11. Epilogue: Homeward Bound
Despite his death, it was not easy to undo the damage that Eol had wrought in Imladris. Although Pallando had removed the spell that had trapped the elves for so many months while Eol ruled in Elrond’s city, the effects of it upon them were marked. Many were weakened beyond their ability to recover completely despite their remarkable metabolism. Eol had tapped into the core of what made the Eldar what they were. He had tapped into it and drained it for his own uses and that was not easily replaced, even if they were free of him. Some emerged from their slumber appearing older, aging in months what it should have taken centuries to achieve. They still were in possession of their immortality but a little of their youth had been stolen.
Many were so weakened after the spell had been removed that the company was forced to act as healers to the remnants of the city’s inhabitants, even though Faramir, Elladan and Elrohir needed healers themselves. It was with great relief when the Riders of the Mark appeared at the Ford of Bruinien two days after Aragorn and the company had crossed the river, as Eomer had promised. Forty riders entered the elven city and it was the first time in an age that an army of any kind had been allowed to enter Imladris. Fortunately, Aragorn had need of the Rohirrim to aid him in nursing back to health the elves who were harmed by Eol’s enchantments, not to mention his friends who had suffered greatly whilst battling both Eol and the Hunter.
The men of the Mark were skilled warriors but the battles they faced in the protection of Rohan often required their tending to injuries when the skills of a healer were unavailable to them. To this end, they were able to contribute greatly to the efforts of aiding the recovery of the elven population. It took many days for the weakened elves to regain their strength, even with Aragorn’s superior skills as a healer but he could not deny that he always welcomed the chance to preserve life instead of taking it away. The rescue of Arwen had left his hands and that of his friends bloodied despite the justness of their cause.
The elves of Imladris however, were grateful for his part in restoring their freedom from under the yoke of Eol’s terrible spell. They were even happier to have both Elladan and Elrohir returning to their father’s city and were equally pleased that despite the circumstances of her return, the Evenstar had come home. However, their gratitude was also laced with anger at the elf who had done this to them. Aragorn knew that many were disappointed that Eol had met his death at Aragorn’s hands even though there had been no way to avoid that outcome. They wanted justice and vengeance for the years Eol had stolen from them and Eol had cheated them out of it by dying.
Of the words that Eol had taunted Aragorn with at Arwen coming to him willingly, Aragorn thought little. Arwen had confessed to him how she had offered herself to Eol to save Imladris and though he would never tolerate her being placed in such a position, he understood why she did it and spoke no more of it or gave it further thought. She loved him and he had more faith in that then all the cruel words that anyone could bombard him with. She had made a choice for mortality instead of eternal life and in the face of that sacrifice, it was beyond Aragorn to believe that anything that Eol said was the truth.
Eol’s body and that of his servant was removed beyond the borders of Imladris where it was put under the fire until nothing remained but a pile of ashes. Aragorn had presided over the grisly task for he would ask no one to carry out such dark work in his place; he did not care whether or not he was the king of Gondor or a Ranger of North. With Haldir, Legolas and Gimli, they watched as the fire turned the bodies into ash without speaking a word until the task was done. There was some feeling of closure as the enemy was consumed in its fiery end but none of them felt satisfaction. Both beast and master had left scars that only time would heal. Aragorn noted Haldir’s expression as the Hunter’s body burned and saw for the first time, real tears in the march warden’s eyes.
He realized then that what Haldir denied himself, until Orophin’s death was avenged, was mourning.
The days hurtled by quickly and soon Eol’s stain upon Imladris began to fade. The Eldar had always healed faster then either men or dwarf and were soon on their feet again faster than Aragorn had given them credit. Very soon, Elrond’s realm began to bloom with life again. The Rohirrim, suitably convinced that Aragorn was no longer in danger and that their services in the elven city was no longer needed, took their leave of the king with good tidings for Eomer from Aragorn and a promise to visit Edoras when the company finally departed for Minas Tirith. Aragorn knew that Arwen was eager to return home to their son and he could not deny feeling the similar pull towards home and Eldarion.
