The War of Light and Shadow
Disclaimer: I own nothing Tolkien created.
A/N: OK, here it is. The final chapter. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed this story over 82 chapters and also to all readers who have added it/me to their Alerts/Favourites lists.
I hope you enjoy this last chapter…
Chapter 83 – The Return Of The King
"It is almost hard to believe, isn't it?"
"How much things have changed." Aragorn stretched out luxuriously before the hearth, basking in the warmth of the flames, determined to make the most of the restful feeling bringing him such peace. "I never would have thought change even possible all those years ago when I wandered the wilderness, witness to such terrible destruction and depravity."
"Well, I suppose it had to change in the end. Nothing can stay the same forever."
He smiled and flipped agilely onto his front, chin cupped in his hands so that he could gaze at the young woman laid beside him upon the warm, soft fur in their private rooms. "I fervently hope that is not true," he said with a glowing grin.
Smiling back with equal joy, Eowyn rolled onto her side. "Well, maybe some things can stay constant." She reached out her hand and combed long fingers through his dark, now neatly styled hair. It all seemed so different to them both. Everything had changed so much since the ending of the War, including the king himself. And she was honoured that she had been present to witness it, that she had been invited with open arms into his world, his life. It was more than she could ever have hoped for and she, like him, prayed that it would endure.
Aragorn had fairly blossomed since the ending of the War and the destruction of the One Ring, the last remnant of Sauron on Middle Earth. She had been doubtful at first, just as he had doubted himself in those first months after their return to the White City and its people. He had seemed so shy, unsure of himself as a king and leader in the beginning and she had felt bad for him as he had stumbled through the motions, even as he was aided by her brother and others close to him. Those first steps into his leadership had been the hardest though. After those initial trials had been conquered then everything seemed to simply fall into place. He gained confidence with every small victory in his lands and amongst the people of Gondor. The rebuilding of the houses by a labouring people who wanted Minas Tirith to return to what it had once been just as much as their king did had been their first task and its great success had offered him a small boost of confidence, making future tasks seem a little more achievable. Throughout, Aragorn was tireless and people loved him all the more for his devotion to them.
For someone who had only ever known darkness and war, Eowyn mused, Aragorn had turned into a great ruler, bettering even those who had come before him, and a wonderful man.
The affection she felt for him had come on so gradually that she even now found it impossible to pinpoint the exact moment sisterly admiration had evolved into love. It had come as such a surprise to her when finally it hit one day as they were working together in one of the city's gardens planting vegetable seeds and enjoying the warmth of the sun on their backs. Aragorn had never been afraid of getting his hands dirty along with the rest of his people – one more reason said people adored him as their ruler. She had watched him in a rare moment of relaxation, when he was carefree and laughing at some joke Halbarad had cracked everyone up with. He had been free and open before her for the first time since they had met. The moment had literally taken her breath away and she had quickly excused herself under the pretence that she should go fetch them all a drink before they got too hot under the blazing summer sun. Eomer had shot her a peculiar look but thankfully no one seemed to have noticed the reason for her abrupt leaving.
After that day, she had been more certain of her feelings for him.
Avoiding him wasn't going to work. They were close friends, both her and her brother and the other commanders alike. After everything they had been through together, they were bound by love and loyalty and friendship unlike anything any had ever experienced before. Were she to suddenly stop enjoying their company and distance herself from the king then they would grow suspicious and no matter what her feelings may have been or how she suffered because of them, she did not want to lose Aragorn's friendship. She resolved to put her feelings out of her mind, to carry on as before. She owed that much to her king.
However, somehow, she had no idea how exactly, he had known of her affections.
Perhaps, she mused later, he had seen something in her eyes because she was fairly sure that she had done a rather poor job of hiding the truth in her heart. However he had done it, he had seen through her ruse after barely a month of her self-discovery. She knew he knew only when their eyes met over dinner one night in the dining halls of Minas Tirith. They had been speaking of their next mission out into the wastelands around Gondor. It was set to be the first exploratory mission into the outside world since the men had returned to their ancestral home. There had been an air of excitement and expectation and also fear in the air and it had been potent enough that Eowyn had let her guard down as they talked of the danger and possibilities. He had met her eyes and the truth had been shining in them, unguarded. She had stared into liquid grey and watched as joy gave way to surprise and then understanding and finally a kind of peace. Mercifully, no one else had been aware of that first connection and he had obviously not disclosed it even to his closest friends. The next day had been the first close contact she had had with him since her newly awakened feelings. It was the day he was to leave the city for the first time since their returning. She had kissed his cheek and wished him luck on his mission out of Minas Tirith, all the time silently praying that he return safely so that she may kiss his cheek again.
