A Precious Gift
Disclaimer: All references to Middle-Earth and Lord of the Rings belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. I make no claims to ownership on any of these things. I do this simply because I enjoy writing and have an over-active imagination.
Summary: Aragorn meets a young child that gives him a precious gift.
Time line: The first Midwinter's Eve of Aragorn's reign as King.
Main Characters: Aragorn, Arwen, Legolas, Gimli, several OC's.
Author's Note: The general plot for this story comes from the wonderfully lovely song called "The Christmas Shoes" by the group Newsong. While this is not a songfic, per se, the plot is based off of that song.
Minas Tirith, Midwinter's Eve, Year 3019 of the Third Age
It is a strange sight; to see the White City covered in snow…one cannot tell where the city ends and the snowfall begins, Aragorn mused. The King stood on the balcony off of his private study, staring out at his city. Down below him, he could see hundreds of small brown dots that were his people, battling against the snow and wind as they hurried to finish preparations for Midwinter Day, which would come tomorrow.
Aragorn sighed and raised his eyes to gaze out in the distance at nothing, since the snow storm that had blown in earlier that morning had turned the sky into a gray and white haze, and nothing could be seen of the Pelennor Fields from the Citadel. He was weary after a long morning in court, passing down rulings for his people. He had only been on the throne for a little over six months, but there seemed to be a never ending stream of problems left over from the rule of the Stewards that needed to be addressed or changed.
Arwen was doing her best to aid him in her own way, making sure that servants brought him meals when he was forced to be closeted away with his advisers during meal times, and she always made sure that there were hot baths drawn for him to relax in after a long day. Whenever she could, she sat in court with him, helping him in his decision making, even as Faramir did.
Aragorn knew this and loved her all the more for every little detail that she tried to help him with. She was a partner in every form of the word, just as he had known that she would be when he pledged himself to her, and she to him. But it did nothing to comfort him really. The King was restless.
He wanted to leave the suddenly confining walls of the Citadel and wander the Pelennor Fields…no, he wanted to be wandering the northern wilderness of his childhood home. He wanted to see the mountains and deep woodlands of his youth again.
Turning swiftly, Aragorn left his study, hearing the two guards posted outside the room scramble to follow him. That was yet another thing that he was not used to. It seemed such a waste to have men stationed whose only job was to follow him around everywhere. He understood that it was for his safety…but how could he be in danger in the middle of his own Citadel? He'd wandered the wilds, alone more often than not, for sixty-odd years. He was a skilled swordsman, and even should an assassin get so far into the Citadel as to be a threat (which Aragorn highly doubted) he was perfectly capable of defending himself and dealing with any assassin.
Entering his own chambers, Aragorn moved over to the window seat, where Arwen was seated. Seeing as how tomorrow was Midwinter's Day, Arwen was busy arranging for the feast that they were hosting the next evening. Just now, she was making out a list of details that still needed to be attended to before the feast tomorrow afternoon.
As Aragorn entered, Arwen looked up, then stood and kissed him as he came to stand alongside her. Seeming to sense his mood, she simply folded him into her arms, and then rested her head on his chest. He sighed and hugged her back, but gazed out the window behind her again.
"What troubles you, meleth nin (my love)? You have been restless these past days." she said softly.
"Aye, Arwen. I weary of this tediousness. I feel as if the person I once was, Strider the ranger, has been slain and buried under the demands that Gondor is placing on the person I now am, Elessar the King. I long to see the deep northern woods and mountains again, to wander freely without having guards follow my every step." Aragorn replied, his voice thick with frustration.
Arwen smiled. "Why not take a walk, Estel? You are a ranger, you can protect yourself, and seeing rangers in the city is not uncommon. Put aside the responsibilities for a day or so. Tomorrow is a holiday, and even you deserve a rest to celebrate with your loved ones." Slipping free from his grasp, she walked to a storage chest in the corner and opened it, pulling something from inside. Going back to her husband's side, she handed him a bundle of ragged cloth.
Aragorn shook out the cloth, revealing a well-worn, soft leather overcoat. He looked at Arwen in surprise, but she only smiled knowingly. "Go, Estel. Become Strider again, if only for a short time." Then she laughed. "Just don't leave the city…even a ranger can become lost in a snowstorm, especially when what he is looking for is white."
Aragorn laid the overcoat on a chair next to him and drew his wife into his arms. "Hannon le, meleth nin. Hannon le. Thank you, my love. Thank you."
Arwen smiled. "You think that I do not know your heart, Estel? You have the blood of the wandering rangers in you, it was all you knew for seventy years, and now you have been forced to become something that you are not familiar with. It will take time for you to become used to this change." She laid a graceful hand on his cheek. "Go, my love. I'll make excuses for you, and I'll distract your guards until you return."
"Hannon le, Undomiel. Thank you, Evenstar" Aragorn whispered, before moving to change out of his court dress and into his old ranger clothing.
It's always nice to have a strong-willed woman at your side, Aragorn thought several minutes later as he walked through the winding streets of his city. His hood was drawn up over his head to hide his features from a casual glance, as well as to keep the snow out of his eyes.
It was refreshing to be out of the Citadel. All around him, his people hurried on their way, no one even bothering to look twice at the brown-clad ranger ambling along, none of them realizing that their King was in their midst. It is…a welcome change, Aragorn mused. He was finally starting to feel like himself again. He didn't regret becoming King, but he did regret what his duties had taken from him.
As he wandered past some of the shops that were open for people doing last minute shopping for Mid-winter gifts, he realized that he had not gotten anything for Arwen, Faramir, Eowyn, Legolas, or Gimli. His duties had taken up all of his time, and every time he had thought about the gifts, he had been forced to push it to the back of his mind, and forgotten about it again.
Legolas and Gimli were due to arrive later that night, Aragorn knew. They had left soon after his coronation and marriage to visit Fangorn Forest and the Glittering Caves again, and had discussed visiting Mirkwood and the Lonely Mountain as well, but they had promised to return by Mid-winter and spend the holiday with their friends.
With a specific goal in mind, Aragorn began studying the shops he passed more intently, looking for places where he could find appropriate gifts for his friends. At this late notice, he knew they would not be as elaborate as he wished, but his friends were also pleased with simple things. Next year he could begin having presents crafted in advance that were appropriate for them, he decided.
It didn't take him long to find a present for Gimli. Down on the fourth level he found a little shop that specialized in rare wines and ales. He smiled and purchased a bottle of wine that was produced in Dol Amroth for the dwarf, and another bottle of ale from Rohan. The shopkeeper wrapped them carefully, and placed them in a bag made of tough canvas, which Aragorn took with a smile of thanks before taking himself out.
In a silversmith's shop on the same level, he found a very simple letter opener that had a pommel-nut made of a faceted emerald. Aragorn smiled, thinking that Faramir would like that. He also found a jeweled, yet functional knife for Eowyn, knowing that the sword maiden would appreciate the thought behind it. Aragorn was very aware that it was she who had slain the Witch-King, even if most of his guard didn't think it proper for a woman to wield a blade. In this case, if people tried to attack the sword-maiden, she would be able to fight back with a fully functional knife that seemed to be nothing more than a pretty ornament. Aragorn smirked to himself, glad that the members of his guard weren't aware that Arwen was a formidable warrior herself. Her brothers had trained her, and Elladan and Elrohir were two of the finest warriors in Rivendell.
For Legolas, Aragorn was a little more lost. He knew his friend very well, but he couldn't think of anything that the elf needed, or anything that the prince would think was necessary. He knew Legolas wouldn't expect anything, especially after Aragorn had gifted the prince with part of the land of Ithilien to establish a colony of elves.
He continued to wander through the streets carrying his purchases looking for any shop where he might be able to find something appropriate for Legolas, but even more, for Arwen.
He passed a small bookshop, and then an idea occurred to him. Slipping inside the shop, he looked around for the shopkeeper. A small bell had tinkled when he entered, and it was only a few minutes before a man stepped out of the back. He was short, but slender, and he moved among the shelves in a no-nonsense fashion.
"Good day, Dúnedain!" the shopkeeper called as he spotted Aragorn. "What may I and my humble shop do for you?"
Aragorn laughed. This little man reminded him of Lord Elrond's adviser Erestor. Friendly, yes, but without the burdens that Erestor had carried as one of Elrond's advisers and aides. He shook his hood back so that it fell down around his shoulders. "A pleasant day to you as well my good sir. I was wondering if you had any volumes of Gondorian folklore. I have a friend among the elves that I would like to give it to as a Mid-winter gift."
The shopkeeper pondered the question for a moment; probably running through his inventory in his head, Aragorn thought with a smile, before he answered. "I believe I do, Dúnedain. Let me see…" And he was gone, but Aragorn could hear him puttering around in the back of the shop, obviously seeking the book that Aragorn had requested.
Aragorn looked around the shop, breathing in the smells of leather, ink, and paper. It was so familiar and reminded him so much of the great library in Imladris, a place where he had always spent a great deal of time when he was home. He smiled fondly, and a little longingly, wanting to return to the secure and safe haven that Rivendell had always been.
Never had the peace of Rivendell been shattered, never had the war with Mordor come far enough into the city's borders to threaten the elves that were not warriors. Rivendell was known all across Middle-Earth as a place for healing and rest, and though this might have encouraged attacks on it, Rivendell's citizens also knew how to defend themselves and their home.
As Aragorn was ruminating on his childhood home, the shopkeeper came back to the front of the store, bearing a leather-bound book that had been dyed a deep, rich blue. He handed it to the King, who took it. "Will this suffice, my good sir?"
Aragorn flipped open the book, carefully, and began to page through it, his eyes skimming the neatly inscribed tome. The book was beautifully crafted, meant to endure a lot of use, and was also just as carefully inscribed and was extremely legible. The King smiled and nodded. "This will be more than satisfactory, my lord." he answered politely and graciously. "How much do I owe you for it?"
The shopkeeper named a price that was extremely fair, for such a beautiful volume, and Aragorn paid the man without hesitation. The shopkeeper took the book back and wrapped it to protect it from the weather, and Aragorn slipped it into the bag with his other purchases. With another smile and nod for the kind shopkeeper, Aragorn flipped his hood back up and stepped back outside into the snow.
The storm had grown a bit more intense, but Aragorn continued to wander in search of a store that would have a present that was appropriate for his beloved wife. He knew that she, like he, wouldn't expect a gift, for she considered finally being his wife gift enough after all the years that they had waited for each other, but he still wanted to give her something special.
The wind picked up, chilling him even under his heavy coat, so he ducked into the next shop to get out of the wind for a short time. He found himself in a small tailors shop. Looking around he noticed that apparently the shopkeepers had decided to work together, for besides being a tailors, the shop also had a cobbler for making shoes. It was a good deal all around, Aragorn noted. The tailor and the cobbler split the cost of the rent, and they both profited on their wares.
