28. Chapter Twenty-Eight
Aragorn watched Laeriel, the gentle rise and fall of her chest as she breathed a balm to his pained heart. He reached out to brush the errant strand of hair from her cheek with the back of his hand and found his fingers trembling. He still couldn't believe that she was alive. After all these years, he was staring at the woman he had thought he had lost forever.
Where had she been all these years? What had happened to her? And why hadn't she looked for him? Surely she had known of his coronation. That hadn't been a secret. So where had she been and why was she here now, looking for him?
So many questions, and until she woke from her near death experience, he wouldn't have any answers. Sighing, he leaned back against the rails of the chair and closed his eyes, thinking back once again on the time they had spent at Imladris.
Strider led Laeriel into the courtyard of the Last Homely House and smiled when he heard her gasp. He was seeing Imladris through her eyes and found that the home he had always taken for granted was indeed an amazing sight. When he heard his name being called, he turned and found Elrohir and Elladan heading toward him.
"Estel! We weren't sure you were ever going to get here."
"And why would you think that, Dan?" Strider asked.
"Ada knew when you crossed the Bruinen. It's been five days. It used to only take you two days to get here once you cross the great river," Ro said, raising an eyebrow.
"I was in no hurry. I was showing Laeriel the beauty that is Imladris," Strider said, indicating the woman standing at his side.
"Mae govannen, Lady Laeriel," Elladan said, touching his fingertips first to his forehead then to his heart before waving his hand toward her.
"Please, it's just Laeriel. I will not even try to tell the two of you apart," she chuckled, looking from one twin to the other.
"I am Elladan; my brother, Elrohir and I welcome you to Rivendell."
"Father will be most pleased to hear that you have finally arrived, Estel," Ro said, leading the way into the house.
"And he will want to meet the Lady Laeriel, I am sure of that," Dan smiled, winking at Estel.
Strider groaned. Maybe coming here wasn't such a good idea. After all, he had professed his love for Lord Elrond's daughter just a few short years ago and now here he was with Laeriel. What would Lord Elrond say?
Strider turned his head in the direction of the voice and found Lord Elrond heading in their direction. He hadn't changed, not that he expected him to. He felt a slight pull at his heart and smiled softly.
"My Lord Elrond…" Strider said, gesturing a greeting in the way he was taught, his fingertips touching his forehead, then heart before reaching out in greeting to the Elf he knew as 'father'.
"Estel…" he said softly, taking in the wan look about his son's features before he embraced the young man warmly. "It's been a while since you have been home. I have missed you."
"And I you."
Elrond eased away from Estel, his gaze on the young woman that stood just behind his son. She was very beautiful, with short dark auburn hair and brilliant blue eyes. She stood just a head shorter than Estel and was wearing the garb of the Dúnedain.
"And who is this?" Elrond asked.
"This is Laeriel," Estel said, holding his hand out to her.
"Mae govannen, Lady Laeriel. A friend of my son is a friend to Imladris. I hope you will stay a while, Estel. I know that Erestor would like to spoil you some before you leave us again."
Laeriel smiled as she heard the light groan that slipped from Strider's tightly closed lips. She knew that he had wanted to come home for some much needed rest but something told her that this Erestor would overdo the pampering.
"So Lady Laeriel, how do you know my son?"
Laeriel looked at Strider from out of the corner of her eye and saw him grimace. She wondered what that was all about. Surely it did not matter that she was a ranger, albeit a ranger that had to disguise herself. So what had him so worried by this question?
"My brother is a ranger in Strider's patrol. When he mentioned that he was coming here, I asked if I could come along."
"Your brother saw no harm in you traveling with Estel alone?"
"No. Strider is an honorable man and my brother knows that he would protect me and keep me safe."
Elrond raised an eyebrow at this explanation, but he didn't say anything else as they entered the house. "I will have Erestor send Celairwen to help you get settled, Lady Laeriel. Estel, once you freshen up, would you meet me in my study?"
Estel nodded and watched as he walked away. Erestor wouldn't be far and Celairwen would be upon them soon. He turned to Laeriel and smiled weakly.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," he said, taking her hand in his.
"It will be fine. Do you think he believed me?"
"About your brother?" Strider laughed. "Probably not, which is why he wants to talk to me. He is probably going to warn me that any improper assignations here in Rivendell will be frowned upon."
Laeriel leaned in and whispered in his ear, "Then it's a good thing we had our improper assignation in the wood."
