It was the summer of Araiel’s 16th year when her world turned upside down. She remembered the day clearly; it was raining. She sat upon the window ledge, a book in her delicate fair hands as she stared at the raindrops pattering on the glass. What drew her violet blue eyes away from her book was the post rider approaching the city gates. He was admitted. She watched as he circled the winding streets of Minas Tirith until he had reached the Citadel. It was well past the days of Aragorn and even Eldarion, but the white marble city was no less awe-striking. It had been rebuilt many times complete with hundreds of rooms for the court as well as the royal family. The white tree still flourished even throughout the winter.
It was a dull day for Araiel. As soon as the post rider reached the Citadel, she made her way down the stairs to the hall though she detested the court way of life. She picked up her ornate velvet skirts and nearly clutched a hand to her bodice as she forced the large oak door open leading to the great Hall. Her father would meet the post rider personally. What would the note be? A letter from her friends in Rohan or perhaps a message from the elves? She did not yet know that the message would be on that changed her life forever.
Araiel opened the door to the Great Hall and beheld a great wide empty space. There were no courtiers. They had all been dismissed. Only her father, his advisor, and the messenger (a tall man with dirty blonde hair dressed in the garb of Easterlings) remained in the room. His eyes raised in irritation when he saw her.
“Daughter, come forward,” his stern commanding voice replied.
Araiel hung her head, folded her hands in front of her, and slowly approached. She knew he was in a dangerous mood today. King Araron was a firm resolute man who was perfect for his duty. He was serious, but when he smiled (often in Araiel’s presence) he seemed completely different. Araiel feared she was much like her father in her quiet serious ways compared to her younger sister Aure, who was mischievous and energetic. Araiel approached the throne. Her fathers firm brown eyes were fixed upon her, and she slowly looked up into those eyes under her dark eyelashes.
“Araiel,” he held out that perfect kingly hand.
She slowly reached out her small frail one in comparison and knelt to the floor. He managed a slight smile and rose her up with a soft hand under her chin. He lifted up the note to her eyes.
“You would enjoy knowing what this is, would you not?”
She swallowed and met his eyes safely answering, “If I am permitted, my king.”
“Of course you would wish to know. It is pouring. The houses of healing are empty. You cannot ride your horse, go to the market or converse with any people. Your sister and mother currently visit the land of Rohan. You must be quite dull without them.”
Araiel did not reply, and he continued. “Yet, I doubt you enjoy doing many of those things. You prefer to remain indoors pouring over your many books much like I when I was your age. You read the history of Arda in elvish, Rohirrim, and…in the language of the Easterlings. You are the scholar, though many times you enjoy reading in the meadows with your animal friends.”
Araiel knew it was her time to speak. “My King knows me well.”
“That is a compliment for a father to know his daughter. Though you enjoy reading and your lessons, you do not surround yourself with the ways of court. This is understandable. It took me time to accustom myself to court life-to dance, to eat, to converse…political issues. You know of political issues, Araiel.”
“I do, Atar.”
She hoped he was not offended by her calling him the elvish name for `father’. Though she was not an elf herself, the bloodline of the elves was fixed within her body, and she bore a longer life than that of men. If she had been born a man, she would not have shared the same long-lived life.
“How old are you Araiel?” he asked. “I know of this, but my advisor does not nor does our messenger here.”
She glanced in the eyes of the two men standing beside her father and slowly replied, “I am sixteen years old. I will be seventeen in the twelfth month.”
“Do you know of our troubles with the Easterlings, Araiel?” the King asked again.
She bowed her head, “I do not know as much as my lords. I know that ever since the Easterlings were involved with the Nameless One, they have ever been a source of…difficulty in managing though my lord Elessar pardoned them long ago.”
“The King of the Easterlings is near death,” the King stood his royal blue mantle dragging behind him as he began to pace when he was pondering an important position. “His son wishes to make a peace with us for he will be King soon. We have long been at war with them. I am certain you remember.”
“My Atar left us for two years to battle,” she curtsied softly.
