Below the Skin: 2. Two

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2. Two


When I woke in the morning he was dressing in the half-light. In the play of shadows I caught a glimpse of his ribby back, and the carved line of his shoulders, and suddenly I desired so much to reach for him, just to touch him, that my throat ached and I had to bite back a gasp of pain. How much I had missed him while he was away. How much I missed him, now that he was here.

Since our marriage we had dressed in each other's presence, forsaking what Gondor considered propriety, or what maids may whisper about me to old women in the streets. I had had my husband beside me; I had neither needed nor wanted a handmaiden to help me dress. Indeed, I had noted after our marriage that his skill in assistance with ladies' garments was greater than I expected, but this was not a topic I had pursued with him. Even in those silver hazy mornings when we had lain together, speaking to hear the other speak, it had seemed an impolite subject to pursue, and I realised in a quiet way how different his life had been from mine. I have never laid claim to wisdom, but well I understood from the beginning that in marriage, some words should go unsaid.

But it had been so long now since I had touched or been touched. Touch, I think, can stave off madness. It comforts in a way that cannot be spoken in words--watch an animal or a child shiver in pain, and lean into your steady hand. The warmth of another soul burns pain in a bright gold instant, and turns it to ash.

I pulled up the blanket, high enough to brush my cheek, and turned that I need not look on him. I heard him pause in his movements just for a moment, as though he would say something. Then I heard his footsteps as he left, and I remained and listened to the sound of my own held breath.

'What age were you in the War, Calimo?'

I was sitting in the gardens, my back leaned against a tree, a thick blanket spread on the damp ground beneath me. I worked on my sewing with half my attention, the rest divided between Eldarion climbing trees, Calimo tending the garden and the pleasure of the broken-glass sunlight.

Calimo ceased in his work and straightened to look at me, leaning on the walking-staff he used in sharp weather or during tiring work. He was thin and crippled, but still he seemed strong, for he had the look of the Númenóreans. Very young, too, he seemed in the golden morning, if one did not see the shadows in his eyes.

'My lord the King asked me that same question, my lady. During the War and afterwards.'

'And what answer did you give him?'

'The same answer I will give you: old enough.'

'Old enough!' I snorted. I held my own suspicions, and if his current age was close to what I thought, he would have been barely more than a child during the War. My husband, however, had told me long ago of this particular soldier's steadfastness in battle, and we two had asked him to come with us and serve us, if it had still been his will. 'Did the battle grow you to a man?'

A sadness crossed his face. 'If anything,' he said, 'I think battle brought me back to my childhood; all hurt and retribution and no heed for the cost.'

I felt shame for my tone then, as it was wrong for me to speak lightly in this. For all my years, there is still so much I do not understand of people. The stories they tell me--the soft cloth of a memory here, a sharp piece of hatred there--never quite add up to a knowing, or an understanding. I want to know why and how. What makes people who they are? What is it they can hear in the rhythm of their blood, when they are alone?

'I fear I know little of such things,' I told him, and any faint, fearful regret in my voice, I think, was disguised by the breeze. It would be foolish indeed to think of the romance of war. I was lucky to be kept apart.

He looked at me curiously. 'Does it seem to you as though you are the only one who does not understand war, and thus are left behind?' he said, shaking his head. 'I was there, and I fear I do not understand it myself.'

At least you had the chance to know it, that you might not be alone, I wanted to say, but I thought of the scars that he carried; scars they all carried. I was silent.

A particularly ear-piercing yell from Eldarion reached us. I stood quickly to see whether perhaps he was in difficulty, dropping my sewing in the process, but he was swinging from his legs on a low branch hung new with leaves, looking delighted with himself. His dark hair hung straight down from his head and the end points caught the light and burned it back to me. I exhaled, and the sound was loud in my head.

'Eldarion, cease your noise or you will be sitting beside me for the rest of the day,' I warned him, making my voice imperious enough that he could hear it over his own caterwauling.

I thought I saw mirth in Calimo's eyes as he came to help me recover my cloth. It amused him to watch Eldarion play, and I had suspected for some little time that it also amused him to watch me in my vain attempts to raise the next king as a gentleman.

'I declare,' I muttered. 'I shall have that child's mouth sewed shut before the year ends.'

Calimo found my needle in the grass, and picked it up with careful fingers before holding it out to me, point turned to the side. 'He takes after your people, doesn't he, your majesty?'

I looked at him curiously. 'What makes you say this? What do you know of my people?'

'I have heard tell. I saw them when you arrived first in the city, as you no doubt remember.'

'Likely you would remember that better than I,' I said, remembering how I had occupied myself that day covering my own nerves, and joy, and grief. 'I have never decided whom Eldarion looks like. He has his father's eyes.'

'I was a child in those days,' he said, and the look in his eyes now could not be mistaken for anything less than teasing.

'You are a child now!'

