Eldarion was crying.
The Evenstar stared at her son; a brow furrowed over her eyes, her jaw was set and determined. Some would say she wore an expression of impending battle for her expression as she stood before her son in his crib, trying to discern why he was choosing to wail as if a dozen Nazgul were pounding at the door. She did not know how long she had been standing before the babe, studying him with the scrutiny of a hawk about to sweep upon its prey, hoping that her deep observation would yield an answer to the question that weighed so heavily upon her thoughts.
This business of motherhood was nowhere as easy as she imagined it would be.
Infants were rare among her people because elves were so long lived. Most who chose to have families did so quickly and early on in their lives, thus most of the elves that Arwen knew had already left their child rearing days behind them. She had seen small elven children only once or twice in recent years and had not spent enough time among the race of men to see how their children were raised from infancy. It was because of this mystery that she had endeavored to miss nothing in her son’s life, aware that his years were far shorter than her own because he was more human then he was elven.
“What is the matter?” she cried out finally, unable to endure this pitiful wailing any further. “You are fed. You have not soiled yourself and I have held you for so many hours that my arms ache and yet you still persist in crying!”
Eldarion’s face was red and slick with tears, his eyes staring at his mother in need that was bewildering to her. Arwen let out a small groan, picking him up again, hoping that her embrace would dispel this mood the child had fallen into. The crown prince of Gondor ceased his crying briefly as he felt the comforting arms of the one person he was recognized above all others before sputtering his silence away in another burst of tear.
“Oh, Eldarion!” Arwen groaned falling into her chair. “I wish I knew what was wrong!” Her voice started to waver in frustration. “I am not a good mother. I cannot tell what ails you! Perhaps they are right, I should allow a nurse to look after you since I am not fit! How am I supposed to be the Queen of Gondor when I cannot even tend to a baby!”
Eldarion voiced his agreement loudly with a plaintive wail, ensuring that his mother soon joined him in his tears.
It was this scene that greeted King Aragorn Elessar of Gondor upon his entrance into the nursery where he found himself stopping short at the sight of both his wife and son weeping loudly. Arwen was cradling Eldarion in her arms, rocking the infant back and forth, with more than a tinge of desperation in her eyes as she continued to sob. It was difficult to say which of the two appeared more despaired but for the sake of his well being, particularly in the presence of his rather temperamental wife, it was best that he attempted to resolve the situation with as much sympathy (and pandering) as he could muster.
“Arwen, what is the matter?” he asked and immediately winced.
“What is the matter?” she barked at him, tear running down her cheeks. “Can you not see?”
“I see that you are upset,” he said cautiously, aware that in her state she was easier to anger than a Balrog after an encounter with an untidy Istar.
“I am not upset!” she burst out vehemently through her tears.
“Obviously,” he replied with a completely neutral voice aware that he walked a knife’s edge.
“Why will he not stop crying!” She glanced at Eldarion as she made this tearful declaration. “I am his mother and I cannot stop him from weeping so. He has not stopped other than to take a breath and each time I put him down again, he resumes his screaming! How am I suppose to be a good mother if I cannot discover what troubles him! He is only a child! He relies upon me to look after him, to interpret his every need! What kind of mother am I if I cannot unravel this simple mystery!”
All Aragorn could think of in the face of this revelation was the fact that Ioreth had not been exaggerating when she had sought him out in the throne room.
“Arwen,” Aragorn said gently, walking gingerly towards his wife as if he were approaching a disgruntled bear in the wild. At least out there he was allowed to be armed, Aragorn thought silently to himself.
“Let me take him for awhile,” he offered. “You are exhausted and you have not slept well because of your fretting over this child.”
“FRETTING!” Arwen fumed. “I am not fretting!”
Even when he was fighting Nazgul, Aragorn never had to think that fast.
