In My Father's House by Tanis

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A dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.  – J.R.R. Tolkien


In My Father’s House

 

They had ridden through the night as though pursued by unseen enemies – hard and fast, heedless of the twin perils of moonless night and driving rain.  Perhaps purposely, Aragorn had thought, as a subtle measure of his mettle.  The grudgingly offered compliment from his grandsire - that he had done well - had been as amusing as it had been irritating.  It was not as if he was unaccustomed to long, hard rides; after all, he had begun at the age of two with just such a ride, and been riding afar with his brothers on their knight errantry from the time he had been esteemed enough in battle skills to hold his own. 

 

True, he had dismounted stiffly before Fornost’s Hall of Council, but so had the entirety of the escort that had ridden to meet him at the House of Elrond.  A courtesy, he was certain, that had been extended only at the insistence of his foster father. 

 

They had gone directly in to the hall, apparently without thought of changing into dry clothing.  At home, no guest would have been treated so discourteously, but this was not home and it had not mattered anyway, as everything Aragorn had with him had been thoroughly soaked. 

 

He could not have said what he had expected, but the Dunedain’s Hall of Council had been the antithesis in every way of the home he knew.  From the outside, a squat, ugly, rectangular building crouched at the end of a long greensward; the benches and settles inside, crudely carved, the drafty fireplace barely drawing, leaving him shivering in his wet clothes. 

 

The hall had been respectfully quiet during the short welcome speeches many of the older men - contemporaries of his father - had given.  And appropriately noisy when toasts had been made to his safe return to the fold.  But overall the atmosphere had felt oppressively subdued to Aragorn, who was finding himself still far more comfortable in the skin of Estel.

 

Released at last from the forlorn displays of the heraldry of his suddenly restored house, and the inquisition convened under the guise of a home-coming celebration, Aragorn walked through the settlement toward the apex of the converging rivers, thankful the rain had finally stopped. 

 

Had he been presented with a view of the tattered and worn shields and banners, ostensibly decorating the hall, within a day or two after he had first received the relics of his ancestry and learned the truth of his birth, he might have appreciated their somewhat tarnished splendor.  He had, admittedly, been rather full of himself in the immediate aftermath of the disclosure of his name and birthright.  Those heady moments of undiluted joy had lasted just long enough to fall hopelessly in love, but it had not taken long for the reality of the revelations to sink in. 

 

Still, he had not understood the weight of the heritage the son of Arathorn bore, until this afternoon.  He was no untried stripling, but neither was he prepared to shoulder the responsibilities born by the bearer of the ring upon his finger. 

 

It was one thing to know that in order to mount the throne he had inherited, he must wrest it from the line of Stewards who had ruled by default for twenty-four generations.  Quite another to realize that by virtue of his true name, the title of The Dúnadan, and the obligations that title carried, had devolved to him upon his majority.  He was chieftain of the scattered remnant of Númenor, leader of a people whose fate it was to protect and serve the inhabitants of Middle-earth. 

 

He had been raised to serve and protect, though it had never occurred to him that he would be accounted a leader of Men merely because of an antique trinket.  That ring, an ugly piece of jewelry he did not care for, was twice cursed.  The device of twining serpents – one devouring, the other uplifting a crown of golden flowers – gave him the shivers ever his eye chanced to fall upon it.  And now it represented the doom that would shadow the rest of his life did he choose to take up the mantle his father had worn. 

 

The ring’s device was the badge of the house of Finarfin.  In reality, no trinket but a priceless heirloom given as a gift from elf to man for a life saved, and passed down through Ages from father to son in an unbroken line.  One could not just throw it in the river – as Aragorn longed to do.  To him, the repulsive ring represented not the sign of eternal friendship between Finrod and the House of Barahir, but the devouring of the only life he had ever known.  It relegated him to an existence devoid of the only kin he had any memory of, thrust him into a role he knew little about, and offered as reward a kingship he must take by force from a people who were of the same race as the relatives he had just left behind.

 

The sense of anticipation in the hall, and the nearly palpable disappointment when it appeared he had failed to live up to those expectations, had been a bit … overwhelming.  And those relatives had not even waited for the door to close behind him before raised voices had been shouting one another down.

 

Aragorn rubbed the back of his neck wearily.  It ached; probably from the stiff position in which he had held himself throughout the seemingly endless formalities.  Though if the sun rose and set in Fornost as it did in Rivendell, it appeared less than two hours had passed.  They had arrived late in the afternoon, and now the last of the late appearing sun’s rays were just splashing the head waters of the Mitheithel and the Bruinen with streaks of gold.

