Burdens of the Wise by Suzelle

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Story Notes:

Written for Back to Middle-earth Month 2014. 


Author's Chapter Notes:

Thanks to Cairistiona and Zopyrus for the beta


T.A. 2933

Ivorwen closed her eyes and leaned back so that her head rested against the rough stone wall of the Chieftain’s main chambers, letting the debates of the Ranger captains wash over her in a barely discernible flurry of words. The most important matters of the council meeting had been dealt with already, and she was impatient for it to be done. After Lady Adanel's last pronouncement she barely trusted herself to keep her peace, and it would not do for dissent to be voiced from the sidelines of a council meeting.

She heard muffled thud of a fist pounding on the table in the center of the room, and her eyes snapped open as she focused in once more on the raised voices. The meeting was concluding as it always did with simple matters of trade and supply, but it seemed that even those could not be discussed without the council falling into chaos.

“There is no reason to alter the routes, not if the Dwarves are content…”

“Orcs have never been in greater numbers, and we cannot trust…”

“When have we ever been able to trust the safety of the roads? Changing things now would only attract greater attention…”

“If Arathorn were still Chieftain this would not even be up for discussion!” A Ranger captain named Findroch had risen in anger and pointed at the woman at the head of the table. “You know nothing of life in the Wild, nor how to judge these kinds of decisions…”

“Enough!” Lady Adanel was on her feet, and the room fell silent. “The votes have been cast. The trade routes shall stay as they are for the coming year.”

She turned her icy gaze to Findroch. “And if you ever presume to speak to me in such a manner again, son of Meldroch, it will be the last time you speak at this council. Do I make myself clear?”

He stared back at her with furious defiance, but nodded briefly and took his seat once more.

“Is there anyone else who has matters they wish to bring before the captains’ council?” The question was met with silence. “Then we are adjourned.”

Stone cracked against the table, and Ivorwen let out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. She rose from her place on the benches against the wall and sidestepped a small handful of captains who had gathered around Findroch, muttering darkly. She saw Dírhael briefly murmur something in Adanel’s ear, his hand resting on her arm in encouragement, before he bowed and turned back towards Ivorwen.

“Let us get home, and quickly,” he said in a low voice, “the last thing I need is to be caught up in the aftermath of all of this.”

“Hear, hear,” Ivorwen muttered dryly, and opened the door for her husband as they stepped out into the night. The first half of the walk home was silent. The couple waited until they were well out of anyone’s earshot before beginning their usual debrief.

“And here I thought that Findroch would lose his temper over something that actually mattered…”

Dírhael shook his head. “They were spoiling for a fight. It was only a matter of time.”

“But the trade routes?” Ivorwen asked in disbelief. “If anything were to have caused a stir, I would have guessed it would be the matter of the harvest festival. No one was expecting her to propose we hold one this year.”

Dirhael raised his eyebrows but did not answer, and it was not until they reached the threshold of their cottage before he spoke again.

“The festival…you do not approve.”

Ivorwen pursed her lips. “It is not for me to approve or disapprove. The council has spoken, and that should be enough for the best of us.”

“And yet you do not approve.” Dírhael’s eyes twinkled. “I know you well enough to recognize that look.”

She ignored her husband, busying herself instead with lighting the candles in the center of the room and setting the kettle over the hearth.

“Would you like some tea? We still have the last of the brew that Finnael sent along…”

“Come now, Ivorwen,” Dírhael urged. “We are no longer in council, and a fine state we would be in if you could not voice your concerns to your own husband.”

Ivorwen sank into her chair beside the fire and sighed.

“I do not think the time is right. It has barely been two months since Gilraen—Arathorn’s grave is still fresh, to say nothing of the other men who were lost with him. What message does that send to those who still grieve?”

“Will the time ever be right?” Dírhael asked. “Harvest-time comes but once a year, and the crops are plentiful. It has been four years since we’ve held a festival—the tradition has been broken long enough, don’t you think?”

“It’s disrespectful,” Ivorwen snapped. “It is not fitting to indulge in such frivolity so soon—not while we still mourn our dead.”

Dírhael turned to her, his face sorrowful. “Have we not mourned enough, my dear?”

