Here we are. I have to say honestly, it's sad to be finished with this story and if I really wanted to I could probably continue for a long time, but we've come to a point where I can end it without too many questions. In addition, I've completed what I set out to do when I began this story, which was to tell the tale of how a fearful elleth saved a broken king and taught him how to love again. In return, he taught her to laugh, to trust and to live again. Therefore, we will leave them here, standing in the sunrise, looking to new beginnings away from all the pain of their pasts. I think it's a nice way to finish, don't you?
P.S. Warning…will jump characters and time slightly…though it all takes place within about twenty-four hours. Page breaks will indicate the passing of time…even if it is only brief…hope it's not confusing for you.
P.P.S. Will be starting another Aragorn AU. This one will be Third Age…we'll see how I make out. Will start within two weeks of this post, after I update Born of Hope…unless I start before…hmmm…. we'll see.
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Beginning
He sat, his chin resting against his fist, at the head of the Council Chambers, trying valiantly to retain the words that were being spoken by his councillors. However, it became clearer to him with each hour that passed, that his efforts were failing beyond any expression of the word. It had been one week to the day since he had awoken and nearly all of his waking hours had been spent in meetings or councils in preparation for the Foreign Council. This of course meant that he had seen little of his wife, only to say goodnight to her as he pulled her close to him at whatever late hour of the night he was released from his duties and fell into bed beside her.
He sighed, his only contentment found in the fact that the Council of Gondor was strong, filled with men of valour and wisdom, many his kindred, the Dunedain. He looked to the windows high above through which he could see the blueness of the sky in late spring and longed to be outside these walls of white stone but even more than this, he longed to spend the day with her as he had not since their stay in Rivendell. He longed for his wife in a way that made all other things irrelevant and concentration for the task at hand impossible.
He shifted in his seat and looked to Eomer who sat at his right and Faramir who sat at his left, knowing they sensed his discontent though they could do nothing about it. He had sent Ilterrin to greet the newest arrivals and was himself scheduled to meet with one of the foreign lords in place of his noonday meal. He was tired of being king and felt almost like sulking as he had not done since he was a child and this thought brought a wry smile to his lips as he shifted in his seat yet again.
The soft knock at the door behind him, reserved for himself and those in his favour was welcomer than any gift and he nearly leapt from his seat to answer it before remembering that the guards would do so for him. However, he did turn to look and was ecstatic to see the fair elf standing there, smiling at him knowingly.
"Your pardon, Councillors, but if I might speak with the King for a moment," Legolas requested of the Council who had not the time to reply before Aragorn had left his seat and was on his way out the door, motioning that it be closed behind him.
"Thank you, Las," he stated in elvish smiling at his friend whose eyes sparkled impishly.
"You are welcome, Estel, though I do not think we've done anything of that sort since the time you insisted that you needed someone to protect you in Mirkwood to get me out of my father's councils when you were fifteen."
Aragorn laughed, at last relaxing now that he was free of the Council, for a short time at least.
"Indeed, Estel, I believe you are regressing," his elven brother chided as the twins came around the corner, a light cloak and saddlebag in hand.
"I am simply embracing the ways of the elves, Dan, I am retaining my youth."
His brothers eyed him sceptically as Legolas stifled a laugh beside him.
"Are you sure that you are well enough, Estel," the elder of the twins asked, instantly serious once more. He smiled, laying his hand on his brother's arm.
"Yes, Ro, I am certain, though I thank you for your concern. I believe that this will be better medicine than any of the obnoxious tonics King Silmarn is so fond of," he assured Elrohir and making a face as they began to walk towards his halls.
"You know that your Council will not be impressed by your disappearing act," Elladan continued, sounding very much like his father as Legolas readily told him, much to the elf's displeasure.
"Indeed, Estel, you are now king, you cannot simply go traipsing about as you once did," Elrohir continued before he interrupted.
"I am quite sure they will pardon me this once."
"I think Estel is right," Legolas agreed, "In fact, I expect the Faramir and Eomer wish they could do the same as neither one are overly fond of councils."
"You shall have to rescue them another day, my friend," he instructed as at last they reached the doors to his chambers where he knew she would be.
He smiled at the three elves that stood, studying him intently for any sign of pain or fever and finally finding none, they bade him farewell and left, their part in his plan finished. He entered his chambers and set the cloak and saddlebag on a nearby chair as she rose at his silent entrance, setting the book in her hands on the floor, her eyes questioning, knowing he was scheduled to be in council all day. His heart swelled at the delight that lit her dark eyes at the sight of him and made him all the more glad that he was no longer in the Council Chambers. Suddenly, there was a swift knock on the outer doors and he glanced back once before pulling her gently towards their bedchambers.
