A Morning Star ~ Chapter 15 of 18 - Love Found
Chapter 2: The Road West
Chapter 3: Questions and Answers
Chapter 4: The End of a Quest
Chapter 5: A New Home
Chapter 6: Decisions
Chapter 7: The Battle of Ridden
Chapter 8: A War Ends and a Journey Begins
Chapter 9: Rohan
Chapter 10: Captivity
Chapter 11: Return to Gondor
Chapter 12: Tearful Partings
Chapter 13: A Meeting with a Ranger
Chapter 14: In the Wilderness
Chapter 15: Love Found
Recap: Ariya has lived in the wilderness as a ranger for three years. During this time, she met an elf maiden who had known her mother and who confirmed many of Ariya's thoughts about her parents. She has now met up with Aron and just told him about the love she left in Ridden.
When their conversation was over, Aron and Ariya decided to spend a few days together since it had been nearly a year since they last saw each other. Over the next two days they fought two more practice duels, each ranger winning one. After the last duel Aron claimed the victory, having won two out of three, but Ariya quickly humbled him with a competition of the bow.
On the third day, as they were riding through a particularly dense part of the forest, Ariya thought she heard a noise to her right. She stopped her horse and Aron, having not heard the sound but trusting Ariya's instincts, halted his mount as well. As they stood still and listened, they began to recognize the sound of a horse walking toward them. Ariya gave Aron a quick half-smile to let him know that she sensed no evil but still wanted to be cautious, for her elven insight did not always warn her of danger. He understood and nodded back.
Soon they saw a figure wearing a brown hooded cloak riding a dapple grey horse. As he drew near, he removed his hood and looked at the rangers.
"Deilen!" Ariya cried, removing her hood as well. She and Deilen both dismounted their horses and quickly hugged each other.
"I take it you know this man," Aron said, for Ariya had not mentioned Deilen's name in their conversation three days prior.
"Yes," Ariya replied. "He is Duran's brother." Then turning to Deilen, she asked, "What brings you to these lands?"
Deilen smiled. "You would think it would be easy to find a sword-wielding elf maiden in these lands, but I have been searching for you for several months. I have good news: Denya is dead, and since he left no heirs, Duran is king. He wishes for you to return to Ridden as soon as you can."
Ariya felt her head swim, she was so elated. He still loves me, she thought. After all these years, he still loves me. She could not find any words to say, and simply stood there, a tear of joy running down her cheek. Deilen smiled back at her.
Aron could not see Ariya's face, for her back was to him, but he knew immediately that she would agree to leave for Ridden. He was saddened to see her leave, partly because he recognized the rangers' need for her talents, but more importantly because of the friendship that had formed between the two of them. He thought back to the kiss he had given her and regretted it, now recognizing it as simply an act of infatuation, not love. However, he did wonder what would have happened had she not already given her heart to Duran.
"I'm sorry, Aron," she said, finally turning toward him. He quickly pulled himself away from his thoughts and returned her gaze. "You have been a good friend, and I hope that my time here has not been spent in vain. However, it is time for me to return to my true home." She knew he needed no more explanation.
Aron slipped off his horse to hug her goodbye. "Then I wish you well," said he. "I will tell Strider that you have left."
"Thank you," she said. Unable to contain her smile any longer, she quickly mounted Styrra and followed Deilen back to Ridden.
As they rode toward Ridden, Ariya asked Deilen how the king had died.
"His madness grew worse with each passing year," he replied. "It was very difficult for Duran to advise him, for the king often completely ignored his advice. However, for reasons unknown Denya continued to keep Duran as his advisor, and on occasion would even take his advice. Finally, about five months ago, Denya's madness had increased to the point that he fell on his sword in the middle of the night. He left no heirs, having never married. The people elected Duran as king, for they remembered Renya's trust in him."
Ariya smiled at the thought of Duran being king. She knew he would make an excellent king, for his heart was with the people of Ridden. She was also pleased that the people had not lost their trust in him during Denya's reign of madness. "Well, that answers one question," she said. "Now tell me, how did you manage to find me in the wilderness?"
"Ah, now that was a difficult task," Deilen said with a smile. "Duran sent out several men to find you, and I choose to take the road west. I asked everyone I saw whether they had seen an elf maiden in the past nine years, but no one had. I was beginning to think that you must have traveled south or east. While I was in Bree, I had just about made up my mind to direct my search to the south when I heard a rumor of a female ranger. I recalled your skills in battle, and I would not put it past you to turn to a life in the wilderness." He paused and smiled at her, and in her euphoric state she could not help but laugh. "I wandered through the wilderness for about a month until I found you."
"Did you not meet any other rangers in your quest?" she asked. She would have been surprised if he had managed to wander through the woods for even a week without being spotted by a ranger.
"Yes, I met one. When I told him my story, it was obvious that he knew you were the one for whom I was searching, and he directed me to the area where I found you."