He inclined his head slightly, and in that action reminded me of someone, although I could not place whom it may be. 'It was a long time ago,' he conceded.

'A very long time,' I said absently.

'Why do you never speak of your own people?'

I remembered suddenly how lazy I had been over my sewing, and concentrated hard on threading my needle. 'What would you have me say, Calimo?'

'I was curious only, Queen Arwen.'

I sighed, noting even as I did the careful accent he gave my name: the correct accent, which would normally sound flat in the mouths of those who spoke Sindarin infrequently. 'It pains me a little. It is good to remember, of course, but still it saddens me.' I looked at his face and made myself smile. 'We are morose, today, are we not? Tell me, what would you know?'

He turned back to his work, but stayed close enough in range to make himself heard and to listen to my voice. 'I have heard tell in stories of some Elvish songs; songs they keep for themselves, unmatched by any songs that could be sung by men. Would you tell me something of this?'

'That is an ambitious subject,' I said dubiously, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. 'I fear perhaps I could not do it justice.'

'You are the closest I could get to the source,' he said, and touching those words bled me, but his voice was without malice. And I thought of my past, and even though I had not allowed myself to think much about that past for some time, the memories came unbidden but soft-edged. I sat in my patch of sun and stitched and we talked, and pleasantly enough the morning passed.

Eldarion later insisted that he go to the stables to present Roheryn with an apple he had begged from the kitchen. I had my doubts of the health and well-being of the fruit, given that it had been carried in Eldarion's pocket, which had, along with Eldarion himself, fallen with a thud from a tree on more than one occasion that day, in complete disregard of his mother's nerves.

He held it out in his star-small hand for my inspection: 'It is green, you see?'

I agreed with him, a little confused.

'Would it ripen more,' he asked me, 'were I to leave it longer?'

'I do not think Roheryn will mind. In fact, I think he would rather have his apple green and today than red and days from now.'

'That is very impatient of him,' said Eldarion thoughtfully, and I laughed to hear him sound so serious and wise.

And even as I looked at him with affection, I grieved a little in that moment, to hear him sound a step closer to adulthood. A step closer to leaving me. I grieved for his tiny, sticky hands and his soft cries and his helplessness. I grieved for the heaviness of my breasts and the feeling that we were one being; one breath. I grieved for the rosy mornings and the light before dawn, while I sat wrapped in blankets and he lay warm and blinking in my arms. I never understood what it would feel like to watch my child grow, what happiness and pain there was in knowing that each day he became one day closer to leaving me behind. It is an interesting thing to learn, that a mother's joys are all washed with some sorrow.

Roheryn was all sharp angles and scapegrace; he had picked clean his feed bowl and appeared to be making a start on his straw bedding. His dark eyes followed us, and he nickered softly to us and leaned out over the stable door, to rest his great head on my shoulder as had been his habit of old.

My son reached up to pat his neck, but Roheryn was just above his reach, that Eldarion could only touch the tangled hair of his long mane. A noise from the outside startled the horse, and he swung his head toward it. I prudently ducked, one hand on Eldarion, and we avoided being knocked cold.

'You move fast, my lady,' I heard my husband's voice, and his steps into the stable, and turned to him. As he walked in, the light from outdoors blazed, and I blinked so my eyes might adjust as he walked toward us in the dimness.

'I know your horse well, my lord Elessar, and time has not slowed his watchfulness.'

He reached us and nodded thoughtfully. Eldarion began to chew at his fingernails, until I reminded him quietly that this was no habit for the son of a King. Aragorn watched us both for a moment before assisting Eldarion in standing on an overturned bucket, in order that he might deliver his gift in person.

'Not like that,' Aragorn said to him softly, watching as Eldarion held out his hand with his fingers wrapped around the fruit. 'Remember, how I have showed you,' and he straightened out Eldarion's small fingers until the hand lay flat, with the apple on his outstretched palm.

The horse took the apple politely and crunched it, and Eldarion laughed, the sound like a breeze in the unstirring gloom. Aragorn smiled as he watched them, but then tempered this with a warning: 'Be careful around him. He is no tame pony for you to play with, and I would not have you bitten. Now. Should you not be at your books? I believe there are letters you should be learning.'

Eldarion quickly bade us farewell and left, and I marveled to myself, and not without some dryness, at how quickly he jumped to obey his father's commands, when he seemed to consider my own commands more rightly requests, or options.

Roheryn happily dripped apple pieces and foam from his mouth, and I straightened a strand of his forelock and spoke reproachfully to Aragorn: 'Roheryn does not bite.'

'He would never bite you,' he corrected.

I stopped to consider this for a moment, but the statement seemed unmade for my mind, and after a time I let it slip away. 'What brings you here? Will you ride out today?' Now I traced the hollows above Roheryn's eyes gently with a finger, feeling the grind of his teeth reverberating.
'No, I will not ride today. I just came here...' he paused. 'I wanted some time alone.'

