Meanwhile, Arwen Evenstar was making known to the household that the Queen of Gondor had returned. Her journey to Ithilien had been cut short when a spate of bad weather a few days after they leaving the White City had seen hard rain against the mountain ranges of Emyn Arnen that made the possibility of a landslide a very real threat. Now that the rains had passed, her escort, Captain Darond had proposed returning home, to wait until the land had settled a few days before making the attempt again. Despite being disappointed at having her journey cut short so prematurely, Arwen could not deny that she was happy to return home to her king and her son. Even though she had been away from them only a few days, it had done her good to be away from things and she was now eager to be reunited with her family.
“My lady!” Ioreth greeted in the great hall as servants moved past her as they carried Arwen’s belongings to her chambers.
“Ioreth,” Arwen said warmly, wrapping her arms around the woman in a warm embrace, “how good to see you.”
“It is good to see you,” Ioreth replied, genuinely pleased to see the Evenstar’s return although she was unaware of how Arwen would take the news of Aragorn’s ‘adventure’ into Minas Tirith. “We did not expect you home so soon.”
“Well, I did not expect to return so early but rains have been harsh against the mountains of Emyn Arnen, Captain Darond feared the rain may have loosened the earth and we risked being caught in a landslide if we continued.” Arwen answered as she pulled away from Ioreth again.
“Then it was wise that you returned,” Ioreth declared for it would surely devastate the king if anything happened to his beloved queen.
“So,” the queen asked, looking about her and wondering why her husband had not yet come to greet her, “where is Estel?”
Ioreth debated how she was going to answer this. If it were councilors or other members of the court who asked for the King, Ioreth could respond easily enough, remembering what leave Aragorn had given her to keep his departure from the palace a secret, however, it was an entirely different matter concealing the truth from the Queen. “He is not in the palace,” Ioreth responded after a moment.
“Not in the palace?” Arwen stared at the woman. “He has left the White City then?”
It was an understanding that only an emergency or a preordained trip would be reason enough for Aragorn to leave Minas Tirith. If there was any business involving the king in Gondor, more often than not, it would be settled here in the palace.
“No, he remains in Minas Tirith,” the wise woman answered, finding it harder and harder to conceal the truth, particularly from an elf.
“Then where is he?” Arwen asked, experienced enough to know when someone was speaking to her with hesitation.
“He is in the city,” Ioreth responded at last. “He was very lonely without you here my queen, so he chose to spend a day or two in Minas Tirith, traveling in the manner of ordinary folk, not as king.”
“Oh,” Arwen nodded, not understanding what all the fuss was about. “You need not appear so anxious revealing that to me Ioreth,” the queen smiled. “My husband knows how to take care of himself. He has fought a great many of things in his time to be ever caught unawares by anything. Perhaps the time away from all this pomp will do him good. He is a wanderer at heart after all. Being a Ranger has left that mark upon him.”
“Well, that is good to know,” Ioreth sighed with great relief. “I thought for certain you would be upset that he and Eldarion…”
“WHAT?” Arwen exploded, cutting Ioreth off with that startled exclamation. “He took Eldarion with him?”
“Why yes,” the older woman started to stammer and then realized that she had made an uncalculated error with that unwitting revelation.
“He took my son with him?” The queen sputtered in fury. “Did you not try to stop him!”
“I did but he was determined that the boy see the world as he saw it,” Ioreth struggled to explain and defend Aragorn at the same time.
“The boy is less than six months old!” Arwen exploded in fury. “He is still a baby! The only thing of interest to him at the moment is where his milk comes from!”
“I did attempt to point this out to the king but you know how he can be,” the nurse remarked.
“Oh yes,” Arwen grumbled as she stormed towards the palace doors again, “I know precisely how he can be. My father warned me you know, about the foolishness of men, but no, I was determined to have one for my husband! Estel is not like that, I told my father, he is sensible! Sensible as a post!” She concluded that statement in an angry spat that Ioreth was not brave enough to argue with under any circumstances.
“My lady where are you going?”
“Where do you think?” Arwen almost growled and it was a very disconcerting sound coming from an elf. “To find that dullard I married!”
