An Ageless Rose - Chapter Two

In this chapter I wanted to see how a young Aragorn would act, before he became all rugged Rangery and kingly. After all, he was once a kid too!

Merilwen sat on the edge of a small decorative fishpond in a stone courtyard, reading a book and listening contentedly to the playful splashes of a fountain. She was happy in Imladris, her home for the past seven years, and as long as she could remember since Lord Elrond had taken her and her brother in as his foster-children.

She had since passed the age where she was small enough to sit on her Ada's knee, hearing stories of people and ages that had long been gone from the world, or to be chased about on a grassy riverbank by her foster-brothers and tickled as they listened to her happy laughter. She was now older, and acted with all the dignity that her nine and a half years had given her. Most of the time.

Her brother, Estel, and she were inseparable. They were twins, each with dark waves of brown hair and bright grey eyes, though hers had more brown to them than her twin's. They looked remarkably alike, although unlike Estel, Merilwen's pert nose was dusted with adorable freckles, or "valië kisses" as her mother called them. They even dressed alike, when permitted. Gossips in Rivendell compared their antics to those of Elladan and Elrohir, Lord Elrond's sons, when they had been young elf-lads. But Merilwen and Estel; they were different. The best kept secret of their lives was their true names, Anariel and Aragorn, and the royal lineage that gave their years of life thrice that of lesser men.

Merilwen heard footsteps walking on the stone flags. She brushed her brown curls out of her face to see Estel walking towards her, wearing a sturdy cloth practice tunic and a look of excitement on his face.

"Where are you going?" Merilwen asked, dropping her book on the stone rim of the pond to follow her brother.

"Ada says it is time for me to learn how to use a sword," He said, grey eyes glowing happily. "He says that I must learn how to use other weapons too, but I get to start sword lessons today."

"I can come too," She replied, following him. "I want to learn too. Who is teaching you?"

"Lord Glorfindel," Her brother said, pausing. "But Miri--" he stopped and smiled as she wrinkled her pert nose at the use of her babyhood nickname. "You are a--girl." He looked down and scuffed a toe of his boot on the ground.

"So?" Merilwen asked, eyes narrowing. "No one ever said I could not learn!"

"But none of the other maidens use swords." His voice sounded uncertain.

"That's not true; Elladan said that his sister can use a sword, and a bow and knives. So why can't I?" Estel remained silent. She took his hand. "Come on. We can go and find Lord Glorfindel." Together, they set off towards the armory.

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Half an hour later, Merilwen stood beside her brother, fixing her hair with a hair tie. She was wearing her own sturdy tunic and breeches, and soft soled boots. Lord Elrond had given consent that she might learn the use of a sword as well, partly because she wanted to learn just as much as her brother, and partly because to teach one twin was to teach the other, inseparable as they were. Elladan and Elrohir had been the same way.

Hair secure, she turned to Glorfindel. She had always admired him; tall and proud, wise beyond count of years. "I'm ready," she said, slightly nervous as she was handed a short sword. There was a pause as Glorfindel stopped to correct her grip, stepping away once Merilwen held it properly in her small hand.

"Alright," He said, smiling slightly and unsheathing his own sword. "Let us begin." For the rest of the morning, Estel and Merilwen were taught the basics of swordsmanship. Each showed natural aptitude for the weapon. As they should, Glorfindel said to himself with a grin as he watched the children. They are from a line of rather well-practiced swordsmen.

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"Isn't it fun?" Estel asked his sister, some weeks later. They were walking back towards the main house, a morning's hard practice behind them. Estel sounded purely exhilarated, eyes bright with a passion that his sister rarely saw in him.

"Yes, I suppose." She told him as she massaged her tired arms. Swords were heavy! "I prefer archery though." She said with a smirk. She was learning archery with her brother as well, much to her delight.

Estel waved a casual hand, dismissing her excuse. "Think what you like." He said with a grin. They were approaching the same spot where Merilwen and he had met the first day of their sword training. "Although," he continued, smiling widely at his twin, "Lord Glorfindel told me that I shall have to begin working much harder if I hope to win our first practice match."

"He never," Merilwen said, stopping beside the pond. "You are trying to put ideas into my head, so that I will get overconfident and lose!" She poked him in the chest with an accusatory finger, rising on her tiptoes to make her statement stick. Estel, however, was exactly her height without her added inch or so, and her efforts were in vain.

He widened his eyes comically, and tweaked her nose. "Why on earth would I want to do that, sister dear?" He said with a smirk, and began to tickle her ruthlessly.

