Sleep would not come easily this night for Aravar, King of Rhudaur. If and when it did finally come to him he would find no rest. Rather the fevered dreams and nightmares would begin anew. If he were fortunate he would wake drenched in sweat screaming in terror into the darkness. This would be the only means by which he might find some escape from the visions and memories that tormented him in the night. Indeed it had been the same for many months. All the work of restoring and ordering a realm took a great deal of time and energy. Indeed only a few years ago the task itself seemed monumental and beyond his reach. For him, only a few years ago long after the dizzying heights of his ascension to the throne and the high hopes and aspirations for his reign, his hopes had faded to the point of despair. Before his reign began his realm had been under more or less continuous assault for generations from its seemingly all too numerous enemies. Even his country's allies, and there were a few enough of these, were of little real assistance and were more often than not wont to engage in games of intrigue while gleaning what resources and advantage they could at his kingdom's expense.
During those heady first years after ascending the throne from his beloved father his hopes had known few bounds. His father, Ciravar, had been a noble King, had accepted the gift of Illuvatar willingly in the fashion of the old Kings of Numenor. He was the first king of Rhudaur in centuries that had not died in battle, by assassination, or in his dotage. Before his passing in the Autumn of the year he had passed his crown to Aravar, his newly married son, prince, and heir who came to the throne during a great year of plenty the likes of which hadn't been seen in an age. The time was ripe for plans of a restoration of the power and glory his kingdom had once been renowned for. Now in possession of the crown, his love and queen at his side, and the adoration and respect of his people it seemed his hour had come.
After a splendid state funeral and laying of his father in honor in the Barrow Downs followed by a respectful period of mourning the time came for Aravar to set about completing his fathers and his plans for the final restoration of the kingdom. In the Spring of the year 1249 SA his work commenced. New embassies were sent to the neighboring kingdoms of men on the borders. Offers of peace, truce, and reconciliation were offered. As soon as spring planting was completed masses of laborers became available for repair of existing roads, towns, and the building of new ones as well as for service in the army. Dwarven craftsmen from the Iron Mountains and a goodly number from Moria were engaged in the repair and improvement of fortifications, bridges, and of the craft of smythying throughout the land. Aravar himself led elements of the army on campaign routing out the last bands of renegade Black Numenorians, pretenders, and wildmen from the forests and hills in the far corners of the kingdom. His queen, Eleanorra, a woman whose lineage and valor harkened back to the House of Hador would not be parted from him and accompanied him on campaign. While on campaign she conceived and was delivered of twin sons, Ciravar II and Hurin ere the year was out.
In the years that followed the Kingdom grew in strength and beauty apace. Aravar and Eleanorra, wearing the tall crowns of Rhudaur grew ever in majesty and stature. In time the realm was blessed with 3 more royal births. To the Royal family was added; Nienor, Ancalime, and Laurelin named for her golden hair after the golden tree of the Blessed Lands. The glory of the crimson and gold banners of Aravar and Eleanorra and stories of their victories did much to check the ambitions of their lesser neighbor kingdoms. It was a fair beginning and a time of great promise and the laughter of children was heard in the halls of the king. So it was 13 years after the beginning of the reign of Aravar that the greatest height of his glory and power that he was to know was reached.
In autumn of the year 1261 SA, The Royal Family and its household, moving from summer to their winter quarters, was assaulted in the wild. By secret paths and tunnels in the mountains a large force of Orcs and wildmen came down suddenly into the woods of the realm and without warning upon the camp of the King at night. Aravar and his guards rode out to meet the attack but were routed and thrust away from the camp by sheer force of numbers and ferocity leaving those remaining to look to their own escape. Eleanorra and the Knights of the Royal Household drew back into a circle in the inner camp. Seeing that their position was indefensible and capture or death imminent Eleanorra hugged Ciravar and Hurin and then placed them on her own horse. Bidding them goodbye she sent her horse plunging through the encircling enemy into the darkness. To those in the camp it appeared that they escaped the sack of the camp by speed of horse.
