3. Chapter Three
Arwen looked up at him and smiled. She remembered him coming to say his goodbyes. She remembered how young he had looked in the moonlight. Now there were touches of gray at his temples, wrinkles near his mouth and eyes. Even in her way of time, many years had passed since that night.
"I remember still the words you spoke to me that night. You had been worried about the future you faced."
"Yes, I was. I was even more afraid of facing that future without you. But I couldn't tell you what I knew in my heart. That I loved you."
"So you ran away from it, from us." It wasn't a question, more a statement of fact. Arwen knew at that time, that even she had not known the depths of his love, nor would she have recognized it had she known. "It was for the best."
"I remember looking into your eyes, praying I would see you again."
"It took you nearly three decades to return to me, Estel. Time that you had to find another. Tell me about her. Who was she? What was her name? What did she mean to you?"
"Her name was Laeriel. She was a Ranger of the North and lived, fought and traveled with the Dúnedain. And yes, I loved her."
Aragorn saddled his horse, Salo, slipping the bags that carried his supplies over his rump. He was a fine horse, not the best in the stable, but where he was headed the best would be too likely to be targeted for theft. He needed a strong, sturdy horse, one that would withstand many miles of hard riding, nights in the Wild, and one that didn't draw too much attention to itself, or to him. The dark stallion was perfect.
He heard rustling behind him and turned to find one his brothers standing behind him. He was leaning against the stable wall, his arms crossed over his chest. His jet black hair, done in two braids that hung from his temples, the rest falling freely passed his shoulders, shone like the wings of a raven. He smiled, the light of amusement reaching the grey of his eyes.
"Does Ada know you are leaving, Estel?"
"Aragorn. My name is Aragorn. And yes, Ada knows of my departure. We spoke last night, Elrohir. He knows that I must go to the north."
Elrohir stared at him, wondering when the boy he had loved as a brother had grown into the man he now saw before him. A man he almost didn't recognize. The face was the same as it had always been, but the demeanor had changed. Estel was different, hardened. And he wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
"You will always be Estel to me, little brother. Were you going to leave without saying goodbye?"
Aragorn sighed. He hadn't wanted to say goodbye to Elrohir or Elladan, for that matter, and had been avoiding them both for the better part of the morning. Securing his saddle, he turned around, a sad smile on his lips. "I didn't want to say goodbye, Elrohir. It pains me too much."
"Well, then don't say goodbye, brother. We are going with you," Elladan said, appearing with his horse, Alyaran, as well as Elrohir's Nárion, both ready to go. "We really thought you were going to leave much earlier, Estel."
Aragorn stared at the two of them, astonished. Then he broke out into a wide smile. "You're coming with me? Does Father know?"
"He sends his blessing and a warning to stay out of trouble, as always. Now are you ready, Estel? If we don't leave now, we won't be able to meet up with Aron at the appointed time and place. You know how he hates to be kept waiting," Elladan said, tossing Nárion's reins to Elrohir.
"What do you mean?"
"We knew you would want to leave since Father wouldn't give you permission to seek Arwen's hand. We sent word to Aron two days ago," Elrohir said with a smile.
Aragorn grinned and swung up into the saddle. He had thought to take this journey alone. Not once, had he imagined the twins would be riding with him. As he rode into the courtyard, he glimpsed his Mother out of the corner of his eye. He turned to her, his hand raised in farewell. Beside her stood Lord Elrond, Ada, his arm resting lightly on her shoulder. Aragorn smiled, waving to them both before turning his attention back to the road ahead of him. They rode over the bridge, the last link to Homely House behind them. Arwen had not come to say goodbye.
"Do not harbor ill will toward Arwen, Estel. She left last night, returning to Lothlórien. She has much to learn, as she is the Lady of Imladris," Elladan said, noticing that Estel searched the hills of Rivendell as he rode.
Aragorn turned in his seat, looking at Elladan. He nodded slightly, and then turned back to the road set before him. There was not time to dwell on Arwen now. He had a purpose now, a destiny to fulfill. Until he did that, Arwen was lost to him.
Setting her from his thoughts, Aragorn recalled the last trip he had made to the Rangers of the North with Elrohir and Elladan. He had met Aron that trip and had come to respect the captain of the rangers. He had led them in a raid on an Orc encampment, a successful mission, all the rangers coming out of it with little, to no injuries. He, himself had only a slight wound, one that barely troubled him now.
Aragorn had sent word that he wished to rejoin Aron and his company after he had spoken with Lord Elrond about Arwen. He had spent days thinking about the words they had spoken before making his decision. The missive had probably not reached him as of yet, but he was confident he would be welcomed, since his brothers had sent word as well. He had fought with them before and proved he was capable. And now with the news that he was the heir apparent to the throne of Gondor, he wondered if he would be as accepted into their midst. He knew nothing about his future role as King. He would have to learn as much as he could. And yet could he count on the rangers to believe that he was ready to become a King, when he had little faith in himself?
"Do not worry Estel. Aron will accept you for who you really are. He will have no choice," Elladan said, effectively reading Aragorn's troubled thoughts.