Aragorn began wandering the store, not planning on buying anything, but just looking at the shopkeepers' craftsmanship. It was exceedingly fine work, done in a way that looked stylish and attractive, but made so that even the less affluent citizens could afford it. This pleased Aragorn, who knew immediately that the shopkeepers here were honest, and wouldn't try to cheat other people.
He walked back over towards the door, about to leave and continue his search for a present for Arwen, when something crashed into his legs. The tall ranger was thrown off-balance for a moment, but quickly recovered and looked down. Sitting on the ground at his feet was a small boy, maybe 8 years of age,
Aragorn smiled and bent down. "Are you all right, little one?" he asked kindly. The boy nodded, and Aragorn helped him to his feet. He noticed that the boy was clutching a small linen bag, and a pair of soft leather shoes.
With a smile of thanks, the boy darted over to where the shopkeeper was helping a customer, and stood there, waiting to be helped. It seemed to be taking a long time, for the cobbler was helping to fit his customer, in order to create a particular pair of shoes the man was asking for. The little boy began to fidget anxiously, looking between the cobbler and the door.
Aragorn watched the boy, carefully. His clothing was worn and old, barely adequate for the weather, which told the ranger that his family was probably among the poorer ones and that his parents didn't have a lot of money to purchase new clothing, and had to make old ones last as long as possible.
It was finally the boy's turn to pay, and he stepped up to the cobbler, who smiled down at him. Aragorn moved closer to hear what was going on. He was curious about this boy, who seemed very young to be out in the streets alone, especially in such a large city as Minas Tirith.
"Sir, I'd like to buy these shoes for my mother, please."
The cobbler smiled. "Of course lad, let me see…" he took the shoes from the boy and studied them. "They'll be fifteen coppers, lad."
The boy nodded and handed the linen bag to the shopkeeper, who took it and opened it, pouring a handful of copper coins into his hand. Handing the bag back to the boy, he began to count the coins swiftly.
The boy waited impatiently, but then the cobbler frowned. "I'm sorry lad. There isn't enough money here for me to sell you those shoes."
Aragorn could see most of the boy's face from where he stood, and he noted sadly that the boy looked like his world had crashed down around him. He sniffed and looked like he was about to cry. "But, sir, I need to buy these shoes. It's Mid-winter Eve, and my mother is very sick. I wanted to give her a gift, just to show her how much I love her. I've been saving what money I can get for a long time."
Aragorn was so touched by this simple, earnest plea that he moved without thinking to the cobbler's side and drew back his hood, before reaching into the purse he carried. "How much does the lad owe you, sir?"
The cobbler blinked up at him. "Seven coppers, my lord."
Aragorn didn't hesitate, and instead of fishing out the requisite number of coins, he pulled out a single silver piece and handed it to the man. "There you are my good sir. That should more than pay for the shoes, and the boy can have his money back."
The other man blinked in surprise. "Aye, that'll more than do it." Taking the boy's bag back from him, he poured the coppers back into it, and then took the silver coin from Aragorn, squinting up at the ranger, before moving into the back room to place the silver coin in a safe place.
Aragorn turned to the boy, who was looking at him with gratitude. To Aragorn's surprise, the boy's face was bright and happy as he held the shoes tightly, as if he was gazing at the havens that lay beyond the circles of the world. For a moment, Aragorn locked eyes with the boy, and couldn't speak. Gazing at this boy, he knew that he would never forget the look on this innocent, yet world-wise, child's face. But before he could speak, the boy thanked him and darted past him clutching the shoes and his purse.
The King was surprised, but moved quickly after him. The storm had increased in its fury, and Aragorn lost sight of the boy almost immediately. However, the former ranger had more than one trick at his disposal. Crouching to study the ground, he immediately picked out a set of footprints belonging to a child, and an ill-shod one at that. The snow was filling in the tracks quickly, but Aragorn didn't really care, because it wouldn't bother him yet. He had spent his childhood and most of his adult life in the mountains, and he was no stranger to tracking in the snow, fresh-fallen or otherwise.
He quickly established the direction the child had gone and proceeded to track him, even as the storm continued to get worse. In Aragorn's mind, this was more reason to find the boy, who was not clothed properly for the weather. If the boy made it home, that was all well and good, but if he got lost, in this storm…
Aragorn shuddered and suppressed the thought, since it was not a possibility he preferred to dwell on. Elladan and Elrohir had always called him the eternal optimist, who always looked at a problem and tried to figure out a solution, rather than dwelling on the negative or getting bogged down by despair and hopelessness. Still, the thought of the ill-clad boy, lost and freezing to death in this weather, which was enough to chill even a man used to the storms that the mountains could produce in the dead of winter, lurked just at the back of his mind, and he increased his pace, while not losing sight of the trail.
As he descended to the third level, he had to pass underneath a covered gate that was buried in the mountainside. This cut off the storm for a few moments, and Aragorn quickly scanned the people around him, spotting the young boy he was following. Hurrying his pace, he managed to catch up to the boy before they passed back out into the storm. He grabbed the boy's arm and pulled him to a stop.
"Wait, please, young one!" Aragorn said quietly. He would be well within his right to command the boy to stop, since he was the King, but he knew that the boy didn't realize who he was, so instead he requested that they boy stopped. The boy would be more likely to respond to a request than a command, anyway.
The boy stopped, partly because Aragorn still had a gentle grip on his arm, and partly responding to Aragorn's soft voice. The boy looked up at his King, recognizing that Aragorn was higher in rank than he, even if he probably had no notion that he was standing next to the High King of the Reunified Kingdoms. "Aye, my lord?"
Aragorn studied the lad more closely. The boy was relatively common in looks, with shaggy brown hair and large, wide brown eyes. His clothing was old and worn, as Aragorn had already observed, and the boy was dirty, but not filthy to the point that Aragorn would consider unhygienic. Boys were often filthy anyway, and the snow wasn't helping. "Did you say that your mother was sick, lad?" Aragorn finally asked, as the boy waited for him to speak.
The boy nodded. "She's been sick for a long time, my lord. My family doesn't have the money to pay the apothecaries. She was able to do her work for a while, getting sicker all the time, but in the last month, she hasn't been able to leave her bed. Pa says that it won't be long before she goes to Mandos' Halls." The boy looked up at Aragorn. "What is Mandos' Halls, my lord? My father will not tell me, but he just says it's somewhere where she'll be able to get well again."
Aragorn hesitated, not sure how to answer the boy. After all, what child needs to hear that the Halls of Mandos are where the spirits of the dead go? Finally, he decided on a small lie. "Your father is correct little one. She will be able to heal if she goes there." He smiled warmly at the boy. "I might be able to help her first though, if you would take me to your house."
The boy eyed him, suddenly suspicious. "Why? Are you an apothecary? I just told you my pa can' afford to pay you."
Aragorn knelt down so that he was eye level with the boy. "No, little one. I am not an apothecary, but I do have quite a bit of healer training, and I won't charge your parents any money for my aid. I will either be able to help your mother, or I won't, but I won't know if I can until I see her."
The boy stared at him for several long moments, his gaze searching Aragorn's face, looking for something, even if he wasn't aware of what it was that he was looking for. Maybe some sign of honesty in this ranger's eyes and face, Aragorn didn't know, but he stayed quiet and calm, trying to look reassuring to a small boy who might lose his mother to an illness.
"Can you really help her?" The boy finally asked.
Aragorn hesitated for a moment. "I don't know, little one…what is your name?"
The boy stared at him, and then finally answered. "Arthon."
Aragorn nodded and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Well, Arthon, I don't know if I can help your mother, since I don't know what illness she suffers from. I have been training as a healer since I was just about your age though, so there is a very good chance that I will recognize her illness and know what to do to help her. However, I must see her and look her over before I will know for sure. At the very least, I can probably get her help, even if I cannot give her that aid myself."
The little boy nodded, and then hurried off again, with Aragorn in close pursuit. The boy dodged nimbly among the people, giving Aragorn a challenge in trying to keep up with him. Arthon kept glancing back over his shoulder, making sure that the ranger was managing to follow him. Finally, he ducked down a side street, and Aragorn hastened his pace further.
Once in the side street, the buildings rose on both sides of them, and the street was much narrower, limiting the amount of snow that reached the street. However, the drawback to this was that the wind funneled down the street, screaming around them, and chilling both of them more severely than when they were out on the main street.
The boy moved about halfway down the alley, then stopped at one door, which he struggled to open against the wind. Aragorn reached him and pushed it open easily, then both of them slipped inside and Aragorn shoved the door closed behind him.
Once the door was tightly closed against the wind, Arthon reached up and latched it so that the door wouldn't open again unless the latch was broken or released. Then the boy moved quietly towards the back, to where Aragorn could see another door half-hidden in the shadows.
Aragorn paused for a moment and looked around. The room was small, but had been furnished in a way that made it comfortable and welcoming, within the family's income and means. In the corner was a child-sized bed made out of a wooden box, filled with soft scraps of material and straw for warmth. On the top was a quilt made out of more scraps of cloth that had been cleaned and repaired before being sewn together.
As Aragorn took in the small, modest home, a tall man came through the half-hidden door that he had noticed. His face was drawn with sorrow, but his eyes flashed with wariness at this stranger that his son had brought home.
"What do you want, sir? Just speak your piece, and leave please, for I am not able to deal with anything right now. My wife is dying, and I want to be left alone with my family."
Aragorn nodded. "I met your son in the shop where he went to purchase the shoes for his mother. He didn't have enough to pay for them, so I paid for them for him. When I heard his mother was sick, I thought to see if there is anything that I can do to help her."
The man glared. "I have no money to pay an apothecary."
Aragorn shook his head and reached up to push his hood back so the worried husband could see his face clearly as he spoke. "I am not an apothecary, sir. I am healer trained, but I wouldn't dream of charging a fee for my aid."
The man studied his face, but before he could speak, a thin, weak voice called out from the room he had exited. "Targon? Who is out there?"
The boy's father turned back towards what Aragorn realized must be the bedroom he shared with his wife. He hesitated, and then looked back at Aragorn. "Very well. If you think you can help her, follow me, but if you can't, be gone and leave us in peace."
Aragorn nodded quietly and followed the man as he walked back into the bedroom. He looked around, assessing his surroundings. The room was small, but not in a cramped fashion. Most of the room was taken up by a larger version of the bed in the outer room.
There was also a pair of wooden chairs next to the bed. The boy that he had followed was perched on the edge of one, and the other was empty.
Aragorn now turned to the bed. A woman lay in the bed, heavily swathed in blankets, most of which were old and some of which were threadbare. The only exception was a quilt that was similar to the one on the smaller bed in the outer room. There wasn't a fireplace, indeed no place to safely put one, which explained the excess of blankets the woman was wrapped in, for the room was slightly chilly.
Aragorn walked closer to the bed and knelt down, flinching as his knees came in contact with the cold stone floor, but smiling at the woman. She was pale and drawn from her long illness, but her cheeks were flushed with fever and she was sweating slightly. Despite the signs of illness that were displayed on her features, Aragorn could see that she had once been a striking beauty.