“Because of that costly war, we have little left ourselves to trade with. The King knows of our financial status. He is willing to aid us. The land of the Easterlings has ever been rich in gold and precious jewels. The King of the Easterlings is wealthy, but his son coming to the throne wishes for a time of peace. He simply asks for one thing.”
Araiel looked up at her father as he turned to her and rested a soft hand upon her shoulder. She wished he would simply tell her instead of keep her in a fit of guessing.
“The prince has long been interested in elven ways. He will pay a rich sum to align with us if we will present a marriage.”
With one simple word, Araiel understood what was happening. She was the eldest daughter of her father. She had but one sister who was healthy, strong, and energetic. Araiel would never go on to rule the throne of Minas Tirith. The crown would pass to her sister.
“Do you understand my daughter?” the King asked.
“I do, my Ata,” she bowed her head.
“Yet, I have not given an answer yet. I would not be so callous to you without your word or your opinion. Do you know why I have chosen you?”
She shook her head. “I do not, my King. My sister seems a better choice. She enjoys court life and is much more courageous and interesting than I.”
“Your sister could withstand one hour of battle. You could endure a long lasting war. My eldest daughter is patient and courageous in her own way. She could endure a siege. The Prince has also…seen a painting of my daughters.”
As soon as the words were uttered, Araiel cursed her beauty. She wished she had been born a man. Araiel was the loveliest flower in the land with dark ebony hair riddled with rich copper strands. Her eyes were violet blue speckled with dots of green. Her face was fair, her hands white, her body young, firm, and well prepared for the labor of children. She looked exquisite as a princess. The soon to be King of the Easterlings only wanted a plaything. Araiel pressed a hand to her bodice cursing the abominable corset. She felt her breath catch in her throat; her cheeks turned red. Then, her father placed a gentle hand upon her hair and stroked it softly. Without a word, he took her in his arms embracing her fully.
“I see fear in your eyes. It will pass. I promise you…it will pass. Are you willing?”
“Would it matter if I were to say no?” she looked into the eyes of her father.
“You are permitted to say no, but with that refusal would begin another long and costly war which could result in an utter defeat due to our lack of finances. He would…”
“Take me by force,” she finished and nodded.
Araiel slowly withdrew from her father’s arms, contained the tears which threatened to spill from her eyes, faced the messenger, and finally uttered, “Tell the Prince that I accept his offer but under these terms…An alliance will be formed between the land of the Easterlings and Minas Tirith. It will remain until the day of his death and continue into the days of the next King he will raise aright. Allow me some time to remain with my family before the day comes. And when I come, I wish to have the freedom to continue to see my family throughout my life and the land of Gondor.”
The messenger looked at the king briefly. Her father nodded, and the messenger bowed and exited the great hall. The advisor did the same thing and exited leaving daughter and father alone. She curtsied to her father, but he raised her up once again.
“I will send for your mother and your sister at once. I knew you would not refuse. If I were to offer your sister’s hand, she would have refused bitterly and plunged our country into civil war.”
“I cannot sacrifice my country and its blood for my own desires. It would not be right,” she softly murmured.
“You are wise and strong, Araiel. If I hear of any mistreatment dealt to you, I will not have it. I cannot even begin to understand what must be passing through your mind now. Winter solstice will be the day of your marriage I propose. You will have the entire autumn and beginning of winter to remain with us and visit your friends in Rohan. I will present you with a suitable dowry. Is this agreeable to you?”
She nodded. “I shall indeed miss my sister. I should be proud to watch her ascend to the throne. She would have been far better suited…than I,” she finished the last word with a choke as the first tear dropped from her eyes.
“Did you wish for the throne?” he asked his eldest.
“No,” she replied. “What I truly wished all my life was to visit the lands of my heritage…Rivendell and Lorien.”
“Perhaps someday, you will my daughter.”
“Are you ashamed that I was not born a boy? I could have been far better suited for the throne.”
“I would not trade my Araiel, my Dawn Star for a million boys,” he stroked her cheek wiping the tear away.
“I love you, my father. I believe I shall miss you most of all.”
