1. Wedding Traditions
Aragorn, leaning against a pillar in the Great Hall Merethrond, had never been so glad that men drank their wine mulled with water or honey. He looked down into his glass only to find out with misgiving that it was empty. Again. The rational part of his brain admonished him that he should remain sober at this Night of Nights, but the rest of him was of the opinion that everything would work far more easily if he were but a bit more relaxed. Relaxation was all there was to it, he told himself, refusing to waste a thought at what would have entered the mind of a lesser man: liquid courage. He had never needed liquid courage, so why now? Seeing no reason for it, he had confidently grabbed another glass of wine, it was mulled, after all, and settled his back against the pillar, indifferently watching, out of habit, of course, the other people in the Hall.
He had watched Her dance even before he had come here, glancing briefly while he himself danced. But now he could watch her openly, his only other interest the now-empty wineglass. Aragorn felt sweat trickling down his neck; it had grown hot as the day progressed and the candles were lighted. And the longer he found himself watching Her twirling around, the hotter it seemed to get. He looked down at his velvet tunic and wondered if she was sweating in her midnight-blue dress whose silken material had felt so soft and light when he had touched it earlier and decided against it. She, who always looked as beautiful as he imagined the Queen of the Stars herself to be, never sweated.
"Aragorn?" He turned his head slowly away from the Maia that had chosen to grace his halls and looked directly at Haldor, who had come up to him, carrying two full glasses of wine. Aragorn nodded at him and took a glass from his kinsman's hand, then continued watching as his other cousin whirled Arwen around. She seemed to enjoy it, which was small wonder. Barahir was a charmer, a lover of women, but he had never married; which was strange, for he could have had almost every woman if he but asked.
"Aragorn?" Haldor said again, and Aragorn decided that his cousin had come for more than to serve him more wine. Haldor's eyes were sparkling and a smile graced his lips. "On any other day I would call your predatory stare highly impolite." Aragorn lifted an eyebrow in silent question. "You have been staring at her ever since you came to this spot. I have been watching you for a time now, as have others. You should be entertaining your guests, instead." He gestured towards a group of young ladies. "I imagine that it is a sad day for the female population of high society, whether married or not."
Aragorn downed half of his glass and smiled back at him. "Ah, real wine! They are not my guests but a nuisance that stand between me and my desire. Though some may be beautiful, I do not care about them. Nothing short of another war could claim my attention. And is that not reasonable? Even for a king? 'Tis not every day that a man may watch his bride dance. Is she not wonderful? I have been waiting for this for far too long a time to not enjoy it to its fullest extent. If only this day were already over and the two of us alone."
Haldor grinned at Aragorn and lowered his voice. "I prefer women, but if my king commands..."
Aragorn blinked twice, but did not show his surprise in any other way. He knew his kinsman too well for that.
"That is a very generous offer of you, my friend, and I am tempted to accept. But tonight I will be otherwise occupied." Haldor gave a bark of laughter and Aragorn clapped him on the shoulder. "Well have you learned to play with another man's words, but I know how to turn the tables. "
"I am relieved to hear that. This will be your last glass of wine today. You already seem a bit... intoxicated." He laughed at Aragorn's sour look. "You will thank me for that later. You should know what you will be doing later. Especially with the... bedding ceremony."
Aragorn grimaced. "And there I thought that you as my closest kin would have come to offer me a diversion." Haldor, Faramir, Imrahil and Celeborn had talked the proceedings through the day before and had come up with a compromise with which all people involved seemed to be quite content. While it mostly followed the traditions of the Dúnedain, Celeborn had insisted on enough privacy for them, and Gondor would be satisfied with the open display of the soiled sheet on the morrow. It could be worse, Aragorn thought, remembering Denethor's wedding all those years ago.
"That would spoil the fun for those of us who await a cold bed. And would you deprive us of the fruits of yesterday's careful planning?"
"I would have expected that of her brothers, not of you, you ungrateful oaf."
Haldor shook his head and grinned. "You are the King. That includes taking the good as well as the less pleasant aspects of the role."
