Kat (fiyre) wrote in afterthering,
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fiyre
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Sacrifice - Chapter 1

TITLE: Sacrifice (Chapter 1)
PAIRING: Aragorn/Éomer
RATING: R
AUTHOR: fiyre
FEEDBACK: YES PLEASE!!!!
SUMMARY: The beginning of Aragorn and Éomer's relationship...
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Prologue can be found here. Beta-read by one_true_bee


Aragorn rode into the Fold of Dunharrow with Éomer at his side. Up ahead Théoden, King of Rohan, led the warriors forth and to Aragorn’s other side the elf Legolas rode with the dwarf Gimli. Behind them followed the many riders of Rohan. As they reached the centre of the camp that had been prepared, they slowed their horses to a halt before dismounting and looking around them at the number of warriors who had gathered to respond to Gondor’s call for aid.

Gimli immediately caught the scent of fresh meat on the air, and insisted his companions joined him in locating the smell’s source. Aragorn and Legolas began to follow the dwarf, amused looks playing across both their faces. Éomer made as if to follow also, but stopped when he felt a firm grip on his shoulder.

“Come, let them be. Spend some time with your uncle, I hardly see you these troubled days.”

“I am sorry, my Lord. There has been much on my mind since Théodred’s death. Many things have changed.”

“It was hard for you, I know. You had a good friend in my son, but this is not a time to grieve for those who are no longer with us.” Théoden began to lead his nephew away from the hectic state of the centre point of camp. A deep, booming laugh rose into the air as they passed near a Rohirrim woman roasting meats over an open fire. Uncle and nephew turned to see Gimli, from whom the laugh originated, being handed a large cut of salted pork. Behind him, a smiling glance was passed between his human and elven companions. Éomer smiled with them until his uncle gently steered him away.

“You watch them often, our three travelling friends.” Théoden mentioned once they were at the camp boundaries, viewing the planes below them. “Lord Aragorn in particular. I feel you have found a good friend and ally in him.”

Éomer nodded at Théoden’s words. “Our friendship runs deep” he replied. He loathed concealing things from the man he had grown to know and love as a father, but at this time some things were better left hidden in shadow. Only Aragorn and he could know how deep their friendship really ran.

***

They had met for the first time on the Plains of Rohan. At that time Éomer had been banished from the kingdom of his uncle, who had been corrupted by Saruman through his servant Wormtongue. Aragorn was travelling with the elf and the dwarf, hot upon the trail of two of their friends; hobbits that had been taken captive by a party of Saruman’s uruk-hai. Both had hoped then for things that, at the time, had not come to pass. Éomer saw a hope of salvation for he and those who rode in his company; something about Aragorn’s presence gave him both hope and comfort. Aragorn became quickly aware of a sudden and unprovoked desire to ask the horse lord standing before him to accompany himself and his two companions on their quest. Aragorn was renowned for his solitary persuasion, so he could not fathom this strange urge now rising within him.

But both had gone their separate ways, much to the other’s silent disappointment. Aragorn and his friends became caught up in the life and troubles of Edoras, and all thoughts of the banished horseman fled his mind. Not until they were reunited at the conclusion of the epic battle for Helm’s Deep were their feelings remembered. They fought together to victory, and from that day their friendship was rooted.

They travelled back to Edoras side by side, following the wizard Gandalf first to Isengard to collect the hobbits Merry and Pippin, who until then had been in the care of the Ent known as Treebeard. After that, the journey to Edoras was a time for light-hearted jokes and banter. Still distanced from the troubles of Gondor and the threat of Mordor, Théoden and his nephew Éomer were in particularly high spirits. And despite the fact that Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli were slightly better versed in the dangers and sorrows that still lay before them, they could not help but get caught up in the excitement of the Rohirrim.

Throughout the journey, Aragorn and Éomer rode abreast in constant discussion of each other’s pasts, presents and futures. By the time they reached Edoras, saluted by the survivors of the battle for Helm’s Deep, as they rode up to the doors of the Golden Hall, anyone would have thought Aragorn and the King’s nephew had known each other for years, not mere days.

The hour was late when they reached their destination, and even the hobbits – a race well known for their love of celebrations and festivities – could think of nothing more than sleep. A room had been made up with blankets and mattresses for the travellers, who gratefully accepted their lodgings. After a short greeting to Edoras, Théoden and Éomer retired to their own chambers, while Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Merry and Pippin stumbled into their pre-prepared room, and fell immediately into a deep slumber. That night Aragorn was visited by a host of dreams, all bearing a similar theme. The last dream, which came to him just before dawn, was the most vivid and realistic.

