6. The Homecoming
Eldarion opened his eyes to see the sun already rising above the tree tops. He was startled, thinking he'd overslept, since every other day of this journey they had been in the saddle long before this hour. Then he remembered. They had reached their destination. Now there was nothing to do but wait. He rolled out of his blankets, stiff from sleeping on the hard ground. Legolas had lit a small fire, and was stirring a pot of porridge.
"Good morning, sleepyhead," he teased. "Are you hungry?" Eldarion nodded, gratefully accepting the steaming bowl which the Elf served up for him. The two of them sat together, eating in silence, both tensed for any sign of what was to come next.
As Eldarion finished his bowl, he looked up at the hillside above them. Would his father return with them? When would they know?
The boy looked for something to occupy himself. He began inspecting his horse's hooves, picking rocks and mud out of the grooves in them with a small knife. He brushed his horse's coat from nose to tail until its black hair shone in the morning sun. He was so engrossed in this work that he noticed nothing else around him, until he heard Legolas cry out a greeting.
Turning back toward the hillside, he saw his father and mother coming down toward their camp. Their arms encircled each others' waists, and he could see from the way she was leaning against him, that there was peace between them.
"Father!" the boy exclaimed, running to the bottom of the hill. The tall man let go of his wife and scrambled quickly down the slope. He engulfed the boy with his great arms, clasping him to his chest. He clung to his son, sobs of joy shaking his body. Here was his only son, whom he had feared he might not see until he had grown to manhood, if ever again. Taking Eldarion's face in his large rough hands, he kissed his brow.
"I missed you, Father," the boy said.
"I missed you too, my Son," Aragorn answered earnestly. "I love you, Eldarion."
"I love you too, Father. Here," he said, presenting the ring of Barahir to Aragorn, "this belongs to you." Aragorn took it in his hand, and just looked at it for a long time. Was he ready to resume his role as the heir of Elendil?
Sensing his hesitation, Arwen moved to his side. "I will cleave to you, Dunadan, and turn from the Twilight," she said quietly, restating the vow which she had made to him on the day he had given her that ring. She slipped the ring of Barahir onto his finger. He kissed her hand. Willingly would he shoulder the burdens of Kingship, if she would remain his Queen.
"Shall we be on our way?" Legolas asked.
"Yes, the sooner the better," said Aragorn. Calling Eldarion to come and help him, he hastily climbed back over the hill top to collect his gear, while Legolas and Arwen packed up their camp and began saddling the horses.
Aragorn had hardly any gear to pack, and they might easily have distributed the load between all four horses. Instead Aragorn had loaded Arwen's dapple grey horse with all the supplies. After helping her to mount his horse, he had swung up behind her in the saddle, taking the reins in one hand, as he wrapped his other arm tightly about her waist. Following Legolas, and with Eldarion bringing up the rear, they began the long journey back to Minas Tirith.
Arwen leaned back against Aragorn's chest, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Estel," she said quietly, "please don't ever leave me again. I would far rather die than lose you."
"I am sorry, my love," he whispered kissing her hair. He looked wistfully about at the surrounding forest, drinking in the fresh scent of the trees. "It did feel good to be out in the wild again."
Concern furrowed Arwen's brow. "If you love me, promise me you'll never run away from home again."
He smiled and hugged her close to him. "I promise I will never run away from home again, without you. Is that good enough?"
"That will do." She smiled, but he could feel her body stiffen. There was a tension in her posture which told Aragorn she wasn't really amused. He realized with regret that he had made light of something that was too near to his lady's heart. By leaving her, he had given her reason to doubt him, and now she desperately needed his reassurance. She needed to know that she could trust him with her heart again. He sighed deeply. What a mess he had made of things.
"Arwen, can you ever forgive me for the way I wronged you?" Aragorn asked, looking down into her face. Before she could answer, he went on, "I thought only of my own pain, and I abandoned you when I ought to have pursued you. I should have fought to regain your love, and instead I turned my back on our marriage. I know my behavior was inexcusable. All I can do is beg for your forgiveness. Can you find it in your heart to pardon me?"
"Yes, my Hope, I forgive you," said Arwen, tenderly stroking his bearded cheek. "If I had been unwilling to do so, would I be here now?" she asked smiling.
"I suppose not," said Aragorn, hugging her closer.
"Life is too short for holding grudges," she said, settling back against him.
Though Aragorn could sense that he had assuaged her fears, there was still something more he needed her to know.
"Arwen, as I live, I swear I will never abandon you. Even if I should meet my doom before you, I will await you beyond the circles of this world."
"I have no doubt of it, my love," said Arwen, fondly caressing his face. "But let us not think on that now. Today we are alive, and today we have each other. Let us not allow fear of the future to steal the joy of the moment."
"I love you, Tinuviel, with all my heart."
