Missed Connections by Suzelle

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Story Notes:

Originally written for Back to Middle-earth Month 2014. 


Author's Chapter Notes:

With thanks to Cairistiona, Tehta, and Zopyrus for the beta.

 

 


T.A. 2951

Somehow Nethril’s grandmother had taken pity on her this year, and arranged it so that she escaped the most burdensome duties of the midsummer feast. With the rare day to herself, she fled with her friends down to the practice fields that the Rangers used, where a small crowd had gathered to watch the series of games and contests that had been organized in honor of both the holiday and the Heir of Isildur’s recent return.

Though it was not yet midday, the sun had risen high enough to beat down upon the fields, and heat of summer left her dress sticking to her uncomfortably. For a brief moment, she envied the men in the wrestling ring, stripped to the waist as they grappled in the dust. But her brother Halbarad soon pinned his opponent to the ground, twisting his arm behind him, and she winced. At least her discomfort did not come with much risk.

Halbarad called for a new challenger, and Nethril raised her eyebrows as her cousin Aragorn stepped forward, shedding his tunic as he climbed into the center of the ring.  Halbarad shot him a wide grin, and they circled each other slowly before an elder Ranger captain whistled and the match began.

“Merciful Eru,” Beleth murmured behind her. “Would you look at that.”

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Gilwen smiled as Nethril scowled. “This should put a stop to the talk they only taught him lore and fancy manners in Rivendell.”

Beleth nodded, and ran an appraising eye over the two men in the ring. “He puts the rest of them to shame. And those arms! Imagine what those arms could do in…”

“Beleth!” Nethril finally exclaimed. “Can we change the subject?”

Mellaer smiled. “Come now, Nethril. This is the price you pay for having such attractive family members. We haven’t even started in on Halbarad…”

“Please don’t,” Nethril groaned.

Her friends all laughed, and Nethril shoved Mellaer playfully before she leaned back against the wooden beam to watch her younger cousin and older brother in the center of the ring. Aragorn’s movements were strong, but tentative, as though he was afraid of striking too hard against Halbarad. She could see the dawning comprehension on her brother’s face as he came to the same realization, and his attacks suddenly doubled in their ferocity.

Nethril smiled. Halbarad had made fast friends with their cousin, and she was glad, but she hoped Aragorn would realize that he could not afford to be magnanimous even among such friends. Aragorn would need a steadfast lieutenant when the time came for him to assume the Chieftainship from Lady Adanel, and her brother seemed more than eager to fill the role.

Aragorn rallied against Halbarad’s strikes, and Nethril’s eyes narrowed. Her brother was a good fighter, one of the best, but Aragorn now matched him for every move. Halbarad seemed to be tiring.

“Do you think he will dance with any of us at the feast tonight?” Beleth’s voice broke through her concentration.

Gilwen snorted. “He’s so polite, it seems he will either dance with everyone or no one.”

“You are hopeless dreamers, the lot of you,” Nethril said. “Women are the last thing on his mind at the moment.”

“Don’t think we haven’t noticed,” Gilwen said impatiently. “Why else do you think we’ve been trying so hard?”

“It will do you no good…”

“And what is the matter with him, anyway? Why does he not pay attention to any of the women, beyond the basic courtesies?”

Nethril shook her head. Her friends seemed to forget where Aragorn had spent his childhood. She doubted even the most vivacious Dúnedain maiden could measure up to the fabled beauty of the Elven women that had surrounded the Heir in his youth.

But they did not need to hear that right now.

“He did not know his true name until just before he left Rivendell,” she said. “And now they have placed the full weight of our heritage upon his shoulders. Would you be thinking about courtship, if you were in his position?”

“I would,” Beleth said dryly. “Goodness knows I would want a distraction. And that we can certainly provide.”

Nethril sighed. “Far be it from me to keep you from ogling. But that is all you will be doing, I guarantee it.”

Nethril looked back just in time to see Aragorn loop his arm behind Halbarad’s knee, and a great roar went up from the crowd as he sent Halbarad flying flat on his back with a great thud. Nethril cringed as her brother lay in the dirt, but he laughed when Aragorn reached down to help him up, and he pounded his younger cousin on the back as they both climbed out of the ring together.

Aragorn was soon surrounded by a number of Rangers who congratulated him on his victory, and Halbarad turned to approach his sister. Sweat was dripping from his beard, and she threw him a towel that he caught with a grudging smile.

“My thanks” he sat down on the bench beside her and sighed. “It will be a long time before I hear the end of that, I think.”

