5. Beneath the Moon
Legolas stood before the Steward of Gondor to report the results of his search. The Queen and Prince Eldarion were seated on either side of the Steward's chair, both literally on the edge of their seats in their eagerness to hear what he could tell them.
"I have found the King. He is alive and well."
"And yet he did not return with you." Faramir was not questioning the Elf, but stating a fact.
"No, my Lord, he was unwilling to come back with me, but he has agreed to a meeting with the Queen on the night of the next full moon. I will escort her to the place where he is encamped high in the Ered Nimrais, northwest of Minas Tirith. There is little time to spare, my Lady. We must leave as soon as you can prepare for the journey." A light of hope was rekindled in Arwen's eyes. She was nearly to her feet, eager to go and make ready, when Faramir broke in.
"I'm afraid that is out of the question. It would be unseemly for the Queen to journey into the wilderness with you alone. Rumor of it would spread and bring dishonor upon her."
Arwen stared at Faramir in disbelief. "My Lord has summoned me. I must go to him. Surely you can understand this, Faramir."
Faramir knew he dare not voice his true fears for the Queen. It was not merely her reputation which concerned him. He was reasonably certain that nothing improper would happen between Legolas and the Queen on their journey to meet the King. But how would she react if the King refused to return? As Eowyn had been quick to remind him, abandoned women often act rashly. Mightn't she be tempted to seek solace in the arms of this Elf? And if she did, she would lose not only her husband, but her virtue and her self-respect, as well.
"Protecting your honor, as Queen Mother of Gondor is part of my responsibility."
Inwardly, Arwen fumed. Why must he insist on calling her the Queen Mother? Her husband was not dead!
"It would be different," Faramir continued, "if one of your own kinsmen could accompany you, but I cannot in good conscience send you into the wild with Legolas alone." It would be impossible for her kinsmen to escort her, as Faramir well knew. Even if her brothers left Rivendell today, they could never be here in time to take her to her husband.
"We have no time to lose. If Queen Undomiel does not meet with the King as arranged, I have little doubt that he will disappear into the wild, and even I will be unable to find him again," urged Legolas, barely concealing his exasperation.
Arwen could feel the tears of frustration welling in her eyes. She had to get to Aragorn!
"I will escort my mother." Every head turned in stunned amazement toward Eldarion. "I will chaperone her, and Legolas will guide us to the King."
Faramir was momentarily dumbfounded. Arwen smiled to herself. Her clever son had him cornered. Faramir could not reasonably claim that Eldarion was both old enough to be King of Gondor, and at the same time too young to act as his mother's escort.
"I am her kinsman, am I not?" asked the Prince.
Faramir slowly nodded.
"Then it is settled," Eldarion continued, "We will leave immediately."
"Yes, my Lord," the Steward replied, bowing to the Prince.
With that, Prince Eldarion, Legolas, and the Queen hurried away to make preparations for their journey, leaving the Steward alone with his thoughts.
Faramir was quite pleased by this turn of events. Though Eldarion's offer had caught him by surprise, the Steward couldn't help but be impressed by the boy's initiative. The young prince had recognized the need of the moment and had boldly offered himself as a solution to the problem. That was leadership. One day Eldarion would surely make a great King, and a masterful leader of Men. The Steward smiled to himself. Perhaps his watch would turn out to be even shorter than he had expected.
In the silent, grey hour before sunrise, a small company could be seen setting out from Minas Tirith. They climbed the winding road up Mt. Mindoluin, and into the wilds of the Ered Nimrais. At the head of the column, a tall figure dressed in green rode a white horse without saddle or bridle. Behind him, cloaked in silver-grey on a dapple grey horse, her form nearly disappearing into the morning mist, rode a stately woman of noble bearing. The last rider who sat astride a black horse with a white blaze on its forehead, was far shorter than the others. His blue cloak was wrapped tightly about him, and he exhaled great clouds of steam into the chill morning air. Behind him, tethered to his mount's saddle, came a fourth animal without a rider. Luggage and supplies were strapped to its back, though it was no mule or baggage pony. It was Aragorn's own horse, the chestnut brown runaway.
As he had helped Legolas to ready their horses, and to load their supplies onto the back of his father's horse, Eldarion had asked him a question. "Do you think my father will come back with us?"
"That all depends," the Elf replied enigmatically.
"Depends on what?" the boy persisted.
"On your mother."
As they wound their way through the mountains, mile after mile into the wilderness, Eldarion reflected on Legolas' answer. He looked down at the ring of Barahir, which hung by a cord about his neck because it was too big for his hand. He did not feel ready to be King. He felt like a small boy alone in a wide world. He certainly hoped his father would come home. He wanted a father far more than he wanted a kingdom.
