Forever and For Always - Sixteen Years Later

The girl stood in the Courtyard of the White Tree, leaning nonchalantly against the stone wall overlooking the majesty of Gondor. A warm breeze gently rustled her midnight hair as she stared out into the sunlit oblivion, her twinkling eyes distant. The blossoms of the surrounding Cormande trees floated lightly on the wind and released their fresh, sweet perfume into the air. The girl held one in these in the palm of her hand, making sure not to hold it so tight as to crush it, but enclosing it gently within her slender fingers so it did not escape with the wind.

Aragorn saw her motionless form through his study window and marveled at how much she had grown over the past few years. A woman she seemed and a woman she was, in body and in thought.

It seems like only yesterday when her mother passed on, leaving this miracle in my care, he mused.

Standing slowly, he left the tower of paperwork on his desk and moved past the window.

He left the building and walked out to her quietly, leaning on the wall next to her, staring out on his kingdom. For many moments they said nothing, and Aragorn sensed a distress in his young charge.

Sighing deeply, he asked her, "What is it that troubles you, Merilin nîn?"

She smiled at the pet name. He had called her his nightingale since she was a little girl, and, to her slight embarrassment now as an adolescent, he still did.

"I was just thinking, Ada." She said the last word softly, as though for some reason it pained her.

He looked at her, concern flashing across his face, and he murmured, "Oh? What about?"

Still avoiding his glance, she asked casually, "How old am I?"

Aragorn was somewhat confused by the question, but decided to play along, curious as to where she was going with this.

"You are sixteen, of course; your birthday was nearly two months ago."

"Ah, of course." She paused and continued smoothly, a hint of sudden condemnation in her voice, "What were you doing sixteen years ago?"

"Sixteen years ago," He mused, pretending to be thinking hard. At this she smiled and nudged him playfully. He chuckled and replied, "Besides becoming your father? At one point sixteen years ago, I was fighting in the War of the Ring."

That was apparently the answer needed to continue the game, for her expression became solemn again, her smile disappearing as quickly as it had come. She fiddled nervously with the flower, bruising its petals so that they darkened from a pale pink to the dark shade of blood.

"And who did you fight, in the War of the Ring?" For the first time she turned to him, staring deeply into his eyes. Aragorn's confusion was instantly turned into fear, a fear he had long ago lodged deep in the back of his mind, a fear that she would find out everything before he could explain. He and Arwen had decided from the beginning that it would be best to reveal her identity on her twentieth birthday, as Elrond had done with him so many years ago. Aragorn silently scolded himself for forgetting how intelligent she was, for underestimating her. She had always been a clever little thing, and here she was, asking him these trivial questions because she knew. Still, he humored her.

"Do you not study these things? What am I paying these tutors for if you learn nothing from them?" He said, forcing a chuckle, but instantly stopped when her expression remained cold.

"I need to hear them from you, Aragorn." Hearing her use his name, as though he meant nothing to her, almost broke his heart. He knew long ago that this day would come, but it came much too soon for his liking. He remained silent for what seemed like an eternity, returning her unyielding stare.

His lips pursed, his throat tight with sadness, he answered, "We battled many evil foes during that war; Lord Sauron, Saruman, Uruk Hai, Orcs, the Wild Men, Ring Wraiths, and the Haradrim...." His voice trailed off, waiting for the sting of her next words.

From her eyes Aragorn could plainly see that she too was fighting back tears.

She stared at him with those large, sad brown eyes and said, "The Harad." She paused before continuing, her lips quivering, and then said, "You were fighting the Haradrim sixteen years ago."

Suddenly tears spilled down over her cheeks, as she finally lost all of her hard fought control. She sobbed bitterly and then whispered, almost angrily, "Is it coincidence, sir, that you were fighting them when I was born? That I have the same dark skin and dark eyes? That every time I leave the citadel I am greeted with glares?"

Unconsciously dropping the flower, she buried her tears in her hands and began to cry, "I have never fit in here," "I should have known," "I will never belong."

Her words nearly killed Aragorn and his tears kept hers company. He embraced her, kissed her cheek, held her head in his hands, but she jerked away from him and stormed away, her tear-stained face flushed with anger.

He was completely at a loss; he did not know if he should allow her to run, or catch her, hold her hands and tell her everything. He called to her but she continued to run, her vision blurred by tears.

He stared numbly at the stone floor and suddenly reaching down, he retrieved the flower that she had dropped, gazing through it as the water fell from his lids like rain. Abruptly, he felt as though a piece of his heart tore off and flew with the broken blossom as it lifted from his hand with the cool, swirling air and floated over the railing, far out of his reach.

And so, for one of the few times in his life, Aragorn Elessar, son of Arathorn, Heir of Elendil, stood dazed and lost, for Morelen he loved as though she were born of his line. Knowing not what to do he stood there and watched her run, her cloak and hair flowing behind her. In no way could he have foreseen how far her fear, and her shame, would take her...

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