She had dark brown hair that had once been full and thick, but now it was lank and limp looking. Her face had high cheekbones, and she had once had a beautiful complexion, but now she was drawn, and had sunken cheeks. Her brown eyes held a fading light in them, and Aragorn had no doubt that when she was well they had sparkled with life.
Aragorn bowed his head and picked up one of her hands, which were not wrapped in blankets, for they were holding the shoes that her son had given her. Raising her hand to his mouth he kissed it in courtly manner. She smiled warmly at him and nodded. "I am a simple healer, my lady, and I heard about your illness. I wish to see if I can help you to recover."
Moving quickly, Aragorn began questioning her and her family closely, gathering information on her illness. While he did this, he tested her temperature, and monitored her pulse rate. He recognized her illness, and was sorrowed, because it was a relatively common one, and very easy to cure with medications and rest. It inflicted children most often, and typically seemed to strike in the winter months, which was ironic, because the herbs that could cure the illness did not grow in the winter months.
Fortunately, Aragorn knew, they worked just as well dried as fresh, although their potency was slightly lessened. Simply increasing the length of the treatment compensated for any decreased potency of the herbs. But for a family of limited income, they would have been unable to afford the medication, and without the medication, there was no way to slow the progression of the disease.
Aragorn weighed his options, then rose to his feet and pulled the boy's father towards the door where they could speak without being overheard by the boy or his mother. He glanced back over his shoulder, once, at the ill woman in the bed. Despite her body's weakness, her spirit was still strong.
"Well? Can you help my wife?" Targon growled at the ranger, not realizing that he was addressing his King. Aragorn didn't comment on his rudeness, which he knew stemmed from worry for his wife and, by extension, for his young son.
Aragorn considered this man, for a long moment, and then nodded. "I can sir. Her illness is severe, but relatively common. However, I do not have the medications with me to treat her. I will need to go to fetch them, and she needs to be somewhere much warmer than this house, or she will not fully recover, and will remain weak and more susceptible to other illnesses."
Targon frowned. "We cannot afford the services of the healers, nor afford her keep at the Houses of Healing."
Aragorn smiled warmly. "That won't be necessary." He turned to leave. "I will return shortly with the means to take her to where she can heal and I can keep an eye on her until she is well. Pack your family for whatever you think you may need until she is well. I will see to the lodgings and her care."
Before Targon could reply, Aragorn turned and headed for the door, unlatching it and pulling open just enough for him to slip out, but not enough for what little warmth there was inside the humble house to leech out.
Flipping his hood back up over his head, he moved quickly down the small street and out to the main road. Looking up at the levels above him, he took a deep breath and began to climb back towards his Citadel, thankful that he was still in good shape. All these months of tending to paperwork and administrative duties hadn't made him stop all physical exercise. He used the physical exercise as a way to get rid of the stress that being King put on him.
Arwen was waiting for him in the main hall of the Citadel when Aragorn walked through the great doors. She held a warm, dry cloak and helped her husband shed the soaked, snow-covered one he was wearing.
She smiled and kissed him on the lips, then looked at the bag he was carrying. "What is that, Estel? You weren't carrying that when you left."
Aragorn smiled mysteriously. "Just some things I picked up. You'll see later, meleth nin my love. It's a surprise for now."
Arwen nodded. "Did getting out help your restlessness, Estel?"
Aragorn paused for a moment, considering his answer. "In many ways yes, but I cannot discuss it now, Undomiel. I need to gather some healing supplies...could you ask the grooms to ready one of the coaches? I have another errand that needs to be run."
Arwen was puzzled. "Healing supplies, Estel? For what?" Her breath caught. "You didn't get hurt did you?"
Aragorn turned immediately and caught his wife up in his arms. "No, no, Arwen. I need to hurry…I'll explain when I get back. I won't be long…the coach please?"
Arwen nodded and summoned a servant as Aragorn hurried towards the upper levels of the Citadel, towards their private quarters and the rooms that he had designated as his healing rooms if he felt someone needed his personal attention, or if the House of Healing was full. She relayed Aragorn's request and the servant hurried off.
It wasn't long before Aragorn came back downstairs; dressed in clean, dry clothing. It was still his ranger garb, however, which confused Arwen. He had called for a royal coach…but was still dressed as a ranger. He was fastening a leather pouch to his sword belt as he approached her.
Before he could say anything, the doors swung open and two snow covered figures entered on a gust of wind and swirling snow. One was tall and slender, with a quiver of arrows and a bow on his back. He wore only a light, hooded cloak. His companion was more heavily clad against the weather, and had several axes strapped to his back.
Aragorn smiled broadly as servants hurried to close the door behind the two new arrivals, and remove their cloaks. The taller of the two arrivals pulled back his hood and shook out a mass of blonde hair before swinging the light cloak free and handing it off to the servant waiting to take it.
"Legolas, mellon nin! Welcome back!" Aragorn said warmly, stepping toward the elven prince and clasping his forearms. The prince returned the greeting, and then Aragorn turned to the dwarf that was waiting to greet his friends. "Gimli, it is wonderful to see you again."
"You too, laddie." Gimli replied, coming to stand next to Legolas after bowing to the Queen. "We promised we'd be back for Mid-winter, and dwarves don't break promises."
Legolas snorted in mock disdain, but all present knew he was just trying to get on Gimli's nerves. "Estel, we saw so much on our trip. We went to Fangorn, and the Glittering Caves, and then we went to Eryn Lasgalen and Lake Town."
Aragorn's smile dropped. "I can't wait to hear all about it, my friend. But I must leave you for a short time and attend to some business. Arwen will take you to my private study, and we can talk when I get back."
Legolas frowned. "Is something wrong, Estel? Is there anything that Gimli and I can do to help?"
Aragorn hesitated, considering the offer for a moment, but then he shook his head. "Nay, my friend. Go, get a drink and get warmed, and I'll be back shortly."
With that, Aragorn swung a thicker cloak over his clothing and vanished outside into the storm, which, if anything was only growing worse. As he had asked, one of the royal coaches stood waiting for him, with two large horses with thick, shaggy coats to protect them from the cold hitched to it, and a Guard perched on the driver's block to drive the coach.
Aragorn nodded to the Guard, who saluted his King, and then leaned forward to hear their destination. Aragorn pulled himself up so that he didn't have to try to shout over the wind, and spoke.
"We need to go to the Third Level. Once we get there, I'll take over driving." Aragorn called. The Guard nodded and the two of them headed off, with the horses dragging the coach through the snow covered streets. Though the snow had been falling all day, enough traffic had been over the streets to keep them relatively clear, and what snow there was had been packed tight.
By coach it didn't take long to reach the Third Level, and from there, Aragorn took the reins and steered the coach to the side street where Targon's family lived. The Guard was curious, but didn't speak as Aragorn pulled the horses to a halt and swung down from the driver's seat, with an order to wait for him to return.
Aragorn strode down to the humble home where Targon and his family lived. Once at their door, he knocked, and waited as he heard someone coming towards the door. There was a few moments of silence before he heard the latch slide back, and the door swung open. Aragorn smiled down at Arthon, who stepped back to let him in.
Aragorn moved towards the second room to see Targon standing next to the bed, his wife a shapeless form buried under blankets and any warm clothing that she possessed. He smiled at both of them. "Arrangements have been made, sir…my lady. If you would follow me, so we can get you somewhere where I can help you."
The woman smiled warmly. "Thank you…" she paused. "You never gave us your name, good sir."
Aragorn nodded his head. "You may call me Estel, my lady."
The lady frowned, ever so slightly. "That is elvish for hope, is it not?"
Aragorn blinked in surprise. It was rare for someone who was not an elf, ranger, or a high-ranking noble to know any elvish. "Aye, my lady. It does. May I ask how you knew that?"
The lady smiled. "I am originally from Dol Amroth, Estel. My family knew many people who spoke some elvish, and I learned when I was quite young." Her smile widened. "I am Alanna."
Aragorn nodded and dipped his head in salute. "Shall we go? I would like to see you in a warm building, and we need to get the medicine into you so you can begin to recover."
The couple nodded, and Targon bent down and scooped his wife up in his arms, making sure she was fully covered by the blanket. Aragorn held the door open for them, and then the little family followed him out to the carriage.
Targon's mouth dropped open at the site of the carriage being driven by a Guardsman. "What is all of this?"
Aragorn smiled and helped him settle his wife inside the carriage. "I want to get her into the warmth as soon as possible, which means we need a fast way to get her to where I can help her."
Targon frowned, but climbed in beside his wife, lifting his son in after him. Aragorn climbed up on the driver's box again, and nodded to the Guardsman to take them back to the Citadel. He knew Targon and Alanna were in for a great shock when they saw where they would be staying until Alanna was well again. They'd be even more surprised to learn that the man they thought was just a simple healer and ranger was really their King.
It didn't take long for the little group to reach the Citadel again. Aragorn jumped down from the driver's box and went to the carriage door. Opening it, he helped Arthon down, and then reached in and lifted Alanna out until her husband could get out and take her back.
Targon climbed out of the carriage and Aragorn nodded to the Guard, who immediately drove the carriage towards the stables of the Citadel, to get the horses warm and dry, and the carriage put away. The little family looked up at the Citadel and their surprise was easily reflected on their faces.
"This isn't the Houses of Healing…this is the Citadel. Why are we here? What right have we to be here, in the King's home?" Targon asked.
Aragorn didn't answer, just hustled the small family in to get them out of the cold. Once they were inside, he smiled. "This is the best place for you. There are servants here to attend to your needs, and it is a relatively simple task to see to your needs here. There will be plenty of bedrooms for you and your son, so you can be close to her while she recovers and you won't have to travel back and forth from your home to the Houses of Healing."
Aragorn led them upstairs to where there was a healing room already prepared and nicely warmed. He smiled and nodded to the maid that was waiting to help Alanna get settled, and she curtsied in return, quickly. The room was warm and comfortable, despite being a healing room. Soft chairs and couches were scattered over the room, and a blazing fire was in the fireplace. The bed was large and had several thick, warm quilts on it, and, per Aragorn's request, the bed had been warmed with several bricks that had been heated in the fireplace and tucked under the blankets at the end of the bed.
"I'll be back shortly with the first dose of medication that you need." He gestured to another servant standing nearby. "While Aerin gets you settled, my lady, Ohtar will show you to the rooms that have been readied for you and Arthon, sir."
They nodded and filed out after Aragorn, who turned in the opposite direction and headed for his stillroom, where he kept all of the herbs that he used when they were needed. The stillroom was a smaller version of the one in Rivendell, but was laid out almost identically, since Aragorn had spent a great deal of time in Elrond's stillroom when he was being trained as a healer. The herbs were arranged in the same way as Elrond's were which just made it easier for Aragorn to locate and grab any herb he was in search of.
