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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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35
Homecoming - Part two

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

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


~~~

The first day out from Helm’s Deep, Rebecca and Thomas tried to spend as much time as they possibly could with those they would miss the most – Gimli, Legolas, and the four hobbits. They rode near each other most of the day, although Rebecca also spent some time with Haldir. Aragorn joined them during the morning, but after the lunch break he spent much of his time speaking with Gandalf, Galadriel, Celeborn, and Elrond.

As they set up their camp for the last evening they would all be together, Thomas approached Aragorn. “Would it be all right if we made a small fire for Rebecca, Gimli, Legolas, the hobbits, and me? And you if you can come,” he added quickly. “Gandalf, too, but he seems to be busy most of the time,” Thomas said with a small frown. “Anyway, we thought it would be nice to have one last evening together – just the Fellowship. Legolas said no one will mind, but Rebecca and I thought we should ask you first. We don’t want to be rude or upset anyone.”

Aragorn gave him a reassuring smile. “No one would think it rude for you to do such, Thomas.” He paused briefly, his eyes narrowed. “Except perhaps for Glorfindel who, I believe, was expecting Rebecca to share a story this evening. I would not be surprised if he came and joined you, or came and requested her presence at the main fire,” his said, his eyes sparkling with amusement.

Thomas laughed. “I don’t think I’ll tell Rebecca that, it would make her nervous. Do you think you will join us? It wouldn’t be quite the same if you weren’t there.”

“Yes, I will. I would enjoy spending time with all of you this evening.” He smiled as Thomas’s face brightened and Aragorn clasped his son’s shoulder briefly. “I will go and speak with Gandalf and let Halbarad know where I will be and will join you shortly.” Thomas nodded and walked back to where Rebecca and the others were waiting.

Sam, with help from Merry and Pippin, cooked supper and as they ate, Thomas was briefly reminded of the days they had spent on the quest. Except, he admitted wryly to himself, that they were in no danger, the food was much better, they were surrounded by many other people, and Boromir was not with them. He was somewhat startled to realize that he could now think and talk about Boromir without it causing him deep pain and he knew that his talk with Faramir several months previously had helped him begin to heal. Thomas knew that it was much the same for Rebecca as he watched her laugh with Pippin over something that the hobbit had done to Boromir when they were in Lothlórien. Pipes were pulled out after supper and Thomas smiled as Legolas tried to find a place to sit that was out of the smoke and the elf finally sat down next to Rebecca with a slight scowl on his face since it put him next to Aragorn who was also smoking, but at least the king was downwind. Pippin, as he had done several times in the past, offered Thomas his pipe, but he declined once again with a shudder. Gandalf showed up then and settled down amidst the hobbits, lighting his own pipe and Thomas could hear the little sigh of annoyance from Legolas and a soft chuckle from both Aragorn and Rebecca. The members of the Fellowship sat up very late, talking and laughing about the journey they had made together. None of them spoke about the trip beyond Lothlórien. None of them spoke about what the next day would bring. And Glorfindel never did show up.

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“Gandalf, will we have to talk with Saruman today?” Thomas asked as he and Rebecca rode up alongside the wizard in the bright early morning sun.

“He may not even show himself,” Gandalf replied as he gazed at them with his kind blue eyes. “But if he does, remember Saruman has no power over you and all his words are meant to deceive you.”

They nodded and then Rebecca spoke quietly, “I hope he doesn’t show himself, Gandalf. Seeing him one time was enough for me.”

“You do not have to approach Orthanc, though I believe that you should. Do not allow him to have control over what you choose to do.” Gandalf glanced between Rebecca and Thomas. “You know that he cannot hurt you.”

“Unless he has another palantir to throw at us,” Thomas commented and Gandalf and Rebecca laughed.

“Throwing something is the only way he can hurt any of us,” the wizard agreed, smiling. “Though there is not another palantir in Orthanc.”

“Gandalf,” Rebecca asked slowly, “Aragorn told us that you are a Maia and that is why you have to leave Middle-earth. What does that mean? I thought you were a wizard.” She ran her fingers through Merilvor’s mane as she looked at Gandalf.

“Many of the people of Middle-earth call me a wizard because it is a term that they can best understand,” he replied. “But Aragorn is, of course, correct and I am a Maia which in the simplest of terms means that I am a servant of the Valar. I was sent here under their direction to help combat the evil of Sauron and now that he is destroyed it is time for me to return to my home. Valinor is my home, Rebecca.”

“You must miss it,” Thomas said, giving Gandalf a look of complete understanding.

“I do, though I will greatly miss Middle-earth and the people I have grown to care for here,” he said in a soft and gentle voice.

“I’ll miss you too, Gandalf,” Rebecca choked out, looking away from him. Taking a deep breath, she turned back and gave him a shaky smile. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.” She desperately tried to hold back her tears, but some trickled down her cheeks anyway.

“You are welcome, though I have done very little for either of you,” he replied with a smile. “You have both done quite well here in Middle-earth.”

“Yes,” Thomas said, “but you were with us at the beginning and helped us a lot just by believing us, Gandalf. I’ll miss you,” he added quietly.

“When will you leave?” Rebecca asked. “Do you think you could come to our wedding?”

Gandalf gazed at her with eyes full of compassion. “I do not yet know exactly when I will leave, Rebecca, but I will not be returning to the South again before that time. May your marriage be blessed,” his eyes moved from Rebecca to Thomas who murmured his thanks.

Rebecca sighed. “I didn’t think you could, Mithrandir,” she smiled slightly as she said his elvish name, “but I still thought I’d ask so you’d know that we wanted you there.”

“I never doubted that, young lady,” Gandalf said, smiling in return, as he leaned over and patted her hand.

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They reached Isengard early in the afternoon and Aragorn was surprised at the changes that had taken place since he had last seen it. The Isen River had been allowed to flow back into its natural course and the ents had removed the rock walls and cleaned out all the debris and had begun restoring the once beautiful landscape. He was pleased to see that the deep holes Saruman and his orcs had made all around the area had been filled in. Aragorn wanted to protect any unwary travelers that might venture this way, not that he expected many in the near future. Still, Isengard was part of his kingdom and it was his responsibility to keep his people safe. He listened with amusement to the whispers of Frodo, Sam, his guardsmen, and his Rangers as Treebeard and another ent spoke with Gandalf. Pushing his amusement aside, he was appalled when he realized that Treebeard had released Saruman. However, he knew that the ent was just as easily influenced by Saruman’s voice as any other living being. Aragorn could only hope that the fallen wizard would not cause any more damage to the peoples of Middle-earth. After exchanging a grim look with Gandalf, Aragorn left Saruman in his hands to deal with, there was little he could do about it at this time. Bowing slightly, Aragorn accepted the keys to Orthanc from the ents and then gave them the grounds and vale of Isengard for their own use in return for watching over the tower on his behalf. The ents gave Merry and Pippin one last drink of their special draught before they strode away into the forest.

The members of the Fellowship gathered together a little apart from everyone else to say good-bye to Gimli and Legolas who were leaving to go through Fangorn and then heading north to their respective homes. For Thomas this would be both the easiest and the hardest of all the good-byes he would have today. The easiest because he knew that he would probably see both of them again in less than a year and yet also the hardest because he had been around Legolas and Gimli almost every single day since his arrival in Middle-earth. They were his closest friends here and he knew that he would miss them deeply, in ways that he wouldn’t miss the others. The three of them, along with Aragorn, had had experiences together that were different than what they shared with the rest of the Fellowship. He hung back and let the others say good-bye first. Thomas watched as Legolas and Gimli very respectfully took their leave of Gandalf, not that they had ever been other than respectful towards him and yet Thomas was more aware of it as he had come to realize just who the wizard was. They were no less respectful of Frodo and Sam, though in a gentler way and Thomas almost thought that Gimli had tears in his eyes, though it seemed unlikely. If Gimli did have tears in his eyes, they quickly disappeared as he turned to Merry and Pippin and began gruffly teasing them about staying out of trouble so that he didn’t have to come and rescue them again. And then it was Rebecca’s turn and Thomas was surprised at how well she seemed to handle her emotions until he realized that, like him, she knew she would see them again soon. Legolas spoke to her briefly before embracing her gently and kissing her brow, while Gimli kissed her hand and bowed deeply as he said farewell. It took Aragorn nudging him in the back before Thomas stepped forward to say his own good-byes.

“Navaer, mellon nín,” he said to Legolas, “thank you.” Thomas paused having running out of the Sindarin words he knew by heart and yet wanting to continue in Legolas’s own language as best he could and so he fumbled along for awhile. “For all you… have done for me.” He shrugged. “I tried to say it in Sindarin, but I guess I should just say it in common instead.” Legolas smiled. “Thank you for all that you have taught me and for just being my friend, Legolas. I know you’ll return with the dwarf,” he glanced down at Gimli and grinned as Gimli scowled at him, “but I’ll miss you while you’re gone.”

“There is no need for you to thank me for my friendship, it is freely given,” he replied softly. “However, time will pass more swiftly while I am gone if you keep busy and so I suggest you practice your archery and on my return I expect you to be much improved.” Legolas’s smile turned into light laughter and the rest of the Fellowship joined him – Thomas included. Legolas clasped Thomas’s forearm tightly and then drew him into a firm embrace. As Legolas released him, Thomas stepped back and looked down at Gimli with a small frown on his face, unsure how to say good-bye as he didn’t want to offend the dwarf who didn’t show his emotions as readily as the others did, finally he just held out his hand.

“Good-bye, Gimli,” Thomas said, “I’ll miss you. Make sure you take care of Legolas on the way home,” he grinned.

Gimli grasped his forearm hard and snorted with amusement at Thomas’s comment. “I’ll take care of the elf, lad, if you’ll take care of Rebecca.” They glanced over to where she stood in front of Aragorn, his hands resting lightly on her shoulders.

“Well, I’ll do my best,” Thomas smiled, “but, like Legolas, most of the time she’s pretty good at taking care of herself.” Rebecca just shook her head, smiling.

Legolas and Gimli then moved to Aragorn to take their leave of him and Rebecca stepped aside and back out of the way. “May the Valar bless your journey home and may your return be swift,” he said as he clasped arms with Gimli and then Legolas, embracing the elf as well.

“As swift as is possible,” Gimli replied while Legolas just nodded. The two of them took their leave of the rest of the party before mounting Arod and heading off into Fangorn Forest. Rebecca bit her lip as she watched them go and as they disappeared into the trees, she returned to her horse, thanking Maldathor for holding it for her. The company mounted their horses and rode on to the Gap of Rohan where the rest of the party would be taking their leave and heading north to Rivendell.

It took four hours to reach the place where the two groups would be parting ways and during most of that time, Aragorn rode alongside Alvist giving him last minute instructions for the ordering of both the Kingdom of Arnor and for the leadership of the Rangers in his stead. He had spent many hours with him in Minas Tirith and some time during the trip, but several questions had come up in the last few days that needed to be answered while they were still together. One of the most important things Aragorn was arranging was a system of messengers to speed communications between the northern and southern parts of his Kingdom. He had to be able to quickly relay orders to Alvist and needed to be able to hear back from his Steward in a timely manner. Aragorn knew it would take time, but it was one of the first tasks he was giving to Alvist, along with beginning to set up the northern capital at Annúminas.

