Hithdol must be a real master of his craft, Arwen thought as a few hours later they were hurrying through a secret passage that led to a dead-end street in the sixth circle. The good man had actually managed to make sure that they would not be missed. She decided that her husband looked very attractive in the uniform of a guardsman as he strode purposefully next to her. She tugged at the scarf that effectively covered her ears one last time and made sure that her hat was in place before they emerged into the night air. Already the noises of the celebrations could be heard: singing, shouting and laughing.
When they plunged into the crowds, it seemed to Arwen that every one of the people that lived in Minas Tirith was in the streets. Everywhere in the city were booths that offered various things; foot, drink, goods, or entertainment.
"Good sir," someone called and Arwen turned to see who it was. A man of great girth and long beard in a booth had lifted his hand. "D'you want to win something nice for your sweetheart? You've but to prove that your aim's true." He gestured towards a few wooden blocks that were stacked atop each other. "A tharni and you're game."
Even though every single prize seemed to be worth less than a tharni, Arwen turned to her husband and batted her eyelashes. "Oh, please, Halbarad win a prize for me."
Aragorn handed the man a tharni and accepted the three leather balls that the man offered him in return. He took one in his hand, weighed it, then went completely still for a few moments, probably judging arch and force needed. Then he threw. Though he hit the stack, it did only wobble slightly. The same happened at the second and third time.
"Sorry, lad," the man said after Aragorn had thrown his third ball, "you've go to throw harder. Another round?"
"No, thank you," Aragorn answered a bit annoyed and drew Arwen away with him.
"What causes the grim look on your face," Arwen asked when they were out of earshot, "that you did not manage to knock the pieces over or that he called you 'lad'?"
"My problem is that the pieces should have toppled over. He is cheating."
"And what are you planning to do now?"
"Retreat and lick my wounds. I have other matters to attend to than that. I intend to enjoy myself today. Since you did not get the prize I promised, I will buy you something beautiful."
She slapped him lightly. "Silly man, we are married for two years tomorrow and still you know me so little? I want nothing more than enjoy myself with you. I would not know what to do with the prize anyway."
"I just want to see you happy."
"But I am happy, or would be if I had something to eat."
Aragorn smiled. "Do not fear, Halbarad of the guard knows a very good place for a soldier and his sweetheart to have dinner."
Arwen blushed, only just realising what she had called him. After more than two years, it still was a sore spot. He was trying not to show his pain, but Arwen knew, had always known when something troubled him. "I am sorry about the name. It was the first thing that came to mind."
"Do not trouble yourself; Halbarad would not have minded. And I do not mind either – it helped me remain serious. Imagine if you had called me Erestor!"
Arwen could not suppress her hysterical giggles at the thought. She was still chuckling when they entered the tavern. The odour of many unwashed men assaulted her senses the moment they passed the threshold. It was hot, loud, and like the streets outside, the tavern was crowded with all sorts of people. Arwen shuddered and had half a mind to turn and leave, when a woman with an apron waved and came bustling over.
"Welcome to the Belling Stag. I am Míriel. A table for two? Let's see; you're lucky. The table over there near the wall has just been deserted. Have a seat and I'll bring you the menu right away. And," she whispered to Arwen a bit too loudly, "men in uniforms are really eye-catching, aren't they, miss?"
Arwen forced herself to smile at her. "Indeed, they are."
"She found me attractive," Aragorn said when they were seated. He looked at her and she saw his eyes narrow. "Are you well?"
Arwen gulped, wondering how to phrase it. She would have preferred a better atmosphere, but she felt that she could not wait any longer, not after he had asked. She took his hands and traced soft circles into his palm. His right forefinger looked strange without his marriage ring, but the mithril band looked as expensive as it was and would give them away if anyone noticed it. She traced her own bare forefinger with her thumb. "Were I to wander through all of Arda, look at peasants and lords alike, I would not find a man such as you."
The smile he gave her would have made her knees weak had she been standing. "And I have been everywhere, north and south, east and west, but nowhere have I found a woman such as you. I love you."
She lowered her voice so that none else would hear. "I have been meaning to tell you for some time now, but I somehow never found the right moment. Then you took me out here today and declared your love for me again. I..."
"Hrk. If this is supposed to be a proposal, I'd be so sorry to interrupt, but here's the menu." It was Míriel again, one hand on her broad hip and grinning. Arwen huffed in frustration. "And besides, such things are better done over a glass of wine. Will you have one?"
Aragorn smiled at her and fell effortlessly into the city-accent. "Oh yes, please."
"Good, it'll be a moment." Míriel nodded and left.
When Aragorn took up the menu and read it through, Arwen fought the urge to kick him under the table. It had been nearly perfect; and now his attention had wandered. "Halbarad!" she said through gritted teeth. Aragorn looked up at that, eyebrows raised.
"As I was saying, I am with child."