Before he made it as far as his stillroom, he spotted Arwen coming towards him, curiosity etched on her face. She kissed him quickly as she came up to him, and then tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and went with him towards the stillroom. Gazing at her husband's face, she couldn't help but question him further. "Estel, what in the name of the Valar is going on?"
Aragorn smiled down at her. "I am trying to help a woman who is very ill and will die if she doesn't get help, my love."
Arwen looked surprised. "She is here? Why not take her to the Houses of Healing?"
Aragorn paused in the hallway, only a few steps from his stillroom door as he turned and looked at her. "She is still one of my people, Arwen, and she's ill enough that I think I can devote the time to making sure she recovers. She has a husband and a young son, and they would not be able to stay with her in the Houses of Healing, but we have enough room here that they can stay close, and, should they also fall ill, they will be together where I can keep an eye on them."
Arwen nodded. "I understand, Estel, and I think it is kind of you, but what brought this on? I am sure there are plenty of ill and injured people in the city…what is so special about this woman?"
Aragorn smiled. "It was her son that revealed her illness to me. I encountered him on my walk. I had ducked into a cobbler's shop to get out of the cold for a few moments, and he bumped into me. I listened as he tried to buy a pair of shoes for his mother, but he didn't have enough money, and…Valar, Arwen…when I saw his face, it looked like his world had come crashing down."
Arwen cocked her head to the side and looked up at him, trying to understand what her husband had seen in this young boy. Aragorn took both her hands and brought them up close to his heart and gazed into her eyes, just as he had on the day, all those years ago, when they had pledged themselves to each other. "He said that his mother had been sick for a long time, and that he wanted to get her a gift. There was such feeling in his plea, and a buried fear in his eyes, I just had to help him, so I bought the shoes for him, and from there it was a simple matter of offering to help his mother."
Arwen stared back at him, her large, expressive eyes shining at Aragorn's story. But there was something in her gaze that told him that she knew he wasn't telling her all of it. He waited, and after a long moment, she finally spoke. "They don't know that you're the King, do they?"
Aragorn smiled. "No. I only told them that my name was Estel, nothing more."
"Didn't they wonder why they came to the Citadel then, instead of the Houses of Healing?" Arwen continued, trying to understand her husband's motivations.
Aragorn nodded. "I told them that by doing this they could all be together, and that, if necessary there could be a servant helping her out at all hours of the day or night." He smiled. "Sooner or later they'll find out the truth, but this was the best solution. I also knew that I had the herbs I needed on hand, and I didn't know if the Houses of Healing did."
Arwen smiled warmly and nodded. "I came to find you because Legolas and Gimli wanted to know what was keeping you so long."
Aragorn smiled and laughed. "Tell them that I'll be in shortly. I need to get the lady her first dose of medication and make sure she's settled."
Arwen nodded. "May I join you? I'd like to meet this boy that has made your eyes shine so, that has made you so earnest and eager to help your people, Estel."
Aragorn laughed, he couldn't refuse Arwen. It would give away his identity, but frankly, he had never expected that to hold up anyway. He nodded and slipped in to the stillroom and began selecting and preparing the herbs that he needed to make Alanna's medicine.
It didn't take long for him to prepare the first dose of the woman's treatment, and once it was ready, he picked up the vial and poured it into a heavy glass, before turning and leaving the room, with Arwen trailing behind him.
They reached Alanna's room and Aragorn pushed the door open, holding it as Arwen slipped into the room with the quiet grace that had first caught his attention when they had met all those years ago in Rivendell.
The small family waiting in the room looked up as the door opened and Targon was about to speak to the ranger when Arwen entered, and his mouth dropped open as he caught sight of the Queen. He hastily rose to his feet and bowed, prepared to offer his chair to her. Arwen was easy to identify as the Queen. Her eyes sparkled with life, and she moved more gracefully than any human woman could. No one who set eyes on the elf maiden could mistake her for anyone except the Queen. Arthon looked puzzled, but he also rose to his feet and copied his father's actions. Alanna's eyes widened and she dipped her head in respect.
Arwen shook her head and moved quietly to the bedside, placing a slender, graceful hand on Targon's shoulder, silently bidding him to rise. "That is not necessary my good sir."
Targon straightened, but did not resume his seat. It wasn't polite to sit in the presence of royalty, but Arwen didn't hold with such action. She didn't consider it necessary except in extremely formal situations. Applying the slightest amount of pressure to the man's shoulder, she pushed him towards his seat.
Aragorn watched with a smile, and then walked to Alanna's side. Handing her the glass, he waited to make sure she had a firm grip on it before he released it. "Please drink this, lady. This is the first dose of your medicine."
Alanna nodded and downed the bitter potion as swiftly as she could manage. She made a face at the taste, but Aragorn had anticipated that and handed her a glass of water that he poured from a pitcher on a nearby table. The woman took this as well and swallowed it quickly to get rid of the bitter taste clinging to her mouth. Aragorn took both glasses from her and placed them on the table, then walked to the fire and bent down to add another log to it.
Arwen, meanwhile, had knelt down in front of Arthon and was studying him intently, her shining eyes and gentle smile putting him at ease. Aragorn straightened and walked to his wife's side, standing behind her as she straightened up. Once she regained her feet, she slipped her hand into his, and he raised it to his lips and kissed it, to the surprise of Targon and Arthon. Alanna smiled knowingly, but didn't speak.
Aragorn smiled at his wife, and then leaned closer to her. "Tell Legolas and Gimli I will be with them in a few minutes, will you my love?"
Arwen nodded and left the room, pausing at the door and looking back to bestow a smile and a warm look on the little family, before she slipped silently out of the room.
Aragorn turned back to ask the family if there was anything else that they needed, but before he could speak Targon, whose mouth was still open in shock, blinked and managed to speak. "You…you are King Elessar!"
Aragorn nodded. "I am."
Targon bowed again swiftly, now looking embarrassed. "Forgive me, sire…I treated you ill earlier. I submit myself to your judgment for my actions."
Aragorn shook his head swiftly. "Rise, Targon. I am not offended. I have been treated ill many times in my life, and I understand the reasons behind your hostility to me earlier. I did not intend to let you know my identity when we met, indeed, I was prepared to simply be "Estel" to you during your stay here, but my lady wife wished to meet you and your family when she heard that I had brought you here."
Targon nodded, but he still looked embarrassed and ill-at-ease. Arthon just looked puzzled as he looked between his father and the man that was helping his mother. Alanna smiled, but looked curious. Aragorn turned to her, but she spoke before he could. "Sire, why did you ask us to call you Estel?"
Aragorn's thoughts drifted back to his home in Rivendell for a few seconds before he answered. "My parents were killed when I was very young, and I was brought to the elven city of Rivendell. Because I was the last of the bloodline of Isildur, Lord Elrond, the ruler of Rivendell adopted and raised me. He named me Estel to hide my identity from the servants of Mordor."
Alanna nodded in understanding. Aragorn knew that he couldn't ignore his friends much longer, and there wasn't much more he could do for the woman tonight, so he smiled warmly. "Is there anything else that you require, my lady? I have some other things to attend to, but I will be back in the morning to continue your treatments."
Alanna shook her head. "Thank you for devoting this time to me, my lord."
Aragorn's smile widened. "You are one of my people, Alanna. It would not be right of me to not help you when it is in my power to do so. If you have any need during the night, just summon a servant with this bell. If I am personally required the servant will fetch me. I will have dinner brought up to you and your family in a few minutes."
Alanna nodded. "Thank you sire." Targon and Arthon echoed her words, and Aragorn dipped his head and then left the room, pausing to leave orders with the servants that he was to be summoned if Alanna showed any signs of distress in the night.
Sighing as he came out into the hallway, he smiled contentedly and moved into his room, where he picked up the bag of gifts that he had purchased on his walk. Slinging it over his shoulder, he headed for his private sitting room one level down, pausing long enough to ask a servant to fetch Faramir and Eowyn and bring them to join he, Arwen, Legolas, and Gimli there.
He entered the small, comfortable, welcoming room and smiled at the sight of Gimli sitting before the fire with a large mug of ale in one hand and his pipe in the other hand, alternating between puffs on the pipe, and swallows of ale. Smoke curled up from the bowl of the pipe to hover in a cloud around the room's ceiling.
The king smothered a grin as he caught sight of Legolas standing near the window, which was opened to allow the smoke to drift out. The elf despised the smell of pipe weed, and had never been able to understand Aragorn's and Gimli's love of smoking. The elf smiled warmly at his friend, and skirting the cloud of smoke coming from Gimli, he moved over and embraced his friend warmly. Aragorn returned the hug with equal warmth.
Legolas pulled away first, and looked into the silver eyes of his friend with a smile, but there was a slight hint of concern and worry in the prince's expressive eyes. The elf was a master at hiding his feelings…except in the depths of his eyes. Aragorn could always tell what the prince was thinking or feeling when he looked into Legolas' midnight blue eyes.
Aragorn smiled to relieve that worry. "No need to worry, mellon nin. I just had to help a family that needed my aid. It is serious, but not critical, and I can leave for the night and celebrate Mid-winter's Eve with my dearest friends. Faramir and Eowyn should be here any minute."
Placing his bag of gifts next to the chair that his friends had left open for him, a comfortable overstuffed armchair, he turned back to Legolas. "I encountered a small boy when I was taking a walk earlier, and discovered that his mother was very ill with the winter sickness. I offered my help, and had them brought here, where I had a supply of the necessary herbs to treat her. I left orders for the servants to fetch me if she shows any signs of distress, so until she does, I am free to sit with you." Striding over to Gimli with the characteristically long strides that had made Legolas give him the nickname of "Strider", the king knelt down and clasped the dwarf's arms fondly, before drawing him into a hug.
"It is good to see you again, laddie." Gimli said quietly when Aragorn released him. "It's also good to see someone besides this blasted elf. He seemed to think that visiting Fangorn as we agreed involved stopping there for months at a time so that he could have a day-long conversation with each tree in that benighted forest!"
Legolas snorted; it was an inelegant sound that the prince somehow made seem polite and dignified. Aragorn stifled a laugh as he looked between the two friends. Their friendship, as odd as it seemed, was born out of enmity for each other, and thrived on the games of insults and bickering that they played constantly. Despite any insults or bitter words that might seem to fly between them, Aragorn knew that neither of them meant any cruelty or harm with their words or actions. It was all a game to them. It was a most unusual friendship, but one that was treasured by both of them.
Indeed, Aragorn had known that Legolas would not let the dwarf's jest go unanswered, and true to form, Legolas strode closer to his friends, while still avoiding the smoke cloud coming from Gimli's pipe. "Our agreement also didn't involve us spending two weeks in the Glittering Caves while you planned out exactly how you would place and create a dwarven settlement, Gimli!"
Gimli huffed as Aragorn laughed. Arwen entered then, and came to Legolas' side, kissing him fondly on the cheek. The Prince and the Queen were old friends, practically brother and sister. They had known each other for longer than Aragorn had been alive.