Ai, indeed we have. Ivorwen did not speak the words aloud. Her eldest son, Dirlaeg, had been killed along with Lord Arador and a half-dozen other Rangers hunting a troll on the eve of the harvest festival three years before, and the feasts had been cancelled as the Dúnedain buried their Chieftain. The following year plague had swept through half the surrounding farms, and last autumn the harvest had been so meager that no one had felt much like celebrating. And now we face the death of a second Chieftain, with my daughter and grandson sheltered in Rivendell because we cannot protect them. Shall our losses only increase with each passing year?

“Lady Adanel has suffered as much as the rest of us, if not more,” Dírhael reminded her gently. “With Arathorn she lost a son as well as a Chieftain. Yet she seems to think a festival would lift the people’s spirits, and I do not disagree with such a judgement.”

“The people will love a leader who shows she can provide for them,” Ivorwen said, struggling to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “She is only doing it to appease the dissenting captains, those who still oppose her right to rule as acting Chieftain.”

“And what if she is?” Dírhael countered. “That debate should have been settled weeks ago, and if this will silence the naysayers for good, I certainly have no objection. We need a united front if we ever hope to make it through these next years. Besides, Ivorwen, who does it harm? We’ve had little cause for celebration these past years. We ought to take the opportunities as they come.”

Ivorwen did not meet her husband’s eyes.

“You only wish for there to be a festival so you can break open that cask of miruvor we’ve had sitting in the storeroom for eight months,” she muttered at last.

“Of course I’m not,” Dirhael protested. “I want other people to break open that cask of miruvor. ’Tis been far too long since I’ve been able to add tales of drunken revelries to my blackmail tally.”

Ivorwen gave a wry chuckle. “You are enjoying the game of politics far more than should be allowed, husband.”

Dírhael grimaced. “‘Enjoying’ is hardly the word. Indeed, I would welcome a festival if only as a chance to set aside this pointless infighting.”

“Should we have expected much else?” Ivorwen sighed. “Our people have never been without a true Chieftain, not for such an extended length of time. Truth be told, I’m astonished it has been as civilized as it has.”

“The Valar give us mercies where they can, I suppose,” Dírhael said. “Still, the patrols are set until winter, and ’tis foolish for us to continue as if we could do more than what we already have.”

“Aye, the patrols are set,” Ivorwen said, the edge returning to her voice, “and of course, the one mandate of Adanel’s that has not been held up for scrutiny was the one that sent our son five hundred leagues Northwest.”

Dírhael sighed. “Are you ever going to forgive me for that?”

Ivorwen did not answer, rising to free the kettle from the fire and pour hot water into two mugs waiting on the table. She had not seen her youngest son since the end of summer—after Arathorn’s death and Gilraen’s departure he had begged to be allowed on the next patrol out to Deadman’s Dike, as far away from his grieving family as he could ride. Dírhael had agreed reluctantly—resources were already stretched with the harvest furloughs, and Tarcil could easily be spared at home. She knew she could not begrudge Dírhael the decision, nor Tarcil his own methods of coping with grief—Arathorn had been as an older brother to him, and she suspected Gilraen’s choice to leave had been the breaking point.

Still, it had been a hard thing to let him go, the last of her children, and it would be a harder thing still to face a festival with her family scattered and broken.

“There is nothing to forgive," she finally said. “We have always given our children in service to our people, and Tarcil must find his own way. I only wish it was a path that brought him closer to home."

“I wish it too,” Dirhael took the tea mug from the table and met his wife’s eyes. “Ivorwen, I understand your feelings on this, truly I do. But I think it will be good for us all. At the very least, it will prove a memorable distraction.”

****

With the decision made, Ivorwen threw herself into preparations for the festival, taking charge of planning the feast itself and readying the village square for the day’s events. She lost herself in delegating tasks to her helpers, running back and forth between the great kitchens of the Commons and chores in her own home in the hopes that if she worked herself to the bone she might leave behind the heartache that had shadowed her ever since the council meeting. The rest of the village seemed to be operating in the same fashion, and on the eve of the festival her daughter-in-law Finnael waylaid her outside the Commons in the late afternoon, begging her to take Halbarad and Nethril out from underfoot so that she might have a moment’s peace to finish her own preparations. The children were eager to spend the afternoon with their grandmother, and Ivorwen had no qualms about enlisting them both in helping her finish the decorations that were to be hung on the day of the festival. She taught them how to string the garlands and wreaths with dried apples and bay leaves, and they were soon racing each other, trying to see who might finish a string the fastest.