“It was an ill choice of words,” he explained smoothly, showing no signs of panic even though inside he was fearful of aggravating her nerves any further. “You have been paying devoted attention to Eldarion since this birth, I think you are merely exhausted in mind and in body. Let me share the duty, after all, I did have something to do with his creation and ought to have some share of the burden of his care.”
“I would have preferred you shared the ten hours of labor it took to deliver him,” she said dryly, her tears evaporating a little more quickly than her anger.
Aragorn had no response to that statement and he took the universal approach of every father encountering this same comment which was to shut up and say nothing.
Unfortunately, his ordeal was far from done for the instant he took Eldarion from Arwen and cradled the child in his arms, the crown prince chose that instant to betray Aragorn by falling silent, his tearful display dissipating in a few short breaths. Aragorn rolled his eyes in ire, perfectly aware of what was coming when he noted the expression of dismay that crept into Arwen’s face when she realized what had happened.
“You see! Even you are better at this than I am! He stops crying for you!” Arwen continued to sob. “He knows I am a terrible mother!”
As Aragorn stared helplessly as Arwen launched into her tirade, which Ioreth claimed to be perfectly normal for young mothers with their first child, Aragorn came to the conclusion that it was time for Arwen to take a holiday to Ithilien.
A long holiday.
* * *
Aragorn never thought he would see the day when he was happy that Arwen was leaving him for a length of time. However, in recent months she had undergone trials that would tax even the most willful of minds and the rest away from Gondor, in his opinion would do her sanity (and his) a world of good. It did not require much convincing for Arwen to agree to take a trip to Ithilien to visit Eowyn, for even she was not completely oblivious to the incendiary state of her temperament of late. It was not often that elves lost their temper but when it did happen, Aragorn knew when to seek cover and ride out the conflagration.
Ioreth, who had become their most trusted counsel in these early days of parenthood had explained how some new mothers, at least those that were human, were often prone to mood swings as their body recovered from the experience of childbirth. It appeared to Aragorn in light of Arwen’s recent mood that elven women also suffered a similar affliction.
Indeed the two hours he was forced to sit and listen to Arwen as she blamed him for everything under the sun, including the sinking of Beleriand despite his not even being born at the time, would seem to confirm this belief.
Of course the situation was not aided by the fact that throughout her tirade, Eldarion had not cried once in his arms.
Eventually however, when she had calmed down sufficiently, Aragorn convinced Arwen that perhaps it was time that she took up Eowyn’s offer to visit Ithilien. Since arriving in Minas Tirith, Arwen had only made two trips away from the White City and neither of those were occasions she could remember with any fondness. A leisurely trip to visit a good friend, such as Eowyn was to the Queen of Gondor, would only do Arwen good and in truth, Aragorn did think she needed a rest even if his motives were a little self-serving. Besides, the King thought with a smile of evil satisfaction worthy of Sauron, Arwen and Eowyn together could torture Faramir for awhile.
There were times when it was good to be the king.
Thus Arwen left for Ithilien with an escort that comprised of an entourage of Gondor’s finest soldiers who would ensure that the Evenstar arrived at her destination safely. In truth, Aragorn could not deny feeling a little sad at her departure but he knew without doubt that she needed some time away from the White City to simply be Arwen and not the Queen of Gondor or for that matter, Eldarion’s mother. He would have considered going with her if not for the fact that he was needed to rule and someone had to care for Eldarion while she was gone. There was no way Arwen would have left the White City for one moment if she thought her son would without even one of his parents.
With Arwen’s departure and the palace returning to some semblance of normalcy, Aragorn found himself again embroiled in the management of the Reunified Kingdom. It was no easy feat sitting in rule over a land that had only known peace in recent years. The map of Middle earth had changed significantly since the War of the Ring with new colonies being established and the land of Mordor no longer a threat it had once be. Aragorn found himself creating alliances, establishing new lines of trade and establishing relations with races he would never had imagined worthy of the effort, like the Haradirim and the Easterlings. However, his acquaintanceship with Legolas’ wife Melia had taught Aragorn that not all the Easterlings were evil and some were merely victims of Sauron’s rule.