"Estel, stop it!" She shrieked, tears of mirth beginning to stream down her cheeks. She backed up, trying to get out of his reach, and tripped over the rim of the pool.

"Miri!" Estel shouted, but it was too late. She had grabbed the front of his tunic to balance herself, and instead yanked him into the pond as she fell. They hit the water with a tremendous splash, startling a flock of birds in a nearby tree to take to the air in fright.

Merilwen gasped, and inhaled wetness, he brother struggling beside her in the smothering water. Her sodden clothes dragged her to the bottom, which was deeper than her four feet seven inches. Kicking, and trying not to panic, she forced herself to the surface, feeling the warm, grateful rush of air hit her face. Strong hands caught her about the middle and lifted her up, setting her on dry land. She pushed the damp tangles of hair away from her face, seeing that it had been Elrohir to pick her up. She spat a large amount of water onto the stone flags at her feet, narrowly missing his boots.

"S-sorry," She muttered as he patted her back. "Where is Estel?" She saw him nearby, standing next to Elladan with his arms crossed in front of his chest, dripping wet and looking quite unhappy about his unexpected plunge. The sour look on his face suggested he wanted to put something large and unnervingly squashy in her bed, very soon.

"Next time you decide to go for a swim, please reconsider." Elladan said as they walked back to the main house. "You gave us a scare. Had we not been coming this way, you might have drowned. Think how displeased others would be."

"I was not swimming precisely," Merilwen muttered rebelliously, shivering. "But I don't think that Ada will care anyway."

"He will be--surprised to say the least." Elrohir said with a laugh.

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Estel and Merilwen were looking for Lord Glorfindel the next day, each having recovered from their afternoon sojourn in the fishpond. Glorfindel, however, found them first. He looked rather harassed about something, and was very glad to find the children.

"Where have you been?" He asked, uncharacteristically brisk.

"Looking for you, my lord--" Merilwen began, but he stopped her.

"Never mind. There's no lessons today. There is a council I must attend to." He paused, seeing their curious stares. "It concerns the Necromancer in Dol Guldor."

Merilwen and Estel exchanged frightened looks. Lord Elrond had told them briefly about the dark power that had come to infest Mirkwood, but to them it had been just a story. The realization that it was not so... it was rather difficult for them to believe.

Many bells chimed in the air, their merry, ringing sound carrying throughout the valley.

"This is where I must leave you." Glorfindel said. "Try not to cause too much trouble, and stay out of the ponds." He winked at Merilwen and strode up the path.

"No lessons." Estel said in a hollow voice. He flung himself on a nearby bench, pouting. "Wonderful. I can now spend a whole day wandering about, aimlessly." He did not sound very enthusiastic.

"There has to be something to do," Merilwen said, dissapointment on her face. "Come on; let's see if we can find Elladan or Elrohir. They might not be at the council at least." Together, the twins walked to return to Imladris' main halls.

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Unfortunately, Estel and Merilwen did in fact spend the day wandering about Rivendell as the great White Council wore on. Evening found them traversing about on one of the less used corridors, talking quietly.

"Its gotten dark," Merilwen said quietly, glancing out one of the arched windows as she walked beside her brother, seeing the last fading rays of red sunlight awash on the horizon. "We should return soon." She looked beside her, seeing that Estel was no longer there. "Estel?" She called out worriedly.

"Over here," his mystified voice carried to her around a corner of the long hall.

Merilwen walked along, and saw her brother standing in a large oval shaped room, before a tall statue that bore something silvery on a stone tray. Half of the great room was covered by a vaulted ceiling, and the side of it was edged with a stone railing. The other half dipped gracefully to an expansive terrace, rimmed with plants. The ceiling gave way to the sky.

"What is it?" she asked quietly, moving to stand beside him. A mural on the wall behind him depicted a warrior in a tall helm on a great battlefield, raising a broken sword to defy a vast shadow figure with a gold ring on its hand. There were runes scattered about the end of the picture, some of which she could read, thanks to her schooling.

"It's a sword," Estel murmured as he gazed reverently to the shards of a shattered blade. Merilwen saw that the statue was an elf-warrior, who knelt to bear the bits of metal on a marble shield; a forever unmoving guard of stone. Estel reached out a careful hand to grasp the hilt-shard, and to Merilwen's eyes, it seemed as if he was akin to the warrior in the painting, handsome face grave and proud and unafraid of the challenge that waited for him; a frosty gem winked from a pendant at his throat. She too moved to grasp the broken hilt, her hand sliding beneath her brother's as they lifted its weight from the shield and held it between them. For a moment the broken piece seemed to shine with an inner light; as if the majestic sword it once was had been remade at their touch.