She was startled when he shushed her gently and placed his finger over her lips as he took one of her cloaks from the rack and deftly fastened it about her slender shoulders.
"Elessar, are you not going to answer the door?" she questioned playfully her smile betraying that she sensed he did not intend to do so.
"No," he answered quickly, smiling mischievously as he took her hand again and led her back into the outer chamber. "We are running away."
She looked at him; confusion written plainly on her gorgeous features but trusting him above all others as he quickly brushed his lips against her soft cheek. He picked up his bundle from the chair with one hand and with the other guided her to the door, knocking softly. A gentle tap answered him, the door opened and he led her through, pulling on his cloak as he walked hurriedly into the corridor. The guards smiled.
"Thank you, my friends," he stated quickly and they merely nodded as he took his wife's hand and began to nearly run to the other end of the hall.
"Elessar, where are we going," she demanded amusedly, giggling quietly as he opened the next set of doors and peered into the corridor to be sure that it was empty.
"Away from here," he answered. "I have been neglecting my most important duty and intend to remedy that immediately."
"And what would that be, my lord," she asked teasingly, gasping as he paused long enough to kiss her deeply before pulling up her hood, his silver eyes meeting hers for a long moment before he answered.
Her cheeks burned deep scarlet and he smiled as he led her on again. He felt wondrous freedom as they snuck through the halls of their own home, a thief in the king's palace, or so it would have appeared to any who saw them. They had just made it to the outer doors when he heard a very commanding voice speak his name.
King Silmarn watched as the King of Gondor paused, his hand upon the door and turned to face him. He had expected some amount of embarrassment from the man but there was none as Elessar's silver eyes met his own without fear. He had been sent by one of the councillors to seek their king, who had been summoned by a certain elf nearly half an hour past and had not been seen since. When he had spoken, his voice had been stern, much like the tone he had used with his children to convey his displeasure. Beneath this sternness were laughter and a smile that would despite his best efforts, soon be revealed to his daughter and her husband.
"I believe you are supposed to be in Council, are you not, King Elessar," he questioned, crossing his arms over his chest and trying his best to appear the unyielding and unforgiving father figure.
"So I have heard," the King answered a smile on his lips and Silmarn knew the King could tell he was not truly angry. "But I know of no king here other than yourself, merely a simple man who has missed his beautiful wife."
"Please Adar, do not tell anyone we have gone."
He looked at his daughter's dark eyes and saw joy and youth in them, as he had once known himself. All were startled by the sound of a door opening further down the hall and the voice of Lord Faramir, instructing the guards to find King Elessar. Elessar's eyes flicked from the hall to Silmarn who looked behind him in the hall and then returned the young man's gaze.
"Be sure that you have returned in time for the banquet this evening," he instructed, his mock sternness still serving him.
Elessar smiled and opened the doors just as Silmarn called out to them.
"And children," he paused, waiting until they were both looking at him, his smile no longer hidden as he watched them. "Enjoy yourselves."
"Of course, your majesty," Elessar answered, bowing slightly before closing the doors softly behind them.
Silmarn wandered the halls of the palace of Gondor aimlessly, knowing that his daughter would have a good life here and wondering if he too would stay in Middle-earth or if he would return to Valinor. This place was strange to him, cold, and plain in comparison to Valinor and yet there was something about it, and its people that drew him irresistibly for reasons he did not understand. He stood upon a large balcony that looked out upon the Fields of Pelennor and watched for long moments, waiting. He smiled, realizing that perhaps there was more beauty in this place than he had thought, were he to take the time to look for it as he watched his daughter and her husband ride out from the city walls, free from all that bound them, their laughter reaching him even here, high up in the citadel of their city.
She felt the wondrous haze of deep and fearless sleep upon her as Elessar's arms drew her closer to him in his slumber. She sighed, wrapping her arms about his, completely at peace. The shadows of her past were gone and in their place were memories of Rivendell, of Rohan and of today. She smiled in the dark as she remembered their afternoon in the woods of Ithilien, away from any who could wish to disturb them. Elessar had seemed stronger than ever and his face was no longer lined with weariness as they sat and ate a light meal together beneath the boughs of mighty oaks, beside the chattering stream in which she had cooled her feet while he held her arms to steady her and be sure she did not fall. She had laughed when he drew her nearer until she saw his silver eyes and her heart grew warm as he kissed her with more tenderness than she had ever known.