As Aragorn dismounted to take his leave of family and friends, he cast a concerned gaze at Rebecca and Thomas, but they were facing the other way and so he turned to his own farewells. Having said all that needed to be said to Elrond at Helm’s Deep, he simply embraced his adar firmly for a long moment and whispered, “Navaer, Adar.” Elrond stepped back and held him by the shoulders as he gazed at him with his piercing grey eyes, which softened with love as he quietly replied.

“May the Valar guide and protect you, ion-nín and may you be blessed all the days of your life,” Elrond turned abruptly and walked away. Aragorn watched him go before turning to face his brothers who were watching the two of them with sorrow in their eyes.

“Navaer, Elladan, Elrohir,” he said as he embraced them in turn. “Thank you for being at my side these last months and for not listening to me at Dunharrow.” Aragorn gave them a small smile as he remembered his plea that they not accompany him through the Paths of the Dead.

“You are welcome, muindor-nín and while I do not know when our path will bring us to Minas Tirith again, it will not be long, even in the reckoning of men,” Elladan replied. He glanced at Elrohir and then back at Aragorn. “There will be much now that will draw us south. Navaer, Estel.” He stepped back and left Elrohir alone with Aragorn.

“You are a good husband to Arwen, Estel,” Elrohir said quietly, “and a good father to those who have come into your keeping. Perhaps when I return there will be small ones in your household.” He gave Aragorn a sly smile.

“Not for a time, I think, Elrohir,” Aragorn replied with the same smile and a small laugh. “Arwen and I would like some time to ourselves.”

Elrohir gave him an understanding look. “Navaer, Estel, muindor-nín. May you be blessed.” He embraced Aragorn again.

As Aragorn was taking leave of his father and brothers, Rebecca and Thomas were with the hobbits. “Good-bye, Rebecca, Thomas,” Frodo said in his quiet voice as he looked up at them, his blue eyes shadowed and Rebecca wasn’t sure it was because of their parting or because of his own personal pain that she knew he suffered. “I’m glad that you came here… even though I know it’s been hard for you. But I’m glad that I got to meet you.” Frodo bowed slightly before kissing Rebecca’s hand and grasping Thomas’s.

Rebecca looked down for a moment before meeting Frodo’s eyes. “May the Valar bless you, Frodo,” she said softly. “I’ll miss you… I hope that… well, I hope that you get better.” She didn’t add that she hoped that his healing would be in the Shire and not in Valinor so that she might see him again, but Rebecca suspected Frodo knew what she was saying by the look in his eyes before he turned to Thomas who quietly said his own good-bye to the hobbit.

Thomas looked down at Sam with a small smile on his lips. “Good-bye, Sam. I expect to hear all about the wedding as soon as you marry Rosie.” Sam looked startled for a moment before blushing and mumbling under his breath as the rest of the hobbits and Rebecca laughed. Sam and Rebecca said their farewells and then she and Thomas turned to Merry and Pippin and tears filled all of their eyes as they looked at each other. Merry spoke first.

“We still expect you to come to the Shire someday, Rebecca. You and Thomas,” Merry glanced at him as the hobbit took Rebecca’s hand, “need to come and see our homes and to see what the North is like.”

“I’ll come to see you and Pippin, and Sam, and Frodo,” Rebecca replied, wiping away her tears. “I want to see where you live, but I’ll mostly just want to see you. I – I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like without all of you around.”

“Much better for everyone, I imagine,” Pippin said with a grin that Rebecca and Thomas could see through, a grin they would miss often in the days and years ahead. Knowing she could not put it off any longer and that no words could fully express what they meant to her, Rebecca tightly embraced first Pippin and then Merry before backing away with a whispered good-bye. Thomas knelt down and more hesitantly embraced both of the hobbits. Like Rebecca, he knew that there weren’t words to express how he felt about the two of them and all that they had gone through together and he also knew that the last few weeks they had been telling each other good-bye in other ways. Aragorn arrived then to take his leave of the hobbits and Thomas moved to Rebecca, taking her hand and rubbing it gently. Thomas was surprised that she wasn’t crying, except for occasional tears that fell from the corners of her eyes, but he realized that saying good-bye to those you loved paled in comparison to all they had been through in the last month. They would, hopefully, see most of these people again someday.

Aragorn knelt amongst the hobbits, much like Thomas had done, and he gazed at each of them in turn, his eyes lingering on Frodo the longest, a hint of sorrow darkening them. “Never did I imagine the depth of the courage and the honor that lay within each of you when I met you on that dark night at the Prancing Pony.” Sam shifted uneasily on his feet and Aragorn gave him a gentle smile. “Perhaps I should say that I did see your courage that night, Samwise, in your mistrust of a scruffy Ranger as you tried to protect your master and that it only grew as our quest continued. The peoples of Middle-earth and, I, in my role as your King, should shower you all with gifts for your deeds on behalf of us all and yet you will take nothing.” Pippin opened his mouth to speak and Aragorn silenced him with a look. “I know you are taking the ponies, Peregrin Took,” he said with a smile as he shook his head. “And may I remind you, Peregrin, that you are a Guard of the Citadel and that you are only going on leave and that I may recall you if I have need?”

Pippin bowed. “I am aware of that, my lord King Elessar,” he replied. “I won’t forget my duty,” his normally light-hearted manner was gone instantly, replaced by the serious warrior that he had become over the last few months of their journey.

Sighing, Aragorn bowed his head briefly before meeting their eyes once again. “I will miss all of you, yet I know that we shall see each other again when I come to Arnor, though perhaps you may return to Minas Tirith before then. Be well,” he said, embracing each of them as they whispered their good-byes. He held Frodo a little longer than the others and when he released him, a look of understanding and sorrow passed between them.

It was too hard for Rebecca to watch Aragorn and the hobbits and so she turned away and saw Haldir standing a short distance away with what she at one time would have called an unreadable expression. However she could read his eyes well enough by now to see the hints of compassion there and she released Thomas’s hand and walked to him. “Navaer, Haldir, Captain of the Lothlórien Guard,” Rebecca said with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “I’II miss you and I hope that you’ll be able to come to Minas Tirith again someday.” Haldir took her hand and looked at her steadily for a long moment before he replied.

“I will miss you as well, Lady Rebecca, and as my lord is staying in Middle-earth, I believe we shall see each other again.” Haldir paused, looking into the distance for a moment. “If my lord and lady allow it, I hope to come to Minas Tirith for your wedding.” Rebecca’s face lit up as Haldir continued with a trace of amusement in his voice. “Though, I have not been invited.”

Rebecca laughed. “Well, I suppose if you came we’d try and find room for you.” Her voice turned serious, “It truly would be wonderful if you could come, but I’ll understand if you’re not able to… if your duty keeps you in Lothlórien.”

Haldir gave her a brief smile. “My duties will be changing somewhat over the next few years as many of my kin sail to Valinor, but I do think that I may be able to attend,” he said as he glanced at someone behind Rebecca before meeting her eyes once again. “Navaer, Lady Rebecca, may the Valar be with you.” He kissed the hand he had been holding, bowed and stepped back, looking once again to whoever was behind her. Rebecca smiled at him one last time and then, curious, turned to see who was there. She bowed to Galadriel, but the elf said nothing, just motioned for her to join Thomas, Aragorn, and Celeborn a few yards away. Rebecca joined them in time to hear Aragorn saying farewell to his grandfather, it was in elvish and she understood the gist of it - that Celeborn would return to Minas Tirith in the future - before they embraced. Joining Thomas and taking his hand, Rebecca watched as Aragorn then turned to Galadriel and bowed. Galadriel smiled gently and kissed his cheek. They stood close together for a moment and Rebecca had no doubt that Galadriel was speaking to Aragorn silently, but finally the elf stepped back.

“Thank you, Daernaneth,” Aragorn said with a smile. “I shall miss your wisdom and your love. Navaer.” He bowed once again, then cast a sidelong glance at Rebecca and Thomas as Celeborn and Galadriel turned their attention to them.

“Lady Rebecca, Thomas,” Celeborn said looking down at them with compassion in his blue eyes, “the parting of friends and those you love is often difficult and yet many of these you will see again, though the years may be long as mortals count such things. Remember that you are not alone in your sorrow,” his gaze shifted to Aragorn briefly, “draw strength from one another. We shall see each other again, young ones,” he gave them a gentle smile, “Farewell.”

Thomas bowed deeply and met the elf’s eyes as best he could. “Thank you, Lord Celeborn… for everything that you have done for me and I hope it’s not too long before I see you again.” Celeborn inclined his head fractionally as Thomas then bowed deeply to Galadriel before he moved back for Rebecca.

Looking between Celeborn and Galadriel, Rebecca wasn’t sure how to express what was in her heart, especially with Galadriel leaving and knowing that she would never see her again. Though when she looked at Galadriel she realized that the elf knew exactly what she felt and she relaxed. “I’m not sure I can say what I feel, Lord Celeborn, so Lady Galadriel will have to tell you that.” She smiled and hints of amusement appeared in the two elves’ eyes while those around them laughed lightly. “I do thank you for making me feel welcome in Lothlórien and for having me begin my training as a healer and as an archer. But mostly I thank you for helping me in Minas Tirith.” Rebecca paused and stared at the ground for a moment before looking up and meeting Celeborn and Galadriel’s eyes briefly. “I’ll miss you both and I wish that I could see you again Lady Galadriel. Even though I do understand your desire to return to your home.”

Galadriel cupped her cheek gently for a brief moment. “You are welcome, child. And while we were able to give you some guidance, it was your own effort and decisions that have brought you to where you are at this time. May the Valar bless you and Thomas,” Galadriel turned her eyes upon him briefly and he met them without wavering, “in the years ahead of you, in this place that is truly now your home.” Rebecca bowed before she grabbed Thomas’s hand as the two elves moved gracefully away.

“Is that everyone?” Rebecca whispered to Thomas, but he shook his head, indicating Elladan and Elrohir standing nearby. “Well, we must say good-bye to them, I suppose,” she said with a grin and Thomas smiled as they walked over to the two elves.

“Navaer, Lord Elladan, Lord Elrohir,” Rebecca said quietly, looking from one to the other. “I hope that you won’t be gone too long, it won’t seem quite right without you there.”

“Besides, who will take care of us if we get injured?” Thomas asked with a smile and Rebecca laughed. An annoyed snort sounded behind them and the two of them turned to see Aragorn scowling down at them, though his eyes were twinkling with amusement and they turned back to the elves to see they also looked amused.

“I believe that Estel is very capable of handling any injuries that arise, Thomas,” Elladan replied with a small smile. He turned his gaze to Rebecca, “As long as the patient follows his directions,” he added meaningfully. Rebecca blushed and looked away while the others laughed quietly. “We shall return when we can, but whether that be one year or five, I know not,” he shrugged gracefully. “Be well, Lady Rebecca, Thomas, until the time we meet again.” He kissed Rebecca’s hand lightly and then clasped Thomas’s forearm.