Aravar and his guard rallied in the woods and inflicted fearful casualties on their attackers. Shortly they charged back to the encampment where the sack was well nigh complete. Driving the enemy away with great slaughter Aravar fought his way to the site of his own pavilion. There he found the knights of his household dead and dying all about. In the center of their ring of bodies were found the bodies of Eleanorra, a bloodied sword held in her hand, and the three princesses, all dead, beneath her. Aravar sank to his knees over the bodies of his beloved queen and his children and sobbed as if his heart would break. Coming out of the wreckage of the camp and from the surrounding woods a number of survivors from the battle in the camp approached the Kings Guard. Coming upon the scene of the bodies of the queen and princesses they fell down in anguish and dismay.
"Where now are my sons, Ciravar and Hurin?" asked Aravar.
The survivors described how the twins had been placed on horseback and ridden out of the camp to escape the assault. There were no other horses available in the camp and the princesses themselves were too young to ride. They had been defended to the last by the Knights of the Royal Household and the queen herself. At this Aravar leapt straight away for his horse and before none could stay him seized a torch and charged into the woods without heed of danger. Mounting their own horses the surviving members of the guard rode out after their king but were quickly left far behind. Hours later, coming at last down to the shores of Lake Evendim they found the body of the queen's horse. A short distance away they discovered King Aravar himself sitting still as death leaning against a great tree on the banks of the water. Next to him, also leaning against the tree were the two young princes. Hurin sat on the ground with a long sharply tapered blade of the like used by the orcs of Moria pinning him to the tree. In his arms lay his brother Ciravar on his side with three orc arrows piercing his back. The Kings Guard picked up the bodies of the princes and bore them with great honor back to the camp. Aravar himself moved as one in a trance and paid no heed to others. Returning to the camp he drew his great sword and with all of his strength struck it flat wise against a great stone shattering the blade into many pieces. This being done with a great cry of anguish he fell down upon the ground by the bodies of his family and appeared to all as one dead or near death of grief.
The remainder of the Royal Household, were not harassed by the enemy who had all been slain or driven leaderless deep into the surrounding forest, and made their slow mournful way to the kings castle bearing the bodies of their queen, their princes, and princesses as well as their king who now neither spoke nor saw anything of what passed around him.
All that long winter the king remained as one senseless and unaware. Neither word nor even acknowledgement of the funerals of his wife and children could be noted. He would often walk silently out of his castle in the night and came to spend long hours then days, and then finally at times, weeks wandering the woods of his realm without horse, armor or weapon. Often he could be found lying on the newly raised barrow for his wife and children under which the foundations of all his hopes and dreams for himself and his realm returned to the dust of which they had been made. As the seasons came and went Aravar's mind remained clouded and unhealed. During this time and in the ensuing years the kingdom began to decay. Its enemies, sensing weakness began to probe and occupy outlying portions of its lands while harassing and plundering ever deeper into the heartlands. Many of the King's court and counselors drifted away leaderless and without hope. Some few loyal retainers remained doing what they could for the King and to slow the decline of the realm in the King's stead.
One day, early in spring, 15 and a half years after the loss on the shores of Lake Evendim Aravar was walking through the woods of his kingdom in the direction of the Barrow Downs. Upon reaching the downs he walked as if unseeing and unaware of the Nephridil blooming beneath his feet he walked towards barrow of his family. Once there he became aware of another standing at the side of the mound staring at him. The person was fair of face and body and he stood tall and strong as an elf lord of old.
"Wherefore art thou going Aravar?" he asked.
And Aravar said nothing.
Coming to stand beside Aravar the stranger laid hands on his shoulders and then passed them over his eyes. "Come back Aravar." said the stranger. "Come back for your works are not yet complete you still have great realms to build. Come back. If you will not come back for such as this then come back for the memory of your queen and your children whom you have lost."
Aravar opened his eyes and for the first time in many years saw all about clearly. Looking at the stranger Aravar cried, "Who are you? Where do you come from? How do I come to be here?"
