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19
Symbols of Love

For RS at her birthday


~~~

Symbols of Love


Eldarion was thirteen the first time he and his friend Elboron strode out of Emyn Arnen behind their fathers to spend time amongst the Rangers of Ithilien. His heart was full, for now he knew his father trusted him enough to both obey orders when given and to use his innate good sense and training as might prove needful to be allowed to study the ways of the guardians of the realm first hand, and he could tell that Elboron felt much the same.

“Will we stay in Henneth Annun while we are away, do you think?” he quietly asked the older boy. “I mean, after what your adar was telling us yestereve about the time he took Frodo Baggins and Uncle Samwise there....”

Elboron nodded, his face taking on that slightly pink, awed expression so common to him whenever he was thinking about the Ringbearer. “I hope we may go there, Eldarion. I’ve not been allowed as yet--Ada has always said I wasn’t yet old enough. But with your adar along he just might allow it.”

Both boys looked to where their fathers walked together, both in Ranger garb. The leathers worn by the Prince of Ithilien were well kept, with the White Tree of Gondor worked in subtle colors across the chest; those worn by the King were well worn yet still supple, and still mostly a rich green, and covered by a cloak that appeared the very colors of the forest itself.

“Your lady mother was not particularly pleased to see your lord father in those,” Elboron commented.

Naneth thinks them disreputable,” Eldarion agreed, grinning broadly at the memory of his mother’s expression when she saw them being worn once more. “He keeps them in his private wardrobe and has forbidden all to touch them save one other and himself, who see them kept properly oiled and worked that they not dry and crack. Ada has ever repaired them himself, or so I am told. She will say nothing against the cloak, however--that was given him by her own daernaneth.”

Elboron nodded thoughtfully as he thought on this intelligence. They looked forward once more at the two Men. “I wonder how long he’s had those leathers?” he said thoughtfully. “Would he be offended if I asked, do you think?”

“I doubt it. Little offends my Adar,” the younger boy asserted with a fond smile.

Together they did their best to keep up. Both were tall for their ages, being Dúnedain in heritage and Eldarion having more closely inherited the blood of the Eldar through his mother; but their fathers were taller yet, as were most of the Men with whom they traveled. Both knew that just being allowed to go upon a patrol was considered an honor, and both were proudly aware of the long knives they wore upon their hips and the bows upon their shoulders, weapons won with long toil and practice and the knives only recently received.

To their disappointment they met with no foes that day, although there were a couple times when their fathers had given the hand signals to take cover before fading themselves into the brush. The second time they heard the sounds that had caught the attention of their elders themselves, and soon a young boar came out of the brush to cross the road.

Elboron gave a smile, and had his bow strung in but a moment. The boar, scenting the odor of Men about him, turned warily, trying to gauge the danger it was in; suddenly it collapsed, the arrow of the Steward’s son in its eye. The boy willingly accepted the dressing downs given him by his father and Captain Beregond for firing without orders, continuing to smile as he watched the Lord Elessar examine the kill and the distance of the shot.

Captain Beregond had finally run out of cautions when at last the King spoke. “There is no question, Faramir, that he is your son and excellently skilled with a bow.”

“Had there been orcs in the vicinity, however, this could well have given them warning of our presence,” Faramir countered. “And had the arrow merely bounced off the skull or lodged in the shoulder it might have been maddened with pain and rage and attacked any of our Men it might have located.”

Offended by this suggestion, Elboron drew himself as tall as he could stand. “Adar, certainly you know you have taught me better than to miss my target. And it was an easy shot, surely?”

A moment later he and Eldarion were crouching over the boar, dressing it for the evening meal. “You could not keep your mouth closed?” murmured the King’s son. “Your adar probably would have ordered one of the Rangers to do this.”

Elboron shook his head. “Nay, I knew from the moment I decided to loose the arrow I would be the one to dress it--Ada has always said a good hunter dresses his own kills.”

Eldarion shrugged as he accepted the offal and took it off to bury it, his face twisted in disgust.

