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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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34
Homecoming - Part one

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters; I am only borrowing them for fun for a little while. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many thanks to my wonderful Beta’s, Marsha and J, especially J on this particular chapter as it was a long struggle.

Words in italics are elvish and individual words are translated at the end of the chapter.

Author’s Note: Tolkien is the one who decided that Arwen should stay in Edoras, and I’m still trying to stay as faithful to the book as I possibly can. I tried to come up with an explanation that I felt was reasonable even though I don't understand why she would have stayed behind.

This chapter, which originally was to be the final one, was split into two parts because it was very long - even for me! The next one will be the final chapter.


~~~

“Adar?”

Rebecca looked up at Aragorn in confusion when there was no response. He was standing stock still, his arms folded across his chest, as he looked off east into the foothills that led up into the White Mountains. Only his eyes were moving as they swept back and forth, relentlessly seeking something. His face was stern and remote, what Rebecca called his kingly, Elessar look and she wondered what had happened that had caused him to become like this. She knew that Aragorn was aware of her, that he would have known of her presence the moment she had come around the corner of the royal stables, some one hundred feet away. Wondering if she should ask again or leave and speak with him later, she settled on a third option. To sit and wait; something was obviously the matter and perhaps he needed someone to talk to for a change. That thought made Rebecca smile inwardly, since he obviously had Arwen, but she didn’t like the thought of him being alone right now either. Finding a large rock to sit on in the grassy area, Rebecca sat down, keeping a concerned eye on Aragorn as she did so.

Plucking a blade of the long grass, Rebecca wound it in and around her fingers for a time, glancing up at the back of Aragorn occasionally to see if there was any change. Bored with one blade, she picked several more pieces of grass and began braiding them together, still watching Aragorn and wondering how long he was going to stand there and also wondering how long he had been there before she had arrived. She had been looking for him for quite some time before she found him because she wanted to ask him… Rebecca stopped braiding as realization dawned. This was about Arwen and Elrond. Rebecca had come to ask Aragorn if she was going to be allowed to continue on with the rest of the trip because she had learned that Arwen was staying in Edoras which meant there would be no other women on the way back from Isengard. But if Arwen were staying here, then that meant she had to say good-bye to Elrond. She swallowed the lump in her throat, knowing the pain that must be causing them… all three of them and she looked at Aragorn with sorrow-filled eyes. Not knowing what else to do, she did the one thing that seemed right to her. She walked over to Aragorn and, ignoring his stiff, unyielding posture and unresponsiveness, Rebecca hugged him as best she could, whispering, “I’m so sorry, Adar.” Turning to go back to her rock because she was still not leaving him alone, she was caught by Aragorn’s strong hand and pulled into a firm embrace.

“Thank you and forgive me for not answering you earlier, sell-nín, I should have,” he admitted softly, running his hand through his hair.

Rebecca nodded in acknowledgment before she asked, “Arwen and Elrond are out there?” Rebecca gestured to the hills and Aragorn nodded as his intense grey eyes studied Rebecca briefly before returning to their previous task.

“How did you know?”

“I heard that Arwen wasn’t coming with us and then when you…” her voice trailed off. “I just knew,” she said, shrugging. Aragorn did not respond and Rebecca went and sat down again, picking more blades of grass and absently played with them as she watched him and now she too looked out over the hills. Looking at Aragorn she tried to imagine the depth of love someone could have for another that would make them choose to give up eternal life with her family in what sounded like paradise. She had considered it before, but it was so very real right now. She wondered if she would do it for Thomas, but she quickly realized it was a foolish question. It would never come up in their lives and Rebecca knew that what she felt for Thomas was every bit as real as what Aragorn and Arwen felt for each other, even if it was expressed differently. She didn’t know how much time had passed when Aragorn spoke, not turning around, his voice very quiet.

“You need not stay.”

“Yes, I do. I won’t leave you alone when you’re hurting like this. You wouldn’t leave me alone,” she pointed out, her voice as quiet as his.

“No, I would not.”

“I won’t even make you talk.” That drew a snort of amusement and Rebecca continued, “Although, maybe you should.” Silence met her words and she looked down at her hands, sighing softly.

Finally Aragorn spoke again. “I am concerned for the pain Arwen is in, Rebecca. I cannot totally relieve it as I would like to, it is not an enemy I can defeat on a battlefield. And now she has decided that she will stay here in Edoras while we go on tomorrow and so I will not be able to give her any kind of comfort.”

“Why is she staying?”

His eyes did not cease their searching of the hills as he replied. “I believe it is because she has grown weary of such a long, slow good-bye and feels it will be easier to part here. Unlike us mortals, a few more days with each other has little meaning for either of them.”

“I would like to have had a few extra days with my mom,” Rebecca remarked. “Strange how none of us will have any parents now,” she added almost absently.

Aragorn turned and gave her a brief, hard stare. “I thought you had Arwen and I,” he said before turning around again.

“Well, yes, of-of course,” she said fumbling over the words. “I didn’t mean it that way, Adar. You know I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Forgive me, sell-nín,” Aragorn’s voice was soft. “I do know what you meant and I am sorry.” He turned and gave her an apologetic look. “I should not take my frustration out on you.”

“Well, I would prefer that you didn’t,” Rebecca returned with a small smile before rising and moving to stand alongside him. She glanced up at him as he patted her shoulder gently, but he was not looking at her. “You’ve had to help me and Thomas through a lot of hard things in the last few weeks and I know it hasn’t been easy for you and now you have this. I don’t think I ever thanked you, but I have appreciated it.”

Aragorn looked down at her for a long moment. “You are welcome. However, everything we have gone though is just part of being a family… for me, being a father.”

“Hmmm, I seriously doubt that very many families have to deal with deciding whether or not to stay in Middle-earth or go back to another time altogether,” she paused, “or with what you and Arwen are facing right now.”

“No, they do not,” Aragorn admitted. “But they do have different things that come up in their lives that are just as important and difficult for them.”

Rebecca gave a thoughtful nod. “I suppose so. Aragorn, is there… is there anything I can do? For you or for Arwen?” she asked, her brow furrowed in concern.

Aragorn gave her a genuine smile. “You are doing something for me right now, sell-nín, and for Arwen,” he paused, “perhaps you might let her know of your concern for her. I know she would appreciate…” his voice trailed off as he straightened, his eyes focusing on something and Rebecca followed his gaze to see what appeared to be two people moving from the lower foothills and heading towards Edoras. Turning to hurry down to the gate, Aragorn stopped and turned back as he reached the corner of the stable. “Rebecca, why were you looking for me? What did you need?”

“I wanted to know if I was going to go with you on the rest of the trip since Arwen wasn’t going,” she said quietly.

“Yes, I was planning on you coming with us; there will only be a few days on the return from Isengard when there will be no other ladies. As it will just be you, Thomas, Halbarad, and I, along with our guards, I believe that I will be an adequate chaperone. Unless that makes you uncomfortable?” Aragorn gave her a questioning look and Rebecca shook her head with a small laugh and he gave her a faint smile. “Good, then I will speak with you later,” he said as he disappeared around the corner of the stable.

