TITLE:My Hands Remember
DISCLAIMER:Characters and basic premise belong to J.R.R. Tolkien; I only own what's mine.
SUMMARY:As the young Dúnadan of the House of Elrond prepares for departure to join his people, a lady of the house reflects on a leavetaking long past. Book-verse, for the most part. Winner of Third Place in the January 2009 Teitho! Writing Challenge, "Leavetaking."
BETAS:The incomparable MPBrennan and Inzilbeth. My deepest gratitude goes out to you both.
My Hands Remember
My fingers tremble as I smoothed the sturdy, warm fabric, my hands remembering nights long gone in time when I had done the same on broader shirts, though shorter-legged garments. Mentally I ran through a list as I looked over the items: leggings, shirts, tunics, small clothes, socks…
I had been surprised, to be honest. These hands, now struggling to straighten the folds of long-forgotten sturdy material, had remarkably remembered the styling and patterns of Ranger clothing from days long past. These hands, now accustomed to the soft, silky fabric available in Imladris, had easily recalled the quick and efficient stitching needed to create tunics and leggings durable for the men who guarded the borders of the Shire and the northern lands… for guarding our homes. Skills I'd thought long gone resurfaced as I reinforced seams, sewed in extra layers for warmth and eased darts into shirts for easier range of motion in battle.
As I folded and smoothed the garments, I grew thoughtful, remembering days past when I'd prepared Arathorn's gear for a patrol or extended trip. I could not help but smile as I recalled a particularly embarrassing error made very early in my career as wife of the Chieftain of the Dúnedain…
Not long after we were married, my husband asked me to alter his clothes. More room was needed in the shoulders, he said, to better swing his sword, or in the legs tostretch and lunge. He explained where his garments needed to be closer fit to avoid catching on weaponry in the midst of battle.
I can almost remember the feel of hot blood flushing my young cheeks when his laughter rang out after trying on these first attempts at fitting him. I'd mistaken where to ease and where to take in, leaving him awkwardly fettered for a sparring match with his kinsman, Beleg.
Instead of changing before heading out to the practice ground, my usually taciturn husband made a great show of the inadequacies of my needlework, rendering half the troop weeping with laughter. I was young and inexperienced. And, to be frank, a less than adequate seamstress at that point in my young life. I could calculate and oversee the weaving of fabric needed to outfit an army, but my hands had not the familiarity to do the work themselves for one large Dúnadan.
I smile sadly, now, as I remember furiously punishing him with a cold shoulder for nearly two days; he'd embarrassed me dreadfully, I, the daughter of Dirhael of Eriador, who should have known better! Believing in the need to be firm with a recalcitrant wife, Arathorn sternly ordered a better mood. I sternly ordered him to go swim in the Bruinen. Apparently, my defiance startled him. His wide-eyed and open-mouthed silence gave me the time to slam my workroom door and lock it in his face.
"Stubborn child!" He'd stormed at me through the planks, "It shall be many weeks before we see each other again! 'Tis my hope your maturity catches up with your years by then!" I heard fierce stomping and then the house shook as our front door all but jumped from its hinges at the force of Arathorn's slam. I felt that momentary burst of triumph all wronged folk feel when having their way… only to have it fly a moment later as his words sank in. Gone… he would be taking his leave shortly. I was robbing myself of his comfort; truly, then, by whom was the punishment being suffered? Tears fell as I glanced forlornly around my workroom and saw the low couch. Easing onto it, pushing aside all the fabrics—including those Eru-forsaken breeches and shirt, damn them—I began to weep. I realized I'd clutched that offending shirt in my fingers as I wept and was comforting myself with Arathorn's scent. Foolish, stubborn child! I berated myself, quickly drying my tears. My lips firmed with determination, I gathered the clothing and set to work.
Arathorn stayed away all day. It was only later that I learned he'd spent the first hour storming about the compound in a fine fettle of self-righteous temper. The other wives had spotted him heading back toward our house at nooning only to stop short, bite his lip, then turn on his heel. He headed instead to the home of his kinsman Hallas to cadge a meal from him. It took the better part of the afternoon, I was told, for my beloved to finally realize and understand his error, frankly thanks to the intercession of older and longer married men of the troop. And probably of their wives!