 

But no – in the tongue of Men, the rivers were called Hoarwell and Loudwater, he reminded himself as he stared out unseeing over the roaring water, his internal vision eclipsing his usually acute auditory and visual senses.  Arien’s eastward journey was unheeded as thoughts of home, and the family he considered himself too old to miss so dreadfully, swamped Estel. 

 

Ahhh … no again.  No longer Estel of the house of Elrond; here he was Aragorn, son of Arathorn.  An imposter in both worlds and the ache of it smote like a bruising broadside from Glorfindel during sword lessons. 

 

At any other time the gilt-edged luminosity of the lengthening shadows and the incandescence of the boiling convergence of the headwaters would have caught and held his eye for the beauty of it.  Tonight he saw only the reflection of the bright memory of the Last Homely House, its illusory light making him long to trot over the bridge into the welcoming warmth of family and home. 

 

He bent and picked up a stick, breaking it into small pieces to pitch into the deceiving reflection of memory upon the water.  As intended, the rippling disturbance broke the hold of his recall, sending it off in another direction. 

 

In one thing only had the king’s education, he now understood he had received, been deficient.  His formative years had been barren of contact with any other than the elves of Imladris.  Now he understood, too, all those mornings when he had been whisked off by his tutor to some sylvan bower, leaving behind books and parchments, to study horticulture, or animal husbandry, further out among the buildings of the sprawling stable block.  And his brothers, when they had been home, taking him adventuring on great quests of youthful daring. 

 

As an adult, he had been introduced simply as Estel, with no explanation as to why one of the Edain lived in the house of Elrond.  And even those encounters had been relatively few.  As a result, though he had never been particularly shy, neither was he of effusive character and he had found it particularly daunting to be the focus of so many strangers all at once here in Fornost. 

 

He missed the twins acerbic wit.  Their didactic asides would have been useful coaching tools back there in the hall.  They had offered to ride escort as well, but Aragorn, sensing the mute disapproval of his mother’s father, had declined.  Whether he had absorbed it from living amongst the inhabitants of Imladris, or his instinctual capacity for empathic resonance as a healer had merely been nurtured in the environment, he had an almost elven intuition for the sensing of emotions in others. 

 

And that had been the other disconcerting issue of the seemingly long afternoon.  Having been raised among a race to which eternal life had been granted, over thousands of years strong emotions among the elders had diminished, especially in this time of peace and prosperity.  To encounter such a wide range of sharply clarified perceptions all aimed at him had been exhausting to deflect. 

Turning from the river, Aragorn walked back into the growing dusk, his soft elven boots whispering over the uneven ground as his steps directed him toward the cabin his grandsire had pointed out on their arrival.  It belonged to him now, he had been told.  Yet another bit of patrimony that had long been his, all unknowing. 

 

Aragorn glanced back warily, one foot planted on the bottom tread of the steps leading up to his parents home, wondering if he might slip away for an hour unnoticed.  If he went in to the cabin he was sure to have company before long and he needed to regain some control over his own wildly rioting emotions.  Needed to find a place where he could forge new connections with the earth in this place, introduce himself, and seek solace in the act of replenishing his severely depleted energy as Master Elrond had taught him to do.  He turned on the ball of his other foot, as if to leave. 

 

And heard the voices of the past calling to him with quiet urgency. 

 

Primitive, was his first assessment as he stood eyeing the structure.  His gaze wandered over the rough hewn logs chinked with mud, the iron-bound planks and cast-iron hinges of the door.  The house bore the same builder’s stamp as the Hall of Council, though it lay east to west, perpendicular to the hall across the greensward.  Vastly different from the home that called so strongly to him still, images of its grace and beauty continuing to flood his soul with both longing and dread. 

 

But he was here in a place he had dreamed of and imagined for years:  on the steps of a home he did not remember, where a man of whom he had no memory had lived a foreshortened life, planting a seed in his mother that had come full circle, to stand now where his father’s feet had stood before.  The house called to him in a way the cacophony of his relatives voices had not; cajolingly, coaxing back the curiosity that had fled before the onslaught in the hall. 

 

Up three, close-set steps, across a wide-planked porch roofed over with boards that had been weather-proofed with pitch and tar.  The door latch gave easily beneath his fingers and the door swung open on well-oiled hinges. 

 

It was the scent of his mother that filled his senses - lavender and mint - as he stepped over the threshold.  Eighteen years the house had sat empty, but the distillation of her fragrance still permeated the space.

 

The tightness in his chest that had been steadily increasing from the moment he had left behind the border of Imladris, eased, though it did not completely dissipate.  The lingering disquiet hovered at the edge of his mind; a shadow that had been lurking in his soul for the last eighteen years, released from its imprisonment as he stood upon the threshold.

 

His gaze darted from object to object, his heart registering those things his eyes did not quite take in.  He took a step inside and stopped stock still, gaping in awe. 

