Disclaimer: I don't own these characters and I make no money from this writing.
A month has passed since we welcomed my son home. The weather is warm now, and we are outside in the sunshine, the high colours of summer all around us, a beautifully tended garden for my pleasure and an expanse of grass for his. At the moment, he is playing a game of knucklebones his friend Halbarad brought him. Not long ago, they were running after one another, Halbarad sometimes letting Estel win, then they sat close to me, Halbarad quietly and patiently teaching Estel. He is patient with the game, catching the bones on the back of his hand with some skill, but he is too energetic to be held by it for long. He is taller and stronger than he was a month ago, his foot fully healed and he looks well. There, now, they're racing each other across the greensward again, in light which flickers through the trees, and I rest here, pretending to read, but content to watch them and listen to their shouts of pleasure and triumph.
My only sadness is that Legolas has returned to his own people. He left the day after we found Estel, waiting to be assured that Estel would be well, given a little time to recover, then he departed. I know Estel misses him, and wanted to continue his training with him, yet Legolas has to consider what happened, and his place, his fault in the events of that day. It seems he does not yet know mortals at all, and he must learn before I entrust my boy to his care again.
The game has stopped, for it is the moment Estel has awaited with no great amount of patience for a month now. His tree is to be planted, with a small ceremony, and I believe he regards this as the most important event of the whole summer, even above everything else that has happened. My guests wait in secret for this moment, and I am glad to welcome them to my home. I know Estel will be glad, too.
I put my book aside and stand, gathering my robes around me and walk slowly to join him, while Halbarad steps back.
"It is time, child. Go and tell the gardener to bring forth the tree."
"Really, Papa? Is it now? Where are they going to plant it? How many people are coming? Are you sure it's warm enough now? What will we do if no one else comes?"
Halbarad is smiling broadly but says nothing. Both he and I have been answering his questions for three days now, and he is still not satisfied.
"All will be well, Estel. You know your speech, and you know the song to sing, and you know how to plant the tree. Let that be enough knowledge to carry you through this most important occasion." I put my hand on his shoulder, turn him and then guide him gently in the right direction. "And yes," I say, when he turns, "we will all be here when you return."
He nods and sets off, jogging to the greenhouse to set this ceremony in motion. He turns, waves, nearly trips over his own feet then sets his mind to running with as much dignity as he has left.
"Please return to the house and invite our guests to join us, Halbarad," I tell the older boy. He bows and walks with a good deal more dignity to the house, leaving me with my thoughts. Much will change today, but whether it will be to Estel's liking, and to mine, we have yet to see.
It takes a only a short time for everyone to come to the appointed place, and though it is a small gathering, it does my heart good to see my two elder sons, and Erestor, who has been gone for too long and returned only four days ago. I believe he has been hiding from Estel's boisterousness, but he stands with us now.
And now here comes the procession, led by the gardener, who carries the well-grown tree with great reverence. Her assistants carry water, earth and the stake which will support the tree in its first years. The hole is already prepared. Estel's tree will be placed as close to the house as is safe, so that it might have some shelter. But it will grow into a huge tree in time, and I wonder what it will see in its lifetime. Perhaps this Last Homely House will, at some time in the distant future, be returned to the wilds. It was built so long ago, and has had so many happy voices to fill its rooms with gladness, yet still the sad thread of my wife runs through this house. But now is not the time to remember but the time to celebrate.
Estel is looking only at the tree, just as we devised when we planned this meeting, and he steps forward to take it from the gardener. It is a heavy load, and she shares the burden until together, they remove it from its pot and place it carefully into the hole.
He has a speech prepared and has learned it diligently.
"Papa," he says. "And all my family and friends. This is my tree, and this is its first full day out of the greenhouse." He looks around, then stands still, his expression puzzled as he looks at two women, who stand together, one leaning on the other. One is tall, and wears fine, dark clothing and a narrow silver band in her hair, in honour of the occasion. The other, younger, dark hair in a long plait, wearing the colours of the land, purples and greens. She is thinner even than when I last saw her, and is pale in the sunshine.