------------

Talking quietly, Thomas and Rebecca walked through the streets of Edoras in the heat of the late afternoon as Rebecca explained what had happened earlier in the day with Aragorn. Thomas occasionally shook his head as he listened and he sighed when she finished. “I can’t even imagine that, Rebecca,” he finally said. “I don’t know how Lord Elrond can… well, can even be around Aragorn.”

“He loves him, too,” Rebecca pointed out. “Aragorn is his son and like he told us, he can’t imagine loving his own children by blood anymore than us, so I suppose it’s the same thing.”

Thomas shrugged. “I know, but… it’s still so strange,” he added after a moment, “having the same father must make it harder for them.”

Rebecca grinned. “Why is that strange? We do, too.”

Staring at her for a moment, Thomas finally laughed. “I guess we do now, don’t we? I hadn’t really thought of it that way, since we didn’t grow up here together.” His laughter faded and a more thoughtful expression appeared on his face. They walked on quietly and Rebecca glanced up at him from time to time, but remained silent. Passing through the gates of the city they walked around the walls of it and came to the main corrals and stables used by most of the people of Edoras. A group of young boys were in the corral riding horses that appeared to be newly broken. Rebecca and Thomas walked up to the corral, leaning on the railing to watch them. None of the boys showed the smallest trace of fear as they hopped on and off the horses under the watchful eye of some of the older men who had gathered on the far side of the corral. Thomas watched for awhile and then he cast a sidelong look at Rebecca and he half turned to face her.

“Do you see the boy out there with the dark blue shirt that is torn near the right shoulder?” Rebecca looked at the boys and finally spotted him and she nodded. “He looks like my brother, John,” he said quietly, turning back and looking at the boys again and Rebecca did the same, examining the boy closely. “He seems about the same age, ten or so, and I swear, Rebecca, the hair color and his eyes and everything… he looks just like him. I’ve seen him around a couple of times now and every time I see him, I want to go and speak with him, but then I hear him speaking Rohirric and I know he’s not John. I mean I knew he wasn’t anyway, but…” his voice trailed off and he took a deep breath. Rebecca didn’t say anything, didn’t move, she didn’t want to do anything to distract Thomas from what he was saying.

“He was so young, Rebecca,” he looked at her and his eyes were full of tears, “and I miss him a lot. Until I went to the horse ranch, I took care of him all the time when my mom was working. Sometimes he would come to the ranch and ride like this,” Thomas said gesturing to the horses and boys. “I wish he were here with us, Rebecca,” he whispered, wiping away the tears that began falling. “Mom too, of course, but he was so young.”

Without even thinking about where they were, Rebecca stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him and he clung to her tightly as he quietly cried. “I’m sorry, Thomas,” she murmured. “I wish he were here too, I would liked to have met him.” The sound of a throat being cleared caused them to look up and they broke apart and gave Gílorn a guilty look, but the guard just gestured in the direction behind them. Turning, they saw Aragorn and Arwen approaching and Thomas looked at Rebecca with concern.

As he approached his two children, Aragorn looked them over carefully, seeing evidence of Thomas’s tears and also their slightly guilty expressions that he knew was caused because they had been embracing in public, however innocently, and were expecting him to reprimand them. Arwen tightened the grip she had on his arm and he knew that she had seen the same thing and he patted her hand gently in acknowledgement. However, he just smiled at them and stepped up to the corral next to Thomas, looking at the horses. “They are beautiful horses, are they not?” he asked as both Rebecca and Thomas turned back to lean on the corral.

“Yes, they are,” Rebecca answered after a moment, watching Thomas from the corner of her eye, but his eyes seemed to be focused on the ground in front of them and not on either the horses or the boys.

“Some of these boys appear to be about the same age as your brother would have been,” Aragorn observed quietly.

Thomas gave a resigned sigh and turned to look at Aragorn. “Yes, and one of them looks almost exactly like John and that is why I was crying and why Rebecca and I were embracing in public,” he said in a voice that sounded both annoyed and embarrassed.

“I am sorry, it must make it very difficult for you. Though I think it would be hard just being around boys of that age.” Aragorn’s voice was soft and gentle and he clasped Thomas’s shoulder briefly.

“Probably, I just wasn’t around too many boys in Minas Tirith. Not that we were there that long after I found out he had… died. But there are children running around here all the time.”

“The Citadel tends to be isolated from the rest of the city, Thomas. You and Rebecca,” he paused and glanced at Arwen, “and Arwen and I need to leave the Citadel and go down to the lower levels and be amongst the people more often than we do.” Aragorn narrowed his eyes in thought for a moment, thinking of the orphanages in Minas Tirith that were full of young boys; perhaps Thomas could be a help to them as he understood what it was like not to have a father at such a young age and that maybe it would also help bring healing to his heart. But a quick glance at Thomas showed Aragorn that this was not the time to discuss it, that his grief was still too new. There would be a right time for it to come up again and for him to discuss it with Thomas, and perhaps for Rebecca as well, as the orphanages were also full of young girls. “Did John ever come and ride with you?” he asked.

“A few times, but not often, it was a long way out from where we lived.”

“Was he as fearless as these boys?” Aragorn asked, gesturing to the young Rohirrim on the horses.

Thomas chuckled and shook his head. “No, especially not at first. He was shaking the first time I put him on a horse. Of course I picked an old mare that could barely walk anymore and he relaxed pretty quickly. He was only seven, I think, which of course is old to start riding here, but not where I’m from unless you live on a ranch. I think he would have made a good ranch hand or anything else he wanted to do,” he said with a wistful expression.

“What did he want to do?” Arwen asked quietly, her voice low and soothing.

“I don’t know,” Thomas admitted, “but I wanted to give him a chance to do something that he loved, whatever that might be.” He shrugged, glancing at Rebecca who gave him an understanding smile and took his hand. “I was hoping that by the time he got old enough to go to college, maybe I would have the money to help him do that if he wanted to.” He looked away from the others, staring into the distance and sighing softly.

Aragorn laid his hand on Thomas’s shoulder and waited until Thomas looked at him before he spoke. “Again, I am sorry for the fresh grief seeing this boy has caused you, ion-nín. My hope is that eventually the pain of seeing him will be healing for you, though I know that does not seem possible now.” He gave Thomas a small smile. “I know that I have seldom heard you speak of John as much as you just did and so perhaps speaking of him will be helpful for you.” Thomas grimaced slightly and then slowly nodded as Aragorn gripped his shoulder hard and then changed the subject. “We need to return to Meduseld, I am sure that it is nearly time for supper.”

They started back towards the gate and the city. “You have a very faithful guard, Rebecca,” Aragorn said with a small smile as he glanced at them from the corner of his eye, ignoring Arwen’s tightening grip on his arm. Thomas and Rebecca reddened slightly, but said nothing. “I will have to thank Faramir for selecting someone who is so protective of you,” he continued in a lightly teasing tone. Aragorn finally looked directly at the two of them. “I can tell the difference between a romantic embrace and one given for comfort,” he said, “and whatever you may have thought, I was not angry with you, only saddened that you were in pain.” No other words were spoken between the four of them as they returned to the Golden Hall.