 

The inside did not match the outside. 

 

Here were the remnants of an age of craftsmen who had perfected their gifts over centuries of long lives influenced by elven craftsmen; relics of the house of Elendil.  It beggared the imagination, for that meant these furnishing were more than an Age old and had been loyally carted along as the Dúnedain had dwindled, giving up lands they could not hold until the faithful had retreated here to Fornost. 

 

Aragorn closed his mouth and took a moment to reassess.  Of course these treasures would be kept in individual homes, passed down through generations of families, father to son, mother to daughter, with as much diligence as the ring upon his finger.  Unlike the elves who had crossed the Helcaraxë with nothing more than the belongings they had carried, Elendil, anticipating the fall of Númenor, had had time to prepare for departure.  

 

Aragorn swept his gaze once more over the long, rectangular room. 

 

Before him was a massive table, set about with twelve ornately carved, high backed chairs.  The dining table was set off from a large area surrounding a massive fireplace, by folding screens carved in like manner to the chairs.  Fanciful beasts and birds adorned both chairs and screens, caparisoned chargers bearing armored riders holding aloft lances trotted across the backs and bottoms, waving exquisitely picked out banners that he could see bore the seven stars between a crescent moon and rayed sun – the sigil of Elendil. 

 

Blinking, Aragorn trod further into the room, over carpets as thick as any at home and worked in designs he also recognized.  An ocean of white-capped waves bore up a series of ships sailing a blue, blue sea toward a distant, forested shoreline.  He backed up, clear out the door still standing open, and hopped about until he had removed his wet, muddy boots.

 

Setting them side by side on the porch, he advanced into the front room again, far enough to peer around the screens.  Instead of the peg-legged stools of the Great Hall, two settees covered in a rich, unfaded blue brocade that was surely from an elven loom, sat at right angles before a wide, raised hearth of intricately laid field stone. 

 

Someone had set kindling and logs in the fireplace, ready to light.  Wonderingly, he crossed to kneel on the hearth rug and set spark to tinder with the flint and firesteel from the small box sitting next to the poker.  The house showed the fine hand of a loving caretaker, from the etched-glass vase of wildflowers in the center of the long dining table, to the sparkling windows reflecting the last of the sun’s sinking rays. 

 

Aragorn remained on his knees, watching as a tiny flame flickered.  The kindling pinecones caught and his heart turned over, a memory buried so deep as to have been completely lost, shimmering like the fingers of flame building in the fireplace. Of being enclosed between a pair of tall knees, his dimpled baby-hands clasped around this very poker, encompassed by much larger hands, and a voice whispering in his ear that they must help mother whenever possible. 

 

He had been two when his father had been killed by orcs; too young to remember anything about the man.  But like a hot bath raising sweat, the sensory memory rose slowly to the surface, the impression of being encircled both physically and spiritually in a love that knew no bounds, seeping from his very pores.

 

The poker clanged against the hearth as the adult hand holding it, now, lost its purpose, and thus its strength.  Aragorn sank back on his heels, inundated all over again. 

 

Expectations were such ephemeral guides, flirting with tomorrow while still tethered in the past.  And every pair of eyes lately had held a wealth of expectation.  In his foster father’s eyes he had seen a battle waiting to be fought; in his grandsire’s, a mantle waiting for a leader; in his cousin’s, a cosseted youth too young and inexperienced to be that leader.  He had caught the edge of despair in his mother’s gaze as she had bidden him farewell, though he had not taxed her with it, knowing it would make the burden of her foresight even harder to bear if he pressed her. 

 

What might he see if he could look into the grey irises so alike to his own?  For though he had not been told the man’s name, he had been told often, that he had his father’s eyes.  Aragorn shivered and shook off the fey mood.  He needed no further weighty expectations to burden the plight of his soul. 

 

Pushing off the hearth, he rose and began an unhurried tour of the room, letting his hands shape the contours of the oak mantel, the sinuous curve of plump cushions, the oval of an embroidered footstool.

 

In the inglenook, an old rocking horse, half hidden in shadows, began to rock at the instigation of his foot.  He brushed his fingers over the stiff mane, trailed over the intricately carved pommel and up the high-backed cantle, then down over the narrow rump and long tail of real horse hair.   

 

His internal shadow drew back, edges ghosting to transparence as light shone upon it.  Aragorn tapped the painted withers, and allowed room for the smile stealing through the gloom of his homesickness. 

 

This place had been home once, too. 

 

He must accustom himself to the idea and get used to being stalked by remembrances buried so deeply their emergence brought to mind the ghostliness of unhoused fëa. He could feel that rocking horse between his knees, and the freedom of flying like the wind in his imagination. 