Strider laughed again before easing away from her. They would have to be cautious, but they could still see each other while they were in Rivendell. He heard footsteps behind them and turned to see a tall, willowy elf approaching, carrying clothing and bedding.
"Estel, it is so good to see you again."
"Celairwen…this is Laeriel. Do you need help with that?" Strider asked, reaching for the stack of things she carried.
Celairwen smiled, her grey eyes twinkling. "No, I am fine. Lady Laeriel, if you would follow me, I will show you to the guest quarters. You will find that they look out onto the gardens…"
Laeriel shrugged her shoulders and turned to follow the elf with the flowing black hair.
Strider, now washed and wearing clean clothes, headed to Elrond's study. He could remember the last time he had been to the room as if it were yesterday. It was the day of his twentieth birthday, the day he learned who he truly was. That was four and a half years ago. So much had happened since then.
He had finally become the Chieftain of the Dúnedain, proving to the council elders that he was ready to take on the title and the responsibilities that came with it. He had fallen in love with Laeriel and found a way to be with her, even if they did have to sneak around, which was exhilarating, if he had to admit it.
He raised his hand to knock on the closed door and heard Elrond call for him to come in. Smiling, he reached for the door knob. Seems nothing changes.
"Estel…come in, sit down. There is much we need to discuss."
Strider entered the room, closing the door behind him. Taking a deep breath, he sat in the chair by the desk and prepared for the lecture. Elrond had told him that he couldn't claim a wife or bind a woman to him until he had proven his worth. Well, hadn't he done that when he became the Chieftain of the Dúnedain?
"I can see that you and the Lady Laeriel are close. Do you think this is wise, Estel? After I told you about your heritage, I thought you understood that you needed to prove your worth."
"Exactly what does that mean, 'prove my worth'? I have fostered with the Elves here in Imladris for years. I learned everything they could teach me; the history of Middle-earth, the line of kings, hunting, sword play, and archery. I went to the lands of my father in the north and re-learned everything so I could be seen as a man and not an elf. I gained the trust and loyalty of the Dúnedain and I am now Chieftain. I have been their leader for three years now. What more must I do to prove myself?" he asked, jumping from his chair to pace about the room.
"There is a great evil coming, Aragorn. You are the last hope against this malevolence. You have many trials to face, many tribulations to overcome. I warned you that you had a great burden to bear and many years to bear it."
"I know what you told me, my head has repeated it to me many times, yet my heart tells me something else all together," he whispered, returning to his chair.
"Years ago, you said you loved Arwen. Do you now say differently? Does the Lady Laeriel now hold your heart?" Elrond asked softly.
"I was a boy, infatuated by a mysterious and beautiful elleth. But I confess, I do love Laeriel, more than I thought possible."
"Aragorn…I tell you now, you may not take her to wife. You shall not take any man's child to wife or bind any woman to you in troth until these tasks have been done and you are found worthy of them. I have seen this. You have years of toil before you. But we shall speak no more of this. The days darken and much evil is to come. Until that time, I want to enjoy the time I have with my son."
Aragorn nodded, but knew in his heart that it did not matter what Elrond had seen of his future. The present was what he was interested in and that present held his love for Laeriel.
They had spent several months in Imladris. Strider regained much of his color and strength, much to Laeriel's relief. She had learned that he had always strived to do more than what was necessary, just to prove that he could keep up with the Elves. And even though he now lived with men, it seemed nothing had changed.
Laeriel had learned a lot about the Elves that Strider called family. After two months, she was able to tell the twins apart. They had fast become friends and she enjoyed spending time with the three brothers. It was good to see the relationship the twins had with Strider. She loved seeing the man he was when he was with the twins. He was relaxed and very happy.
Then there was the relationship he had with Lord Elrond. She learned that the master elf was the only father Strider had ever known. It seemed that their relationship was now strained, but there was a lot of love between them.
She was sure that the Elven Lord had deliberately tried to warn her away from Strider. He hadn't said the words, but the implication was there. She was not good enough for his son. The tension between the two of them since he had quietly warned her that Aragorn was destined to something greater than Chieftain of the Dúnedain was palpable.
"You have been awfully quiet," Strider said, easing onto the bench beside Laeriel. She had been sitting in the gardens outside her rooms for over an hour, just listening to the birds around her. "Are you okay?"
"I've been thinking. I want to go back to the village."
"I thought you loved it here?"
"I do, but I think it's time I left. You can stay, if you need to. I need to go."
"I am going with you. We can leave by the end of the week.
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.