Such occupations filled Aragorn’s days following Arwen’s departure and time seemed to move past him faster than he would like. Despite himself, he missed Arwen more than he dared to admit, until he longed so much for her that he did care if she returned with the same temperament that had precipitated his sending her away to Ithilien, as long as she was with him. His days were full of work but his nights were terrible indeed and he found himself wandering the halls of the palace in the evening, surprising his household staff and his guards by his unexpected appearances. Apparently, his skills of stealth as a Ranger had not waned one bit for he had almost been cleaved in half by the cook when he surprised her in the kitchen whilst pilfering a late night snack.
After placing his entire staff on full alert for almost a week, for they were living in constant vexation of when he might suddenly emerge to catch them unawares, Aragorn decided that he needed to get out of the palace for awhile before he drove them to revolt in protest. What to do with this time was a difficult question though for the requirements of his kingship ensured that he could not wander too far from Minas Tirith. Personal quests of late had taken him from the White City for weeks on end and though his councilors and ministers could run the day to day business of the kingdom in his stead, Gondor still needed its king.
However he chose to occupy himself for a few days, it would have to be without leaving Minas Tirith.
“There are days, Eldarion,” Aragorn remarked as he fed the child that night after Ioreth had carefully prepared the infant’s bottle, knowing how much the king looked forward to doing this duty himself. “There are days when I wish that things were the way the were before the War. As a Ranger, I could go anywhere. Now I am trapped in my own palace, unable to leave because matters of state require me close to home. How am I supposed to not become mad from this confinement?”
Eldarion who was busily drinking his milk, offered his sympathy in a loud guzzle.
Aragorn pined for the days when he traveled with Legolas and Gimli across the land into Rohan and leading the Fellowship through Middle earth during the quest of the Ring. Though the times had been perilous indeed, the simple joy of crossing the land on his own volition without entourages and guards was terribly inviting and was still a siren song that was difficult to resist. He had taken for granted the freedom to move about without having to account for himself, to go where he wished when he desired to do so. This business of answering to everyone seemingly, when he wanted to take some time for himself was terribly vexing.
“There are so many things I wanted to show you, my son: the Argonath, Amun Hen, Parth Galen, Fangorn, the Shire,” Aragorn let the words tumble from his lips, a litany to the past he could not recapture though he wanted desperately to at times. He stared at his son, thinking about all the places that he had had seen in his life and feeling this overwhelming sense of loss at knowing by the time Eldarion was old enough, much of what he remembered would be gone. “But it appears that I am as chained to this place as you.”
Saying the words out loud had a rather astonishing effect upon the king for in that instance he came to the shocking conclusion that he was preparing to allow this thing to happen. He was the King of Gondor, the Elfstone, one who was capable of summoning the dead. There was no reason why he should allow himself to be trapped in his palace like a prisoner, when he had faced far worse in his life. He was Aragorn Elessar and he would go where he would and he dared any one to stop him.
Besides, if he were crafty enough in his departure from the palace, no one would ever have to know.
“Eldarion,” Aragorn stared purposefully at his son who by now had ingested more than half of the bottle’s contents, “we are not languishing here like trapped animals, we are going out. Tomorrow, we will venture into the city and see where our feet take us. Frodo’s uncle often spoke of great adventures beginning as simply as this and we shall embark upon one on our own.”
Whether or not it was because he had drained his bottle or because his father’s words gave him reason for alarm, Eldarion looked up at Aragorn with a decidedly uneasy expression on his cherubic face.
“Now do not look so discouraged,” Aragorn chided, not about to let the child’s frown dampen his enthusiasm for this plan. “Trust me, nothing can go wrong.”
Aragorn should have known he was tempting fate.
* * *
“Sire, this is a terrible idea,” Ioreth declared, attempting to talk sense into the king whom she was certain had lost his mind.