------------

Éomer handed the stirrup-cup up to Aragorn where he sat on Roheryn ready to lead the company out of Edoras on the final leg of their journey north. “May your journey be safe, my brother,” he said and Aragorn took a drink of the ale and handed it back so that it could be taken to the next person. Éomer put his hand on Aragorn’s knee. “Éowyn and I will take care of her, Aragorn,” he said quietly glancing up at Arwen who stood on the wide entry porch of Meduseld.

“Thank you, though I do not know how much she will allow you to do so,” Aragorn said with a small smile that did not reach his concerned grey eyes.

Éomer shrugged. “We will do what we can. Faramir, Imrahil, and Lady Laereth will also be here for her. Be at peace, Aragorn, you will not be gone long.” Not waiting for a response, Éomer patted his knee and moved off, taking the cup around to the rest of the people. When the last of their company had taken a drink, Aragorn lifted his hand in farewell to Arwen and then, turning his horse, he led the way down and out of Edoras as they headed west to Helm’s Deep.

They had been riding for an hour when Elladan moved his horse up alongside Aragorn and they rode together quietly for a time. Finally, Aragorn gave his brother a sidelong look. “Where is Elrohir? You do not usually come and speak with me alone when you feel I need counsel.”

Elladan’s eyes glimmered briefly with amusement. “He is speaking with adar and our grandparents. He may join us if I feel that you are not listening.” Again his eyes showed a spark of humor and Aragorn shook his head and smiled.

“I will listen, muindor-nín.”

Searching Aragorn’s face intently for a moment, Elladan nodded as if satisfied with what he read there and when he spoke, his voice was soft, yet firm. “Be at peace about Arwen, Estel. I know of your concern for her, as do most here. But these few days alone will, perhaps, give her a chance to come to terms with her grief in a way she could not if all of us were present.”

“I am uneasy about her being there without someone to comfort her.”

“There are people there who may comfort her in other ways.”
Elladan’s voice softened even further. “But, if you were concerned about Arwen not having the comfort she needs, then why did you come? You could have stayed or returned directly to Minas Tirith. We have no need of your protection,” he gestured to the large number of elves behind them. “And are well able to protect the hobbits as we will be doing after you turn back to Edoras, so I ask again, why did you come?” His grey eyes looked piercingly at Aragorn.

Aragorn blinked in surprise and just stared at Elladan for a long time with a deep furrow creasing his brow as he thought. “I need to go to Isengard,” he said slowly. Elladan gave him a look that clearly showed his disbelief at that comment. Aragorn thought back to the previous day’s conversation with Rebecca and her comment that she wished she had had a few more days to spend with her mother. He realized that that was why he had come on this part of the journey; he did need to go to Isengard, though it was not a pressing need. He had come because he wanted to spend a few more days with Gandalf, Galadriel, and, most importantly, with his adar, all of whom would be leaving soon for Valinor. He also knew it would be years before he would see the hobbits again and he was beginning to accept the fact that Frodo would not be able to stay in Middle-earth to recover from the wounding of his spirit and body, and would most likely go to Valinor to seek healing. His brothers and Legolas, Gimli, Celeborn, and Glorfindel would all return at times to Minas Tirith and so he knew that he would see them again, at least occasionally. He gave Elladan a wry smile. “I came because I wanted to spend a few more days with those I love and will miss when they are gone.”

“I thought perhaps that was the reason, muindor-nín.”
Elladan’s eyes were gentle as he gazed at Aragorn. “Your need is different than Arwen’s and I did not want your concern for her to cause you to forget that.”

“Thank you, Elladan.”
Aragorn inclined his head slightly.

“You are most welcome, Estel, and I am glad that it was not necessary to ask Elrohir to join us.” A hint of a smile grace Elladan’s lips and Aragorn laughed softly as they rode on, turning their conversation to other things.

---------

Thomas watched Aragorn slowly walk away from the fire with Elrond and he nudged Rebecca slightly with his knee. She just nodded without looking at him as she continued speaking with Frodo and Sam who were sitting on her other side. As there was a large group gathered around the fire, he finally began listening in on the conversation between Halbarad, Alvist, and Elrohir. Several weeks ago Aragorn had told Alvist the truth about Rebecca and Thomas feeling that the Steward of Arnor needed to know who they really were. Alvist had been shocked, and yet, at the same time, not really surprised as there had been no doubt that the two of them were not from the northern parts of Middle-earth as had been commonly known in Minas Tirith. He had urged Aragorn to tell the rest of the Rangers as there had been talk amongst them about where the two were really from, but Aragorn had yet to make a decision on that. While he trusted his men, he was concerned about so many people knowing who they were; it might cause problems that he could not foresee. Now Alvist was speaking with Elrohir and Halbarad about the rebuilding of the northern capital at Annúminas and the amount of work and the years it would take. Thomas shook his head slightly at all of the things that needed to be done to restore that part of Aragorn’s kingdom.

All conversation ceased immediately as the sound of an elvish voice filled the night with music. Thomas relaxed even further under the soothing sounds of Glorfindel’s rich, pure voice as he sang in the elven language that he now knew was called Quenya. Of course, Thomas had no idea what the song was about, but it didn’t matter as he laid his chin on his pulled up knees and closed his eyes to just listen without being distracted. There were appreciative murmurs when Glorfindel finished and then other elves, Thomas wasn’t exactly sure who and he didn’t bother looking up, began singing. This time the song was in Sindarin and so he could understand some of the words, though it was too hard to piece the meaning together from what little he did understand. But he just enjoyed the rich sounds of the music. As that song ended someone, he thought it was Elladan, asked Erestor for a story and Thomas looked up as the other elves joined Elladan in his request. He smiled as he watched Erestor frown at the others before the elf grudgingly gave into their demands. Thomas could well imagine that Erestor was a wonderful storyteller with his knowledge of the history of Middle-earth and he knew him well enough by now to see past his gruff exterior and into his kind and caring heart. Glancing at Rebecca with a smile, Thomas took ahold of her hand and she leaned into him as Erestor began his story. While Thomas was sure it was a story that most had heard before, it was, of course, new to him and Rebecca. It was a tragic story from the First Age of a man named Túrin, who slew the father of all dragons, Glaurung. But Morgoth cursed him and the rest of his life was troubled by a series of horrible things. Thomas was fascinated as he listened to the story and especially the way that Erestor told it. Murmurs of appreciation were given at the completion of the story and then Glorfindel looked across the fire at Rebecca and Thomas with twinkling eyes.

“I would like to hear a story from one of you, I am sure that you know many stories that none here have heard.” A smile crossed Glorfindel’s lips that matched the twinkle in his eyes.

Rebecca and Thomas exchanged appalled looks as others around the fire echoed Glorfindel’s call for a story. Thomas nudged Rebecca as he whispered, “You’re the writer, you tell them a story.” The elves laughed, having heard him in spite of his whispering.