“Nana Ivorwen,” Nethril asked her after trying off a garland. “What are we having the festival for? It isn’t Mettarë yet, and it isn’t anybody’s birthday…”

Halbarad rolled his eyes at his younger sister’s ignorance and opened his mouth to reply, but shut it immediately when Ivorwen shot him a warning look.

“This is a festival to celebrate the harvest, Nethril,” she answered. “To honor the gifts of Yavanna and prepare for the turning of seasons. When you were a little girl we would have them every year—do you remember?”

The child scrunched up her face in thought. “I remember a lot of vegetables on the tables, I guess, and a big bonfire. Like the ones Uncle Arathorn would build at Mettarë.”

Ivorwen laughed. “That is near enough to it, nethben. It would not be a true celebration without a bonfire.”

“Are there going to be fireworks again, Nana Ivorwen?” Halbarad asked eagerly. At nine, he was old enough to recall the memorable festival five years before, when Gandalf the Grey had stopped by. Arathorn had forbidden the more conspicuous displays that Ivorwen knew the wizard was capable of, but he had still managed to bring no end of delight to the children with miniature fireworks of dragons and eagles that were chased around the fire long into the night.

“Not this year, my darling,” Ivorwen shook her head. “Fireworks are for the years the wind blows a wizard to us, and Gandalf’s visits are rare. Indeed, you’re lucky you had a chance to see him when you did—I did not first meet him until I was your mother’s age or older.”

Halbarad’s face fell, and Ivorwen leaned over to ruffle her grandson’s hair.

“Don’t look so glum, Halbarad! There shall still be plenty of excitement even without dragons. And if you’re very good, perhaps the men will let you help build up the bonfire this year. That’s as close to fireworks as most folk get in their lifetimes, anyway.”

“Please don’t give him ideas, Ivorwen.” She turned to see Finnael approaching from the square, a basket of potatoes balanced precariously between her arm and hip. “We’ve had more than enough mishaps with fire in our house as it is.”

“Mama, look!” Nethril ran to her mother, holding a garland aloft. “Look what we’ve been making with Nana Ivorwen!”

Finnael took the garland from Nethril, a smile lightening her tired face.

“It’s beautiful, ield-nín,” she said, “Now, it is time to say goodbye to your grandmother and go set the table, the both of you. Supper will be ready soon enough.”

Nethril and Halbarad both rushed to give Ivorwen messy kisses in farewell, and Ivorwen smiled as she watched them run towards their house before glancing back at her daughter-in-law, who had placed the basket down and was staring after her children.

“I have not seen them get along so well since before Dirlaeg died,” Finnael said, her voice distant. “It’s as if they are united in their excitement for what is to come.”

“They do not associate the harvest festival with their father’s death?” Ivorwen asked, though she was sure she knew the answer already.

Finnael shook her head. “Nethril is too young to make the connection, and Halbarad—Halbarad has too much of his father in him. He misses Dirlaeg, and speaks of him more often than he has in months, but he cannot stop talking about jugglers and fireworks in equal measure. Indeed, I could stand to follow his lead, for all the childhood innocence that accompanies it.”

She looked down at her hands, her expression strangely embarrassed, and turned away from Ivorwen.

“Finnael?” Ivorwen asked. “What is it?”

“It is foolish, but I…cannot stop thinking about that day,” she said, “of the last festival. All of us, preparing for celebration only to be met with the news of our losses from those few battered men, so distraught that they could not deliver the bodies to us. And I know, I should not be thinking of such things when we finally have a chance to be happy once more, but I…”

Her eyes had suddenly filled with tears, and Ivorwen reached over to take her daughter-in-law’s hands in both of her own.

“It is no easy thing, to find happiness in the face of such grief. But if Dirlaeg wanted one thing in life, it was to bring peace to those he loved. I believe you know this as well as I do, my dear—he would have wanted us to move forward, to find fulfillment where we can grasp it. Our own merriment does not dishonor the dead. If anything, it honors them in its own way. It shows their sacrifice was worth it.”

Finnael sniffed and ducked her head.

