Aragorn awoke suddenly, from an indistinct dream that was already slipping away from him. Above him, the gilded and carved ceiling glinted strangely in the half-light of dawn, and the soft linen that encased him seemed alien and uncomfortable. He sat up, rubbing his face with both hands to rid himself of tiredness, and glanced sideways at the tendrils of black hair spread out on the pillow next to him. As he had done for the past week, he wondered if he was still dreaming, and if in a moment he would wake for real and discover he was lying wrapped in his old cloak on some bed of leaves, out in the Wild.
He swung his legs out of the bed, and stood up, stretching.
“Morning, love,” Arwen murmured from behind him.
“I always wake you!” Aragorn said. “I am sorry.”
She brushed hair out of her eyes, and shook her head. “You know well that I was already awake. I cannot get used to this business of sleeping.”
“I cannot get used to being inside,” Aragorn said, throwing open the thick curtains and the windows they hid. “It is another beautiful morning.”
Arwen slipped out of bed and padded softly across the floor to join him, putting her arm around his waist and leaning her head into his shoulder. He rested his chin on her dark tresses and together they gazed out at the City spread out below them.
There was a soft knock on the door, followed by it opening and a servant creeping in with a pitcher of water. He started when he saw the pair by the window, and was about to withdraw.
“Thank you,” Aragorn said, turning his head. The servant froze, looking exactly like a deer facing the point of an arrow, and gulped, and then put the pitcher down and hurried away. “The hot water is all very well and good,” Aragorn sighed, “but I wish they wouldn’t bother. They always look so scared.”
“I fear it is me,” Arwen said, going to sit at her dressing table and picking up a brush. “Every time I cross a servant they turn and go in the other direction.” She frowned at her reflection, and brushed in silence for a moment.
Aragorn watched her brushing and frowned in his turn, before picking up one of the rich, soft robes he had been provided with, and slipping it on. “I will see you at breakfast?”
She nodded, and he bent to kiss her before leaving the room.
The table was laid ready when Aragorn reached the breakfast chamber, an airy room which commanded views of the Pelennor. Another servant was hovering, and hurried to pull out a chair so that Aragorn could sit, before bringing him bread and preserves and pale cordial. There was already a pile of papers by Aragorn’s place, and he settled to reading through them as he began to eat. Petitions for asylum, counsel from the senior advisors, messages from elsewhere in the kingdom – all what Aragorn was quickly growing used to. As he ate, he sorted the papers into order of priority, and made a mental list of the first things he had to do, remembering the afternoon was set aside today for the people of the City to request an audience with him.
He had almost finished eating when Arwen arrived, dressed in simple white with a circlet of silver in her hair. Her eyes went straight to the papers, and she settled at the table with a sigh.
“Must you work this morning?”
“I have no choice, love, you know that,” Aragorn said. “I have to speak to the counsellors, and visit the Houses of Healing; survey the Pelennor … there is so much to do.” He swallowed the last mouthful of cordial. “I beg your forgiveness, my lady.”
“I know you cannot help it,” Arwen said. “And of course I knew that this would be the order of our lives – but it is not what I really wished for, Estel.” She spread honey on a piece of bread and contemplated it. “I think I shall go for a ride with my brothers, then, and escape from the City for the morning.”
“It will settle,” said Aragorn, rising from his seat and collecting together his papers. “I swear to you, Arwen, we shall have our time, soon.”
“I hope so,” she returned. He bent to kiss her hair, scented this morning with roses, and hurried away.
His study seemed close and stuffy, and after depositing the papers on the large oaken desk, Aragorn crossed to the window and pushed it open, letting the morning air and sunshine stream in.
After a moment, he sighed and turned to work.
The first interruption came in the middle of signing various minor decrees, and Aragorn put down his quill and flexed his fingers before calling out, “Enter!”
One of the servants came in, bowed, and said hurriedly, “The Prince Imrahil, your Majesty.”
“Thank you.” Aragorn said, and added, “Girod, is it not?”
“Yes, your Majesty.” The young man bowed again.
“Send in the lord Prince, then,” Aragorn said, and Girod disappeared, to be replaced in a moment by Imrahil, who closed the door behind him.
“I trust I do not disturb anything important, my lord?” the Prince said, and Aragorn shook his head.
“Re-housing orders … rationing … all matters that have already been resolved by the counsellors. Please, sit down.”