 

Clearly, he had left behind far more than just his heritage when he and his mother had fled the settlement the night of his father’s death. 

 

Turning from the still swaying horse, he bent and drew a burning brand from the fire and moved to light the lamps around the room.  Several burned a faintly sweet-smelling oil, but at shoulder height, between the windows and along the two solid walls, wickless Fëanorian lamps, when touched, began to glow as well, adding a tint of blue weir light to the cozy amber of the oil lamps.  His personal suite of rooms at home had been lit with similar wickless lamps. 

 

Aragorn touched an exquisitely carved lap desk perched on the hand-painted cushion of a window seat.  His finger traced the outstretched wings of a white dove in flight, then the embedded gem that flashed all the colors of the rainbow, set upon the delicately carved feathers of its noble breast. 

 

There were drawings of Elros’ palace in Master Elrond’s library, renderings of both the engineering of, and the completed, citadel.  Ancient water colors, preserved under glass, of some of the fanciful rooms.  He had seen this very lap desk in one of them.  He remembered because the legend of Elwing’s incarnation as a bird with the last silmaril upon her breast had been one of those torturously wondrous stories he had asked Erestor to tell him over and over again. 

 

That story had forged a deeper connection with the man who had become attarinya, in young Estel’s mind, for Lord Elrond, too, had been very young when he had lost first his father, and not long after, his mother.  The Lady Elwing had been saved from certain death by the Valar, for her sacrifice in ridding the world of that last silmaril, and in doing so ending the kinslaying perpetrated by the sons of Fëanor. 

 

Though Estel had been told his father was dead, he had often dreamt that the man he did not remember had done something so valiant the Valar had been moved to reward him with immorality, too.   Though maturation had eventually put paid to that dream, it tiptoed through his mind now. 

 

Aragorn stilled his fingers and quieted his mind as he had been taught, the better to recall the generations this desk must have passed through.  Perhaps it had been a gift from Master Elrond to his brother; perhaps it had made the trip to Númenor and returned again to Middle-earth via Elendil’s ships.   

 

The latch on the lap desk opened as silently as the door, as though his lady mother had used it but yesterday, and he lifted the lid, wondering if she had regretted leaving it behind.  Inhaling the scent of cedar, he closed his fingers carefully around the sheaf of scrolls inside, drawing them up and out into the light.  It was the work of a moment to unpick the knot in the scarlet ribbon holding them closed, another moment to wrap the ribbon around his knuckles and stretch out the parchments.

 

Aragorn sank down in the window seat.  At first glance, the words upon the page appeared to be in his own handwriting, but he had never had need to write to anyone, nor, as he read a few lines, were they letters.  And while he might have momentarily considered verse to describe his newly awakened interest in love, he had never attempted it on paper. 

 

Shifting, he turned toward the light of the fireplace and leafed through the parchment. All were cast in the same hand and addressed to his mother, but they were not letters. 

 

Had a bolt of lightning shot out of the darkening sky to knock him off his perch on the window seat, he might have been less shocked by the revelation the parchment engendered.  

 

It was verse, written in Quenyan, by none other than his father.   

 

It took another moment to sink in, but when it did, it made perfect sense.

 

Of course his father would have fostered in Rivendell, as Arador had before him, and his grandfather, all the way back to Valandil, who had been in Rivendell when his father and brothers had been slain.  The sons of Isildur, and the sons of the sons of Isildur, had all fostered in the elven stronghold. 

 

Which made it only natural that his father’s handwriting would be similar – they had both learned from Erestor.  The shock forked, smiting his heart with a pang of such dire homesickness, Estel thought he might be sick all over the hand-loomed carpet. Aragorn, on the other hand, experienced a moment of surreal confluence with his unknown father such as he had never felt before. 

 

How many times had he sat in the same seat his father had warmed in Elrond’s library, listened to the same lectures from Erestor, studied from the same books, perhaps even shared favorite places to hide from their erstwhile tutor. 

 

Likely they had climbed the same trees, fished in the same streams, squeezed in and out of the same crevices, and wandered the same valleys and dales. 

 

Parchment fluttered to the floor, the worn edges crumbling a little with age, as the pages drifted heedlessly from nerveless fingers.   Both his head and his heart ached at the sundering of personalities, and both Estel and Aragorn buried their faces in the single pair of hands available to them. 

 

Anger was merely a mask for the deeper hurt of the spirit, he had learned.  He could not have said if anger informed the massive ball of fear churning in his gut, but Aragorn knew without a doubt that he felt small and insignificant here.  He was no longer a beloved cog in the wheel of life in the valley; here he was a stranger with a pedigree that entitled him to an inherited honor he had in no way earned, nor even knew if he desired. 