Rebecca glared at him and then looked at Glorfindel. “I don’t think that our stories would… really… well… I don’t think you would understand them.”

Glorfindel and most of the others looked amused. “I believe I am quite capable of understanding any story that you would tell, Lady Rebecca,” Glorfindel replied with a smile.

Seeing no way to escape, Rebecca sighed and shrugged. “Well, we’ll need a few minutes to decide on one, Lord Glorfindel, because no matter what you say, things are quite different there and it’ll take me some time to come up with one.” Glorfindel inclined his head gracefully, his eyes still sparklingly with amusement. Rebecca stood, pulling Thomas up with her and headed off towards the tent area, shaking her head the whole way. “What are we going to do?” she groaned when they were out of earshot of the others.

“I don’t know. Don’t you know any stories you can tell them?”

“I know lots of stories, Thomas,” she said, looking at him with annoyance. “That’s not the problem. The problem is just what I told Lord Glorfindel - all of our stories would take too much explanation to really make it a good story. They don’t know what our time is like so I can’t tell them a story that has a car in it or an airplane or anything like that.”

“How about a story from a long time ago? Well, a long time ago from the 1950s.” Thomas shook his head slightly at how that sounded.

“Like a fairy tale?” She shot him another look and he shrugged. “Like Cinderella? Or better yet, Snow White and the Seven… “ her voice trailed off and she gave a meaningful glance back to the fire where Gimli was sitting and they laughed quietly. “I don’t think a fairy tale will work either, those are for children anyway.” She sighed. “How about from a movie?” Rebecca frowned, trying to remember movies she had seen.

“I’ve mostly seen war movies and westerns the last couple of years and I don’t want to explain guns to them.” Thomas shuddered and Rebecca nodded her agreement.

Rebecca thought about the various books she had read, but she couldn’t think of any that could be easily made into something she could tell aloud around a fire. They were all either stories that she didn’t think would interest anyone here, or else it would require too much explanation. But maybe… she looked at Thomas. “What about something from Shakespeare, like Romeo and Juliet?”

Thomas thought for a moment, he had read the play when he was a freshman in high school and while he hadn’t particularly enjoyed it, at least he knew the story. “Well, they kill themselves in the end, Rebecca, and I’m not sure that would be a good story to tell them, not after the story Erestor just told.” Rebecca nodded and sighed, but thinking about Shakespeare made her think about other classic authors and she suddenly smiled.

“I know!” she exclaimed. “A Christmas Carol, by Dickens, it’s the perfect story. We’ll have to explain some things, but they have some holidays here and can understand people giving gifts and some people being mean and being a scrooge and they can certainly understand going back in time,” she grinned. “And the ghosts of past, present, and future should be fine – once you’ve seen the dead army, you can understand ghosts. And then there’s Tiny Tim and it’s very touching at the end when Scrooge decides to change. What do you think?”

“It’s a good story,” Thomas said slowly. “I didn’t read it, but I saw the movie a few years ago. If you want to tell that one, then you should do it.” They walked back to the fire and sat down and the conversation came to an abrupt standstill as everyone looked to them.

“Have you decided on a story that I may be able to understand, Lady Rebecca?” Glorfindel asked.

Thankful that Aragorn had placed all of the guards behind the tents and well beyond hearing, Rebecca replied with exasperation. “Lord Glorfindel, you know that I do not doubt your ability to understand anything, it’s just that things are so different there that I can’t tell you a story that has a car in it or an airplane or a rocket or a movie because I would have to explain so much that the whole story is ruined.” Rebecca deliberately used words that none of them would know and she saw expressions of either confusion or interest on the faces of many of the elves, while members of the Fellowship just smiled, having at least a vague idea of some of the things she had mentioned. She continued in a more normal tone of voice. “Even in the story I am going to tell you there will have to be some explanations, but I hope there won’t be too many.”

“I did understand that, Lady Rebecca,” Glorfindel said smiling gently, and Rebecca blushed slightly before smiling in return. Taking a deep breath she glanced around the circle, pausing when she reached Aragorn, who had returned while she and Thomas had stepped away, and he gave her an encouraging smile, and then she began telling a group of elves, hobbits, rangers, and one dwarf, a story called, A Christmas Carol.

-------

Twisting in his saddle to look for Rebecca and Thomas, Aragorn saw Rebecca speaking with Haldir and he smiled inwardly. He still found their friendship amusing and he knew that as much as Rebecca would miss the members of the Fellowship, she would miss Haldir almost as much. Knowing that he would remain in Middle-earth with Celeborn had comforted Rebecca after she and Thomas had learned that Gandalf was sailing for Valinor with Elrond and Galadriel. She had, of course, been upset, but had taken it better than Aragorn thought she would. Either the last month had dulled her emotions, or she had somehow sensed he would be leaving. Although, she had then demanded to know if anyone else was planning on leaving for Valinor. Aragorn had carefully explained his feeling that Frodo might have to leave in order to become fully healed from his ordeal and neither she nor Thomas had been surprised. What had surprised them was the fact that Celeborn was not leaving with his wife and Aragorn had been hard pressed to explain how a Silvan elf was so tied to Middle-earth and the forests and that he was not ready to leave these shores yet. Galadriel had been born in Valinor and was ready to go home to see the family she had there, whereas Celeborn had been born in Middle-earth and Valinor did not have that same pull for him. Seeing Haldir and Rebecca come to a pause in their conversation, Aragorn called her name and beckoned her forward and then did the same to Thomas who was riding between Halbarad and Legolas and Gimli.

Rebecca and Thomas urged their horses forward until they drew alongside of Aragorn and they looked at him questioningly. He glanced at each of them and smiled faintly at their somewhat anxious expressions. “Be at peace, I only wanted to ride with you for a time, we have had little time together on this journey.”

“Ah, then you are not going to ask us how we fare?” Rebecca asked with a smile, her eyes dancing with amusement. Thomas laughed quietly from his place on the other side of Aragorn.

Aragorn shook his head and smiled in return. “It was not my intent to do so, however you are free to tell me. Truly, I only wished to ride with you for awhile. Although,” he said slowly, “I suppose as we ride and speak together, I will be able to tell how you are faring without having to ask you.” He grinned and Thomas and Rebecca laughed. It was quiet for a moment and then Aragorn glanced at Rebecca. “You told that story very well last night, will you write it down so we can put it in the library?”

“What? Oh, no, it’s not my story, I didn’t make that up. A man named Charles Dickens wrote that.”

“I don’t know why it would matter,” Thomas commented, “none of this survives into our time anyway,” he shrugged.

Rebecca frowned. “I don’t care, it’s not my story, Thomas, and I’m not writing it down as if it were.”

Thomas shrugged again. “I suppose not, but you could write down some of the other stories we talked about, couldn’t you? Like fairy tales and things like that? Those stories aren’t really written by someone are they? Aren’t they just sort of told from one generation to the next?”

“What are fairy tales?” Aragorn asked curiously.