"And I love you, Estel, more than life itself."
The little party rode on through the forest all that day. Though Legolas led them back along the same trails they had followed in coming, the return journey bore little resemblance to their preceding trip. Instead of anxious haste, they rode at a relaxed, though steady pace. Instead of strained silence there was laughter and singing. The journey was far more enjoyable, not only for Arwen, but for all of them. It was as if all that had been wrong with the world had now been made right.
They continued riding until evening, and then halted before the sun went down. Eldarion began gathering wood for a fire, as Arwen and Aragorn bestowed the baggage and provisions they would need for the night.
Meanwhile, a little way off from the main campsite, Legolas began to unsaddle and groom the horses, providing each with a nose bag full of fodder. While he was busy attending to the animals, Aragorn came to find him.
"I owe you a great debt, my friend," he said. Legolas looked up from the horse he was brushing to his friend's face.
Aragorn continued, "Thank you for hunting me down and confronting me with my own cowardice. Had you not goaded me into facing my fear, I might have lost all those whom I love the most." The Man dropped his gaze in remorse. After a moment, he looked back up at Legolas and concluded, "I don't know how to repay you."
The Elf smiled broadly, and affectionately clapped Aragorn on the shoulder.
With a merry twinkle in his eye, he asked "Isn't that what friends are for?"
In a corner of the Queen's garden, the three little princesses of Gondor sat huddled together around a huge book. Celebrian was reading them a story of the history of Gondor, of its kings and stewards, and their wars and political intrigues. It was a very grown up sort of story, which was why Celebrian had chosen it. In the Queen's absence she had assumed the role of mother hen, trying to act far too grown up for her eight years, and, on occasion, becoming insufferable bossy.
"I'm tired of this story," little Idril complained, "It's too boring!"
"It's important history. If you don't like it go play somewhere else." With that Celebrian continued to read. Idril squirmed in her seat, but she didn't interrupt again. Even being bored was better than being alone.
It had been more than a month since their father had left home, and several weeks since their mother and older brother had gone after him. Though they were surrounded by servants who took more than adequate care of them, they felt very much alone. As a result they had grown much more attached to one another, in fact they had become nearly inseparable. Gilraen would even let Idril share her bed on nights when she was crying for their parents. This was a great comfort to her little sister, but a less than ideal arrangement for her because Idril tended to steal the covers and kick her bedfellow.
The Lady Eowyn had been kind enough to take special notice of the girls. At times she even took them out for riding lessons. The first time she did so, one of the grooms had objected that Idril was too young to ride. "Nonsense!" Eowyn had exclaimed. "My sons were in the saddle as soon as they could walk."
After that she had often taken them riding, but, as the Steward's Lady, she had many responsibilities and she couldn't devote all her time to keeping the little princesses company. So they were learning to keep each other company. They needed to stick together since they were the only family they had left.
Finally, Celebrian came to the end of her tale. Seeing her opportunity, Idril jumped in, "Read the one about the star ship!"
"Star ship?" asked Celebrian disdainfully.
"O, I know the one she means," chimed in Gilraen, "Here give me the book. I'll read it to her."
Celebrian handed over the book with a look which clearly communicated that she was unimpressed by her sisters' literary tastes.
Gilraen quickly flipped through the large tome, searching for the story they wanted. At last she found the page. Showing Idril the picture, she cleared her throat and began to read the story of Earandil the Mariner. She was just warming to her tale when a shadow fell over the page. She immediately turned to ask whoever it was to step out of her light, but instead she cried out for joy, "Ada!"
In a moment, all three of his daughters had flung their arms around Aragorn in delight. Idril even climbed up onto the back of the bench and, grabbing for his neck, leaped into his arms. Soon they had wrestled the big man to the ground, and piled on top of him like a litter of puppies.
"O, Ada, we missed you so much!" said Celebrian.
"We love you, Ada, please don't ever leave us again!" said Gilraen
"Yes, we love you very much. Did you bring us anything?" asked the ever practical Idril.
Aragorn laughed, "No, I'm sorry but I didn't bring you anything. I did miss all of you, very, very much. I'm sorry I was gone so long. I love all of you."
"We love you, too!" the little girls exclaimed in chorus.
"Excuse me, my Lord," Faramir said, looking down at the King who was still buried under a pile of children.
"What is it, Faramir?" the King asked, sitting up.
"I wanted to ask if you would like us to fly the royal banner now, or to wait until morning?"
"Let's wait until tomorrow, Faramir. I will meet with you tomorrow. I will resume my authority and you can brief me on the state of the kingdom. Tonight I just want to enjoy my family."
"Very good, my Lord."
"And Faramir, Eldarion and the Queen have been telling me all about the job you've been doing guarding my kingdom and my family in my absence."