"And it does also include that my subjects show me respect."
"Yes, I would do so if we had not spent less respectable times together for years. And then yesterday... I now wonder if mere talk suffices. A willing woman would have been much more educating. But you were against visiting that brothel."
"And I still am! Your brother would have had more mercy with me."
A pause. "Yes, that he would. But it was not meant to be."
Aragorn sipped the rest of his wine and tentatively touched the raw spot in his heart that Halbarad had once occupied and found it yet too painful to dwell on. Life had changed and Aragorn found himself standing where he had always dreamt of. But he had always imagined it to be Halbarad standing in the place Haldor had stepped in. But 'twas a sobering thought and a clear head was needed for tonight. He handed both his glasses to Haldor and nodded at him.
"Lead the way, then."
"As your groomsman," Haldor said in a voice that boded nothing good, "it is even my duty."
He went to the High Table and clapped his hands twice. Aragorn followed him and saw Arwen approach from the other side. The music stopped.
"Dear guests," he said in an authoritative tone that carried easily through the hall. "The hour has progressed and the bridal couple has now waited long enough. Let us put them to bed! But first let us hear what has been prepared." He motioned to Amrothos, who came up to him, carrying a scroll. Haldor took it with a slight bow and unrolled it. "Since in these noble halls and with the elevated guests we have to refrain from the bawdy songs and dirty jokes that you deserve, Aragorn, we had to come up with something different." Before Aragorn had a chance to comment on that, Haldor continued. "My lady, please forgive me if I should in any way offend you. I will tell you all now the story of my dear friend and his lady.
There once was a boy of two
Whose name was made anew
For he had to hide
And lay all aside
And the truth was made taboo
There was a lad of twenty
Who had ev'rything aplenty
A lineage high
High as the sky
'twas more than only gentry
Proud was he of the title
And so did not be idle
He liked to walk
And sing and talk
To himself of this title
So while he was a-singing
His song around him ringing
He saw a woman fair
Talking did he dare
His heart to her was clinging
The lady was soft like a dove
And upon him come was love
But oh she said no
And made him go
He took away his aching love
Then return he did to his kin
Where his aunt took him in
They taught him
How to be grim
So his new life would begin
Now of age at twenty five
In adventures did he dive
He left the north
And so went forth
In strange lands to arrive
He wandered far and wide
As a raven Rohir did he ride
Walked in Gondor
And also in Mordor
Even in Harad did he reside
Ever for the north he longed
For there he truly belonged
Before he understood
'twas the Golden Wood
There his stay was prolonged
The reason for this is very clear
For there dwelt one he holds dear
With open hair
And feet bare
She did walk there with the deer
'Twas the lady he could not forget
Whose love he ever sought to get
But to his wonder
She came yonder
Maybe there was hope for him yet?
To her wondrous beauty he bowed
This man of fifty and so very proud
Together they stood
In the Golden wood
Troth plighted and love they vowed
The dreaded day to leave came soon
After merely four years of the moon
To wait be bade
Yes Arwen said and did not to swoon
He laboured long and oh so very hard
Over the Shire he long stood guard
Destroyed the Ring
That very evil thing
At last two Kingdoms became his ward
A few months later his lovely lady came
Her position beside the King to claim
She moved with grace
At a moderate pace
But dear Aragorn's bed was her true aim
Now our long story is finally over
Of the lovely lady and her rover
The wine is gone
And we do yawn
Let's give them four-leaved clover!"
As soon as the echo of the last word faded the whole audience applauded and Haldor bowed. Aragorn was sure that he had had become red, but Arwen's sweet blush made up for all the discomfort.
When all had died down, those that would accompany them to their chambers stepped into their rehearsed places.
First came Lord Húrin with an immense keyring with keys of every seize imaginable, then Haldor with Lady Erendis, Arwen's witness, walking gracefully at his side. Aragorn watched Elrond and Lady Galadriel take their places at both sides of his bride while he himself felt Uncle Turgon's reassuring presence at his shoulder.