She stirred slightly against him and he murmured words unknowable before burying his face against her neck and moving deeper into sleep. Soon the darkness around her began to melt away and all she knew was the brilliance of dreams. Dreams of the days to come. Of more such afternoons as they had shared this day, of more banquets among those whom were dearest to her, of their child and of other children to come, of the future of Gondor and the wondrous days that she would share with the one who lay beside her.
Whether it was a moment or hours, she could not tell, before she was awoken by the soft deep voice of one whom she recognized as Faramir, speaking to Elessar. Elessar shifted against her and moved to leave. She began to wake up, fearing something was wrong until he leaned over her and kissed her temple softly, placing his large hand upon her swollen abdomen as he whispered to her in elvish, bidding her to sleep, he would return shortly. Soothed by his assurances, she burrowed deeper into the warmth of the covers and let the world fade away, returning to dreams no longer tainted by fear or pain, safe in her beloved's kingdom.
Queen Hamiel followed the young man who had been brought to her by Lord Faramir who had met them at the door to the citadel. She was told his name was Elessar, that he was the King of Gondor, the city where Elrond had brought her. This man called Elessar was also her youngest daughter's husband. She had studied him intently as he spoke, his deep voice calm and wise as he spoke to her and her two elder children, telling them of Carynthiel's past in even greater detail than the Wizard had. He told of her days in Gondor and his deep love for her. Lastly, did he tell her of the impending birth of their first child, her grandchild.
She had not realized she was crying until Elessar had offered her a silk cloth for her tears. She had thanked him, meeting his argent eyes and holding their gaze for a long moment as her husband, Silmarn, pressed her hand gently. So many nights she had spent wondering about the fate of her daughter and now she was here, in the very room where her daughter slept peacefully having been saved from darkness and sorrow and taught to love again by the young King who now knelt at the bedside.
Elessar brushed his calloused hand against Carynthiel's face and she watched with delight as her daughter stirred and then awoke. Her heart broke as she saw her daughter's deep eyes meet Elessar's and saw the unfathomable love reflected there before the young King motioned toward where she herself stood, numb with joy as she watched her daughter stand. She opened her arms and welcomed her daughter into her embrace, weeping for joy as she held her lost child.
"I have missed you so much, my dear one," she whispered as she kissed her daughter's hair and pulled her close.
"I have missed you, Naneth," Carynthiel replied and Hamiel nearly wept again at the sound of her daughter's voice.
"You are alright," she asked, cupping her daughter's pale face in her hands and smiling when her daughter nodded before pulling her close again, unwilling to let her go just yet.
She looked over her daughter's head to Elessar, who sat patiently waiting on the edge of their bed, smiling, pleased that his wife had found her family once more. Hamiel realized though that her daughter was no longer hers alone and regained her composure slightly as she pulled away, knowing that it was to Elessar that Carynthiel was now bound and that it was he who held her daughter's heart. She watched as the King tenderly helped her daughter into the robe of white velvet and could not keep back the last tear before following them into the outer room where her two elder children immediately embraced their youngest sister, their fears having at last come to an end.
Elrond stood, staring at the night sky in the throne room of the White City with Gandalf and Frodo. They had insisted that Carynthiel's family be alone with she and Elessar for a while before they joined them. Faramir waited with them as did Ilterrin who had also been woken when they reached the gates two hours earlier. Now the night had nearly passed and Elrond felt his heart quiver with the anticipation of watching the sun rise over Middle-earth once more. He turned at the sound of movement outside the doors and was overjoyed to see his youngest son enter, his robe tied loosely over breeches rumpled from sleeping. He smiled, for only Estel would arrive in the throne room dressed as such while still King of Gondor.
"Adar," the man exclaimed as they embraced and Elrond realized that he was home. He could not leave these shores so long as his children remained here.
"It is good to see you, my son," he answered, pushing back the hair from his mortal son's face. "How are Queen Hamiel and her children?"
"They are resting now, rooms have been made for them in my halls as they have been for you."
"I thank you, for I am weary, it has been a long ride from Belfalas. I had expected Imrahil to be there to greet us but I am told he came to Gondor when he received word that her king was nearing Mandos Halls."
He watched as Estel turned his eyes away but no more was said on the matter for the small hobbit that had been dozing nearby had been awakened by Gandalf and was now thrilled to see his friend.
"Strider! It is wonderful to see you again," the hobbit exclaimed as the King of Gondor knelt to embrace the young hobbit.
His attention however, was elsewhere as the doors to the end of the hall opened and Legolas led in the Lady of Arnor. His mind stopped as he took in the full sight of her, meeting her dark eyes as she smiled at him shyly. Gandalf also was left speechless it seemed as Legolas guided her towards them, his hand under her arm to steady her for she was great with child and Elrond was even more startled when he was struck with the realization that his little Estel was the father of that child.