* * *
Aragorn was regretting walking into this tavern for a meal. The serving maid who had propositioned him earlier did not give up easily and each time she passed his way, offered him another alluring smile of invitation that only needed him to say the word to realize a steamy, night of passion. If he were a single bachelor again, he might not have minded the attention but since he was a married man, presently in the company of his infant son, this was rather disconcerting. Instead, the king settled down to finish his meal promptly, ensuring that Eldarion and the pup were fed as he wolfed down his food in order to make a swift departure from the place.
“Are you certain I can get nothing for you?” The lady asked when Aragorn asked to pay.
“Nothing,” Aragorn said indifferently, his eyes taking notice of a rather large woodsmen entering the establishment from the corner of his eyes. It was rather difficult to miss the man actually since on a good day he would most likely be able to meet Treebeard eye to eye. The behemoth swept his gaze across the room and came immediately to rest on the table where Aragorn was presently occupying.
“That is a shame,” she sighed wistfully, her hand reaching for a lock of his hair to which Aragorn pulled away swiftly. “I would have liked to have gotten to know you better. It is so rare to see men who care enough about their children to keep them so close.”
“My wife trained me well,” Aragorn said stiffly, standing up from the table and reaching for Eldarion who had fallen promptly asleep after his milk. “I take my leave of you, lady,” he said graciously, tossing a few coins on the table in payment of his meal.
“Erzsébeth!” the giant bellowed as he saw Aragorn and the lady in each other’s company.
The woman turned around and barked with annoyance to the man striding towards her, “What do you want, Illym? I told you that it is over between us!”
Aragorn watched the way the giant’s eyes narrowed as she made that declaration and was suddenly beset by a terrible feeling that things were about to turn very ugly if he did not leave right this instant.
“I love you, Erzsébeth,” the man pleaded desperately, “I will not lose you! Tell me what I can do to prove myself to you? What can I do to win your heart?”
“Nothing!” she hissed viciously, “you can do nothing for my heart has hardened against you words.”
Aragorn attempted to retrieve Eldarion so that he could slip past the quarreling lovers while he still could when suddenly, he heard the giant respond curtly. With a sinking feeling, he knew that his promise to Ioreth to stay out of trouble was about to reach an abrupt end.
“Is that because you have found another? Have you bestowed your affections upon this scruffy Northman? He looks like some kind of rogue!” the man accused Aragorn almost predictably.
“This rogue has more heart in him then you will ever have!” The lady came to Aragorn’s defense much to the king’s exasperation. “He is not afraid of being a father or having children!”
“I see,” the one called Illym turned his angry gaze upon Aragorn once more. “You would steal my lady?”
“I would steal nothing,” Aragorn declared hotly, his head swimming at how fast this situation had deteriorated to this point. “She is not mine to steal.”
“You are right about that!” The giant roared and lunged towards Aragorn.
The king had barely enough time to leap out of the way before the table and everything on it went flying under the man’s bulk. Eldarion who was still on the chair was awakened by the commotion and immediately started crying at being roused from his sleep abruptly. Erzsébeth who was the center of this triangle let out an ear-piercing scream for her suitor to stop this violence that went largely unnoticed.
“Stop it, Illym!” she shouted. “Leave him alone!”
“You would defend him!” he accused. “Who is he to you then? Has he captured your heart in my stead!”
“I have captured no one’s heart!” Aragorn growled in anger. “I came here for a meal! I do not have any designs upon her at all!”
The man turned to him and then asked, “is she not good enough for you?’
Aragorn let out a frustrated groan, “Oh, for the love of Elbereth! I do not wish to hurt you but if you persist on this attack, I will defend myself.”
The giant’s response to this was to pick up the table and fling it in Aragorn’s direction. By now, Erzsébeth had picked up Eldarion, keeping him out of harm’s way while the puppy circled her feet as it watched cautiously the brawl unfolding before them. The tavern owner had sent someone running out the door as the rest of the patrons, formed a small island around the two men, watching the proceedings with great interest though none would dare become embroiled in the affair. They knew Illym and the strength of the giant’s rage when properly inspired and though they felt for this stranger who became unwittingly caught in the web created by the man and his lady, they were none to eager to face his wrath by involving themselves in the matter.
Unsheathing Anduril, Aragorn swung at the chair that was thrown at him and demolished the chair with one powerful strike. His opponent, somewhat surprised by the skill of his swordsmans skill, paused a moment before picking up another table and protecting himself as he advanced upon Aragorn. The patrons at that particular table scurried away as their plates clattered noisily to the floor. Aragorn saw the table coming at him and dove beneath it, managing to crawl through the man’s legs to the other side of him. Without wasting any time, Aragorn threw a kick in the center of the Illym’s back and sent him sprawling. Both man and table went crashing and when the behemoth attempted to stand, he found himself staring at a blade against his throat.