Elrohir looked at Rebecca and Thomas for a long moment before he spoke quietly. “I do not know when we will see each other again, young ones, though I know that we will. Do not grieve overmuch at the parting of those you love this day, but instead take joy in those still with you. Each other, your adar, Arwen, Halbarad,” he glanced at the Ranger who, after saying his own good-byes, had come to stand near Aragorn, “Faramir, and many others in the place that is now your home. They shall be enough for you,” he gazed at them searchingly and then smiled. “You will do well,” he added. “Navaer.” To Rebecca and Thomas’s very great surprise, he embraced them each in turn. He laughed softly as he released them. “I told you once, Thomas, that since Estel was as a father to you, that made me some sort of an uncle.”

“You did,” Thomas replied, still surprised at the physical display of affection from the elf, “and… well, I’m honored, I’ve never had an uncle.”

“I know,” Elrohir nodded and then looked to Rebecca who smiled. “May the Valar bless you,” he said before turning and walking off with Elladan.

“That was interesting,” Rebecca whispered as she watched them walk away, “though I guess it makes a strange sort of sense. When did he tell you that?”

“In Ithilien, when I was having those dreams I was telling you about and he and I talked about them.” Thomas turned around to speak to Aragorn, but he had disappeared and he finally saw him talking with Gandalf, and Thomas frowned slightly as he watched them. He knew how close they were and that this was another difficult parting for Aragorn. “Let’s go back to our horses, Rebecca.” He tugged on her hand and she nodded absently and he saw that she was also watching Aragorn and Gandalf. As they had spoken with the wizard earlier in the day, neither of them felt they needed to say a long good-bye to him now, and so they made their way back to where the horses were being held. They stopped and said good-bye to Glorfindel and Erestor on their way; thanking Erestor for the hours he had spent teaching them and the elf promised to send Rebecca books from the library in Imladris so that she could further her studies, much to her delight. They also said a brief good-bye to Elrond and one final farewell to Merry and Pippin before reaching their horses. Now that they had said their goodbyes, both of them were anxious to leave. Keeping one eye on Aragorn, they began checking their horses tack to make sure that all was in readiness for their departure. Thomas looked up when Rebecca called his name and he was glad to see that Aragorn was finally approaching.

“Are you two ready to leave?” Aragorn asked as he drew near, looking them over carefully. They nodded and he gave them a reassuring smile before he checked Roheryn’s tack and swiftly mounted. Rebecca, Thomas and the rest of their small party quickly followed his lead. Aragorn glanced at Halbarad and around at his guardsmen and the four Rangers that would be his escort back to Edoras. Besides Hinluin, Laegrist and two other Rangers had decided to stay in the South to be part of his personal guard. Aragorn was thankful to have at least some of the men he had known most of his life with him on a permanent basis. The group heading north departed first, none of the elves looking back as was typical of their nature, but Aragorn raised his hand in farewell to the hobbits as they turned and waved. Reining Roheryn around he looked closely at Rebecca one more time. “I would like to ride for a few hours, sell-nín, if you are able to do so.”

Rebecca scowled at him briefly and then relaxed at the look of concern in his eyes. “Yes, Adar, I’ll be fine and I’ll tell you if I get tired,” she replied quietly and he nodded before urging his horse into a canter. They rode hard for several hours, stopping just in time to put up the tents the packhorses carried before full dark fell. Thomas and Rebecca glanced around as they slowly dismounted and saw that some guardsmen were already starting to set up tents while others were taking care of the horses. They wondered who would fix meals now as several of the elves had done the cooking on the trip from Edoras. “We should probably be helping, Thomas,” Rebecca said as she quickly started to remove Merilvor’s tack.

Thomas nodded his agreement. “We should. I’ll finish with the horses if you want to,” he paused and looked around, seeing Halbarad with both Aragorn’s horse and his own while Aragorn was starting a fire, “see if Aragorn needs help. Or, you can do this,” he said, shrugging.

“I’ll go and help Aragorn.” Rebecca walked over and crouched down by him just as he lit the fire. He glanced at her with a smile. “Can I do anything?” she offered. “Get more wood or help cook or something?” Aragorn’s smile widened.

“Do you know how to cook? You have never done so before.” Aragorn stood and walked over to where the packs with food supplies had been piled and she followed him.

“Of course I do, I’ve just never had to before,” she pointed out. “No one ever asked me to and there’s always been someone else fixing it or we ate dried meat and stale bread and wonderful things like that. But I can cook, though I’ve never done it over a fire before.” Aragorn looked up at her questioningly from where he was pulling things out of the packs and she shrugged. “It’s just done differently there,” she said as he handed her a couple of carefully wrapped packages of fresh bread they had gotten at Helm’s Deep. He continued rummaging through the packs and brought out vegetables, meat, herbs, and other things to make a soup, along with cheese and various fruits. Aragorn put the things in several pots to carry them and started back to the fire.

“As you have never cooked over a fire, I think it best that you just help me, Rebecca. At least tonight,” he said with a smile which she returned.

“Is this enough food?” she asked as she helped Aragorn cut the vegetables into small pieces, glancing around at the number of men in the camp. Besides the four of them and the four Rangers, there were another twenty or so guardsmen and the soup they were making wouldn’t be near enough for that many people. It was true that the guardsmen hadn’t eaten with them before, but Rebecca had assumed that was just because of the sheer number of people in the camp.

Aragorn gave her a wry smile as he replied, “The guardsmen will not eat with us. They do not feel it is proper to eat with the king and so they will prepare their own meals, one of them is acknowledged as a very good cook. He would actually have prepared our food as well, but I refused to allow him to do so. Halbarad and I and all of my Rangers are all perfectly capable of cooking for ourselves,” he smiled again, “and it appears you are as well.” He glanced up at Thomas as he approached with an armload of wood. “Do you cook, Thomas?”

“A few things,” he replied with a small shrug. “On the ranch we sometimes had to go out after the horses and would spend a night or two away from the house and I learned how to cook some things, breakfast foods mostly. Nothing like what you are making.” He sniffed appreciatively as he set the wood down and then sat down himself, wrapping his arms around his knees. “Can I do anything?” Thomas asked after a moment as he watched Rebecca stir the soup.

“No, we just have to let it cook for awhile,” Aragorn said, pulling out his pipe. “You seem to be faring well,” he commented after the pipe was lit.

“It doesn’t quite seem real yet,” Rebecca said, poking at the fire with a stick. “And maybe because I’ve been away from everyone a couple of times before makes it easier, especially because then I didn’t know if I would ever see you again. Now I at least have some of you with me.” She smiled weakly at Aragorn and Thomas and then at Halbarad as he joined them. “Or, maybe it’s just that after everything else I’ve been through in the last month, it doesn’t seem too hard yet. I know I’ll miss them, Adar, just not… yet.” She stared into the orange coals of the fire as she continued to poke at them with her long stick.

“I miss Legolas and Gimli already,” Thomas said quietly, “I’m used to riding with them most of the time and it seems strange not to have them there.” He rubbed his forehead. “I’m glad they’ll be back soon… well, soon compared to when we’ll see anyone else again.” He looked up at Aragorn. “Elrohir reminded us that we have other people around us and a place to call home and to find joy in that,” he said with a deep sigh. “I’m trying to, but it’s hard.”

“I doubt if he meant trying to do that today, ion-nín. It will take time, yet it is a good thing to remember. Stir the soup, Rebecca,” Aragorn said suddenly as she had become absorbed in staring at the fire and, startled, she straightened up and did as he asked, giving him a sheepish smile. Aragorn glanced up as Hinluin, Laegrist, and the other two Rangers, Baisael and Balrant - who were brothers - stood uncertainly just on the edge of the firelight. Until tonight they had always eaten with the rest of the Rangers at a separate fire, but Aragorn had purposefully invited them to join him. He had heeded Alvist’s advice and informed the Rangers about Rebecca and Thomas several days ago, but he had seen the somewhat uneasy looks they had been giving them and he wanted to try and make his Rangers a little more comfortable. Especially for Thomas’s sake and his friendship with Hinluin, though the young Ranger had seemed the least disturbed by what Aragorn had shared. But Aragorn also just wanted to enjoy the company of his men in a relaxed and informal setting. He knew that once they returned to Edoras and joined the rest of the company for the return to Minas Tirith he would not be able to sit and talk with them like this. And in Minas Tirith he would have even less opportunity, though he vowed that he would find the time to do so. Aragorn had known the three older men since he had first left Rivendell and joined the Rangers almost seventy years ago. While he knew that there would always be a certain degree of formality between them, he did not want to lose these relationships. Now Aragorn smiled faintly at the men. “Come and sit, it’s not quite ready yet.” Hinluin quickly sat down between Thomas and Halbarad while the other three Rangers settled down between Halbarad and Aragorn.

Rebecca watched and listened as Laegrist, Baisael, and Balrant slowly relaxed and began talking with Halbarad and Aragorn about people and places she had never heard of. The longer they spoke, she was struck by how long these men had known each other. She assumed that all of these men were somewhere in their seventies or eighties, though except for some grey hair none of them really looked it. Thomas was trying to explain to Hinluin some details of his life before he had arrived in Middle-earth and Rebecca wished the hobbits and the elves were there so that she had someone to talk with, even though she knew she could join Thomas and Hinluin’s conversation. She was suddenly anxious to reach Edoras so that Arwen would once again be part of their party and she realized how much she was starting to look to the elf, not only for the comfort she often gave her, but also for the female companionship. Absently poking at the fire with her stick, Rebecca started when a gentle hand landed on her shoulder and patted it gently. Looking up, she saw Aragorn gazing at her with concern and also understanding in his grey eyes as he leaned over to speak with her. Rebecca quickly glanced at the Rangers and noticed they were still talking with each other and she focused back on Aragorn as he whispered, “I also miss them.”

Nodding, Rebecca whispered in return, “Yes, but I was also thinking about Arwen.” She continued at his questioning look. “I’ll be glad to see her again, Adar. She just… she always seems to know what to say and I miss her.”

Aragorn smiled. “Me, too.” He checked the soup. “I think it is done, hand me the bowls.” Aragorn began dishing up the soup, silencing his Rangers’ protests that he should not be serving them with a stern look. Rebecca handed the bread and cheese around and they ate with few words spoken between them. Balrant took the dishes off to clean them and the Rangers took their pipes out with contented sighs. After Aragorn had his pipe lit, he glanced at the people around the fire before looking at Rebecca and asking softly, so his voice did not carry, “Rebecca, would you be willing to tell a story tonight?”

Rebecca’s gaze flew swiftly to the Rangers sitting across from her and then back to Aragorn and she shook her head. “Not tonight, maybe tomorrow.” Aragorn nodded. “How long will it take to get to Edoras?” she asked, louder now.

“Since we do not have the ponies slowing us down, I intend to ride hard tomorrow and then get there late in the afternoon the following day.” He smiled at her. “We will not be riding as hard as we have sometimes ridden in the past, sell-nín.”

