Disclaimer: The characters are Tolkien's, except for that girl and dead soldiers, and events have been interpolated from what he had given.
Note: This is set after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and the flashback is when Aragorn was almost three years old. I have taken the liberty of letting Aragorn be more fluent in speech despite his wee years. I am also under the assumption that the rangers do know Elvish and use it in their daily conversations.
Gohenonin - Forgive me
And they keep falling;
These tears from my eyes.
Father, come back to your kin,
Oh, father, please, please hear my cries!
"Father, father…" an anguished voice cried.
The child was not even five-years-old, not nearly old enough to understand that her father would never ever return. Her father would never ever tell her the lovely stories, never ever be in the shed cutting blocks of firewood in that monotonous thumping sound, a hand brushing away sweat from a weary forehead; he would never ever be there to lift her high up into the air and laugh at her squeals when he tickled her. He would never ever come home.
But the girl was not too young to grieve over the unmoving body of her father, small locks of hair falling before her face, as she knelt beside her father, shaking him, prodding him, calling him… Her shuddering form lay so weakly, so helplessly, so despairingly as she bowed her head on her father. He did not even respond. But he would always smile at her when he saw her, and even when she disturbed him from sleep, he would pat her gently on the head and bring her close! Why didn't he do that now!
"Father, please don't go, I don't want you to go…"
From a distance away, Aragorn watched quietly, seeking to offer some comfort, but finding none to give. The emotions tore once more at him from within. What could he tell a child who had lost her father for no worthy reason? What comfort could he give to one whose loved one had passed on because of needless hate and war? What solace could he offer to a child that he could not even offer to himself!
- - - - - - - - - - - - Flashback - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Ada!" Aragorn ran towards his father, begging to be carried. The ranger obliged despite his weariness, laughing cheerfully at his son's mischievous grin. Gilraen, his beloved, leaned against the doorway, chuckling softly at the boy's youthful spirit, the way he caused all around him to ease up instantly, the way he brought joy into their lives, the way he laughed with sincere mirth and the joy showed through in his twinkling deep-grey eyes. Would these ever be lost? She could only hope that the shadow would not fall so soon.
Gilraen sighed in relief as she confirmed the fact that the chieftain made it safely home from yet another trip, yet another perilous journey. The life of a ranger was too fraught with dangers, and this was doubly so for their chieftain. What should she do on the day, Ilúvatar forbid, that he did not return? How should she raise up her son without his father?
Dinner had already been prepared and the small family ate the delectable food in warmth.
"Eat more, Aragorn," Gilraen scooped some meat for the boy.
"Why, nana?" The inquisitive child never found anything that did not arouse his curiosity.
"So you can grow and be strong," Arathorn smiled. Aragorn was wise for his age, knowing far more than his peers, even when compared to those more senior than him, and he never hesitated to display his easily intrigued nature. The child was indeed a source of mirth and pride for the family.
Arathorn carried on talking, "Aragorn, you must learn to take care of yourself, and nana too. There may be one day, one day soon when I won't come back," Arathorn's eyes bore a faraway gaze, and Gilraen saw, and understood, but she would not accept it readily.
"Where will you go, ada?" an innocent voice asked timidly.
Arathorn placed a hand on the child, trying to smile through the tears threatening to spill any second, "Nobody knows, my son. One day I will die and go to another place and I will not come home anymore."
"But, ada, I don't want you to go," Aragorn did not fully understand what his father was speaking of, but he knew it did not bode well, "you must celebrate my birthday with me. I'll be three years old soon!"
"You will have to live bravely on your own, my son, but now, let's eat," Arathorn tried hard to avoid making promises that he knew would be hard to keep.
And so, the meal ended in silence as a deep sense of foreboding and fear hung over them like an overcast shadow, threatening to fall, to crash down any moment.
But after the dinner, the family managed to share some close moments together, where the previous trepidation was forgotten for a time. Aragorn was entertaining the family with his usual antics, bouncing enthusiastically on his father's lap, and making faces at his mother.
"Aragorn, time to sleep," Gilraen called out to the squealing toddler who was currently at the mercy of his father's tickles.
Aragorn moaned good-naturedly but nevertheless showed complete obedience, earning the blissful smiles of both parents. Gilraen tucked the boy swiftly into bed, leaving only when the boy's breathing grew slower and more regular.
She returned to where Arathorn was still sitting by the fire, and rested comfortably beside him. For a long time, they continued in silence, Arathorn's arm draped reassuringly around Gilraen.
"Must you leave so soon?" Gilraen whispered, turning pleading eyes towards her husband, "You've only just returned."
"Yes, my love, I know," Arathorn replied sadly, understanding too well what Gilraen feared, "the orcs are pressing closer; we have to set off as soon as we can. You know as well as I do that this is a duty that cannot be neglected."