"Thank you for taking this place, Turgon," Aragorn said with a nod while they waited for the many guests to find a place in the train.
"I would be nowhere else." He clapped Aragorn's shoulder. "Your mother would be proud to see you standing here. How are you feeling?"
Aragorn thought about that for a moment. He was a bit lightheaded from the wine and he had a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. But he was not going to tell his uncle that. He wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers and gave Turgon a somewhat forced smile. "I have never felt better."
Turgon gave him a look that said that he was not fooled for a moment, but did not dispute the statement. "If you say so. You should be fine, then."
"Did you know of the poem?"
Turgon shrugged. "I did, but I did not participate in its making. The peredhil twins and Haldor are solely responsible for it. I fear that the mention of all the wine being gone was meant literally."
Aragorn only gave a groan. Of course it would have been them. He knew that he should be offended, but at that moment he could not have cared less. He hoped that the procedure would be over quickly and they could finally be alone.
Finally they started to move. Everyone grew silent because the Eldar had taken up a song that accompanied them on their journey towards the Queen's chambers. The song was unknown to Aragorn and he tried to catch its words, but they eluded him. It seemed ancient and to be carrying the sadness of parting as well as the joy of a new beginning. At last they halted in front of a closed door. The Elves fell silent and it was eerily quiet for the amount of people gathered.
Then there was the sound of metal against metal as Húrin searched for the right key. Having found it, he turned to Arwen. "My lady, may I present you with the key to your quarters?"
She took a step forward and took the whole ring with a pale hand. "Thank you, my lord," she said in response and nodded to the Warden of the Keys, turned and walked, no, glided, the last few steps to the large double doors. She unlocked it and pushed both sides open. Aragorn felt the urge to accompany her, to show her these quarters himself, but tradition forbade it. In she went alone and disappeared through the other door of the antechamber. The seconds trickled by as slowly as honey would down her... He mentally shook himself and tried to concentrate on where she would be walking now. He knew the outline of her rooms well, for they mirrored his own. The design, though, was different. The antechamber, the great reception room and the smaller one beyond that, the sitting room and at last the bedchamber. It would naturally take its time until she had seen everything.
At last she emerged again, a smile on her face. She nodded and said the words that were expected of her: "I am pleased, my lord."
Aragorn released the breath he had held, took her slightly trembling hand and led her back to the small reception room, where two chairs had been prepared in front of the open door to the bedchamber. He guided her to her seat and settled down next to her. He took her hand and squeezed it softly. Participating in what would come next had always been fun and he hoped that it would still be when one was the couple for which it was done. Every sober man (and woman) would call it utterly ridiculous and beneath the noble descendants of Númenorean kings, but with a certain amount of alcohol it made perfect sense.
A servant brought a tray with fourteen little glasses filled with a clear liquid and placed it on the large table.
Haldor stepped forward again and cleared his throat. "Dear bridal pair, dear guests. Not all of today's work is done yet, for we yet have the bed to prepare. For this were chosen seven unmarried men and seven unmarried woman. I bid the following people to step forward so that they be properly equipped: My lords Elladan and Elrohir, brothers to Queen Arwen, my lord Faramir, Steward of Gondor, my lords Barahir and Galathor, kinsmen to the King Elessar, and my lords Erchirion and Amrothos, sons of the Prince of Dol Amroth. My lords, drink up and take to the bed. It has to be warmed up!"
Each of the men downed one of the glasses, marched to the bed and threw himself upon it. Aragorn could hear them make some inappropriate jokes. Meanwhile, Haldor continued. "My ladies Andreth and Meril, kinswomen to the King Elessar, my lady Lothíriel, daughter of the Prince of Dol Amroth, my ladies Erendis and Lalaith, friends to Queen Arwen, my lady Idril, daughter of the Lord of Lossanarch, and my lady Fíriel, daughter of the Lord of Lebennin, drink up and take off your shoes. As soon as that is done, chase off the men and make sure that they left no thorns or rocks. Then do your best to see if the bed will hold."