Aragorn rose to his feet and pulled up a chair for his wife, and then pulled two more forward as Faramir and Eowyn walked into the room. Legolas strode over to the small table in the corner where there was a decanter of wine and several goblets, as well as a small pitcher of ale for Gimli. He poured wine for Aragorn, Faramir, Arwen, and Eowyn, and passed the goblets around. As he passed Gimli on his way to the chair he had claimed, the prince's hand shot out and snatched the dwarf's pipe out of his grip.
Gimli howled in protest, but Legolas quickly took the pipe to the hearth and emptied it into the fireplace, stamping out the smoldering leaves of the pipe weed before handing the pipe back to Gimli. "Smoke later, dwarf. Right now we will talk and be courteous to the women, and those that do not smoke and cannot bear the stench of that wretched pipe."
Gimli grumbled, but acknowledged Legolas and slipped the pipe into a pouch on his belt. Taking a long swallow from his mug, the dwarf lowered the mug towards his lap. Legolas reached over and caught up the pitcher of ale, and refilled Gimli's mug for him, and then settled into his own seat.
Aragorn leaned back into his chair and took a deep swallow of his wine. As he lowered the cup from his lips, he gazed around at his friends. These were the people dearest to his heart, and to be here, spending a special festival eve with them was something that he would always treasure. Time, he knew, was fleeting and eventually there would be no more of these gatherings, because they would all have passed on into the fates that awaited them. This was one of the most precious gifts of all, family and friends, and being able to be together with those that you loved.
Legolas gazed at the king and Aragorn smiled, seeing his own thoughts reflected in Legolas' eyes, which drove the thoughts home even more deeply, for Legolas was an immortal elf, and when they had all gone, Legolas would linger on, his mind always holding the memories of his friends, and the things that they had achieved together. It was comforting, but heart-wrenching. Legolas would always remember, yes, and that was a blessing because it meant that the knowledge of their struggles would not be lost forever, but it was a curse too, because as time passed, there would be no one with whom Legolas could share those memories, no one else who had lived through it and could understand what they had gone through. When we are all gone, Legolas will be alone, alone with his memories and ours, forever a part of him. Aragorn thought with a wrench.
The ranger shook his head slightly, to clear it of his morbid thoughts. Now was not the time for such. This was a night to celebrate. Reaching down into the sack that held the gifts that he had purchased that afternoon, he pulled out the wrapped book and handed it across the small circle towards the prince. "Here Legolas. This is my Mid-winter gift to you."
Legolas smiled ever so faintly as he saw his friend force away the thoughts that he had also apparently been thinking, and accepted the package. He could immediately tell that his friend had given him a book, for the shape and weight of it was familiar. Interested, he unwrapped the book and opened the cover, paging through it as he realized what Estel had given him. "This is amazing, Estel. I do not have any books full of Gondorian folklore. I shall enjoy reading it."
That was all that the elf needed to say. Aragorn knew that the gift was accepted and appreciated and that it was something that Legolas would treasure, and likely read many times. Aragorn smiled warmly, and then passed out the rest of the gifts, aware even as he did so that in dealing with Arthon, he had forgotten his quest to find something for Arwen.
She could see the guilt on his face, even as the rest of his friends admired their presents. Standing, she came over to his chair and kissed the top of his head. "Don't worry, Estel. I understand, and having you is gift enough for this year…and I have something for you as well."
Her words were meant to be reassuring, but they only cause the ranger to feel a deeper pang of guilt. Arwen was the most important person in his life, and he couldn't even manage to get her a gift to celebrate their first Mid-winter as a married couple.
Aragorn tried to shove his guilt away, and had minimal success. As the small gathering continued long into the night, he was able to forget it…mostly, anyway. Faramir and Eowyn were the first to retire for the night, with Arwen following a few minutes later. She paused at the door and looked back to where Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn still sat near the fire. "I'll check on our guests, Estel, and then I'll wait for you."
Aragorn nodded, knowing that he couldn't ask her to wait up long for him, so he would have to bring this little celebration to a close in the next few minutes. As the Queen slipped out the door, Legolas tracked her progress with his eyes, and then looked to his friend. "Go, Estel. Attend to your wife tonight. Gimli and I had a long few days of riding to get here, and even if he won't admit to being weary, I will, even if it is only because I didn't get any sleep while listening to him snoring. We'll be staying at least 'til spring, so we have all the time in the world to catch up."
Aragorn rose and stretched, and his friends followed suit. "Thank you, Legolas. You're right, and it has been a busy day for me as well. I will see you both in the morning."
"Good night, Laddie." Gimli said gruffly, already pulling his pipe out of his belt pouch.
Aragorn chuckled as Legolas turned on the dwarf at the first sight of the despised pipe, and slipped out the door. His friends knew where their rooms were, so he headed for his own chambers with no regrets (though there was some mild frustration as he noticed that his guards had mysteriously reappeared and were now trailing him again).
Arwen was waiting for him in their chambers. The servants had turned down the bed, and there was a blazing fire in the hearth, warming the room to a comfortable level. Aragorn smiled and went to his wife's side. She was sitting at the window again, this time reading a book.
"I'm sorry that I wasn't able to get you a gift Arwen," he said immediately as he sat next to her at the window. The storm had passed, and the stars were brilliant pinpricks of light in the inky blackness of the night sky.
Arwen put her book down and smiled warmly at him, making his heart race, as it did every time she looked at him. Silently, he thanked the Valar for this wondrous gift that he had been given, in the form of the most beautiful woman in the world to be his wife. "Oh, Estel…having you here, with me, in our chambers...that is the greatest gift that I could ask for…that, and the news that I found out only a few days ago. I wanted to wait until tonight to tell you, because I thought that it would make this night even more special."
Aragorn cocked his head and looked down at her, wondering what news she had that could make her eyes shine as brightly as the stars, and make her skin glow with happiness. "News?" he asked, eager to hear what she had to say.
Arwen's smile now was the happiest that he had ever seen on her lips, surpassing the smile on the day they met, on the day they pledged themselves in the woods of Lothlorien, surpassing even the smile that had graced her features on their wedding day. "I am with child, Estel…we're going to have a baby."
Aragorn blinked in surprise, prepared to hear anything except that. He was silent for several seconds as the news sank in, but once it did, he could feel a wild joy filling up inside him, threatening to burst free at any moment. "A baby? We're going to have a baby?"
Arwen nodded, and Aragorn rose to his feet, elation making him light-headed for a moment, before his vision cleared and he was able to pull Arwen to her feet and sweep her into his arms, twirling her around the room. "Oh, Arwen…that is wonderful news! This is the most perfect Mid-winter ever! Our friends here with us, the two of us together…and the promise of a new arrival on the way… I am the happiest man alive tonight!"
Arwen smiled and laughed. "I know, Estel…I feel the same way. I could ask for nothing greater than for us to be here together on this night."
Aragorn carefully released his wife and then moved towards the changing screen to prepare for bed. As he did so, Arwen moved towards the bed, and a few minutes later, they were both bundled under the thick quilts, simply holding each other and talking quietly. There was nothing that could ruin this night.
The next morning, Mid-winter Day, Aragorn woke slowly. It took him several minutes to come fully awake, but once he did, remembering Arwen's news from the night before, it was all he could do not to run to the balcony and announce the news to the whole city. Instead, the knowledge filled him up; settling warmly inside him as if he'd swallowed a live coal.
He rose and found that Arwen was already awake. She was probably tending to preparations for the feast that night, and had decided to let him sleep, since he had been working so hard over the last few months. He smiled and quickly dressed, heading first to Alanna's room to give her the morning dose of her medicine.
He arrived at the door, knocking quietly to alert them of his presence. He had made a quick stop in his stillroom to prepare the medicine, and now he entered, the cup in his hand, to find the small family sitting together and enjoying the breakfast that Aerin had brought them when they woke.
Alanna was the first to greet him. "Good morning, sire." She already looked a great deal better, though her voice was still slightly breathless and she was still pale. It was obvious, however, that a good night's sleep in a warm bed, with medicine already working on curing her illness had done her a world of good. She would have a long recovery, but when Aragorn finally allowed her to go home, she'd be much stronger, and wouldn't need to fear this illness again. It was odd, but adults that were stricken with the winter sickness usually only caught it once, while children could often catch it several times in their lives, before reaching adulthood.
Aragorn smiled. "Good morning Lady Alanna." He nodded to Targon and Arthon as he approached the side of the bed with the medicine. He handed her the glass and she drank it down, and then she picked up the goblet of juice that was on her breakfast tray.
Aragorn waited while she drank, and checked to make sure that the fire was still going. In a building made entirely of stone, it was easy for a room to become chilly, especially in the winter, and right now the worst thing that could happen would be if the lady got chilled again.
Thankfully, it looked as if the servants had already tended to the fire this morning, for it was blazing in the hearth, and there was a large supply of wood stacked next to the fireplace. Turning back towards his patient, he walked to the bedside and sat at the very edge of it.
"How do you feel this morning, my lady?" he asked softly, reaching out and placing his hand on her forehead to check her temperature.
"Better than I did, my lord." she replied honestly. Her fever, while still high, was slowly coming down, and Aragorn was thankful for that. The most common symptom of the winter sickness was the high fever, and that was one of the first things that the herbs he was giving her affected. Once the fever had broken, it was easy to tend to the rest of the symptoms one by one. It was a positive sign that she was able to sit up in bed, and had finished off most of the simple breakfast that the servants had brought her.
Aragorn smiled and then took her wrist between his fingers, checking her pulse, which was steady and strong, which was another good sign. The winter sickness tended to affect different people in different ways, even though there were always some commonalities between them, the high fever being one. In Alanna's case, the illness seemed to have affected her breathing most seriously, hence the reason that she still sounded breathless as she spoke. It would take time for her lungs to recover enough for her to be in the cold for any length of time, and even after she was released from Aragorn's care, she would likely suffer from small attacks of breathlessness from time to time until she adjusted to the cold again.
Aragorn stood then, and turned to go. "Make sure you get plenty of rest, Lady Alanna, and drink as many fluids as you can today. I'll be back around mid-day to give you another dose of medicine, but right now sleep is the best thing for you."
She nodded, already looking weary, although she did seem much better. The sparkle was beginning to return to her eyes, and she looked content to be here with her husband and son, knowing that she would make a full recovery in time.
Targon removed the finished breakfast tray and handed it carefully to Arthon, who placed it nearby on a small table that already held their finished breakfast trays, while his father helped Alanna slide back under the blankets and tenderly adjusted her pillows.
"Master Targon?" Aragorn called softly as he paused at the door.
Targon looked up and swiftly kissed his wife's cheek before standing and moving to his King's side. He bowed slightly. "Yes, my lord?"
"May I ask what trade you are in?" the King said quietly.
Targon dipped his head. "I am a carpenter, my lord."
Aragorn nodded and pondered this information for a minute. "Do you need to open your shop today, Master Targon?"