"But, what if…" Gilraen's eyes moistened and she felt as though she could not continue, but she still had to say it, "what if you do not return?"
Now it was Arathorn's eyes that threatened to spill brine, and for a long moment, he did not speak. Then finally, he did, in a voice barely more than a whisper, "You will know what to do, then. You will find a way."
Soft shuffling noises were heard then, and they turned to see a small, dark-haired being dart back down the hallway into his room and a door slamming shut.
"He will not understand," Arathorn said, "You must help him, should anything happen."
Gilraen could only nod numbly as she accepted what seemed to be Arathorn's last charge. The couple remained awake through the night, barely speaking, only drawing solace from their embrace and each other's presence, drawing the warmth that would not last for very long.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Aragorn lay in his bed, unable to sleep. He tried to think, but his small brain seemed overwhelmed. What were ada and nana talking about? Was ada really going to that place? But ada would not leave him, would he? Ada could not go, he must not! Aragorn felt warm dampness in his eyes. He must not cry because that would make ada angry and make nana sad. Ada would never leave him alone, so he did not have anything to worry… did he?
The boy tossed about in the bed, feeling his body tense as more drops of the salty fluid began to flow uncalled for, down his cheeks, streaming, forging their own path, like the whirling thoughts in his head. The thoughts that were spinning dizzyingly, flying too fast for his young mind to process. The thoughts that were going round and round him, mercilessly, achingly.
At last, the hypnotising rhythmic murmurs of the rustling breezes and his own sobs lulled him into a fitful sleep.
He slept, but he did not find any rest, for the nightmares overtook him, choking, suffocating his rest. Ada was running away and ignoring him, no matter how he called, no matter how he begged. Then ada disappeared into some place and he could not see him anymore.
"No, ada! You must not go!" the boy was still wrenched in endless sobs even though dawn was about to break.
Arathorn stepped quietly into the child's bedroom, his heart breaking with every passing footfall. How could he possibly bear to leave one so frail and fragile? How could he bear to shatter the young one's heart? He felt every last reservoir of tears welling up within him, leading him into realm and yet another realm of emotions.
Aragorn's tear-stained face still released streaks of tears, silver tears that flowed unbidden, unbridled. The child was mumbling the same thing over and over again. A single large teardrop fell onto a simply woven bear, the boy's birthday present of the previous year, intermingling with the boy's own tears. Arathorn could only bend to kiss the child on his head, and left, unable to look upon the innocence falling away into darkness.
"Ada, please don't go, I don't want you to go…" the soft, cracked voice haunted him.
Weep no longer, my dearest child,
Wipe away the tears falling down in vain,
Let not your youthful spirit ever be dulled;
Remember the sun cometh after the rain.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The orcs were coming yet again, and the rangers were beginning to be weary and discouraged; even Elladan and Elrohir, the twin sons of Elrond Half-elven, were feeling the fatigue. How long more could they last? Arathorn thought the grim situation over in his head. Several – many – rangers had sacrificed their lives, and though uncountable orcs lay about them, more kept rushing in like an endless tide.
They must be stopped, he thought with firm, unwavering determination, even if we die trying.
The deaths of the departed must not be in vain; they must not go unavenged. A plan formulated quickly in his head, and with renewed resolve and vigour, he let out a battle-cry and charged. The other rangers, motivated by their chieftain, followed his lead, fighting harder than ever, more desperately than ever. At the very least, they would not let orcs ravage the villages of Arnor without putting up a strong fight.
And so, the orcs began to grow steadily lesser. The rangers and the two elves had now seen what Arathorn had in mind, and gathered together once more, protecting each other's backs. Any orc that moved within range was immediately cut down, and victory seemed to be at hand. Seemed. For in battle, nothing is ever certain.
An orc managed to slip through the defences while the rangers and elves were busy with a small mob that had charged together. The single orc had no hope of living, but he would not go down without a parting present. He released his last arrow at the first being he saw, watching in glee as the crude arrowhead found its fatal destination: Arathorn, son of Arador.
For the few seconds, time froze. Arathorn gasped at the pain radiating from the shaft passing through his eye, his skull, embedding deep in his cranial cavity. He felt his arms bring his trusted sword forward, cleaving through the orc. That done, the sword fell from his grasp, clanging on the hard ground, never more his to own. He felt weak all over, his knees buckled and gave way beneath him. He felt himself falling to the ground, his arms unable to support his weight as he crashed down.