Across the fire from them, Halbarad snorted, “I doubt we’ll ever ride as hard as we did across southern Gondor, my lord.” Quiet laughter followed that remark.

“But we made it to Minas Tirith on time,” Hinluin pointed out with a grin. Aragorn was glad to see that much of Hinluin’s cheerful personality had been restored in the last couple of months. He knew that the loss of his brother had been, and would continue to be, a devastating loss for Hinluin, especially as he had already lost his parents. But Aragorn had spoken with Hinluin on several occasions during the months since Hinhael’s death and felt that the young Ranger was doing well and would eventually be able to recover from the loss. The rest of the Rangers were very protective of Hinluin since he had joined the Rangers at a very young age after his parents had died and Aragorn thought that that was part of the reason that Baisael had decided to stay in the South. Baisael’s wife had died and so there was nothing keeping him in the North, but he had been very close friends with Hinluin’s father and Aragorn detected a distinctly paternal air about him when it came to Hinluin. Balrant, who at seventy-five was almost twenty-five years younger than his brother, was going to go north in the spring to bring back his wife and children, as was Laegrist.

Aragorn mostly listened as his Rangers, helped along by Halbarad, finally began asking questions and talking with Rebecca and Thomas about the time they had come from. He could feel Rebecca relaxing beside him the longer they talked and he was somewhat surprised at how nervous she seemed, yet he knew that once she got to know his men she would trust them completely – just as she did Halbarad. Glancing at the sky, he could see it was getting late and that with the day that lay ahead of them it was time for them to seek their rest. At a pause in the conversation, he spoke up quietly, “We have a long day ahead of us and I intend to seek my rest now.” He stood gracefully to his feet and after a momentary hesitation, Rebecca and Thomas stood as well. “I will escort Rebecca to her tent, Thomas,” Aragorn said quietly, yet firmly and the two murmured good-night to each other without protest and Thomas headed off as Aragorn led her to a small tent set in the middle of the other tents. “Good-night, Rebecca,” he said as stopped in front of her tent. “Will you be all right sleeping here alone?”

Rebecca stared at him and then laughed quietly. “I’m not exactly alone, there must be thirty men here, Aragorn.”

“Yes, but you are not sharing a tent with one of the elleths now and I thought it might be difficult for you.”

“No, Adar, I’ll be fine. It’s not as if I haven’t traveled with a group of men… males before,” she pointed out with a grin. “And at least now I have my own tent.”

“I know, but things have changed now and I just wanted to make sure.” Aragorn suddenly thought of something. “Rebecca, I must ask that if you and Thomas have daughters someday,” he smiled inwardly at her blush, “or if Arwen and I have daughters, that you do not tell them that I allowed you to travel around Middle-earth without a proper chaperone.” His voice was lightly teasing.

Looking at Aragorn for a moment, Rebecca let her gaze drift away into the distance as she slowly answered. “Well, I’m not sure what Thomas and I will be able to tell our children about us, Adar. How do you explain to children that their parents come from another time?” She looked back at Aragorn with a puzzled expression. “I hadn’t thought about it before,” she sighed, “but I guess we’ll figure something out.”

“I had never considered that either, sell-nín,” Aragorn replied softly. “But there will be an answer to that question when it needs to be answered. It will be some years yet before any children you might have would be old enough to understand something like that.” Rebecca nodded. “And you will have Arwen and I to help you explain and answer their questions and I think that between the four of us, we will be able to deal with it, Rebecca.” He examined her closely for a moment and what he saw was extreme weariness which was not surprising considering the events of the day. “We can discuss this more in the morning if you wish, but I believe you need to rest now and I hope that thinking about this will not keep you awake.”

“No, I’m sure I can sleep, Adar,” Rebecca said, fighting off a yawn, “and I know this will all work out. It’s just strange all of these little things that keep coming up that we didn’t think about.”

Aragorn hesitated, wanting to ask her what other things she was referring to and yet he knew she needed to sleep and so he simply whispered good-night before embracing her and watching her enter the tent. He walked once around the encampment to make sure that the guards were in place before he entered the tent he shared with Thomas.

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

The now small company rode swiftly the next day as they headed back toward Edoras, though they did take frequent breaks to rest both themselves and their horses. Little conversation passed between them as they rode as all were drawn into their own thoughts of those with whom that had parted and, for some, thoughts of those who were waiting for them in Edoras. They camped that night beside a small stream well over half way back to Edoras and the evening passed much as the night before, with the same group gathered around a fire eating and talking until sleep beckoned them.

The sound of rain striking the surface of the tent woke Thomas early the following morning and he groaned quietly, trying not to disturb Aragorn, but he was unsuccessful and the king sat up, stretching. “Do you not enjoy rain, Thomas?” he inquired with a grin.

“Not from the back of a horse,” he replied. “It can be quite beautiful when I’m sitting inside a house and watching it through a window, but I’ve had to work in it too many times to really enjoy it,” Thomas grimaced.

Aragorn began pulling on his boots and Thomas followed his lead. “I have ridden and walked in so many kinds of foul weather, Thomas, that, while I do not enjoy it, it no longer bothers me much.” He threw back the tent opening and looked up at the sky. “Although it does appear that we will be riding in it all day. You will appreciate your Lothlórien cloak today, it should keep you quite warm and the rain off very well.”

“You need to teach me how to do that,” Thomas said quietly as he began rolling his bedroll. Aragorn gave him a questioning look and Thomas sat back on his heels and explained. “How to read the weather by looking at the sky like you just did, how to tell time at night by looking at the stars, tracking… Legolas taught me some things, but not nearly enough, and other things like that, Adar. I’m going to live here the rest of my life and I need to know those kinds of things.”

Knowing that Thomas was correct and wanting to teach him himself, Aragorn thought for a moment before he responded. He knew that the biggest hindrance would be finding the time, although mostly that would be for the tracking. He could begin teaching the other things to Thomas right away and perhaps Arwen and Halbarad could help as well. “You do need to know those things and I will be pleased to teach them to you, though the tracking may take time as you know I am not able to leave the city often. We will come up with a list of other things… practical things like this that you and Rebecca need to learn.”

“Thank you,” Thomas smiled as he finished tying his bedroll before gathering the rest of his things and putting them in his saddlebags. Pulling his cloak tightly about himself, he ducked out of the tent opening and followed Aragorn to the fire which had been kept burning through the night. “Good morning, Rebecca,” he greeted her as she emerged from her own tent and joined them wearing her own Lothlórien cloak.

“Morning,” she said with a cheerful smile, glancing from Thomas, to Aragorn, to Halbarad, the Rangers being on guard duty this morning.

“You’re far too happy this morning, lady,” Halbarad growled, glancing at her and then back to the fire.

“My cousin is not fond of rain,” Aragorn commented with a small smile, but made no other explanation. Halbarad scowled at him, but said nothing and Rebecca and Thomas exchanged puzzled glances and finally Aragorn leaned over to them and said in a low voice, “I will tell you why he does not like rain at some other time.”

“I heard you, cousin,” Halbarad said, frowning at Aragorn.

“I know you did.” Aragorn grinned at him. “Come, we need to eat and be on our way quickly.” They ate some of the now stale bread, some cheese, and fruit before saddling their horses and heading out.

It rained lightly, but steadily all day and so the rest breaks they took were much shorter as all were anxious to reach Edoras and get out of the wet weather and into warm, dry clothing. When the city was spotted in the distance a distinct sigh of relief could be felt running through the group of riders and the pace picked up slightly. Slowing to a walk as they finally approached the gates, Aragorn glanced around, but could see no sign of Arwen, though he knew it was foolish of him to expect her to be waiting out here in the rain. After speaking briefly with the guards at the gate, Aragorn urged his horse on and led the party up to Meduseld where he could see Arwen, Éowyn, Laereth, and Lothíriel standing on the covered porch of the building. Éomer, Faramir, and Imrahil and his three sons were waiting at the bottom of the steps as they approached. His eyes immediately went to Arwen’s and he was relieved at the return of the serenity he saw there, something that had been lacking the morning he had left. Aragorn gave her a small smile, his own eyes reflecting his love for her before he turned his attention to the men waiting for him as he dismounted. He moved to greet them as stable hands led his horse away and Aragorn was somewhat surprised at the depth of his feelings for these men that he had known for a relatively short amount of time, though he knew that war tended to bond people in ways that other experiences did not. Pulling his hood back and running his hands through his hair to get some of the dampness from it, he looked from one man to another with amusement in his eyes.

“You could have waited on the porch to greet me, my lords. There is no need for all of us to get wet,” Aragorn said, smiling.

“Ah, but we could not let our Lord King suffer alone,” Imrahil said, his eyes twinkling and Aragorn shook his head as he turned to greet Éomer.

“It is good to see you again, Éomer, my brother,” Aragorn said as he clasped the King of Rohan’s forearm before embracing him.

“You as well, Aragorn,” Éomer replied, looking him up and down and then beyond him to where the rest of the small party was standing. “We need to get you and the others inside and dried off.” Aragorn nodded as Éomer added quietly, “And I imagine there is someone you would like to speak with.” Aragorn did not respond beyond a small smile as he turned to speak with Faramir, Imrahil, and the others while Rebecca, Thomas, and Halbarad moved to greet Éomer.

“Lady Rebecca, Lord Halbarad, Thomas, welcome back to Edoras,” Éomer said before kissing Rebecca’s hand and clasping the arms of the two men.

“It’s good to be back, Éomer,” Rebecca said as she pulled her hand back inside her cloak. Although the temperature had not dropped much from the previous day, the dampness made her feel much colder and she was anxious to go inside and get dry. She also wanted to speak with Arwen and Éowyn and while she knew it would be rude to leave without greeting everyone who had waited for them, she was tempted to do so anyway. But she stayed and just as Halbarad was speaking with Éomer, Aragorn turned and glanced at her and insisted that they move up to the porch. Smiling inwardly, Rebecca wondered if she would ever truly get used to how women were treated here… or at least how Aragorn treated her and Arwen. Though most of the other lords and ladies she knew also appeared to treat women much the same as Aragorn. Well, she was grateful for it today if it brought her out of the rain and closer to a fire she thought with amusement. “Hello, Faramir,” she said as they happened to walk up the steps together.

“Lady Rebecca,” he said, inclining his head in greeting. “How was the journey?”

“It was… very hard at times,” she said pushing her hood back as they reached the porch and she glanced up at the steward. “I think that knowing I’ll see most of them again made it a little easier. The other things I’ve gone through lately have been so difficult that saying good-bye to them just doesn’t seem too bad right now. But I do miss them.”

“I imagine you do,” Faramir replied quietly, “and there may be times when you feel the loss more intensely than others, but it will ease over time,” he assured her gently just as they reached the women who had been waiting and Rebecca nodded her understanding.

Aragorn greeted Éowyn, Laereth, and Lothíriel, kissing their hands and speaking politely to them before he turned to Arwen. Taking her hand, he drew Arwen to him, pulling her a little away from the others at the same time and studying her face intently as they moved. She smiled and he whispered, “You look well, meleth-nín,” before he gently kissed her.

