Big thanks to Cairistiona for beta-reading. *hugs*
Aragorn looked at his son. They were sitting on a thick, soft rug in Eldarion's room and were building a fortress of small wooden blocks. The boy's small face was thoughtful.
"Yes, my son?" Aragorn replied with a tender smile and a nod.
"I thought," Eldarion said, his eyes cast down. "My friend Beleg has one grandma and grandpa. And Haldar. And Mallor has two grandmas. They all have grannies and they play with them and give them presents. Only I don't have anyone."
Aragorn laid aside the little block he still held in his hand. He wasn't completely surprised; Eldarion was a bright and observant four-year-old, full of questions. Aragorn knew that, sooner or later, the boy would wonder about this.
"Some of us have grandparents, and some don't. One of the latter is your good friend Elboron. But not having grandparents does not mean that you are any less loved. Naneth and I love you the most in the whole world, and we love you every day more and more," he said softly. Those words gave no reply to Eldarion's so far unspoken questions and Aragorn knew that the boy would ask more; he uttered them merely as the beginning of their talk, wanting his son to know that his world would always be full of love, and that safety he felt now would never be broken nor disturbed. The boy's smile and a merry sparkle in his eyes warmed Aragorn's heart. But then the little one became serious again, as he was lost in thoughts.
"Why don't I have them?" he asked finally, looking down.
"My parents are dead," Aragorn answered. "My father was killed long ago, in battle. I was only two years old. My mother died much later, when she was a hundred." He paused for a moment, overcome with memories. "I wish so much that she could've lived longer. Nothing would make her happier than seeing you." He caressed his son's hair. Imagining his mother holding a grandson in her arms, his eyes filled with tears. He blinked quickly so that Eldarion wouldn't notice them, but his son was preoccupied with his own thoughts.
"What were they like?" he asked.
"I do not remember my father, actually, for I was too small when he died. My mother often used to tell me that I looked like him. I created my own image of him based on her stories," Aragorn said. "She was tiny and seemingly frail, but there was great strength in her. Like most of our people, she had dark hair and beautiful grey eyes. While I was growing up, she was always there for me; she was both my mother and my friend, and my big support. Later, when I was fully grown, I had to travel a lot because of my many duties and I was often far away from her, but I always carried her in my heart. I wrote and visited her whenever I could."
The boy tilted his head a little and frowned. "Will you go far away again?" he asked, his voice trembling a little in the end of his question.
"No," Aragorn answered and held his son close, with a gentle kiss on his brow. "Surely I will not have to travel often, and even if I will have to go somewhere, you and naneth will go with me."
The boy's face cheered when he heard the answer and he smiled. "And naneth's ada and nana?" he asked then.
"They... they live very far from us," replied Aragorn with a wistful smile.
"So I have grandma and grandpa!" little one exclaimed, his face beaming. "Can we go visit them?" he asked with a voice suddenly full of hope.
"Unfortunately, we can't, my son," Aragorn answered and Eldarion's face fell. "They live far away... so very far away that they are not a part of our world."
Eldarion frowned as he tried to understand his father's words. "How come?"
Aragorn sighed, knowing he could not explain this easily.
"They live in a country far, far away. Farther than all of our lands, farther than all of our mountains and seas."
"Oh!" It was all the boy said, obviously impressed by the distance described. He pondered a little more, and then he turned to his father again. "And maybe they can visit us?" The hope in his eyes didn't wane. Now that he knew he had grandparents, he keenly wanted to know more about them... and to meet them.
"They can't, my little one," Aragorn replied and shook his head. "They are too far away, and they can't leave their country.”
"Why not?" asked Eldarion sorrowfully.
"They are Elves, just like your naneth was. The Elves live in the land of the Valar," Aragorn said. "Do you remember what I told you about the Valar? Do you remember who they are?" The boy briskly nodded, and Aragorn continued. "Well, their land is far, far away, even farther than the sky... and it is a home to the Elves too. Your grandmother went there first, and a few years ago, after our Enemy was defeated and peace was restored in Middle-earth, your grandfather went there too, together with other Elves."
Eldarion didn't answer at once, but he looked at the toy he tossed in his hands. By looking at his posture, Aragorn knew that the boy was tense. He finally raised his gaze towards his father.
"But why didn't he stay with us? Why did he leave? Uncle Legolas is an elf and he didn't go away. I want my grandpa and grandma." His tiny voice was sad, and tears glistened in his eyes.
"Come," Aragorn said softly and lifted the boy. He carried his son to the couch and put him in his lap, embracing him around his shoulders. For a few moments, he thought about what to say and how to start, because this was a very delicate matter.
"Once upon a time, long ago, our world was the world of the Elves. They walked under stars, moon and sun, filling it with their laughter and song. But not everything was always nice and peaceful. There was a lot of evil in the world too: they fought in great battles and died trying to defeat the evil enemy," he spoke in a soft voice. Eldarion listened with his eyes open wide, his gaze fixed upon his father's face. "But so many centuries have passed since and the world has changed, and this is the time of Men now. The Elves are different from us, my son. They leave this world because they must leave, because they can't find true fulfillment and happiness here any more. Very few elves are left in Middle-earth, and Uncle Legolas will leave one day as well, because sea-longing is burning in him too. With every new day his yearning and pain are stronger..." He paused and sighed, smiling wistfully.