Targon shook his head. "No my lord. I never work on holidays, and I won't be able to get any shipments of wood delivered until the roads are cleared. My supplies come mainly from Ithilien, and with the snow as deep as it is out there, no one will be able to get any carts through for several days."
"I will most likely not be releasing your wife from my care for at least two weeks. Even after the illness has completely left her, she will be weak for a time and I would rather keep her here until she has regained her full strength. If she goes home too soon, she could suffer a relapse. When you need to reopen your shop again, please let me know, and I will see to it that transportation is arranged for you to get to and from your shop each day so that you can continue to stay with your wife until I release her."
Targon looked hesitant. "Arthon and I can go home and just come and visit her, my lord. We do not wish to intrude on your routine or your life."
Aragorn shook his head gently. "You will not impose on anyone, Targon. There is plenty of room in this Citadel for the two of you to stay with Alanna. It is my pleasure to help you until your wife is completely well." He smiled warmly. "Besides, it will be a great adventure for your son, to be able to say that he got to live in the Citadel of the King for a time. The other boys his age will be jealous."
Targon bowed. "As you wish, my lord. Thank you for your generosity."
Aragorn's smile widened. "Targon, you are one of my subjects. It is my duty to serve you when you need me to, just as you serve me when I ask it of you. My lady wife feels the same way that I do, and when I discussed it with her, she insisted that you stay with us as well."
"The Queen is most gracious, my lord." Targon replied. "If there is anything that I can do for you or your wife, please let me know."
Aragorn nodded and was about to leave, when he suddenly had an idea. "Targon, I think that you can help me. I'd like to commission a piece of furniture from you."
Targon gave the King an appraising glance and nodded. "Of course my Lord. What would you like me to build you?"
"A cradle for an infant."
The craftsman blinked in surprise, having expected anything but that. "A cradle, my Lord?"
Aragorn nodded, a smile brightening his features as he remembered Arwen's news from the night before. "My lady wife informed me last night that she is carrying our first child. I would like to have a special cradle crafted for the child."
Targon smiled. "Congratulations on your good fortune, my Lord. A cradle for the child, hmm...I will be glad to make it for you."
Aragorn's smile widened. "Thank you Master Targon. I would like it made of the finest wood that you can procure. I will pay handsomely for the cradle, and will gladly pay for any expense that you have in procuring the supplies."
Targon opened his mouth, about to refuse, but Aragorn held up his hand. "Nay, do not protest, sir. I do not believe in using my status as King to get something for nothing. I am prepared to pay for this cradle, since I am the one commissioning it. I wish it to be a surprise for my wife."
Targon nodded in acceptance. "Once I reopen my shop, my Lord, I will come back up and bring samples of the wood that I carry, and you can choose what you would like me to make the cradle out of. I will also work up some designs, and you can choose your favorite."
Aragorn nodded. "Thank you. Now, I have business to attend to elsewhere, so if you will excuse me?" He turned swiftly and left the room, closing the door behind himself. Targon watched him go with a thoughtful look on his face and then smiled. It was obvious that King Elessar was thrilled with the prospect of being a father. His joy was reflected in his eyes. Targon glanced over to his wife and son and smiled, remembering his own joy when Alanna had told him that she was carrying Arthon. Yes, he knew exactly how the King felt, and Targon decided then and there that he would do the best work that he possibly could in crafting the King's cradle.
Aragorn closed the door softly behind him and moved through the hallways of his Citadel towards the guest quarters where Legolas and Gimli had been given rooms the night before. He couldn't wait to tell them the news that Arwen had shared with him last night. He knew they would be as happy as he and Arwen were.
He reached Legolas' room in a short time and knocked on the door. A quiet "Come in!" answered his knock and Aragorn opened the door and stepped inside. He glanced around the room and smiled as he spotted his friend.
Legolas was reclining on the bench that ran underneath the window. Sitting next to him on the windowsill was a goblet of wine, and in the elf's hands was the book of Gondorian folklore that Aragorn had purchased for him the previous day. The elf looked up when Aragorn entered and smiled when he saw his best friend. "Suilad, mellon nin (Greetings, my friend)!"
Aragorn laughed. "Suilad, Legolas. Already enjoying your Mid-winter's gift I see."
Legolas smiled and closed the book. "It was a wonderful gift, Estel. Some of these stories are fascinating." The prince studied his friend with perceptive eyes. "You seem uncommonly cheerful this morning. Has something happened?"
Aragorn took a seat next to his friend. "Indeed. I do believe that I am the happiest man alive right now."
"Why is that, Estel?"
Aragorn thought about Arwen's announcement again and felt the same warm joy filling him again. "Last night after we parted, Arwen gave me some delightful news. She found out a few days ago that she is carrying our first child."
Legolas' smile broadened into a full-fledged grin of utter delight. "Really? That is fantastic, Estel." The prince rose and pulled his friend to his feet, embracing him tightly. "I am so happy for you, both of you."
Aragorn grunted as Legolas' firm hold squeezed the breath out of him, but returned the hug. As soon as the elf released him and he was able to get his breath back, he nodded. "It is truly wonderful news. I waited so long to marry my beloved, and now, in such a short time, I will be a father."
Legolas' face turned serious. "Yes, Estel. It will be yet another big responsibility on your shoulders. But you are strong, and I know you will make a wonderful father."
Aragorn clasped his friend's arms. "Thank you Legolas. Your support means a lot to me." He studied the prince with bright eyes. "I do hope that you will be around a great deal once the baby is born. I know Arwen would agree with me that you should be considered part of our family. We haven't discussed it yet, but I want both you and Gimli to consider yourselves our children's uncles."
Legolas smiled. "I am honored, Estel. I know that Gimli will be honored as well. I can't wait to see you as a doting father."
Two weeks later…
Aragorn knocked on the door to the room where he had placed Alanna and her family during her stay in the Citadel. Opening the door, he came in to see Alanna sitting in front of the fire with Arthon sitting on her lap.
"Good day, Lady Alanna." Aragorn greeted his patient warmly. She returned his greeting and lifted Arthon off her lap so that she could rise and move to where Aragorn could examine her. Aragorn checked her over, and then nodded in satisfaction. "You are well on the mend, Lady. When your husband comes back this evening, I'll release you from my care. The only thing that you must still do is take care when you are working, for you may still experience bouts of breathlessness or weakness until you regain your full strength."
Alanna nodded and curtsied. "Thank you for everything that you have done for me and my family, my lord. I feel as if we owe you something for your troubles."
Aragorn shook his head. "Nay, Lady. I do what I do because you are one of my people. It is my duty to care for your needs. I was happy to do this for you."
Alanna nodded. "As you wish, my lord, but if there is anything that we can do for you in return, please do not hesitate to ask it of us."
Aragorn smiled. "I'll keep that in mind. Right now, however, your husband knows the one thing I could ask for from your family." He turned and walked back to the door. "I'll return later when your husband has returned, my lady." With that, Aragorn stepped out of the room and closed the door behind himself.
Later that day…
Aragorn sighed. Why must being a ruler mean so much paperwork? The King was in his private study, reading over several petitions and changes that the Council wished to address in their next session in a week. With Faramir and Eowyn having returned to Ithilien to oversee the work on their home, Aragorn was left with the bulk of the work that Faramir would have split with him. The two would return in a few days so that Faramir could attend the meeting, but until then Aragorn was on his own. Aragorn had little patience for this tedium, but he felt that it was his responsibility to be completely informed on the issues that were currently pending, so he insisted on seeing every petition and proposal that was brought before the Court and Council.
A knock came on the door from the hallway. Aragorn looked up from the current petition he was reading and frowned. "Enter."
One of his bodyguards opened the door and came in, bowing quickly. "My lord Elessar, the carpenter Targon has asked to see you on the matter which you commissioned from him."
Aragorn smiled as he placed the parchment on his desk and stood. "Of course. Show him in immediately!"
The guard bowed and backed out of the room. A moment later, Targon entered and bowed. In his hands he held a leather bag and a scroll of papers.
"Rise Targon, and come join me here near the fire." Aragorn said, gesturing towards a comfortable armchair next to the hearth, as he took a second seat in front of the fireplace.
Looking uncomfortable at the idea of sitting in the presence of his liege, Targon complied, awkwardly rearranging his bag on his lap. Aragorn leaned forward slightly, eager to see what the man had brought him.
"Sire, these are the wood samples that I will be able to attain for the cradle that you asked me to craft." Targon said, reaching into his bag and pulling out several squares of wood and handing them over to the King.
Aragorn took the wood and studied them carefully. There was a square each of pine, mahogany, birch, oak, cherry, cedar, and maple. Aragorn examined each of them. The pine and the cedar woods both had a rich scent that reminded him of his days in the northern forests around Rivendell as a ranger, but the colors on the mahogany, maple, and cherry woods were intriguing. "As a craftsman, what would you recommend, Master Targon?"
Targon pointed at the cedar and the pine wood. "One of these. They are the most common woods, and the easiest to get shipments of, but they also have some of the finest quality and there is less chance that the wood will be split or warped when the shipments come in to my shop. With a rich dye on the wood after I finish the cradle, the wood will look much more elegant and worthy of a royal heir."
Aragorn nodded in understanding. "Alright, then make the cradle from the cedar wood, please."
Targon nodded and took the samples from Aragorn, slipping them back into his bag. "Now, what style would you like me to create for this cradle?" He unrolled the scroll he was holding and handed several sketches to the King. "I can alter these designs or add to them in anyway that you wish, these are simply some very basic designs. Or, if you prefer, I can design something completely new, according to your own specifications."
Aragorn nodded and perused the parchment sketches. There were several different ideas for him to choose from. The most simple was a box with smoothed, rounded edges and curved feet so that the cradle would rock back and forth. The most elaborate one was actually a box with a curved bottom that hung suspended from two legs and swung on a pivot point instead of on it's own feet. He pointed at this sketch. "I think this is the one."
Targon made a note. "Is there anything you would like me to add to this design my lord?"
Aragorn thought about it. "How difficult would it be to add fine carving, like an inscription or a pattern detail?"
Targon considered the sketch. "Not very, my lord, provided I had a good sketch of exactly what it is that you would like me to detail on the wood."
Aragorn nodded. "Let me think about it for a few days and I will see if I can devise something that I feel is appropriate. My child is going to have elven blood, and I'd like there to be something to reflect that heritage."
Targon nodded. "I understand, my lord." As Aragorn rose to his feet, Targon rose as well, tucking the parchments inside the bag with the wood samples.
Aragorn turned. "How long do you believe that this commission will take, Master Targon?"
The craftsman considered as they made their way towards his wife's chamber. "I would estimate two to three months, my lord, since I will have to order the cedar wood in to my shop."
Aragorn nodded in satisfaction. "That will be fine." When they reached Alanna's room, Aragorn knocked and pushed open the door to see Alanna sitting in front of the fire again while Aerin was packing the woman's few things.