“Ioreth, you worry too much,” Aragorn remarked as he proceeded to pack Eldarion’s belongings into the pouch attached to a travelling harness he could mount on his back to carry the child about. “I am merely taking my son through Minas Tirith for a day or so. I see nothing so terrible about it.”
Ioreth rolled her eyes in disbelief at his nonchalance to the whole business. She wondered if Denethor had been this difficult and then recanted that thought because Denethor would probably have no need to wander beyond the walls of the palace, not when he had a palantir in his possession and no doubt used it to see what was transpiring around his kingdom. Unfortunately, Aragorn was not one of those rulers accustomed to remaining behind the walls of their domicile, as the last week revealed when he had driven every member of the household to distraction by the surprise appearances he made everywhere.
Palace life functioned smoothly with member of the household priding themselves in the knowledge of the king’s whereabouts at al times in order to ensure that they could anticipate his every need. It was an unspoken agreement between house and king that had lasted for generations, that Aragorn was now suddenly flouting this tradition by having the audacity to go where he willed, no matter how unexpected had created a stir throughout the ranks of those dedicated to service within the palace. No doubt this behavior had arisen from the fact that the Queen had gone to Ithilien and Ioreth knew that it was very possible the household staff might burst into spontaneous celebration when she returned.
Either that or kneel at her feet in reverential worship.
“You are the king. It is not safe for you and the little prince to be simply wandering about the city,” Ioreth tried once again to reason with Aragorn, her eyes wincing at the sight of him in his old Ranger clothes. Suddenly, Ioreth understood why Arwen had ordered Aragorn’s entire wardrobe from his wandering past, burnt. Ioreth was glad that the lady was not here, for it would vex Arwen to no end to discover that he had managed to hide some of it from her.
“Ioreth,” Aragorn straightened up and looked at the nurse who was also quickly becoming his the head of his household staff since she had the amazing ability to be able to handle them as well as she used to handle patients in the House Healing. “I was a Ranger for many years, I have fought orcs, trolls and even a watcher. I have somehow managed to keep and elf and a dwarf from disemboweling each other during the quest while at the same time ensuring that nothing stands in the way of hobbits and their meals, I am certain I will be able to handle myself in the White City.”
Ioreth was starting to see why Arwen needed the time in Ithilien.
“I understand that, sire,” she said neutrally, “and I applaud your abilities for I have seen how ravenous the halfings can be but those were days when no one knew you were king and you did not intend on taking an infant with you.”
Aragorn did not pause in his preparations as he lifted Eldarion from his cradle. The child was dressed warmly and appeared rather happy to be picked up by his father, a situation that did not improve Ioreth’s case against this journey. Aragorn gave his son a proud smile and then turned smugly to Ioreth, ‘you see he is happy to go.”
“He is a baby,” Ioreth exclaimed. “You could make a burping sound and he would find that amusing.”
“I will have you know, lady,” Aragorn stared her straight in the eye, “my son finds it highly entertaining when I do that.”
“Oh, Elbereth!” Ioreth groaned, seeing no good coming from this endeavor.
“Ioreth,” Aragorn said after he placed Eldarion in his harness and slung the entire contraption onto his back. “I know what I am doing. I am going to show my son the city he is bound to rule someday because I will not have him perched up here in an ivory tower, knowing nothing of the people whose fates he commands. I want him to know them as I know them, as I know you,” he met her eye with a little smile.
Ioreth sighed, feeling her resistance give way to the charm of that smile. Even at her age, she was not overpowered by the presence of the man, even when he was behaving like a dullard.
“How long will you be gone?” she asked finally, caving in to his wishes against her better judgement.
“No more than a day or two,” Aragorn grinned, grateful for her blessing even though as king he did not require it. However, since meeting Ioreth, she was the one person whose respect he had been determined to earn because Aragorn suspect she did not give it easily, even to her king.
“And you simply intend to walk about the city?” Ioreth stared sharply at him. “Nothing else? You will not venture beyond it?”
