The Oak's Secret
Aragorn stretched out his legs across his grandmother's hearthrug and leaned back in the chair.
"You so remind me so of your father when you sit like that," said Ivorwen.
"So many folk tell me that I remind them of my sire," said Aragorn. "Yet, alas, I cannot remember him at all. Sometimes, I wonder if I have snatches of memory, or maybe I just recall what I have been told, little though that is."
"You were but two years old when he fell in battle," said Ivorwen. "You cannot expect to remember him."
"I recall him just barely," said Halbarad, who sat on the other side of the fireplace. "We children were all a little scared of him, as he was so grim of countenance, but he was always kind."
"His kindness and nobility were what drew your mother to him," said Ivorwen. "He was not easy to get to know, though. All the girls were a little in love with him, but he was shy around women. It was not until my Gilraen captured his heart that he cast aside his reserve. It was like watching the sun emerge from behind a cloud. He loved her so much."
"I wish she had told me more about him," said Aragorn. "While I was growing up she would only tell me that he was good, brave, and honourable."
"He was all those things and more," Ivorwen replied. "No Chieftain could have been more devoted to his people. It was hard for your mother not to say more about him, but Master Elrond decided you should not even know his name until you came of age. It was to ensure your safety. Your mother, sadly, spent little time under the same roof as Arathorn during her marriage. His duties so often demanded that he be out on patrol. The Orcs grew ever bolder at that time. Even now they can scarce be contained."
Aragorn sighed. "It seems my father will forever remain an enigma to me. Do I resemble him in appearance as much as folk say?"
Ivorwen eyed her younger grandson thoughtfully. After a few moments she said "Both yes and no. You had the good fortune to have my fair Gilraen as your mother so you are better looking than your sire. You have Arathorn's chin and brow, but Gilraen's eyes and nose. Wait! I might have something for you." She rose from her seat between her grandsons and took up the lantern. Going to a cupboard at the back of the room, she rummaged in it for several moments, before emerging triumphant with an oilskin wrapped parcel. "Your mother left this behind when she departed with you to Rivendell in such haste. I forgot I still had it until tonight." She carefully unwrapped the oilskin to reveal a portrait that she handed to Aragorn.
"Is this my father?" Aragorn asked after a few moments during which he gazed at the painted likeness in wonder. This man was so like him and yet unlike. The broad brow and strong chin were very like those he saw in his mirror, but Arathorn's eyes were sterner than his. The lips were parted in a half smile. He wondered if Arathorn had often smiled upon his son. He felt a sudden surge of anger that his father would forever be a stranger to him.
"The very image of him," Ivorwen replied. "Master Elrond and his sons gave it to Arathorn and Gilraen on their wedding day. I believe one of the Elves at Rivendell painted the likeness. I'm surprised there is no copy there."
Aragorn shook his head. His eyes glistened in the lamplight. "There is none that I know of. He indeed has a noble look about him. Curse the Enemy for taking him from me!" He rose and returned the portrait then embraced his grandmother. "Thank you. He feels more real to me now, more than just a name. I do not even know where he is buried."
"None do save Lords Elladan and Elrohir as far as I know," said Halbarad from his chair.
"That might easily be remedied," said Ivorwen. "I have been told that Elves forget nothing. You should ask Master Elrond's sons to show you the grave when they next visit these parts. Now, I'm off to bed, if you young ones must sit up and talk, put some more wood on the fire. You might as well be comfortable before you have to go out on patrol again.
By some fortunate chance, Elladan and Elrohir rode through the village the following week in pursuit of a band of Orcs. They rested their horses for a while outside Ivorwen's cottage. The old woman was uncertain if her grandson would indeed ask to visit his father's grave and took the initiative upon herself to bring mention the matter. To her surprise, Elladan, or at least she thought it was he and not his brother, replied, "Estel rode out to greet us and told us he wanted to know about where his sire is buried. We shall take him as soon as these Orcs are despatched."
Three days later, the small party rode out into the wilds. At Aragorn's request, Halbarad rode with them. "Are you certain you still wish me to come?" he asked as they left the village. "I am not of Arathorn's near kin."
"It is fitting you should join us," said Aragorn. "I would have my cousin beside me. You too have the blood of Elendil and Isildur in your veins."
"In much smaller measure than you, though."