Arthon ran over and leaped into his father's arms, causing Targon to laugh and cuddle his son close. Alanna rose from her seat near the fire and came to embrace her husband warmly.
Aragorn watched, a pleased and content smile on his face. He was glad that he had been able to help this family in their time of need. Finally, the little family broke apart and Alanna acknowledged her liege lord with a dip of her head. Aragorn returned her greeting and gave her further instructions on caring for herself until she had regained her full strength.
"How can we thank you, my lord?" Alanna asked. "You helped us when you had no reason to, and it feels as if we have intruded on your home and your life. Please tell us how we can repay your kindness to us."
Aragorn shook his head. "I don't require any repayment, Lady Alanna. I was glad to help you, and it was a delight to get to know you, your husband, and your son. I will not hesitate to help anyone, if it is in my power to do so." He smiled. "Just take care of yourself, and I will consider that repayment enough, knowing that I was able to bring you back to full health."
Alanna appeared to be at a loss for a moment, but finally nodded in acceptance. "Thank you, Majesty."
Aragorn stepped aside so that they could leave the room. "I've ordered a carriage made ready for you. The guard will take you to your street and see you home safely."
"You are generous my lord." Targon said softly as they descended the Citadel towards the main hall. Once they reached the bottom, they found Arwen waiting for them. The little family bowed to the Queen as Aragorn stepped around them to come to stand by his wife's side, wrapping an arm around her waist.
"It was wonderful having you here, my friends." Arwen said softly, touching her husband's hand and stepping away from him to kneel in front of Arthon. "I especially enjoyed having you here young Arthon. It was pleasant to hear a child's voice in this old Citadel." Arwen rose to her feet and came over to stand in front of Alanna. "I also enjoyed speaking with you, Lady Alanna. I do hope that you will come back to the Citadel. I would like to see some of the work that you have done as a seamstress."
"I would be honored, if you consider my work worthy of your attention, Your Majesty." Alanna replied, beautiful smile lighting up her face.
Arwen nodded to Targon, and then stepped back to stand next to Aragorn, watching as the little family walked out to the carriage that Aragorn had ordered to be made ready for them.
"You did a wonderful thing for them, Estel." Arwen murmured, just loud enough for her husband to hear.
"I know, my love, and I am glad that I met Arthon that day. He gave me a very precious gift, without even realizing it. He taught me the importance of knowing my people. I can't make wise decisions for my realm unless I understand how my rulings will affect people. If I hadn't met Arthon, his mother would have been dead within a few days. Because I met him, I was able to give her back her life, and that showed me just how precious a single life was." Aragorn wrapped his arm around his wife and his hand rested on her abdomen, where their child was growing. "Our child will be important to us, but more than that, he or she will be important to all the lives touched by his or her presence."
Arwen nodded thoughtfully and looked up at her husband. "You have grown wiser since we first met, Estel."
Aragorn chuckled. "I would hope so, my love. When we met, I was a brash twenty year old. I've had sixty years to grow up. What continually baffles me, however, is what you saw in me back then. I know that I saw a vision of wisdom and loveliness, and I fell in love with you the moment I saw you."
Arwen stared up into the King's eyes. "I saw potential, Estel. You were very unfinished and in need of a little more life experience, but I saw the King that you could be even when you doubted yourself. As I watched you get older and listened to the things that my father had to say about you, I just knew that someday you would surprise everyone, including yourself."
Aragorn looked surprised. "Really?"
Arwen smiled and nodded. "Really. Once I saw the potential inside of you, Estel, and I realized what you could become and knew that you would succeed, I fell in love with you. I wanted a husband who could grow beyond everyone's expectations. With all the suitors that I was getting, I wasn't seeing that, because none of them believed that they needed to grow and excel. I couldn't see myself settling for just anyone, but then you entered my life and turned all my expectations upside down."
Three months later…April 22
Aragorn rose from his desk and the ever-growing mound of paperwork that he needed to look over. Now that Faramir had returned, his workload had decreased some, because Faramir was perfectly willing to look over everything that required Aragorn's attention and help to prioritize the things that needed to be addressed. The Steward also met with his liege for a period every morning to discuss the petitions that would be addressed during each morning's session of Court. Faramir was efficient and was able to get to the heart of the issues and summarize the requests briefly, which saved Aragorn a great deal of time.
Walking to the balcony, Aragorn breathed the fresh spring air. With winter behind them, the city was again coming to life. Projects that had been started in the autumn, but had been delayed by the winter storms could now be completed efficiently and quickly. Gimli had brought a small army of dwarves to the city to help with the rebuilding and they were planning to construct a new, stronger gate for the city. Legolas had brought several of his kin from Ithilien to help with planting. Small gardens were springing up everywhere, nurtured carefully by the elves. Legolas himself was assisting Arwen in the restoration of the Citadel gardens.
The clatter of hooves and wheels on stone caught Aragorn's attention and he looked down to see Targon driving up from the lower levels with a small wagon. In the back of the wagon were several crates. Aragorn grinned. Targon had come by several days ago to inform the King that he had completed the cradle and would be bringing it by in a few days.
Aragorn hurried from his study to meet the carpenter in the main hall. Arwen had gone with several of her ladies to the market. The Queen was already planning out the things they would need for the baby. The entire city was aware that a royal child was expected before the year was out and the people had rejoiced at the news. Today Arwen was looking for fabrics to decorate the baby's room and to begin sewing clothing for the child.
Aragorn met Targon in the hall. Behind the carpenter, several servants and guards were unloading the wagon and bringing the crates into the Citadel. Targon was overseeing the unloading of the wagon, making sure that the crates were not roughly handled or dropped.
"Master Targon! Greetings!" Aragorn called. Targon bowed to the King as Aragorn approached and looked at all of the bustle around the wagon.
"I have the cradle here Sire. It was too large to bring in one piece, so I deliberately built it so that it will come apart when necessary, but that once it is put together, it will be sturdy and there will be no chance of it breaking. I must say, this is some of my finest work." Targon looked inordinately pleased with his work.
Aragorn nodded and directed the servants to follow them up to the room that he and Arwen had designated for the baby. Aragorn picked up one of the smaller crates himself, despite the servants' protests. The procession moved steadily up towards the King and Queen's chambers and entered a room adjacent to their sitting room, so that they would hear the baby if it fussed in the night, but they could still have some privacy.
Targon looked around the room, impressed. Arwen had chosen light, airy colors for the room and some furnishings had already been brought in. The focal piece at the moment was a beautifully carved rocking chair, made out of cedar. Aragorn had insisted that the furniture all be made of cedar, citing that he liked the smell of the wood, that it reminded him of Rivendell. Arwen had agreed, and the Citadel had been searched thoroughly for pieces made of cedar.
Targon told the servants to set the crates down, and the carpenter went to work, opening the crates and pulling pieces of the cradle out. His tools were packed in one of the crates and the craftsman quickly assembled the cradle. As he finished with each crate, the servants took it away to keep the room clear.
Aragorn watched, fascinated, as the cradle took shape in front of his eyes. Two support posts with holes drilled in the top of them stood upright in the center of the room. The cradle itself was a box with solid sides, so that the baby wouldn't get caught between open slats. On the headboard and footboard of the cradle were two short bars that fit into the holes on the support posts. Carved into the headboard was a delicate scrolling of leaves in an elvish design that Aragorn had drawn and delivered to the carpenter, who had replicated the design into the wood. To make the design stand out, Targon had stained the wood of the carving a darker color than the cedar.
Targon straightened and nodded in satisfaction. "There. As it is now, the cradle will swing freely." He demonstrated, pushing the cradle gently and watching as it swung back and forth. Then Targon picked up two small pieces of wood that were carved into a "u" shape. "If you put these smaller braces over the bars like so…" Targon quickly did so, pushing the wood braces over the bar, right against the support posts, "they act as stops and prevent the cradle from swinging. I would suggest doing this at night, after you've rocked the baby to sleep. They come free with the smallest tug, but once they're on, they lock into place and won't shift, no matter how hard someone tries to rock the cradle."
Aragorn studied the cradle, more than satisfied. "Thank you, Master Targon. This is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. I'm sure Arwen will be thrilled by it." The King disappeared into his private chambers for a few moments and came back out holding a small purse. He handed it over to Targon and the coins inside clinked. "Your payment, as promised, with my gratitude."
The carpenter weighed the purse in his hand, surprised at the weight of it. "My lord, you didn't have to pay me this much. This feels like more than I make in a full year."
Aragorn smiled. "I believe in rewarding good work, and this cradle is extraordinary."
Aragorn's head servant interrupted. "My lord Elessar, the Queen's carriage has just returned."
Aragorn's smile widened. "Thank you Ohtar." He turned to Targon. "Do you have any pressing business to attend to, Master Targon?"
"No, my Lord."
"Well, would you be so good as to wait here? I want my wife to see your work now, and I'm sure she'll want to thank you herself." Targon nodded and waited in the baby's room while Aragorn hurried downstairs to meet his wife and her ladies.
"How was your trip into town?" Aragorn asked as Arwen came into the Citadel. Aragorn grabbed her and pulled her into a warm embrace and a tender kiss, both of which she returned eagerly.
Arwen pulled back. "It was pleasant, Estel. We found some fabrics that I think will be perfect for the baby, and we even saw Mistress Alanna. She has a small stall set up just outside her husband's shop, and she had some lovely things available. She actually gave me this." Arwen reached for one of the bundles that her ladies were carrying and unwrapped a bundle of white fabric. She shook it out and revealed an incredibly soft baby blanket. She passed it over to Aragorn who fingered the material.
"That was very kind of her. We'll have to send her something in thanks." Aragorn said, marveling at the softness of the blanket. There was no embroidery on the blanket other than a simple, yet beautiful border done in silver thread.
"She told me that she chose white since we didn't know whether the baby is a girl or a boy. When the baby is born, I'll be able to add some decorative embroidery or trim on it myself." Arwen said, taking the blanket back from his husband and bundling it up again.
Aragorn smiled. "Come with me, love. I have a surprise for you."
Arwen looked up at him. "A surprise?" Aragorn nodded and led her up to their chambers. Once they were in the sitting room he moved behind her and put a hand over her eyes, guiding her through the room towards the nursery. In the time that he had been gone, everything had been tidied up and Targon was standing along the back wall, his hand resting on the cedar rocking chair.
Aragorn leaned down and whispered in Arwen's ear. "Open your eyes, beloved."
As he moved his hand, Arwen opened her eyes, which she had closed reflexively when Aragorn had covered her eyes, and gasped as she saw the cradle. "Oh, Estel! It's beautiful!"
Arwen moved away from her husband and ran a hand over the smooth wood, studying the carving and gently pushing the cradle so that it swung. Targon had removed the braces and placed them on a small table that held an oil lamp. Arwen admired the cradle for several moments, and then turned to Targon. "Did you make this, Master Targon?" When the carpenter nodded, Arwen went over to him and clasped her hands around his. "Thank you. It's the most beautiful cradle I've seen in a long time."