 

His hands dropped back to his knees, only to clasp nervously as the fingers of the right hand instinctively sought to twist the ring of his roots on the left index finger.

 

Again, he stilled his racing mind; a habit ingrained from years of learning to stop and evaluate before facing an enemy, whether mental or physical.  What, really, did he have to fear?  These kin, despite being remnants of an ancient fabled race of men blessed with long life, were still mortal.  He had grown up measuring himself against immortals; what judgment could these Second Born pass upon him that he had not already passed upon himself? 

 

He had been raised to be a king – surely he could learn to be The Dúnadan – if that was what he decided he wanted.  He bent and began to sheaf together the pages of verse.

 

A new shadow hovered by the door he had failed to close, an insubstantial form set apart from the darkness of night that had fallen.  It molded itself into the shape of a woman as Aragorn rose from gathering up the fallen parchment.

 

“May I cross your threshold, Aragorn, son of Arathorn?” a melodious voice enquired softly.

 

His mind cataloged it instantly, for it carried the same wistfulness often bestowed upon his mother’s voice by her gift of the sight.  “Grandmother?”  His tongue shaped the word hesitantly, as though a toddler voiced it questioningly. 

 

Ivorwen transferred the basket she had been clutching in both hands to her right and reached to close the door behind her.  “Aye, grandson, though if ‘tis too uncomfortable to name me grandmother after our desertion, call me Ivorwen.”  Depositing the cloth-covered basket upon the table, she moved around the screen and walked forward holding out both hands.  “Will you let me look at you a moment, Grandson?”  The word became a title, and with its pronunciation, a beloved name. 

 

Desertion? This statement echoed in Aragorn’s jumbled thoughts.  It had been Lord Elrond who had pushed him from the nest and while he certainly felt abandoned by his foster family, desertion by his new-found natural family had never crossed his mind.  And no, he did not feel comfortable calling her Grandmother, but neither could he force his lips to shape her given name.

 

And so, awkward and silent Aragorn let her take his hands and turn him so her back was to the fire, her face in shadow as she stared up at him, for he was a hand-span taller than she, as he was with his mother.

 

“You’ve grown into your father’s face,” Ivorwen stated, reaching up to touch his cheek with possessive gentleness.  “The gravity of it set a mite strangely on a toddler’s face, but it suits you now.”  Thumb and forefinger gripped his chin, turning his face in profile right, then left.

 

Aragorn neither resisted nor pulled away, though his skin tingled curiously where her fingers touched.

 

“And yet, you’ve the look of your mother, too, around the eyes.  Have you inherited the sight then?  It marks all who it favors.”

 

“Nay.”  He was not fey in that way, despite wishing – this afternoon at least - that he might have that gift.  Perhaps if he could ‘see’ the future, it would not loom so forebodingly. 

 

Way back in his ancestry, though, a Maia had lent her illustrious lineage to the bloodline.  It did not give him elven strength or longevity, but it had left its mark.  His sense memory - the physical imprint of a bodily memory - was inordinately strong.  It rose around him now, as if the fragrance of pine and cedar wafting from the woman whose hands continued to map his face, birthed another of those long buried remembrances.

 

“We used to walk in the woods,” he said, voice tinged with a bit of awed reverence as his own hands rose to close around the fine-boned wrists.  “Master Elrond observed many times during our lessons on herb lore, that I already had an understanding of plants well beyond my years of experience.  You were my first teacher.”

 

The smile lit her from the inside out, so luminescent that for a moment Aragorn had to look away.  “Ach, you remember,” Ivorwen whispered, the tenderness in her voice an unexpected gift to his bruised heart.  “You could barely toddle when we began our walks, but you got along just fine holding someone’s hand and so when your mother was busy, we would ramble in the woods.  You remember,” she said again, eyes closing on a soundless sigh.

 

“’Tis more a feeling than a memory, but aye … I remember.”  Aragorn gingerly closed his arms around his grandmother, feeling the fragility of her bones, the age that was upon her despite the youthful features.  “You used to sing me the Lay of Lúthien when you put me to bed.” 

 

He could feel the tears rolling down his neck where her face was pressed into the crook of his shoulder.  The awkwardness of the long afternoon fell away with a weary sigh as Aragorn opened himself to the wellspring of affection flowing over him.  Here there was no doubt, no suspicion, no judgment, only unconditional love and acceptance. 

 

Here was a bond older than he consciously remembered; forged in the intimacy of total trust and confidence in a caregiver who had met his needs unstintingly, giving of herself in ways he would not really understand until he was a parent himself.  Instinct honed the truth of this intellectual comprehension; years into the future, his heart, too, would comprehend the gifts his grandmother had bestowed upon him both in his first years of life, and again, as a painfully confused duality trying to make sense of a heritage that had been withheld during his formative years.

