Chapter Five

Most of the time Aragorn did not mind the snow. Granted, he preferred to be inside when it was snowing, but even then, if he was properly equipped, the snow was not too bad at all.

Now, however, was not a good time for snow. However, since the Powers did not care much for his opinion, the clouds still decided to burst open and unleash a torrent of snow onto Minas Tirith. The snowfall was not yet too heavy, and his vision was not too hampered by the weather, but the speedy winds thought it would be terribly amusing if they kept blowing his hood off and snow into his face and hair.

His body, too, was not happy with its circumstances. While he was sure it was cold enough to freeze the Anduin, his sinuses were not dry and were still happily clogging his nostrils. His head was pounding once more with his heart, and he was relatively sure he couldn't shout right now to save his life. Arwen was not going to be happy with his condition right now. Nor Faramir, now that he thought about it.

He pulled his hood up once more as the wind knocked it off his face again. This time, however, he held it there instead of burrowing his hands into his cloak. Better his hand is frozen than his face, after all.

The king slowly made his way up to the seventh level. On the third level he felt someone watching the back of his head. When he turned around to investigate, he saw nothing. Blaming the feeling on post-battle wariness, he continued his way up.

By the entrance of the fifth level, he was certain that someone was following him.

Aragorn slowly drifted closer to the side of the street, where those who braved the storm were more likely to walk. He strode into the thicker crowd until he quickly ducked behind the corner of a building. There he waited.

After a moment, he saw exactly what he knew he would see. Stopping near his position were three guards of Minas Tirith; even in the blinding weather he could make out one of them to be Galerthor. He muttered a curse under his breath; had he told Galerthor to trail him? He had not. He explicitly had given orders to take the other boy home, which should have been enough time for him to lose the guard. Galerthor likely stayed behind and picked up two more guards along the route.

But of course he did not listen. Galdir hardly listened when it came to this topic, either, and Galerthor was a spitting image of his father when it came to his well-being. 'But you cannot blame him,' the voice of reason suddenly said. 'After all, he had just seen you in a tavern brawl.'

Aragorn grudgingly realized that this thought was logical. Nonetheless, he did not like that the young man had broken his order. He certainly would not willingly give him and his colleagues a body to follow, if anything.

The king watched as the guards looked in the crowd for him, obviously did not see him, and then split up to find him again. When he could not see any of them around, Aragorn casually made his way back into the crowd and went the rest of the way to the seventh level.

To his utter amusement, the guards at the seventh level gate took one look at him, thought him a ruffian, and barred his way. When he said the password, he let down his hood and let them see his face. His original thoughts at the beginning of this venture were correct- whatever happened in the City, it was worth the trip just to see their expressions when he came back.

He would never forget the identical looks of bewilderment, disbelief, and horror upon their faces as they realized who he was.

Aragorn gave them a brief smile and passed by, mildly cheered by the thought that they would be racking their minds to figure out how the king had gotten through the only exit off the seventh level without their notice.

He went past the Tower of Ecthelion and headed straight for his home. He greeted the guards at the door, acting as if he did not feel like he had just been hit in the head with a boulder, and went inside. Despite how terrible his body felt, he could not curl up in bed quite yet; he knew he had some unfinished business to wrap up.

So the king went to the closest person nearby, a rather bored looking individual busy inspecting a tapestry on the wall, and sent him to tell Faramir that he was back. If said individual was surprised by the king's disheveled appearance, he kept his surprise in check. At this point in time, Aragorn did not care all that much anyways.

After this he headed up to his rooms. Once there, he did not change but rather sat down at a desk and wrote a few important things concerning tomorrow. He would be rather surprised if this cold went away during the night, so he planned to postpone certain events until another day, including the continued meetings with the Haradrim. Aragorn was determined to finish all of this before he changed; once he was in warm clothes, he would be hard pressed not to fall asleep on his feet.

A brief flicker of uncertainty passed through his mind as he thought about the Haradrim. He did not want to postpone this meeting, but his body would certainly not allow such political banter on the morrow. It was begging for a bed for the next day. He had to grant it that, if he wished to continue business as soon as possible.

'You should have rested sooner,' the small voice said in a rather I-told-you-so tone. Aragorn knew that this voice of reason in his mind was correct. That did not, however, mean that he wasn't tempted to bash the obnoxious voice against a hard surface. He may have gone through with the action at this point in time if such a thing were actually possible.

If anything, the Haradrim had to wait. He would compensate their patience one way or another- perhaps with a small amount of gold, or a fruit basket.

Once these few areas of business were completed, he folded the letters together and went to the front door. He planned to give the letters to one of his guards, who would then give them to his secretary; the secretary would take care of the rest.

Right as he reached the double doors, they were suddenly opened as his queen strode into the room.

If Arwen was at all surprised by his appearance, she did not show it. Rather she ignored Aragorn's state of being altogether and focused on the letters in his hands. "What are those?" she asked.

"Letters," he answered. She raised an eyebrow in disbelief, and so he clarified, "For my secretary, concerning tomorrow."