“Well, sort of magical stories and most of the time they are about good versus evil and there are wizards, princesses, queens, and kings,” Rebecca gave Aragorn an amused look, “and there might be dragons or other monsters. They almost always have a happy ending and usually are told to children.” Rebecca gave Thomas a thoughtful look. “I wonder if some of those stories might be left over from this time, since there are, or were, dragons and wizards and things here. Maybe they were based on real things and we just don’t know it.”

Thomas narrowed his eyes and nodded. “It’s possible, but it seems strange that those sorts of stories would still be around and yet none of the real history would be known.”

“If there are wizards and dragons, are there elves in these stories?” Aragorn asked.

“Actually some stories do have elves, but not like our elves,” Rebecca said with a laugh that Thomas quickly echoed. “They are usually small, little magical, fairy type creatures. There are dwarves too, but again, not like the ones that are here.”

Aragorn grinned. “I will have to explain to my brothers and to Legolas that in the future they will be seen as small, fairy type creatures. I am sure they will appreciate that.” His eyes sparkled with amusement. “I would like to hear some of these tales as well, Rebecca,” and he smiled at her surprised look. “I know you say they are for children in your time, but as I have never heard them, they would, perhaps, be interesting to me… and to the others as well. Many of our stories are told from things that actually happened… our history, and so we have heard them many times. Although each storyteller brings their own interpretation to the story, it is, of course, the same basic story. It is rare to hear something new, though I think now that a measure of peace has come, perhaps there will be more time for people to create and write new stories.”

“I just don’t want to have to explain too much and ruin a story, Adar, and I don’t want to… offend anyone by telling them stories meant for children.”

“Stories that have wizards and dragons do not sound like stories that would offend anyone here. It is also in the way that you told the story; once you relaxed all could tell that you enjoyed it, that it was something you loved. It is a gift that you have and so I believe that you will be asked to share more stories, so you best be prepared for it, sell-nín.” Aragorn grinned at her look of dismay before glancing at Thomas. “Though, perhaps Thomas should share a story with us the next time.”

Thomas shook his head. “I don’t know stories like Rebecca does,” he protested. “I’m sleeping with the horses tonight,” he muttered after a moment.

Aragorn chuckled briefly. “You do not have to tell one, but I am sure that you will be asked again. If you do not know any stories, you could always tell something from your life… I am sure that there must be things that happened as you worked on the horse ranch that would make a good story.” Thomas shrugged, though his eyes had a faraway look in them. “Or perhaps not,” he said kindly, “your gift seems to be in your painting, Thomas. Someday you will share those with us and we will see your stories in another way.” Thomas’s eyes lit up as he smiled at Aragorn.

“I do like my painting; it’s too bad I can’t bring it with me on a trip like this.”

“You can’t bring all the paints and things, but couldn’t you draw or something?” Rebecca asked.

“I could, I just didn’t think about it this time… I was sort of rushed there at the end to get ready to leave.”

“You should have looked for something at the market in Edoras,” Aragorn commented.

“I didn’t really think about it then either and it was sort of hard to shop there, most of them didn’t speak the common tongue, Aragorn.”

“No, I suppose not. Most of the people have little interaction with those outside of Rohan. On our return, perhaps you can buy something that will suit your needs. You should begin carrying something with you so that you can always draw whatever you see that interests you.”

“I’ll have to do that,” Thomas paused and then gazed at Aragorn with a thoughtful expression. “Aragorn, what do you enjoy doing? Rebecca likes to read and to write and I like to paint, but what do you like to do?”

Aragorn gave Thomas a long look and then said quietly, “It changes. Right now what I most enjoy is spending time with Arwen and with my family.” He smiled at both of them. “Before that… before the quest as I wandered the wilds alone, what I enjoyed most was meeting up with Halbarad or one of my other Rangers and having some company for a short time before we went our separate ways. Sometimes it was finding a place that I knew was safe where I could rest for a day or two and simply enjoy the beauty of the wilderness. Perhaps near a stream or a small lake. I still enjoy that now. Like Rebecca, I enjoy reading, even poetry,” he grinned at Thomas who smiled, “and I read many books in my youth and, when it was possible, I carried a small one with me even as I traveled. It was hard though, because food was more important and I could only carry so much with me. Because I spent so many years wandering and protecting our lands, I never have done anything like your painting or Rebecca’s writing. Yet I am content and enjoy the other things that surround me.”

“That’s why you wanted me to try painting, because you never got to do anything like that.”

“I wanted you to at least try it, Thomas, because I can sense that you have artistic gifts and I think it should be developed. I think you should try other things as well, pottery for example, just to see if you enjoy it since you were interested in it.” Aragorn shrugged. “As for me, I did not appear to have gifts like those and so, of course I did not pursue them. My life path was much different than yours and I needed to be trained primarily as a warrior, a healer, and also to become a king and so I studied languages, healing and herb-lore, the histories of Middle-earth, archery, tracking, and swordplay. I was rather busy,” he said with a wry smile. Rebecca and Thomas laughed at his expression.

“So, will you try something new now that you have time?” Rebecca asked and Aragorn smiled.

“Do I appear to have much time?” he asked, his eyes sparkling. “No… at least not now. Though, I suppose you could say that being the King of Gondor and Arnor counts as doing something new,” he said, grinning. “As I said, I truly enjoy spending time with my family and I am not willing to give that up to do something else with the limited time that I have. I spent too many years apart from Arwen to not spend time with her now.”

“I can understand that,” Rebecca said. “Forty years is a long time. Did you ever see her?”

Aragorn laughed shortly. “Yes, Rebecca, I did. But not enough and it was often years between visits and even when I did see her, it might be only for a few days.”

“Oh. I don’t know how you did that, Adar. It must have been so hard on you and Arwen.”

“It was, but we had hope that someday Sauron would be destroyed and we could be together. Mostly, it was Arwen’s love and faith in me that gave me the courage to continue.”

“Now, that’s a story you should write down, Rebecca,” Thomas said, looking from her and back to Aragorn with a grin.

“Maybe I will,” she replied, laughing quietly. Aragorn smiled at the two of them as they rode on towards Helm’s Deep.

-------------

The first thing Thomas noticed as they rode up the causeway to enter Helm’s Deep was that the breached area along the Deeping Wall was still being repaired, but that the main gate had been restored. His eyes darkened slightly as he looked around, noticing the large burial mound for the Rohirrim and the large blackened area where the orcs had been burned. The trees from Fangorn were gone and he wondered how long they had stayed after the battle. They rode into the courtyard and were met by Marshal Erkenbrand as they dismounted and their horses were led away by stable hands. Glancing around the courtyard, Thomas could see that it too had mostly been restored to what it had looked like the night he had first seen it. It was hard to realize it was only a little over five months ago that he had been involved in a huge battle here. So much had happened since that time. Some very difficult things, but also some wonderful experiences that were worth all that he had gone through Thomas realized, glancing at his family and friends. With a start, he became aware that the company was disappearing into the Keep for a supper that Marshal Erkenbrand had arranged. He smiled at Rebecca as she came over to him and looked up at him with a hint of worry in her eyes. “I’m… just remembering and thinking, Rebecca, but maybe we can take a walk later or in the morning. How are you doing with being here?” he asked in concern as he studied her.