He was back in Rivendell, standing in the forecourt where the Council of Elrond had been held all that time ago. With him was Lord Elrond himself, and his daughter Arwen Undomiel. She was dressed all in white, a thin veil falling in front of and masking her face. Looking down at his body, Aragorn noticed that he was dressed as the King of Gondor; a black tunic embroidered with the White Tree. Touching his head, he could feel a crown resting there. Moving his hand back down, Arwen grasped it firmly in hers, looking deep into his eyes. A sudden realisation dawned upon him then; this was his wedding day. He was the King of Gondor, and this was the day he was to be married to his elven love Arwen. He turned back to Elrond in utter bewilderment - he did not remember this being planned – but the elven Lord’s only reply was to look back at Aragorn, his face displaying a mixture of severe disappointment and misery. Turning back, Aragorn noticed for the first time that Gandalf also stood with them. The wise wizard smiled, opening a large elven book and beginning to read from its pages in the elven tongue. His words did not register in Aragorn’s mind, but he guessed them to be wedding vows. Somehow he knew what and when to speak, and then Arwen was moving closer to him, eyes closing and lips parting.

Aragorn closed his eyes, accepting the kiss, but when it came he could tell, even with his eyes still closed, that it was no longer Arwen’s lips that touched and played with his, it was not Arwen he was holding in this embrace. The climate too had changed; where it had been pleasantly warm, now a chilling breeze brushed past him. The kiss ended, and he slowly opened his eyes to see, of all people, Éomer looking back at him. The Rohan man’s eyes were hazy, clouded over with love. And, inexplicably, Aragorn felt Éomer’s feelings mirrored within himself. Holding the other man close, Aragorn turned to look upon his new location. Before him, a wide expanse of water reached out into the horizon, as motionless as a sheet of deep blue glass. Around him stood high, elven- crafted, towers of stone, which rose high into the clear blue sky above him. He was at a harbour, and moored there was a large boat of such beauty it could only be of elven workmanship. It was then Aragorn realised where he now must be - the Grey Havens. Looking closer at the harbour moorings, he saw people gathering there; Gandalf, his hobbit friends, the Lady Galadriel and her consort Celeborn.

“You made the right choice” he heard Éomer speak beside him. Aragorn’s attention was drawn back to the man standing with him, one arm still around his waist. He then, for the first time, noted the dramatic difference in Éomer’s appearance. So used to seeing the man of Rohan dressed like his people in materials and armour of red and gold hues, Aragorn was completely taken aback to see him instead wearing an identical outfit to his own; a black tunic with the White Tree of Gondor emblazoned on the front. His blonde hair was, as normal, loose, falling down to his shoulders. However, it looked neater and less rugged than usual, like he had taken some effort to tame it. On his head he wore a beautiful crown of the purest silver, paralleling the design of Aragorn’s own. Éomer’s attention was firmly fixed on the elven vessel at the harbour, so Aragorn followed his gaze to see Lord Elrond now boarding. His daughter Arwen stepped up beside him. As one father and daughter turned, looking straight up at he and Éomer. Aragorn caught Arwen’s eye first, and he could see the tears, fresh from eyes, that rolled down her cheeks. Distressed, Aragorn turned instead to Elrond, who bowed low to him and Éomer, keeping eye contact with Aragorn and mouthing a silent “thank you”.

“She’ll be happier with her kin.” Éomer was speaking again. “It was meant to be this way; we are suited to each other.” The horse lord’s voice was beginning to fade, and Aragorn had to struggle to keep hold of this man he suddenly felt such a strong desire for. Éomer was calling out to him in desperation, trying to stop him drifting away, “Aragorn! Aragorn! Aragorn…”


“Aragorn!” That voice was not Éomer’s. A higher pitched one, perfumed with a strong elven accent, had replaced the Rohirrim’s deep, masculine voice. Aragorn then realised he was lying down, his eyes firmly closed. He snapped them open to see Legolas looking down on him from above, his elven hands grasping and shaking the mortal’s shoulders.

“Legolas…” Aragorn murmured. “Stop it… I’m awake, I’m awake…” For now he realised that he must have been asleep, and all that he had thought to have just happened was nothing more than a passing dream.