Haldor himself distributed the glasses and saw to it that each of the ladies downed the whole glass. Aragorn noted with some satisfaction that even though the Gondorian ladies shuddered at the strong spirit, his kinswomen drank without batting an eye. With much giggling all of them hastened into the bedchamber, made a show of searching the now-empty bed, then began to jump upon it, shrieking with laughter. The bed creaked somewhat under the combined weight of the seven ladies, but it was new and the carpenter had done an excellent work in creating a bed that looked light to the eye but yet was sturdy when put to the test. And if it passed that, they would surely not be having any problems later.
Aragorn looked at Arwen to judge her reaction. But the only thing that he could see was a light twitch of the jaw muscles. She was amused but too tense to show it.
"Does the bed hold?" Haldor called after a while.
"It does," the ladies answered with one voice. They climbed out again and took their positions next to the seven lords near the door.
Haldor bowed to them. "Thank you, my ladies."
And last of all came Gandalf, his staff clacking on the white marble floor. He bowed before Aragorn and Arwen and held out a hand towards them. "May your union be blessed with domestic peace and healthy offspring." He grinned at him in a way that only Gandalf could, at the same time teasing and radiating genuine happiness for them. "And may the bed also be blessed so that it holds more than the seven ladies." Loud laughter followed that statement
After Gandalf had stepped back again, the ladies led Arwen away to one end of the bedchamber, while the lords ushered Aragorn to another. He rather felt than saw them relieving him of the formal clothing he had worn throughout the day until he only stood in breeches and shirt, his sole attention on the throng of giggling females crowding around Arwen. So soon. At last they stood back and Aragorn could see her again, now clad only in a light shift. And oh, she was beautiful!
"Out, all of you," Haldor's voice boomed through the room. He turned one last time and grinned. "Have fun, and do not be lazy!"
All of them laughed at that and finally departed, leaving the two of them alone. At last.
The stillness felt suddenly overwhelming and all that Aragorn had thought of doing seemed to elude him now. At a loss of words, he just looked at her. Should he compliment her on her lavender shift? No, it seemed foolish. She must not see his uncertainty! He looked around the room for something that might serve as a vessel for the start of a conversation. His eyes fell on a carafe with cider and he silently thanked Yavanna for inventing apples. He gestured towards it. "Would you like some..."
She looked to where he was pointing and nodded. "Yes, please."
For the first time in his life he was glad to turn away from her. He took a deep breath filled two cups. When he turned around again to hand her one of them, he found that she had silently come up to him. He jerked his hand back in surprise and had she not steadied his hand would have spilt the liquid. Her hands seemed to be featherlight yet held a strength unlooked for. She squeezed his hand and he surrendered the cup.
"Thank you." A concerned look entered her face. "Are you well?"
He took his own cup and smiled at her, a genuine and easy smile. "Yes," he said with as much confidence as he could muster, then drank.
A moment of silence, then: "It is an interesting custom. Preparing the bed, I mean. I have never heard of it before, do you know whence it comes?"
Consciously keeping his focus on her face and away from the distracting shift, he placed his cup back on the table and nodded. "Winters in the rest of Eriador are colder than those in Imladris, so warming up the bed is considered an actual favour. It is said among my kin that the women's part developed after that of the men. There once was a groom who must have had a particular devious friend that after the warming up cut a notch in the rope holding the mattress. It did not hold the night's activities..."
At that Arwen had to laugh so hard that she spewed her whole mouthful of cider directly on his shirt. "Oh," she exclaimed and made to turn away, maybe to search for a cloth, but Aragorn grabbed her wrists and drew her closer to him.
"It is but a shirt," he said and kissed her.
Her lips, her mouth tasted of apples and something else that was uniquely Arwen. She smelled of wildflowers, of golden Elanor and white Niphredil that grew upon Cerin Amroth where they had plighted their troth this day thirty nine years ago. He breathed in the scent that was her. He had always loved her scent, loved everything on her. Her raven hair, pale skin, sparkling eyes and would love even more what was now hidden by her shift. And now she was all his.
She melted against him and the cup glided from her hand, forgotten.