“I am,” she agreed, “as do you, though you appear tired.” Aragorn gave her a faint smile as he nodded once. Arwen glanced beyond him to where Rebecca and Thomas were speaking with Éowyn and Faramir and she spoke softly, “How do Rebecca and Thomas fare, beloved?”

“Quite well, better than I had thought they would,”
he replied. “Rebecca has missed you,” he added, brushing her cheek lightly with the back of his fingers. “Come, you should speak with her and Thomas so that we may go and I can get out of these wet clothes.” A roguish glint appeared in his eyes as he turned to where Rebecca and Thomas were still speaking with others.

Arwen leaned over and spoke quietly into his ear. “I am sure you do not need my help to change your clothing, beloved. You go and I will speak with them and meet you in the Hall later.” She laughed lightly as Aragorn turned and stared at her, his eyebrow raised in question.

Aragorn’s expression softened as he gazed at Arwen and then he replied in a low voice. “I thought that you could advise a poor, wandering Ranger on the appropriate attire to wear this evening,” he whispered with a grin.

“I will do what I can, my lord husband,” she agreed, smiling and Aragorn led her over to where Rebecca was speaking with Éowyn.

“Arwen!” Rebecca exclaimed with delight when she realized the elf was standing alongside her and she turned to greet her properly. She wanted to embrace her, yet she hesitated as she had never done so before and Rebecca wasn’t sure if Arwen would allow her to do so. But Arwen must have read something in her eyes because she immediately released Aragorn’s hand and stepped forward and took Rebecca in her arms and embraced her gently for a moment.

“It is good to see you again, Rebecca, I have missed you,” Arwen said, brushing the damp hair from Rebecca’s face.

“I’ve missed you too, Arwen,” she replied with a smile. Rebecca glanced at Aragorn and then at Thomas. “There were times when I just needed to speak with you.”

Arwen gave her a gentle smile. “I understand that there are often things that are more easily spoken about with another woman.”

“Well, yes,” Rebecca agreed, “but I just wanted to speak with you.” A look of dismay suddenly crossed her face as she looked Arwen up and down. “I got you all wet!”

“I believe that Estel is the one that got me wet, Rebecca,” Arwen said in a soothing voice. “Do not concern yourself; I will change my clothing in a moment.” Aragorn coughed once and looked into the distance as Arwen turned to Thomas with a smile. “I am glad to see you, Thomas, I have missed you as well.”

Thomas took Arwen’s hand and kissed it lightly in greeting. “Hello, Arwen, it’s good to see you and I’m glad we’re all back together again. It’s been rather strange to be separated like this, even for just this short amount of time.”

“Eleven days can sometimes be a long time,” Aragorn observed, glancing at Arwen. Shaking out his cloak he looked at Rebecca and Thomas. “I think it is time to get out of these clothes.” He turned to find Éowyn and saw that she was speaking with Faramir and he smiled as he watched them for a moment. Éomer, Halbarad, Imrahil, and Elphir were talking together off to one side of the porch and the rest of the welcoming party had disappeared into the building. “Pardon me, Lady Éowyn,” Aragorn waited until she looked up before continuing, “but is there someone that can show Rebecca and Thomas to their chambers? Unless they are staying in the ones they were in before.”

“They are in the same chambers, my Lord Aragorn,” Éowyn replied with a hint of a smile. “I have ordered hot baths to be taken to all of your rooms and they should be there shortly.”

“Thank you, Éowyn,” Rebecca said with a very grateful smile. Besides being cold she had not had a real bath since leaving Helm’s Deep five days previously.

“You are most welcome. A feast will be served in a couple of hours, but if you’re hungry, I’ll arrange to have something sent to your chambers, or you may come to the Hall and I’ll have something prepared for you.” None of them wanted anything delivered to their rooms and so after taking leave of those on the porch, the four of them made their way to their chambers for hot baths and dry clothes.

-------

Thomas met Rebecca in the Hall after he had bathed and changed into dry and formal clothing. They stood near the central fire pit talking quietly as servants bustled around them preparing for the feast. “Do you know how long we’re staying here, Thomas?”

“We’re leaving in the morning.”

Rebecca looked up at him, startled by the news. “So soon? I thought we’d stay a few days,” she said with a small frown.

“We’ve been gone a long time, Rebecca. Unless we ride as fast as we did the last couple of days, which I doubt because we’ll have Arwen, Laereth, and Lothíriel, besides you with us, it will take us at least nine or ten days. That means we’ll have been gone about six weeks, which is a long time to have both the king and the steward gone from Minas Tirith, especially since Aragorn is so new. I know there are a lot of things he has to do.”

“I suppose he does and you’d know how much work he has. And it will be good to be back and sleep in my own room again,” she said, smiling

“It will be nice,” he agreed, grinning. “Though when we’re traveling it’s nice not to worry about how I dress,” he plucked on the sleeve of his black tunic with the White Tree, the Crown, and the Seven Stars of Gondor embroidered over the left side of his chest.

“You look nice,” she said, pulling his hand away from his sleeve and holding it instead. “I like it when you dress up.”

Thomas shrugged and glanced around. “Do you want to go outside? I don’t think supper will be served for awhile.” At her nod, he led her out one of the side doors and to the covered porch they had sat on so many times before. The rain had stopped, but clouds still darkened the skies as they sat on the bench overlooking the vast plains of Rohan. While it was not cold, the lingering dampness in the air made it chilly and Thomas put his arm around Rebecca and drew her close – after first glancing around and making sure they could not be seen by anyone except their ever present guards, who stood well away from them. “Now,” he said, smiling at her, “you look beautiful in whatever you wear, but I do like this color on you,” he lightly touched the green gown that Rebecca wore.

“It’s one of my favorite colors,” she said taking his hand again, intertwining her fingers with his with a soft sigh.

Thomas leaned down and kissed her lightly on the cheek and then sat back watching her with a soft smile. At her expression he began kissing her again, gently at first and then more deeply as she responded to him. He moved his hand up into Rebecca’s hair, running his fingers gently through it as he continued to kiss her. Suddenly conscious of time slipping by, Thomas reluctantly pulled back, placing one last tender kiss on Rebecca’s mouth as he did so. “We really should stop,” he whispered. “I don’t know what time it is, but I’m sure the feast will start soon and we should be ready to go inside,” he grinned and moved away from Rebecca just a little and she laughed quietly. It had been a very long time since the two of them had had any time alone.

“This is another reason it will be nice to be back in Minas Tirith, Thomas. Maybe we’ll actually have some time to spend together without others around.”

“The garden is sounding better and better,” he agreed with a smile, leaning back against the bench and staring out into the distance. After a moment, he glanced back at Rebecca. “We should go in now, it must be getting close to the time for the feast to start.” Thomas stood and helped her to her feet and began leading her back towards the Hall. “Do you think Legolas and Gimli are through Fangorn yet?” he asked suddenly.

Blinking at the sudden change of subjects, Rebecca answered slowly, “Well, I don’t know, but I doubt it. I looked at the maps of that area and it’s a really big forest, a lot bigger than Lothlórien. Gandalf and I spent two days walking through just a part of it and even with Arod; I don’t think they’d be all the way through because I know Legolas wanted to explore things.”

“Gimli must be enjoying that,” Thomas said with a grin.

“Probably not, and he’ll grumble about it, but you know he won’t let Legolas down.”

“No, he won’t,” he replied with a trace of wistfulness in his voice and Rebecca squeezed his hand as they entered the Hall and looked around. Relieved that the feast had not started, they crossed the room to join Aragorn, Arwen, and Éomer near the fire. Rebecca looked for Éowyn, but she was either finishing overseeing preparations for the meal or was with Faramir.

Aragorn glanced briefly at Rebecca and Thomas as Éomer continued speaking of the needs of his people. So many of the villages in the Westfold had been destroyed by the Uruk-hai and the men from Dunland, that some of his people were in real danger of starving. Livestock had been killed and crops had not been sown in many fields; some because seed had been destroyed in the raging fires, others because the women remained in hiding while the men were off fighting. Rohan was, in many ways, worse off than Gondor. Gondor had the southern part of its country which had seen relatively little damage and could share some of its bounty with those in need elsewhere. The two kings spoke briefly of how Gondor could best aid Rohan and how Éomer intended to return that help at a future time as his country was restored to some semblance of normalcy. With that agreed upon, the two of them turned to the others who were quietly discussing the trip home.

“Thomas thinks it will take nine or ten days to return,” Rebecca was saying to Arwen as Aragorn focused his attention on their conversation.

“That seems correct,” Arwen replied. “We will not have wains or the hobbit’s ponies to slow us down, and I believe that Aragorn,” she glanced at him,” is anxious to return to his duties.”

“I have many things that must be done,” Aragorn agreed. “As does my Lord Prince Steward and I believe that Prince Imrahil is also ready to return to Dol Amroth. He has been in Minas Tirith and away from his home for over eight months now.”

“How long does it take to get to Dol Amroth? If you ride at a normal pace, I mean,” Thomas said with a smile.

“It takes a little longer than traveling here, twelve or thirteen days,” Aragorn replied with a smile of his own. “Though you can go by ship and it takes about a week, unless the weather is foul.”

“I’d like to see it sometime,” Thomas commented. “Boromir mentioned it once and I’d like to go there.”

“I am sure you will as it is a part of my kingdom that I will visit, probably in a few years. We will go there much sooner than we will visit the North.”

“I have heard that it is a beautiful place,” Éomer said with a small grin as he glanced over to the door leading to one of the hallways.

Aragorn followed his gaze and then laughed quietly as Prince Imrahil walked in escorting Lady Laereth followed by Elphir with Lothíriel on his arm and then Erchirion and Amrothos. The Prince and his family crossed to where Aragorn was standing and he watched as Imrahil gave Éomer a slight nod before bowing to Aragorn. Glancing at Lothíriel he could see her eyes shining as she gazed at the King of Rohan. Evidently Éomer spent his time getting to know Lothíriel while we were gone, Aragorn thought with amusement and Imrahil seems to have accepted that, though he knew how difficult it would be for the prince to have his only daughter so far away. He glanced at Arwen and she gave him a small smile just as Éowyn arrived with Faramir.

“The meal is ready to be served,” Éowyn announced quietly to the assembled guests, gesturing for them to proceed to the one long table where supper had been laid out for them.

As they sat at the table, Aragorn glanced around for Halbarad and saw that he had slipped in at some point and was sitting near Faramir. It was strange to have such a small company eating supper together after the large number of people that had filled the Hall the last time he had eaten here. Marshal Elfhelm had returned to his home in the Eastfold and Éomer had not invited any of the other nobles from Edoras to the feast, though it was a feast in name only as it was a relaxed, informal gathering among friends. Knowing it would be a long time before all of them would be together again, they stayed up late talking, only moving closer to the fire at one point, at which time Éowyn and Faramir disappeared, Aragorn noted with an inward grin. He knew it would be especially difficult for the two of them to be parted; he well understood the loneliness that Faramir would have to deal with during the next year until his marriage. He would have to keep him busy – not that that would be a problem.

