26. Chapter Twenty-Six
Arwen eased from his grasp, knowing there would be bruises on her skin tomorrow from where he had grabbed her. She wanted to comfort him, to ease his pain, but she knew that she couldn't. She had to push him for more answers. Answers that she had to have before she told him all she knew.
"She's dead? Estel, how do you know this?"
Estel crossed to the fireplace and leaned his arm against the mantle. He laid his head on his arm, tears still streaming down his chiseled cheeks.
"I know, because I saw her die. I saw her fall and there was nothing I could do. Now do you see why your worries have no merit? I came to you in Lothlórien free of heart. I pledged myself to you then and once again on our wedding day," he said moving from the hearth to stand before her.
"Ae ú-esteliach nad… estelio han. Estelio ammen. If you trust nothing else… trust this. Trust us. That is what you told me once, long ago. Do you not believe it now?" he asked, pulling her into his arms, taking her hand to place it on his heart.
"First love is a powerful magic, Estel. This woman, Laeriel, was your first love. She has a strong pull on your heart. Even now, I feel it."
Estel pulled away from her. "You were my first love, Arwen. The night I first saw you in Imladris, you captured my heart."
"That was boyhood infatuation. We both know that. No, Laeriel was your first true love. I can not fight that."
Estel sighed and ran an agitated hand through his thick dark hair. Yes, he was approaching one hundred, but he was still a young man in the counting of years of his ancestors. The Dúnedain lived many years beyond that of normal men thanks in part to the Númenórean blood that ran through their veins. He had changed little in the last ten years, just a little grey at his temples and only a few wrinkles to mark his age. And yet, this line of insistent questioning from his wife was wearing thin and making him feel more than his ninety-seven years.
"Enough! You are my wife, the mother of my children. I love you, more than my life itself. What more do you want?"
"I want to know that…that…"
He turned and frowned at her. "What, Arwen? You want to know what?"
"I want to know that this…" she said, dangling a choker from her fingertips, "…that this, will not come between us. That she will not come between us."
"Where did you get that?" he snarled, crossing the room in three swift strides to rip the necklace from her fingers.
He stared down at the brown leather choker, the bronze and iron pendant that adorned the strip so familiar that his breath caught in his throat. Laeriel.
"Where did you get this?" he demanded.
Arwen stood before her husband, not recognizing the man that was before her, trembling in fear. He was in a rage, his grey-green eyes flashing, his breathing coming in quick, rapid breaths.
"Where!" he bellowed, causing her to jump.
"A woman…in the Houses of Healing. She was brought in yesterday evening," Arwen whispered. "The messenger from the houses said she kept mumbling your name."
"My name? She was calling for me, specifically?"
"She was asking for Strider. I believe she could be the woman you spoke of. I think she might be Laeriel."
"And you kept me here all night, regaling you with stories, while this woman needed me? Why would you do this?"
"I wasn't sure it was her, not until you described her to me in your stories. I had to be sure. The healers say there is not much they can do. She is grievously ill, Estel."
He growled, turned on his heel and headed toward the door. His hand was on the doorknob when he spoke.
"If she dies…I will never forgive you…"
And with that, he walked out of the room without a backward glance.
Aragorn, King of the Reunited Realms of Gondor and Arnor strode from his palace through the darkened streets toward the Houses of Healing, his heart hammering in his breast. He waved off the guards of the citadel, wanting, needing to be alone. He had spoken harshly to Arwen as he left, and he regretted it, but he knew in his heart that he meant every word.
If the woman that lay in the sick rooms was Laeriel and he was too late to help her…he couldn't think on that. He had already lost her once, he didn't think he could live through that pain and torment again. How could Arwen keep him from her? How could she be so selfish?
He entered the Houses of Healing and was immediately stopped by the Dame Ioreth. She looked up into his worried countenance and tried to smile.
"You should have called me, my lady," he said, looking into the rooms as he passed them.
"Sire…we summoned you hours ago. I fear the lady is much worse. She is in the last room on the left."