While he had no doubt that Eowyn and his ministers were capable of safe guarding his kingdom during his absence, Aragorn knew he could not be away from Gondor for much longer. Unfortunately for him, the days when he could remain at large from the White City were no more. As a king, he needed to remain in his kingdom though in this affair, not even Gondor’s welfare could have prevented him from participating in the rescue of his queen. However, now that the task was done, he needed to return home swiftly for it would still take a good amount of time to complete the journey.
For the moment however, such thoughts remained far from Aragorn’s mind and he and Arwen wandered the paths of Imladris in the height of twilight. The moon cast its pale light upon them as they wandered hand in hand through the walks they had taken when they had first pledged themselves to each other. As they basked in the resplendent beauty of Imladris, surrounded by cascading waters of the mountains that poured into the valley surrounding them, it was easy to forget so much time had passed. The lights of the city now twinkling about them and the sweet fragrance of its wood filled the air as the light bounced off breeze borne petals of flowers that swirled about them. Surrounded by such beauty, Aragorn was reminded of how much like a dream Imladris still felt to him.
"It seems so long ago that I first saw you here and thought you were Luthien," Aragorn replied as they walked within the very woods where he had first laid his eyes upon Arwen. She had walked into his life unexpectedly, surrounded by the white stems of birches, and given him a purpose that was far greater than simply being Isildur’s heir.
"Yes," Arwen smiled as she rested her head against his shoulder, her hand in secure in his as they revisited the place she had first encountered Aragorn. She smiled remembering how he had mistaken her for Luthien, never realizing how closely her life would come to resemble the tale of those ancient lovers by her meeting with the young Dunedain. "You were singing I seem to recall."
"If it were not for Eldarion awaiting us in Minas Tirith, I would rather remain here," Aragorn confessed. "Life seemed a good deal less complicated when this was home to both of us."
"It was but how else are we to appreciate the good moments if we are not sometimes forced to endure the bad?" She met his gaze and he once again could not fault her wisdom.
He had been twenty-four years old when he met her and she had seen three millennia by then. His mother Gilraen told him that he was aiming too high by loving the daughter of Elrond but she had been in his blood from the first moment and he knew that he would love her until the day he died. Being here with her again, in the place where he had first beheld her, made Aragorn realize how fortunate he was that she loved him and that his life without her, would have been an empty receptacle.
"You were always wiser than I," he pointed out.
"I am my father’s daughter," she reminded.
"I miss him," Aragorn looked up at the stars and found himself confessing.
When his father Arathorn had died at the age of sixty, savagely cut short for a man whose life span should have been two hundred, Aragorn and his mother had been brought to Imladris to live under the protection of Elrond. Aragorn barely remembered Arathorn beyond what his mother had imparted to him but in the years to come, Aragorn would come to see Elrond as the father he was denied knowing. Even now, he missed the elven lord’s wise council and gentle humor.
"So do I," Arwen agreed and raised her head to Aragorn so that he could kiss her gently. "I think he would have like to have seen our son."
"I think he can," Aragorn said with a little smile. "Elrond seemed to have far keener sight then was normally thought possible for any being. I have no doubt wherever he is, he still watches over us."
Arwen was about to respond when she felt a familiar presence approaching. Aragorn sensed the intrusion as well but his ability to sense the approach had more to do with his skills as a Ranger than any sense of heightened awareness possessed by elves. No sooner than both of them had noticed this arrival, Elladan and Elrohir emerged through the trees. The twin brothers had been close companions to Aragorn all his life, they had been present when his father had died and he considered them family. He was not surprised that they would know about this place since they had watched the budding love between himself and Arwen since the very first.
"We are sorry to intrude upon you sister, Estel," Elrohir apologized once they faced each other. "However, we have a matter of importance to discuss with you."
Arwen had a good sense of what it was that Elrohir and Elladan had come to say. Since the crisis with Eol had passed and Aragorn had opportunity to appraise his wife of what had happened while she was a prisoner of the dark elf, Arwen had learnt about Elladan’s guilt in regards to Orophin. Elladan had always suffered things too deeply while Elrohir tended to deal with such things by confronting it, though not always with the best results. They were as different as night and day and she knew them well, that is why she knew that what happened to Imladris would have effected Elladan just as deeply as being forced to watch helplessly as Orophin was slaughtered by Eol’s beast.