They camped that night south and west of the Crossroads, and enjoyed a roasted haunch from the boar cooked with herbs gathered by the King and Eldarion and young onions dug up by one of the King’s guards.

“Your father might not like butchering his kill, but there is no question he is a good cook,” Elboron sighed as he leaned back at his ease after wiping his hands on nearby moss.

“That he is,” agreed the younger boy. “And I’m glad I know my herbcraft as well as I do.”

Captain Beregond approached the two of them with straws in his fist. “Now, which of you shall stand the first watch with Bergil, and which shall have the dawn watch?”

The boys eyed one another uncertainly. Both had hoped to sleep through the night; but it appeared they were to indeed be treated as the other Men. Eldarion smiled first, and reached to pick one of the stems. They were accounted as worthy to be treated as were their fathers’ Men--that was perhaps the greatest honor yet.

*******


They arrived near a rebuilt hunting lodge Eldarion remembered seeing as they’d made their way southward from Osgilliath to Emyn Arnen. Near the villa stood a man-made lake with a stone curb about it, graceful trees overhanging the water.

“We were near here when we first encountered the Ringbearers,” Prince Faramir commented.

Captain Damrod, who was accompanying the party, nodded. “Yes--and it was there--” he pointed at a particular site, “--that Lord Samwise found where a group of our Men had been butchered by orcs.”

Two others in the party nodded in recognition of the incident. “He’d not told Lord Frodo at the time,” recalled one. “I recall how white the Ringbearer’s face went when he learned of it while we were encamped at Cormallen.”

“Frodo Baggins was a most gentle soul,” commented Captain Beregond. “Pippin was so worried for both him and Lord Samwise while we recovered from the fall of the troll.”

The King set his hand on his son’s shoulder. “A most gentle soul, our Frodo was,” he said softly, and Eldarion could hear the regret and grief in his father’s voice.

There was a moment of quiet as all thought on the sacrifice made by the small scholar from the Shire and his friend and gardener. At last Elboron asked, “Will we be allowed to visit Henneth Annun?”

His father gave their King a sidelong glance. “I’d considered it, although I believe we’ll have to blindfold our companion here as he was not born within our land, and we’ve never allowed mere mercenaries to spy out this hiding place, you know.”

Their Lord Elessar threw back his head and laughed. “As if I couldn’t lead you directly to it!” he finally said. “I served several years myself amongst the Rangers of Ithilien under your grandfather, you’ll remember, and knew enough of the lay of the land to have a good idea of the path even if I was blindfolded when taken there at the time. Besides, I’ve been there with the Rangers some years ago when I’ve accompanied their patrols. Why, I’ll wager I could find it blindfolded now.”

Eldarion noted the way the Prince and several of his Men straightened at the challenge. “You think so, do you?” Faramir said, one eyebrow raised. “And what are you willing to wager?”

“How about a barrel of Shire ale against one of your favorite Dorwinion wine?”

There were appreciative laughs from all sides. “Only if the winner shares with us all!” insisted Damrod.

“You’re on!” the King said.

Damrod produced one of the veils used to mask the faces of the Rangers when engaging the enemy and swiftly had it rolled while another pulled dock leaves to cover the King’s eyes under the cloth. Another cut down a straight sapling and gave it into the King’s hand after trimming off all the branches so that he might test the ground before him. Once all was done, Faramir said, “One last precaution.” He took the King’s shoulders and began to turn him about enough to leave him disoriented, and then at last stepped free. “Now, my Lord Aragorn Elessar--let us learn just how well Rangers of Eriador are truly trained!”

“Remember--my first instruction was from the Elves of Imladris,” came the reply. “Considering some of the exercises devised by my foster brothers, this should be simple.” So saying, he stood still, plainly listening. At last he turned westward until he came to the lip of the pool and turned along it, following its line first north and then south, and having satisfied himself of its line at last turned east again to return to the road, then south, the rest of the company following, save for Damrod, who at a signal from the Prince went ahead to scout the way, and two others to serve as rear guard. Some quarter of a mile past the lodge Aragorn at last located a slight indentation in the brush and grasses to the west of the road with the end of his stick and turned that way.