Aragorn puffed up his chest as he gave her an impatient look, “I promise I will remain in Minas Tirith and will return in two days. I assume you are able to keep my departure something of a secret?”
“It will be difficult to do since the household is waiting with abated breath for your next unexpected appearance,” Ioreth said dryly.
“No need for sarcasm.” Aragorn gave her a look.
“There is plenty of need for sense but I do not see that being accepted either,” the lady retorted.
Aragorn’s response was to ignore her and as he left the nursery with Eldarion on his back and his sword resting comfortably in its scabbard at his hip. As Ioreth watched the king of Gondor embarking upon his little ‘adventure’ she could not help but think that this entire affair would end in disaster.
* * *
After managing to slip out of the palace unnoticed by anyone, not an easy thing to do with a child strapped to one’s back, Aragorn entered the Minas Tirith he was seldom allowed to see. When he had first entered the White City, it had been during the War of the Ring and then he had come as the leader of an army. After he had been crowned king, the opportunity to truly familiarize himself with the place never came for his ability to blend into the background was greatly hindered by his title. As he moved through the streets, seeing people go about their day to day business with no inclination that he was anything but a father travelling with his son, Aragorn chided himself for not doing this sooner.
No one paid much attention to the tall man with the scraggly hair and clothes even more worn as he walked through the streets of the city. Women paused briefly to wonder at the child perched upon his back, thinking how sweet it was that he should carry his child with him but other than that, Aragorn raised little interest among his people. He did so taking deep breaths of air, tinged with the contrasting smells of animals, manure, food cooking and the equalizing fresh breeze that mixed it all into a unique scent that was uniquely Minas Tirith. Walking along the rows of houses and shops that framed the streets, Aragorn forgot how wonderful it was to be completely anonymous again.
He entered the marketplace and saw a large collection of stalls awaiting patronage beneath pitched tents. Everything from exotic foods to weapons was being sold and customers were swirling through them like flies, perusing all manner of wares on display. Aragorn found that it was easy to lose himself in the crowd and he joined his people in this endeavor, pausing at stalls, admiring what was being peddled. He purchased a nice iridescently shelled necklace for Arwen, thinking how the color would reflect against her skin and her eyes.
Freeing Eldarion from his confinement in the harness upon his back, Aragorn carried his son for awhile as they came to a stall whose main trade was the sale of livestock. While Aragorn had no need of cows, sheep or chickens for that matter, Eldarion bounced up and down in excitement at seeing the animals and so Aragorn saw no reason to take a closer look at the creatures. He had to confess to smiling as Eldarion patted the nose of a heifer with his tiny hands before breaking into a smile that could melt even Sauron’s heart.
It was at this point that Aragorn unwisely introduced his son to a litter of puppies awaiting sale.
A tan colored puppy with large ears and slightly disproportionate feet was soon on standing on its hind legs it he started lapping at Eldarion’s face, producing a stream of baby giggles from his son that was clearly delight. The creature itself was very engaging and Aragorn could not help enjoying the sight of his child stroking the pup’s sniffing nose. The whole scene was very heartwarming and reaffirmed his belief that this day out had been a good idea.
Until Aragorn tried to leave.
Eldarion began whimpering as the new toy was taken from him, staring at his father in dismay before bursting into tears.
“I think the babe is smitten,” the heavyset man who was the proprietor of the stall said wearing the smug smile of triumph of one who knew a sale was eminent.
“I do not think so,” Aragorn replied firmly. “He is too little for a pet.”
Eldarion continued to bawl, drawing the attention of those around him, wondering what Aragorn was doing to the child.
“Oh, I do not think so,” the man drawled confidently. “Clearly, he thinks otherwise as well. This pup comes from good breeding; her mother and father were both animals with great loyalty for their masters. This child could have no better friend and companion.”
“Buying a pet for my child is something that requires a joint discussion by myself and his mother,” Aragorn answered seriously.
