Trees of Remembrance
"I am afraid it is broken, Your Majesty," said the healer as he carefully ran his fingers along the bone of the small leg. The child flinched at the touch, but bravely refused to cry out for he did not wish to upset his mother. It was false bravado, for everyone could see the tears of pain in his eyes.
"As I thought," replied Aragorn with a grim look on his face. He drew the Healer aside and lowered his voice so as not to scare his already very frightened and upset son. "I have already given him something for the pain, so I suggest we set the break at once."
"That would be wise. My lady, would you be able to help hold your son still for a few minutes?" asked the Healer, addressing Arwen as she hugged Eldarion close.
"Of course. I am well accustomed to assisting with the injured," she replied a little sadly, earning herself a quick kiss of sympathy from Aragorn. He knew that the bitterness of her leave taking from Elrond still haunted her, as did her desire to be held in her adar's arms once more. Eldarion's eyes widened with fear as he wondered what they were going to do, but with both skill and efficiency, the bone was set with barely a whimper from the child.
"How long before I can ride again?" asked Eldarion, feeling much better now that the pain had eased and yawning widely as the sleeping draught he had been given took effect. No answer was required because his eyelids closed and his breathing slowed as he fell into a deep sleep. Nodding acknowledgement that Arwen and Aragorn intended to stay with their son for a time, the healer left the family to their privacy.
"Aragorn, perhaps you should send our apologies to Gimli and …omer. I do not think Eldarion should travel to Edoras in this condition, and I do not wish to leave him alone," whispered Arwen.
"I agree he cannot travel, but I fear you and I must honour our commitment to attend the banquet …omer has planned for the Dwarves of Aglarond. I hear the restoration work they have done on Helm's Deep is truly magnificent. And do not forget that, as the granddaughter of the Lady Galadriel, you have been invited to attend as the guest of honour," replied Aragorn, trying desperately to devise a solution to the dilemma. He did not wish to insult Gimli, nor endanger the still fragile relationship between the Dwarves and the Rohirrim. Neither did he wish to leave his six year old son who had just broken his leg by falling from the pony …omer had gifted him for his birthday.
"Besides, there are many here who will be more than willing to take care of him for a few weeks. I promise we will return at the very first opportunity," he said reassuringly as he reached over to brush the tears from his beloved wife's eyes.
"Why not let him come and stay with me in Ithilien?" asked a gentle voice from the doorway.
"Legolas! What brings you to Minas Tirith? I would have thought you were invited to the banquet?" asked Aragorn who was always happy to see his dear friend. The Elf wandered over to gaze on the sleeping child, kissed Arwen lightly on the cheek and turned his smiling eyes back to Aragorn.
"I begged Gimli's indulgence and declined the invitation for there is still much distrust between our three races, and I do not wish to be the cause of any arguments between those who partake too much of the wine at dinner. Besides which, I need to tend to some of the shrubs I have planted in the gardens," Legolas answered simply. Aragorn raised an eyebrow, and shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of defeat.
"Well, I for one will miss your presence, but the choice is yours," he said, knowing it would be useless to try and convince the stubborn Elf otherwise.
"I heard of Eldarion's accident. I trust he will recover?" Legolas asked concern for the young prince evident on his fair face.
"Yes, it is a broken leg, nothing more," replied Arwen squeezing his hand in a gesture meant to comfort. "I still do not wish to leave him, but if I must, I can think of no one better with whom to entrust his care," she said sincerely.
"Nor can I," agreed Aragorn with a measure of relief. Legolas was no stranger to the child, and in fact both Aragorn and Arwen considered him to be more like family.
"I will let no harm befall the son of those who are so dear to my heart. When do you leave for Edoras?" asked Legolas as he sat on the end of the bed and smiled at a very drowsy Eldarion who had somehow managed to open his eyes long enough to see the mischievous wink from his favourite Elf.
"We must leave at dawn tomorrow, and I fear we will still arrive late to the celebration. But for this unfortunate accident, we would have been well on our way already," replied Aragorn.
"I will stay here until Eldarion is well enough to make the journey to my home by boat, for it will do his leg no injury to travel by water rather than land," said Legolas thoughtfully.
A week later, Eldarion and Legolas arrived at the settlement in the woods of Ithilien. Rather than be forced to carry the child up a ladder to a talan, Legolas decided to make him comfortable in the stone house Gimli had built to accommodate himself or any beings other than Elves who might wish to spend some time in Ithilien as Legolas's guests.
"Since you are unable to walk very far, and there is little you can do to pass the time until your leg fully heals, I thought you might like to help me make a gift for your father," suggested Legolas one day.
"What would we make?" asked Eldarion eagerly.
"I have a mind to carve him a decent pipe," said Legolas gaily. "One that is at least pleasing to the eye, even if the smoke is not pleasing to my nose!" They both laughed.
"I am not permitted to use sharp knives," admitted Eldarion.