"I am not so sure about that, brother. For I have a hard time accepting it myself. What proof do I have to bear? I have only my word and that, to hardened men like the rangers, would be little proof enough."
"Do not be too sure, Estel. It was Elrohir and I alone that brought you and Gilraen to Rivendell that night eighteen years ago. We were there when your Father fell. We are your proof, brother. And none shall contest us."
Aragorn stared at Elladan. He had never heard this tale before. So many secrets, so much to learn and he was at a loss as to where to begin. "Tell me about him, my Father. Did you know him well?"
"We did," Elrohir began. "We had fought against the Orcs many a time with Arathorn, son of Arador. You bear a remarkable resemblance to him. He was tall, like you with the thoughtful silver grey eyes and dark hair. He was a good man, a great warrior and a thoughtful and kind leader. Stern when he needed to be, but he was a fair man.
We were at his side when he sought your mother's hand in marriage. It took him some days to gather his courage to speak to her father, your grandfather, but seek him out he did. We were at their wedding. It was a sight to behold. Your mother was a beautiful bride."
"Were you there when he was slain?" Aragorn asked.
Elladan sighed. "We were. There was nothing we could do. We tried to protect him. He was, after all, the heir to the throne of Gondor. But he would hear nothing of staying behind. The last battle we had with the Orcs from Mordor was to be his doom."
"What happened?" Aragorn asked. When Elladan fell silent, he stared at him, his eyes narrowed slightly. "Tell me, brother. I must know."
"An Orc we thought had been killed drew an arrow and shot Arathorn several times. The fatal arrow hit him, piercing his eye. He was killed instantly," Elrohir said quietly.
"There was nothing we could do for Arathorn. But we knew we had to find you and your Mother. You were the last of the line of Isildur, the hope of all men in Middle Earth. We had to protect you," Elladan explained.
Aragorn sat silently, allowing Salo to pick his way through the narrow pass they were following. His mind was reeling. If his Father had not been slain, then this burden of future King would have fallen to him. He would only have been a Prince then, not destined to rule for many years. Fate had indeed been cruel that day. It had not only taken a father from a young boy, but a King from an entire race.
"And you took me to Rivendell after that." It was a statement, not a question. Aragorn knew the answer. He had grown up in Rivendell, always knowing he was different. He knew he was a human child, but he didn't know why he lived with Elves in Imladris, until now.
"We were there before the battle. We were trying to talk your father into letting you come to Rivendell earlier than what you would have. The heirs of Isildur always fostered at Imladris. Once your father was killed, there was nothing else we could do. Gilraen feared for your safety, as did the rest of us. Father did what he thought was best. You became Estel, Lord Elrond's youngest son," Elrohir said with a smile, remembering the day they had taken Aragorn to Imladris.
Aragorn remained silent after that. He had happy memories of living in Rivendell, in the house of Lord Elrond. Memories that remained happy until he thought about the day Lord Elrond had broken the news of his birthright. That day, though at first had seemed a revelation, now was dimmed by despair. He knew not how he was supposed to fulfill his destiny. He knew not when he would return to Imladris and to his Mother. He didn't know where he belonged. He was neither Elf, not ordinary man. He was a King, however displaced, and he had no idea how he was supposed to regain that which he had never had.
Then there was the matter of his heart. He knew he loved Arwen. He also knew that he would never have her unless he completed the task set before him and defeated the darkness that threatened to overrun Middle Earth. If he allowed it, his heart would lead him to dangerous paths, taking risks he was not prepared for. He had to forget Arwen, if only for a time. That was one reason why he was heading to the rangers. He had to forget his love for Arwen. Maybe some time doing battle against the forces of darkness would help release her from his heart.
The moon was just rising high into the sky when the three stopped for the night. It was getting too dark to travel further without some risk. Quietly, they set about setting up camp, each with their own task to complete. After many hunting trips together, the three brothers knew exactly what to do to ready a camp for the night.
Elrohir collected wood to set a fire. Elladan opened the bedrolls and unpacked the provisions. Estel took care of the horses, making sure they were fed and watered before brushing them down. Only his Salo had a saddle, both Elrohir and Elladan preferring to ride bare back with just a bridle.
Once each had completed his task, they met back at the campsite, taking a position around the fire, so that no one direction could be approached without one of them seeing. Silently, Elladan handed his brothers lembas packs and a flask full of water each. They ate in silence, the stars twinkling brightly overhead.
"Why did you send a letter to Aron, Elladan, telling him I was coming to meet him?" Aragorn asked suddenly.
"Ada spoke with me about your meeting with Arwen in the woods near the courtyard."
"So you know how I feel?"
"No one truly knows the extent of the feelings you have for Arwen, but you. I do know that you have many years of hardship before you, Estel. I have seen the possibilities you face in Galadriel's mirror."
Aragorn sighed. "Will I ever find happiness, Elladan?"
"The mirror only tells of a possible future, Estel. No one can be truly sure what the future holds. I can tell you that you will not face these trials alone."
Aragorn glanced up into the sky, wondering exactly what Elladan meant by that cryptic answer. He was nearly as bad as Ada.
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.