“Thank you, Ivorwen. I…I needed to hear that. Every year I think it will get easier, but…”

“Give it time,” Ivorwen reached out and brushed away a stray tear that had fallen on Finnael’s face. “Some days prove to be harder than others. And these past weeks have done their part in stirring up old memories.”

Finnael picked up a potato and tossed it idly between her hands.

“Do you think Tarcil will make it back in time?”

Ivorwen blinked at the change of subject and sighed. “I doubt it. It is a long way from Fornost.”

“I imagine you must miss him,” Finnael said tentatively. “Especially with Dirlaeg gone, and now Gilraen…”

Ivorwen cut her off with a shrug.

“It is life,” she said simply. “He will be home soon enough, and I can take comfort in that.”

The two women stood in silence. Finally, Ivorwen turned back to her daughter-in-law, and gave her a smile she did not quite feel. “Go home to your children, Finnael—before Halbarad burns the house down in his eagerness.”

Finnael laughed, and picked up her basket again with both hands.

“Thank you again for looking after them…it gave me the hour I needed, and they do so love spending time with their grandparents.”

“Anytime, my dear,” Ivorwen kissed her cheek. “It does me as much good as it does them.”

Finnael waved as she walked back towards her home, and Ivorwen fought a sudden lump in her throat as she watched her leave.

“Go to your children,” she murmured, “take comfort in their presence while you can.”

She took the long way back to her house, stealing down the path that led just beyond the village fortifications down to the Hoarwell. The trees gave way to a small knoll just before the riverbank, and unlike the rushing Loudwater on the other side of the Angle, the water here slowed to an eerie quiet.

This had been her son Dirlaeg’s favorite place to come and think, and in the days of his youth she would often find him here, skipping rocks against the water and watching the sun sink behind the trees on the opposite shore. She stood now and gazed out at the river, still except for a lone goose paddling along the shoreline, the sunset and autumn leaves giving the water a golden hue. She knew that the quiet here had always helped Dirlaeg to clear his head, but whenever she returned here it seemed as if her thoughts were only made louder in their distress.

They had talked of so much on the riverbank, she and her eldest child, of dreams and hopes that now seemed a lifetime away. It had been here that he had first told her of his intentions to marry Finnael, and where she had confided in her son her visions about Arathorn and Gilraen. An ache she had barely allowed herself time to feel filled her, emotions she had put aside for the sake of providing support for her family and her people suddenly washing over her in full force. She wished she could find it in her to weep, for the son she had lost, for the daughter she had sent away, for the son whose own pain she could not ease. But it seemed the last of her tears had been spent the day of Arathorn’s funeral.

She gave herself a little shake as the sun finally sank behind the trees, and pulled her shawl more tightly around her as she turned away from the river.

****

The morning of the festival dawned cold and overcast. Ivorwen had the fleeting hope that perhaps the events would be cancelled from the weather and was instantly ashamed of herself. But the clouds thinned by midmorning, and after finishing with the hens she left to join the rest of her family in the outskirts of the village. Dírhael had left the house early to help set up for the races and contests that the men had organized, and as she approached the field now she saw him standing with two of the elder Ranger captains, judging two arrows that had landed in nearly the exact spot on the target. She allowed herself a small smile when the boy who had been declared the victor cheered in triumph—it was so reminiscent of Tarcil’s reaction to his victories in the games when he had been that age.

As the day passed she wandered through the settlement in which she had spent most of her adult life, stopping only briefly to talk to old friends and survey the wares that various craftsmen had put on display, wishing she could find some way to enjoy the only day of respite they were likely to have for a long time to come. It seemed that anywhere she went she could not avoid stirring old memories of her children at festivals past, as though their very ghosts haunted the celebrations. As she walked behind the stables she recalled the year that Dirlaeg had paced back and forth, worrying over the new ballad he was to sing before the Chieftain, and as she wandered through the village square she was reminded viscerally of the year that Gilraen and Tarcil had been banished to bed early after getting into a fistfight near the bonfire. Sixteen years later it remained one of the more memorable family legends, and Ivorwen found herself hoping that Gilraen would keep it alive in some way for young Aragorn—though she and Tarcil both always grumbled with such embarrassment whenever they were reminded of the incident.

In the mid-afternoon she returned to the kitchens, grateful for the distraction, and spent the next two hours doling out orders to ensure that everything would be out on the tables by the time the sun set and the great bonfire was to be lit. They put the last of the food out just as a great cheer went up in the distance, and she looked out to see the flames blazing up to the sky.