Aragorn, his eyes wide, rushed to the door. It was standing open and he looked in at the form lying like death in the huge bed. Her face was pale, nearly translucent in the moonlight that filtered through the window. Her hair, once a deep rich auburn was now faded to a warm strawberry blonde. It was long and unbraided, fanned out across the pillow.
Her lashes, long and full, rested against her pale cheeks. Her breathing was shallow and labored. He could barely see her chest rise and fall. In alarm, he turned back to Ioreth.
"Bring me athelas, cascara, ginger, horehound and chamomile as well as plenty of hot water. Hurry, Ioreth!"
As she left, scurrying to do as he bid, Aragorn went to Laeriel's side. He sat beside her on the bed, the mattress dipping beneath his weight. He looked her over, drinking in the sight of her. She was a year older than he, and yet she looked almost the same as she had seventy-one years ago.
"Sire, the items you requested."
Aragorn turned and took the bowl from Ioreth. Water had already been poured into the deep vessel and he set it beside the bed, as close to her head as he could. Turning, he took the athelas from Ioreth. He breathed on the leaves, and then gently crushed them between his fingers, dropping them into the bowl of steaming water.
"Take the other herbs Ioreth and prepare a tea."
"Yes, Sire," she said, watching as he placed a hand on the woman's forehead and the other over her heart.
She had seen this done many times after the war, but not so lately. If the King had to use a healing trance to call this woman back to life, then her injuries were indeed grievous. She set about making the tea, pleased with the King's choices of ingredients; chamomile and cascara to help the woman sleep better, horehound for the wheezing in her breath and ginger to help with any fever.
The tea was steeping, mingling with the sweet smell of the athelas that wafted through the room. Ioreth sat in the chair behind her King and waited.
Aragorn searched the darkness of the woods, using his hand to swipe at the mist that threatened to envelope him. The air was close, choking the breath from his lungs. He wanted to turn away, go back the way he came, but he had to find her. She was here; he just had to reach out with his mind.
"Laeriel!" he called, his voice echoing against the black trees. Roots and weeds clutched at his legs and feet, slowing his progress through the wood. Thorny branches tore at his shirt and hair. This place was determined to keep her. And he was just as determined to find her and bring her home.
He moved forward, ever so slowly, tearing his shirt free from the tree limb, yanking his foot from the roots. As he did, he called her name over and over until he felt his very breath would leave him. She was here; he could feel her presence.
A slender form emerged from the mists, a woman dressed in a gossamer white gown, her hair flowing freely and unbound down her back. Her feet, bare and untouched by the brambles that tore at his clothes and hair, covered the distance between them.
"Why are you here?" she asked him. "You do not belong here."
"Neither do you. You must come back with me, Laeriel," he pleaded, blocking her way.
"It is alright, I have been to these woods before. I know my way. You do not have to be here," she said.
"No! You are lost, my lady. That is not the way out of these woods," he said, indicating the way she was heading. "Please…take my hand. I will lead you home."
"There is pain in the direction you wish to go. Pain and loneliness, things I no longer have the heart to face. No, my lord, I will not follow you. I wish to travel another path."
"Laeriel…do you not know me?" he asked, clutching her fingers as she turned to go. "Look into my eyes, and tell me you do not know me. Look at me, my lady."
She turned back to him, searching his grey-green eyes. Slowly, she placed a cool hand on his cheek. "Strider?"
Ioreth watched as the King eased his hands away from the woman. He sat there, on the edge of the bed, anxiously waiting for her to open her eyes. When her eyelids began to flutter and she finally opened her eyes, Ioreth heard him sigh softly in relief. Silently, she left the room, knowing that she was no longer needed. As she closed the door, she heard the woman call out the King's name.
"Shh…you must rest. Here, drink this…it will help you," he said, offering her the tea, his hand behind her head as he lifted the cup to her lips.
When she had drained the cup, he laid her head back against the pillow. Her breathing was better and the color was gradually returning to her cheeks. Still, he could not bear to leave her. Not yet.
She slipped into a deep sleep and as she slept, Aragorn remembered.
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.