"I am naught but a lonesome traveler," spoke the stranger in the ancient Noldorin tongue of the elves, "whose faraway lands have been taken from him. I have heard of thee and thy works and have watched from afar. I understand thy loss and thy plight. Thou were and art a king of a great realm of men. Thou hast suffered great loss. But thou art still king. The time has come for thou to place that mantle about thy shoulders once more"
"Yes," Said Aravar, "I have been King." Breathing deeply of the clear morning air and in the presence of this stranger Aravar felt energy flowing back into his veins and muscles, as he had not felt since that night long ago on the shores of Lake Evendim. "It has been a long time since I was king. I have no sword, no armor, and no strength nor force of will for such a task anymore"
"Then thou shalt have my sword." Said the stranger and he slowly drew his sword, which was long and fell able to be used one or two handed. It was set about with elven runes with a great crown for a pommel. He spoke in prophecy, "With this blade you will rebuild thy kingdom and surpass the glory of all your fathers before you. With this token thou wilt keep fond and fair memory of those whom thee loved who were taken from thee. Use the sword to heal the body. Use this other small gift to remind thee of our meeting and bring comfort to thy mind, thusly"
With that the stranger carefully pulled a golden ring from a pocket on his cloak. He held it betwixt his hands, closed his eyes, and spoke so quietly that Aravar could not hear nor understand the words. Then he set the ring on Aravar's upturned palm. "A choice is now set before thee. Thy can continue to live as thou hast these last years clouded of thought, bereft of purpose, and thy loved ones. Or thou may wear this ring and discover what it may offer thee. Perhaps even the path to all that thou desireth may be revealed to thee. But be that as it may the choice is now upon thee and thou must choose!"
Aravar stared at the ring. It seemed warm and inviting to him. He slowly held the ring up in front of his eyes and then almost reluctantly he slid the golden band upon his finger. Suddenly a flood of memories of Eleanorra, Ciravar, Hurin, Nienor, Ancalime, and little Laurelin raced through his mind. He saw them as if they had appeared right there and were standing right before and about him and they smiled at him. Aravar gasped and stood eyes wide filled with wonder at this vision.
"And so they shall be with thee thusly until the end of thy days. Thy family is restored to thee and shall remain with thee as long as thou wearest this ring. But to remove the ring means the spell woven within it and, now, thou shall be broken never to be restored again and thee and thine will be sundered forever."
Aravar stood heedless of the words of the tall lord. He watched as his family moved about talking to each other. If he strained his hearing with all his might he could almost hear their words. Then he felt a feather light sensation brush against his hand at his side. The hand with the ring. Aravar looked down and saw little blonde haired Laurelin of the Tree gazing up at him as her hand passed right through his. He knelt down and looked into her eyes, ethereal yet still showing the beautiful sea grey color which betrayed her Numenorean heritage inherited through him.
"In time they will come to be more real to thee. They will not be with thee at all times but will go hither and yon on their own errands. However if you have need of them thy needest but to wish for their return and they will stand with thee. From them and from myself thou wilt find the will to go on. Fare thee well. We shall meet again."
Hearing all that was said to him as if from the bottom of a well and through the clouds of a dream after many minutes Aravar looked up but the tall lord was nowhere to be seen.
Aravar returned to his castle bearing the mighty gifts of the tall lord. Around him walked his family and his heart was filled with wonder and happiness. Arriving at the castle he soon met with his remaining ministers and retainers whilst recalling absent or appointing new ones as needed. In the months that followed Aravar set about healing his realm once more with a vigor and vitality that he had not felt in what seemed like an age. He realized in short order that those around him were unable to see the shades that were his family. He kept their existence to himself whilst those who served him were glad that their lord and king was somehow healed of mind. At night his loved ones would come to him in his chambers where he was free to talk to them. Although they spoke not in a means intelligible to him he was content. In his dreams were revealed unto him images of himself as lord and king of a realm greater even than that of Gondor, Cardolan, or Arthedain. Greater even than Numenor at the height of its power. He saw himself leading a host greater even than that which Ar Pharazon the Golden had as he set of on his war against Valinor. He saw the entire world drawn together under his glorious banner in order and peace.