Upon his return two months later she had been so overwhelmed with joy that he had come back unharmed that she had without thought flung herself into his arms and kissed him once more, this time with such ferocity that she shocked even herself. If he had been surprised by this sudden display of affection then he had not shown it. He had held her back tightly and returned her kiss, oblivious it seemed to the gawping of her brother and their friends behind them.
To say that Eomer had been surprised at the relationship that had developed between them would have been an understatement. At first she thought that perhaps he would be unhappy with her, or with Aragorn, for the growing of their affections for each other. But the commander of the Rohirrim seemed remarkably at peace with it once he had gotten over his initial shock at the idea. She didn't know whether words had been exchanged between the two men at some point after that first day, neither had disclosed to her if they had, but Eomer's step had been lighter soon after and he did not look upon Aragorn with the contempt Eowyn had expected to see from her protective brother.
Their love had blossomed rapidly after that and so too had the king. With each passing summer he had grown more confident in himself, in his abilities to run his kingdom and deal with the problems that arose. And she loved him more with every hurdle he overcame. Every victory left her proud beyond words.
When an envoy from Harad came to Gondor asking to be included within the Reunited Kingdoms of Men and Aragorn had welcomed the previously fierce race loyal to Sauron with open arms and with them had forged an agreement of peace, she had been at his side, watching proudly as he gained their trust and their word of loyalty to his throne. Habitable Gondor grew steadily in size and so the Men expanded beyond the White City. They ventured back into the once besieged outlying city of Osgiliath and started rebuilding it just as they had Minas Tirith. Aragorn had toiled day and night to make the city ready and had lived within its borders to assure the people moving there that it was safe to occupy again.
He was a busy man, she knew, and always would be so long as he reigned. He was King of Gondor, the dominant kingdom on Arda. Never would he give up the honour he and so many others fought so hard to gain, not for anything, even love. There had been times, after weeks apart, that their relationship had grown difficult. But she loved him, that could not be doubted. No matter how long he was away, how much of his time he devoted to his land and the people in it, she loved him and stood beside him for she knew this was her place; as a queen to him and his people.
"What are you thinking about?" his soft voice interrupted her thoughts of the past years and she looked up to find his smiling face watching her, grey eyes seeming to look right through her.
Her hand stroked his rugged cheek, much filled out since they had first met at Helm's Deep thanks to proper food and rest he had once been deprived of, and she traced the smile on his lips with her fingertips. She liked his smile; soft and genuine. "I was thinking of us."
His grin widened and he took her hand to encompass it within his own. "Happy thoughts then."
Suddenly grey eyes turned more serious. How did he always know, she wondered, when something was on her mind? Was she really so transparent around him?
"What is it?" he asked again, more seriously this time.
"You will be going away again soon." It was what she had been fearing for months. He had announced it before the council just a couple of days ago and so far her nights had been sleepless with worry about his latest venture beyond the borders of the White City.
As if berating himself for not having guessed her troubles, he lowered his eyes from hers and sighed. Perhaps he had expected this after all. "Eowyn." His voice was soft, filled with regret and pain and it made her wish she hadn't spoken at all. "You know why I must go."
"I know," she nodded, shifting up so that she was sat cross-legged before him on the carpet of furs.
"Too long have we delayed going into Mordor. We can wait no longer."
She knew that what he said was right. Long had the council been discussing their journey back into the Black Lands once occupied by the Dark Lord. It was essential to determining that their efforts had been effective in keeping back the Darkness. They had not gone anywhere near the land of Sauron since the end of the War and Aragorn and his fellow commanders were getting edgy to know that that land remained dormant. If any Orc activity out of the norm was detected then they would return to Gondor and take their army back with them to eradicate it. No one wanted an uprising of the Shadow, even if it only consisted of Orcs.