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Searching Meduseld for Thomas was no easy task for Aragorn. There were too many nooks and crannies were he could be hidden, not that he actually believed Thomas was hiding. He wanted to find the young man before breakfast and he was not in his room or in the Hall and Aragorn stopped and thought for a moment. Then he immediately headed down a side hallway that led out to a porch where he found Thomas staring out over the plains in the faint light that heralded the coming of the sun. “Good morning, Thomas,” he said as the young man glanced over his shoulder just as Aragorn stepped onto the porch. “I do believe that you are aware of your surroundings this morning,” he said with a grin.

Thomas grinned back. “Yes, I am,” he replied, his eyes sparkling and then he turned back to the view he had been studying as Aragorn stepped up beside him. “Isn’t it pretty this morning,” he said quietly as the sun peeked over the mountains to the east and began reflecting back off the Snowbourn River below them and shining on the golden grasses and light blue flowers that covered the plains of Rohan.

“It is,” Aragorn agreed, “though I imagine that you see it somewhat differently than I do.” Thomas gave him a startled look, but Aragorn just smiled back. “I brought you something.” He held out a bound sheaf of paper and some drawing sticks. “The market is not open this early, but I asked Éowyn for these.”

“Thank you, Adar,” Thomas said as he took them from Aragorn with a pleased smile. “It’ll be nice to have these for the trip home.”

“I thought you would enjoy them and I knew you could use them either on the way home or once we returned to the city.” Aragorn turned to go back inside. “Are you coming for breakfast now or did you eat something earlier?”

“No, I’ll come eat now; I just wanted to take one last look from the porch. I have a lot of memories of Edoras and most of them come from this particular spot,” Thomas commented as they walked back into the building. Éomer met them as they entered the Hall.

“Good morning, Aragorn, Thomas,” he said in greeting, which they returned. “I have been looking for the two of you; I would like you to accompany me outside for a moment.” Exchanging puzzled glances Aragorn and Thomas followed Éomer out the main entrance of Meduseld and down the steps and across to the royal stables. Thomas patted Baldor affectionately on the nose as he passed his stall and continued down the length of the incredibly ornate building, with its carved pillars that were similar to the ones in Meduseld and the stall doors that were painted green and gold. Éomer stopped at a stall where two of his stable hands were waiting and he turned back to Aragorn and Thomas, his eyes fixing on Thomas. “I have a small gift for you, Thomas. It is partially to thank you for your service to Rohan at Helm’s Deep, though I know that you do not desire thanks for that and indeed there is nothing that I could do to make up for the blood you shed that night.” He indicated the faint scar on Thomas’s face and waved his hand as Thomas opened his mouth to protest. Éomer gave him a faint smile. “It is also intended to make up for the lack of a truly well trained Rohirrim horse that I gave to you when first we met, though you have done wonders with Baldor. It is because you have trained him so well that I thought to gift you this.” Éomer motioned to the stable hands and they opened the stall door.

Thomas drew in a sharp breath as they led out a young, bay-colored colt that was dancing around, but he could tell that this horse was fiery and high-spirited and had not been trained yet. It appeared to be around a year and a half and he knew it was an incredible gift. He suddenly realized that the horse looked a lot like Éomer’s horse, Firefoot. “It looks like your horse, Éomer,” he stated, not taking his eyes off the colt.

“They are brothers, and I thought that you would like to train this one for yourself and make him truly your own horse.”

Thomas glanced at him then and saw his pleased expression and then his gaze shifted to Aragorn who was leaning against a pillar, watching them with a smile. “Can I have another horse?” he asked somewhat anxiously. Aragorn laughed and nodded.

“Yes, Thomas, you may have another horse. I am sure we will be able to find room for him in our stables.” His eyes sparkled with amusement. “We have room for him and many other horses,” he added rather dryly.

“I know, but…” Thomas left that train of thought and instead started to approach his new horse, stopping when he realized he still held the bound sheaf of papers and drawing sticks in his hand. He turned and handed them to Aragorn who accepted them with an amused look, and then Thomas resumed his slow approach to the horse, speaking softly to it. The colt had calmed somewhat and the stable hands had backed away, one of them holding it on a long lead line. The colt stared at him wide-eyed and quivered slightly, but let Thomas approach and after smelling his hand, it shook its head a few times and blew out its breath before it let Thomas rub his nose and scratch between its eyes and around its ears. Thomas slowly ran his hand along the horse’s neck, murmuring to it quietly the whole time. He had just reached the withers before the horse decided that was enough and began shifting uneasily and Thomas stopped and stepped quietly back, not wanting the horse to become too agitated. He turned back to Éomer. “Thank you,” he said simply, there really were no other words he could say. He knew it was useless to try and argue with Éomer about the gift, not that he wanted to now anyway, maybe before he had seen the horse, but not now.

“You are welcome and you will do well with the colt. Have you ever trained one?”

“Not from this age, no, but I’m sure that there are people around me who have,” Thomas glanced at Aragorn who nodded, “and I’m sure they’ll help me.”

“As I said, you did well with Baldor and I am sure that you’ll be able to train this colt as well.”

“Does he have a name?” Thomas asked, glancing back at the horse as the stable hands put him back in the stall.

“No, not yet, it’s for you to decide,” Éomer replied.

Thomas thought for a moment and then glanced at Éomer. “I think I’ll call him Firefoot in elvish,” he said with a grin that Éomer returned. “Aragorn, Firefoot is… Nartál in elvish, is it not?” He shook his head at saying it that way.

Aragorn smiled. “Yes, it is, I did tell you that learning Sindarin would be useful,” he commented.

“We need to return to the Great Hall and find Rebecca, I have a gift for her as well,” Éomer said as he turned and led the way from the stables. They found her speaking with Éowyn and Arwen near the central fire pit, apparently waiting for breakfast to be served and they looked up and greeted the three men as they approached. “Forgive me for interrupting, my ladies” Éomer said with a slight bow, “but time is passing swiftly this morning and I have a gift to give to Lady Rebecca before she leaves.” Rebecca gave him a surprised look and then looked at Thomas who grinned at her before she turned her gaze back to Éomer. “As I told Thomas, I want to thank you for the help you gave to Rohan at Helm’s Deep, both during the battle itself and then later when you helped with the wounded. I have spoken with Sigebréoht since our return here to Edoras and he told me of your work with the wounded that night and of the lives you helped save.” Rebecca stared at the floor, she neither wanted nor needed thanks for that night.

“I know that like Thomas you do not desire any gifts, however it is a king’s prerogative to give them to those he feels are deserving.” Éomer paused and Rebecca finally looked up and saw that he was smiling and obviously waiting for her to look at him before he continued, which he now did. “I knew that by the time you arrived here, Aragorn would have given you a horse, so Éowyn and I spoke about what else you might desire and this is what we decided on.”

Éomer beckoned a servant to him and the man approached carrying a small wooden box. Stepping over to one of the tables, Éomer had the man set the box down and take the lid off before he dismissed the servant with polite words of thanks. “As you are fond of books, Éowyn and I thought that you might enjoy some from our library here.” He gave Rebecca and then Aragorn a small smile as he pulled several books from the box. Rebecca’s face lit up as she reached for the books, but Éomer held them out of reach for a moment. “Unfortunately, not all of the books that we desired to give you are in the common tongue and we are having them translated and copied, but it will take some time to do so and then we will send them to you.” He handed the books to Rebecca.

Éowyn stepped over to her as she opened the cover. “The books are ones that we did not think you would have in Minas Tirith, Rebecca. The history of our people, stories from our land…”

“Sigebréoht even insisted on putting in a book or two about healing,” Éomer interrupted his sister, “but I do not think those are finished yet.”

“Thank you, Éomer, Éowyn, thank you so much,” Rebecca said, looking at the two of them while still running her hand over the books. “I’ll enjoy reading them very much.”

“You are most welcome, my lady,” Éomer said with a bow while Éowyn just smiled at her. Éomer glanced around, “It appears breakfast is ready,” he said nodding to the tables where the food was being set out, “come and eat.” He led them towards the table and, after a moment, Rebecca reluctantly followed. But not before she carefully placed the books back in the box and secured the lid back on the top.

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The majority of the traveling party – Aragorn’s Citadel Guards, members of Faramir’s White Company, and Imrahil’s Swan Knights, some sixty men in total – waited outside the city gates, while the three royal families of Gondor took their leave of Éomer and Éowyn. This was not a particularly difficult parting for either Rebecca or Thomas; they knew that they would see both Éomer and Éowyn again in a relatively short amount of time, if not at their own wedding, then at least at the wedding of Éowyn and Faramir sometime next summer. While Rebecca treasured the friendship she had with Éowyn and was looking forward to having her live in, or at least near, Minas Tirith; the relationship she and Arwen were developing was helping to fill the longing she had for female companionship that she had often experienced since being in Middle-earth. She and Thomas took their leave of Éomer and Éowyn and then he led her to the stable to get his new colt while Aragorn and Arwen said their own good-byes.

“Farewell, my brother,” Aragorn said, clasping Éomer’s forearm and then embracing him. “I will look to see you in Minas Tirith sometime next year. I imagine sooner rather than later,” he said with a sly grin, his eyes drifting to Lothíriel who was standing with her parents and brothers near the horses, having already said her good-byes.

Éomer laughed. “Perhaps,” he agreed noncommittally.

“We will be there in Lótessë,” Éowyn said rather firmly, glancing at Faramir as he approached. “I do not want to miss Rebecca and Thomas’s wedding.”

“And is that the only reason you want to go to Minas Tirith, sister?” Éomer asked with a grin.

“No,” she admitted, smiling at Faramir, “there are other reasons I would like to visit the White City.” Faramir took her hand and kissed it gently, not releasing it as he stood beside her.

Faramir looked at Éomer. “Since our wedding will be here in Edoras, it would be a chance for the people of Minas Tirith to see and greet Éowyn before she becomes my wife.” His lips curved into a slow smile.

Éomer stared hard at him while Aragorn and Arwen laughed quietly. “You will have to come up with a better reason than that, brother,” Éomer said after a moment, shaking his head and laughing.

Faramir shrugged. “You have three good reasons now, Éomer. The wedding, Lothíriel, and for the people to see Éowyn, and I know that I would enjoy seeing you again,” he said, amusement clearly evident in his voice.

Aragorn finally spoke up. “I think, my Lord Prince Steward that we must work on your negotiating skills before I feel confident in sending you out on behalf of Gondor. I do not believe that you should sound quite so desperate.” He grinned at Faramir and then at Éomer.

“I doubt, my Lord King Elessar, that I will ever be quite this desperate in any situation that you could ever send me to.” Faramir kissed Éowyn, this time on the lips and her eyes widened in surprise as the steward backed away, releasing her hand. “My lady,” he said bowing, “I take my leave of you now.” He turned to Éomer. “My Lord King, I will see you in Minas Tirith.” Faramir turned and strode off towards the horses, casting a sidelong look and a grin at Aragorn as he passed him.

“Well, Éomer I am sure that some sort of official invitation to the wedding will be sent to you,” Aragorn said slowly, “however I am not sure it will be quite as… personal as the one you just received.”