"I think your father would make an exception in this instance, and I will be watching at all times to make certain you cut only the wood," replied Legolas confidently as he handed the child a small knife and a small piece of a branch that was suitable for carving. "Now this is what you must do," said Legolas, taking a longer and thinner piece of branch and demonstrating his own technique. When he had finished the first section of the stem, he waited patiently for the child to begin.
After several days, and many hours spent carving, Legolas had to admit that Eldarion had little aptitude for the craft. He had destroyed several pieces of wood, and had made no more progress than being able to carve his name, which he did surprisingly well. He proudly accepted the many compliments for his ability to spell in both Weston and Elvish, but after examining Legolas's work, the child hastily threw his last piece away in disgust.
"Since you are so clever with letters, perhaps you could carve your father's name into the pipe I made?" suggested Legolas, ignoring the display of temper. Eldarion grinned and wrapped his arms around the Elf's neck and hugged tightly.
"That would be wonderful! It would be a gift from us both!" he declared joyfully.
"Ai, it would," agreed Legolas. "Let me show you where I want his name to be carved." Eldarion took extra care and although he worked slowly, the final result genuinely impressed all who saw it.
Aragorn was also impressed and could not wait to try the new pipeweed from the Shire that one of the Dwarves had been asked to deliver to the King.
"This is truly exquisite," said Aragorn as he carefully studied the gift. The stem was in the form of a tree trunk, its branches and leaves spreading at the end to hold the bowl on which the name, Elessar, had been so artfully carved. Seven small dots of mithril were evenly spread around the rim of the pipe, and when Aragorn lit the weed, they seemed to glow as brightly as the stars they represented.
"I thank you both very much, yet it is certainly not a gift I would expect from you, Legolas. I know of your dislike for smoking," said Aragorn as he puffed lazily on the pipe.
"I maintain it is an unpleasant habit in which I see no pleasure, but if you must indulge, I believe you should have a pipe fitting your station as King," said Legolas with a gleam in his eye that indicated to Aragorn he was being teased slightly and he laughed heartily.
"You are right, of course, but I wonder if Gimli will not covet this and demand you make him one equally as elegant?" Aragorn teased in reply.
"I made the offer, but he would rather use the pipe gifted to him by the Hobbits. He says that those who indulge in the weed are more likely to make a pipe that is a pleasure to smoke rather than to look at, as an Elvish one is likely to be," declared Legolas in a fair imitation of his friend's manner.
"For once, I think he is mistaken," said Aragorn, causing Legolas to laugh merrily. "This pipe is both pleasing to look at, and pleasing to use."
"Speaking of pleasing to the eye, come with me and I will show you something truly beautiful," said Legolas, leading father and son along a newly marked track to a small glade.
"What kind of trees are those?" asked Eldarion curiously. "I can almost hear them speaking."
"A rather uncommon variety," answered Legolas mysteriously as he waited to find out what had disturbed Aragorn, who was looking around and frowning. He thought he had sensed someone's presence for a fleeting moment, but there was no one but the three of them to be seen. Legolas noticed the distracted look and smiled.
"You felt as if someone was here, did you not?" he asked. Aragorn nodded.
"Were they familiar to you?"
Aragorn thought for a moment, trying to recapture the feeling, then nodded slowly.
"Hobbits! I thought I felt the Hobbits nearby! But it cannot be!" he declared.
"Ai, they are not here. What you felt was a reminder of their presence. Treebeard gave these nine trees to me when Gimli and I wandered through Fangorn for a second time on our way back from our homes. The entish name takes a long time to say, even for an Elf, but I believe it means 'trees of remembrance' as far as I can tell," explained Legolas.
"Then they are aptly named," replied Aragorn as he wandered further into the glade. He stopped before the largest of the trees to peer more closely at what appeared to be a wrinkled face in the bark of the gnarled trunk. "This one looks rather like Gandalf," he suggested with a merry laugh.
"Ai, but I think he is frowning at your lack of respect," said Legolas, more than a little amused.
"Definitely Gandalf, then," muttered Aragorn under his breath. Suddenly a strong gust of wind rustled the leaves of the trees and Aragorn could have sworn he heard his name whispered softly on the breeze.
"Did you hear that? Did you hear the trees call my name?" he asked Legolas.
"Ai, I heard, but it was the memory of Boromir in your heart that called to you, not the voices of the trees," answered Legolas sadly.
"Then the others must hold memories of you, and Gimli and father," said Eldarion, who already learned much of the history of the Quest from the stories told by those Companions who remained.
"That is so, and in years to come, when the last of the Fellowship leave Middle Earth, this glade will serve as a reminder of the nine Companions, and the battles that we fought to defeat the darkness," said Legolas. "However, Treebeard was rather apologetic when he explained that only those with elven blood in their veins will ever be able to find this place, but it will provide a safe haven and a place of peace for any of the House of Telconter who seeks it out."
