Impatiently, Arwen waited for Aragorn to follow her into their quarters. As soon as he was inside, she turned around to close and lock the door behind them. Even if she had ordered that they not be disturbed, she preferred to make certain. Arwen had already taken to heart her grandmother's warning that private interludes such as this would be rare, and this was the first evening since they were wed that would not be taken up by banquet or feast. Though the company of all the people gathered in Minas Tirith was pleasant enough, the thought of the whole evening alone with her husband – her husband; she let herself dwell on the words a bit longer, as if she could not quite believe it yet, even after a week and more – was much more appealing.
The bread, cold meats and fruit that she had asked for had been set on a low table on the balcony. Aragorn cut some slices of bread and handed her a plate before serving himself and sitting down. They spoke little while they ate, equally savouring the food and each other's presence.
Arwen poured them both a glass of wine before walking around the table towards Aragorn, who had stood up to gaze at the view and now turned to watch her approach, his eyes gleaming, a hesitant, almost shy, half-smile on his face. Just as she joined him at the balustrade to hand him his glass of wine, a flight of small birds wheeled up from below.
"Skylarks," Aragorn said, turning his head to gaze after them.
"Yes, are they not a delight to watch?" She smiled as she too followed their path up into the sky over Minas Tirith, high above even the Tower of Ecthelion. Perhaps it was only a fancy, but even the birds seemed to be bursting with joy after the fall of Sauron.
"Tell me what I can see from here," Arwen asked once the skylarks had settled down again far below. The view was breathtaking from this height and she should become more familiar with these lands that would be home to her. She leant her head on Aragorn's shoulder as he put an arm around her. Hmm, this balcony was very secluded; perhaps later, once the stars had come out...
Aragorn set down the glass she had handed him, and started to point out the landmarks with his free hand. "First, beyond the river? Ithilien, and the Ephel Dúath behind."
"So close..." Arwen said softly. Nearer than Dol Guldur to Lothlórien. The jagged outline of the mountains stood sharply against the darkening evening sky, and she tried to imagine seeing them every day, knowing that the Shadow lay in wait behind.
"Too close," Aragorn said tersely, as Arwen recalled that he had lived in this city for years, had looked out to that view daily. He continued swiftly. "Those low hills across the River are Emyn Arnen. Then Osgiliath, and if you follow the Anduin southwards, along the bends in the river, there you can see the walls of the Rammas Echor until you come to the Harlond, and... And there are the mounds where rest those who fell in the battle for the city."
As Aragorn faltered, Arwen silently placed her hand on his arm, feeling the tension with which he now held himself. Aragorn looked down and placed his hand over hers, before going on. "The second mound on the right is that of the fallen of the Grey Company; Halbarad lies there."
Still holding her hand, Aragorn turned and gazed north for some time before continuing. "For so long, we did but fight the long defeat, and to keep the Enemy at bay was the best we could hope for. Yet all his life Halbarad stood beside me, and never faltered or lost hope. And that he did not see the end of the war, that he did not see the Enemy brought down, that he will not see what he fought for come true, grieves me deeply."
"Had I not asked Halbarad to carry my standard to you from Rivendell, he might have lived yet," she responded sadly. From what Elladan had told her, she knew Halbarad would not have fallen had he not borne the standard of the High King. Alas that the blessing she had woven into the banner had not extended to he who bore it.
"Arwen, no," Aragorn said. "You must not hold yourself to blame." He went on somewhat bitterly, "You might as well say that I led him to his death." Arwen looked at him questioningly.
"Had I not asked Halbarad to be my standard-bearer out there," he nodded sharply at the Pelennor, "He might not have fallen, though his foresight had told him that he would not return to the North." Another pause, and Aragorn went on again. "The night before the battle I tried to dissuade him from taking the field. Perhaps I should have tried harder, argued longer. Perhaps he foresaw more that he did not speak of. I do not know. What should I have done? Chained him to our ship's mast?" With a shake of his head, Aragorn fell silent.
Arwen said nothing, only held him tightly until he spoke again. "So many have died in the war against the Enemy, that to grieve so for one man seems... and yet, I... his death weighs heavy on me." Aragorn halted again. "And he would be the first to take me to task for wallowing in grief when there is still much work to be done," he finally said, meeting her gaze with a rather wan smile, adding softly, "But I do miss him."
Halbarad had been as a brother to Aragorn, but he had also been the first to befriend and support her among the Dúnedain, and Arwen too missed a dear and loyal friend. In her mind, she could almost hear Halbarad chiding them both for indulging so in sentimentality, and she too smiled sadly.
As Arwen was about to break the silence, Aragorn spoke again. "And that," he said, making a sweeping gesture to include all of the Pelennor far below, "Is some of that work. All these lands were tilled earth, and shall be again."
There was still much, especially near to the Rammas, to bear witness to the devastation that had been wrought by siege and battle, but it was clear also that a great deal of effort had been made by the people of Minas Tirith to clear the land. Large swathes of earth lay raw and bare, and Arwen thought of the Enemy's poisons that might turn fertile land as barren and corrupted as Mordor itself; and deep trenches cut across trampled fields, like scars in the ground. Yet the contours of burned and ruined farms were already softened by grass and weeds springing up around them.
To the eye it might not be much, but that veil of new green revealed that the land yet lived and might be fruitful again; and with the falling of night, it became easier to see in mind the scars that marred the land healed, and fields and farms restored. Orchards and vineyards would take many seasons to recover, but grain would grow again the next year, if there were enough hands to sow it. But, Arwen now considered, glancing at Aragorn who had returned to staring out over the Pelennor, farms and fields were easiest to restore; given time, most wounds of the body would heal too, yet hearts and minds had been wounded also, and those would perhaps take longest to recover.
"In time, yes," Arwen said at last, answering her own thought as much as Aragorn's statement.
This had not turned out the evening she had had in mind, Arwen thought as Aragorn sat down again, and she walked over to join him on the bench he had chosen. Yet she did not regret asking the question that had started this conversation, and she resolved to go down to the Pelennor in the morning to pay her respects to an old friend. But first, she would have to attempt to lighten Aragorn's mood again...
A/N: This was written for the lotr_community LJ challenge for April 2009, and was originally published here. The theme: renewal; the element: the skylark.
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.