He put the menu down immediately. "We are going to have a baby?" Arwen mood lightened again as she watched his expression change from disbelief to wonderment and then pure joy. He rose, drew her out of her chair and swung her around. When he finally kissed her, Arwen could hear all the patrons clapping their hands.
"So she said what you wanted to hear, didn't she?" the landlady called from the other end of the room and came over. Arwen had to laugh; partly because she was amused by the people's reaction and partly because they had drawn the wrong conclusions.
"Oh yes, she did," Aragorn exclaimed, "I love this woman beyond reason."
Míriel placed bread, the jug of wine and two classed on the table. "I said after the wine. Anyway, my congratulations. Then the wine's just right to celebrate. D'you have already chosen the dish?"
"Thank you," Aragorn answered after they had seated themselves. "I'll have the escalope filled with ham and cheese-mushroom sauce to go with it. Gilraen?"
Arwen needed a moment to realise that she was meant and was touched that he had chosen his mother's name for her. "Make it two of them."
"She really thought that this was a betrothal," Arwen commented when the woman had gone to forward the order to the cook.
"I fear it did. But your news is no less amazing. When did it happen? How far are you along?"
Arwen ate a piece of bread and sipped some of the wine, sweet and rich. "The day you returned from Isengard." She blushed as she remembered that afternoon. They had not even made it to their bedroom.
"You gave me a most wonderful welcome. But that was already more than two months ago. Why did you not tell me sooner."
Arwen took her time answering. She could have told him that very same day, but something had stopped her. Maybe she had she simply needed the time to get accustomed to the idea? She shrugged.
"Keep your secrets then," he said after a while. "Nothing could spoil my happiness tonight. It is an understatement to say that I am a very lucky man."
Arwen had to smile at that and raised her glass. "Let us drink to a new life. To the three of us."
"To the three of us," he echoed and drank.
Arwen's stomach chose that moment to rumble and she smiled sheepishly. Aragorn smiled back and kissed her tenderly.
"I cannot believe that they did not recognise us even after you drew all their attention to us," Arwen said after they had left the tavern an hour later, followed by many good wishes.
Aragorn laid an arm around her shoulders. "Sometimes people only see what they want to see. I hope you can understand my reaction. After all, it is my first time becoming a father. But I should have recognised the signs earlier."
"Maybe, but you had been very preoccupied these last weeks. Subtle signs can be easily missed. You are really not angry that I took my time to tell you?"
He shook his head. "No, I am not. The matter of Saruman and Isengard lay heavily on my mind. But I think it was the right decision to rebuild the Orthanc and take the palantír back there."
"And it was worth supervising the search yourself, was it not?" Arwen did not know what had sparkled more, the elven gem or his eyes as her husband had shown her the real Elendilmir, apparently recovered from a hidden chamber. He had laughed gaily and taken her in his arms, and Arwen had seen it as a new sign of their fruitful future.
"Oh yes, well worth. But it is nothing compared to what you give me. And this is what I wanted to show you today." He laughed. "Well matched. Now, would you like to dance, Gilraen?"
She pressed his hand where it lay on her shoulder. "Of course. Lead the way, Halbarad."
The square before the Great Gate had been turned into a huge dance floor; and when they arrived, the dancing was already in full swing. Arwen tugged at his arm to get him to move faster.
"Dear people," the chief musician cried from atop his podest, "the next dance is brought to you from the land of Rohan and is called the dance of horses. It is another round dance where we imitate the mating ritual of horses. Stallions, put your mare to your left so that we can begin."
Aragorn and Arwen, along with other couples, joined the circle. The man began to explain the steps.
"It is as easy as it is fun. The dance consists of three stages. The walk, the gallop, and the pawing." He clapped his hands and the musicians began to play a soft melody. "Form a circle and take your neighbours' hands."
Without looking, Arwen extended her hand to the man on the left. He squeezed it tightly for a moment to get her attention and Arwen looked at him. She knew that face.
"Sh, yes. I was quite startled when you put your hand in mine. After all, you are not someone I would have thought to meet here. It has always been my belief that it is more difficult to escape your house than the dungeons."
"I have been in both," Aragorn chimed in, "it is just a matter of knowing the right people."
Arwen was intrigued at that."You were? You have never told me about it."
"A story not worth the telling. But surely you are not alone, Amrothos?"
A grin split the young man's face. "No, of course not. My dearest lady Andreth agreed to accompany this humble man." His companion leaned past Amrothos so that they could see her face beneath the great black beret. She was wearing a dress similar in cut to the one Arwen wore herself, but where Arwen's was of a dark orange, Andreth wore deep red with blue stripes just above the hem, the neckline and the sleeves. It really was a refreshing sight compared to the trousers and tunic she always insisted on wearing.
Aragorn laughed. "Ah, my favourite grandniece. You are looking well after Amrothos, are you not?"