This was by far the hardest farewell before her. She remembered the wonderful time Aerin and she had grown up from children. She remembered the time when he rescued her from drowning within the woods. She had never been a good swimmer, and she could have died that day if it weren’t for Aerin. He was young and handsome with a noble brow and dark hair. She remembered the one night he had kissed her on top of a hill when they were looking up at the stars. He said he would wait for her to run away with him. He would marry her within an instant and love her till the day she died. However, he was not noble or even of royal blood.
Araiel approached the hut with a steady composure, but inside, she was trembling at the thought of what he would say. Slowly, she turned the knob and entered making her way to the sitting room where he was in his usual place pouring over a new book. Aerin was such a scholar but a true outdoors man. He worked hard, and his well formed hands showed the scars of long labor. Araiel softly touched his shoulder, and he instantly stood up a startled look on his face.
“You’re still quiet as a mouse, angel.” He always called her by pet names.
Though he had grown in the few months they had been apart, she still thought he looked handsome as the day he had rescued her when she was drowning. A soft lock of dark hair fell over his deep brown eyes. A crooked smile slid across his face and suddenly he lifted Araiel into his arms and kissed her firmly on the mouth. She could not say that she was not stunned by the gesture. After all, he had kissed her before, but since they had been apart so long, it seemed…all new to her. She still remembered his scent; the smell of the evergreens, the smell of the fresh wind in his clothes, the smell of berries. He was so natural. He finally put Araiel down.
“It’s about time ye came to see me,” he pushed away the lock and suddenly noticed the tears in her eyes. “What is it, lass?” he pressed his thumbs to her cheek wiping away the tears.
“I-I’m to be married, Aerin.”
He stepped back. “Married? What are you talking about? When? To whom?”
“The fate of the country rests in my hands. I’m to be married to Prince Hamir of the Northern tribe of Easterlings.”
“Easterlings! Araiel, are you out of your mind!”
“No, my father is in need of finances. They have sworn to be allies if my father will offer them something in return. All he has to give is me, and a poor dowry. But if he does not they will not aid us in our struggle against the eastern tribe which is very hostile. We do not have the strength to stand against them.”
“But why you?”
“Because I was never suited to the court life. My sister will be queen, and I will become an Easterling wife.”
“This is madness, Araiel! Ye can’t leave.”
“Why? I must.”
“No, you don’t have to. I’ll take ye away. We’ll run away and elope. We’ll go to Rivendell, Lorien, all the places ye’ve wanted to see. I was going to ask ye the next time you came,” he fished for something in his pocket and withdrew a silver band with a sapphire in the middle. “It’s all I’ve to give you.”
“No, Aerin,” she closed his palm around. “I will not risk the demise of my country for anything. It would not be right.”
Aerin closed his hand around the ring and bowed his head. “You are right. It wouldn’t. But it’s not fair.”
“Nothing seems fair when you’re in love. But Aerin…” she looked into his eyes. “Don’t pity me. I am content.”
“Did ye ever love me, Araiel?”
“We had a wonderful childhood together, Aerin. I can remember every day I spent picking wildflowers and climbing trees with you. You are a great friend, and I hope we will still be friends. I am certain I could have grown to indeed love you, but we had naught the time.”
“I love you, Araiel. And I know you do not love this foreign prince.”
“I will grow to love him just as I would grow to love you were you in his position. Please do not make this more difficult than it already is.”
“Then this decision is difficult for you. Why else would you come here if you did not feel as I do?!” he took her hands in his.
“Aerin..I-” Araiel stopped finding no words to say. Instead, tears came, and Aerin quickly gathered her into his arms and embraced her.
“I shall always love you even if it be as a friend, my Araiel.” He looked into her eyes. “Kiss me once again…for old time’s sake.”
Araiel nodded and instantly felt Aerin’s lips upon her own once again. It lasted longer this time, and she could feel the hurt within the kiss but also the desperation at wishing to hold onto her. Araiel felt overwhelmed as his mouth was pressed to hers. That sweet familiar smell would fade away and be left behind. Suddenly, Araiel broke away and opened the door.
“Namaarie, Aerin,” she waved behind her as he watched her run away.
“Namaarie, melamin,” he waved back, and she did not see the tears within his eyes.