Prologue: The Loss

Disclaimer: Guess what? It's not mine. It's all Tolkien's. I just borrowed his characters, his plot, and a few of his scenes. The rest is all mine. So now you can sue all you want. You'll lose. And I'll get all you money! *cackles evilly* And your little dog too!

A/N: I was always wondering about Aragorn's childhood. And all the stories that I managed to find (the *few* that I were sticking to cannon as most people seem to think Gilraen is an expendable character…) seemed to only provide snippets of his early life. So I took it upon myself to write a complete history of his life (Gilraen included). Hope it doesn't come out to bad. (Constructive criticism is welcome, and will be received warmly with milk and homemade cookies)

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We walked slowly, four of Men of our number bearing the planks that held the body of the man who had been their leader for years. The only sounds were the footfalls of the men and the horses and the ill-concealed sound of weeping from one of the younger boys.

I glanced back. Most of the faces were grim, accepting the hard fact. A few had unstoppable tears running down their cheeks, and one of the young boys who should have stayed behind, being all too young to have joining such a battle, was having a harder time keeping his sobs silent. One of the more seasoned warriors came over and spoke to him softly, comforting him.

My gaze fell on the body for a moment. I turned away, the memories rising unbidden. A small child, barely able to hold the sword on his hand….A nearly grown boy, challenging me to a shooting match….A young man, pale and throwing up after his first kill….Then that same boy, older and battle hardened, fighting the orcs with a warrior's strength…and a proud, deep voice, declaring to the world "And now I have born a son. May the line of Isildur and Elendil never die!"…and just this morning, holding his little boy for the last time…no. I turned my mind resolutely to the present.

I felt a light touch on my shoulder. I turned to Elrohir, walking next to me. There were tears glittering in his eyes.

"How will we tell her?" He asked quietly in Sindarin.

I shook my head, wordless. Tears began to prick the back of my eyelids. An image of Father floated to mind, standing at the window, looking toward the West after Mother had left for the havens. That had been the worst time for us. But Mother had been leaving toward the cure for what ailed her, and endless peace, while…I glanced at the body. He was gone, gone to the wherever Men go when they die. A better question would be 'How do you comfort a grieving mortal?' At least elves go to the halls of Mandos. The souls of Men simply disappear, for all we know they black out of existence into oblivion. 'Small comfort,' I thought bitterly. She would be devastated.

Elrohir had turned from me to stare at the ground. He was also thinking of Mother. I reached over and gripped his shoulder. His head jerked up, his eyes meeting mine. The tears had begun to escape the corners of his eyes.

"We did not fail him," I said firmly. "There was nothing we could have done."

"I know," he responded, his eyes drifting downward again, "and yet…"

"No!" I stopped, seizing his shoulders and turning him to face me. "Look at me, Elrohir."

He looked up. His tears were flowing more freely now.

"You cannot blame yourself. 'Twill do more harm then good."

"But I was right there, Elladan! I might have saved him, had I been quicker-"

Not again. He would blame himself, as he did when Mother was tortured in those last moments when we were so close and the orcs had nothing to lose…and the guilt and blame had nearly tore him apart. He had nearly gone with Mother to Valinor. And now the self-blame assuaged him yet again. It might be too much this time.

"Elrohir-" I said desperately

Just then one of the men lifted a horn and blew to warn the guards of our approach. The answering horn was blown. I saw the men squaring their shoulders, preparing themselves for the grief that awaited them.

I released Elrohir's shoulder and we rejoined the front ranks of the march as we entered the village. I saw women standing in a crowd, each searching the returning warriors for husbands, brothers, fathers…I saw Gilraen and my eyes involuntarily met hers. I tried to conceal my emotions, but it was too late. She narrowed her eyes in worry, then handed the child to another woman and proceeded to push her way through the crowd. They all pulled back, letting her pass easily through, as one by one they noticed that their leader was not standing among the warriors.

The men lay the boards down just as Gilraen came from the crowd. She came forward and knelt beside the cold body that had once been her husband. She gently reached to touch a lock of his hair that had fallen out of place as he was carried. We had cleaned the body, broken the arrow, and closed the eyes ere we came. A man would be hard pressed to prove whether he lived or merely slept as mortals do, with their eyes closed. But Gilraen lofted his wrist, feeling the coldness of skin that contains no life, and the lack of the steady beat that would have been felt had he yet breath in him.

A tear fell from her face onto his. She lifted his body to her breast, holding the shell that had once contained him close to her. And she wept upon him rocking back and forth.

"Oh, Arathorn," she sobbed, " Oh, Arathorn…"

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A/N: If anyone cares, Arathorn was killed by an orc-arrow through his eye. So they closed his eyes to hide the hole as well as the general closing the eyes of the dead.

And out of curiosity, can anyone tell me when they figured out that it was Arathorn I was talking about? I gave quite a few hints. And did anybody figure out that it was Elladan's POV before I mentioned Elrohir? Just curious. (Hey, an author likes to know the thoughts of her readers…^.^)