Chapter One: This Child is Ordained
Her time upon her, Gilraen could barely sleep. Arathorn, chieftain of the Dúnedain, watched over his young wife's troubled rest, searching her fine features. As night deepened she looked up at him, eyes wide, and said, "It is time, my lord. The child is nigh."
"Be you blessed, my love," said Arathorn. He went swiftly to the door and lifted the curtain. "Lynael," he called, "it is time." He returned to Gilraen and sat with her, smiling anxiously.
Lynael, the elf-midwife, came in with two steaming kettles. She poured the hot water into a bathing tub, and added the contents of a little vial from her pocket. She went to Gilraen and took her hands. "Arise, my lady. Make yourself ready, and be not afraid. All will go well. And you, my lord," she said to Arathorn, "you as well need to prepare. This night brings joy to your people."
"I do implore the Valar that all go well." He moved to the curtained entrance.
"It will. This child is ordained. I foresee it," said Lynael, dropping her voice to a whisper. "This boy— for it is a boy, lady Gilraen— shall rise from utter hopelessness and bring his people to the end of an age. All hope is tied to him."
"Thus was spoken of Arvedui Last-King, over a thousand years ago," muttered Gilraen as she lowered her swollen body into the warm, fragrant bath. "And look what came of it. The choice of the Dúnedain: a wrong choice, and sorely paid for."
"Yet Arnor and Gondor will unite. They must, if your two kingdoms are to survive the coming war." The elf-midwife hummed as she unrolled a bundle of cloth pieces, and finally held up an exquisite broidered band. "For his belly," she smiled. "Every stitch has been sewn with a breath of prayer. To gird his will and keep him from weakness and temptation."
"My poor baby," whispered Gilraen. "Your every step seems already determined."
"It is, in truth," said Lynael seriously. "This will not be your little boy for long. You must bring forth other children, to mother and keep by your side. Best there be some girls, too," she finished with a smile. She put one hand on the belly and one on Gilraen's chest, closed her eyes and kept count silently. "All is well," she said. "Come and walk a bit. Breathe."
Minutes passed, the women stepping purposefully in slow circles around the room, counting silently and moving their hands smoothly over invisible globes around them. Arathorn slipped through the doorway with a small bundle in his arms. He sat to one side and watched them, making his own quiet prayers. The curtain moved again, and Ivorwen, mother-in-law, came to him and sat by his side. "It goes well," she said, not in question. He nodded, and she patted his hand. "O happy night, my son. Our hope cometh."
Suddenly Gilraen straightened up stiffly, fear in her eyes. "Now," she said, "I feel it coming down, like a ball…"
Lynael took her by both ears and held her gaze, saying, "Now, my lady, we know what to do. No fear, no pain, no weakness. Sit in the chair and let it come down. Do not fight it. All is well." She beckoned to Ivorwen. Between them they settled Gilraen into the birthing chair, and only then did Arathorn take his place at the midwife's side. He began a barely whispered chant, soothing, sweet and hopeful.
Gilraen panted like a fleeing animal, and then blew. Thus she had so often rehearsed her lessons, and now that the hour was truly come, she found it all falling into place. "I am together with this," she breathed, "come now, come now, my child." She panted again and blew. "I need to push," she said to Lynael. "May I?"
Lynael stooped and felt between Gilraen's legs. "A moment more, my lady. Breathe, breathe, pant, blow. Ivorwen, take her hands, give her strength. Ready, ready, now… here he comes… now, lady, take air and push with all your might!"
All four strained with one long groan, and suddenly there seemed to sound an audible pop. Lynael barely gasped, "Breathe!" and crouched to feel the baby's head and neck. She shuddered in joy, whispering, "good, good, clear…now, one shoulder…and… push again, lady, but less forcefully…"
Gilraen took air again and began a careful push. Arathorn held out a fine white cloth, his chant rising to reveal holy words and ancient promises. All at once, the tiny boy slipped free into the elf lady's hands, his eyes opened wide and his hands groping. "Yes!" she cried, "a boy, as I told you, my lady!"
Arathorn reached under his son and allowed the little back to settle into his great palms. "My son," he whispered, and kissed the wet head. "Aragorn, by the grace of Elbereth, be welcome." He held the baby carefully while Lynael saw to the cord. At her sign, he lifted the tiny beloved burden and brought it to Gilraen's breast. "Your son, my lady, your fine little son, and I thank you with all my heart." The new mother took her child, joy lighting her fair face with beauty seldom seen outside a birthing room. Mother, father and grandmother bent their heads over the little Aragorn, whispering and laughing in joyful wonder, while Lynael held the cord and counted the pulse beats. As they slowed to a halt, she took a small cloth and wiped the infant's nostrils. Gurgling and coughing, he breathed on his own, trying out new lungs, mewing little sounds.