"It's beautiful," Merilwen whispered reverently, awed. Estel's hand gently slid from the hilt, and she held it in both of her small hands. To Estel, his sister appeared to grow taller; her face became sharply more beautiful and wiser. She seemed to be a forgotten warrior-maiden in tales of old, brought to life once more in the waking world. He blinked, and it was gone; she was his twin sister once again, holding a too-large sword hilt with respectful hands.

"Its name is Narsil," she said, tracing a finger over the edge where hilt became blade.

"The same that destroyed the Dark Lord?" Estel asked as he examined the painting. "Yes, it must be, the soldier is holding it here--" A door creaked open in the distance, and footsteps could be heard approaching. "We should go," He said hurriedly, turning and jogging down to the end of the room. "Merilwen, come on!"

She nodded and went to replace the hilt-shard. In her haste she grabbed the blade-portion; to her surprise it was still sharp, and bit deep into her palm, producing a sharp gasp from her. She wiped the blade hastily on her breeches, and set it back to the shield. She dashed after her brother, feeling the warm blood spill over her fist and begin to dampen her sleeve.

"This way," Estel hissed, opening a door at the far end of a hallway. He darted through it, but didn't get very far. He ran straight into Elladan, colliding into the tall dark-haired Elf with a dull thud.

"Where on earth are you running off to?" He said, eyes flashing a little as they drew into a foyer of the main wing. "Can't you both stay out of trouble for one day? And what is all over your hand?" He said to Merilwen. She had been trying to stuff her cut hand into a pocket when he gently drew it out. Her palm was a crimson mess, the deep cut on her hand still bleeding sluggishly.

"How did this happen, Merilwen?" Elladan asked, her small hand dwarfed in his large palm.

"I--um--fell down." She muttered guiltily, not wanting to tell him what had really taken place. She had a feeling that both she and Estel were not supposed to know about the room with the broken sword.

"Fine," He said with the air of a scolded puppy, comic for his age. "Don't tell me. But Eru help you if I find out." Merilwen lowered her eyes and snatched her hand away. "Blot that," He ordered, handing her a handkerchief. "And then have father see to it." In a gentler tone he added, "He is in his study." Merilwen nodded and strode off, not glancing back as Estel and Elladan watched her leave.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Lord Elrond was indeed at his study, yet he was not alone. When Merilwen arrived and peered through the door, he was conversing with a grey cloaked visitor.

"He is strong, Gandalf. Too strong, to be challenged alone, much less by a rabble of Dwarves and a Hobbit called Thorin & Company. It is fortunate you persuaded them out that. If only Saruman would agree to an attack, he could be cast down by now." Her Ada's voice met her ears. He sounded frustrated about something. She could hear his boots pacing on the stone floor.

"I will speak to Saruman," The unknown voice said. It was careworn and wise. "I shall convince him. He has to see that it is the only way." Merilwen could only see the person's back from the door. He had long silver hair and a travel worn grey cloak. A thorny staff was in one of his wizened hands. "But now is not the time for discussing such matters. You have an unexpected visitor," The voice called Gandalf said. The sound of heavy boots reached the door where Merilwen stood, and the man opened it for her.

"Hello my dear," he said gently, his eyes sparkling. He had a long silver beard, very bushy eyebrows, and a weathered, yet kind face. "I was just leaving." He tipped her a wink, and strode away.

Lord Elrond was at his desk, opening a sealed letter with a sharp belt knife. He glanced at Merilwen, and then at her hand, knife and letter sliding from his grasp, his face shocked. She saw the blade snick his thumb. Unheeding this, he hurried to her, face concerned.

"Merilwen, what happened?" He said, removing the now blood soaked handkerchief and taking her small hand in his, brushing his thumb over the deep cut the sword had left. A trickle of fresh blood spilled onto her wound. Merilwen felt a sharp jolt of something course through her, becoming real pain. Yet it receded as soon as it came, leaving her with a strange, unfamiliar feeling in her limbs.

"Ada, you're bleeding," She murmured, pointing.

"So I am," Elrond said, face flicking to his finger. He brushed a drop of redness impatiently away. "Come on, child. You need a bandage for that." He said, putting a hand on her small shoulder and leading her along.

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Much to her annoyance and Estel's disappointment, Merilwen was unable to participate in her weapons lessons for the following week.

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