 

Estel ceased his pounding upon the door of Aragorn’s heart, soothed as well by the hands reaching up to comb through the long dark hair framing the features of a beloved grandson.

 

“Come, I’ve brought you supper.  Dirhael thought it unlikely you would brave the common room again, even for sustenance.”  Ivorwen slipped her hands down over the impressively muscled shoulders, turning him once more, and giving a little push so he obediently moved to the table where sat the fragrant basket she had brought.  “Sit,” she said, pulling out the heavy chair at the head of the table.

 

Aragorn sat, though yet another vision rose, of a blanket-wrapped form laid out upon the surface.  “It was the quilt … from their … bed.” The words came out nearly soundlessly. 

 

Ivorwen heard them nonetheless.  “You’ve no need to be remembering that, my lad,” she said briskly, carefully setting a bowl of steaming soup before him, followed by utensils and a cloth napkin.  Her fingers brushed his temple again and the vision was replaced with the delicious smell of garlic and leeks. The yeastiness of fresh bread joined the scents, along with the tang of mint as a plate of cold cucumbers sprinkled with ground mint and dill was placed before him as well. 

 

“Shall I feed you then, as I used to do when you knew me last?”  Ivorwen’s eyes twinkled as she pulled out the chair on his left and reached to close his fingers around the wooden spoon.  “Eat, Grandson, and tell me of your mother.  How does she fare?  Has she decided to stay in Rivendell then?  I had hoped she would return with you.”

 

“She sent a letter.” Aragorn attempted to rise to retrieve it, but she waved him back down. 

 

“No no, there will be time for that later.  Eat now.  It is strange, is it not, to be family and yet strangers who have lived such disparate lives?  But I must know, is Gilraen happy?  Does she thrive in Rivendell?” Ivorwen crossed her arms on the tabletop and leaned forward anxiously.

 

Aragorn swallowed a spoonful of soup, debating how his mother would have him respond.  It was very different from the food he knew, thinner, not as robust, likely reflective of the settlement’s winter stores running low, he realized.  But that did not answer his grandmother’s question. 

 

“My mother …” he began, then hesitated.  “Naneth,” he said deliberately, “says she has seen enough violence to last several lifetimes.”  He could not substantially change who he was, nor did he want to.  He had been raised in an elven stronghold, he would not surrender all he held dear in an attempt to curry favor among these new relations.  “She said to tell you she is well, and well cared for, that Rivendell is her home now and she could not stand to be an oddity among the Dúnedain.  She sent gifts as well as a letter, and asks that you come to visit now that the time for secrecy is past.”   

 

“I see.  Well, I do not blame her, though I had hoped to see her again before I pass.” Ivorwen was quiet for a moment, as if peering inward for answers to questions she did not voice.  And then she looked up again with a smile, planting her elbows on the table and her chin on her twined fingers.  “I did not believe so, but perhaps there is one last trip in me after all.  What does she do with her days?”  She watched her grandson contemplate this question as well before answering thoughtfully. 

 

“Her gardens are places of sanctuary, even among the elves,” Aragorn said around a mouthful of bread.  “Master Elrond says she has the gift of growing things.  She raises many of the plants he distills for tisanes and tinctures.  And the most glorious orchids imaginable.  She drew you pictures of some of them.”

 

“Orchids?” Ivorwen echoed, “I thought them too delicate to live in our northern climes.”

 

“Aye, when Master Elrond noticed her interest, he designed something he calls a ‘hot house’ for her, and had it built over a warm spring.  It is a house of glass, with a fountain built up from the spring at one end, and no matter the weather, it is always hot and humid inside.” 

 

Aragorn inhaled the remainder of his dinner, all healthy young appetite now that the stress of the initial meeting was behind him. 

 

“Master Elrond taught her the rudiments of making fragrance as well, though he says she has progressed far beyond his skills in that arena.”

 

Ivorwen lifted a heavy stone crock out of the basket and poured more soup into the empty bowl.  “So she has her orchids and her gardens and her pursuits.  But is she happy?”

 

Aragorn tilted his head in a regarding manner.  “She said you would ask that.”  Watching his grandmother’s face, he saw his mother looking back at him, as though a sudden time shift had riven the moment and given him a glimpse of the future.  “She said to say she is not unhappy, that there are ephemeral joys in each of her days, but that she will never be able to recapture the carefree happiness of her youth.  She says, further, that this is a good thing, for she was not fashioned to be a vessel in which happiness could reside.”