“All right, off with you,” she said at last as the youngest of the lot looked longingly out at the dancers who had begun to form before the fire. “I’m sure you all have sweethearts to be with, and I am hardly one to stand in the way.”

“Thank you, Lady Ivorwen,” the girls all chorused disjointedly, and nearly upended one of the tables in their haste to join their friends in celebration.

At least others seem to be enjoying themselves, she thought as she watched them run off, then this all will have served some purpose…

A strong hand wrapped itself around her waist, and Ivorwen let out a yelp as Dírhael buried his face in her hair.

“Dance with me,” he whispered in her ear, “Dance with me as we did when we first met, and were trying far too hard to impress each other.”

Ivorwen rolled her eyes as she turned to face her husband.

“Have you had that much ale already?”

He drew himself up and gave her a mock-stern look, the very picture of sobriety. “Not one drop, I will have you know. Is it such an absurd wish, to steal one moment of joy with my wife?”

“We are far too old for such nonsense, Dírhael. Let this day belong to the young, not those who have seen so many festivals come and go.”

Dírhael took her face in his battle-scarred hands, his expression suddenly serious. “Meleth-nín, I would have you shake this sorrowful mood, and I cannot think of a better cure than a reel around the fire. Besides, there is an unexpected advantage to our children being absent, and we must seize it.”

Ivorwen raised an eyebrow. “And what, pray tell, is that advantage?”

He gave her a wicked grin. “No one will mock us for creating a spectacle.”

Ivorwen laughed in spite of herself, and allowed her husband to pull her to the center of the crowd, close to the musicians and the bonfire. It was a tune she vaguely recognized, though she could not remember the last time she had heard it. The steps, too, were half-remembered, but as Dírhael guided her through the motions she found that the old movements returned easily. Her confidence picked up with the tempo of the music, and as so often happened in dances with her husband it became difficult to tell who was leading whom. Faster and faster they twirled around the fire, and she spun once, twice, three times before throwing her arm up in a flourish when they finally concluded. The dancers around them cheered as the music slowed, and Ivorwen paused only for a moment before she doubled over in laughter, from adrenaline or mirth she did not know.

“A…spectacle indeed,” she gasped, and rose to give Dírhael a sheepish look. He watched her with a fondness she recognized all too well, and he rested his forehead gently against hers.

“I am yours, meleth-nín,” he murmured, running a hand through her hair, “through these dark days and beyond, I am yours.”

She did not reply, but simply buried her face in his shoulder and held on, knowing as she always did that words were not needed to convey her love for him.

She held herself in Dírhael’s embrace until the music ceased, and Ivorwen turned to see that Lady Adanel had stood behind her place at the high table. Her hair, more grey now than black, had been drawn back in an elaborate knot, with a thin circlet threaded with mithril holding it in place.

Ivorwen narrowed her eyes as she surveyed Arador’s widow. Adanel did not have the charisma or jovial exuberance that her husband had possessed, nor the booming voice for which he was so well remembered. No, she had more of her son’s quiet charm, a subtle grace that was easy to overlook until one stood in conversation with her. A trait that is more easily accepted in men who have been tested in battle, Ivorwen thought. The lady will have to find other ways of winning the Dúnedain. All evening she had moved easily through the throng of people, making a point to stop and speak to those who had recently lost family members, or the younger Rangers whose captains who had not yet lent their support.

Now the crowd fell silent as they turned towards their acting Chieftain, and she carried herself with all the dignity of a queen.

“My people!” she called out in a clear voice that carried through the square. “By now I hope you have all been properly fed—“

“And watered!” a voice shouted. The crowd roared with laughter, and Adanel turned to the man who had called out, a young Ranger named Brécharn who was barely out of his teens. Affording him a rare smile, she gestured with her goblet towards him, and he grinned as he raised his in return.

“And watered,” she added. “Yavanna has been generous in her blessings this season. We shall all eat well through the long winter ahead, and for that we can be grateful a thousand times over.”

Rumblings of approval rippled through the crowd, and Adanel grew somber.