"We are family Elrohir," Aragorn said warmly. "There is no intrusion. What is it you wish to discuss?"
Elrohir glanced at Elladan briefly before he answered; "we will not be leaving Imladris when you depart."
"You mean to remain here a little longer?" Aragorn ventured a guess, unsurprised by the revelation. After all, Imladris was their father’s realm; it was only natural that they should wish to remain a little longer to ensure things here had returned to normal.
"We mean to remain here permanently," Elladan replied. "We will not be returning to Eden Ardhon."
"Why?" Arwen exclaimed. "I thought you wanted to see new lands."
"We do," Elrohir replied, "and we still can, but we will do it from Imladris."
"I don’t understand," Aragorn’s brow furrowed a little as he stared at the identical twins, waiting for either one to offer an explanation. In truth, he had no right to expect any such thing of them but they were his kinsmen and he was concerned.
"Eol should not have been able to take control as he had," Elladan explained because it was mostly at his instigation that he and Elrohir were remaining. "If we had been here, perhaps it could have been avoided and all the destruction wrought by this elf may never have been."
"Elladan, you do not know that," Arwen stared at her brother, placing a hand upon his cheek in affection. "Eol was powerful indeed and he was offered the hospitality that our father taught all our people to extend to those seeking refuge in Imladris. No one could have known what darkness lay within him."
"I have seen darkness Arwen," Elladan looked at his younger sister lovingly, aware that her words were said to soothe his guilt and she would never know how much it meant to him to hear her say that but he could not be absolved so easily. "If either myself or Elrohir had been here, we might have seen through his guise but we were not and it is to our shame that we were absent when Imladris needed us most. Our father is gone but we are his sons and we will remain in Imladris for as long as it continues survives in Middle earth."
"Have you told Legolas?" Aragorn asked, knowing that his friend would miss the twins a great deal.
"Yes," Elrohir nodded. "He understood our decision though he was sad to see our loss from Eden Ardhon."
"Are you certain of this Elladan?" Arwen stared at her brother in concern. "You have worked so hard to build something in Legolas’ realm."
"We have," Elladan replied, a little smile crossed his face that was filled with the hope of possibility. "However, we can also labor here in Imladris. Those who remain here still, are not ready for the Undying Lands and neither are we. Thus while Imladris is still peopled, we will remain its lords, ruling together as father wished until we are ready to join him across the sea."
Arwen hugged Elladan and Elrohir in turn, glad that they had made a choice for their own destiny, though she would miss their frequent trips to Gondor to visit her. However, she understood their decision and was glad that they were remaining in Imladris to protect their people.
"I think father would be very proud," she answered and saw by the glimmer in both their eyes, often a reflection of contrasting views, that they were for once agreed.
And wherever he was, Arwen knew that Elrond approved as well.
It had been some years since Haldir had chanced to visit Imladris and now that the things had resumed to some measure of normalcy, he took in the sights of the city, admiring its views and its breathtaking woods. It was very different to the Golden Wood and the forest of Eryn Lasgalen, with its glorious waterfalls cascading from the mountains that framed Imladris. The city had been built on the side of a slope that overlooked the valley and from the many walkway and balconies, one could be treated to scenic views of the Valley of Imladris. Seeing the beauty of Elrond’s city made Haldir pine for Lorien and the woods he was so familiar with. It felt as if he had been away for years even though the correct estimation of time was most likely weeks and his thoughts lingered constantly on making the journey home.
During his stay in Imladris however, he had taken care to keep out of Aragorn’s and Legolas’ way. Despite knowing that the King of Gondor would keep his confidence regarding his feelings towards Melia, Haldir could not help being uncomfortable around anyone who knew his innermost emotions. Even though his relationship with Rumil and Orophin had been close as only brothers could be, he was still fiercely private. Thus while he aided as best he could with the recovery of Imladris’ inhabitants, he also kept to himself when he was not needed, content to wander the paths of the city until it was time to retire for the evening.
However, he supposed even he could not hide away for long and when Legolas finally sought him out, Haldir viewed his arrival with some measure of resignation, aware that this was one meeting he would have to endure sooner or later. Since they would soon be going their separate ways, this was a good time as any. Legolas found Haldir as he stood upon one of the bridges in the walks near Elrond’s House gazing at the distant horizon, mapping out inwardly, the route he would have to take to return to Lorien.