Those accompanying the King later commented that this was not the fastest journey they’d ever made from the site of the lodge to the hidden cavern behind the waterfall, but it was certainly the most interesting. Before they’d finished half the journey there was no question that even blindfolded the King could follow the vague trail easily enough. He did on occasion blunder into brush and once ran full-face into a tree, but when others started to move forward he waved them back. “No--allow me to go forward on my own unless I am headed toward a precipice,” he ordered.

He would often stop to listen and to test the wind. They mounted a ridge, and he paused frequently to probe the next step with the stick, pausing for some time with his brow furrowed once he’d reached the top. At last he said, “More northward, I think,” and turned that way, at last locating a faint track again headed west.

It was when he stopped to remove his boots that all were surprised, and now he was plainly using his feet as well as the stick to follow the way. They were mounting another ridge, their path paralleling a merry small river when he stopped. “I remember there being two traps and a deadfall not far from here, one of them along a lesser path from the south,” he said to those behind him. “I’ll allow another to guide me from here--my beloved Arwen would be most upset if I returned with a broken leg--or worse. But the cavern is over the ridge and that direction, down almost hidden stairs along the cliff’s face and through a cutting, then through the cavern’s mouth. Will you admit I’ve won the wager, my Lord Prince?”

Elboron’s father laughed with delight, “With pleasure, my friend! Masterful!” With that he went forward to take the King’s arm. “Now, if you’ll allow me to guide you?”

“It was not the most direct of routes from the lodge,” commented Faramir as they reached the interior of the cavern and Aragorn at last allowed the blindfold to be removed. “But you did most well! And behold--Damrod has the fire lit already to greet us. Are you hungry, my liege?”

“That I am--as hungry, I think, as ever Pippin was.” He blinked as he at last opened his eyes to the subdued light. “I don’t believe, however, I’d wish to repeat the exercise. My eyes will take some time to clear, I fear. I rejoice that it was dock and not poison oak that was used.”

All laughed.

“How did you know what to do?” asked Elboron once cups of ale had been produced from the storage barrels from one of the alcoves at the back of the cavern.

The King smiled as he sipped from his cup and then set it beside him on the table set up for their meal. “One of the inhabitants of the village where dwelt Berenion, an older cousin who trained us as new recruits to the Rangers of Eriador, had been blinded in the assault in which my father was killed. He still found his way about the village and to the woodlot and back. He always wore soft-soled boots and taught me how he felt his way along the paths with his feet. And Frodo’s kinsman Ferdibrand Took taught me how to use a staff during his visit to the city some years ago and again when he visited with us a few years back in Annúminas. A most inventive one, Master Ferdi is. And my brothers taught me to listen to wind and wood, how to sniff for dampness or moss or mold, and how to follow a line.”

He smiled and clapped his hand to Eldarion’s back as the boy sat down beside him. “And in time you, too, shall train with the Rangers of the North even as you shall here in Gondor, for are you not as much a child of Arnor as am I?”

It was as they prepared for sleep, however, that Elboron made one more discovery about the Lord Aragorn Elessar. As the boys, watched over by Captain Damrod, readied their sleeping rolls on the provided cots, they saw that across the King’s cot lay not a blanket but a quilt, a most marvelous quilt with predominant patches of pink muslin against a variety of different fabrics and colors.

The heir to the Prince of Ithilien turned to the heir to the thrones of Gondor and Arnor in amazement. “A quilt? Your adar sleeps under a quilt--and one with patches of pink?”

Captain Damrod straightened. “My prince,” he cautioned, “no one questions the King’s sleeping roll, no matter how--unusual it is.” He smiled as he leaned down to whisper, “It doesn’t do to question the King, you realize.”

“It is well enough, Captain,” the King said from where he’d paused in the doorway to the alcove where he and the Prince and their sons would spend the night. “I will admit that this disconcerted me when I first found it amongst my gear. However, I’ve come to appreciate it very much over the years, not only for the physical warmth and comfort it gives, but for the memories.”

