The Gift to the Second Children
Disclaimer: Aragorn is not mine. The idea of a story about gifts is from Teitho (December's challenge). The rest seems to be mine…
They say mortality is a gift… The dark and the light share this opinion, differing only in defining the giver of it. But whoever it was, Eru or Melkor, the result is the same: mortals leave Arda as they die… leave once and forever, and their souls proceed outside…
…into the Void.
The conversion into a new state of being was painful and dazing… not the very moment of death when he felt only slight dizziness as his soul left the body and flew westwards so swiftly that he could hardly notice anything on his way and could only suppose that the blurry blue was the sea and something green and shiny was Valinor… and long dusky corridors must have been the Halls of Mandos. But then when the door opened and he was pushed outside by some force – that hurt… oh, Valar, how much it hurt… He tried to look back, but he could not turn his head… Then he fell on the ground… ground? Half-surprised, he lost consciousness and there was only darkness and nothingness he prepared himself for.
Soft light made him open his eyes and realize that he was lying on a couch. That was certainly better than the ground, but not less incomprehensible… as well as the feeling of being alive again, though in some unknown room.
"Was it only a dream?" he thought. "Maybe I am still alive… Maybe I didn't die…"
"You did." came the answer together with a face. It was pale, handsome and sad as only the faces of immortals can be.
"Where am I?" Aragorn raised his head and looked around. The place didn't seem familiar at all, though to a certain extent resembled elven palaces.
"You are in the Hall of Eru…" the stranger replied with a slight wry smile.
Aragorn forgot to breathe. He never thought of himself being able to see this place, even from a distance. And now he was inside…
"But… how…" he could not find the words. "I feel… alive!"
"I've created a new body for you. It must be not very convenient for the one of your kind to stay disembodied," the stranger explained, withdrawing from Aragorn and walking lazily around the room.
"You… created…"it was going to take a lot of time to get used to the new life. "But…"
"I am Eru…" the stranger answered the unspoken question and left the room.
Aragorn froze. That was too much for the first day of his afterlife. He dropped his head back onto the pillows and closed his eyes.
A gift… so far it was too weird to be called so… But maybe further it would be better? He still had some hope it would…
"Eru… why did you do it?"
"What?" the creator stared at the ceiling dreamily.
"Created this new body for me," Aragorn still felt uneasy in the presence of the one who was mostly an abstract idea before.
"Well, I thought you deserved it… You are one of those who changed the history of Arda… who fought evil no matter how much it cost…" Eru's eyes were examining the man's face.
Aragorn was silent for some time. Then he raised his head, winced slightly and asked with a sigh:
"What happens to others? To those, who changed not so much?"
There was hidden pain and bitterness in his voice as he remembered all those who fought evil together with him, not less bravely… and who died in the fight. He didn't meet any of them here.
"Their souls go their own way…" was the answer.
"Their way? So… you don't know what happens to them?"
"I can only guess…" Eru nodded. "Aragorn… I can't help all and everyone… but I try to help at least some to find a safe haven here…"
He looked like he had something else to say but chose not to say it, and Aragorn did not dare ask any more questions. Only a subtle disturbance remained in his soul after this short talk…
After some time – at least he felt that some days passed though in ever-light of the Hall of Eru the change of day and night was not perceptible – when he learned more and even understood something, he persuaded Eru to let him out.
"I need to meet Arwen…" he said deliberately. "We promised to find each other after… after death. And she told me she would follow me soon."
"I can meet her instead of you," Eru offered.
"No. No one can do it for me, I must meet her myself." Aragorn retorted. Eru only sighed and led the man to the doors that opened before him.
"If you want to go – then go…"
A gust of freezing wind was like a slap on the face. The former king stepped back and looked into the eyes of the creator with a silent question.
"You wanted to go out," Eru reminded.
"Yes, I did… and I shall."
Mortality is a gift… an opportunity to leave Arda… to enter this... Oh, what a gift it is!
Aragorn remembered how he disputed with the advisor of the khan of Harad. The old man tried to convince him that mortality was not meant to be in the original design of Eru, but Melkor freed the human race from the bonds that tied all living beings to Arda. It was quite obvious that he believed it was good. He did not fear death…
"Melkor said there are other worlds outside… and… it's beautiful there… stunningly beautiful…" the advisor murmured watching the stars.
"We'll see one day," Aragorn replied then. Now he saw… the stars were as distant as ever. He was sitting on a small piece of rock and tried to see other worlds the old man spoke of.
He didn't see when she appeared… not Arwen, but another woman… and with a sigh Aragorn had to admit that her beauty might exceed that of Evenstar. Only the expression of her face made the man shiver and move away.
"Greetings," she said and her voice was cold. "Are you waiting for someone?"
"Yes," he replied absent-mindedly.
"Oh, maybe I could help you pass the time till she comes?"
Aragorn wanted to ask her how she knew he was waiting for a lady, but something stopped him. Eru knew what he was thinking about… ainur knew… why could she not know?
She moved closer to him… He smiled at her. She smiled back and leaned on his shoulder…
"Perhaps she is waiting for someone too…" Aragorn thought, feeling strangely calm.
Suddenly the lady jerked, coughing and choking and hissed quietly, turning her head back. Slowly a black-flaming blade, protruding from her chest, became visible… then the hand, holding the sword… then the whole body, belonging to a young, red-haired warrior First Aragorn thought him to be an ainu, but the wings behind his back and merciless eyes suggested other suppositions, rather frightening.
The lady leaned forward, thus making the warrior pull his weapon off her body. She no longer paid attention to Aragorn, but turned to face the winged warrior, as her wound, that seemed to be deadly, healed quickly.
"That must be that kind of monsters the ainur spoke about…" the man thought moving away from both as far as possible. In an instant it proved to be a very wise idea as the lady and the warrior began to fight so fiercely that they resembled beasts rather than some more intelligent creatures. They fought with their claws and pieces of torn skin and flesh scattered asunder.
The fight ended unexpectedly and unexplainably to Aragorn's eyes, when after a mighty punch that knocked the monstrous lady off, the warrior pressed his hand to her forehead… and in some moments she became a pile of glistening ash.
Then the warrior turned to Aragorn and examined him for a white with his silvery-green eyes. The man prepared to defend himself though he doubted he had any chance against this… creature. But at least he would die as a man should… Die?... Sudden irony of the situation was unbearably bitter. To die again after having died once? And this is the gift…
"Welcome to the afterlife, faya!" the warrior smiled. "Though for us here it's the only life we have. Be careful next time. These ladies are feeding on those like you…
"Who are you?" Aragorn asked.
"I am exactly what you think me to be… a monster."
"You don't behave like a monster."
"Not so much time ago I did!" the warrior retorted and laughed light-heartedly. "Good-bye now. It's dangerous for me to get close to Eru's home…" and with these words he disappeared as if he was only an illusion.
"But… what's your name at least?!" the man cried out into the dusk.
Gentle touch of mind brought him the answer:
"How do they live here?" Aragorn mused. "It's a nightmare… and he said it's the only life they know… Who has given them the gift of living so?"
But this time there was of course no answer…