“I’m doing all right; it just seems strange more than anything else, especially to have everyone here with us.” Rebecca gestured to the hobbits and the large number of elves that had preceded them into the Keep. “It looks mostly the same and yet feels so different. There aren’t as many people around and it’s a lot quieter,” she said, remembering both the battle itself and the sounds of the wounded afterwards.

Thomas nodded and led her into the Keep where tables had been set up in the large central hall and where servants were now laying out food. They looked around curiously at the tapestry-covered stone room, not having paid any attention to it the first time they were here. It was much different than Meduseld. It was a large round room made of grey stone and the ceiling stretched high overhead with no windows that they could see. A large fire pit was in the middle of the room and the tables were arranged around it as the room was chilly even on this late summer day. Aragorn looked at them questioningly as they were the last to arrive and they slipped onto a bench at the end of a table, but they gave him small smiles and he turned back to Marshal Erkenbrand.

“Things look different here, do they not?” Elrohir asked quietly from his place across the table from them.

“It seems different,” Rebecca agreed, glancing around the hall once again. “Though, honestly Lord Elrohir, I really didn’t pay much attention to what things looked like in here.”

“We only set our bags in a room before the battle,” Thomas said slowly as he thought back, “and then afterwards we were too exhausted to notice anything. Even when we came back from Isengard… at least I was.” He glanced at Rebecca who nodded her agreement before turning to the food that had been placed in front of her.

“You did have a rather severe injury to your head, Thomas,” Elrohir pointed out, “and I am sure that kept you from noticing things as well.”

“Hmmm, that and the fact that I was struggling with the aftereffects of being in my first major battle,” he said with a grim smile. “It was not a pleasant time.” Rebecca took his hand and squeezed it gently and Thomas looked at her. “Not for either of us,” he added.

“I am sure not,” Elrohir said, his voice soft and gentle. “Do you have nightmares and dreams of this time?” he asked Thomas, but his gaze included Rebecca.

“I did for awhile,” he admitted, “but they’ve mostly stopped and were replaced by dreams from the other battles. I thought they might start up again with us coming here, but they haven’t.” He took a bite of bread and chewed it thoughtfully as he considered the absence of those particular nightmares, though of course they had been replaced by dreams of his family recently.

Elrohir looked at Rebecca and she shook her head. “My dreams come and go, Lord Elrohir, because I’ve talked to Merry and different people about them and that’s helped.” She shrugged and Thomas nodded. “So I did have nightmares about this battle at first, but,” she said in a low voice, “now if I have one they seem to be more about things I saw in Pelargir and then… then what-what happened to me on the Pelennor,” she shuddered. She gave Elrohir a sad smile. “Although, lately I’ve been dreaming about my mom… not nightmares really… just dreams. Do elves dream?” she asked, clearly trying to change the focus of their discussion.

“Yes, but they are not like mortal dreams, Lady Rebecca. We are able to control them and bend them to our will. It is difficult to explain,” he replied with a small smile. “Are the dreams of your mother of the good times that you had together?” Elrohir asked gently.

“You are not going to let this go, are you?” Rebecca asked, frowning.

“He usually doesn’t,” Thomas said, giving Elrohir a look that Rebecca couldn’t interpret.

Elladan, who was sitting next to his brother and had remained quiet during their discussion so far, finally spoke up. “Elrohir has always been gifted in the healing of hearts whereas I am more gifted in the healing of bodies,” he said quietly before returning to his supper.

Rebecca and Thomas looked at him for a moment and then continued eating their stew without responding. Finally, knowing that Elrohir was waiting with typical elven patience for some kind of response from her, Rebecca looked up and saw that he was gazing at her with compassion and she sighed softly. “Yes, Lord Elrohir, most of my dreams have been of the good times my mom and I had together. Shopping or talking, just being together.” She sighed again and looked away for a moment before returning to her food.

“Most of your dreams?”

“Except for the ones of the bus crash, Elrohir,” she hissed in an angry whisper. “Do you want to hear about those too?” Rebecca started to jump to her feet, but Thomas had his arm around her and she couldn’t move. Suddenly conscious of where she was, she forced herself to relax while still giving Elrohir an angry glare.

Elrohir appeared unmoved by her anger. “I would like to hear of those dreams, Lady Rebecca, though I believe we should wait until after supper,” he said as he glanced around.

“Probably,” Rebecca muttered, suddenly extremely tired.

“Good, then after supper you, Thomas, and I will find a place where you can both share your dreams with me.” Elrohir stopped Thomas’s protests with a look. “Do you think that no one has noticed your nightmares, Thomas? You are sharing a tent with Estel now and before that with Legolas and Gimli, do you think that none of them would notice? After what happened in Ithilien?”

Thomas sighed and shook his head. “No, but I thought they would stop soon. But why didn’t… why hasn’t Aragorn said anything to me?”

Elrohir gave him a small smile. “I believe it was because of our last discussion on dreams, Thomas, and he thought perhaps you would rather speak with me again. And if I spoke with you, then I should speak with Lady Rebecca as well,” he replied, glancing at her. “Would you prefer to speak with him?” he asked quietly. They hesitated, glancing at each other and Elrohir spoke again. “It would not offend me, young ones, and Estel is well able to help you.”

“Then-then, thank you, Lord Elrohir, but I think we’ll talk to our adar,” Rebecca said and he gave her and Thomas a kind and gentle smile.

“Do it soon, after supper if it is possible,” Elladan advised, speaking up once again.

The conversation then turned to other things, mostly of plans for the future; what Thomas and Rebecca planned to do on their return to Minas Tirith, when the two elves planned to be back in the city - Rebecca hoping they would come to their wedding, but the elves would make no promises in that regard and so the supper continued, more light hearted than it had begun.

-----------

Aragorn embraced Rebecca and Thomas one last time before wishing them good-night and they entered their respective rooms for what he judged would be a long and, hopefully, restful sleep after the emotional discussion they had just had. He had been a little surprised, yet strangely pleased, when they had approached him after supper and asked to speak with him about the dreams they had been having. It was not that he had not wanted to discuss their dreams with them; Aragorn had just felt that perhaps they might want to have another person’s perspective on some of the things they were dealing with. Knowing that Thomas had spoken with Elrohir before, he had asked his brother to speak with them. But evidently they found it either easier or more comforting to speak with him - probably both - Aragorn realized as he stood outside his own door absently pondering some of the things Rebecca and Thomas had told him of their dreams. His heart ached for them, yet he knew that they were doing much better than they had been and that sharing their dreams with him would further ease their grief.

“Are you going to bed, ion-nín or staying up for a time?”

Aragorn turned to see Elrond watching him with amused eyes and he realized he had been standing in the hallway for some time and he gave him a sheepish smile. “I was planning on going to bed, Adar, however I started thinking of other things and lost track of time.”

“So I gathered,”
Elrond said dryly, still looking amused. “Will you take a walk with me? Or, are you too tired?”

