11. Promises Kept
The merry cavalcade trotted into Imladris a fortnight later. Haldir and six of his Galadhrim, including the beautiful Celti, the archer captain, who had taken a fancy to a very smitten Elladan, had accompanied the three home. Arwen and Lothlorien had healed Aragorn's spirit. He had set away his trappings of soldier of Gondor and Rohan and rode in high elven style into Elrond's realm. His hair had grown from the shoulder length military trim of Gondor, and Arwen had woven it into elf-braids, replete with beading; he wore an open-throated, embroidered shirt; and at his side bore Agawaen Nor, the sword of Gondolin. In the stable yard, he slid from the stolen chestnut mare that had bravely carried him from Mordor's borders and helped Arwen down from her horse. Amid the winded horns and shouts of surprise, the family tumbled forth.
Elladan and Arwen and their escort got a fair share of greeting, but the son who had walked in the Land of the Shadow and returned was welcomed home warmest. Aragorn clung to his father and when finally both men stepped back, tears stood in their eyes. Gandalf's hug was all consuming, the wizard muttering, "My boy, my boy." and chuckling speechless in turn. The unemotional Elrohir reached out to grip his hand, stared at him a moment, and then pulled him into a fierce embrace.
Suddenly there was a wild yell and a dark-haired boy finally coming into his growth, charged across the gardens followed by an elf prince, carrying the forgotten bows and quivers. The boy flung his arms around Aragorn's waist and buried his head in his side, sobs shaking his thin shoulders. Aragorn looked down in wonder at Quillion's head pressed tightly against him and stroked his curls. Arwen thought her heart would burst, this scene foreshadowing his love for their son.
'How is anyone able to casually go off to war when a child loves this much?' Aragorn thought. The boy finally looked up with tears coursing down his cheeks.
"Oh, sir, I thought you were dead. Gandalf said you were found, but I couldn't believe him until I saw you." He pulled the Evenstar from around his neck and handed it back to his lord.
"Quillion---," Aragorn started. His voice was thick and broken; he cleared his throat and began again. "Quillion, you must greet Lady Arwen properly and Lord Elladan." The boy, always obedient, made his bows to the lady and the amused Elladan. Aragorn turned to Legolas, standing back a bit reserved from this family homecoming.
"Legolas, mellon nin." The powerful embrace surprised the prince.
"You look well," Legolas said simply. On the ride from Lothlorien, Elladan had told Aragorn the reason for the altercation between Elrohir and Legolas at the river camp on the morning Aragorn told his tale of Mordor. Legolas had refused to accept that Elrohir must kill Aragorn if he felt he was tainted by the Dark Lord, so Elrohir had ordered him away from camp. On his part, Elrohir had been certain a green-fletched arrow sent from the surrounding trees would pierce his eye if he moved to dispatch Aragorn.
"Would you have shot Elrohir?" Aragorn asked. The elf looked startled as he realized the reference and then came as close to blushing as Aragorn had ever seen of the unruffleable prince.
"Without hesitation," Legolas responded, and then he laughed. Aragorn joined him and the sound swelled the hearts of all who heard it with joy. Aragorn realized Quillion had attached himself to his hand and refused to let loose.
"Oh sir!" he was chattering on, "The Elves are wondrous fair and I like them all a lot, especially Legolas and Lord Elrond." Aragorn listened gravely, a smile tugging at his mouth. "He's teaching me languages and science and we are reading great tales and he says my Sindarin is very good and…" Quillion hesitated, "but he frightens me sometimes."
"He frightens me also," Aragorn confided as he met the amused Elrond's eyes over Quillion's head. He straightened unconsciously into a military stance and said in Quenya, "Sir, I must speak with you immediately."
"You shouldn't be frightened! He thinks quite highly of you; he says you are his son," Quillion reassured Aragorn but eyed Elrond now as if he were some fell creature from which he must protect his master.
"That is good to know," Aragorn said aloud. 'But that may end soon,' he added silently.
"Quillion, go play!" Aragorn sent his shadow away from the upright, defensive post the boy had assumed at the back of his chair when they entered Elrond's study. The boy could have been in his squire's uniform and back to his self-imposed assignment of guarding the Commander of Gondor's back. He looked as if he doubted his master's safety with the elf-lord. "Go play," Aragorn suggested kindly. "There are fine rocks under the bridge to toss in the streams…and you can take Tassa and Dagor some apples. That is an order." Quillion's "Yes, my lord" was given grudgingly as he scurried off. Aragorn walked to the railing and watched the boy as he ran out along the path to the stables. He looked at Elrond and realized the elf-lord was watching him expectantly from his seat at his desk.
"May I ask a favor of you, Father?"
"Need that question ever be asked between us?"
"I ask that he be made a ward here; tutored and befriended by you as you once cared for me." Elrond studied this man who was no longer the boy he thought of as his son.
"He will want to follow you." Elrond chose his next words carefully. "He will want to protect his odhron*."
"His following of me almost got his throat cut, and an ambitious man in Gondor would kill him if he returned to that city. I would have him here, safe and educated well, if you will allow it. It would fulfill my promise to his mother before she died." Elrond still studied him intently, and Aragorn was beginning to feel nervous under the scrutiny.
"The boy is welcomed here. I have grown quite fond of him myself. He has the look of you at that age and is quick-witted." Elrond paused, still studying Aragorn, his chin cupped in his hand. "Should he be treated with the same protection I showed you? As an heir of Isildur?" Astounded, Aragorn cocked his head at Elrond, awareness of the implication slowly dawning on his face.