“I do not wish to hurt you,” Aragorn repeated himself breathing hard, more out of annoyance then exertion. “But this foolishness will stop. I have no designs upon your lady and I believe that if you paused a moment to consider things instead of thinking through the fire of jealousy, you will know that I am right.”
Unfortunately, the answer never came because at that instant, the local constabulary filed into the tavern and arrested them both.
* * *
Aragorn stared through the bars of the community gaol house and wondered if things could get any worse.
In the cell next to his, sat Erzsébeth’s suitor appearing just as disgruntled as Aragorn at the position they now found themselves in. Both men had been casting smoldering glares of accusation at each other that occasionally manifested itself as insults. Aragorn could not believe the situation he was in and wondered what his court would think if they knew the King of Gondor had been arrested for being disorderly in a public place. He would never live down the shame.
Unfortunately, the embarrassment of his situation was the least of his troubles at the moment. The crime for which he was accused would mean he could find himself incarcerated for days and aside from the obvious inconveniences this would cause, what would become of Eldarion in the meantime?
Fortunately at present, Eldarion seemed to be the center of attraction in the gaol house as he held court with the constables who were charmed indeed by the babe. Aragorn supposed that he ought to be grateful they were treating Eldarion with such care but that did not alleviate the problem of his incarceration. As much as he loathed his next course of action because he had wanted to remain anonymous for as long as possible, he could not permit this play to continue any further. The role of the ordinary citizen had gone as far as it could, Aragorn needed to be king again to extricate himself from this situation.
“Constable,” Aragorn went to the bars and peered at the man holding Eldarion in his lap. “Release me. I am King Elessar.”
The chatter of those assembled fell silent with that statement as the constables looked at each other with astonishment before they all burst out laughing. Even Illym in the cell next door had erupted into similar amusement and suddenly Aragorn was visited with the notion that this day was about to get a good deal longer.
“King Elessar?” The Head Constable, a man name Laemir, stared at him with unhidden disbelief. “Whatever are you doing in a tavern accosting a maid?”
“I am the king,” Aragorn smoldered. “You know very well that I was a Ranger well before I became King of Gondor. Did it not occur to you that I might wish to walk amongst people on occasion and I did not accost any maid!”
Even as he said it, Aragorn knew he sounded ridiculous.
“And I suppose this babe here is the Crowned Prince?” The man looked at Eldarion skeptically.
“As a matter of fact, yes,” Aragorn answered before being met with more laughing and sniggering following that claim. “Look, I chose to leave the palace with my son for a day. I do that on occasion, all I wish of you is to be released so I can return there.”
“Now listen to me,” the constable said sharply. “You are in a bit of trouble that will take more than a day to deal with once we see the magistrate. This attempt of yours fools no one and belittles yourself. Continue this nonsense and I will have impersonating the king added to your list of offences.”
“I am not impersonating the king!” Aragorn hissed. “I am he! I am Aragorn Elessar, King of Gondor, I fought at Pelennor and at the Hornburg! If you do not believe me have someone summon the lady Ioreth from the palace and she will confirm this with you.”
“I know the Lady Ioreth,” Laemir returned tautly. “She is a good woman with long service in the House of Healing. She is too good to be bothered by lies such as yours. Now stop this charade and tell me how to get in touch with the child’s mother. I am certain she must be worried sick out of her mind that her child has been stolen by a lunatic!”
If she knew, he would be partially right, Aragorn thought to himself.
“That is my son!” Aragorn insisted, refusing to give up hope that he might convince the constable of his identity just yet. “The sword on that table which you have seen fit to confiscate from me is Anduril! It was the forged by the shards of Narsil, the blade that cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand. I am who I claim to be?”
One of the other constables picked up Anduril that had been taken from Aragorn’s hand with the united effort of three of their number, two of which were nursing bruises to their face and were not at all impressed by it.
“The weapon does look as if it was reforged,” the man remarked.
“So?” Laermir exclaimed incredulously, “that could be said of any sword! This man looks like he just came out of the wilderness! I will not for an instant believe this is King Elessar!”