"Yet even the gifts of the Valar cannot replace what we have lost in these dark times," she said. "It has been a difficult year for us all. We have suffered from the deaths of too many good men taken before their time, our Chieftain not least among them. The Heir of Elendil has been taken from us, and the fate of his son is unknown. In my son, we…we lost more than a leader. We lost more than a just man and a gentle soul. We lost the very symbol of our heritage. I will not pretend to mask the gravity of such circumstances.”

Adanel’s eyes scanned the solemn faces of the crowd, and Ivorwen remembered with a jolt, as she always seemed to forget, that she, Dírhael, and Adanel were the only ones present who knew of Aragorn’s true fate. They, at least, had a semblance of hope denied to the rest of the Dúnedain.

“And yet we endure,” Adanel continued. “Just as our forefathers sailed forth from the ruin of Númenor, with little knowledge of what lay ahead, so too we shall forge a path anew. Just as the remnant of the Faithful trusted that they might rise from the ashes of a broken kingdom, so too shall we trust in ourselves and in the Valar, that they might aid us in our continued struggles against the Shadow. For though our losses may diminish us, they shall not defeat us — for our people have ever emerged from our trials stronger than before. There is a future to be had beyond the tragedies that have beset our line, and there is not a man, woman, or child among us who will not rise to meet such a future.”

Her voice rose throughout the silent crowd, and Ivorwen detected a subtle shift as the people hearkened to Adanel’s words.

“Hold fast to the memory of our forebears. Take comfort in their trials, and in their strength that runs through our blood.”

Adanel lifted her goblet once more, and as the crowd rang out its approval Ivorwen drank deeply from a cup that had Dírhael had passed to her unnoticed over the course of Adanel’s speech. Dírhael had now slipped back into the crowd, presumably to finally find some ale for himself, and she stepped back against the rush of people who had suddenly found movement once more.

“Ivorwen!” she heard Adanel call her name, and turned to see the lady seated again at the high table, beckoning with her free hand. “Come, sit beside me for a moment. It is high time we talked.”

Ivorwen nodded and took the empty chair next to the Chieftain’s. Adanel lifted her goblet from the table, and raised it slightly towards Ivorwen.

“To our grandson,” she murmured, her voice barely audible. “May he return to us when the time is right.”

“To our grandson,” Ivorwen echoed, and took a measured sip of wine. She had not been in such close proximity to Lady Adanel since the night Gilraen had departed for Imladris with the sons of Elrond, when they had debated the future of Elendil’s heir long into the night. Up close she looked older, somehow, and tired, as though taking up her son’s position had cost her a great deal.

"That was a good speech," Ivorwen looked out at the dancers who had formed around the fire once more. “For a moment there I thought Haleth herself might have broken free from the halls of Mandos."

Adanel gave a modest smile. "I have stood beside two Chieftains—three, if you count the years I was married to Arador while Argonui lived. You pick up a thing or two, if you listen well enough."

Ivorwen gave her a sidelong glance, wondering if she dared to speak what was truly on her mind. “Did you believe a word of it?”

Adanel looked nonplussed, but before she could answer the two women were interrupted by the approaching of Findroch, the Ranger captain most vocal in his opposition to Adanel’s claim to leadership. He nodded briefly to Ivorwen before giving a deep bow to her companion, fist clenched tightly over his heart.

“My sword is yours, my lady,” he spoke the words that all Rangers swore in oaths to their Chieftain—oaths that Ivorwen knew the dissenting captains had yet to utter to Adanel herself. His eyes were dark with a grim respect, and Adanel met them with her own measuring gaze.

“I accept it, gladly,” Adanel held out her hand, and Findroch kissed it gently. “May we work well together in the days to come.”

She waited until Findroch was well out of earshot before she turned back to Ivorwen. "It does not matter if I believed it. It served its purpose.”

“It would appear so,” Ivorwen said, fighting to hide her astonishment. She would not have believed that Adanel’s words would be enough to sway her opposition, though she supposed it was better not to question such things.

Adanel sighed. “In truth, Ivorwen, I no longer know what I believe. I know what it is the people need to hear—the difficulty is taking such words into my own heart. Will the Dúnedain endure? That I trust completely. I would not take up the mantle of leadership otherwise. Can we defeat the shadow that has been cast over us all? Of that I am less certain.” She looked up, haunted. “Can a mother ever move forward from the death of her child?”

Ivorwen froze at the question.

“You never get over it,” she said softly. “Not truly.”

