31. Chapter Thirty-One
Arwen crossed through her bedchamber swiping at her tears. There was no way she was going to allow this woman, this usurper, to challenge her position like this. She was going to confront her, find out her intentions in coming back to Gondor and into Estel's life.
When she had asked Estel about her, he had told her that Laeriel was on the mend, no thanks to her. And when she had asked what her intentions were, why she had come back after all these years, he had yelled at her to stop nagging him.
Well, if she could not rely on her husband to tell her the truth, she would go to the source and find it for herself. Arwen, her mind made up, left her chambers, striding purposely through the hallways until she reached the stairs. She slipped down the stone steps, her resolve strong.
Arwen headed to the sixth level, her strides long and sure. She had a purpose, and nothing and no one would cause her to stray from it. The Houses of Healing were within sight and her heart began to pound loudly in her breast. She was just steps from finding out the truth she so desperately needed to know. But would it be what she wanted to hear?
Laeriel woke to bright sunshine spilling across her bed. She sat up, her whole body aching. From what she could remember of her passage to Minas Tirith, she had journeyed the last two days with no food, no water and no rest. She had fled Harad in desperation, her need to reach Aragorn and help utmost in her mind.
She had lost Adariel and Brannon after the first month. She had spent an additional month, looking for the trail the slavers had taken. By the end of the third month, she had been terrified that she would never see her family again. So with reluctance, she had turned around and headed back to Gondor.
Tears glistened in her eyes as she realized that Adariel and Brannon had been in the hands of the slavers for nearly seven months. She had no idea where they were or if she would ever see them again. She couldn't even be sure they were still together. What would they do if they were separated? How would they find them if they weren't together?
"Lady Laeriel? Would you like something to eat, some broth perhaps?" Dame Ioreth asked from the doorway.
Laeriel brushed away the tears and nodded. She was famished. Dame Ioreth smiled and scurried away, pleased that her patient had an appetite, however small. She needed the Lady to eat so she could regain her strength.
Laeriel reached to the bedside table and took her choker into her trembling hand. She remembered when Strider had given her the necklace. It had been the day of their handfasting. The day they had promised themselves to each other, for a year and a day, telling all of Middle-earth their intention to marry at the end of that time.
She hadn't reached the end of their handfasting. But she had treasured the necklace, never taking it off until she had been brought to the Halls of Healing. She didn't remember anyone taking it off, but Strider had returned it to her this morning.
"I see you got your necklace back."
Laeriel's head snapped up and she found a beautiful woman standing in the doorway to her room. Her long black hair hung down her back, her grey eyes sparkled with unshed tears, and she stood ramrod straight, her spine stiff with determination.
"Yes, this is the first time I have ever had it off," she said, reaching around her slender neck to clasp it so that it rested against her pale throat.
"It must be very special to you."
Dame Ioreth chose this time to return with a tray of broth and tea for the Lady Laeriel. When she saw the visitor that stood in the doorway, her hands began to shake and the dishes on the tray rattled.
"My Lady…I did not know you were here. Shall I get you a cup of tea?"
"No, thank you. I am just visiting with the Lady Laeriel."
Dame Ioreth set the tray down on the bedside table, then curtsied to Laeriel's visitor, before rushing out of the room. Laeriel glanced from the retreating back of Dame Ioreth to the woman standing just inside her room.
"Arwen…you are the Lady Arwen, Aragorn's queen," Laeriel said, her voice soft.
"Yes, I am his wife. What I want to know is what you are to him?"
Laeriel sighed, reaching for the cup of tea. This was going to be a tough discussion and she would need fortification. She took a sip of the hot tea, her tongue getting scalded as she forgot to blow to cool it off.
"Perhaps you would care to explain why you are here in Gondor and what you have planned for my husband."
"My Lady, please. It is a long story and I do not wish to bore you with the details."
"I think I have the right to know. Now, I want some answers, and I am not leaving until I get some."
"Fine. What do you want to know?"
Arwen settled into the chair beside the bed, crossed her arms over her breast and narrowed her eyes. "First off…what are you to Estel?"
"I do not think you will like the answer to that question, my Lady. But if you want to know, then I will tell you. I was his friend, his comrade in arms, his lover and his wife."
Laeriel watched the blood drain from her face, making her paler than she already was. It was a good thing she was already sitting, for Laeriel feared if she hadn't been, she would have fallen.
"His wife… He never told me."
"He thought I was dead. I was wounded during a battle. I took an Orc arrow to my chest. I fell over a cliff into the Brandywine River, where I was rescued by dwarfs. After I recovered from the wound, the dwarfs contacted Círdan and I was taken to Mithlond."