"Yes, my Lord?" Faramir was unsure what might be coming next. He had tried his best to faithfully keep watch over all that the King had entrusted to him, but he wasn't sure the Queen would see it that way.
"Excellent work, my Lord Steward! I think we shall need your assistance far more often in the future (of course, from now on, we will try to notify you before your services are required). Well done!"
Faramir bowed low, a flush of pleasure on his face, "It is an honor to serve you, my Liege." It was good to have the King back where he belonged.
Faramir turned to go and then hesitated. Was this really where his lord belonged? This fellow Ranger, this Man of the wilderness, had returned to the Tower of Guard to resume his watch, and so to bless both his family and his country. But what about the Man himself? His yearning for the wild should not always be at odds with his duty.
"My Lord," said Faramir aloud. "My kinsman, my brother," he added in his heart.
"Yes, Faramir?" the King responded.
"When you are at leisure, I would be honored if you and Prince Eldarion could come to Ithilien and go hunting with me and my sons."
The King smiled, and the same look of peaceful contentment which the Steward had seen in the Palantir spread over his face. "Thank you, Faramir. I should like that," said the King. "I should like that very much."
Idril, having decided that her father had spent enough time talking to the Steward, began climbing onto the King's shoulders.
"Get up, Ada. I want a ride!" she exclaimed, driving her heels vigorously into his chest.
"Idril!" Celebrian chided with a reproving scowl for her little sister's rudeness.
The child opened her eyes wide, looked down into Aragorn's face, and with the most adorable smile said, "Please, Ada!"
Laughing, Aragorn nodded to Faramir. "Duty calls," he said, struggling to his feet. Carrying Idril on his shoulders, he began galloping about the garden with Gilraen and Celebrian close at his heels.
Faramir made his way back to the great double doors which led from the garden to the halls within. He paused a moment with his hand on the handle, listening. It had been far too long since this garden had echoed with that wonderful sound. It was the sound of children laughing for joy.
That evening, the royal family gathered for a quiet dinner in their private quarters. Their friend Legolas was the only guest at this intimate homecoming meal. The fire on the hearth cast the room in a warm, golden glow. The food was plentiful and delicious, a welcome contrast to the rations they had eaten on the road. The wine was excellent, and after dinner, Legolas raised his goblet to propose a toast.
"To Arwen and Aragorn. May you always give each other joy, and never take each other for granted." They could certainly all drink to that.
"And to Legolas," said Aragorn, "who had the courage to tell a king what he didn't want to hear. A true and faithful friend is a priceless gift. "
Setting down her goblet after this toast, Arwen turned to Legolas. She reached for his hand saying, "Dear Legolas, how can we ever repay you for the service you have rendered to us?"
"I could ask for no greater reward, my Lady, than to see the light of the Evenstar rekindled." Legolas kissed her hand, and made a courtly bow. "And now, I must take my leave." Aragorn rose to see his friend out. "Farewell, old friend," said the Elf, putting his arm around his shoulder. With only a hint of mirth in his eyes, he said, "Remember to treat the Lady with the courtesy she deserves, or you'll have me to deal with."
"I'll keep that in mind!" said Aragorn, with a laugh.
Aragorn looked around the room at his beautiful family. His throat tightened as he thought of how close he'd come to losing them. Celebrian and Gilraen's little raven heads were beginning to nod. Even Eldarion stifled a yawn. Idril had laid her head down on her mother's lap and had fallen fast asleep. It had been a long, wonderful, emotional day, and now it was time for rest.
Arwen picked up the sleepy Idril and began carrying her to her bedchamber, but the child rubbed her eyes and said, "I want to sleep in Nana's bed."
Aragorn took the tired girl into his arms, kissed her and said, "Now, Idril, be fair. You've had your mother all to yourself for a long time now," he rested her head against his shoulder, then looking into Arwen's eyes, he added, "I need her all to myself tonight."
Idril, Gilraen, Celebrian and Eldarion in turn had all been kissed goodnight and tucked snuggly into bed. Then Aragorn and Arwen made their way, arm in arm, back to their own chamber. Here was the one place in the world where they didn't have to be King and Queen, or father and mother, but simply husband and wife. In this sanctuary they could lock the door, draw the bed-curtains and be merely lovers. Tonight, after their long separation, both of them felt a renewed appreciation for the privilege of loving and being loved, of knowing and being known, and then for the priceless comfort of falling asleep in each others arms. Could there be any two people in Middle Earth more blessed than they were?
In the shadowy stillness, as they drifted toward sleep, Aragorn said, "I was thinking of asking Faramir to come back and look after things so we can both take the children to Rivendell for a few months. What do you think?"
"It's a lovely idea, Estel," Arwen said sleepily, "but not for a long while yet. We've already been gone for some time," she nestled closer to him, "and it feels so good to be home."
Aragorn couldn't agree more.
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.