"Eowyn, you know all this."
Tears filled her eyes but she blinked them back. He had been in danger before and no doubt would be again. She could not fall apart every time he ventured out of the boundaries of Gondor. As a king, he was remarkably hands-on. There would be no changing him in that regard. Nor would she seek to. He did what he did for the good of Gondor and she loved him for that. It was just hard to remember that when she was sick with worry.
"I know, Aragorn. But I just-I wish you didn't have to go to that place at all."
"Believe me, so do I. But I cannot ask others to do that which I am not willing to do myself."
She smiled at this. "It is one of the things I love about you – your fairness to all. But I am still entitled to worry, am I not?"
"Always. I will be fine, Eowyn. It will take less than a month to complete this task and then I will return to Minas Tirith and to you."
"And then maybe go back into battle."
"Whatever it takes so that the forces of Shadow will never rise again."
Nodding, Eowyn took his hands in hers and squeezed tightly. She could not deter him, she knew, and it would be foolish to try. Besides, he was surrounded by good people. Halbarad would look after him. The Ranger rarely left his side and would protect his king no matter what. Appointed captain of the king's personal guard, he had proven himself a loyal and devoted subject and she trusted him implicitly with the life of her love. And Eomer ventured out with him wherever he went – they would look out for each other. It was a close-knit group they had formed. Aragorn, Eomer, Faramir, Halbarad and Gimli the Dwarf had grown closer with each passing year and it brought her great comfort – and she knew it brought him strength as well – to know that he was being looked out for, even when he tried to convince those around him that he didn't need it.
Changing the subject, she asked in a still cautious voice, "Will you go to him before you leave?"
In an instant, as he was prone to do, his entire demeanour changed at the simple question. Gone was the softness of his eyes and the faint trace of a smile on his lips. Instead, sadness filled his grey orbs and his body stiffened as though readying itself for the fight he knew was coming – not just with Eowyn but also with himself.
Releasing her hand, he climbed first to his knees and then to his feet. The moment of peace was broken; he had made that quite clear but she did not regret breaking it. This was a fight that they had had several times and it always went the same way. She would suggest it, he would go quiet and thoughtful and refuse without any hope of being talked around. Things would be tense between them for a while and then return to normal – until the next time should brought it up.
"It is the five year anniversary tomorrow."
He did not need reminding. It was all he had thought about all day. All week it had been bothering him, as it did every year.
"You think I don't know that?" he snapped at her but immediately his look of anger was replaced by one of contrition.
Rising to her feet, she moved towards him slowly, as though approaching a skittish animal for that was how he looked in that moment. "Aragorn, I am sorry. You know that it was not my intention to upset you."
"I am not upset. I just-Do we really have to do this every year?"
"We wouldn't have to if you just went to him."
"Eowyn," he sighed, rubbing at his eyes as though he was tired out by this conversation. Every single year, the same exact argument over the same thing. And it was beginning to grate on him. He got it not just from Eowyn anymore but from Gimli and Eomer too. Even Halbarad, who had always in his presence been quiet and respectful, was beginning to broach the subject with him. It was infuriating when all he wanted to do was forget the pain that ever lingered in his heart. "Please."
"You know that he would want it, Aragorn."
"No, he would not."
"If he thought that I was wallowing in-Legolas would not have wanted this for me, Eowyn; I know he would not. In fact, I think he would have been furious if he thought I had wasted one moment of my time…grieving over him."
The way his voice hitched made her chest ache with his pain but she pressed on, stepping closer to him and taking his arm. Gone was the calm, relaxed Aragorn enjoying a quiet evening with his partner. Now he was the king, whose command was law and who would not be swayed. And yet, she, as ever, felt compelled to keep trying because she knew he needed her to.
"You think? What do you suppose he would say if he knew that every moment of your time was spent thinking upon him and at the same time denying yourself the time you need to grieve? I think of that he would be annoyed."
"You know nothing of this, Eowyn."
"I know that you miss him and I know that that is all right. He would not be disappointed in you for that. And I know that he would want you to visit him." She sighed softly to herself, partly out of frustration. "I don't understand you. The crypts are close enough, it would not take a whole lot of your time. Why do you deny yourself this, why trouble yourself so when all around you people are willing you to forgive yourself?"