Ever so slowly her arms circled his waist and tugged at his shirt, freeing it from the confines of his trousers. With light fingers she pushed the soft material up his back, leaving goosebumps in their wake. She looked up at him with a firm expression as her hands gripped his shoulders, her nails digging into his flesh hard enough to make him wince.
"Arwen," he breathed against her mouth, "Undómiel Telcontar." He felt himself tense as he fought his instincts from taking over. He was beginning to tread new terrain and the path between awkwardness and ferocity was not as broad as he had suspected. But he must not stray, must keep his footing for her and this special night. He only hoped that she would be lenient with him. As if on their own accord his hands buried themselves into her hair and pulled her even closer to him.
She broke the kiss and sighed softly, an exquisite sound that broke the stillness. "You should remove that shirt lest the cider... stick to your chest."
He took a deep breath and smiled at her as haughtily as he could manage. "I would not mind if you liberated me of it."
She cocked her head to the side but did not loosen the grip on his shoulders. She smiled as if shy, then nodded. "If my lord wishes it, then it will be so." Her grip changed and she stood on tiptoes, pressing her exquisite body even tighter against him to pull the linen over his head. He lifted his arms and with a gentle tug the garment slid over his head and unto the floor.
Arwen took a step back and looked at him curiously. She lifted a hand but halted it mid-air as if unsure if whatever she was going to do would be permitted. Or maybe she did not see what she had wished to? It was impossible to tell in the semi-darkness. She looked at him with huge eyes and opened her mouth.
Aragorn felt his heart sink. She was disappointed. "What..?"
For some endless seconds she just stood there, mouth agape, then she started to giggle."You have hair on your chest!"
Aragorn looked down and felt a bark of relieved laughter escape him. Of course this would be strange for her. "So I do. And there I thought I looked repulsive to your eyes."
"Oh! No, no! You are beautiful, strong and lean. It is only that I have never seen such a thing before and so it was a surprise. May I?"
"Of course!" He took her hand and guided it towards his chest. He placed it over his heart and she giggled in response.
"That tickles! And it is fascinating. Is this normal... for men?"
A witty response came to him. "I can assure you that I am no abnormality."
"I did not think so." She let his hand wander down his stomach, her delicate fingertips tracing small circles until she reached a scar on his abdomen. "You have not told me about this."
He took her hand in both of his, trying to take her mind of his labourious past and back to her bedchamber. "It is an old wound that is long since healed. No need to concern yourself. Especially not tonight."
"Not tonight," she confirmed, her voice only a whisper. "What will you do then tonight, my lord?"
She was teasing him with her demeanor and shy smile that only barely succeeded to hide her grin. And oh how he loved it. He let go of her hand and held her face between his hands. "Maybe this." A kiss on her forehead, "or this," the tip of her nose, "or this," the corner of her mouth. He let his hands wander down to her shoulders, trying to puzzle out how her shift would open. One moment she stood in his arms, the next she had flown to the other side of the room.
"For this my lord has to catch his prey, first," she called back to him.
She knew as well as he that she was far too fast for him to catch her if she did not wish to be caught and so Aragorn wondered what she had planned. They had played the game before and she was the only one with whom it did not feel childish. But he suspected that this time the outcome would look somewhat different. He grinned at her and started to move cautiously. For a while they stalked each other, hunter and prey, waiting for the other to make some kind of movement, to lunge or to escape. At one point they had the huge bed between them, which gave Aragorn an idea. He used the fact that she could not see his feet, made as if to lunge to the right and let himself fall onto the rug with a cry.
"Oh my," he heard Arwen exclaim and a moment later saw her appear at the foot of the bed. She hesitated a moment, then crouched next to him. "Are you well?"
"I think..." in one smooth motion he rolled around, grabbed her and pinned her underneath him, "I caught you."
"That is unfair," she cried but laughed at the same time.
He brought his face close to hers, close enough to feel her rapid breath on his cheek. "Never forget that I learnt from the best. And I know my trade well."
"That you do," she breathed and relaxed. "And now?"
"And now to bed."
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.