"If you survived the fall, and the arrow wound, why did you not try to find him? Why not contact my father in Imladris or my brothers, and have one of them find Estel for you?"
"Your father made it abundantly clear that I was not meant to be with Aragorn. I was preventing him from becoming who he needed to be for all of Middle-earth. So I did the only thing I could do. I let him go."
"You allowed him to believe you were dead, for over seventy years? So why come back now, if your intention all along was to give him the freedom to become who he was destined to be?" Arwen asked, her voice filled with icy disdain.
"Could you have been as selfless, My Lady, had the roles been reversed? Could you have let him go, let him believe you had been killed, if you knew that he would never go to fulfill his destiny as long as he was by your side?"
Arwen blanched. He had tried to give her back the Evenstar, had told her to sail away to the Undying Lands. She had refused to take the jewel back or to sail away to leave him alone. But could she have, if it had been the only way he would fulfill his destiny? Yes, she believed she could have, if it meant saving all of Middle-earth.
"I can see by the look on your face that you would. So you see, it was the only thing I could do. I always knew what we had was doomed, that it could not last. I treasured the time we had together, held it close to my heart and lived on that love through the last seventy years."
Arwen could see the tears welling up in Laeriel's sparkling blue eyes and although she didn't want to, she was beginning to feel pity for this woman. She had fallen in love with a man she could never have and knowing that he was out of her reach, had given him back to the world that needed him.
"So why did you come, Laeriel? Why would you put yourself through the pain and misery of seeing him again?" Arwen asked, wanting to understand the woman that her husband had loved so much he had nearly given up everything to be with her.
"I came here because I need his help. My daughter and grandson have been captured by slave traders from Harad. If I did not need his help so desperately, I would not be here."
"Your daughter, is she his daughter as well?" Arwen asked, already knowing the answer in her heart. Why else would Laeriel risk coming to Estel?
"She is. I am sorry, Lady Arwen. I never intended for any of this to happen. I was content to live out my days in Mithlond. But they are all I have left in this world. I could not bear to do nothing. I need to find them."
Arwen watched as the tears that Laeriel had been holding back finally spilled over, cascading down her cheeks. She knew she would have done the same thing in her place. She would have faced an army of Orcs, trolls and whatever else she had to, to safeguard her children. Could she fault this woman for doing the same? Laeriel was his past whereas she was his future, the mother of his heir. She could sympathize with Laeriel, as long as her only concern was her daughter.
"How were your daughter and grandson captured, if you were living in Mithlond? The Haradrim are not known to go so far into the West."
"We were in Lake Town, where my father was from, near the Grey Mountains. Since the fall of Sauron, I had believed it safe to show my grandson the home of his ancestors. I was wrong. They were kidnapped from the inn where we were staying. I followed them down the River Celduin to the Sea of Rhûn. From there they went overland into Khand, selling the slaves at slave markets. I lost them once they crossed the border into Near Harad. Three months I trailed the slavers, ever seeking a chance to steal them away. I failed."
Arwen felt the pain Laeriel was experiencing. Her heart broke for the woman. Silently, she moved from the chair where she was sitting to the mattress. Without a word, she took Laeriel into her arms and held the woman while her tears soaked the shoulder of her gown.
Aragorn paced the floor of his private office, his emotions barely held in check as he waited for Legolas, Gimli and Faramir to arrive. Boromir stood by the window, looking out onto the courtyard, yet not seeing the trees or lawn far below. He was deep in thought, trying his best to remember when he had met and fathered a child on Aragorn's daughter. For the life of him, he could not remember.
There was a knock on the closed door and Faramir entered, closely followed by Legolas and Gimli. Aragorn looked relieved as his friends and Steward finally arrived. He motioned to the chairs near the fireplace and waited for them to all sit. Only he and Boromir remained on their feet.
"Okay Laddie, we're all here. What's so important?" Gimli asked, lighting his pipe.
Aragorn looked to Boromir, who shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. He couldn't help in the telling as he just couldn't remember anything about Adariel. Aragorn sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
"A woman was brought into the Houses of Healing last night, near death, though she had no obvious wounds. I was summoned to help and was able to pull her back from the edge of the circles beyond this world."
"How is she doing?" Faramir asked.
"She is resting. I believe she will make a full recovery, though I still do not know what had ailed her."
"Why are we here, Aragorn?" Legolas asked, sensing that there was more to the story than what they had been told so far. "Who is she?"
Aragorn glanced around the room, each face he looked into wondering the same thing. Who was the woman recuperating in the Houses of Healing? Even Boromir, who already knew part of the story, was curious.
"Her name is Laeriel. She is…she was…my wife."
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.