Éomer snorted with amusement and laid a hand on Éowyn’s shoulder. “The one Rebecca gave was quite personal and much more likely to bring me to Minas Tirith than that just given by your steward, Aragorn. We will come if things are going well here in Rohan.” He smiled at Aragorn and then down at his sister.

“I thought you might.” Aragorn smiled at his fellow king and then turned to Éowyn. “Farewell, Lady Éowyn, Arwen and I will watch over Faramir for you,” he said as he kissed her hand.

“Thank you, my Lord King.” She turned to Arwen. “Good-bye, Arwen, I look forward to living in Minas Tirith now that I’ll know more people than just Faramir and Rebecca. I’m glad that we were able to spend some time together here.”

“I look forward to it as well, Éowyn and may the year pass swiftly for you,” Arwen said with a smile. “Farewell.” She turned to Éomer and took her leave of him and then she and Aragorn joined their company.

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The farewells made, the stirrup cup passed around, the King of Gondor and his party slowly made their way down through Edoras and out through the gate where the men of their escort fell in behind them as Aragorn took the lead as they headed south and east towards Minas Tirith. The pattern for the trip home was established on that first day. They rode thirty to thirty-five miles a day, riding somewhat harder in the cool of the morning and slowing in the heat of the afternoon to make it easier on the horses. They stopped once at mid-morning and once in the afternoon, as well as taking a break for lunch. Several times during the trip, Aragorn or Faramir led out small parties to hunt for game, either when they stopped for the night or early in the morning before they broke camp.

The evenings were spent around the fire and Aragorn kept his word to Faramir and told of his time serving Rohan and Gondor when he was a young man and went by the name of Thorongil. Imrahil shared his memories of those times as well, since he had known Aragorn during those years. Other people also shared stories in the evenings; Arwen of things she had seen and done over the long years of her life and also elvish tales; Erchirion turned out to be a gifted storyteller and told tales of Dol Amroth and other places in southern Gondor; Rebecca repeated the stories that she had shared with the party during their trip between Edoras and Isengard and a few new ones; and Faramir told stories of growing up in Minas Tirith.

Rebecca found herself spending quite a bit of time with Lothíriel. Aragorn had informed the rest of Prince Imrahil’s family of the truth about Rebecca and Thomas several weeks before they had left Minas Tirith for the trip to Edoras. He had felt that they needed to know, as the two families would be together too often in the years ahead to hide something like that. Rebecca had been thrilled because she genuinely liked Lothíriel, yet had held herself back from her because she couldn’t be totally open with her about her past, now the two of them began building a true friendship. She and Thomas took walks together in the mornings or evenings when there was time, and they rode together during the day – sometimes alone, though more often with others in the party.

After they had been traveling for several days, Rebecca found that this part of the journey was the most pleasant. The pace was relaxed and there was nothing looming ahead that she had to worry about and she could just enjoy each day as it came. Thoughts of Legolas, Gimli, Haldir, and the hobbits were often on her mind, but it was more of a dull ache than true grief and Rebecca often spoke of them with Aragorn, Arwen, Thomas, and Halbarad which helped ease the loss considerably.

Besides spending as much of the day as he could with Rebecca, Thomas also spent some time with Hinluin when the Ranger was off duty… which was not too often. He also spent time with Elphir, Erchirion, and Amrothos. He knew Elphir and Erchirion somewhat from the time they had spent together during the march to the Black Gate and then later in Ithilien, though Erchirion had spent most of that time in the healer’s tents. The one closest to him in age at twenty-five, Amrothos, was the one he knew the least and while they were polite to each other, Thomas knew they would never be particularly close friends. Thomas actually got along best with Elphir, who at thirty-two was married and who was very anxious to return to Minas Tirith to his wife and young son.

Thomas went hunting with Aragorn and Halbarad twice on the way back and both times, Aragorn took the opportunity to show him some tracking skills… after first having Thomas demonstrate what Legolas had already taught him. While he never even attempted to shoot an animal, his archery skills were not good enough for that, Aragorn and Halbarad did begin teaching him how to clean the deer that they killed and Thomas began to rethink his request to learn such practical skills, but only for a moment. Part of him wondered at the necessity of learning this particular skill, until he realized that he did not know what the future would bring him, if anything the recent past had taught him that. So Thomas watched and listened intently to Aragorn and Halbarad and tried to learn what they were teaching.

As they traveled, Thomas led his new horse, Nartál, on a short lead line. Éomer had evidently seen that it was trained well enough to not be spooked in a company of horses because the horse did not get frightened as it walked amongst the large party. Thomas groomed him every evening after taking care of Baldor and spoke softly to the horse continually, letting the horse get used to him and his presence as he cared for it. Taking Aragorn and Halbarad’s advice, he did not let anyone else care for the colt, he wanted it to become used to him and dependent on him for his care. Thomas was still somewhat overwhelmed at the gift that Éomer had given him, but he already loved the young horse and looked forward to training it as it grew into what he hoped would be a horse as strong and swift as Éomer’s.

Of all the company, Aragorn probably enjoyed the journey back to Minas Tirith the most. He took full advantage of the time that he could spend with his family, especially Arwen. While he, Faramir, and Imrahil spoke daily about the things that needed to be done to restore the Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor, they also discussed things of a more personal nature and Aragorn could feel an even greater openness in his relationship with the two men. He was pleased because he knew it was something that was needed if the three of them were going to be able to work well together. Still, though, what he enjoyed most was the time that he spent with Arwen and also with Rebecca, Thomas, and Halbarad. Aragorn knew that once they were back in Minas Tirith that he would not have the opportunity to have this much uninterrupted time with any of them. He also enjoyed doing simple things like hunting and cooking, although the first time he cooked something, he could see the shocked expression on the face of Laereth and he could tell that it even made Imrahil uncomfortable to have his king serving him supper. But they became accustomed to it as he continued to share cooking duties with Faramir and Halbarad, although everyone else either helped in the preparation or in cleaning up afterwards.

With the help of Arwen and Halbarad, Aragorn began teaching Rebecca and Thomas some of the things he had spoken about with Thomas earlier on their journey, starting with telling time at night. Several times before they returned to their tents for the night the five of them would walk out beyond the circle of the camp and away from the glow of the fires and would sit and look at the stars. Rebecca and Thomas knew the story of Eärendil from Erestor and now they started learning the position and names of many of the other stars. After a time of speaking of the stars, the five of them would often turn to speaking of other things, like the friends they all missed or the changes facing them in the years ahead and so it was usually much later than they intended before they returned to the camp to seek their rest on those nights. Aragorn had little chance to begin teaching them about the weather as it remained fair, except for one day where it rained briefly in the morning, but he, Arwen, and Halbarad started showing them the small subtle signs that they watched for or felt. When Faramir saw what they were doing, he also began to teach Rebecca and Thomas, declaring that the weather in the South was different than the North and he would be a better teacher for them. At which point Aragorn gave him a hard stare for a long moment and then smiled.

Aragorn and Arwen often trailed behind the rest of the company, though still well within the circle of their escorting guards. At times they talked of Elrond and the rest of their family that had gone north to their homes, but mostly they shared thoughts and ideas about their home and possible changes they wanted to make. Or they discussed ways to make sure that they were out among the people more often and finding ways to insure that the Citadel did not become an isolated place, but a place were the citizens of the kingdom were welcomed. Arwen also wanted and needed work of her own, both so that she would not become isolated and distant from the people and for her own personal satisfaction. They discussed the children they would have, and even though Aragorn had told Elrohir they wanted to wait some time before having children – which they did – he also knew that there was some pressure for them to have an heir and that could not be put off too long. Often though, the two of them rode quietly together, simply content to be in each other’s company after so many years apart.

And so the nine days of their journey passed rather swiftly as they rode back towards Minas Tirith until they reached the last place they would camp before they would reach the city. They stopped rather early at a place that Faramir remembered from his younger days, a place where a stream had a deeper pool of water where they could swim or bathe if they so chose. After the long days on the road with only being able to do a minimum of washing, most of them took advantage of the opportunity.

Returning after a rather cold bath, Rebecca and Arwen started making supper while the men were still bathing and they worked quietly for a time until finally Rebecca spoke. “Are you looking forward to being back in the city?” she asked, glancing at the elf. “You seem to like being out here.”

Arwen paused and sat back, looking at Rebecca for a moment before she answered, a soft smile on her lips. “I do enjoy being here, just as I will enjoy being in Minas Tirith. But it is not the place, Rebecca, it is the people that I am with that make them enjoyable. Minas Tirith is my home because that is where Estel is… and you and Thomas as well. And you, are you looking forward to being home?”

Rebecca stopped cutting the venison she had been working on and gave Arwen a thoughtful look. “Home?” she said, almost under her breath. “Minas Tirith is just where I live…” her voice trailed off. Her home had always been with her mom… her home was in St. Paul, Minnesota. She suddenly realized that she never called Minas Tirith home. She always spoke of it in terms of it just being a destination, the place where she lived; The King’s House was just that, a house and not really a home to her. Not in the sense that the house she had grown up in was a home to her. Rebecca shifted her gaze back to Arwen and saw the understanding and compassion in her eyes and she thought about what the elf had just said and she knew that Arwen was right. Minas Tirith was her home because Aragorn was there, Thomas was there, and Arwen, and Halbarad. While Rebecca could not and would never forget the place where she had grown up and called home, she realized it was time for her to acknowledge that she had a new home now with people that she loved and cared for deeply. She finally gave Arwen a small nod. “Yes, I’m looking forward to being home,” she paused, “If only to have a proper bath.”

Laughing lightly, Arwen reached over and grasped one of Rebecca’s hands, squeezing it gently as her laughter trailed off. “You will always treasure the memory of your previous home, Rebecca, as I do mine.” They returned to preparing the meal as Arwen added, “And we have begun building memories of the home we now have.”

Keeping her eyes on her work, Rebecca said quietly, “And of our family, Arwen.”

“Yes, sell-nín,” Arwen said in a gentle voice.

Rebecca froze and then looked hesitantly at Arwen who was smiling softly as she looked at her. Searching her face intently for a moment, Rebecca finally nodded once before she said, “I-I can’t call you Naneth, Arwen. I just don’t think I could do that,” Rebecca looked away briefly, “even if… if, I just can’t,” she finished helplessly.

“I do not expect you to, Rebecca and if it makes you uncomfortable, then I will not call you daughter either. Yet, I see you that way and I sense that you feel that way as well.”

“I do, but I also see you as a friend and so it’s different than…” her voice trailed off and she looked into the distance for a moment before turning back to Arwen.

“You are an adult and our relationship is, of course, different than what you had with your mother. That can never be replaced,” Arwen said quietly.

“No, it can’t,” she paused and then smiled at Arwen. “I’d like you to call me your daughter.”

“Is supper ready?” Aragorn called from a short distance away as he, Halbarad, and Thomas returned from the stream. Startled by his voice, Rebecca looked up as the three men drew near and she saw that the rest of the men had also returned, but were going directly to their tents. “Are we interrupting something?” Aragorn asked in concern as his gaze shifted between Arwen and Rebecca.