“Well, with that we have something in common,” Adanel stared at the table as if transfixed. “I watched my own mother fall to pieces after the death of my brother, and I…I never understood it. Not until now.”

Ivorwen clenched her hands tightly in her lap.

“My mother named me for one of the Wise-women of old,” she continued, her voice barely a murmur. “Adanel of the house of Bëor. I have been reading her histories as of late, whenever I have a moment to myself, trying to find some insight, some clarity. The Wise-women of old…they carried the lore and histories of the ancient Houses, not least the weight of the Shadow, and people looked to them for guidance. But I wonder, now—who did the Wise-women look to for comfort? Who did they ask when they could not find answers to their questions?”

A great roar went up from the crowd beyond, and Ivorwen glanced over the table just in time to see Brécharn standing on a table near the fire, twirling a pair of apple garlands above his head before tossing them out to the young women below.

"Perhaps they sought counsel with each other," Ivorwen said carefully. "With those who could understand and share their burdens."

Adanel gave a soft chuckle, almost to herself. “Perhaps they did. Perhaps they did…” She trailed off, then looked up at Ivorwen sharply. “You have the gift of foresight, do you not?”

“I do,” Ivorwen answered.

“Did you know my son would meet an early death?”

Ivorwen fought to keep her expression neutral. She had never told anyone beyond her husband and her son of her dreams regarding Arathorn. “I did. I did long before he married Gilraen.”

“A hard lot indeed, to pass on to one’s daughter,” Adanel said, “and a heavy burden to carry.”

Ivorwen took another sip of wine. “A burden, but a blessing too—it always has been both. Our lives are never shaped by tragedy alone.”

Adanel snorted. “Tell that to Túrin Turambar.”

Ivorwen let out a bleak laugh, and the two women fell back into silence.

“I dreamt of Aragorn, too, Adanel. Do you remember what I said, at his naming day?”

Adanel nodded slowly. “‘He shall be a healer and a renewer.’ I do not think any of us who were there are likely to forget that moment.”

“Sometimes that vision is all that keeps me going,” Ivorwen said, “it was so clear to me that day, and even as it fades from memory I cling to it with the hope of a child. If what I saw will come to pass, then our sons have not suffered and died in vain. I…I need to believe that.”

“Yes,” Adanel whispered. “Yes, we could all stand to believe that.”

She gave Ivorwen a long, measuring look. “I cannot pretend to understand the weight of foresight, daughter of Gilbarard. Still, perhaps we ought to trust each other more, you and I. Perhaps we ought to take counsel together, as did the Wise-women of old.”

There were so few things in her life that Ivorwen could count on with certainty—a half-remembered vision, her grandchildren’s love, the solid warmth of Dírhael’s presence. She did not know if she trusted herself enough to confide in Adanel, whose company she never would have sought if not for the union between their children. But if she could not trust her Chieftain, who else could she?

“Yes,” she said, “I think perhaps we should.”

Another Ranger captain approached the women, and Adanel turned to him as he gave a brief bow and repeated the words Findroch had spoken just moments before. Adanel asked after the man’s children, and as they talked Ivorwen started out once more at the bonfire, the sparks flying higher into the night sky.

It would be a hard road, the years ahead, with the shadow of their losses dogging their every step. Winter would come and the memories of this night would fade, and every choice they made would be questioned. But for the first time since her daughter left for Rivendell, Ivorwen had a faith that extended beyond her desperate hopes for her grandson. The Dúnedain would endure, and the wise would take care of their own.


Chapter End Notes:

1. Tolkien never specifies precisely who leads the Dúnedain while Aragorn is hidden in Rivendell. Given her position as the widow of one late Chieftain and the mother of another (as well as the Númenorean precedent for women rulers), it seems plausible that Adanel would have taken up the role of acting Chieftain in her grandson's absence.

2. Ivorwen’s prophecy is taken from the Foreword to The Peoples of Middle-earth, p. xii: “But Ivorwen at his naming stood by, and said ‘Kingly Valour’ (for so that name is interpreted): ‘that he shall have, but I see on his breast a green stone, and from that his true name shall come and his chief renown: for he shall be a healer and renewer.’”

3. The working title for this fic was “Wise-Anglers.” A thousand apologies to Zopyrus for removing all the fish puns.



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