'I am sorry,' I said after a moment. 'I will leave you.'

'Arwen,' he said as I turned. 'I did not mean you to leave.'

I hesitated, caught between, and felt my face warm like a child's, and cursed myself for indecision. I moved back to the horse, with whom I seemed better able to communicate.

'When will you be home this night? I mean...' I stopped, and cleared my throat, and thought for a second before trying to make a little more sense. 'Have you much business yet to attend?'

'I do not know. I will see.'

'Well,' I said, and could not think of anything more to say, so I gathered my skirts, preparing to bid farewell myself.

He stopped me with a movement of his hand. 'Must you spend all day with Eldarion?'

I was not quite sure of what he was saying, but I knew that I felt stung. 'Someone must raise him.'

He shifted his weight and stretched a little, languidly, like a cat. I knew this as a mannerism he used unconsciously in arguments he had no intention of losing. 'A boy needs space to grow, sometimes.'

'I give him space,' I said guardedly. 'He grows, but he grows under my watch.'

'Yes, I heard about his tree-climbing this morning. Or should I say his tree-falling?' he said, and was unable to repress his smile.

I smiled a little, in spite of myself, in answer. 'He is less agile than he appears, it seems.'

'He would learn agility more quickly with friends of his age,' he said, quietly, inexorably, and I felt my smile turn thin.

'He needs no friends his age. He has me.' I began to turn, quickly, and Roheryn, beside me, raised his head nervously, and I remembered my manners and looked to my husband. 'May I take my leave?'

'Of course,' he said.

That night I went to Eldarion's chamber to see him at his bath. He scowled at me, for he hated to be clean, and I knew he blamed it on me that his baths came so often, for left to their own devices the maids would indulge him and let him do as he pleased. Likely until the dirt began to fall off him in weighted clumps.

'You would frighten an Orc with that face,' I told him, and watched his face cheer a little at the thought, before he could repair himself into looking daggers again. He is not, perhaps, an expert yet, but he is a fast learner in covering his mind.

He scowled yet at Tamurile when she returned with fresh night clothes, and she jumped a little to see such a hideous sight, which clearly amused him. I growled softly at him in response, with no particular words, the common tongue of mothers I do not know quite when I learned.

'Did you see the marks on his knees, my lady Queen? He is black and blue.'

'Yes, he fell out of a tree,' I told her, and then amended this to: 'Several trees.'

She looked at me quizzically. 'You were with him, my lady?'

I felt the desire to defend my son, although I had remonstrated with him earlier. 'I was, and though I thought it a foolish pastime myself,' I looked meaningfully at the one we discussed as he dressed himself for bed, 'I think sometimes it is well to fall. It prepares one.'

'Ooor mmmphfr,' said Eldarion with his nightshirt half over his head, one arm stuck straight upwards. Tamurile dropped the linen towel she had been refolding and went to his assistance.

'I fear I misheard you, Eldarion,' I politely said when he was recovered.

'Where is Father? I would bid him good night.'

'I do not know,' I said, carefully and lightly. 'He is occupied. You will see him in the morning.'

I helped him into bed as Tamurile cleaned around the bath and started shipping water. Eldarion fidgeted as I tucked the blankets about him, for he hated to be confined. A new yellow candle dripped and smoked on the bed-table.

I kissed him goodnight and he plucked at my sleeve with finger and thumb. 'Would you tell me a story?'

So I sat beside him on his bed, and smoothed his hair. 'What story would you have, ondonya? The tale of the hobbits?'

'I am tired of that story,' he said. 'Tell me another. With pirates!'

'Pirates? Where have you heard of pirates?'

Suddenly he seemed to have second thoughts about this subject, and would not meet my eyes or speak above a mumble.

'Do not tax yourself unduly to answer me, Eldarion, I think I could guess,' I told him, and slapped his hand as he raised it to his mouth. 'You will have bad dreams if I tell you of pirates.'

He kept his face still, and lowered his hand back to his side, but he looked at me with poet's eyes. Softly he asked, 'Please?'

I sighed, recognising the shape of my own defeat when it presented itself. 'Very well, one pirate. A small one.' And I told him some whimsical story of a pirate boy, prudently including details of the boy's attention to his schooling and respect for his parents in between bouts of marauding. Gradually I saw his eyelids lower and shadows gather on his lashes, and I rose cautiously so as not to disturb him.

'Tell me more,' he said sleepily.

'Tomorrow,' I promised softly, and resisted the temptation to touch his face with my fingertips; gently, gently. 'Sleep now.'

'How will it end?'

I paused with my fingers above the candle for a moment. 'Happily,' I said, and snuffed the flame. 'Happily. Of course.'

End 2.


Author's Notes: My thanks are due to everyone who reviewed the first part, and especially Altariel, for the hand-holding. As always, any comments will be appreciated and taken to heart.

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: Kshar

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/10/03

Original Post: 06/26/02

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