"Because I can't, Eowyn!" he yelled at her, making her startle. Seldom did he raise his voice, especially to her. She was not used to it. "I will discuss this no more."
That had never happened before, she thought when the door slammed after Aragorn. Normally, he skulked off in silence, walking around the city until his anger had waned and when he returned they spoke no more of Legolas and things settled down. He had never stormed out on her with such violence before.
He detested the dark crypts beneath the city. Every time he was forced to pass them he got a chill up his spine that more than ever made him want to avoid them. He didn't know why he reacted this way. The dead shouldn't scare him. They didn't scare him. Great warriors and kings were laid to rest in the stone tombs of the crypts of Minas Tirith and he had enormous respect for them but he never went down there to pay his respects. Not since he had said his farewells to Legolas that time before the Final Battle. Too many memories encased in marble tombs, perhaps.
Tonight, however, the crypts were exactly where his feet led him, almost against his will.
Every year Eowyn reminded him of the date; the anniversary of Legolas' passing following the battle of Pelennor Fields, and every year he sought to avoid thinking about it, even while the rest of the city set aside the day to grieving for the losses they had sustained during those dreadful days of war and bloodshed. Aragorn always stood with his head bowed in respect as prayers were spoken for the fallen but he never visited the resting place of the one closest to him, even when he knew that others would have been honoured to have a memorial to attend to. It terrified him, facing up to it. Legolas had been his guardian, his mentor, his father, and the pain of losing him still stung as deeply as it ever did. He could not shake it no matter how much time passed and that frightened him in some way.
He knew that Eowyn was correct. Legolas would not be disappointed in him for feeling grief, especially not now that Gondor was safe and protected and the mission to destroy Sauron was done. But he felt like he had betrayed his guardian enough already. So often had he avoided going to the tomb of his father – for that was how Aragorn regarded Legolas now; more father than guardian. To go now- He feared what Legolas would think of him. Would he think him a traitor, a coward? Aragorn could not stand that, he knew.
His footsteps echoed loudly on the stone stairs leading down to the ancient crypts. The walls around him flickered with the orange light of the torches lining the staircase. Aragorn had proposed that many of the dead who rested within these walls had seen too much Darkness in their lives, he could not abide them remaining in the dark for the eternity of their deaths as well. So torches always burned bright here even when no one living was about to appreciate the torchlight. He did not fear the dark. Night was nothing compared to the Darkness he had experienced in the past. In fact, at times he found it almost comforting for it reminded him of simpler times travelling without torchlight. This night, however, he was glad for the flickering light brightening his path.
Legolas' resting place in the underground crypts remained unmarked. Few people came down here anymore, wanting to put the kings of old behind them and focus on the new; and none of the soldiers who had perished in the War had been laid to rest in the ancient crypts of the kings.
There may have been no marker but Aragorn knew well where his guardian rested even though he had not visited in many years. He came to the slab of stone beneath which Legolas laid in peace and ran his fingers along the cold, smooth edge almost reverently.
Legolas would not like it down here, he thought, all but buried beneath the earth, hidden from the elements of a world he loved; but Aragorn could not have bared being separated from his guardian by any great distance. Selfish but necessary for his sanity. Knowing that Legolas was close was of some small comfort.
"I-" he began but really he could think of nothing to say now that he was here.
Shaking his head, he thought of how absurd Legolas would think he was being. There was no point in him being here. Legolas could not hear anything he had to say. He would be talking to a slab of cold stone, nothing more.
Nevertheless, against his better judgement, he remained. "I am sorry." No, that sounded ridiculous. What good would an apology do now? "I am sorry, Legolas," he continued all the same, "that I have not come to you before. I don't know why I have avoided-Eowyn is always nagging at me, every single year but-It doesn't seem right somehow. You here and me- But I suppose you would tell me that you would have it no other way, right? I have to tell you, I don't know yet how to live with that. If you had never met me, you would be alive right now. How can I ever forgive myself for that?"
He looked up, surprised that the words were now coming to him so easily, as though they were simply right. Was this what he had been avoiding for the last five years? He felt suddenly foolish, not for being here, but rather for taking so long to realise that he needed to come.
