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4
Stranger at the Gates

The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.

And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates. . - The Bible – Deuteronomy 16.13-16.

With grateful thanks to Raksha


~~~

“A traveller begs leave to see you, my lady. He claims to be of the House of Elrond, but he is no Elf!”

A stab of fear pierced Galadriel’s heart. Long had she foreseen this day, yet hoped her foresight would prove false. If she bade the intruder leave her borders maybe the danger would depart with him? But no, whatever threatened Arwen had already come to pass. Her beloved granddaughter had grown sadder and quieter these past years; while her laughter was seldom heard. Arwen had spoken of the love professed by one of her father's mortal fosterlings. But the stars had shone again, if only briefly, in Undómiel’s eyes, when she spoke of the young Man. Arwen had claimed she did not return his affections, yet there was a gentleness, a wistfulness in her voice when she spoke of Aragorn son of Arathorn that belied her certainty.

And now, it seemed that the very Dunadan had walked out of Arwen's dreams into Galadriel's own realm. She would, Galadriel decided, at least speak with the Man. Arwen had gone riding with Celeborn, she did not need to know; at least not yet.

“Bring him to me, Haldir,” she commanded and sat back in her chair, staring at the silver and green walls of the chamber without seeing them.

Within the hour Haldir returned with the traveller. When Galadriel beheld him she could have laughed. This stranger take Arwen away from her? Absurd! His clothes were torn and filthy. Galadriel struggled not to wrinkle her nose with distaste. The intruder smelled strongly of dried mud, horses, and Orcs! He walked with a limp and his face was disfigured with bruises.

“Welcome to Lothlórien, stranger,” she said. “I am Galadriel, Lady of the Golden Wood. What brings you along paths that few mortal men have ever trod?”

“I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn,” replied the stranger in perfect Sindarin with a slight accent of the North. “I was raised in the House of Elrond, and told by the Wise there that I might find shelter here if need drove me thither. I have travelled long and am sore weary after many labours. Dark creatures have pursued me almost to your gates. I beg leave to rest here for a little while.”

Galadriel said nothing but simply looked into his eyes. Unlike many: Elves as well as Men, he did not flinch from her gaze. The discomfort he must have felt was well concealed. For a moment the traveller appeared to be trying to veil his thoughts as if from long custom. He then collected himself, remembering he was amongst the Eldar. Galadriel’s mind freely probed his. She sensed above all, a noble heart, greater than any of the Secondborn for many a long generation, but one shadowed with weariness, sorrow and pain. His eyes held her attention most of all, large and grey they spoke of courage, compassion and a noble heart. Although clearly a mortal man, there was something Elvish about him, but of course, the line that Elrond fostered were his brother’s kin, like him descended from Lúthien the Fair.

“You may bide here a while,” she said. Uneasy as she might feel, the laws of hospitality demanded that she grant him food and shelter.

“I thank you, my lady,” said Aragorn. He promptly collapsed in a dead faint.

Galadriel rose from her seat, and overcoming her distaste, laid a hand upon the stranger’s brow. He did not appear feverish. She surmised he was simply exhausted. ”Send for a healer!” she ordered. “Then see he is given a bath and put to bed. And someone deal with those filthy rags he is wearing!”

As soon as the stranger had been taken away, Galadriel bade her handmaids sprinkle sweet blossoms around the chamber to freshen the air. She then walked alone to her garden and poured water into the silver bowl that was her mirror. At first the clear spring water looked as clouded as that from a muddy pond. She forced herself to calm her racing thoughts. She must know if this man was indeed the one whose coming she had foreseen. His appearance was that of a vagabond, while his heart was that of a hero. Was Arwen doomed to bind herself to this man and fade and die a mortal like Lúthien before her, forever lost to her people? Surely that could not be? Not her only granddaughter, the fair Evenstar. Galadriel smiled wryly thinking how disappointed she had been when the babe had been born with the dark hair of the Noldor, rather than silver locks of her mother or golden tresses of her grandmother. She had grown, though, to be so fair, that many wondered were she Lúthien reborn. Not only was Arwen fair, but also loving and wise.