"Now, my lord Arathorn, the cord is still. Gestation is done. You must take the knife and slice through all three strands, here between my fingers. Quickly." Arathorn took up the knife prepared for the act and brought it to bear against the cord. "Set him free," whispered Lynael with a smile. The knife sliced through the braided flesh, which promptly contracted and sucked its edges together. "See? No blood. All is well. Now tie this strip here, around the cord, two fingers from his belly. There, good." The three watched anxiously as Lynael took the little Aragorn into her arms. "Now soothe your lady, my lord. She must prepare for one last push, a small one. In a moment, after I bind the young master's belly, so… yes, my precious boy, yes..." She skilfully wrapped the broidered band, then several cloth pads and wrappings. A final kiss, and she gave into Ivorwen's arms a neat package. "Now, my lady, let us finish this fine business. My lord Arathorn, if you please, make ready the copper bowl. Now, lady, breathe and push, one more time."
When Lynael took the copper vessel with its bloody contents to the fireside, the others went on to perform the rituals of the royal birth. Gilraen held the child on her breast while Arathorn took from a small chest a brilliant white gem and passed it across the baby's forehead. "The Star of the Dúnedain will shine forth from your brow." Tiny replicas of a writing stylus, a sword, a lyre, and a bridle were placed one by one for an instant between the baby's palms, each with its own incantation, and finally a single fragrant athelas leaf, as Arathorn and Gilraen whispered together, "…come athelas, come athelas, life to the dying, in the king's hand lying…"
The rite was over, the implements were placed once again in the chest, and the baby sought his mother's breast, rooting like a hungry little animal. "Very good," said Lynael, bringing from the fire a smoking bowl. "And you must eat as well, my lady. This, your very own soup. Drink." She handed Gilraen the bowl, smiling at the young woman's obvious reluctance. "My lady, if you were a beast in the wild, you would eat it just as it came. This, on the contrary, is very tasty and will set you on the path to a quick and full recovery. And the child needs it as well."
Gilraen sipped carefully and laughed. "It is flavourful indeed. Who would say…" She drank it down and handed back the bowl. "Is there more?"
"No, my lady, this is sufficient. Rest now, and your dear mother will sit with you. I shall return later." She beckoned to Arathorn. "I must speak with you at once, my lord." He rose and followed her to the entrance, lifted the curtain and went out.
They walked down a passage and came to a wide doorway, opening on the cold night air. "Tell me," said Arathorn. "What is it?"
"I read the afterbirth carefully before making the soup, my lord. There were signs in it that I have not seen in all the generations of your house that I have brought into the world. Which are how many, including yourself?" Lynael smiled, then became once again serious. "The little Aragorn will turn the fate not only of his own people, but of all the races in Middle Earth. His load will be greater than any since your long father Elendil. The choices of Isildur, Eärendur and Arvedui, and the errors of Gondor, will be reversed by his efforts. This I foresee. And more: from the far distant shadows of the past, I have seen Tinuviel and Erchamion; thus the greatness of his doom." Arathorn, much impressed, said nothing. "There is much to do, my lord."
The chieftain shook himself. "What must we do, wise mother? I have counsel with Master Elrond, and the Dúnedain ride tirelessly with Rivendell against the servants of the Enemy, wherever we find them. What more would you have us do?"
"The Dúnedain are still the flower of the race of Men, and more so these, you, the men and women of the North. You alone have kept true the bloodline and the legacy of Elendil, and before him, of Elros Tar-Minyatur. But you are so few…" Lynael let her view trace over the wide plains under the starlight.
"Our scarce numbers have yet allowed us to melt into the land. Rangers we are, and even the Enemy has not linked us to Arnor, or even Arthedain. Long has he thought to have swept us from the country, from the very land of the living. And when we ride with the High Brethren, he cannot tell man from elf." Arathorn, too, searched the dark plain. "So, tell me, what is it that we must do?"
"Aragorn must have his kindred, many brothers and cousins. They must be conceived and born now, soon, this year and the next, and those following. You must prepare the Dúnedain for their return. Aragorn must have men. There will be much to do. Each of you, brave and hardy men, must raise not one son but three, or four, and yet make every last one a full-skilled Ranger. This is my counsel to you: bid your men take wives, if they have not, and your women to make a child at once. Twice, thrice the count of the Dúnedain, and let them grow with him, little Aragorn." Lynael drew a deep breath. "Now this can be done in hope, for our hope has in truth arrived. This is a fine day, my lord…"