When he poked his head in our door and made a wary reconnaissance near the time for the evening meal, he could smell a hearty, thickstew bubbling over the hearth. Also wafting through the house was the fragrance of a freshly baked loaf warming in the bread oven. The house was perfectly clean and tidy. In a corner of the great room stood his pack and his gear arranged neatly on the table beside it. Arathorn hung his cloak on a peg, carefully removed his dirty boots and placed them by the door. Rubbing his cold, reddened hands briskly, he walked across the room to the hearth. He smiled as he saw his fur-lined moccasins warming by the fire. He closed his eyes and sighed gratefully as his chilled toes wiggled luxuriously in the warm softness. Drawing a breath, he glanced nervously toward the nearly closed door to our bedroom, then stole quietly to his pack in the corner. He ran his hands carefully over the items, and stopped, swallowing hard, to find all the garments repaired properly. He bowed his head, regretting his earlier actions.
"A wife is not a fellow ranger, Arathorn!" his uncle, brother to his grandmother, Celufiriel, had warned him. "And even a raw recruit will learn better by respectfully informing them of an error rather than ridiculing them raucously in public."
He flushed at the memory, and sighed. Hearing the hinges creak, he glanced again toward our bedroom door and saw me standing there, erect, proud…, and quaking inside. He came to me slowly, stopping roughly two paces away.
His voice was filled with such emotion and trepidation; I reached out, and gently clasped his upper arms, gazing at him seriously. "Nay, husband. Let us not waste this night with going over foolish actions," I whispered, closing my eyes and resting my forehead on his chest, listening to his heart thump soothingly. I felt his arms come up around me, gently, protectively, and I swallowed, closing my eyes against the tears threatening to gather and slip down. Shaking my head, I drew back and gazed up into his warm grey eyes. They seemed relieved to see love smiling back at him from my own. "You take your leave in the morning. I would not have our memories these next weeks be filled with hours of 'sorry for this' and 'sorry for that' on either of our parts." I grasped his hand and walked him toward the kitchen table. "Come, eat. Your meal is ready."
I served him and we ate, chatting quietly about issues of the compound, how he had arranged command in his absence, how I had organized the maintenance of stores and the gathering of medicinal herbs for the soon-approaching winter. While I cleaned up after our meal, he carefully assembled his pack, and before long we were both finished and came together near the fireplace. Despite my previous entreaty, Arathorn gathered me in his arms and gently apologized for having shamed me so. I, in turn, gave him my apology for allowing my embarrassment to turn me into a termagant. It took no more than nine or ten heartbeats, and those soft words of "I'm sorry" uttered by us both, to assure our last night before his leaving was filled with lovemaking rather than scorn or cold derision. We were able to part the following morning with affection and pride, me waving as he led his men to their duty. It was a good lesson we'd learned, one that never had required repeating…
Though I am still a young woman by the standards of my people, I feel old and worn, my life poured out on the stones of Imladris, flowing away with the streams and waterfalls. Elrond has been kind, of course. He saved us; he gave my tiny son both a secure haven, and a sense of belonging that he could not garner from anywhere else. Elrond guided that young yearling shoot; even now, he gave this young tree the soil to plant roots deeply and allow his strong, out-flung branches to spread. Today, they would reach further still. I drew in a shuddering breath, and then composed myself as I heard a knock on the door. "Come."
"Naneth?" The voice, deep but so young… my baby, I thought with sadness, was a baby no longer. "Naneth, I wondered if you had my things ready?"
I composed myself, turned and looked up at my tall son. I'd schooled my expressions for many years now. How like my love he was! Arathorn's strong, handsome brows… these brows didn't frown as much as Arathorn's had… perhaps after several years guiding our people they might learn to do the same, though. The broad shoulders, which promised to fill out to at least his father's size when he found his full growth. Taller? Yes. My neck craned further to meet his eyes than they'd had to with my beloved. The strong cheekbones, the long, well-shaped nose… my son's was broken where Arathorn's had not been. I smiled, and glanced at his hands.
Here rested their greatest likeness. How to explain to Aragorn that he possessed his father's hands? Arathorn's hands, that soothed the pain of fellow Rangers, that wielded a sword with deadly aptitude, that gripped so many other hands in friendship, Elf and Man alike…that brought me to ecstasy in his bed.