Galadriel looked again in the mirror. This time she saw a battle raging and the stranger was leading the men to victory and being offered the Crown of Gondor by a man as like unto him as close kindred.. Then came another vision of Middle-earth, desolate under the Dark Lord’s power. Vision after vision followed of Arwen alone, desolate as frost in winter, or with the man at her side and fair children, her eyes full of laughter. It seemed that not only Arwen’s fate was tied to this man, but all of Middle-earth’s.

Heavy of heart, Galadriel wandered amongst the mallorns: she had always known that one day the Dark Lord’s increasing power might force her to leave her cherished realm, but had expected to travel with all her family to the Undying Lands where Celebrian awaited them. Now she feared that was not to be, but if she tried to protect her granddaughter from her destiny, a dark fate would befall the world of Men, while Arwen would never find happiness until the breaking of the world. Galadriel loved her granddaughter; there was only course she could now take.

***

***

Aragorn, son of Arathorn lay pale and still upon a low bed: a bath had somewhat improved his appearance, revealing a Dunadan entering the prime of his life, pride and strength apparent in his chiselled features. Those Númenorean features happened also to be bruised and shadowed with weariness.

“How is our guest?” Galadriel asked the attendant healer.

“He is exhausted beyond even what a strong man can bear, and he is indeed one of the strongest of mortal men I have ever seen,” said the healer. “He has dark dreams, and in his sleep he speaks of the Black Land. Who knows what horrors he has witnessed?”

“Is he injured?” asked the Lady.

“Not seriously; I have uncovered only cuts, bruises and a sprained ankle. Nothing that rest and good food will not put right.”

Galadriel pulled back the blankets a few inches. The Man had the same lean build as an Elf, though at present he lacked sufficient flesh. The scars of old wounds disfigured his body, but nothing appeared to ail him that Elvish-healing arts could not swiftly remedy. Covering him again, she gently took his hand, a scratched and calloused hand, but at the same time a strong one.

He stirred, and in a troubled sleep called out Arwen’s name. Galadriel stood looking at him for a long time

“When he awakens,” she told the healer at last. “I would have him remain here with food and drink until he is fully recovered. Treat his old wounds that they may no longer mar him.”

***

A week later Galadriel again went to visit her guest. This time he was sitting up in a chair dressed in a robe. His hair had been trimmed and his beard shaved, making him look more like an Elf than ever.

“My lady.” Aragorn rose and inclined his head. “I apologise for when we last met. Orcs and Wargs had pursued me almost to your gates and my horse was slain beneath me. I fear I succumbed to weakness.”

“Lesser Men would have succumbed to the Enemy long ago,” said Galadriel. “I trust you are now recovered? I should like you to dine with me tonight.”

“Gladly would I, my lady,” said Aragorn. Alas, I have no clothing save this robe I am wearing, and even that is borrowed garb.”

“Your own clothing is being washed and mended,” said Galadriel, unwrapping a parcel that she had carried tucked beneath her arm.” I have brought fitting raiment for you.” It contained fine linens, and a silver and white tunic and breeches. She then drew forth a bright gem from the folds of her gown.

“My lady!” Aragorn protested. “These garments are fit for a prince!”

“Are you not of the line of Elros Tar-Minyatur, and Elendil, friend of my kinsman and lord, Gil-galad?” said Galadriel. “I would have you robed in a manner befitting your lineage. But before we dine, I suggest that you take a walk beneath the mallorn trees. They are laden with golden flowers at this time of year. Few mortal Men have had the chance to behold them.”

“Thank you, my lady, I will indeed,” said Aragorn graciously. “How long have I been here?”

“Seven days in your reckoning,” said Galadriel.

“I had lost count. It seems time as no meaning in this Elven Realm,” said Aragorn. “It could have been a day or a month I had tarried here.”

“You must remain with us until you fully regain your strength,” said Galadriel. “I will see you at dinner.”

***

“Come walk with me beneath the trees before we dine,” Galadriel said to her granddaughter early that evening. They strode arm in arm admiring the beauty of the mallorns. It was a perfect spring evening. The air smelt sweet with the many flowers. A thrush sang melodiously in the trees, while the setting sun made the blossoms gleam like burnished gold.

Suddenly a tall figure appeared from the opposite direction, like unto an Elf Lord from the Blessed Realm itself. Arwen stopped suddenly and gazed at the approaching figure as if transfixed. He did the same.

Galadriel turned and walked away. For good or ill, Arwen’s doom was decided.

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