipation that had gripped the occupants of this room.
"How long does it take?" Aragorn paused finally, unable to endure this endless waiting any further. Not even the battle of Pelennor was this hard!
"As long as it’s meant to," Gimli shrugged. Although he had never been in the position himself, dwarf men knew their place at times like this and it was as far away from the women as possible. All their presence served to do was to infuriate the women who would order them away until the event was over.
"How can you be so patient?" Faramir demanded, his own frustration expressed when he tossed the cards in the air and let them flutter around him aimlessly. So he was not the one in the center of this maelstrom but he was just as caught up by it as the rest of them. Faramir was more than aware that he could find himself in this position soon enough. Besides, the king was his friend, he could relate to Aragorn’s anxiety.
"I’m not the one whose wife is in labor," the dwarf lord grinned mischievously.
"That is it," Aragorn decided that he could not wait anymore. Hours he had waited, hours since Arwen was spirited away from him by midwives and Eowyn, he had no word from any of them except to see them scurrying out of her chambers at regular intervals. Why could he not be there for her? He was an experienced healer. "I cannot endure this torment any longer. I am going in there."
"No you’re not," Legolas grabbed his arm before Aragorn did anything he would regret. "If you go in there you will only get in their way."
"I do not care Legolas," Aragorn said promptly. "If there is any consolation to being king, it is not having to account for myself if I chose to enter my wife’s chambers at. Now unhand me." He demanded.
"Aragorn calm down," Faramir insisted, joining Legolas in trying to prevent the king from barging into the birthing chambers. "The midwives know what they’re doing. If you go in there you will only be hampering their efforts to help Arwen deliver the baby. Have patience."
"Do not tell me to have patience!" Aragorn hissed in exasperation and threw his hands up in defeat. "My wife is in there, screaming her head off as if she were being ripped apart. I would be there at her side to endure this agony."
"Yes," Legolas said slowly, "and while that is very noble and supportive of you, have you actually been around a woman in that state when she is in the process of delivering?"
"No," Aragorn stared at the elf wondering what he was getting at.
"What Legolas is trying to say Aragorn, is that she’ll likely take your head off for putting her in that agonizing position rather than be terribly happy to see you." Gimli pointed out.
The king was about to question this when suddenly a plaintive wail of a child filled the air. It was one short cry at first, sharp and piercing, then a longer one that tugged at the heart of all who heard it. The effect upon them all was immediate with wide grins and back slapping moving about the room in quick succession. When the door to the birthing chamber opened, Eowyn stepped out and the bundle she was carrying announced himself without any difficulty.
"Would you like to see your son?" Eowyn smiled radiantly.
Aragorn swallowed and stared at the babe in her arms. The newborn was all creases and pink flesh. His eyes were open but they were too new for him to see anything. Aragorn reached for his son and cradled the infant gently in his arms. Though it was impossible to tell who his son resembled more, his bow shaped mouth was definitely Arwen’s and as Aragorn looked at him, he felt as if his whole life had been in wait for this moment.
"He’s beautiful Aragorn," Eowyn commented as Faramir slipped his arm around his wife and they shared a little kiss as they watched the king regarding his son.
"Arwen?" Aragorn looked at the Lady of Ithilien.
"Is waiting for you both." Eowyn concluded before he could say anything else.
"He is beautiful," Aragorn agreed softly with Eowyn’s declaration when he stood at the doorway to Arwen’s chambers, his smile wide as he regarded his wife who looked terribly exhausted after her labors today. "Almost as beautiful as you."
Arwen turned to him and smiled wearily. There was still perspiration on her face and though she would always be radiant to him, it was clear that she had been pushed to the limits of her endurance and was in need of a good rest. Aragorn carried their son to her and rested him at the side of her bed before nestling the child in the crook of her arm. Arwen’s eyes filled with tears as she saw her babe again, the child that was born into the light with no trace of Glaurung’s evil spell or Melkor’s darkness upon his cherubic face.
"Oh Estel," she tried not to cry but the emotion of the moment made her weak and she could not help herself. "He is everything we dreamed he would be."
"Yes," Aragorn agreed and leaned over to plant a soft kiss upon her forehead. "He is you and I my love, the finest thing that we have ever done together."
"He will be the first," Arwen smiled happily, "I intend for him to have a house full of brothers and sisters."
"I do not care how many children we have Undomiel," Aragorn whispered as he held her in his arms as she held their child. "As long as I have them with you."
"And I with you," she replied before their lips met in a warm kiss.
When they parted, Aragorn stared at his son’s face and remarked, "so what will your name be young prince?"
"I was thinking Eldarion," Arwen suggested.
"Eldarion," Aragorn considered for a moment. "I like it. Eldarion Strider would be better." He gave her a mischeiviosu look.
"Aragorn!" Arwen protested. "No! Eldarion will suffice. The child is going to have a difficult time remembering all your names without having a dozen of his own."
"Alright then," the king sighed wearily before promptly adding another suggestion. "What about Bill?"
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.