Haldir made no move to acknowledge the prince when Legolas stood next to him, staring into the same encroaching twilight in the distance. For a moment, neither spoke even though both were very aware of each other. Haldir, who would never let it be said that he was afraid of anything, saw no reason why he could not speak first even though the reason for Legolas’ presence was unknown to him yet. However, he would test the waters first if the Prince would not.
"Orophin never saw any of this," Haldir sighed as he swept his gaze across the expanse of the valley before them. "All his life he had remained in the Golden Wood as was expected of any March warden. As he was the youngest, it was usually Rumil or I that left the wood with our Lady or Lord and Orophin was always forced to remain behind. I remember how he said he wanted to see Imladris once before we left these shores."
"You should come to Eden Ardhon," Legolas said quietly after Haldir fell silent once more. "Come and see what he felt so worth leaving you and your brother behind."
Haldir’s shoulders sagged a little before he answered, "perhaps I will but not soon. The pain is still too fresh."
"The pain of Orophin’s death or your feelings for Melia?" Legolas asked.
Haldir turned to him in surprise and for an instant, his feelings were laid bare for Legolas to see and the Prince of Mirkwood’s suspicion was confirmed before the tough mask of indifference fell upon Haldir’s expression again.
"I did not think the Elfstone would be so untrustworthy," Haldir replied, his jaw tensing in anger.
Legolas blinked and held his shock at learning that Aragorn was privy to this because the king was the soul of discretion and Legolas doubted that Haldir would have confided in him willingly. However, Aragorn had come to learn the truth mattered little, it only mattered that Legolas knew.
"I did not hear anything from Aragorn," Legolas replied, exonerating his friend quickly. "You were the source of my understanding."
Haldir seemed disturbed by this and he turned his eyes away from Legolas, unable to face him, "and you wish what now, to gloat over your victory or your courage over me? That you could make the choice that I could not?"
"It is not a choice I made lightly Haldir," Legolas said in understanding because he knew all too well what conflicts Haldir faced by having these feelings for a mortal, even if that mortal was his Melia. "I live with this terrible weight in my heart every day, knowing that she will soon be gone. It can break the spirit knowing that what we have in this life, is all that we will ever have. When she dies, I cannot even choose to die with her because our souls do not go to the same place. Do I think you less because you would spare yourself that pain? I cannot when there are moments when I think that it might have been simpler to simply walk away when there was time and escape the tragedy that waits for me."
"But you still chose her," Haldir met his gaze. "You had the courage to make that choice. We spent but a few hours together and I know that what I feel for her is mere shadow for I was not foolish enough to bind myself to her as you did. In truth, it is only you that she has eyes for but I cannot help be a little ashamed that I could not choose her over the fear of pain."
And there it was, the heart of the matter which plagued him, not that he loved Melia but his inability to brave pain for love. He would always care for her deeply but they were never meant to be and he knew that. Even when she had passed on from this world, he would look upon her as a testament of what might have been and what he been unable to do. Haldir both admired Legolas for his courage but he also pitied him.
"My father would say you are being sensible," Legolas remarked. "I know that it was against my will that my heart was given to her and though I regret nothing, I will regret it deeply when she passes on. I think on that day, I may not be as certain as I am now of whether I made the right choice."
"It is better to feel something Prince of Mirkwood, then to feel nothing at all," Haldir answered, seeing in Legolas eyes that these were fears he told no one.
"Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps you could not make the choice because you do not feel for her as deeply as you think you do?" Legolas stared at him.
"I know my feelings," Haldir pointed out.
"I think you question the ability to make the choice for love rather than the love itself. You seemed to me preoccupied by what might have been if you had chosen her. Are you certain that it is the question that worries you more than the lady?"
Haldir did not answer because there was a grain of truth in Legolas’ words. True, Melia was engaging but no more engaging than any female he encountered in the past. His affection for her had arisen from the fact that she had chosen Legolas not him. Perhaps it was his pride that made him want her more than he should but in wanting her he had been faced with the tragedy of elven and human love and it was his inability to take a leap of faith for love that bothered him most.