“You are the man of the house,” the proprietor, who was very good at weakening resolved customers, declared loudly. “Surely a man is a king in his own home. Show some spine; your son clearly loves the pup. You do not think that King Elessar would allow himself to be dictated to by his queen, would you?”
* * *
“You are going to get me killed,” Aragorn stared disapprovingly over his shoulder at Eldarion who was smiling happily at the puppy who was following behind them on a leash. “How am I going to explain this to your mother? You she will not scream at but me? Do you have any idea what kind of mood she has been this past few weeks? Even a Balrog would run for cover.”
Eldarion was oblivious to his father’s plight because he was too busy being entertained by his new pet.
“I suppose it is too much too hope that I will receive any sympathy from you in this matter?” Aragorn sighed, feeling his heart soften as the smile on his son’s face at the presence of the puppy who looked just as equally thrilled to be following them home.
“You expect me to name the thing as well?” Aragorn muttered as he left the marketplace, before anything else caught his eyes. Strangely enough, he thought it was with Arwen that he would have the problem of unwanted purchases, not Eldarion.
“We could call it Boromir,” Aragorn remarked with a perfectly devilish smile. “However, I have a feeling Faramir would not be entirely impressed.”
Aragorn fell silent as he decided that after a morning like this, a meal and a cup of ale was definitely in order. Selecting a tavern that was not too lively for Eldarion’s sake, Aragorn entered the confines of the establishment with the puppy following closely at his heels. The moment he entered the place, he drew the attention of the patrons within who stared at him with curiosity. After all, it was not often that they were treated to the sight of a grown man traveling with an infant and a puppy. Aragorn cursed under his breath, feeling his cloak of anonymity fall away like Pippin’s ability to keep to himself that Mr. Underhill was in fact Frodo Baggins.
Trying to remain as unobtrusive as possible, Aragorn found himself a table at the corner of the room, hoping the shadows in the place would make him blend into the background again. Fortunately the attention of the span of the average tavern customer was brief and the arrival of comely wench with half exposed bosom in a dress one size too small for her soon made him a forgotten issue and Aragorn could relax once again.
“Oh, what a lovely baby,” a tavern maid greeted as she came to his table to serve him.
Eldarion was resting comfortably in his harness which was resting on one of the free chairs, within easy reach of his father. Eldarion’s attention was still fixed on the pup who was patiently allowing the small child to tug gently upon its floppy ears as it stood against the chair on its front paws near the infant.
“Thank you,” Aragorn answered, unable to keep the pride from his voice. “He is my son.”
“He is so beautiful,” the maid gushed as she took a moment to tweak Eldarion’s nose before being rewarded with a toothless smile. “Where is his mother?”
She was a pretty young thing, no more than twenty he wagered with hair the color of corn silk, a child Aragorn thought to himself as she stared at him with more than passing interest. If he was no so utterly in love with Arwen, he might have considered returning similar attention but since he was, Aragorn decided the best course of action was to be indifferent to her obvious designs upon him.
“She has gone away for a few weeks but will be returning soon enough,” Aragorn answered politely, hoping that was enough to deter her interest.
Unfortunately, the lady had other ideas. “That is a shame.” She smiled at him with a suggestive smile. “I would have enjoyed keeping you and your babe company.”
“I am certain you would have,” Aragorn replied. “However, for now a meal is all that we require.”
“A meal is what you will have,” she answered, “but you if require more, I am certain that I can accommodate you.”
Aragorn watched as she sauntered away before noticing Eldarion’s attention had drifted away from the pup to rest upon him. The child seemed to be staring at Aragorn with accusation in his eyes and, his small bow shaped mouth was curved in disapproval.
“Do not look at me like that,” Aragorn defended himself. “I did nothing to encourage her. I cannot help it if I have always been a lure to the fair sex. You should have seen your Aunt Eowyn when we first met, she was mad for me but I had eyes only for your mother. It is a terrible curse to be constantly set upon by women who think me irresistible.”
Eldarion did not speak but his expression spoke volumes.