"I would he were my son," he smiled, "and your grandson, but Arwen is my only love; never doubt my trueness to her." The Elven lord seemed to let out a long held breath. Then Aragorn looked Elrond in the eye and held up his left hand, the silver band gleaming in the sunlight. "Never doubt it now or ever: we pledged and were betrothed at Midsummer on Cerin Amroth." He wondered at the sharpness of Hadhafang that still rested on its brackets over Elrond's desk and what the blade might feel like as his father drew it across his throat for such impudent disobedience..
"Where her mother and I shared our vows," Elrond nodded, "so I heard." Though he had been unsure of Quillion's parentage, Elrond was well aware of the extent of Aragorn's suffering in Mordor, Galadriel's testing of his worth, and the betrothal in the Golden Wood.
"Is there no news to be told in this family?" A relieved Aragorn said, in mock exasperation. "Will I ever be the first to bring a secret?" Elrond laughed outright at him.
"That's what happens, boy, when you bind yourself to elves."
Arwen came into the study some time later to find her father and Aragorn drinking summer wine and laughing. There was a note of giddiness in the air and Arwen could not remember when last she saw her father so relaxed. She was enchanted by the joy she saw in the faces of the two males she loved best. Then she looked closely at her beloved.
"Are you drunk?" Arwen demanded. He looked offended.
"I haven't had any food, I am very tired, and your father is plying me with wine," he stated, apologetically. "But drunk? I think not."
"Father!" she turned on Elrond.
The elf-lord, perfectly in balance, said as he refilled Aragorn's cup. "It isn't every day that a father can celebrate the betrothal of his son to his daughter."
"Nor want to!" Aragorn said and giggled at his joke. Arwen looked helplessly at her usually stern father and the grim Aragorn, both now helpless with mirth. She sat on the arm of Aragorn's chair and moved his cup away.
"You knew before we arrived," she accused Elrond. "Aragorn was so worried you would be angry."
"And so I should, defiant child." Elrond smiled at his daughter. "Celeborn was here last week. He was beside himself with joy and shared that news with me and much more. He explained the role your grandmother had in this."
Arwen understood what he father meant and realized Galadriel's testing had done much to remove the last wisps ofElrond's doubtof Aragorn's ultimate success. Her father, suddenly serious, turned to Aragorn.
"Elvish betrothals last one year; yours will last longer. I still will not grant my leave for you to wed by the laws of Men until our task is ended and you are crowned. And, my wandering son, I want you here for some time before you go off into the Wild again. You have suffered great trauma and need the healing of my house." He raised his cup to his son. "There are dragons and trolls here aplenty so that Imladris is in need of protection." Aragorn hadn't heard the childhood phrase in years. He rose and dropped to one knee before Elrond's chair, bowing his head.
"Ada, I am first a lord of this house, sworn to protect all in this fair valley, before I am commander or king to any other. I will stay as long as you require me."
* * *
"Gandalf, you have brought back a different man than the one who left here so long ago, angry with me and fate and himself. Your quests for Aragorn have stood him in good stead. He desires to be king and he is ready." Elrond smiled a bit sadly, watching the man below talking to his two sons. He looked every bit their age and older. Aragorn still moved stiffly and, even in Imladris, his eyes carried the haunted look he had returned with, except when they were alone or he was with Arwen. "You bring my Elven prince back from the dead, grizzled and wounded in spirit and battle-weary, but well-tempered for the trials ahead."
Gandalf lifted his cup and resettled himself in the padded armchair. "You can thank Ecthelion for that. Aragorn has met and befriended and lost the Steward's younger son and been betrayed by the elder. And, the evils under the shadows of Orodruin would sap the strongest of us." Elrond remained silent for some time and Gandalf chose another topic. "Time here at Rivendell has a way of slowing down but the years pass swiftly for those not of the Eldar. Aragorn is a man grown, of an age when he should have a wife and children…" Elrond turned from the rail and met Gandalf's gaze. There was something of fire deep in the wizard's eyes. "If they wed now, if their son was born, if Aragorn should fall in battle…"
Elrond chose to ignore Gandalf's line of thought. "There is something about the man, Gandalf. His look is very like his ancestor."
Gandalf snorted. "Do not tell me he reminds you of Isildur! He already wears that heavy mantel of his own making and takes responsibility for the weakness in his line."
Elrond looked shrewdly at Gandalf. "Nay, it was not of Isildur whom I speak: it is of my friend Elendil." Elrond watched as Gandalf's smile spread to his eyes. "We forged the steel long ago. Now it is tempered into the Flame of the West."
"Men still sometimes feel there is too much Elf about him," the wizard pointed out.
"None of his predecessors have so taken to the Eldar ways. Even for one trained as a ranger, his senses are attuned to the slightest movement of wind, a subtle shift in the air…or a shift in emotions. 'Twill serve him well as king."
"He is ready, you know. He will be king or die in the endeavor."
"That is as it should be. We're out of time. We've shaped the man so he will assume his destiny. When Aragorn stands against the Darkness, it will be the last gift of the Eldar to Middle Earth. Only united can we defeat Sauron. Only he can unite us. If we misstep, there is no future." Elrond smiled at his friend, getting back to his question. "It is not out of cruelness or a father's selfishness, I will not give consent for them to wed. If he fails, there is no need for the line to continue."
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.