“Lord Théoden wishes to speak with you. He has been waiting for nigh on half an hour.” Legolas told his friend, moving away to let him rise, a slightly reprimanding tone to his voice.

Aragorn scrambled to his feet, shaking hair away from his face and trying to make himself look at least slightly respectable. “Why didn’t you wake me sooner?” he snapped at the elf.

Legolas threw up his hands in a gesture of self-defence. “Do not blame me! I have been trying to wake you, but you were refusing to cooperate. Dreaming, I guess, and by the look on your face while you were sleeping I assume they were happy ones. But rarely are you so angry after a good dream. Is something troubling you?”

Aragorn sighed, turning to look his elven friend in the eye. “My business and my dreams are my own, Legolas. I would prefer it if they were left that way.” Legolas looked as if he were about to reply to his friend, but Aragorn brushed past him and out of the room before another word could be spoken.

In the main hall he flew straight into the man who had been haunting his dreams. The Rohirrim was just about to greet his companion when he was roughly pushed aside with a muttered “Can you not give me a moment’s solitude?” Éomer watched his friend’s retreating back with a confused, slightly hurt look playing across his features.

“Try later.” An elven voice spoke behind him. “He was the same with me. Something’s shaken him…” Legolas came and stood next to the Rohirrim, and together they watched Aragorn disappear within Théoden’s chambers.

Neither elf nor man saw Aragorn again for the better part of that day. After meeting with Théoden, and then with Gandalf, he took to himself, wondering the town of Edoras as long as the sunlight lasted. As the light began to fade from the evening sky he turned back towards the Golden Hall, and stepped straight into the path of the Lady Éowyn.

“My Lord…” she began. “I have been sent to look for you. There is to be a celebration this night for the victorious dead. My uncle expects your presence.”

Aragorn smiled at the woman who stood before him. His mood had lightened throughout the day, as the memories of his dreams faded from his mind. “I will be there, my Lady.” He replied to the shield maiden before escorting her within.

The festivities that night were talked about throughout Rohan for years to come. There was ale of the finest quality flowing from seemingly never-ending barrels. Many of the celebration’s guests marvelled at the richness of the food; food the likes of which they had never tasted before in their entire lives. As the night wore on the level of volume, and of excitement, increased as the ale began to take hold on even the most sensible of men. Within the first hour of the feasting, the hobbits, not used to the strength of the Rohirrim beverages, were up on the table, singing their hearts and souls out.

“Oh, you can search far and wide,
You can drink the whole town dry.
You'll never find a beer so brown
But you'll never find a beer so brown
As the one we drink in our hometown.
As the one we drink in our hometown.
You can keep your fancy ales.
You can drink ‘em by the flagon.
But the only brew for the brave and true . . .
Comes from the Green Dragon!”


Gandalf stood nearby with Aragorn, smiling at the halflings’ innocence and joviality. The hour was still early enough for sober thoughts to pass through the minds of the wizard and the man. They spoke together about their worries for Frodo and the quest, but as the party wore on, the food and drink pushed all their worries away.

As the night progressed, Aragorn began to tire of the noise and the atmosphere. The halls were filled with smoke from pipes and rowdy behaviour from the guests, hurting the man’s eyes and head. Seeking a moment’s seclusion, he left the main hall with the intention of taking in the cool night air outside.


“Aragorn?” A voice called back as he was about to step over the door’s threshold. He turned to see Éomer watching him tentatively, obviously still viciously aware of their earlier encounter.

The sight of the King’s nephew brought back memories to Aragorn of the dreams that had plagued him in the night; memories he would rather have left buried in the recesses of his mind. He was reminded also of the feelings towards his friend that the dreams had left him with; feelings he couldn’t understand. But his fear and shock had decreased with his soberness, so he managed a smile towards the other man. “Walk with me?”

Éomer came, slightly hesitantly, to walk at Aragorn’s side, and wordlessly they both left the Golden Hall. For a while they stood together in silence, revelling in the fresh air and the tranquillity away from the carousing. After a time, Éomer was the one to break their reveries, speaking of their earlier encounter. “I cannot help but think I have done something to displease you.”

Aragorn sighed. “No, my friend, it is not you who is at fault, but I. I… I did not sleep well, I was troubled with dreams.”

“Then we have found an area where we are upon common ground. I too had a queer night. Indeed, you were part of my dream… you were with an elven maid, fair beyond comparison, but then she was sailing away, and you had another love…” Éomer fell silent.