“I am King Elessar!” Aragorn snapped. “When the kingdom goes to complete ruin while I am in here, you will have no one but yourself to blame!”
“I will try and live with the shame,” Laemir retorted. “In the meantime, I am bound to turn this child to the local orphanage, until we are able to locate his mother.”
“That will not be necessary,” a new voice filled the room and if Aragorn thought he had been in trouble before this moment, he had grossly miscalculated his estimation of peril when he saw Arwen enter the gaol house, followed by Captain Darond.
Laemir’s jaw dropped open in horror as Arwen swept into the room, her presence filling its normally dreary confines with the glow of her beauty. There was no question that she was the queen for everything about Arwen spoke royalty and while Aragorn’s appearance might make it difficult to believe that he was King Elessar, Arwen’s could not be denied for she was the Evenstar and her beauty could not be mistaken for any other. The other constables had dropped to their knees, quivering in fear at the mistake they had made for, if the Queen of Gondor was here, then the man that they had dragged into the cell was indeed the King. Equally, while they were all reeling from the news, they were also entertaining fears of what manner the king would order their executions for their monumental mistake.
“You really are the king?” Laemir stared aghast at Aragorn with nothing less than horror in his eyes.
“I told you that I was,” Aragorn said smugly but his triumph lasted briefly when he saw the look of cold fire in Arwen’s eyes directed at him.
“How did you find me? he asked her softly.
“Captain Darond did a little investigation and learnt that a man with an infant was arrested for brawling in a tavern. Since I know of no other male foolish enough to land himself in such a predicament with a child in his company, I immediately guessed it was you,” Arwen retorted sarcastically.
Captain Darond ordered one of the constables to open the cell but somehow Aragorn felt safer behind bars.
“Would you please give me my son?” Arwen said sweetly to the constable but her tone was one that made no man present dare disobey, Aragorn included.
Mutely, Laemir handed Eldarion to Arwen who broke into a smile that captured the heart of everyone present as she held her babe close to her. Eldarion, familiar with her scent, immediately bounced happily in her embrace, recognizing the one person who offered him even more comfort than the father who was presently in the cell beyond his reach.
“Hello, my love,” Arwen cooed gently in her son’s ear. “Have you been wandering about the city with your imbecile father?” She said this is a tone so sweet, she could have been telling Eldarion a bedtime story as far as anyone was concerned.
“Undomiel, I can explain,” Aragorn stammered.
“Explain?” she replied, still looking at her son, wearing a smile on her face and speaking in that soft dulcet tone. “Explain what? That you decided to relive your youth by taking our son out of his nursery and into the world without any protection whatsoever? If you wanted to go wandering about the countryside, you did not have to take Eldarion with you. He can barely sit up properly, how could you even think of taking him out the palace? Have you completely lost your mind?”
“I wanted to show him the outside world, beyond the gilded cage of the palace,” Aragorn struggled to explain, further humiliated by the fact that this conversation was being carried out in full view of the gaol house’ occupants.
“And obviously you have done an excellent job since I find you here,” Arwen met his gaze with an icy gleam in his eyes.
“That is not his fault, your highness,” Illym suddenly made himself heard from the other cell. “If I had not involved him in a fight over my Erzsébeth, he would not be here. I thought he was attempting to woo her.”
“Do… not… help…. me!” Aragorn snapped as Arwen’s brow arched tautly over that snippet of news.
“We are returning home NOW,” Arwen said coolly, turning on her heels and storming away from the cell.
“Sire, I am so sorry! Please do not behead me or my men for this! We were only doing our jobs! It is our duty to keep order!” Laemir started to babble, his mind finally releasing him from his shock enough to form some measure of response to what was transpiring today.
“I do not begrudge you, Constable,” Aragorn sighed as he stepped out of the cell and was given a thoroughly sympathetic look by Captain Darond who knew what the King was about to endure at the hands of his queen. “Let us put this behind us, shall we?”
“Aragorn!” Arwen barked as she reached the door. “We are leaving.”
“Yes, Undomiel,” he said meekly and dropped his head like a condemned man on his way to his execution.
“Wait,” one of the constables called out before either Arwen or Aragorn could leave the room. “Do not forget your dog.”
“Dog?” Arwen asked. “What dog?”
Aragorn swore under his breath as he came to the realization that while his day was over, his night was just beginning.
Frankly, he would prefer the cell.