Imrahil pulled up a chair and sat with a sigh. “It is a beautiful morning.”
“Too beautiful to be inside,” Aragorn agreed. “So what brings you here, my lord Prince?”
“A memory,” Imrahil said, steepling his fingers in front of his face and meeting Aragorn’s gaze with sea-grey eyes. “I was perhaps eighteen. A party came to Dol Amroth from Minas Tirith, led by Denethor.” He paused. Aragorn said nothing. “One of the party sang us a song, in Quenya, which I later complimented him upon.”
Aragorn smiled slightly, and picked up his pipe from where it lay on the desk. He struck a match and lit the pipe weed in the bowl. “I was wondering if you remembered that,” he said. “I thought it strange you hadn’t commented on our earlier meetings before now.”
“My mind was otherwise occupied,” Imrahil returned. “I was not looking to find Thorongil in the King Elessar. You seemed familiar, but I put that down to your resemblance to Denethor. I remembered last night, when one of the minstrels was singing the same song.”
Aragorn sent a smoke ring sailing up towards the ceiling. Imrahil leant forward.
“Were you ever going to mention it, my lord?”
“I saw no need to, Imrahil,” Aragorn said. “But I am glad you remembered. I suppose you do not recall that visit with much pleasure, though.”
“Because of my sister?” Imrahil shrugged. “It was a good match. None of us could have foreseen that she would fade away here. She spoke fondly of you, though, when we saw each other.” He smiled, nostalgically. “Poor Finduilas. How things have changed since then, particularly for you – from Guardsman to King.”
“It has been a very long road,” Aragorn said.
Imrahil nodded. “Aye, it has been.” He paused. “What I really wanted to know, my lord, is whether you intended to tell my nephew of your friendship with my sister, and the rivalry between yourself and the lord Denethor.”
“Tell Faramir of Thorongil?” Aragorn said. “Truthfully, Imrahil, I had not considered it much. The Steward has many cares and worries without heaping old history on his shoulders also. You know him better than I – what think you?”
“I think that in fairness to Faramir, you should,” Imrahil said, resting his chin on his hand. “He sees much, and thinks on it too long without sharing his worries. And it would ease his heart to hear of his mother. He has few memories of her.”
“Can you not talk to him about Finduilas?” Aragorn asked.
Shifting in his chair, Imrahil said, “I have done, many a time, and exhausted all the tales I know. Long were the hours we spent together when he was a boy visiting Dol Amroth. You knew a different side of my sister, my lord. I know she found solace in your company.”
Aragorn relit the weed in his pipe and stood, going to the open window and looking out. “I am glad of it, though I did not do much, and I could not tell her much. Indeed we spoke mostly of old tales.”
“She always loved old tales,” Imrahil returned, “and therefore I know she enjoyed your conversations. But I wish I had known you were more than a mere Guard at that time, sire, for then I would have encouraged my sister to look elsewhere for her match.”
The words hung in the air, and at length Aragorn turned around. “You know well I could not reveal my blood, not then. It was not the time. And even if I had been able to – Imrahil, I fell in love with my lady Arwen on the day of my twentieth birthday, and since that day she has always held my heart.”
Imrahil looked down at his hands. “It pained me so, to see her wither. I watched her fade away, year by year, trapped in Minas Tirith, caught between duty and Denethor’s coldness ...” he broke off. “I should not speak ill of the dead.”
Aragorn watched the Prince for a moment, as the other man gazed downwards, picking at a half-healed cut on his left wrist. Finally, Imrahil looked up again.
“I beg you, sire, speak to Faramir.”
“I will speak to him,” Aragorn agreed, tapping his pipe out in the small dish on his desk. “When a time presents itself. But only if he wants to hear, Imrahil, I will not pressure him into listening to something that would hurt him. He has suffered too much.”
“We have all suffered too much,” the Prince agreed. “The City, her people, Middle-earth itself. Now is the time for peace, and for reconciliation.” From the open window the great bell rang ten times, and Imrahil stood up. “And now I must not trespass on your time any longer, your Majesty – I have business to see to.”
“I will speak to Faramir, my lord Prince,” Aragorn said.
Imrahil nodded, and bowed, and left the room.
For a moment, Aragorn gazed out of the window over the City, and then turned back to his desk and picked up his pen again.