"Do you remember how you felt when you had lost Timmy?" The boy nodded silently. Timmy was their cat who died about a month ago. Of all people, the animal was devoted only to Eldarion, who loved it a lot; the loss saddened him greatly. "You cried and you were very sad, because you lost something close. You felt as if you lost a part of yourself." The boy nodded again. "Several weeks passed since then and now you feel better. In time, it will be even easier. And now, try to imagine a pain incomparably greater and stronger, a pain that never passes away... imagine that your heart is so wounded that it can never heal again.
"The Elves are different from us," Aragorn repeated. "They are immortal, they do not age nor die, and many people are envious for that. But immortality is not always a blessing; it can be a burden, too. Losses that elves experience throughout their long centuries or millenia leave scars on their souls. Sometimes, it happens that they are so sad that in this world – in our world – they can not find healing, and they would fade from grief. The only place where their hearts can truly mend is Valinor – that far, blessed realm where the Valar and the Elves live."
Eldarion was totally spellbound by the story. He absorbed every word breathlessly, not taking eyes off his father.
"Your grandfather has lived a very long life in Middle-earth. He has experienced a lot of happiness and blessing, but at the same time, his life has not been devoid of pain and loss. When he was a small child, he lost his parents. Later, his brother died..." He stopped here, thinking of their distant ancestor. However, he decided not to mention the connection with him; it would probably only confuse the boy and avert his attention from what was important now. There will be other opportunities to talk about Elros. "Besides them, he also lost his wife, your grandmother, because she had to go to Valinor to heal her own wounded heart. And finally..." He stopped again. Finally, he lost his daughter, too. How could he explain it to Eldarion? How could he explain to his son Arwen's choice, and how much that parting that would last until the end of the world hurt Elrond?
He too was overwhelmingly sad about that; he would give anything if only they could all be together, as a family, without any parting. But any love between two people of those very different races was burdened with sorrow, whether his own with Arwen, or Beren's with Luthien; there was no way he could change that. Finally, Aragorn decided not to explain Arwen's choice in details. There would be time for that, especially when the boy was a little older; then he would understand more easily. For now, after all, he was only four and a half years old.
"I know that your grandfather wished he could've stayed here," he said finally. "But his final task in Middle-earth – his fight against Sauron, our terrible evil enemy – was ended, and his heart was full of scars. And after all that I told you, after all the losses he went through, his daughter – your naneth – decided not to go to Valinor with him but to stay in Middle-earth and become a mortal, like all other men. The two of us then married. Your grandfather was happy that she had found her happiness, but parting from her was another great burden upon him. In the end of all things, he couldn't stay here any more.
"I so wish your grandpa was here, my little boy," Aragorn continued. "He is not only your naneth's ada, you know? He was like a father to me too, because mine was killed. He took me into his care when I was but a babe and he raised me. He gave me so much and taught me so much... And I know he would have stayed here, if only he could. But as much joy as staying would bring him, it would bring him more pain too. Each day he would feel even greater pain, and his wounds were already too deep. He had to find healing, or he would've faded, I'm afraid... and no matter how happy Naneth and I would be for having him near us, it would grieve us to see his pain grow, and not be able to help him. He, on his part, would be aware of that, and would feel even worse... and that is why he had to leave. His heart had to heal its wounds, and that was possible only in Valinor. It was not until he reached that special, blessed realm that he became whole again, rejoined with your grandma."
Silence fell upon them. Aragorn held his son tightly, but tenderly, and gave him a gentle kiss in the brow. The enraptured, focused expression on Eldarion's face showed that the boy was still completely taken by the story, even now that it was finished. Aragorn clearly saw that the boy was trying to absorb all the information he had heard and to understand it. Finally, the boy looked up towards him.
"So I will never see them?" he asked sorrowfully.
"Not while we live, my son," replied Aragorn, "but..."
"What are their names?" Eldarion interrupted.
"My parents were Gilraen and Arathorn. Your naneth's parents are named Celebrian and Elrond." Aragorn smiled. "You know, I wanted to tell you, one day we will see them, nevertheless. I am looking forward to that very much, just like your naneth."
"How? When?" the boy asked with a new hope, opening his eyes widely.
"One distant day, a final battle will take place. The great Dark Lord will finally be utterly defeated forever; Arda and the Valar will be young again, while Elves and Men will unite in front of Eru and sing the most beautiful song. Then, we will meet all of our loved ones and rejoice. Then, we will all be together again."
"And when will that be?" asked Eldarion, enchanted.
"I don't know, little one," answered Aragorn. "No one does. It will surely be in the very distant future. But it will happen, we will see that day. You will meet your grandparents, and not just them, but their parents too, and even more of your family." Then he lifted his son and looked into his eyes. "You have no grandparents in this life, but I can promise you this: you will never be alone. Naneth and I will always be with you, as long as we live."
And while he hugged the boy, who returned the embrace with his little arms, he could make one more promise: that Eldarion's children would have grandparents.