That must have been Strider, Ariya thought to herself. Only Strider and Aron knew of her past in Ridden.
"So tell me," he continued. "Did you live in this wilderness the full nine years you were gone?"
"Oh no," she replied. "I have traveled nearly to the ends of Middle-earth..."
After a few days' riding they finally arrived in Ridden. Deilen led her through the small city, and Ariya looked around at all the familiar sights. Little had changed in the past nine years. When they reached the king's hall, Deilen dismounted his horse.
"Wait," Ariya said. "Am I going to see Duran now? But I'm so... so dirty," she said, thinking of her messy braids and stained tunic and pants.
Deilen smiled, trying to hold back his laughter. "Ariya, Duran has not seen you for nine years. He would not care if you were dressed as a queen or a peasant!"
Ariya blushed slightly at her moment of girlish silliness. "Of course," she said, with an embarrassed yet joyful grin on her face. "I don't know what I was thinking." She slid off her mount and trotted up the steps to the door. Deilen did not follow her.
When she opened the door, she looked into the large but plain hall where the king spent much of his time. The walls were made of a dark, rich wood, and the room was brightly lit by many torches and a few tall, narrow windows. She saw Duran sitting alone at the throne, reading a scroll. When he heard the door open he looked up and a smile soon spread across his face.
"Ariya!" he cried. "You have returned!" He leapt from his seat and they both ran toward each other. He embraced her tightly and spun her around, and they stood still in each other's arms. The feelings that they had both suppressed for so many years were finally able to escape.
"Oh Duran," Ariya said, burying her face in his shoulder and hugging him even tighter. "I've missed you so much."
"Ariya," he replied, fighting back tears, "I'm so sorry... the night you left... I never told you..."
She looked up at him and placed two fingers over his lips. "Hush," she whispered, tears of her own already streaming down her face. "It's all right. I was meant to leave; I have helped people whom I never would have met had I stayed in Ridden. Besides, those years apart made me realize how much I loved you, and now we are together again."
"Yes," said he. "Together." He stared into her pale blue eyes, and without saying a word they both understood the other's deep love, which had only grown during the past nine years. Their lips met, and Ariya experienced the true first kiss of her life. They stood as statues after the brief but passionate kiss, and the silence seemed to stretch for an eternity for neither wanted the moment to end. Finally Duran broke the silence and spoke: "Ariya, there is something I want to show you." He slowly released her from his embrace and removed a golden ring from his finger. Ariya watched him intently as he placed the ring into her open palm.
"This is the signet I had made when I became king," he explained. She looked at the ring more closely. The top was flat with a circular edge, and inside the circle an image was raised onto the surface. A line of mountains ran along the bottom of the seal, slightly higher on the left side. Above the mountains and just right of the center was a single star. "These represent the mountains from which my family came generations ago. And this," he said, pointing to the star, "is a morning star. This will forever be the sign of my house."
Ariya was speechless. She stared at the ring, shocked that he had loved her so much--and had trusted that she would return--that he had such a symbol made. She finally looked up into his dark eyes.
"Ariya," he said, returning her gaze, "will you be my queen?"
She did not hesitate to answer. "Yes," she simply said, throwing her arms around him once again.
Ariya glanced out the window of her room to see that the sun was about to set. She had arrived in Ridden the day before, and Duran had given her a spare room in the hall for her to stay until their marriage. She had spent the later half of the afternoon getting ready for the night's feast, at which Duran would announce their betrothal to the city. She wore a deep purple gown trimmed with silver braid, with wide, flowing sleeves that reached far past her wrists. For this night, she replaced the necklace which held her tinsar with a small white jewel suspended on a silver chain. A servant girl had given her a metal rod to heat in the fireplace, with which she could curl her naturally straight hair. Turning away from the window, she quickly arranged a few stray curls and wove several small, white summer flowers into her golden hair. Satisfied, she hurried to the hall to meet Duran.
She entered the hall to see the king pacing the floor, with his brother Deilen standing nearby. When Duran saw her enter the room, he immediately stopped his pacing and walked over to her.
"You look beautiful," he murmured, quickly brushing his lips across her cheek. Then, in a more audible voice, he said, "The feast should be ready any moment. Deilen will step outside and ring the bell, and that will be our signal to enter."
Deilen soon left the hall, and Ariya stood next to the king, saying nothing. Her heart was racing--she had waited so long to return to her love, and now she was betrothed and would soon be a queen! She was both the happiest and the most nervous that she had ever been. Duran sensed her nervousness and put one arm around her shoulder. She smiled at him and he placed a quick kiss on her cheek.
After what seemed like hours, the bell finally sounded. Duran took her hand and together they walked outside and stood on a small platform in front of the king's hall. The people of the city were gathered in a large, open, grassy area before the king, and surrounding the open area were many large tables. Several of the tables were laden with much food, while the others were decorated with simple arrangements of flowers and were left open for people to sit and eat. Torches lined the area, illuminating the tables of food and the crowd of people in the waning sunlight.