"I cannot say," Haldir replied with some measure of surprise at how a straightforward question could not be so difficult.
"I think in time you will be able to," Legolas answered with a smile because he was confident that he had helped Haldir in some small way. "When you do, I hope you will come visit us in Eden Ardhon and see what Orophin helped to create."
Haldir looked at him, a newfound respect growing in his eyes for the prince as well as an understanding. "You know," Haldir said with his usual self assured smirk creeping into his face, "I always thought you to be a self righteous, meddling, sentimental aristocrat who was too good for Melia."
Legolas absorbed this with a slight nod and continued with Haldir’s commentary almost as if he were finishing the march warden’s sentence, "and I thought you were an elitist, philandering, arrogant snob who was also too good for Melia."
"Well then," Haldir turned back to the landscape bearing a wide grin that he felt most deeply, "it accounts for her taste then."
A number of days following the departure of the Rohirrim, the company left Imladris to begin the journey home. However, they left the elven city in good stead with Elladan and Elrohir taking their father’s place in its protection and rule. The twins seemed much happier following the decision, though Arwen knew that it would take some time for Elladan to recover from this entire affair with Eol, the Hunter and the loss of Orophin. She suspected that her brother would harbor his deep guilt over Orophin’s death and his perceived abandoning of Imladris for some time but there was little she or Elrohir could do to help him. However, there was reason to hope that he would purge himself of this sadness by remaining behind to help their people build a future for themselves in Middle earth until it was times for the elves to leave these shores forever.
Arwen bid Morfiniel farewell, happy to see her mother’s old friend reaffirm her oath of caring for Celebrian’s children by taking her place in Elrond’s House once again to see to the needs of its twin lords. Furthermore Arwen had made Elladan and Elrohir promise to bring Morfiniel to see her the next time they visited in Gondor. Pallando has also opted to remain in Imladris for a time, wishing to aid in the recovery of the elves from their enchantment by Eol. Though it appeared that there were no lasting effects of their abuse by the enemy, Pallando wanted to keep an eye on them for a time, as well as reacquaint himself with Imladris, which he had not seen since arriving in Middle earth with the rest of the Istari.
Elladan and Elrohir were grateful to have the presence of the Istar in Imladris and Pallando had assured Aragorn that he would be journey to Isengard in due time to look in on the acolytes at the Orthanc. Despite the declarations made by the duo that they would be remaining in Imladris indefinitely, Arwen knew her brothers and it would not be long before they would be filled with the need to travel again. Her brothers were always wanderers at heart and would continue to do so, even if their journeys would be no longer as far or lengthy as before.
Shortly after their departure from Imladris, Haldir broke company with them bound for Lorien. He would take the Old Forest Road across the Misty Mountains and crossed the Anduin to Mirkwood. The March warden seemed a little better in spirit and Aragorn suspected that this had to do with his improved relationship with Legolas. The king wondered whether or not Legolas knew how Haldir felt about Melia but since he had promised Haldir to remain silent, Aragorn had no intention of bringing it up with the prince. Nevertheless, Aragorn was pleased to see that Haldir and Legolas had reach some form of understanding for there was now genuine warmth in their relationship.
Following Haldir’s divergence from their path, the company continued home. Aragorn could not deny enjoying the return trip with Arwen at his side. It had been so long since they had gone anywhere together and on the road, the kingship and the pleasant trials of parenthood seemed very far away. Until they entered the White City again, they were simply Aragorn and Arwen, two travelers who were enjoying each other and a rare moment of freedom from duty and obligation.
After crossing the Gap of Rohan, they company paused briefly at the Glittering Caves where Gimli was more than happy to offer them the comforts of his realm as well as spending some time with his wife Lorin. The lady was more than happy to receive the King and Queen of Gondor and the company was able to experience first hand the fabled hospitality of the dwarves as their arrival was reason enough for a feast to be held in their honor.
Aragorn and Faramir who were more than accustomed to holding their own in any drinking contest, found that dwarf draughts were truly evil concoctions though at the time of imbibing, it did not seem that way. The next morning had seen Faramir and Aragorn suffering the worst excesses of the previous night and Arwen found herself playing nursemaid to Legolas when they were all reminded why elves did not drink.