"Of course I am. You know me, uncle." She saluted, something that looked strange while wearing a dress. "A ranger is always alert. If you will excuse us? We have a dance to dance."
They made a wonderful couple, Arwen thought, but Amrothos would have to work hard to gain the upper hand in their relationship. He still had not proposed, though. She turned back to her husband. "Do you know this dance."
"Of course I do. Se totrida éoha belongs to Rohan as much as their horses. It is impossible not to know it once you have stayed in Rohan as long as I did." Aragorn assured her.
"Good, for I do not. And we have just missed the instruction."
They began slowly so that everyone could follow and Arwen found that it was indeed easy to learn. It was the funniest dance that she had ever danced, involving prancing, turning and pawing the ground as if they had hooves with their hands on their hips. She felt so free in a place where nobody was watching her and laughed happily. In dance after dance she twirled around with different partners until, when the last note faded, she found herself in Aragorn's arms again. The night had already progressed very far and Andreth and Amrothos had already left long ago. She leaned into Aragorn's arms and listened to his rapid heartbeat until it slowed again. Eventually she looked up at the higher circles many feet above them. This wonderful night could not end in a place of formality.
"I will not be going up there this night."
Aragorn raised a brow. "Oh?"
"I thought that Halbarad of the guard not only knew a good place to eat, but also somewhere nice to spend the night." When Aragorn did not respond, Arwen let her smile fade. "You have no idea, do you?"
"My concern is of another kind. If a guardsman of the City asks for a room for himself and a woman, he might be paying for more than just the room that night. We had better not follow their example."
Arwen stopped short at that. He was probably right; without doubt there would be many such encounters taking place that night, whether money was exchanged or not. And even in disguise, she did not want to be regarded as such a woman. She was just about to consent when she got an idea.
"Maybe we could go back to the tavern where we ate; they offer rooms as well," she suggested. "At least they know that we are a couple, and now betrothed no less." She had to smile again at her own words.
So they made their way back to the Belling Stag at the northern end of the second circle. It looked very welcoming with its illuminated windows on the ground floor. But through the bull's eye panes, Arwen could only see shadows moving. A strong breeze picked up and the iron-wrought deer above the door creaked as it swung in the wind. The door swung open, casting a beam of light into the street. A man emerged and stumbled past them.
"Go home, Beleg," Míriel, standing in the doorway, called after him. Then she turned to Aragorn and Arwen. "Ah, Gilraen and her new betrothed. Did I get your name? We've started to send the drunkards home. That man you just saw used to be a servant of Denethor's. Was one of the poor people that had to prepare his pyre. The healers say that he suffered some kind of trauma. And why not? It must have been a terrible sight to see one's lord burn himself to death and almost his son, too."
"But why did he not prevent it?" Arwen could not help but ask.
"Because a servant may not decide which orders to follow. An oath isn't spoken lightly and it takes a lot of courage to defy it, more courage than many men have," Aragorn answered for Míriel.
"Beregond. Beregond had the courage. And see where it got him – exiled, the poor man. 'tis easier to be silent and to do what one's bid. I say to you, never meddle in the great things, it can but get you into trouble. But where are my manners? A good landlady am I, leaving my customers standing outside. Do come in. I can't offer you much as regards food because the kitchen is already closed. But there is still a pot of my special pea soup available. 'tis a secret family recipe that my mother taught us when I and my sisters still lived in Lossarnach."
"You do not perchance have a sister named Ioreth?" Arwen asked before she could stop herself.
Míriel's face lit up. "Ioreth? Why yes! She's my oldest sister. Where'd you know her from?"
"Gilraen works in the Houses of Healing," Aragorn lied without batting an eye, "I got to know her when she sewed up my arm. Pelennor wound," he elaborated.
"How wonderful. One takes them apart, the other puts them back together. But how did you know that I was her sister?"
Arwen tried her best to imitate Aragorn's accent and replied flippantly, "Two women of such stature and manner of speaking and both from Lossarnach just have to be related. Now that this is settled, let us come back to business. As much as I would like to try your pea soup,..."
"We'd rather just have a room, if one's still available. It's already late, we're tired and the way'd be too long now."
"Or rather," Míriel winked, "the wait for the next time would be too long." She made a rude gesture that left no doubt which activity she was referring to. Arwen could feel herself blushing at the allusion. "I've seen much in my years and you can't fool me." She went around the counter. "Just a moment. Le' me see what rooms I've available." She shuffled through some papers. "You're right. It's best to continue a dance with the horizontal one. No wonder there are so many babies born nine months after midsummer. Here it is," she held up a key and handed it to Arwen, then turned around, filled a water jug and handed it to Aragorn. "First floor, fourth door to the right. Have fun, you two."
"Why did you interrupt me?" Arwen asked, a bit annoyed as they hurried up the stairs and along a corridor.
"Because your pronunciation just did not fit. You still have to work on it in order to blend in." He grinned and Arwen found that she could not be mad at him.
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.