“And here I was wondering if you’d let him win. But you look far too disgruntled for that.”

Halbarad scowled at her, still panting a bit. “Why in Tulkas’ name would I do a thing like that?”

Nethril shrugged. “No one has seen him fight yet, and he is still trying to prove himself. This certainly helped.”

“Aragorn does not need my help to prove himself. Do you really think I would lay down a match for politics?”

“You would hardly be the first. And I haven't seen you thrown so badly since you were his age or younger..."

"You haven't seen me thrown so badly since the time I was foolish enough to take on Lord Elladan,” Halbarad grunted, and rolled his shoulder gingerly. “The peredhil have taught him all of their tricks.”

“Well, it certainly serves him well,” Nethril patted Halbarad gently on the back, and he gave an exasperated look he reserved only for her. “Come with us to the river, brother. A good dunking will soothe your pride, and Mama won’t let you within ten feet of the house until you’ve gotten yourself cleaned up."

***

Nethril avoided her friends at the midsummer feast, choosing instead to sit beside her brother and grandmother. Halbarad disappeared to chase after Mellaer soon after the meal ended, and Nethril smiled in satisfaction. It had taken no small amount of meddling on her part to get the two of them together.

“Don’t you look pleased with yourself,” Ivorwen smiled.

“I think I am allowed.” Nethril settled back into her chair. “It took me two years to convince him that Mellaer was worth his time, and now they will hardly be separated. It is a good match.”

“Well, perhaps you can work the same wonders with Aragorn.” Ivorwen gestured toward the high table, and Nethril turned back to see Aragorn, seated at the high table beside Lady Adanel and surrounded by no fewer than three of Nethril’s friends.

She sighed. “He does look rather henpecked, doesn’t he?”

“Your grandfather and uncle are not home, my dear, but rest assured they will raise the question of Aragorn’s marriage as soon as they return. He ought to prepare himself, and the ladies are certainly helping with that.”

“He is barely more than a child, Nana,” Nethril protested. “They can allow him more time before he turns to that, surely.”

“He is not much younger than his mother was when Arathorn first proposed,” Ivorwen said, and there was the faintest tint of regret to her voice. “These are desperate times. They will want a betrothal, at least, and I cannot say I blame them. Adanel has refrained from bringing it up only because she knows the captains will, come autumn.”

Nethril did not answer, but settled back to watch her friends vie for her cousin’s attention. The dancing soon began, and he held out his arm to Beleth, leading her to join the crowd. Polite as ever, he made sure to change partners after each dance, and looked increasingly more uncomfortable with each successive song.

"You could help him out, you know.” Ivorwen's eyes danced. "Call off your pack."

Nethril rolled her eyes. ”They are not my pack, Nana…and it’s not as if I haven’t tried. If you think I enjoyed sitting for two hours listening to them extoll the physicality of my brother and cousin in the same breath…”

“Then you clearly did not try hard enough. Tonight of all nights they should be distracted…”

“What are you talking about?”

Ivorwen gave an innocent smile. “It is midsummer, Nethril, and there are plenty of available young men about. Tell them they ought to set their sights on those who will have them. It will work some of that pent-up passion out of their systems.”

Nethril looked at her grandmother, scandalized, and Ivorwen laughed. "I was young once, nethben. I remember how it works. Why, your grandfather and I…”

“Stop, please,” Nethril groaned. “There are certain things I never need to hear.”

Ivorwen laughed once more, and waved a hand toward the dancers. ”Rescue your cousin, Nethril. It’s what family is for.”

“This was supposed to be Halbarad’s job,” Nethril grumbled, but kissed her grandmother in farewell and set her glass of wine aside. She threaded through the crowd until she reached Aragorn, who was now dancing with Gilwen.

“Your pardon, Gilwen,” she said. “but might I have a dance with my cousin?”

Her friend scowled at her, and Nethril jerked her head towards Gellaer, who had been trying to catch her eye for most of the night. Gilwen rolled her eyes and flounced off.

Aragorn took her hand, his relief barely masked, and Nethril smiled at him in encouragement.

“What do you think of Gilwen?” she asked sweetly, and Aragorn blanched.

“She’s…she’s lovely,” he stammered. “I think…”

“She talks to hear the sound of her own voice,” Nethril broke in. “But she is a loyal friend, and knows more jokes than the rest of the Angle combined. Did she tell you the one about the egg and the boiling water?” 

He shook his head.