 

The moue Ivorwen cast him was tainted with sadness.  “And yet, in her youth, happiness and delight were her constant companions …” she trailed off, eventually shaking her head.  “I had hoped …” but she did not complete that thought either.  “I want to hear all about your life in Rivendell as well, I want to hear every last detail of the eighteen years I have missed, but you must have questions as well.  Dirhael says they did not tell you of your father until recently.  Did you have time to discuss this with your mother – your naneth did you say?  This is the elven word for mother?”

 

“Aye, it is how I address her at home.”

 

“It has a lovely sound,” Ivorwen said without constraint.  And when he toyed with his spoon in the empty bowl, she offered quietly, “I will be glad to answer any questions I can, Aragorn.”

 

Eyes downcast, he continued the revolutions of the spoon.  “I do not even know where to start.”

 

So Ivorwen started for him, slowly and gently, watching for any spark of memory, praying all the while that she could give him something to hold on to, some safe spot where he might catch his breath twixt assailing storms.  “There are those among us who yet remember your father’s return from the elven stronghold, from his fostering there.  He was just your age now, twenty, having returned upon reaching his majority.  He was a youth betwixt and between as well – having trained for years already, for the duties of the Dúnadan, but his father was not of an age, nor the desire, to turn over the reins. 

 

Arador thought Arathorn needed a bit more tempering before the fate of the tribe fell to him and so he sent him off to travel.  Oh, he came back with such stories, such wondrous treasures!  All the girls were mad for him, but he would not choose one and settle down.  He said the wanderlust had caught him good and he would see the world before he took a wife.  And so he did, and the girls his age married one by one, while he remained single and carefree.”

 

Ivorwen watched the youthful eyes close as if trying to draw a mental picture of a ghost. 

 

“Elladan and Elrohir were oft about the settlement in those days, for Arador, too, had fostered in Rivendell,” she continued, aching for the emptiness of the picture frame.  “Arathorn and the twins were the best of friends, the closest of companions.  Arador and Arathorn were close as well, Arathorn’s mother having drowned when he was no more than a babe.  The pair of them rode often with Elrond’s twins, as did many others among the Dúnedain.”

 

Ivorwen paused, waiting as the grey eyes lifted hesitantly to meet her gaze. 

 

“It is passing strange to think of my father as close companion to my brothers.”  Aragorn set aside the spoon.  “I did not realize, until just a short time ago, that my father had fostered in Imladris.”

 

“And no one told you.”  Ivorwen touched his hand in sympathy.  “You did not foster in Rivendell, Aragorn; you went to live there.  There is a difference, Grandson.  Just looking at you, it is clear you were adopted as a full child of the house of Elrond, with all the attendant rank and privilege. Your father and grandsires before you were well-treated guests for a relatively short span of time in their lives.  They formed honored ties and fast friendships, but experienced no loss of familial bonds when they returned to us … because there were none to lose.” 

 

Aragorn twitched at the directness of the observation.  “Their longevity did not often come up as a topic of conversation.  They were just … my family.” 

 

“Aye, and I am more than passing glad they took you in and treated you as their own.  Eighteen years as an honored guest would have worn upon your spirit; instead yours is a bright, untarnished character, eager for new experiences, with a willingness to learn I have rarely seen in one so young still.  You will make an excellent Dúnadan,” Ivorwen pronounced with relish, having “seen” just enough to know her declaration to be true.  “But you are weary.  It was a long trip and you’ve had a difficult interview, though your grandfather asserts you passed it with flying colors.  I have informed them all that you must have this evening at least, to rest and regroup, before they start at you again.”

 

Aragorn tucked away the tidbit about passing with flying colors, hiding his pleasure behind an inconvenient yawn.  “But I have many more questions,” he said, rising in polite concert with his grandmother. 

 

“I am glad, and I will make time to answer them all.”  She took his arm and steered him through a kitchen area with a fireplace large enough to produce a meal for the entirety of the folk he had recently met.  Collecting a candle from above the hearth, she stooped to light it with the flint laid by in the kitchen inglenook.  “Come, let me show you to the bedchambers.  I thought it unlikely you would fit in the little crib I last laid you to sleep in,” Ivorwen grinned up at him, “so I put fresh linens on your parents’ bed.”

 

He smiled, too, as she had intended, and even chuckled a little.  “You must be the one who’s kept the house in good repair all these years.  It is lovely beyond anything I expected.  Thank you … Grandmother.”

 

“You are most welcome, Grandson.” 

 

And out of the blue, for even Aragorn did not know why he asked, “Was my father tall?”

 

“Aye, a bit taller than you, but then mayhap you have not yet attained your full growth.  You do not have his broadness yet either, though they obviously nourished you well and took care for your development.  I cannot fault them, for they have turned you out well, Grandson.  You will be turning heads just as your father did all those years ago.”  Ivorwen scooted ahead to light a pair of tapers placed on the deep sills of the twin windows. 