One of the twins – he could not discern who – turned towards him, eyes wide in shock, lips mouthing his name, but he could not hear anything. This was indeed a most hateful position to be in. With his unwounded eye, he saw the other rangers, true to their duty, fight with fire in their eyes, each cut and thrust and parry tinged with a fiery spirit, decimating the last of the orcs with furious might. He choked on something, and felt himself coughing rapidly. The sense of panic grew in him, as he finally understood that this was the end. This was the End.
What will happen to Gilraen and Aragorn? he thought, will Aragorn be disappointed that I won't celebrate his birthday with him?
"Ada, please don't go, I don't want you to go…" the phantom voice came again, echoing hollowly within him.
The weariness and pain soon filled him, blinding him, cutting off his senses one by one. He still felt throttled, suffocated, and the intense, immense discomfort had not left him. He prayed for a release. Then, exhaustion consumed him, and he closed his eyes, revelling in the brief reprieve of relaxing comfort. And he knew no more.
But I want you to hold me close,
I want you to show your love,
I only want you to chase away woes,
Why don't you stay on this good earth?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The sky was dark, not just overcast and grey, but seemingly dark as night. The East Wind was blowing strongly; the East Wind that bore all ill tidings.
"Aragorn, don't play in the rain; you'll catch a cold!" Gilraen shouted to make herself heard through the howling gale.
The boy was splashing in yet another mud puddle despite the heavy downpour, and she did not like it a single bit.
"But it's fun!" came the defiant response.
Splash! And a delighted laugh.
As though frowning upon the act, Lightning split the air while Thunder rent it in reply, loosing a barrage of deep drums. Aragorn stood, paralysed by dread, then, as he managed to think once more, he ran back into the house, crying and hugging his nana's leg as tightly as he could, gripping on in sheer fear that if he let go, something bad would happen.
Gilraen smiled at the sudden change which had come over the boy, and proceeded to close the door. The wood creaked ominously; she would have to remind Arathorn to do something about it soon if he came back. If. She sighed as she carried the boy to the cushions beside the fire.
As soon as she had quietened the boy, and lay herself down for an afternoon siesta, a subdued knock came on the door. She sat up abruptly, instantly alert once more. There it was again. Knock, knock. The knock that countless tales had spoken of, the knock that she had feared to hear. Knock, knock, knock… She crept towards the door, slowly, even though she knew whomever it was outside was languishing in the storm.
Aragorn was wearing an anxious look on his face. "Nana?" he asked hesitantly, "what is it?"
Gilraen only turned sad, lost eyes at him before unbolting the door.
Two identical elves stood in the rain, travel-stained and battle-worn. Gilraen welcomed the familiar figures in, sorrowfully noting the apprehension in their eyes. The elves hung their soaked cloaks and followed the lady to the fire, although they barely needed the warmth. Aragorn saw them coming and presently jumped up at Elrohir. With a tight smile, the elf carried the squirming toddler and set him down upon the cushions again, wrapping the child in his strong arms.
"My lady," Elladan began gently as he sat opposite Gilraen, "I-I fear to tell you this, but-but…" he faltered and could continue no further, but Gilraen understood.
"It's Arathorn," she stated, a sense of finality reaching her voice.
Elladan nodded solemnly, "I'm sorry."
"I do not believe it is you to be blamed," Gilraen did not forget to console the elf before she leaned back in the chair, breathing in deeply before releasing all the air slowly. She felt as though there was a certain emptiness in her, rendering her void of any feelings, causing her not to be able to think or even sense anything.
"What happened? Where is ada?" Aragorn looked at Elrohir with fearful eyes darting all over the room.
Elrohir's eyes glistered anew. "Your ada is-is sleeping," the words came out stuttering, "he-he has gone to-to another place."
"But," Aragorn's incredulous small voice rose shrilly; the elf must have been lying, "But ada hasn't celebrated my birthday with me. He can't go to that place yet! Nana!"
The boy was sobbing for reasons unknown even to himself, and he ran into his mother's arms, his small frame shuddering.
"Nana, ada is coming back, ada will come back, right?" Aragorn seemed to be pleading for his mother to say something, even lie to him, anything to make his hurt go away. But Gilraen could only hug him close and pat his back soothingly. She had no words of comfort to offer him; she had nothing that could help him.
"He must!" the boy's muffled cries could still be heard clearly, "he must come back…"
The elves looked down. Such news was not fit to be borne or delivered, especially to a child so young and so pure. For a long time, no one moved, each of them dedicating tears, shed and unshed, to the memory of a great courageous man who had passed long before his time.