"I could really do with some guidance right now, Legolas. Gondor is safe and whole once more but I do not yet feel so. I need-" He shook his head again and almost involuntarily fell to his knees, not in prayer but rather in sudden weariness - of body and soul. "I cannot rest yet, Legolas. I thought that when the War was won, when peace was finally upon Arda, that I too could enjoy the rest we have granted my people. That is what you always told me; when peace comes there will be a time for rest for all of those who fought on the side of goodness. But I can find none. Everywhere I look, someone is in need, something needs doing. I would not deny them, not for the world. But I am running out of ways to please them. And then there is…Eowyn-"
He trailed off thoughtfully, wondering what his mentor would think of his relationship with the sister of Eomer. He liked to think that Legolas would be pleased for him. Sometimes he wondered though what Legolas would say of the woman if he knew of his affections for her.
"Of course, you know all about her charms – the way she looked at you for all those years. Doting upon her shining hero come to the rescue. Sometimes I wish she would look at me that way too. Not that I believe her to be indifferent towards me. Far from it, I would hope, given that…that I love her. Would you think me ridiculous for saying that? Probably. But it is true all the same.
"I suppose that you would like to know that I am being well looked after in your absence. Eomer is a knowledgeable and kind advisor who guides me well, although I do not think he will remain in Gondor for too much longer. Soon he will go with his people back to Rohan. He doesn't talk about it before me, but I know he longs for his old home even as he has built one here. Faramir too has left me and returned just across the Plains to Osgiliath, his city. There is much work still to do there before it can be considered truly habitable but he is determined – even more so after the successes of Minas Tirith.
"Ciaran remains with me in the city. He misses you daily, of course. He has been here to visit you often, I think." He ran his fingertips now over the single daisy flower that rested next to Legolas' one white knife that Aragorn had left for his guardian before riding out to Mordor. The other, he had kept for himself. He remembered, when the flower had first popped up in the soil just a few days ago, Ciaran had been delighted and had taken it straight down here as though to show Legolas the achievements of the earth he had helped to tend.
"His mother is here with him now. She arrived from Bree not a month ago, along with all the other Rangers' wives and children who we left behind. You can well imagine the celebrations that went on that night after so long apart! Not that you ever cared for Bree or its people if I recall. Anyway, he seems more at peace with family here. I envy him sometimes. He lost his father but he had so much left to fall back on and I have…nothing. Or so it seems at times. I know, I know; you would berate me if you heard me speaking in such a self-pitying manner." He chuckled softly to the cold air. "But old habits die hard, I suppose.
"Remember your good friend Gimli?" he smiled grimly to himself. "He is travelling now. Of course I wanted him to stay here, continue helping with the rebuilding of Gondor but he has his own home and I think he felt obliged to visit the homeland of his father. Whether he will find any of his own people, I know not. I don't think even he knows if they are alive. But if any people were to weather the terror of the Shadow, surely it must be the Dwarves." His mind went to the look in Gimli's eyes when he had stated his intentions to leave. He had been sad, Aragorn had realised. After all, he had fought hard for the saving of Gondor and had lost his father to the cause. And Aragorn had been sad too. He had even offered to accompany Gimli across the mountains. The idea had been laughed at, however. How could the king leave his kingdom so early into his reign. Nevertheless, Gimli had been touched by the sentiment and swore to return once he had discovered the fate of his people. It was one less friend stood at his side, however, and Aragorn found he missed the Dwarf during his absence.
"Oh, and you were right about Jecha and Sonal. They betrayed me in the end. Halbarad says that every day they seek to repent but Eomer will not allow me to release them from their prison beneath the city, even if I do command them exiled from Gondor and all its lands. He sentenced them to ten years in the jails. I think I would have been more merciful but I find I cannot forgive them for what they have done to me, what could have happened had their plan been successful and they took the Ring. When I think of what I gave up for Jecha's allegiance- Your respect. I can't stand it. I don't know why I ever doubted your wisdom. I am sorry for it.
"I wish you could have been here, Legolas, to share in our victory. I have seen so much since we returned here and I have always wished you by my side for it was your victory too.