His work progressed and Rhudaur began again to heal from the many hurts brought upon it by those who had ruled before his father and he. Slowly, slowly the land was reborn and finally 16 years after receiving the gifts of the tall elf lord and a full 70 years since the beginning of his father's reign. Aravar judged that his work was well nigh complete. Aravar was now approaching 65 years of age a man of middle age by the standards of his time. Although those of his Numenorean heritage normally lived to surpass a hundred years of age and often lived well beyond that the bloodline was not what it had once been in earlier days and he had begun to feel the weight of his labors and it seemed as if a premature old age coming upon him. He began to feel an utter and overwhelming fatigue that gnawed at him endlessly. To those close to him he seemed haggard and pale. His hair had gone white and his skin had taken on a translucent affect usually only seen in the very old. To them the king no longer seemed to be who he once was. He was colder and distant. He had achieved all that he could have hoped for with the restoration of Rhudaur. Still it seemed as if this were, in the end, not enough. Despite the urgings and pleadings of his ministers he had never remarried and the land was without an heir. To compound matters he had made no effort to designate a successor for when the time would come for another to take up the kingship.
The words had been true enough after a fashion. He had been healed of the hurts of his mind and had gone on to complete the works begun by his father all those years ago. But his greatest joy was and had always been the gift of the ring and through it the gift of his loved ones. They did not seem to age but remained youthful and strong as they were mostly fondly remembered in his tired mind. He remembered the words of the tall elf lord, "In time they may come to be more real to thee. They will not be with thee at all times but will go hither and yon on their own errands. However if you have need of them thy needest but to wish for their return and they will stand with thee. From them and from myself thou wilt find the will to go on. Fare thee well. We shall meet again."
Aravar began to find himself wishing he could meet that lord again. Perhaps he might be healed of his exhaustion. One evening in late autumn he rode out of his castle and across the land to the Barrow Downs. There he hoped against hope that he might find that lord there. Reaching the Downs he rode to the mound of his family and then called them to them. His family appeared before him and approached. He had, over the years, begun to actually be able to hear their voices. They also appeared less ethereal to him. At times when he reached out to one or another of them and he imagined that he was almost able to feel the slightest touch of their hands. "I am so tired." He said to them.
Little Laurelin, as she always had, came to him first. With a sad look upon her face she placed her hand in his. To his wonder and amazement the hand seemed solid and warm. Looking into her grey eyes he asked, "How comes this to be?" Tears streamed down his face and he reached out for Laurelin with his arms. As he did so she faded from sight. Aravar looked up and saw too had Eleanorra and his other children as well. He cried out for them and then hearing a slight noise behind him he turned away from where his family had stood and looked, aghast across the Downs. There, rising from the mounds were ghosts, wights of every description. He looked towards his fathers mound and crawling out of the earth there appeared the shade of his father. Neither he nor the other wights were as his own family were. These were shades of unrest. They were unclean and they brought with them a sense of anger, hatred, and a foul smell that covered the scent of the flowers that grew there.
Aravar turned to go and mount his horse but had taken only a few steps when a great weakness struck him all his strength left him. He fell headlong upon the ground rolled over with the last ebb of his strength and look straight up at the stars, which slowly turned to wights and evil spirits of the undead. Aravar shrieked once long and loud into the night, Eleanorraaaaaa! And remembered no more.
"Aravaaarrr." Said a voice in his head. "Thy time is at hand. All thy works thou hast begun in this world are at an end. The time has come for thee to build the greatest kingdom yet seen in these shores of Arda."
"I am so tired." Thought Aravar.
"Thou does now have the life of the Eldar. Thou art undying. I have given to thee the greatest gift mortal man can receive. Surely thou dost not weary of the gift so soon?"
"Is it you? The tall elf lord I met on the Downs so long ago? Asked Aravar. "Your voice sounds not so fair as it did upon that time."
"I am no elf and never claimed to be. You beheld nought but one of my servants of old and as he has been for an age. Now so shalt thou be my servant as well" Said the voice. " I am now the lord and master whom thou servest. Thou Aravar will be my chief lieutenant, commander of my armies, the rod of my anger, and the staff of my malice. Open your eyes, Aravar."