Ariya scanned the many faces before her, recognizing many men and women. However, the children were all new to her. She saw Deilen's wife standing with two brown-haired little boys, and recalled that when she had left Ridden Deilen was not yet a father. Ariya quickly brought her mind back to the ceremony at hand when she realized that the king was speaking.
"People of Ridden: Today is a cause for great celebration, for tonight I bring before you my betrothed, Ariya Alayah, the Morning Star of Ridden!" Ariya took a step forward and the crowd cheered. The sight nearly brought tears to her eyes. As she stepped back Duran continued. "We shall be wed three months from now, on the first of October. But tonight we shall celebrate--please welcome your future queen!"
Soon everyone sat down to eat, and the meal passed by very quickly for Ariya. Nearly every woman in the village approached her to congratulate her and offer their assistance with her wedding. She politely thanked each one and told them that she may ask for their help later, for in truth she had not yet had time to think about the wedding. She was overwhelmed by the positive reception from the people, for she had feared that many would remember her previous days in Ridden and may not be receptive to a sword-wielding queen.
Duran could see the surprise in her face. "Do not worry," he said quietly. "Many of the people never believed Denya's lies about you, and I have reassured them many a time that without you we would have no Ridden here today. When you never returned to overthrow Denya as he predicted, many of the people began to believe me and to lose trust in their king."
"Thank you," Ariya simply said. The events of the past two days had come as such a shock to her, and she was still struggling to comprehend that it had all truly happened.
After the feast had ended the people began to sing and dance. Many of the dances were quite lively to reflect the mood of the evening. After a few songs, Duran rose from the bench that he and Ariya had been seated on and tugged at her hand. "Come, dance with me, my queen!"
"But my lord, I am far from a talented dancer!" she replied with a smile on her face.
"You can be no worse than your king, for indeed, you have a bit of elven blood in you!"
Ariya laughed and allowed Duran to pull her into the circle of dancers. The people backed away to allow everyone to watch the king and his future queen dance. Ariya was correct that she was not a gifted dancer, and she soon learned that Duran was no better. But they did not care, and ignoring the crowd around them, they danced under the stars for many more songs.
List of Names and Places through Chapter 15
- Ambilë: Ariya's mortal father. Chapter 1.
- Arelen: "Morning Star"; Ariya's Elvish name. Chapter 1.
- Ariya Alayah: Translated as "Morning Star" in an ancient tongue of men; the heroine of our story. Chapter 1.
- Aron: Ranger of the North; second cousin to Aragorn. Chapter 13.
- Beredhel: "Bold Elf"; Ariya's maternal grandfather. Chapter 1.
- Beros: Lamir's older brother. Chapter 9.
- Cul-Rômen: "Golden-Red Sunrise"; the name of Ariya's sword. Chapter 5.
- Deilen: Duran's brother. Chapter 5.
- Denya: Renya's only son; succeeded his father as King of Ridden. Chapter 6.
- Dunneth: The city-kingdom to which the refugees of Ridden fled. Chapter 6.
- Duran: Advisor to the king of Ridden; succeeded Denya as king. Chapter 3.
- Durlow: A small village in eastern Rohan. Chapter 8.
- Édren: Lamir's father; farmer and soldier of Rohan. Chapter 9.
- Eomas: The first city to be attacked by the Northern Tribes. Chapter 5.
- Halamir: Lamir's younger brother. Chapter 9.
- Isilmë: "Moonlight"; Ariya's maternal grandmother. Chapter 1.
- Kalen: A man from Dunneth; leader of a group of archers in the resistance against the Northern Tribes. Chapter 6.
- Lamir: Son of Édren; Ariya's apprentice in Rohan. Chapter 9.
- Land of the City-Kingdoms: A land northwest of Rivendell, consisting of several small cities of men, each ruled by their own king. Chapter 2.
- Lein: Ariya's half-brother, son of Ambilë; a smith in Ridden; killed in the Northern Tribe's invasion. Chapter 2.
- Lindë: Lamir's love interest. Chapter 9.
- Lómion: "Descendant of Dark"; maker of Ambilë's ring. Chapter 4.
- Melwen: "Kind Maiden"; Ariya's elven mother. Chapter 1.
- Nía: Lamir's sister. Chapter 9.
- Peramac "Perry" Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Tanagrim. Chapter 2.
- Renna: Beros's wife. Chapter 9.
- Renya: King of Ridden. Chapter 5.
- Ridden: A city in the land of the city-kingdoms. Chapter 2.
- Selleth: Lamir's mother. Chapter 9.
- Serië: "Peace"; the name Ariya used while in the wilderness of the rangers. Chapter 14.
- Styrra: Ariya's horse, a mare from Rohan. Chapter 12.
- Tanagrim Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Peramac. Chapter 2.