He crossed to the cot and sat down. “You see, Elboron, this was a gift, and a gift of love presented me by many--as well as a joke on me. In the northern kingdom, you must understand, there dwells a--person who loves to play pranks upon others. When he was younger he decided the time had come to play one upon his friend, the King. But how could he manage to disconcert the one with whom he’d traveled from Bree to Amon Hen, then from Cormallen to the capital and then the Gap of Rohan? So, he thought of a plan and enlisted the help of others to see it through. And this was the result.

“The pink muslin came from a dress worn by Elanor Gamgee-Gardener when she was a faunt; this green came from the first proper suit worn by her next younger brother--it was applied over a square from a handkerchief left in Imladris by Bilbo Baggins. Your father wore that surcoat when we hunted a boar that was terrifying the folk of Anórien, and this came from the shirt your mother wore as she rode with the Rohirrim to the battle of the Pelennor Fields. This came from Pippin’s own first uniform tabard, and this from a tunic I had made for him to wear during the summer spent with us in Minas Tirith.” He touched various squares. “From my mother’s favorite dress, and my father’s dress robes given him by my adar during the days he was fostered in Rivendell. From your grandfather Denethor’s wardrobe--the shirt he wore the day I met him. From your grandmother Finduilas’s gown, the one she wore as she presented your Uncle Boromir to the people on the day he officially was named. From your Uncle Boromir’s extra shirt that Legolas brought away with us after we gave his body to the river. From the gown my Arwen wore the night on which Melian was conceived. From the shirt of my sculptor, and one of the robes my Adar wore that I remembered from my earliest days in his house. Leftover material from the dress the Lady Diamond wore when she married Captain Peregrin....”

Elboron looked up at him. “Nothing from the Ringbearer himself?”

The King smiled, his expression sad but glad at the same time. “Oh, Frodo is represented here. This is from the cloak he wore from the Shire to Lothlórien, and this from a shirt made for him when he was very small by his mother, there before she drowned. And this was taken from the shirt he wore when he was stabbed by the Witch-king of Angmar--he was wearing it when I first saw him. And this silver grey is from the last waistcoat he had made for himself before he sailed over the Sea.” He straightened. “Many of the squares originally were made from handkerchiefs sent by the Hobbits; now several of those are overlaid by fabric from garments of others I’ve loved. Here is from my cousin and first friend among Men, Halbarad, brother to Halladan and Hardorn. It is from the shirt he wore the day of Halladan’s wedding. This was from Melian’s naming-day garment, and this from Elfwine’s, and this from Eldarion’s, and this from yours, and this from Idril’s, and this from Morwen’s. From your Aunt Lothiriel’s wedding dress, and Théoden King’s court robes.” He looked his Steward’s son in the eye. “Wherever I go, I am surrounded by the symbols of the love of those I myself have loved--Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Men. I cannot feel alone any more, not with this. And if the others with me laugh, I know what this means even if they do not. Do you understand?”

The boy nodded thoughtfully as he reached to touch his own square. “How wonderful,” he said softly.

“Indeed, Elboron, it is wonderful--a quilt to remind me not to take myself too seriously at the same time it reassures me that I am taken most seriously by others.”

“And your green leathers? Have you had them a long time?”

The King laughed again. “Ah, yes, I have. They were given me by Eldarion’s daeradar on the day I returned to Imladris from my sojourns in Rohan, Gondor, Rhun, Harad, and Umbar, to remind me that no matter where I go, I am indeed a child of the North Kingdom, and that my loyalties lie there as much as to other lands. And when I wear them I remember him always, and how he came to serve as my adar after my own father died protecting the lands and peoples of Eriador. And for all my lady wife finds them disreputable, she knows how I still feel protected by the love of her father when I wear them.

“And now, my bowman and my son, it is time for the two of you to sleep, for it has been a very long day, and our beloved Steward and I will be joining you soon enough. Rest well, our sons.” So saying, he gave each a kiss on the brow and went out.

And as they lay down at last on their cots, they could hear the King singing in the outer chamber, singing a song once taught to him by Bilbo Baggins; and Eldarion turned his head to see the quilt, its colors muted in the growing dark save for the pale pink muslin of Elanor Gamgee’s childhood dress.

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