"The White Tree, symbol of all Gondor so I am told by Faramir, blossoms even now. We are growing things in the soil under the sunlight, the rivers flow clear and fish are beginning to reappear, there are birds in the sky and animals scurry across the Plains at night. I know you would have loved to have seen all that – just like days of old, I think you would say." Tears trickled from his eyes, rolling their way down his cheeks but he did not care. No one was there to judge him. "And the stars, Legolas." His voice filled with sudden wonder as he remembered nightly looking up into the skies and admiring the pricks of light. "I have seen the stars; shining dots of light in a clear sky so black that I believe it to be infinite. Every chance I get I sit beneath them and think of you. You never got the chance to show me them yourself. I wish you could have. Truly I do.
"But I suppose you sacrificed that for me too. My only comfort is that you got what you always wanted of me. I am king now. A good one, I hope. I strive every day to make the Reunited Kingdoms better than before. Sometimes I think I am failing but someone usually tells me that I am on the right course and you always told me to heed the advice and opinions of my betters – I assume that means Eomer too, although no doubt you would be loath to admit it."
Leaning forward, Aragorn ran his fingers once more over the cold stone.
"I am sorry. I will never ignore this day again. But you know I still think of you even if I do not come here. You're the closest thing I had to a father in all my life. I owe you everything but find I can now give you nothing but my love and respect in return. I'll never forget that again, I promise you.
"Anyway, I should go. Eowyn awaits me for an apology. I got angry at her when she brought my coming here up again. I must go and beg her forgiveness." He smiled then, suddenly feeling more at ease with himself than he had in a long time, not unlike when he had finally given up the burden of the One Ring in Mount Doom. Everything felt lighter now that he had acknowledged the shadow that had clouded his days and he wondered why he had avoided it for so long. This was not so terrible, after all.
With one last caress of the stone before him, Aragorn, King of the Reunited Kingdoms of Men, climbed to his feet. "Goodbye. I will not be so long in coming next time, Father."
Minas Tirith…Eight Years Later…
Arda could never be the same following the Final War. It was impossible to expect it to be. The time of the Elves was long over. No one knew if any from that ancient race even still walked Middle Earth but they were certain that no Elf had ever approached the Reunited Kingdoms of Men and they did not seek them out. If the Elves were still around and wanted to keep to themselves, Aragorn judged that it was not the place of the people of Gondor to force them out of hiding. They had suffered enough already at the hands of the Shadow and the King of Gondor was not in the habit of forcing a people's alliance.
Occasionally, the enormity of his task to restore the world of Men tended to overwhelm him but the King Aragorn stood firm against any threat their newly founded kingdom and alliances faced. Such moments of danger had become few and far between now. There remained Enemy factions throughout the vast lands of Middle Earth, of course. It would be impossible to eradicate them all from Arda. But no longer did they attempt to overwhelm the forces of Gondor. In fact, some had even been persuaded to join the Reunited Kingdoms, a federation of kingdoms dedicated to peace that now included Gondor itself; Rohan, ruled now by Lord Eomer; and Harad, although relations with the latter remained disconcertingly fragile as that race was divided into tribes, each with their own leaders, a few of whom were still allied to the ways of the Shadow, the divide caused constant friction and in-fighting and for a long time they had feared all out civil war.
Aragorn made no attempt to go to war with these people or interfere with their internal politics. So long as they posed no threat to those under the banner of the King then he did not worry about where they placed their allegiance. He could not force them to join his coalition. For the most part, he felt confident that they would not attempt to attack the Reunited Kingdoms.
Numbers of Enemy soldiers were diligently kept down, with the Rangers, both those captained by Halbarad and those formally under Kinnale, frequently venturing out into the lands and taking out any patrols of Orcs or Uruk-hai that caused problems. Aragorn soon became convinced that there was no longer any great threat from the creatures formally from Mordor. They were scattered and leaderless for the most part and sought only to let their presence be known. No great attack was ever launched on the White City, their numbers were too few and their ranks in constant discord. Still, Gondor's Council were adamant, and Aragorn concurred wholeheartedly with them, that their numbers be constantly monitored. Despite the cleansing of Evil from the world, some people still feared an uprising and they all knew that that couldn't be allowed to happen. They had overcome the Shadow once but at a terrible price – one they could not afford to pay again.