Immediately he turns to me, eyes wide, mouth open. "Papa? Is that grandmother? And who is that lady with her?"
"Think, Estel. You know who she is. Look, she is holding her hand out to you."
He glances away, for a moment frowning in concentration. Finally, he looks up at me again and whispers, "Naneth? Is that really Nana?"
"Yes, child – it is your mother. Run to her, Estel – she is calling you."
But he hesitates. It is so long, and she was so distant, so unwell when he was a child. Then she reaches both arms out to him, and his grandmother smiles, and he is gone from my side, forgetting his speech and his tree as he flies across the grass and into her arms, almost knocking her off her feet. There is a murmur from the crowd, who witness this show of affection with pleasure, and Elladan and Elrohir come to stand by my side.
"This is a happy day, Ada," Elrohir says quietly. "Will she stay now?"
"I do not know," I say. "I hope she may. I have tried to be a good father, but he needs her care too, or he will forget how woman should be honoured and obeyed."
"Indeed!" Elladan comments, grinning. "As our sister would teach him, were she here."
"Do not speak of her!" I say, an edge to my voice keeping my elder sons from saying more. Estel must not know of her yet, if ever. She is my most precious daughter and her grandmother holds her safely and teaches her as her mother would have taught her.
The ceremony must wait for a few minutes while Estel hugs his mother, and bows with utmost formality to his grandmother then spoils the formality by hugging her, too. There are smiles, and eyes wiped clear of tears before Estel masters himself and, to my surprise and joy, returns to me.
"Thank you, Papa, for bringing me up here, and for helping me to grow up."
For a moment I think he means to leave me, to return to his own people, although surely they would not let him do this. Then he speaks again, quietly, although no one is listening. All now talk with others as they wait for this interruption to the ceremony to end.
"My mother – may she stay here too now? Will she leave Grandmother and come and live with me now?" His eyes fill with tears. "I hope – I hope she may, if she is well enough."
"Yes, Estel. If she wishes to stay, we will care for her here. But you must know that may not wish to stay."
"I know, Papa. I'll always have you here, though, won't I? And you don't mind having me here, do you?"
The worry in his voice is so easy to still, just with a few plain words. "Yes, Estel, I will always be here for you. Now, go on with your speech. Your tree needs to be planted here, and watered, and cared for, so that it may thrive."
Beyond the deep shadow cast by my tallest trees, which crowd to the edge of this clearing, the air is still cool, and a breeze moves my son's long hair. He has still not braided it. I shall cut it if he will not do so. Or his mother may take on that task. He glances up at me, eyes bright, smile confident and unshadowed at last by any fears or nightmares. His true name has been held from him, and he will grow strong here. He takes a deep breath, and begins his speech once more, in front of all of his family, his high, clear voice carrying easily over the sounds of water and wind.
The tree is planted, and watered, and firmed into place, and he names it Aragorn. I knew nothing of this plan, and glance round, for there is surprise on more than one face.
"Do you mean to call it.." I try hard to gather my wits, "King of Trees?"
He looks at me humbly. "It is a name I heard once, a long time ago. I puzzled over what it might mean and though it might be king of trees. But if it isn't, I can call it something else. Or…"
I will not let doubt mar this occasion. Even if it is not the meaning of the name, I must not let him feel there is any mystery to it or he will never cease to question until he knows what he must not, yet.
"It is a fine name, Estel. Yet it will only be known to us, for it is a high name and too much as yet for such a small tree. Let it be a secret to all of us."
"All right, Papa. It will be its secret name, then. And I will take care to keep its secret." He nods to himself, then kneels down to pat the earth newly dug round the roots of his tree. "My tree," he says proudly. "And I will always try my best to look after you."
And thus Aragorn, whose name truly means Kingly Valour, knelt to give his blessing to the newest of a long line of kingly trees.
My brave boy. My Estel.
[A/N Thanks to anyone who has read this story or reviewed it. It is at last finished. However, I am planning something new, but I think I might finish it before I start posting next time!]