“You will have to ask her, next time.” Nethril shot him a wicked grin. “It will give you an idea of our humor, here.”

The dances had slowed from the more boisterous reels to a simple waltz, and Nethril let Aragorn lead her through the crowd—he really was a good dancer.  But his eyes were distant, and Nethril knew his mind was anywhere but the Angle.

"Did you leave someone behind, cousin?" she finally asked, and prayed she sounded curious rather than nosy.

"I'm sorry?"

"In Rivendell. Some fey Elf-maid with eyes like twilight and a thousand years of legend to her name. Did you leave her behind?"

He stirred impatiently. “Does the entire Angle have some quarrel against Imladris that I am not aware of? I’ve lost count of the number of veiled insults I have heard…”

“Peace, Aragorn. We have no quarrel with Elrond’s people, only…well, I suppose you might call it resentment. It is not becoming, but there it is.”

He frowned. “Whatever for?”

She shrugged, and broke off from the group of dancers so that they might sit at one of the unoccupied tables. “Our lives are difficult. Theirs are not. They help us when it is convenient for them, and shut themselves off in their valley when it is not. Is it really any wonder?”

Aragorn reached for an abandoned glass of wine and took a careful sip. “As I understand it, the line of Isildur would have faded long ago if not for the help of Elrond and his sons. I would have thought such assistance would be remembered well.”

A diplomat, when it suits him. Good.

“And don’t you think that breeds its own resentment?” she countered. “None of us want to feel beholden to them. Do you know what it cost Adanel and Dírhael, to admit that they could not protect their own grandchild? It certainly did not contribute to any sort of fellow-feeling with the peredhil.”

“And our grandfather still has not received word of my return,” he sighed. “I wonder what he will make of me.”

“You will get along with him just fine,” she said. “It is our uncle whom you must worry about. Tarcil can be as bad as Fëanor himself when he gets into a mood—stubborn and fiery and prideful. But by the time he returns you will have gotten more used to our way of life, and he will be exhausted from a full summer on patrol. It will be fine.”

She gave him a reassuring smile, which he returned weakly. He rose to refill his glass of wine, and when he returned to sit beside her she eyed him keenly. “You still have not answered my first question, Aragorn.”

He sighed, and looked up at the night sky. “Yes. I do not know if you can leave behind someone who was never yours, but…yes.”

An unrequited love. Wonderful. Nethril did not know if that made it better or worse.  

“I suppose you think I ought to stop dreaming of her,” Aragorn said.

“I did not say that…though rest assured the elders of our family will. As well as my vulturous friends, come to think of it.”

Aragorn snorted. “And yet you do not?”

She shook her head. “Your marriage will be a difficult affair, one way or another. Lusting after an Elven maid does not make anything more or less complicated.”

“How do you mean?”

Nethril turned to look back at her grandmother, who had gone to sit beside Lady Adanel. The two were laughing over some shared joke, and Ivorwen looked more carefree than Nethril had ever seen her. And yet…

“Ivorwen and Dírhael see each other five months out of the year, if they are lucky. Our Uncle Tarcil’s wedding was postponed twice because of orc raids. We were convinced it was never going to happen. Those are the success stories. Love…comes with its own difficulties, among our people. And it’s never as satisfying as it’s supposed to be.”

Aragorn raised his eyebrows. “Is that meant to make me feel better?”

“It ought to,” Nethril smiled. “It means you are hardly alone.”

Aragorn gave a rueful smile in return, but before he could reply Adanel called out his name, beckoning him back to the high table.

Nethril laughed, and gestured towards Adanel and Ivorwen. “A summons you would do well not to ignore. Those two have been waiting eighteen years for the chance to fuss over you, and they will keep the vultures at bay.”

“Something I should be thanking you for, as well.” He rose and started back for the high table. “I hope we get the chance to talk more, Nethril.”

“Count on it!” she called after him. “Halbarad is not the only one who wants help you out here.”

Aragorn’s smile widened as he waved in farewell, and Nethril sighed in spite of herself. She wished she had not been quite so astute in her perception of his romantic trials. No matter what she might say to comfort him, it would only breed further resentment if the people learned he prized some Elven beauty above the women of the Dúnedain. And she did not want to imagine what her grandfather would have to say on the subject. It would be just as well if he said nothing at all, and came up with some other reason for postponing a betrothal.

“The things he will have to give up for duty,” she murmured to herself, and shook her head at the thought. A lost love would prove to be the least of Aragorn’s problems.

Besides, he had been here all of three weeks, and he was young. Time would mend his heart.




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