He watched in silence as the small hobbit left the arms of the King and turned to the timid lady and her elven companion. Frodo had spoken of his desire to see again the Lady of Arnor and Elrond was pleased to see the young hobbit's peace as he carefully embraced the Lady. For a moment, the hobbit looked into her dark eyes and Elrond did not miss the understanding that passed between them and knew that the hobbit would return often to this city, though all the Shire might bid him stay. In her, Frodo had found the light that eased the darkness of his memories and lessened the lingering weight of his burden.
At last, Estel helped her to stand, his arm around her waist as her small figure was swallowed up by Estel's protective form, while Frodo spoke to Legolas, asking of Gimli, Sam and the other Shire dwellers. He looked at his young son and saw the pride and adoration marking his usually stern features, telling of his rapture at the impending birth of his child and his love for the elleth who bore it. He opened his arms to her and drew her close as he gently kissed her dark hair. He looked past her to Estel who stood, watching his wife with careful eyes searching for any sign of weariness or discomfort. For a moment, their eyes met and he smiled, remembering Estel's days as a child in Rivendell and all the days since then.
"I assume that this is your doing, Estel," he asked and watched his mortal son's face redden at the unbridled laughter of Legolas and Gandalf. "I believe that this makes me a grandfather," he stated and the elleth in his arms laughed softly as she pulled away.
"Aye, Adar, it does indeed," his son answered finally regaining the use of his speech.
"Good, I only pray that your child shall not be so energetic as you were, for the sake of your wife, if nothing else," he told his son teasingly. "I am afraid that Gondor could not yet survive a child such as you were, my son."
"Perhaps that means that I shall have to leave my child in your care then, Adar, as you seemed to have weathered the storm of my childhood well enough," Estel challenged and Elrond laughed in spite of himself, pleased that the kingship of Gondor had not lessened his son's good nature.
The city was quiet. All those who had come in the night now lay sleeping, resting for as long as they could before the long day began while those who had lain sleeping began to think of waking and the first shards of the sun's light broke over the horizon. None it seemed were awake except for them as they stood at the edge of the citadel, looking down the Anduin towards the sea. The plains glittered with dew, like shattered glass sparkling beneath the pale light of the new day's sun. The sky was a mere shadow of blue, faint and distant above them, cool in the early hours of the morning. A gentle breeze stirred the air, a freshness that spoke of new beginnings hanging upon its soft voice, as she looked to the elven ship that sat silent upon the waters of the Anduin.
They had come to her. All those she had ever loved had returned to her and now nothing in this world would ever cause her to feel fear again. She felt her heart stir as the wind caught the standard upon the mast of the ship and unfurled its pale colours that shone in the growing light of dawn. She smiled as he slipped his arms about her waist and drew her close against him as they stood, waiting for what they knew would come.
"The dawn is coming," he whispered in her ear, his words tickling as she placed her hands on his, rubbing his hands made rough by years as a ranger.
For a moment, he was silent and she moved so that she could look up at his face and saw doubt there as his eyes rested on her father's banner upon the silver ship in the distance.
"Will you go back with them, to Valinor," he asked, his voice quiet as the still morning and she was startled that even now he would doubt her love for him, for their child, for their people, for their city.
She turned to him and looked past his strong form to the standards of the King of Gondor, the White Tree and a crown of stars. She looked to the guards who stood at the doors to the palace, standing guard over her as they would one day stand guard over her children. She looked lastly to the walls of white stone that began to glimmer and take on the colour of the purest gold, as at last, the sun broke free from the night. Beneath the walls, stood the White Tree and the fountain beneath its boughs tinkled against the marble of its basin as a songbird lit upon the branches of the Tree and began to sing, praising the sky for the return of the dawn.
She looked up at him and placed her hand against his cheek, meeting his silver eyes and smiling, watching as his face grew light for he knew her answer. He leaned down and kissed her deeply as he traced the curve of her neck with his hand and she returned his kiss feeling tears slip down her cheeks, for she loved him. She loved him above all other things and always would his house be her home. No longer did standard of Valinor call to her, but that of Gondor, of the heir of Elendil whom she loved with every part of her being.
When at last they parted, the sun had lit the City afire and it shone as if it were burning against the dark earth beneath it and the pale mountains behind. The City began to stir and she took his hand and turned back to the horizon, closing her eyes at the sound of silver trumpets that heralded the return of the sun. Behind her, she felt Elessar stir at the sound, smiling for she sensed his joy as his arms slid again around her waist and he leaned forward and whispered in her ear so she heard him plainly above the trumpets call.
"I love you."