And he did. Finding some hidden reserve of strength he stood and looked around him and then before him beheld a giant figure armored in silver and black. A sable shield unblazoned and a great mace were held in the arms of that figure. A ring of bright gold with elven letters blazing red around the band was upon a finger of the right hand.
"Who am I?" asked the figure.
"I am so tired… so cold…" moaned Aravar.
"Who am I? The giant asked again.
"Who am I!
"You are my lord and master." Replied Aravar feeling the remnants of his free will leaving him as if floating away on the chill wind.
With the last strength of will left to him he asked. "What of my family".
"Thou shalt not see them again until thy work is finished however long that may be. Then and only then shalt thou be reunited with them. Heed these words."
Aravar looked up at the giant figure and the ring blazing on its finger and saw now, for the first time, the mockery and cruelty in its eyes. One look into those eyes and all hope left him.
Sleep would not come easily this night for Aravar King of Rhudaur. If and when it did finally come to him he would find no rest. Rather the fevered dreams and nightmares would begin again. If he were lucky he would wake drenched in sweat screaming in terror into the darkness. This would be the only means by which he might find some temporary respite from the visions and memories that tormented him in the night. Indeed it had been the same for many months. When sleep finally came it was as all the nights had been since the wights and evil spirits had left their barrows. Each day his fatigue grew greater. Each night his dreams more horrible.
"Aravaaaarrrrrr" said a voice in his dream. "You have work to do. I call you now."
He sat wearily upright in his bed and stared into the darkness. Slowly he got out of bed perhaps feeling somewhat less tired than he had for some time. He pulled on his pants, shirt, and riding boots. Added to that a great black cloak to wear against the chill. He picked up the fell blade given to him by his lord and master, examined it's sharp edges and then sheathed the blade. He walked down the hallways of his castle and out into the courtyard through the snow. Strange that it didn't seem to be as cold as it appeared. No breath showed in the bitter cold that had settled over Rhudaur this last fortnight. Yes. It was time to go. There were new realms to build and a master to serve. With that Aravar, the last noble King of Rhudaur mounted his horse, rode out of the gates, and turned north into the darkness. As he rode he thought of the new kingdom he would build, what he might achieve, and the power he would wield there. He even thought of a name for his new kingdom. He rode slowly at first but soon he quickened his pace. He had a long ride of head of him before he crossed over the borders of his new realm of Angmar.
In the shadow of the walls of the Winter Castle of Rhudaur a little blond haired girl, no more than a shade, watched him ride away. A cold tear ran slowly from her sea grey eyes down across her cold face.
March 15th SA 3019 The Pelennor Fields.
The pain was excruciating, overwhelming. Coming from behind and unexpectedly into the back of his knee. It quickly spread from that wound and seemed to set his entire body on agonizing fire even as he looked down and saw his attacker lying as one struck dead on the ground already. Too late he looked back towards the woman as her sword, stabbing upwards, pierced his throat. He could feel the agony of the second wound even as the woven spell on the blade that made the first attacked his defenses and sought to unbind his spirit from the will of his master. As he fell backwards onto the ground the final image in his mind were the beautiful sea grey eyes and long blond hair of the woman who lay on top of him. Strangely, as he slipped away, he felt at peace.
March 25th SA 3019 The Pelennor Fields.
The ground shook. The mountain of fire, Mount Doom, erupted wildly in the midst of Gorgoroth. The Eagles winged their way towards the mountain from the field of Cormallen. The Ring was unmade, the Dark Lord destroyed. On the Pelennor fields a ghostly figure rose out of the ground and looked towards the City of Minas Tirith. Hearing the soft nicker of a horse behind he turned and saw his sons Ciravar and Hurin sitting astride Eleanorra's own horse. There too were Eleanorra herself and his daughters: Nienor, Ancalime, and little Laurelin. They came to him and he could hear their voices. They touched him and their hands and bodies were solid and warm. After several moments Aravar and his family turned and began walking north. They passed like a whisper of wind in the grass unseen and unheard as they followed a soft warm breeze out of the south. It was a turning out to be a fine sunny day and far to the north the Nephridil was blooming on the Barrow Downs not far from the shores of Lake Evendim.