“You.” Aragorn finished. Éomer did not reply with words, but Aragorn could read in his eyes that he was right. They had been sent the same visions, and Aragorn was not a man who believed in coincidence. “It felt so real… so right… I loved you so much…”

“There was nothing but you… but us.”

“You and I…”

“Together…” As they spoke they had subconsciously moved back into the shadows, backed up against Meduseld’s outer wall. “We were so… close…” muttered Éomer, bringing a hand up to trace the line of Aragorn’s cheekbone.

“So… intimate…” As Aragorn looped an arm around Éomer’s waist.

“And those feelings… they did not leave me with the dreams.” Any further words from either of the men were abruptly cut off as their lips met, cautiously at first, but growing more passionate and determined. Hands moved to cradle the other’s head, torsos and waists pressed together.

Aragorn broke the kiss as he heard the doors of the Golden Hall swing open. A split-second after they had moved a suitable distance away from each other, a stream of people brushed past them, heading away down the steps and dispersing throughout the town; Théoden must have called a halt to the party.

Éomer turned back to Aragorn, keeping his voice low so as not to be overheard. “Your Lady… she who gave you that jewel.” He reached out to touch the elven pendant that hung round Aragorn’s neck. “She already holds your heart, does she not?”

Aragorn smiled at how closely Éomer had echoed the words of his younger sister. “My… my relationship with the Lady Arwen is not a simple one. You saw her in your dreams, she is of elven kind. Elves have the gift of immortality… a gift not shared by the race of Men.”

“She would live on in this land then, while you grow old and leave this world behind?” Éomer questioned, understanding Aragorn’s troubles.

“That is the exact problem that faces me every day. I know all to well how strongly I am held in her heart, and I know that she will not leave for the Undying Lands with her kin while she believes to have a future here with me, no matter how many obstacles we shall face.”

“And what would you wish her do?”

“I cannot be certain. She does hold my heart still, but she is no longer the only one who does so. I know, in my heart, that all in all she would fare better with her kin. I do nothing but ask for her suffering, keeping her here with me. I am but a mortal, I cannot give her the eternal love she needs. My heart would be better given to another like me, not a being of elven kind.”

“You would give your love instead to a mortal?”

A playful look shone in the eyes of Isildur’s heir. “Indeed I would.”

“I…” Éomer began, but was cut off by a voice calling on the night air.

“Éomer? Éomer?”

“My uncle…” Éomer spoke sadly. “I must go to him…”

Aragorn bowed his head, not looking up again until he felt two hands take his. With this contact, he looked up, straight into Éomer’s deep brown eyes. Nothing could have prepared him for the strength of the love and passion that radiated from Théoden’s heir. Now the crowds had passed, and they were yet again alone together. Quickly Éomer moved his hands to the back of Aragorn’s head, planting a gentle kiss on the other man’s lips before slowly turning and walking away.

Aragorn did not know how long he just stood there, leaning against the cold wall, reliving everything that had just happened. Eventually he became aware that he was no longer alone; in the time he had been standing there Legolas had appeared, and was now standing nearby, the hood of his elven cloak up against the bitter wind. Aragorn took a deep breath, shaking Éomer from his mind before approaching his elven companion.

“The stars are veiled.” Legolas spoke softly as Aragorn approached him. “Something stirs in the East… a sleepless malice.” He exchanged a glance with Aragorn, both thinking the same thing. The party was long gone now, and the threat of Sauron had returned to the front of their minds. “The Eye of the enemy is moving…” Legolas looked at Aragorn again, this time his eyes were contorted with sudden alarm. “He is here!”

Together, man and elf flew through the doors of the Golden Hall, nearly knocking over the unsuspecting King of Rohan and his nephew. There was a muttered apology as they drew to a halt, eyes and ears alert for any sign of trouble.

A scream suddenly split the silence, resonating from the room that had been made up for the King’s guests. Aragorn and Legolas immediately made a dash for the room’s door, throwing it open to reveal Pippin clasping the Palantir that had been found in the waters of Isengard. The orb was glowing an angry red in the hands of the screaming hobbit, the Eye of Sauron radiating from within the object’s depths. Merry and Gandalf were close by; Merry crying out to Pippin, while Gandalf tried to prise the Palantir from Pippin’s grasp without touching it himself. Just as Éomer and Théoden reached the door behind Aragorn and Legolas, the sphere went flying from Pippin’s hands, rolling across the stone floor.

