In Shadow Realm
Like some (certainly not all!) first loves, For the Love of the Lord of the White Tree will probably remain closest and dearest to me for a long while. But I cherish the characters so much that I will keep them alive for as long as I can through more stories. This one is being written for that purpose.
In Shadow Realm takes place after the events in For the Love of the Lord of the White Tree. Several references will be made to persons or events in the previous story, so if you've never read that one, you may wish to.
Disclaimer: All characters, events and places in my story that can be found in Tolkien's books are his; I am merely borrowing them. Everything else has sprung from my own imagination, or has been inspired by other writers' stories. To all these writers, I express my thanks. This disclaimer applies to every chapter in this story.
As Aragorn walks the shadowed road of incomplete redemption to an unknown end, he finds light in the devotion of an elven friend who has promised to tread all his paths with him, and hope in the steadfastness of all who love him.
Note: This story contains elements that some may consider AU.
CHAPTER 1: LIGHT AND SHADOW
Deep in the Shadow Land
Hear the bitter cry:
Return, return, O King of Men,
Where the dead do not die.
Lay sword, bow and helm
Before the Holding Gate.
Beyond, in Shadow Realm,
The Twice Forgotten wait.
Never before had the Fields of the Pelennor outside the White City seen so much merriment and joyful celebration as they did the day and night they celebrated the tenth year of the reign of King Elessar.
A blue sky and happy sun smiled upon the scene from the morn of that day, and when the sun grew too eager to share its warmth, the residents of Minas Tirith and farming families around the City mingled and made merry under the cover of blue and white tents, or in the shade of long, spreading branches of the tall trees planted and nurtured by Prince Legolas and the elves of Ithilien. Jesters, jugglers, vendors, singers, musicians, storytellers, puppeteers – young and old – had gathered to eat, drink, talk, and be entertained, and even trade a little. All day long, drink and food, much of which was supplied by the kitchens of Minas Tirith, or sold by the finest bakers and cooks from around, flowed as abundantly and as freely as the music and mirth, for Queen Arwen Undòmiel made certain that the King's subjects who had come from afar would not go hungry or thirsty.
Seated under a low tree with long branches that hung over them like a roof was a collection of merry hobbits, grown ones and little ones, their heads of curly hair hardly ever still, their mouths no less busily engaged in chatter or the consumption of all things tasty. A little distance away stood a sturdy dwarf, who was animatedly recounting one of his endless tales to a small group of tall elves with amused expressions on their fair faces. Two of them looked so alike it was most difficult to tell one from the other. Beside them, with a patient look on his face and his arms across his impeccably attired chest, was a stately figure with shining golden hair, and next to him, smiling quietly at the dwarf, was a much younger elf graced with the same radiant hair and countenance. Behind them, several other elves in green and brown studied the festive surroundings with relaxed interest.
The air rang with the light notes of lutes and harps and flutes as they blended with lilting voices, and even robust tunes usually heard within the confines of inns and bars found release in the festive air. The wind was alive with melodies to uplift and cheer; it teased the joyful strains into the cracks of the City's stone walls and blended them with the gentle flutters of the King's Standard on the turrets of the Citadel. To the birds that flew and glided over the fields that day, it seemed that the whole kingdom had burst into song.
Indeed, on the day they remembered the crowning of King Elessar, his realm was vibrant with sweet harmonies and exquisite trills and joyous refrains.
And the Shadow Realm shook with the mournful wails of the Twice Forgotten.
Aaaiiiieeeeeaaaaa… the lament of unearthly voices, rising and falling in eerie cadences, now angry, now despairing, whispered tortuously in dark recesses, to swell and push against their unyielding confines – till even the rock walls of their prison quivered and trembled in torment.
And once more, the hills whispered the presence of the living dead.
When the evening sun began to close out the brightness of day, draping curtains of gold and red over the sky and fields and white stone walls of the City, King Elessar had met and talked to some two thousand of his contented subjects who had come to show their support and appreciation of their ruler. Everywhere he stopped to speak to his people, they bowed before his regal bearing and basked in his quiet humility, and when he had passed, men followed his figure with respect in their eyes, and women gazed with veiled or open admiration at his tall frame and remembered the sincerity in the grey eyes – at once youthful and wizened, reflective and piercing.
No less in awe of him were those who looked upon him at the royal banquet that night, and the hearts of many in the Great Hall of the Citadel were filled with love and loyalty. Splendid was his form in dark blue and silver as he sat between his queen, the Evenstar, for whom no match in beauty could be found, and the commanding and resplendent figure of Thranduil Oropherion, elven king of Greenwood.
Elessar's speech about the future of Gondor reflected his manner: of few words, filled with sincerity, and laced with wisdom.
His faithful Steward, Faramir, led all in raising a glass of the King's finest wine to the future of the Realm: "Blessed be Gondor and the Realm of King Elessar!"
Curse you and your kingdom, heir of Isildur, for what you have done, and for what you did not do! Curse you if you should fail to return.
And the loud whispers grew into garbled murmurs with the swearing of the discontent.
"…and for the gift of Gondor's first ship that now stands proudly at Harlond, our gateway to the Anduin, I extend gratitude that no words can fully capture, to my cherished friend and companion, Legolas, prince of Greenwood, and the elves of Ithilien."
As the huge group of guests cheered and applauded, Elessar ignored decorum to warmly embrace his most beloved friend, whispering into the elven ear: "Hannon le, mellon nin, hannon le for the gift."
"It is but a small thing, Estel," the elf returned softly.
The king drew back and shook his head, looking squarely into the startling blue eyes with deep meaning in his own grey ones. "I meant the gift of yourself, Legolas, and that is no more small thing."
The words took the elf by surprise for a moment; then his grip on the king's shoulders tightened, and his smile was as heartfelt as his reply: "Likewise then, Aragorn, for you give me a similar gift, and greater in value."
Cursed be they who went to water! Heartless betrayers! Naught of our kin are you!
"Poppa, poppa, look! Fireworks, Poppa!" cried little Elanor, her round eyes wide with fascination as she, like her parents, their close friends and a thousand other pairs of eyes, watched the bright display in the night sky above the Fields. "Poppa Gimli made fireworks!"
"Aye, Elanor," Samwise Gamgee agreed with a smile. "Big, beautiful bursts of radiant flame," he observed, before his face took on a reflective expression. "And bright, golden showers that fall from the sky… to vanish just before they touch our upturned faces…" he added softly, "just like Gandalf used to make them."
Merry and Pippin looked at him and each other, nodding and smiling at the fond memory.
From the fields came cheers and laughter of many children. And amidst the merriment were heard glad shouts from the mouths of their parents:
"Long live King Elessar! Elessar! Elessar!"
And from the lipless mouths of the Twice Forgotten, oozing forth like vile vapor, came their wish for the king:
Your end draws nigh.