 

The room brightened accordingly, revealing its hidden treasures, and once more Aragorn was submerged in those hauntingly elusive sensory memories.  He had slept here occasionally, between his parents.  There was a new quilt laid over sheets that though shiny with age, smelled of lavender and mint.  His nose detected it even across the depth of the room.  A flute sat atop a bookshelf pegged to the wall, next to a small lap harp.  His mother had made sure he learned to play both instruments, though she had never played, nor mentioned playing, either of them herself. 

 

“Were they happy?” He asked, unconsciously echoing Ivorwen’s question.  “My parents?”  He moved slowly to trail his fingers over the finely wrought woodwind.  Between the windows, a chest of drawers supported a porcelain basin and pitcher, the pitcher’s handle displaying the same fanciful design rendered in open, looping scrollwork, that was painted on the gilt-edged bowl.  Beside them sat a longish piece of leather, a razor strop now worn and cracked with age. 

 

Ivorwen sat down on the bed and patted it invitingly.  “To answer simply, yes, your father adored your mother, and you, when you came along.  But ‘twas a complicated relationship, your father being so much older than Gilraen.  Her youthful exuberance drew him to her, and yet …” she sighed and tucked her arm through Aragorn’s as he sat down beside her.  “And yet that same youthful exuberance often drove him to distraction.  In the early days, he would ride out with something akin to relief in his eyes, though after you came, I saw that exact same look in his eyes each time he rode back into the Angle.  I have wondered if Gilraen would return and remarry.  She is young yet, for our line; a second family would not be out of the question.”  Eyes twinkling, Ivorwen turned her gaze up to her grandson.  “What would you think of another sibling or two?”

 

Aragorn opened his mouth to reply, but shut it without responding.  “I do not know,” he said after a moment.  “It never occurred to me that naneth might remarry.”

 

“Nor does she have plans to it seems from your report.  You do not yet have enough life experience to understand that likely means she does not believe another husband could measure up to the first.  A pity that, for she produces fine sons and – diminished people that we are – we could use many more fine sons and daughters.” 

 

Aragorn did not miss the lightly buried compliment; it made him relish the warmth of the familial kiss pressed upon his cheek that much more.  

 

“And now I will leave you to sleep,” Ivorwen said as she rose, motioning Aragorn up as well so she could sweep back the covers and plump the pillows, “and pray that the Lord Irmo’s dreams will hold you gently this night and in the nights to come when the longing for home is overwhelming.”  Framing his face once more, she lifted on tiptoe to tunnel her fingers into his hair.  “Know you this, Grandson - your grandfather and I will be beside you as needed, every step of the way, and we could not be prouder of the man you have become.  This has been a glad day for the Northern Dúnedain, a very glad day indeed.  One day, I hope, it will be a cherished memory for you as well.”  The slender digits combed through his hair once more before she drew him down to place a beneficent kiss upon his forehead.  “Sleep well, Grandson.”

 

Her footsteps echoed in his heart long after he heard the front door close and Aragorn had stripped out of his still damp clothing to slip beneath the covers. 

 

As did the footsteps of a man he had known only briefly and so long ago as to be a lifetime for one who – as his grandmother had kindly stated – had so little life experience. 

 

The only way to obtain that experience was to live fully and completely, to dive in to new undertakings with gusto, examine the outcome with relish, and attempt to choose the next course of action wisely.  

 

If he had learned one significant lesson during the course of his studies, it was that education did not end when one was released from the school room.  Perhaps his wisest course of action in this situation would be to ask for the instruction his cousin had already received, for he had seen in Halbarad’s casual confidence, an understanding of the role both of them had been raised to.  But he lacked the practical familiarity and training Halbarad had been privy to.

 

Aragorn had other plans fomenting he was not yet ready to give up.  Hearing his grandmother talk of his father’s wanderlust had only solidified his intent to follow through on them.  Perhaps together, if his cousin deigned to accept his presence, they could come to a solution. 

 

But that was a problem to solve another day.  Tonight the undertow of physical and mental fatigue was pulling him down into sleep too quickly for contemplation of any sort.  

 

Aragorn turned his head to breathe deeply of the scented sheets, and added a plea of his own to his grandmother’s wish – that tonight, in the gardens of Lorien where the warp and weft of dreams were loomed, he might walk the dream paths of those unremembered days, and know again, as he slept here in his father’s house, the gift of his father’s love.   

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This has been a work of transformative fan fiction.  All characters and settings are the property of the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the story itself is the intellectual property of the author.  No copyright infringement has been perpetrated for financial gain. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter End Notes:

 

 



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