“No, Rebecca and I were talking and became distracted from fixing the food,” Arwen replied.

Although he knew something had happened between the two of them, Aragorn simply nodded and turned to Thomas. “Will you please take these to my tent while I stay and help prepare supper?” He held out the things he had used while bathing and Thomas took them and then looked at Halbarad questioningly. The Ranger gave him a small smile and then handed over his clothes and other things for Thomas to put away. The two men began helping cut up the rest of the venison and the vegetables to be roasted for supper without further comment. Aragorn glanced at Rebecca and Arwen from time to time as he worked, finally deciding that whatever they had been discussing, while serious, had also been resolved before he had arrived. As he knew that Arwen would tell him later, he did not bring it up again and instead began talking about the trip into Minas Tirith.

“Faramir and Imrahil have suggested that I send riders ahead of us in the morning to alert the city that I am returning,” Aragorn said, finishing the sentence with a sound that was somewhere between a resigned sigh and a laugh.

“Does that mean the rest of us are not returning?” Rebecca asked with a grin.

Aragorn joined Arwen and Halbarad in their laughter before shaking his head. “No, you are not getting out it of that easy, sell-nín,” he replied with a grin of his own.

“Getting out of what?” Thomas asked as he sat down beside Rebecca.

“Returning home,” Aragorn said as the last of the meat and vegetables were put in pots, covered, and then placed in the fire itself, buried in the coals to cook.

“I’m looking forward to being home,” Thomas said. “Except for having lessons with Dolgaran again,” he said with a sidelong glance at Aragorn.

“As soon as you can speak Sindarin fluently you may stop attending,” Aragorn said with an impassive expression, but twinkling eyes.

“I should have practiced more when the elves were still here,” he said with a sigh.

“I am still here,” Arwen reminded him with a soft smile and he blushed faintly. “Aragorn and Halbarad also speak it, as does Faramir. You have many people to practice with Thomas.”

“Yes.” Thomas nodded, knowing it was a lost cause, though he did wonder how he would ever have time to do everything that he needed to do now that he also had a horse to train. He decided that he would just have to work with Nartál in the early mornings before breakfast. Perhaps he could practice his swordplay every other day or in the evenings and maybe he could work on his archery with Rebecca.

Watching Thomas for a moment, Aragorn then glanced towards Faramir’s tent and the tents of Imrahil’s family, but as they were still inside he asked Thomas, “Who was the last King of Gondor and what happened to him?”

Surprised by the question, Thomas just looked at Aragorn for a moment and then answered him slowly. “Eärnur and he went off to battle the Witch-king at Minas Morgul and was never seen again. That’s when the Stewards became the Ruling Stewards until, oh, a few months ago,” he finished with a smile.

Aragorn smiled in return. “And what was Eärnur’s largest failing, his biggest mistake?” he asked.

Thomas paused and thought about the question because he knew there was more to what Aragorn was asking for than the obvious. Of course Eärnur had been foolish to ride off to battle the Witch-king with just a few men and so Thomas thought about what else he knew about the man and he finally looked at Aragorn. “He was too proud, he didn’t listen to the advice of his steward who had told him he shouldn’t go,” he paused briefly. “He also didn’t marry and leave an heir for Gondor and so he was selfish, too. He only thought about what he wanted to do.”

Aragorn nodded, satisfied. “Yes, that is right and he left Gondor in a desperate situation. Thomas, I need you to continue to learn the history of our kingdom and to learn to look beyond the obvious and see what the important things are and what the truth is. Just as with your painting, it is a gift or a skill you can develop. I do not know what the future holds for you and what you might like to do.” He gave Thomas an intent look. “You may decide that you want to continue working alongside me in which case you will definitely need to know the things you are learning from Dolgaran because you will not remain just my aide, but become one of my trusted councilors. Someone I depend on to speak up in council meetings or someone I might send to represent me in the towns and villages in southern Gondor or in Arnor. I do not know.” He smiled at Thomas’s stunned expression. “I would not send you anytime soon, Thomas, it would be many years before these things would happen. You may decide instead that you would rather focus on your painting and your art, but still the knowledge you gain from Dolgaran will be useful even for that, in ways that you cannot imagine now. Someday you and Rebecca will have children,” Aragorn added softly, “and there will be things that you will want to teach them and not trust solely to others.”

“When you say it that way, I can see the need for studying and learning… it makes sense. But would you really send me somewhere to represent you? Do you think I could do that?”

“Yes, I would, Thomas,” Aragorn answered without hesitation. “And yes, it is something that is well within your ability to do. I trust you now, ion-nín, you simply do not have the knowledge or the experience for me to send you to distant places to represent me at this time. You are rather young,” Aragorn added, smiling.

“I know, I knew you didn’t mean right now anyway, I just never thought of doing anything like that,” he said with a thoughtful expression. Thomas shook his head and continued, “I really don’t want to go anywhere for a long time unless I have to, I just want to stay home and have a normal life for awhile,” Thomas said, glancing at Rebecca who was watching the two of them intently, but smiled when he looked at her.

“Normal life?” Halbarad snorted, his eyes full of amusement. “You think life in the Citadel is normal?”

“Not to you maybe, but to me it is,” Thomas replied. “At least for my life here, not compared to what it used to be in my own time. Normal compared to running all over Middle-earth and fighting orcs. I know you’re talking about the fact that it’s a… palace and there are servants and guards everywhere, which isn’t exactly what I was used to,” he said with a grin. “But for me it’s just my home now – a place where I live with my family. I like being there because of that, Halbarad, and I think it’s as normal as my life is ever going to be here in Middle-earth.”

Halbarad conceded the point. “That’s true, but it’s far from normal for most people.”

“It’s certainly not what you’re used to either,” Rebecca said with a small laugh. “Just as Thomas and I aren’t really used to it yet, it’s even stranger for you, isn’t it Halbarad?” The Ranger nodded, giving her a rueful smile, while Aragorn laughed softly. “Sometimes when I’m at… home,” she glanced at Arwen as she said this and Aragorn wondered at the look they exchanged before Rebecca continued. “It seems like one of those fairy tales I told you about, Adar… living in a Citadel with a king and a queen, having servants, wearing fancy clothes.” She frowned down at the leggings and tunic she was wearing and then laughed briefly. “Well, dressing up most of the time, and things like that is just like what I imagined from the stories I read. The only thing that is missing,” she cast a mischievous look at Thomas, “is for me to marry a prince. The girl almost always marries a prince in a fairy tale.”

Thomas took his time in replying while amused looks crossed the faces of Aragorn, Arwen, and Halbarad, though none of them laughed. “Prince Erchirion and Prince Amrothos are still unmarried, Rebecca,” he reminded her. “So if you must have a prince, I suggest you ask one of them.” He smiled as she frowned briefly before she replied with a smile of her own.

“No, it’s far too late for that, Thomas Morgan, I already love you,” Rebecca said softly and he took her hand and caressed it gently.

Clearing his throat, Aragorn bit back a smile as Rebecca and Thomas turned startled faces to him. “I am glad that you are becoming accustomed to our home and that you feel comfortable there… at least most of the time.” He glanced meaningfully at Halbarad knowing that the adjustment to living in the Citadel was actually harder for him than it was for either Rebecca or Thomas. While their struggles were with being in Middle-earth and all that that entailed, living in the Citadel was a relatively minor adjustment in the overall changes in their life. They were content now to have a family and to have a home, no matter what it was like. But Halbarad had grown up in a small, isolated village and had traveled the wilds all of his adult life and while Aragorn knew he would adjust and do well in Minas Tirith, it was still a struggle at times for his cousin. Halbarad did not respond to Aragorn outside of a single, small nod. “And, Rebecca?” he waited until he had her full attention and then he leaned over and whispered rather loudly, “Thomas is as close to a prince as you are going to see in our home until Arwen and I have a son.” Aragorn’s eyes sparkled with amusement as she laughed.

“I know that, my Lord King Elessar,” she replied in the same tone as Aragorn’s. “Why do you think I said ‘yes’ when he asked me to marry him?” she said, grinning.

Aragorn‘s laughter was joined by Arwen and Halbarad and even Thomas smiled at Rebecca’s comment before he turned to speak with Elphir who had just arrived. Aragorn took Arwen’s soft hand in his sword calloused one and rubbed it gently as he listened to Rebecca and Thomas talk and laugh with each other and then with the other members of their party as they began to join them at the fire. His thoughts were drawn back to the evening he had first seen them, unconscious and injured, lying in the middle of a clearing in the wilds of Hollin. He thought of their fear and utter confusion when they awoke and found themselves in a place they had never heard of, surrounded by beings that did not exist in their time. Their courage and determination had amazed Aragorn then and it continued to amaze him even now. Few people that he knew could have gone through what Rebecca and Thomas had gone through and emerged from it as well as these two young people had. They both had scars from their experiences, both physical and emotional ones, and yet those experiences had also matured them in many ways. Although, Aragorn thought as he watched them fondly, there were many times when their true ages and inexperience about life showed and he rather liked those times, simply for the amusement and joy they brought to his life.

While Aragorn did not know what the future held for Thomas and Rebecca, he thought that… Aragorn’s thoughts stopped in mid-stream and he blinked several times as pictures began appearing in front of his eyes. The pictures switched quite rapidly from one to the next, but he glimpsed enough of them to get some sense of what he was seeing. The first was obviously eight to ten years in the future because it showed Arwen, Rebecca, Thomas, and himself in a garden playing with children, some with dark hair like his and Arwen’s and some with lighter colors. There were four children and ranged in age from a tiny baby to one that appeared to be about eight. The next picture was of all of them in Bree surrounded by three familiar hobbits and some that Aragorn did not know. There was a picture of Thomas standing in the council chamber, speaking to the members of the council. There was a picture of Rebecca working in the Houses of Healing and another of her sitting at a table writing while Thomas stood nearby painting. Quickly slipping past him were pictures of various elves and also, to his grief, what appeared to be a battle on some distant field. Many of Rebecca and Thomas’s closest friends appeared quite frequently in the pictures as they sped past Aragorn’s eyes. Finally the vision stopped and Aragorn blinked his eyes rapidly and shook his head slightly to clear it and bring himself back to the present.

“Are you well, Estel?” Arwen whispered, leaning into him and looking at him with concern.

“Yes, meleth-nín, it was just a vision,” he whispered back with a smile, caressing her hand again.

“What was it about? Is everything all right?”

Aragorn glanced across the fire at Rebecca and Thomas who were laughing at something that Faramir had evidently just told them and he turned his gaze back to Arwen with a broad smile. “It was about our family, Arwen, and all will be well.”


The End

~~~

Elvish Translations:

Meleth-nín – My love
muindor-nín – My brother
Navaer – Farewell


Author’s Note: This was the original ending that I had planned for this story and I still like ending it here, but people asked to see Rebecca and Thomas’s wedding so there is a sequel called: ‘In Aragorn’s Safekeeping: Life in the King’s House’, which I will begin posting here in a few weeks.


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