So it was that, in the twilight of his years, Eldarion decided to seek out the glade one last time. It had been many decades since he had last visited the woods he had once enjoyed so much, and the path was difficult to find. He felt a strange compulsion to follow a particular direction, and wondered if it was not the trees calling to him. Eldarion sighed sadly, for the overgrown path, and the melancholy looking trees only served to remind him that it was a grieving Legolas who had finally abandoned Ithilien to sail over the sea to the Undying lands.
It had been one of several losses the then young King had been forced to bear in the distant past, for not only did he suffer great sorrow at the death of his father, but also a year later he was forced to endure the disappearance of his beloved mother. His brief respite from despair quickly vanished, and the shadow of grief returned to dull the brightness that had flared for but a moment in eyes that were the colour of the storm clouds that filled the sunless sky. He had always found rainy days to be depressing, but on this day he welcomed the gloom, for it matched his mood well.
The early morning mist still hung heavily in the air, shrouding the trees in an ethereal veil of thick white fog that seemed to absorb all sound, leaving the forest in almost total silence, except for the occasional snapping of a twig as weary feet that could barely be lifted from the ground, trudged through the thick carpet of leaves that covered the forest floor. Yet even that sound ceased when Eldarion stopped for a moment to take a deep breath of the cool, crisp air. The scent of damp wood and freshly crushed undergrowth filled his senses, jarring his memory and for the first time in days he allowed himself a small smile as he recalled a time when as a child he had run freely through these very bushes and trees, playing hide and seek with Legolas. As he had grown older, their games had turned to tests of skill in both archery and woodcraft, and often the King and his Steward would join them in a friendly contest of Elf against Man.
Looking around, he suddenly realised that the undergrowth he had been forcing his way through covered the very path he sought and he quickly made his way to the glade formed by the nine trees Legolas had planted the day he had fulfilled his promise, and returned with his friends from Eryn Lasgalen.
Even now that the light of the Elves had all but faded and the other trees grew with but a small fraction of their previous beauty, some mysterious power enabled the nine to flourish. Within the glade there was ever a sense of peace and tranquillity, and it had always seemed a magical place to Eldarion. Many years had passed since last he walked amongst the trees, as he slowly circled them, gently brushing the trunk of each tree in turn, he felt the familiar whisper of a living presence on the edge of his consciousness, each one as different as each of the members of the Fellowship had been. Although the Ring Bearer and Gandalf had travelled over the sea years before he had been born, and he had learned of Boromir mostly from speaking with Faramir, Eldarion felt as if he knew them equally as well as those he had befriended in his father's court over the years.
He also knew that he was becoming very tired and he gratefully sank down in the soft green grass at the base of one of the trees, but was forced to move slightly when something hard and uncomfortable pressed into his thigh. Reaching beneath his leg, he removed a small piece of wood that had become caught in his leggings, and he was barely able to believe his eyes when he realised it was the poorly carved pipe he had so casually discarded a lifetime ago. How it had come to be so far from the settlement, he had no way of knowing, but he was certain he was meant to find it, though for what purpose he could not fathom.
The ageing King shook his head in wonder then closed his eyes as memories of the darkest time in his life filled his mind. It was no consolation that now, so many years later, he finally understood why his mother had left, why she no longer wished to live without his father. It had only been two days since he buried the woman who had been his wife, his lover and the mother of his children. The pain of her loss was a like a dull edged knife being twisted in his heart. Like his mother had done so many years ago, he could no longer bear the thought of living without the one who shared his soul, and he had no desire to remain in Minas Tirith, surrounded by memories.
Instead he had come here to accept the gift of mortality, to take his last breath in the one place he had always found happiness. As he drifted into a sleep from which he did not expect to awaken, the melodious sound of childish glee filled the glade, and a moment later he was entangled in the loving embraces offered by his grandsons.
"Grandfather, wake up!" the younger boy shouted in his ear, giving him no option but to do as was demanded.
"We have been looking for you everywhere!" exclaimed the elder as he stood with indignant hands on hips. "Father is very worried about you."
"You even missed dinner last night!" the younger of the two declared, his outrage at deliberately doing such a thing so disarming that Eldarion could not help but laugh.
"So I did, and I suppose my secret place is no longer secret," he said as he gathered the two boys into his arms.
"No, it was very easy to find. It was almost as if something was guiding us here," said his eldest grandson.
"Is that so?" asked Eldarion, finding it easy to believe such an explanation.
"Ouch! What is this?" asked the younger child, who had sat rather heavily on the pipe.
"Something I made many years ago, when I was but a child. Would you like to hear the story?" he asked, suddenly having decided that here were at least two precious reasons to live after all. Two heads nodded eagerly, and settling themselves on either side of Eldarion, they waited eagerly for the story to begin.
"It was a few days after my sixth birthday, and I was showing off on my pony..."