In the weeks since his father's disappearance his emotions had run the gamut from rage to melancholy. For awhile he had been angry with his father for leaving. Then he had been angry with his mother for driving him away. Later on, his wrath had given way to loneliness, and to a poignant sorrow which was closely akin to grief.
More than anything, he had felt powerless, a helpless spectator watching his future be decided by others. Faramir had told him that he would one day be the King of Gondor and Arnor, the most powerful Man in all Middle Earth, but what good would that do him? At present, he was powerless to make the two people he loved most in all the world remember how to love each other.
Yet one thing he could do. He could bring them together. Though he knew he was really far too young and inexperienced to keep pace with two adult Elves on this journey, he was determined not to complain and to do his best not to lag behind. He would do his part to reconcile his parents by escorting his mother to the appointed meeting with his father. The rest would be up to her.
Alone, lying wrapped in his blankets on the hard, cold ground, Aragorn looked up toward the waxing moon. It hung above him like an evil omen, like a mocking face, too eager to witness his heartbreak. He had no doubt that Legolas would fulfill his threat to bring Arwen here. He would be forced to look into her beautiful eyes and bid her farewell for the last time. Aragorn dreaded this meeting far more than any battle he'd ever fought. Arwen could wound him like no enemy he'd ever faced. Only she could slay his heart.
But, Legolas was right. She deserved better treatment than he had given her. She deserved to be honored and cherished and adored. She deserved to share in the life of the Eldar, not to be held prisoner by her husband, awaiting the Doom of Men. His love for her had always been selfish.
He wanted her too much. Entranced by her beauty, he had wanted not merely to admire her but to possess her, always. He had reached out his hand to catch the Evenstar, but while he might grasp her for a season, he could not hold her forever. Freeing her to sail into the West, to be reunited with her kin and to share in the unending life of her people, was the right thing to do. It would be the best thing for Arwen, even if it cost him his life.
If he had to see her face to face, he didn't know that he could trust himself to act so selflessly. He feared he might stoop to pleading that she remain for his sake. He knew such a course would be both selfish and futile. She might return with him like a captive creature to its cage, but her heart would always yearn for freedom. She would never stop longing to go home.
The coming ordeal would test his mettle like no trial he had endured before. He knew his love for Arwen could be his undoing. In just a few nights more, the full moon would look on as his doom was decided.
The little company on horse back traveled on for many days, Arwen always urging them not to slacken their pace. As the moon waxed fuller she became more and more anxious to reach their goal. Making only brief evening stops to rest the horses and eat a little, she insisted that they continue riding by moonlight late into the night. Several times, Eldarion nearly fell asleep in the saddle.
Finally they watched the full moon rise above the hill top which sheltered Aragorn's campsite. Leaving Eldarion to tend to the horses and set up camp, Legolas led Arwen on foot to the summit and down the far side to the hollow near the stream where Aragorn was encamped.
He was waiting there to meet them. He had kept his word. Legolas raised his hand in greeting, then turned to climb back down the far side of the mountain. Alone now, Arwen made her own way down to the place where Aragorn stood waiting for her.
Aragorn watched her approach, his face impassive. Why must she do this to him? Why couldn't she just leave quietly, as he had? Why must she disturb his solitude to bid him farewell, and twist the knife in his already wounded soul?
He watched her in silence. If he spoke even a word to her he might break down. In spite of his resolve, he might weep and plead with her not to leave him. He swallowed hard and said nothing.
She walked swiftly to him, grasping for his hands, and then before he knew what was happening, she had dropped to her knees before him.
"Forgive me, my Lord. I have been haughty and willful and by my own stubbornness, I drove you away."
Aragorn looked down at her in shocked confusion. This was not what he'd expected. He raised her to her feet, but before he could say a word she went on.
"Too long I have looked backward at what I have given up for your sake. Thinking only of my own sacrifices, I have taken you and your love for granted. I thought I wanted to go home, but I see now that my home is anywhere you are.
When you disappeared, at first I was angry with you for putting me through such misery. Then I realized how much I missed you, how much your presence means to me, and at last I understood why you never wanted me to leave you alone.
Please, I don't want to waste anymore precious time in quarreling and trying to have my own way. We have only this lifetime, this brief span of years in which to love one another. I want to seize this day, and every day while life lasts, to love you with all my strength."
She studied his face in silence for a moment, mustering the courage to pose the question which haunted her. "Do you still want me?"
"Ah,Tinuviel!" Aragorn cried. Though he spoke no more words, with his lips and his hands he eloquently answered her question.
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.