"But royal blood, nonetheless," said Aragorn.
"Speak not of royal blood in the open, Estel!" Elladan said sternly. "Who knows what unfriendly ears might be listening, even on a bright summer morning such as this?"
"Best all believe that the line of Kings is ended," Elrohir added, his voice rose to carry the final words of the sentence in the breeze.
They rode on for several hours, stopping only to allow their horses to drink in a stream. Soon after the sun passed its noonday zenith, they reached the edge of a great forest. The sons of Elrond reined in their horses and looked around them.
"It is near this place," said Elrohir. "I remember it well. The Orcs struck him down with their arrows near here."
Aragorn shuddered. "Did my father suffer much pain?"
Elladan shook his head. "He was killed instantly with an arrow through his eye. I doubt he knew anything. He fell like a stone."
"We were certain the Orcs were seeking him," said Elrohir. "After Arathorn was slain, they made to retreat as they did not seem concerned about slaughtering the rest of the company. I pursued them and slew them with my own hand. Your father did not die unavenged."
"I thank you for avenging him," said Aragorn. "Were many with him that day?"
"It was only a small party," said Elrohir. "There were ten of us, including some Rangers from across the river. Arathorn rode at our head, as was his custom. He bore no token of office, but his demeanour was that of a noble lord."
Elladan took up the story. "I remained behind to guard Arathorn's body. I took from it his star shaped brooch and the Ring of Barahir, which I gave to Lady Gilraen as tokens."
"My poor mother!" Aragorn glanced down at the brooch upon his cloak and the ancient ring, which was now on his finger.
"She took the ill tidings with the gravity and dignity of her folk," said Elladan. "She is a noble lady, a fitting wife for a chieftain."
"So did you bury my father at the spot where he fell?" asked Aragorn.
Elladan shook his head. "We feared that if we buried him here it would be too noticeable that the ground had been disturbed. I removed the foul arrow then carried him into the shelter of the trees and buried him beneath the forest floor." He walked a little way into the forest with his brother and the two young Rangers following closely. "Here!" he exclaimed as they reached a clearing beneath a great tree. "We laid him beneath this oak tree. It has grown taller since we last beheld it."
Aragorn dropped to his knees on the forest floor. His companions stood silently and unobtrusively in the background. His keen Ranger's eyes made out that the earth beneath the tree was richer and darker than elsewhere. His father was now part of the land he loved and had died defending. He remained there for some time in silence, trying to recall something of the man who sired him. It frustrated him that he could recall only scattered fragments of memory that may not even have been true memories at all. In the tree above his head, he could hear a blackbird calling for her mate and a thrush singing sweetly. This was a fair spot for a final resting place, beneath the majestic tree, yet it seemed insufficient to mark the resting place of one who carried the blood of Lúthien and Elendil. He spotted an acorn on the ground and pushed it into the ground a little way from the parent tree. Then he rose to his feet and took a few steps backward. His lips formed words yet they remained inaudible to his companions. "Father, I vow that one day I will make you a memorial that is worthy of you."
He then re-joined the others. Halbarad patted his shoulder while the sons of Elrond remained grim and silent, lost in memories of the fateful day when Arathorn son of Arador was so cruelly slain.
Many years later
"What if it is not a true likeness?" Aragorn fretted. "I should have insisted on seeing the statue before the unveiling."
"There is little you could have done if it were not to your liking, since we only arrived here yesterday," said Faramir.
"I could have come here to look at the statue while we were staying at Rivendell," said Aragorn.
"You would have had a long journey that would have achieved nothing, save to upset your Northern Steward and counsellors, not to mention your lady," Faramir replied. "They have planned long and diligently for your ceremonial return to your rebuilt city."
Aragorn stopped pacing the balcony of the King's House and looked out across Lake Nenuial and the rebuilt Northern capital of Annúminas. Fair buildings and gardens of every shape and size had sprung up on the southern shore, clustering around a central dome modelled after the fabled "Dome of Stars," and if anything, even more magnificent than the dome that Elendil had built in Osgiliath. The dome gleamed in the mellow autumn sunlight. Outside the dome was a fair fountain, beside which was a veiled statue, which the King's eyes constantly sought out. Around the fountain a crowd of people had gathered, all dressed in their finest clothes. "I can see Merry and Pippin and their wives are here," he said. "And there by the fountain is Sam and Mistress Rose and their children."