Once sufficiently recovered, the company resumed their journey once more, leaving Gimli behind with his wife for a time. After what they had endured these past weeks, Aragorn could not begrudge him wishing to take some rest before returning to Minas Tirith. The company continued home, pausing for a night and a day at Edoras to thank Eomer for all his aid in sending the Rohirrim and to partake of more comfortable lodgings for before they were required to depart again. Aragorn was also glad to see that Edoras was recovering from the siege by Eol’s army of Uruk Hai. It distressed Arwen to see just how far Eol had been willing to go in order to keep her and the memory of the elf and his obsession still made Arwen shudder with fear, even though he was now dead and gone forever. Aragorn suspected that it would be quite some time before she would be able to truly rid herself of the effects of her abduction.
Seeing her son after so many weeks apart was possibly the greatest joy that Arwen had known since his birth. When they were met on the steps of the palace upon returning home to Minas Tirith, Arwen thought that she might die from happiness at seeing the cherubic face cradled in Eowyn’s arms. She swept up her son in a warm embrace and though he was too young to know her, the infant recognized the scent of her and perhaps on some level even her voice. She held Eldarion in her arms as tears filled her eyes and turned to Aragorn who had an expression of his face of similar joy. Seeing Eldarion in the arms of his mother told Aragorn he had not failed either his son or his wife, that he had fulfilled the promise he made before leaving Minas Tirith to rescue Arwen.
Around him, the rest of the company was sharing similar moments of affection with their loved ones and Aragorn was happy that the evil of Eol had not permanently harmed those present. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Haldir and Elladan whose losses though different was no less painful and Aragorn hoped that in the months to come, they would both find some measure of peace in their own way. For himself, he had was satisfied that Eol would trouble them no more and equally grateful that the elf had not harmed Arwen or dishonored her in any way. Aragorn still bore much hatred of the dark elf whose cruel actions had nearly made his beloved Undomiel sacrifice her honor for her people. For that insult alone, Aragorn would have been prepared to kill him a thousand times over.
Fortunately, he had to be satisfied with just once. It was certainly enough.
"I thought I was in dire state when you left," Eowyn remarked as her eyes moved over Faramir, following the passionate kiss they had shared upon beholding each other again. Concern seeped into her eyes as she saw that he was not left unmarked by the mission to rescue Arwen. Her own injuries had healed nicely and while her broken arm had not fully mended, she was grateful that the cast in which it was set, did not prevent her from holding him in her embrace when he was returned to her.
"Let us say that I shall be glad to return home to Ithilien. I could use the rest," Faramir replied, his arms still wrapped about her waist. It never ceased to amaze him, how wonderful it felt to be in her presence again. His wife was like a force of nature that allowed him the privilege of being in her presence. No matter how much time had passed and how deeply their love ran, Faramir would always be a little in awe of the shield maiden who had become his wife.
"I missed you terribly," Eowyn sighed, resting her head against his shoulder once again. "I feared that beast would do his worst and the thought of any harm befalling you was more than I could stand."
"It would take more than a monster from Angband to keep me from you," Faramir replied, breathing in the scent of her perfume in his lungs and realized that nothing convinced him more that he had come home than the feeling of being with her again. "Besides, I was more afraid of disappointing you by dying than I was of being killed by that creature." He added with a little smile.
"Well," she cocked a brow and her lips curled with mischief. "As long as you have your priorities in hand."
"I am glad to se you and Melia are better," he said kissing her hand gently. "You cannot know Legolas and I worried."
"I am in better stead then Melia," Eoywn replied. "Though you would not know it to look at her."
Indeed, Legolas and Melia were engaged in their own reunion and it was as passionate as the one that Faramir and Eowyn had enjoyed upon seeing each other again. The elf and his lady were engaged in a lingering kiss, showing all in their effect upon one another that they were still very much the newlyweds. Although Melia’s injuries were not as overt to the eye as Eowyn’s broken arm, her face still bore the marks of bruising and Legolas could not hold her too closely because her fractured ribs were still mending under her clothes. Legolas also noted that her movements were careful and deliberate as if she were taking care not to exert herself.
"I see Haldir kept his promise to me," Melia said happily when she pulled away from her prince’s embrace to speak. "You were kept safe and sound."