With a sigh, I took Aragorn's hands in my own for a moment and squeezed them, giving them a quick kiss. Then, I reached up and cupped one strong, young cheek. "They are here, my son, ready for you. I thank you for indulging me an old woman's wish and allowing me the joy of preparing your garments for your journey." I stepped aside for him to survey his belongings.
He glanced down, surprised. I was amused: he'd likely expected I'd outfit him completely in elvish wear, and far more abundantly. But I was well aware of a Ranger's needs for few garments of long-lasting crafting, requiring him to blend into his environment. A little bemused, my son looked down at me.
"Think you to be the first Ranger I have prepared for patrol?" I asked, in mock severity, my eyes smiling. My son saw that and chuckled.
"Nay, Naneth. Forgive me for forgetting you to have been helpmeet to the Chieftain of the Dúnedain." My heart hitched at his words; helpmeet. Oh, child! Your father and I were so much more than that to each other!
"Assemble your pack, my son," I smiled, patting his arm, "whilst I speak with Cook about provisioning you."
~oOo~ ~oOo~ ~oOo~
An hour or so later, I watched Aragorn bid his 'family' farewell… truly, I held no resentment. Elladan and Elrohir had been big brothers in every sense of the word to my son. They'd been my beloved's best friends; now, they were his son's protectors and elder siblings. Aragorn was a lucky young man.
I watched as Erestor and Glorfindel received their own hugs goodbye, and I honored them for the lessons and love they'd bestowed on our "Estel." Aragorn held both teachers, each with greatly different personal styles, in vast esteem, and loved them deeply.
I was not surprised to see my son's composure falter as he came before Elrond. He'd managed a word or two to each before this, but his throat closed and his eyes welled as he came to his Ada. Elrond, too, was overcome and these two merely embraced. I was grateful to note no bitterness. Elrond had been father to my boy; I know Arathorn would have been grateful to him. This child had not been fatherless. He'd been dearly loved and supported, cherished and guided. Elrond held him close, then kissed his forehead and pushed him to arm's length, offering him blessing for his journey.
I stood on the steps a bit apart from the rest. When Aragorn had composed himself, he came to me. I stood tall and proud, feeling more like the wife of the Chieftain than I had in many a long year.
"Aragorn, I have both yearned for this day and dreaded it. But I dread it no longer." My lips trembled a bit and I gathered him close, feeling him hug me tightly. I supported him a moment as I felt a shuddering breath heave in his chest. I kissed his temple, then whispered in his ear, "Oh, my son, I am so proud of you. Aragorn, son of Arathorn…You are everything he dreamed and prayed you would be, and so much more." I held him close and let him relax for a moment in my arms. Then I squeezed his shoulders and retreated up one step back on the stairs. It was time to let him go.
It had been a very long time since I'd had to do anything that difficult.
"Be safe, my son. Ride in safety, live in safety, and bring our people comfort and hope."
After a few more moments of goodbyes I stood still on the steps of the Last Homely House, and then watched as Estel…. Nay, Aragorn… mounted his horse and rode off. I was deeply moved by the gentle hugs and touches of the Elves of Imladris as they passed me returning to their duties. Elrond, the last of them, clasped my hands. "You have done well, Gilraen. He is a son to be proud of."
"As his Ada, you should know," I smiled at him, reaching up to give his cheek a kiss. I clasped his hands in mine, in appreciation. "Elrond, Arathorn would be so grateful."
Elrond sighed. "It would have been better for Estel to have had Arathorn. As he couldn't, I did my duty." His eyes grew sad. "Little did I know that child would steal my heart and become as dear to me as any child of my loins? He is, you know."
I tipped my head to the side and smiled knowingly. "Anyone watching you with him would know, hîr nín."
Elrond raised an eyebrow at me, then chuckled softly, and nodded. "He is my kinsman, the best of Elros' line, I know this. Your sacrifice all these years has given hope to men, my dear."
Elrond squeezed my hands and then continued into the house. I remained, standing quietly on the steps. I sighed, and gazed into the distance. My son was no longer in sight. He was riding to his destiny, the Chieftain of our people, the Hope of Men…
"Onen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim,"(1) I whispered. A breeze blew suddenly, swirling leaves around my feet. I shivered a moment, then gathered my skirts and turned to return to my haven.
(1) Tolkien, J.R.R., The Return of the King, Appendix A, v: Here Follows a Part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, 1955