Many Men formally outcast from the realms of Men sought sanctuary within the borders of Gondor and Aragorn allowed it, encouraged it even. Some were the feared Wild Men. Having spent the years roaming the wilds of Arda barely scratching out a living by whatever means they could, word had finally spread of somewhere permanent where they could settle without fear of recrimination for their past actions, no matter how reprehensible they may have been. Aragorn understood that they had been desperate in the wastes of Arda and asked only that they keep the peace and that no violence was to take place within the boundaries of Gondor. At times, these rules were broken and action against the guilty parties had to be taken, but for the most part they were upheld by any visitors.
Aragorn didn't know whether the world resembled what it had once been. His only references had been in Rivendell and his memory of those stunning frescos upon the walls of Rivendell was too faded to be certain. But he knew in his mind and heart how he wished for it to look. It was hardly perfect even after years of hard toil and recovery. But all understood that a land so scarred with war, famine and destruction could not quickly recover from the evils it had endured. But Gondor's people worked hard to make it the best it could be. With every small victory, they gained something, whether it be land renewed or a new ally to add to the growing list of those loyal to the Reunited Kingdoms.
Despite this peace, in Mordor, evil yet dwelled. The Men's exploratory expeditions into the Black Lands revealed that many of the Orcs that had escaped slaughter on the day of the final battle had retreated there but they were still leaderless and Aragorn knew that they would prove no threat to the growing might of Gondor and her affiliates. Still, he had learned enough over the years not to become complacent. Gondor's army was kept strong and well-supplied, ready for any uprising or rebellion from those countries who still refused a treaty of peace. That he would never again have to ride into battle was Aragorn's most fervent hope but he was prepared to do so nonetheless.
The first yield of crops from the farmlands led to nationwide celebrations. Although it was a relatively poor yield in terms of return for work, it was more than anyone had ever seen before and a cause for much festivities. After that first hurdle had been overcome things became gradually easier. The people from Bree knew somewhat about farming having had moderate success over the years and they honed their techniques until food was relatively easy to come by and rationing was relaxed a little.
Homes were rebuilt. Gondor flourished. The first shops trading in clothing and food and treats opened in the small establishments dotted around mainly the first and second levels of the city. Much trade was done between Gondor and its related countries. Rohan began breeding its horses again and soon the first foal was born to Gondor. It was the king's steed although Eowyn had laughed when after a month he had still yet to even see it due to the vast amount of people who every day came to gawp at the wonder.
Prosperous and fair Gondor became once more under the reign of its victorious king. Neither the people nor the land would forget the terrible years of all out war with the Shadow. It would mar their lives and the lives of generations to come. They could not blot out the Darkness that had stolen away their families, left thousands bereft of family. But they could strive to build on the hope the fallen had given them. With the leaders they had followed into battle leading the charge into peace and prosperity, confidence grew day by day.
Once a year, they publically remembered those who had given their lives for the peace they now enjoyed. On the streets people gathered, offering flowers to a burning pyre in memory of the soldiers and non-combatants who had died in the War. It was always a solemn day. There was no feasting, no celebration, just quiet, respectful remembrance.
As well as remembering their own personal losses and mourning them, they also gave thanks to the great commanders who had given their lives. This was an especially poignant day for the king himself and he was often seen lost in the throes of grief as he spoke of the great deeds of Kinnale, Janor and Legolas and many more besides. They owed much to these pioneers of peace; Men who had sacrificed everything to bring Aragorn to the throne of Gondor and grant the world a reprieve from the Shadow.
Despite this blot on their good cheer and optimism, the people endured, overcoming whatever was put in their way. Determination granted them much return and the joyous days became ever more common as time moved on.
The first prince of Gondor was born eight years after the end of the Final War to King Aragorn and the Lady Eowyn. Thousands of well-wishers turned out to see and celebrate the new-born, hailed as the next great King of the Reunited Kingdoms and herald of the Fourth Age of Man. For they knew that so long as young Eldarion followed in the footsteps of his beloved father then the realm of Gondor – and all of Middle Earth – would flourish for Ages to come.