"I was quite capable of seeing to my own safety you know," Legolas pointed out a little sulkily that she should think he needed Haldir to watch his back.
"I know," Melia replied with a smirk upon her lips. "However, he is capable of vexing you in my absence and that brings order to my world. Haldir is all right though? He was not harmed?"
"The beast was not able to harm him," Legolas answered, still uncomfortable by this friendship shared by the two even though he knew that it was perfectly innocent, on her part at least.
"I meant by you," she quipped.
Legolas gave her a look, "I see our parting has not dulled your wit."
"Or your ability to fend against it," she said as sweetly before hugging him again, albeit gently because she was still feeling the pains of her injury.
"Tell me something," Legolas asked as he rubbed his cheek against her hair when they embraced again. "Am I pretty?"
"He has grown so much!" Arwen declared looking up at Aragorn, her face radiant with happiness as she held Eldarion in her arms, enjoying her reunion with her son.
Since their departure, Eowyn had enlisted the aid of Ioreth, one of the older healers in the House of Healing. The lady had recently retired her position at the famous Gondorian institution and was more than happy to occupy her time by playing nurse to the crown prince of Gondor during his mother’s abduction and his father’s quest to rescue her. For Ioreth, who had been one of the first in Gondor to know that the king had returned to them, it was an honor to serve for she had a warm place in her heart for the father as well as the son.
"He has been a delight, my queen," Ioreth added as she witnessed the happy reunion. "He gave me no trouble at all and I do think he missed you."
"Do you think so?" Arwen looked up at the old lady and then at the sweet face before her. So many things about him had changed in such a short time, his hair had thickened now to a dark shade that bore good resemblance to her own and his eyes had finally acquired its permanent color. It was to Arwen’s utmost delight that she saw Aragon’s eyes staring back at her and a little of Elrond in his features, specially in his chin and his mouth.
"A baby always misses his mother," Ioreth said knowingly, warmed by the happy scene before her. "Though from what I understand he probably did not mind the break from seeing his father, if what the household staff tells me is true about the frequency of your visits to the nursery, Sire," the lady gave Aragorn a teasing look.
"I am king, it is my duty to ensure that every part of the my kingdom is in order, including the nursery," Aragorn defended himself as he took Eldarion from Arwen and held his son up in his hands, marveling at how small the infant looked in his grasp. He lifted the child up in the air and was rewarded by an amused chuckle from Eldarion.
"He is smiling." Aragorn announced proudly.
"Aragorn stop that," Arwen warned, having that ingrown maternal instinct that was capable of recognizing the difference between a smile and nausea. "You will make him ill."
"Arwen," Aragorn stared at her, still holding Eldarion before him. "My son is stronger than that."
"But Sire," Ioreth warned. "He has just been fed…"
She never finished her sentence because Eldarion cut her off with a loud burp that was followed by the rejection of his earlier feeding - all over his father’s tunic.
"He has retched all over me!" Aragorn cried out and promptly lowered the child before he did worse.
Arwen started to laugh as Aragorn handed Eldarion to Ioreth, kissing her husband on the cheek lovingly. Aragorn was looking at the front of his shirt in distaste and wrinkling his nose at the odor it produced. "That is no way to treat the king," he mumbled, glaring at the child who stared back in complete innocence.
"But you are not his king," Arwen reminded as she looked at him with all the wisdom of the ages in her smile, "you are his father and I think you rather he know as the latter than the former."
Aragorn could not deny that nor could he deny that he enjoyed being a parent very much, even when it had such embarrassing consequences, "I do," he nodded kissing her forehead gently. "It is good to be home."
"Yes," she shook her head, "it is even better to be home with both of you."
As he gazed at his dear wife and their friends, the King of Gondor felt a wave of pleasure knowing that for now at least, everything in their world had settled back into place. His wife and child were safe and that the company surrounded him with their friendship. Aragorn thought of Eol and felt a sliver of pity for the dark elf who never knew that his defeat lay not in his the loss of his powers but being incapable of understanding that it was the love and friendship that had made his enemies strong, not their persistence.
As Aragorn basked in the sight of people around him, he smiled with pleasure knowing that because of them, he felt very strong indeed.