Aragorn smiled. "I take it that you like your surprise, my love?"
Arwen turned to him. "When did you do this? This is an amazing piece. It must have taken Master Targon ages to craft!"
Aragorn grinned, pleased that he had pulled off his surprise. "I commissioned it from him on Mid-Winter's Day, after you told me you were carrying our baby. He didn't actually start working on it until Alanna went home, because that was the first time that he was able to get shipments in to his shop. He brought me some wood samples and some designs and I picked this. I wanted to surprise you and give you one less thing to think about."
Arwen kissed him soundly. "Hannon le, herven nin (Thank you, my husband). It is beautiful." She turned back to Targon. "Thank you as well…and thank your wife again for me for the beautiful blanket."
Aragorn glanced down at his wife as Targon accepted the thanks. He knew she would approve of what he was about to suggest. "Master Targon, I'm very pleased with your work, more than any of the other carpenters I've seen in the time I've been here. I would like to appoint you as the official carpenter for my family and the Citadel, if you wish the job."
Targon's mouth fell open, completely surprised by the unexpected offer. Arwen was nodding in agreement. "Thank you, my lord. I'd be delighted."
Aragorn nodded. "Then it's settled. I'll commission any furniture from you and you alone, and I'll pay you handsomely for each piece that you make for me."
Arwen was in complete agreement. "I'd also like to appoint your wife as one of the palace's seamstresses. I was very pleased at the quality of her work when I saw her stall this afternoon."
Aragorn nodded. "Along with the appointment, I'll provide you with a new workshop and shop on the Fifth Level, one with plenty of room for you, your wife, and any apprentices that you may take on, and living quarters attached for your family."
Targon was speechless at the generosity of the offer from the King and Queen. "Thank you, Majesties. My wife will be thrilled at your kindness!"
Aragorn smiled. "I'm glad Targon. I told you I believe in rewarding good work, and you are the best carpenter I've seen since I left Rivendell. I had a few other carpenters working on some other projects, and while they were adequate, your work is extraordinary. It will take a few days to get a place set up for you, but I will have someone begin the work immediately."
Targon bowed low. "I do not believe I can thank you enough my lord, my lady. You have done so much for my family. I don't know what we've done to deserve your kindness, but we appreciate it more than anything else."
"I shouldn't keep you from your business, Master Targon. I'll be in touch when I've found a new shop for you. You and your wife will have the final say on whether or not the shop meets your approval of course." Aragorn said, coming over and clasping the craftsman's arms in a gesture of friendship.
"Thank you again, Lord Elessar. My wife will be ecstatic by your offer!" Targon said, before bowing and making his way out.
Arwen stood at Aragorn's side and he wrapped his arm around her. "I'm glad you like your surprise, Arwen. I was hoping you wouldn't find out before it was ready."
"I love it, Estel, and I'm so glad you offered them the positions that you did. They deserve it and I have a feeling that they will appreciate it where some people might just expect it and take it for granted. Targon obviously wants to please you for what you did for his wife."
Aragorn nodded. "I know. That's why I offered."
"Well, I'm proud of you, Estel."
Six months later…October 14th.
Targon studied the wood in front of him. Ever since the King had appointed him as the official carpenter for the palace and city, orders for furniture had picked up, and Targon had been able to take on two apprentices. His wife had gotten more requests for her own work as well. The shop that the King had provided them with was exactly the right size for them, and Alanna had recently found out that she was carrying their second child.
Life had changed drastically for them since Arthon had encountered the King on Mid-Winter's Eve, and it was all for the better. Targon couldn't be happier with the way things had changed for his little family and his business.
Hooves sounded on the cobblestones outside their shop and Targon looked up as a royal messenger knocked and entered the shop. Targon left the wood with instructions for one of his apprentices to sand it down and approached the messenger. "Yes?"
"I'm looking for Master Targon and Mistress Alanna," the messenger said. "I have a message from King Elessar and Queen Arwen."
"I am Master Targon. What message do you carry?" Targon replied as Alanna left her workroom and came out to see what was going on. The messenger handed a folded note to Targon and left with a bow. Targon turned the parchment over and saw the royal crest embossed in the wax seal. Breaking the seal, Targon unfolded the message and saw a note written in the King's strong, bold hand. The note was hastily written, as if the King was distracted.
Master Targon and Mistress Alanna,
My lady wife and I wish you to come to the Citadel at your earliest convenience. We have something that we wish to show you. Please come, and bring Arthon with you.
Targon looked up at his wife. "Are you busy my dear?"
Alanna shook her head. "No. There's nothing that I can't finish later, and Arthon just came back from playing with his friends a short time ago. I think he is upstairs finishing the work that his tutor assigned him." This was another new development. When they had lived in the Third Circle, they had been unable to afford schooling for Arthon. Anything he knew had been taught to him by Alanna. Now that they were running a more prosperous business, they had been able to place Arthon in classes with some of the upper-class merchants' children.
As Alanna moved to put away the gown that she had been commissioned to create for one of the nobles of the King's court, Targon moved through the shop to the stairs that led to their home on the upper floor of the shop that King Elessar had given them. He found Arthon upstairs working on his reading assignment, just like his mother had predicted.
"Arthon, you and your mother and I have been asked to attend to King Elessar. He says that he has something that he wishes us to see."
The boy immediately closed his book and followed his father downstairs, where Alanna joined them as they walked through the streets from the Fifth Level towards the Seventh Level and the Citadel. The walk didn't take very long, despite the bustle of the city's inhabitants going about their own business.
As they emerged onto the Seventh Level, the guards at the doors of the Citadel moved to block their passage. Targon held out the King's message and identified himself and his family. One of the guards nodded and asked them to wait while the King was summoned.
It was only a short time before someone answered the summons, but it was not King Elessar who came to the door. Instead, a tall, blonde Elf came and conferred with the guards in an undertone for a moment. The guards nodded and the Elf beckoned Targon and his family forward into the Citadel. As they entered the Elf headed for a door off the main hall.
"The King asked me to escort you to him, for he doesn't wish to leave Lady Arwen's side at the moment." The Elf said, a small, secretive smile on his fair features. "I am Legolas."
Alanna responded politely, recognizing the name of the Elf. "It is an honor to meet you my lord. Great things have been told in the city of the help you gave King Elessar during the War."
Legolas chuckled lightly, a warm, musical sound. "I am sure. But I wonder just how many of those stories have been embroidered and exaggerated." Legolas pushed open the side door and led the little family up several flights of stairs towards the King's chambers, Targon realized.
Once they arrived at the correct level, Legolas headed towards a door at the far end of the hall, where a pair of Citadel guards stood at attention. Legolas nodded to both of them, and pushed open the door to the King's private sitting room, holding the door open for Targon and his family.
There were a great many servants in the room, along with a Dwarf, two more identical Elves, the Steward Faramir and his Lady Eowyn, and the King of Rohan, Eowyn's brother Eomer. All were looking expectant and impatient. Legolas crossed the room to the two other Elves and had a whispered conversation with them, which resulted in the prince's smile broadening and his eye beginning to sparkle. One of the Elves gestured at the door that led into the King and Queen's bedchamber, and Legolas nodded, crossing over to the door and knocking. The Elf waited a moment and then apparently heard something from inside the room. He opened the door quietly and slipped inside, closing the door behind himself.
Targon, Alanna, and Arthon all stood uncertainly near the outer door, not sure what they were here for, or what they were supposed to be doing. They had never expected to be standing among the elite of their realm. It was unsettling enough to be so favored by the King and Queen, but to be standing in the King's chambers along with the King of Rohan, the Steward and his Lady, and representatives from the Elves and the Dwarves, well, that was enough to put them completely out of their element.
The door suddenly opened and Legolas came back out, looking around and then gesturing towards Targon and his family. They moved hesitantly through the crowd, and slipped into the King's bedchamber as Legolas held the door open. The Elf closed it behind them, and then stood off to the side.
Elessar stood near the fireplace, looking weary, but overjoyed. He turned towards the door as Legolas admitted the carpenter and his family, and his face brightened. He came toward them, holding a small bundle wrapped in the white blanket that Alanna had given the Queen six months ago.
"Master Targon, Mistress Alanna, Arthon. Thank you for coming so promptly. I thought that you might wish to share in this moment with Arwen and I and our friends." The King stepped closer and tilted the bundle he held slightly, so that they could see the cherubic features of a newborn. "This is our daughter, Melian. She was born early this morning. There are representatives here from Rohan, from Ithilien, from the Elves, and from the Dwarves to witness this moment, but we needed someone from Gondor as a witness as well. Since you were so kind as to give us this blanket and to craft her cradle for us, Arwen and I both thought you deserved to see our daughter."
The tiny princess yawned and raised her hand to rest alongside her cheek. Her eyes opened, and as she struggled to focus on what was going on around her, Targon noted that her eyes were a rich blue, but showed signs of eventually turning into a dusky grey-blue. Her few wisps of hair on her head were dark, like the Queen's, and she generally resembled her father. The features that were strong on the King, however, had been refined and were more elven, a tribute from her mother. Her ears were just barely pointed, also given to her by her elven mother. Once the princess matured, she would undoubtedly be a striking beauty.
Alanna looked awe-struck at the sheer beauty of the infant. "She is absolutely beautiful, Your Majesty. You must be very proud."
Aragorn nodded and gazed at his infant daughter, his eyes sparkling with joy, and his lip curving into a tender smile as he watched her. "She is the most precious gift that I have ever been given."
Targon nodded. "I remember the feeling when Arthon was born." He placed a hand gently on his son's head. "It's a heady feeling…knowing that you've been entrusted with this completely helpless person, and wondering if you will have skill enough to be a good parent to her."
Aragorn looked up at the carpenter. "Yes, that's it exactly."
Alanna smiled. "And yet, despite your fear, you love her with all your heart and you can't imagine ever loving anyone more than you love her at this moment."
Aragorn nodded his agreement, for Alanna had expressed his feelings perfectly. He gazed down at his daughter again. She was so precious and perfect and he felt his heart swell with more and more love every moment that he looked at her. So much of his life had been spent in turmoil and fighting, it was a relief to now be living in a time of relative peace, able to once again focus on his family as he had when he was a young man in Rivendell. Arwen had given him the most precious gift of his life, and Aragorn knew that no matter what lay ahead for them, this moment, surrounded by his friends and his family, would always rate as one of the most special of his life. Even more astonishing was the fact that all of this had started for him on that Mid-winter's Eve when he had encountered young Arthon in a small cobbler's shop on the Fourth Level. Illuvatar and the Valar had blessed him in so many ways in the past year and he had so many gifts to thank them for, the least of which was not his beautiful, healthy daughter.
Author's Note: Finally, after two years, this story is finally finished! I never thought that it would happen, but here we are, with a new post! Hopefully, in the next few weeks I'll have more time to do some writing of my own, now that I am a new college graduate. Look for other stories soon to come!