“I will walk with you, Adar,”
Aragorn said, inclining his head and moving alongside Elrond and heading down the hallway and out of the Keep. He took a deep breath of the cool night air and, glancing up at the stars, realized it was near midnight. They said nothing for a time and Aragorn followed Elrond’s lead as he walked beside the elf down the steps to the dimly lit Deeping Wall and along the top of it for a short way before speaking.

“Are your children doing well?”

“Yes, Adar, they are grieving, but are speaking of it and starting to heal.”
Aragorn hesitated and then said no more, his eyes suddenly looking into the distance as they touched on a subject that was too close to his own heart right now.

“Good. And are you speaking of your grief, ion-nín?” Elrond’s voice was gentle and Aragorn turned his gaze back to him and gave him a half smile.

“Yes… are you?” He gave Elrond a very pointed look and the elf nodded.

“I am. Perhaps we should speak together instead of only speaking with others,” Elrond suggested, taking a seat on the wall. Aragorn nodded and slowly lowered himself to a spot near Elrond, turning and leaning back against one of the higher parts of the wall.

“Do you remember the nightmares you used to have, Estel?” Aragorn shook his head, keeping his eyes fixed on Elrond who appeared lost in thought. “You were quite young,” he continued, “and your naneth and I were never sure what caused them and eventually they stopped, much to our relief.” Elrond looked at Aragorn with eyes full of love and affection. “Of course then you began your training to become a warrior and would injure yourself or occasionally you became lost in the woods.” Aragorn laughed softly as those memories came rushing back. “Those things caused me and her different kinds of concerns, ion-nín, but always we were there and could comfort you.”

“I remember,”
Aragorn said quietly, blinking back tears.

“Then you and your brothers left for months at a time and eventually as you became a man and learned of your heritage and your destiny, it was often years between visits. My concern for you never grew any less and probably increased because I knew how difficult your path was and I knew you most often walked it alone. You have become a great king of men, Aragorn, yet I still remember you as young Estel and you know my love for you has never changed, ion-nín.” Elrond paused and glanced away for a long moment and Aragorn watched him with tear-filled eyes. Finally he turned his gaze back to Aragorn and continued softly, “My love did not change even when you and Arwen became betrothed, Estel, you know this, we have discussed it before.”

Aragorn nodded. “I know, Adar, I know, yet I am still…” his voice trailed off, there were no words to describe what he was feeling.

“I know of your great love for each other, ion-nín, and the decision was not mine to make, it was always Arwen’s choice.” Elrond paused briefly. “As I believe you are beginning to discover, children are both the source of incredible love and joy and have the potential to bring great sorrow to you. But never forget that the love and the joy far outweigh any sorrow that might occur.”

“Yes, I do believe that, Adar,”
Aragorn said quietly and with a very faint smile. He shifted slightly on the wall, pulling one leg up and resting his arm on it as he studied his father. “Having Rebecca and Thomas has given me a little more… understanding of what you might be feeling. I know it is not the same,” he hastened to add, “but at least I have a sense of it.” He frowned, staring down at his boot.

“Why is it not the same? Because they have not been with you for long and Arwen has been with me almost three thousand years?” Elrond asked with a gentle smile and Aragorn nodded. “You know that it does not work that way, Estel. You became a son to me very quickly, within a few months after you arrived in Imladris and I assume that what you feel for Rebecca and Thomas is no different.”

“I do not think so, I cannot imagine loving children of my body more then I do them… as you said to me once.”
Aragorn looked closely at Elrond and closed his eyes briefly before fixing his gaze once more on the elf who was the only father he had ever known. “Adar, I will miss you and your love and your presence in my life more than I am able to describe.” Aragorn’s voice was soft and low and his eyes glistened as he continued. “I would try and thank you for all that you have done and have meant to me, yet I know that that is not possible either,” he paused again. “I love you, Adar,” he whispered as tears finally began falling and he lowered his head.

Aragorn felt a gentle hand stroking his head briefly and then the same hand lifting his chin and kissing his brow. “I will carry my love for you in my heart always, ion-nín,” Elrond said simply, his grey eyes studying Aragorn intently for a long moment before releasing his chin and turning away with a soft sigh, but not before Aragorn saw the flash of pain that crossed his face. Standing slowly, he stepped towards Elrond and laid his hand on his shoulder, turning his father slightly and embracing him firmly which was returned in full. Finally releasing each other, Elrond gave Aragorn a warm smile and they began walking slowly back towards the Keep. “Come, ion-nín, you should rest now, the King of Gondor and Arnor cannot be falling asleep as he meets with Marshal Erkenbrand in the morning.”

“Are you going to tuck me into bed, Adar?”
Aragorn asked with an eyebrow raised in question.

“No, however I am going to open your door and make sure you actually enter your room,” Elrond said with twinkling eyes. Aragorn laughed quietly as they walked up the stairs and entered the Keep.

------------

“Are you sure you don’t want to go with us lad?” Gimli asked.

Thomas looked up from his breakfast and gave the dwarf sitting across from him a hard stare. “Into the caves? No, I don’t think so, you and Legolas can go and I hope you have a good time, but I think I’ll stay out here with Rebecca and show the hobbits around.”

“You can go if you want to, Thomas,” Merry spoke up, “me and Rebecca can show everyone around, I was here for a little while.”

Thomas looked at him closely, trying to decide if the hobbit was simply being kind or if he knew of his fear of dark places, but Merry looked sincere and so he smiled. “Thank you, Merry, but I’d really rather not. Besides,” he looked at Legolas and Gimli, “I thought this was something between the two of you. Legolas was to explore the cave with you, Gimli, and then you are to go through Fangorn with him.” Gimli grunted his acknowledgement and Thomas sighed quietly in relief as Legolas gave him a knowing smile.

Aragorn stopped Rebecca, Thomas, and the hobbits as they were leaving the central hall and he carefully looked them over, his gaze lingering longest on Frodo, Rebecca, and Thomas. “And where are you all off to this morning?” he inquired.

“Rebecca and Thomas are going to show us around,” Pippin replied.

“Did you all sleep well?” Again his eyes focused on the same three people.

Frodo did not respond, but the rest gave him affirmative answers and so he looked closely at the hobbit. “Frodo?” he asked softly. “You did not sleep well?”

Sighing, Frodo shook his head and glanced around. “There are no windows here and these stone walls reminded me too much of,” he took a deep breath and looked up into Aragorn’s eyes, “other, darker places I’ve been.”

Aragorn frowned, glancing around at the walls. “I am sorry, Frodo. I wish I would have known so that we could have made other arrangements for you.”

“I didn’t know until I went to bed, Aragorn,” Frodo scowled, “and by then it was too late.” He shrugged. “It’s only for one more night and I’ll be fine.”

Sam snorted. “You need all the sleep you can get, Mr. Frodo. You haven’t been sleeping much even when we’ve been in the tents.” Frodo was starting to protest when Merry and Pippin agreed with Sam and he subsided.

“Can we set up some tents down on the grassy area outside the walls?” Rebecca asked, giving Frodo an anxious look. “At least some sleep has to be better than none.”