"Ah," was all she said in reply. Aragorn handed the letters to one of the guards at the entrance, gave him brief instructions, and quietly shut the doors.

He had expected her to erupt once the doors were shut, but she did the exact opposite. Arwen gazed at him, her eyes cold and calculating. He fought the urge to sigh; all he wanted was to collapse into his bed at the moment, but it looked as if he would face the wrath of his wife first.

"Arwen, I-"

"No, Aragorn, I do not want to hear it," she interrupted. "I do not want to hear why you look as if you been through battle. I do not know why you thought it would be a good idea to go out in this weather when you woke up this morning sick. And don't deny it, husband, I know when you are ill," she added when he looked as if he were to reject the allegation. "All I want to know is why you did not tell me. I thought I had more respect from you."

Aragorn's irritation faded into guilt. "Nay, Arwen, I have much respect for you! You know that I would never have you feel like that intentionally."

"Then why do you not tell me of these things?" she rebutted. "We have been married for over a year now, and have known one another for scores of years, yet you still cannot confide in me in such a matter!"

"It is not that," he insisted.

"Then what is it?" she challenged.

"I- I just... I just do not want you to worry," he said with a sigh. He collapsed onto the couch, more out of pure exhaustion than exasperation. He gently rubbed his throat as it protested against his talking so much, but otherwise ignored it. Arwen's hard expression faded slightly, but it was obvious to him that she wanted an explanation. And she deserved one.

"After- after what happened last time- I feared that you would worry if you knew I was away, alone," he said. "I just do not want you to worry."

"I worry even when you are with many of your men," she said gently, sitting down beside him. "I know you can handle yourself, but it is a dangerous world out there, even in this Age. Besides," she said with a small smile, "you worry when I am away from you, too."

"How can I not?" Aragorn asked. "When you go to visit Emyn Arnen- not even my best men are enough! One hundred would not be enough!"

"Exactly," she said. "Yet at least you have the comfort of knowing where I am going, and when I'll be back," she pointed out, raising an eyebrow. "I worry less when I know these things, too."

"Of course," he responded, shaking his head. "I have been a fool!"

"You have been," Arwen agreed, but smiled. "But we are all fools at times." She took his hand in hers and gently rubbed his calloused palm. "While I would prefer you wouldn't wander the City alone, I know you well enough to know that you need your moments that you are not king- even if it is only for a couple of hours. And while I do worry," she added, "I trust your skill. Though perhaps not your ability to know when to rest," the queen added sardonically, glancing over his body.

"I do know I need my rest now," he said, his voice now down to a whisper. "I have had an interesting day."

"An understatement, surely," she said, glancing him over once more. "You should have rested today, Estel. You look terrible."

"I feel terrible."

"Well, then, off to bed with you," the queen said with a small laugh. Aragorn smiled, and they rose together off of the couch. "No bath?" she asked, glancing him over again.

"Not tonight; I am afraid I would fall asleep in the tub," he said. "Or at least in the wait for hot water." He dragged himself into the adjourning room, the master bedroom, and his wife followed. There he slid off his coat and jerkin and kicked off his boots. Arwen watched him silently.

When he pulled off his shirt, the queen drew her breath in surprise. "Estel, what happened?" she asked, shocked by the large bruises dotting his back.

Aragorn sighed as he pulled on a nightshirt. He did not wish to discuss it now, but he would not leave his wife with no answer. "I went to a tavern on the second level. Unfortunately a group of ruffians thought to harass the defenseless innkeeper. I stepped in, and they were not happy."

"Oh, Aragorn," she said with tight lips. He was too tired to figure out if she were more agitated or worried. As he crawled into bed, she asked, "What happened to them?"

"I sent a boy to get the guards," he muttered. "They're locked up on the first level. The inn was a terrible mess, though. I'll compensate."

"Surely they will, as well?" Arwen asked, sitting on the side of the bed. Aragorn could barely keep his eyes open now. "It is their fault, after all."

"Yes, of course, of course," he replied. "Heavy fine to pay off the damages." He caressed his throat once more. "There is more to say, so I shall tell you about when my throat is not so sore, if you would permit it."

"Of course," Arwen replied. "Sleep, my love."

"Yes, I have much to say. Meetings, and Thorongil, and compensation."

"Indeed." She had not understood a word he said. He was much too tired to give decent conversation at this point of time. "Well then, good night, my scruffy Dúnadan," she said, giving him a quick peck on the lips. He returned the kiss and within a moment was in a deep sleep.

Arwen stared at her husband's face, her eyes growing tender as she took in his features. She lightly played with a couple strands of his hair and gave him one last kiss before she left the room.

'Men: you cannot live with them, and you cannot live without them,' or so Éowyn had once told her. How true she was.

She heard her husband cough in his sleep in the room next door. Despite how terrible he felt this evening, she knew what he would say in the morn: that it was just a cold.

Just a cold, indeed.


A side note on Aragorn and Arwen: The thought that two people, while dearly in love with one another, did not have serious issues with one another after marriage when they rarely saw one another throughout their betrothed years is, IMO, laughable.