Elladan was lost in a reverie of his own; the image of Arathorn, one of his dearest friends, etched deeply in his heart. The man had fought valiantly against impossible odds and respect and love for him drew all his men to do the same. Elladan remembered how he had fallen under the orc blade, how he himself had been too slow, too late to do anything, but could only rush forwards, towards him, watch the last throes and that instance in the split second where ethereal light and peace seemed to flood his face and an indescribable beauty filled him, and he had gone…
Elladan knew that he should have been watching the man more closely. Although he had little foresight, he had sensed that something ill would befall him; he should have been more vigilant! The tears finally came out, and he fell onto the floor, kneeling in his grief and regret. What was the use of well-honed skills if they could not be put to good use!
"Goheno nin," he whispered into the air, "forgive me…"
Elrohir could only put an arm around his brother's shoulders, offering him any strength that he had left. He knew his brother was in no condition to say any more, so he took the initiative. Tapping lightly on Gilraen's hand to seek her attention, he delivered what they had come for, "My lady, Arathorn left something for you on the morning of the battle."
He passed her the envelope, well protected within his robes. Gilraen released her hold on the crumbling Aragorn momentarily and opened it with shaky hands. The boy, seeing the new development, had instantly calmed down and followed her gaze. Within the envelope was a beautiful brooch, made of precious stones set in the likeness of a starry flower. And there was a message complaining lightly of the foul weather, but not forgetting to mention how much he missed Aragorn and her, and how they had to live on and be brave and strong…
A lone teardrop fell onto the parchment, blending with the sweat already there. Sweat from the nightmare that prompted the man to write the final letter. The ink smudged, and as she brushed it off, it smeared into more words. Words gone forever, like...
She felt an arm on her shoulder. The elves had done what they were to do, and had to leave. She nodded her thanks mechanically and showed them out.
When she came back, Aragorn was still silent; sitting in his father's favourite spot and staring into the smothering flames dancing in the wind. There was no outburst from the boy, no more tears, nothing at all. Gilraen would rather that the boy screamed and shouted, but he did not. He only bore a deep frown on his brow, and occasionally wrapped his face in his small hands, like his father was wont to do.
As for Gilraen, she only felt an uninstructed acceptance of this whole matter; there was no pain, no anguish. Nothing, only numbness. She felt as though she was an alien to the world, an observer from afar. Was this how she ought to be like? Arathorn was the love of her life! They had endured through innumerable trials before they had gotten married, and even after that, life was never smooth sailing. After all their time spent together, was she supposed to feel so little? Was she supposed to be so cold, so insensitive, so… dead? Why was she thus!
Aragorn still had not moved, and for want of something else to do, she went into the kitchen to bring out the cooled pastry. When she came out, Aragorn was still lost in thought, lost in a sphere that only he could see. But when she placed the food before him, an abrupt change consumed him. Aragorn sprang up, devouring the food as though he had never eaten before, and would never eat again.
"Slow down, Aragorn," Gilraen forced her voice through in her concern, not wanting the boy to choke on the food.
"No," the boy said with a hitherto unknown resolution, "I must eat more so I can grow and be strong and take care of nana and myself."
And Gilraen felt the floodgates release, rivers of tears sprouting from her eyes. Through the misty layer, she could see that the boy understood; the boy was brave and there was moisture in his eyes even as he gorged himself with the food. She saw that the boy would conquer this, he would live on strongly, he would be as his father.
She also saw that Aragorn would never laugh in the same way again.
When you see the stars arising,
When amidst the fields you find the dove,
When you hear the sweet breezes whistling,
Remember, you always have my love.
That night, as the growing boy slept, he held on more tightly than ever to the tattered stuffed toy; it was the last thing his father had left behind, the last thing of his father that would ever be with him.
- - - - - - - - - - - - End of Flashback - - - - - - - - - - - -
The muster of the soldiers was now underway, and there was the usual chaos of the army camp. Soon, they would be marching up to the Black Gate for the final confrontation with the Dark Lord. Somewhere further in the city, some children were running freely in the lush green fields, squealing gleefully, frolicking in the cool breeze, playing joyously without a single care in the world, not knowing that many of their fathers would not live to run with them in the plains or bring them to see mountains and valleys or even come home to see them again.
And the girl wept on, her body still wrenched helplessly in the sobs, as she began to understand that her father could never hold her small hand in his calloused one when she had nightmares, because he would never ever wake up of his.
Aragorn watched, still not moving, the light in his own eyes fading. Even after so many years, the wound still felt raw and sore; it still felt as though there was a vacuum in his heart, a gap that could never be filled. He blinked back his tears at the recollections. Now was not the time for this. The girl finally collapsed on her father, fatigue catching up with her, still clutching one of her father's fingers tightly.
But they still keep falling;
The unceasing tears from my eyes,
Father, father, please come back in,
Oh father, please, please hear my cries!
Somewhere a little further, a lady, disguised as a soldier, breathed her last, her body relaxing, limp, her hand falling to the ground beside her. Her last thought was that she did not even get to see her husband and daughter for the last time.