Putting up his hand to stop Frodo’s protests, Aragorn said quietly, “Rebecca is right, Frodo, you know that. You do need to sleep, your body needs to rest if it is to continue to heal.” Aragorn thought for a moment. “Frodo, I know you have been resistant to having sleeping draughts or even allowing me to help you to sleep, will you allow either one of those tonight?”

Frodo gave a reluctant nod. “I will tonight, Aragorn.”

“Good, and then I will let Elrond know of your sleeping habits so that he may watch over you the rest of the way,” Aragorn smiled at the frown on Frodo’s face. “I shall take my leave of you now,” he said with a brisk nod as he walked off, leaving the six of them staring after him.

“Well,” Pippin said slowly after a moment, “I guess we can go on now.” He turned and walked out the main doors of the Keep. He slowed once they were outside the door and let Rebecca and Thomas take the lead as the two of them led them around the main parts of the fortress, showing the hobbits the places that they had described to them during their conversations about the battle when they had been in Ithilien and Minas Tirith.

It was hard for Rebecca to walk up on the wall above the causeway, but she led them up there anyway, knowing it would probably be good for her to see the area again under the light of day. She gripped Thomas’s hand tightly as they walked along the top of the wall. Glancing down over the wall, Rebecca was surprised to see how far down it was, it hadn’t seemed that far when she was fighting, but then it had been dark and she supposed things looked a lot different then. She paused and looked around uncertainly, not exactly sure where she had stood during the battle.

“Is this the spot, Rebecca?” Merry asked quietly, looking up at her.

“I think so, it looks a lot different in the sunshine,” she replied as she stepped up to the wall and felt the rough edges of the stones as if it would help her remember. Besides Thomas, Rebecca had spoken the most to Merry about this battle. During the long days they had spent in the Houses of Healing, they had shared with each other their separate experiences since leaving Lothlórien. Neither of them had really expected to see any of the others again and so both had shared openly. Merry knew all about Renward, her time helping the wounded, her fear that everyone had died, and even about her injuries. “It seems a lot higher than I remember,” she added as she looked down once again.

“Maybe when they re-built it, they made it that way,” Frodo remarked. Rebecca turned and looked at him with a puzzled frown. “Well, didn’t you say the gate had been destroyed?” he glanced at Thomas who nodded. “So if it was destroyed they probably made it taller this time.”

“I forgot,” Rebecca said, “but evidently you were listening to Thomas or Legolas or someone,” she said with a smile and Frodo nodded. “I suppose you can shoot further if you’re higher up,” she commented. “Maybe to the end of the causeway.” Her eyes narrowed as she looked out over the wall and then images of that night filled her mind and she abruptly turned to Thomas. “I’ve seen enough from up here, unless anyone else wants to stay,” she said, glancing at the hobbits. After swiftly exchanging glances with one another they shook their heads. As they began walking towards the steps that led back down to the courtyard, Pippin slipped his hand into hers and she gave him a grateful smile before saying, just loud enough for Thomas to hear, “You’re going to make Thomas jealous, Pippin.”

Thomas glanced back and Pippin grinned at him. “Thomas knows I’ve loved you since the day I met you, my lady.” Frodo and Merry began laughing while Sam looked slightly appalled. Rebecca giggled as Thomas stopped and stared down at the young hobbit with a fierce expression.

“Peregrin Took,” he growled in his best Aragorn voice, “do not make me take my sword to you in defense of my betrothed’s honor.” Pippin’s eyes widened and then he slowly began grinning again as Thomas smiled faintly. “Come and walk with me, Pip,” Thomas gestured him forward as they started down the stairs. “I heard that there is going to be weapons practice this afternoon and I think you and I should spar. What do you think?” Those trailing behind, including Sam, laughed quietly at the confused expression on Pippin’s face.

“I think Merry and I are going to do something, aren’t we Merry?”

“Not that I know of,” Merry replied with a grin as they crossed the courtyard and headed out to the Deeping Wall. Pippin shot him a look over his shoulder.

“Good,” Thomas said cheerfully, “then you and I will spar this afternoon.” After looking around at the others and finding no one willing to help him out, Pippin nodded reluctantly. By this time they had reached the breach in the Deeping Wall and Thomas took a deep breath before he quietly began pointing things out and describing some of the things that had happened to him. Because of his scar, all of them knew about the man that had saved his life and Thomas had also told them how he had died just moments later. It made it easier to talk about that part of the battle. They did not go down into the area behind the wall, there was really no need to do so and so they headed back towards the Hornburg and the Keep with Thomas pointing out where the trees from Fangorn had been the morning after the battle.

“Trees appearing out of nowhere,” Sam said, shaking his head.

Merry smiled. “Wait until you meet an ent, Sam. They are truly incredible.”

“Talking trees,” Sam muttered to himself, “I can’t picture it.”

“They’re interesting,” Rebecca said with a smile as they returned to the Keep. They talked quietly for a moment before agreeing to meet in an hour or so for lunch and the hobbits turned to leave. Pippin hesitated and then came back to Thomas and looked up at him with an earnest expression.

“Thomas, you’re not really angry with me, are you?”

“No, of course not, Pip,” he replied with a laugh. “I know you too well to be upset by something like that. But I’d like to spar with you if you want to, we’ve never sparred and we won’t have a chance to do so in a few more days.”

Pippin looked very relieved and he grinned. “All right, then I’ll spar with you, Lord Thomas,” he said with a bow before hurrying after the other hobbits.

Rebecca and Thomas exchanged amused glances and then laughed as they entered the Keep.

------------

Aragorn glanced at Thomas as they walked back up the causeway after the weapons practice was finished. Thomas looked upset and he wasn’t exactly sure why. He had watched him spar with Pippin and with Halbarad and Thomas had done well in both matches, barely beating Pippin and losing quite handily to Halbarad. But neither of those should have surprised him and so he assumed something else was bothering him. “Thomas,” he asked in a low voice, “what is troubling you?”

Thomas looked at him in surprise. “How do you always know?” He paused briefly before continuing in a quiet voice. “It’s nothing really, Aragorn. It’s just that that was the first time I ever sparred with Pippin… he’s very good.” Aragorn nodded. “I just… I just wish I’d done it before.” He frowned. “It’s not really that, I’m just going to miss him… the other hobbits, too.”

“I know, I will as well,” Aragorn agreed. He stopped and pulled Thomas off to the side, right inside the gate into the courtyard and they continued talking in low voices as the rest of the people who had been practicing returned to the Keep. “Enjoy the next few days that we have with them, Thomas. And not only the hobbits, but the others who will be leaving as well. The days will go by quickly, but enjoy each moment you can spend with them.” Thomas nodded. “Now, Thomas, I believe that you need to go and get cleaned up before supper.” Aragorn looked him up and down and shook his head at Thomas’s sweat-stained, dirty clothing. “You did work hard,” he commented. “Do not stay up too late with Rebecca tonight,” he cautioned as they headed inside, “we will be leaving early to ride to Isengard.”

~~~

Elvish Translations:

Muindor nín – my brother
Sell-nín – my daughter
ion-nín – my son


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