I sit and study him in the half-light of the few candles still burning. The hard life in the Wild has made many a mark on him. None would take him for a Prince of my people now. His face to worn, his body hardened. The little boy I remember so well has truly grown into a Man. With a Man’s desires. And weaknesses. I clench my teeth and banish that particular line of thought.
It is counterproductive. As are thoughts of days gone by and a small innocent child with a huge appetite for honey and stories of ancient times. That child is no more. The Man is. He will live and of that I am glad but … but it does not change the bitter taste on my tongue.
I lean forward and feel his forehead. He stirs and I mumble some nonsense to soothe him. The fever is still there but it will break on its own and although he has not come to since he was taken here I deem it safe to leave him.
I get up to leave; the rustling of my garment almost drowning out his voice.
I stop and turn. His eyes are open but feverish and clouded. His skin is still flushed and to do something … anything … to hide my confusion I again check the temperature, laying a hand on his brow. A hand that trembles ever so slightly. Never. He has never….
“Hush, child”, I say. “All will be well”. I mean to say more but the sight of his tears silence me.
“I’m so sorry, Father. I’m so sorry. So sorry”.
My heart, firmly enclosed in an armour of righteous anger how dare he do this to her ? - to me ? – after all we have done for him – I have done for him aches but my face remains still and cool. None of the current visible on the surface. And apparently this is taken as an answer – a rejection – and Aragorn’ s eyes slide shut and his sobs quicken.
“Please. Please Father”.
Father. Such a small word. And so massive in meaning and sense and sentiment. It takes no more than a small word after all to shatter what I thought was the hardest steel. I gather my fosterling in my arms and stroke his hair and face, much as I did when he was small enough to actually fit in my arms.
“All is well”, I say to him. “I am here. All is well”. And though it is not I want it to be. For I cannot bear being the cause of distress for my little Mortal child. And so I speak to him, calling him “Estel” and “my little one”, telling him of how dear he is to me. In his fever all he understands is probably that I am here and that I by the sound of my voice is no longer terribly angry but that little calms him down already.
He is calm now but holds on to me still. And nor do I feel quite ready to let go just yet. So instead I slip under the covers to cradle him to me. And there we lay – the Loremaster and the King-to-Be – and for a while I can pretend that all is as it once was.
That the grown and hardened Man in my arms is just a child whom I can protect and teach and whose greatest wish at times seems to be to please me.
That there is no such thing in the world as destined and doomed love.
That the lives of my Mortal kin is still as long and longer as in the days of my brother.
But even that a small voice whispers was never long enough.
I sigh and let my thoughts wander. My mind slip onto the foggy paths of elven-dreams and I loose myself in the images of those I miss. The night pass and when again I am fully awake I am met by stormgrey eyes so like onto those of my brother that I am almost confused as to whether I have indeed woken.
My arms are still around Aragorn and I sense in the tenseness of his muscles that he is not entirely comfortable so I let him go and rise from the bed. The dawn has broken and so reality with doomed love and cruel gifts and long dead and gone brothers is back.
Still, I cannot help myself and so I ask him:
“Did you oft think of me thus ?
As a father ?”
His eyes do not turn from me but his uneasiness is plain to see. Still he answers me calmly.
I look deep into his eyes and there I see pain and fear and love and the light of Kings and so there is little I can do but lean forward and say : “My son” placing a gentle kiss on his brow. And from the soft sigh that escapes his lips I know that he understands.
“We shall speak no more of this matter” I say and stand up, repeating words already said but needing to say them again so as to somehow infuse them with this new feeling between us.
At the door I pause and look back on him. My little leaf of Fall, my mist, all too soon scattered by the harsh winds of this world.
He smiles at me and I smile at him and in that moment he is my brother and my son – the light of my Father shining in his tired eyes.
“I shall send for food” I say and leave.
My heart has bleed for all the Ages I have seen and I do not think that it will ever stop. But I care not. I will bleed till the end of Arda and beyond, if I must.
I will not stop loving.