Last Hope: 1. Prologue

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1. Prologue

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2933 of the Third Age

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Shadows danced on the walls as candles blew out in the wake of figures moving hurriedly about, leaving the house lit sparsely with small lanterns. Unnoticed, a woman retreated onto the porch, ashamed at her awkwardness within her own home, trusting in darkness and solitude to hide her fearful tears. The evening was silent despite the commotion inside, and she hugged her son close, pulling her cloak to cover them both against the chill. Earlier she had been prompted to pack, and admitted that she would not know where to start, feeling as an inept girl-child, not a wife and mother— a widow and mother. But her kinsmen only had words of comfort and were quick to assist; Elrond's sons as well had much experience acting in haste with sound priority. Now they readied her home to be abandoned, and she readied herself to abandon the life she had known.

"What star?" spoke her son, pointing into the night sky.

"That is Eärendil." She found it within herself to smile. "His is a symbol of hope everlasting." Arathorn had always said so. Now she would say it in his place.

A presence was behind, and there came an amiable reply, "Eärendil's star shines brightest upon your new home, Aragorn." Gilraen turned to face one of Elrond's sons. She envied his voice that did not tremble when he spoke, and his arm that did not shake as he reached out to accept Aragorn's hand in greeting. Little fingers curled around sword-calluses, innocent as young vines over a tombstone. His smile at the child was warm and true. "So many new things you shall see, Aragorn; much more than most lads your age. Are you excited to go?"

The child nodded that he was, little to his mother's surprise. He associated 'excited' with happy occasions, when his father was expected home, when a game was to be played. He did not understand the question, though he thought to know the word. Could a child fathom exile, and would he smile at the notion? Gilraen thought not.

The Elf-man still spoke kindly as he looked at her, if a touch faster, "Lady, there are some things we would ask you to decide upon inside. Sadly there is not room for much, if we are to travel swiftly as we ought. The necessities are stowed, but choose now some personal effects about which your kinsmen are unsure."

She nodded and went inside, where she was expected to select a few artifacts of highest importance from a house already no longer a home. An elderly maid who sat at the kitchen table greeted Gilraen through her tears, and stood to share a final embrace. A greeting and a farewell, for doubtless Gilraen would not see her former nursemaid again before the woman's death. "Be brave, mistress," she said, her wizened voice breaking. "The master was a wise man, and would ask naught of you save for your own good. And worry not for us here. We'll see to things with no trouble."

Arathorn had left to 'see to things' – the last thing he had seen was the head of an arrow. But Gilraen only smiled, as best she could, and gave her thanks. Then entering the next room she found many items had been laid out on the floor. If not for a fire being lit in the hearth, she would have tripped over the clutter. Gilbarad came up beside her, breathing heavily from exertion, and his face looked drawn before the flickering light. It seemed everyone was nearing the end of their days, in the bleakness of that night. Gilraen felt relief to have already bid farewell to her parents, and that their aging faces would not watch her leave.

"Palaber can carry little more," Gilbarad said, looking regretfully at what remained. "I fear you will be parted from most of your belongings, my lady, if-"

"My husband's last wishes shall be obeyed," Gilraen interrupted. "We leave tonight, and travel with all haste."

She knew his respect for Arathorn was no less than her own, and he too wished to comply with the former Chieftain's requests. Also she knew he would prefer more be taken than only what Arathorn's horse could carry. But he would not insist. "As you say, my lady. Tell me what here is most dear to you, and Palaber will tell me what is too much for even his strong back to bear."

She directed that a book be taken from the mantelpiece, one that held Arathorn's thoughts in his own pen, and she could think of nothing else thereafter; nothing to take, nothing that mattered, nothing except her husband who would never write again. Disinterestedly she pointed to objects on the floor, but they were mere objects to her eyes, and she measured each in the years left to them, not for their sentimental worth. In the outcome of such harsh loss, quantity of time had replaced quality of life in measure of value – she would have Arathorn marred, maimed, or otherwise, if he would just return and stay a while longer. But the orc who slew him had not asked her opinion on this matter.

With her son she went outside onto the porch, seeing one of Elrond's sons from afar. Out of the barn he led her horse, Malfrey, saddled for the long ride ahead. Arathorn's former steed Palaber waited at the bottom of the stairs in dismal spirits, missing his master. From the road Artanal also neared on horseback, a shadow in the twilight; he would complete what was to be her escort to the Ford of Bruinen. Gilbarad passed by, and fixed a few last things to Palaber's load, speaking encouragingly to the sad beast – Gilraen listened without shame, taking those words to her own heart.

Night seemed ever deepening outside. Eärendil's star had passed out of sight behind clouds smothering the sky, and even the close scenery so familiar to her during the years before was strange in that hour; dark and blurry, like someone else's half-forgotten memory. Soon that memory would be her own, gradually forgotten from leagues away.

Now the second twin rode up, leading Gilbarad's horse; the Ranger nodded his thanks and mounted. With only a whistle the Elf-man leading Malfrey summoned his own steed, approaching Gilraen with brisk steps. "Lady, it is time we left," he said, grave but gentle. Side by side they walked down the stairs, and Gilraen tried without success to ascertain if this was the same twin she had spoken with moments ago. He gestured to her son. "Here, lad, let me help you sit your mother's horse. Look how pleased Malfrey is to see you!"

Aragorn's fists tightened, reluctant to be parted from his mother, but his love of riding was strong, and he was smiling and giddy as he was hefted onto Malfrey's back. The child did not recognize the travel-worn and battle-torn state of the Elf-man's attire, nor the bandage on his thigh stained black with dried blood, or the grime under his nails telling the tale of recent grave digging; but Gilraen did. In these things she understood that she was not alone of those who endure hardships to preserve the honour of one departed.

"Lady, may I help you?" One hand was held out to her, the other steadying Aragorn in the saddle.

"Yes." Gilraen mounted behind her child without difficulty or assistance. "Lead me to Rivendell, son of Elrond, so that I may fulfill a promise made long ago. Then mayhap Arathorn and I shall both rest in peace."

Few marked the departure of Arathorn's widow amid a small company in the gloom of that night, and come morning none spoke of it. Least of all did they speak of Arathorn's son, save to say that he had gone to a safer place.

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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.

Story Information

Author: AfterEver

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/08/04

Original Post: 07/28/03

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