"When the White Tree next produces a fruit, we should plant one beside the fountain," said Faramir. "Master Samwise could come here to tend it."
Aragorn nodded, but his eyes never left the shrouded statue. "What if it fails to do them justice?" he said.
"As you asked the Dwarves of Erebor under Gimli's supervision to select the stone, while the Sons of Elrond oversaw the Elven sculptors who carved it, I cannot fail to believe that it will be a worthy tribute. They knew your parents well in life. Did not Legolas' friends in Ithilien create an excellent likeness of Boromir? None knows better than you the skill of Elven craftsmen. Enjoy this moment of honouring your parents, mellon nîn."
Aragorn shot Faramir a glance and saw the sadness in his friend's eyes. It was most unlikely that Faramir would ever desire a statue of his sire, who had not only destroyed himself and his reputation, but also the tombs of the long line of Húrin ancestors. "When we return to Gondor, we should commission a statue of your grandsire, Ecthelion," he said. "He was a great man who gave me the guidance about what a ruler should be that my own sire could not."
Faramir nodded. "I should like that very much."
Arwen appeared in the doorway of the room next to the balcony. "Estel, Faramir, you should make haste. The ceremony is about to start."
Aragorn gave the veiled statue a final lingering gaze then went to join his wife and son. Faramir was already beside Éowyn and young Elestelle clutched her father's hand. Elbeth walked beside them. Elboron was deemed too young to attend the ceremony and had been left with a capable nursemaid.
Arwen smiled at her husband. She looked especially fair today in a gown of purple, embroidered with mithril and tiny gems. She was carrying the Elendilmir, which she secured around Aragorn's forehead, where it gleamed like a great white star.
Aragorn gave the signal. A herald blew a blast on a silver trumpet as the King, Queen and young Prince Eldarion, followed by the Steward and his family, made their way in solemn procession to the Dome. The crowd cheered as the King and Queen came in sight.
Halthor, son of Halbarad, the Steward of the North, bowed low. "My lord, my lady, my Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn, we are honoured to have your presence here today."
Aragorn embraced his kinsman and replied. "The honour is mine to be here again amongst my people." His gaze took in the crowd. He knew so many of these folk, his Rangers, and their kin. It was a fair sight indeed to see how they have prospered since Sauron was defeated. Boys had grown to manhood, replacing their fallen fathers, while the women no longer looked careworn. There were many children there too, glowing with health and happiness."
Aragorn approached the veiled statue and took a deep breath. "My friends," he said. "We are gathered here today to honour my sire and mother to whom I owe my life and lineage. Sadly, they did not live to see our people restored, but their memory will remain here forever in the city of our forefathers." He took another deep breath and pulled aside the drapery that covered the statue.
He closed his eyes for an instant then opened them again as he heard Arwen's sharp intake of breath. Before him stood the perfect likeness of his mother carved in stone. She was as he remembered her in his childhood, ere care aged her before her time. She looked so lifelike; Aragorn had to restrain himself from embracing her stone likeness. She stood beside the image of Arathorn that Aragorn had beheld long ago in the portrait at his grandmother's house. On his brow was bound a replica of the Elendilmir. The carven figure clutched his wife's hand and they gazed lovingly at one another thanks to the sculptor's skill.
For a moment, Aragorn was swept back in time and his memory stirred. It were as if the figures were alive.
"The sculptor has caught your mother's likeness perfectly," said Arwen, drawing him out of his reverie. "Your father, I knew only in his youth."
Aragorn's eyes moved to the inscription at the base of the statue Ónem i-Estel Edain, ú-chebim estel mín. "We gave Hope to the Dúnedain, we kept no hope for ourselves" he murmured. "I thought it would be apt to base the inscription on the linnad my mother spoke. May this statue make a good ending to my parents' story."
Arwen smiled and looked towards Eldarion who was gazing in awe at the likeness of the grandparents he had never met. "Their story did not end, beloved, it continues in you and our son. Is it not said that the line of Lúthien shall never fail? It will endure far longer than even this fair statue."
In a deserted forest many leagues away, a strong young oak tree shed golden leaves upon the hidden grave of Arathorn son of Arador.
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