Gandalf and Merry immediately went to Pippin’s aid, and without thinking what he was doing; Aragorn grabbed the ball that was heading his way. The second his hands made contact with the Palantir, a terrible, excruciating pain shot up his arms, chest and neck, right into his head. As well as the feeling that his whole body was being torn limb from limb, Aragorn was suddenly aware of an invasive presence deep within his very brain. Not knowing what else to do, he screamed as loudly as he could, in pain and as a plea for help.

Vaguely, as if through a dense mist, he could feel hands touch him, arms hold him. And then, after a moment of pain even worse than that which he had been suffering beforehand, the Palantir was out of his grasp, covered by Gandalf’s cloak, as he collapsed into Éomer and Legolas’s waiting arms. He could tell, though he was beyond actually seeing and registering what was going on around him, that he was being fussed over, so he tried his best to protest. He guessed it must have been a somewhat unconvincing argument, as he soon felt himself being lifted gently to his feet and led from the room. His head began to clear as he was walked along, and he was receptive enough to notice his new surroundings as he was taken into a room he had not entered before.

This chamber was twice the size of the room he had been sleeping in previously, and in which he had been attacked by Sauron through the Palantir. It was furnished most elegantly, with the grandest item being an immense four-poster bed, beautifully crafted and carved with horse motifs inlaid in the wood. The materials of the bed, and of everything else in the room, were coloured deep red and gold, and obviously of the highest quality and expense. This room could be for none less than Rohirrim royalty.

Aragorn was still extremely dazed and weakened, so it was without argument that he allowed whoever was holding him to guide him over to this lavish bed and lay him down. Candles were lit as voices began to speak around him, all recognisable to Aragorn’s ear: Legolas, Gandalf, Éomer and Théoden. Their voices hurt his head, whilst the flickering candlelight that played off the walls hurt his eyes, so he closed them, drifting off almost immediately into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The sun was high in the sky when Aragorn awoke the next day. Every part of him felt stiff and sore, and it took a great effort on his part to sit upright. At present he was alone in this strange room, and he was not quite sure what he should do. He tried to get up, but his legs could hardly support him, so he lay back down again. As he settled himself down, the door of the room opened and Éomer walked in, clasping a large, ornate goblet in one hand. His face broke into a wide grin when he was that Aragorn was awake, and he quickly turned to close the door behind him. He moved to the bed, sitting down on a chair at Aragorn’s side and setting the goblet down on the nightstand.

“My sister bids you drink this; she says that it will strengthen you.” Éomer explained as he placed the goblet down. Aragorn looked at the other man doubtfully; he had had experience of Éowyn’s concoctions before now, and it had not been a pleasant incident. However, he picked the goblet up and took a tentative sip.

Éomer could not help but laugh as Aragorn’s face distorted with disgust. “That is the vilest thing I have ever tasted!” He stated, slamming the goblet back down. “I would rather face all the foes of Mordor single-handed than take any more of that. I will heal naturally.”

Éomer grinned at Aragorn. “My sister was brought up to ride and to fight. Her culinary skills are few and far between, I am afraid to say.” They both fell silent, feeling slightly uncomfortable about the situation they now found themselves in. They were acting as friends and nothing more, although they both remembered what they had shared the night before. Now they realised that at the time they had both had one too many ales as was good for them.

Uncertainly, Aragorn reached out and held Éomer’s hand gently. After a pause, Éomer gripped Aragorn’s hand in turn, looking up into the dark haired man’s eyes. Slowly, each more fearful and unsure, Éomer moved from his chair onto the bed, his hand never leaving Aragorn’s. He knelt on the bed, his knees straddling Aragorn’s hips, leaning down as his hand left Aragorn’s to support himself. As Éomer leant downwards, Aragorn sat up slightly so that, excruciatingly slowly, their lips met and locked in a gentle yet passionate kiss.

It was then that they realised that their dreams were more than coincidence, that last night they had shared more than a drunken kiss. There was something more than friendship between them, something they could not define. It was too early for love, but it was close; it was attraction, magnetism, adoration, passion.

Aragorn eventually broke the kiss with an alarmed “What if we are found?”

“No one will find us, no one need know. These are my chambers, the chambers of the heir of Rohan. No one may enter without my prior invitation; we are perfectly safe.” He grinned, and Aragorn grinned back, their eyes never breaking contact as Éomer leaned in for another kiss.

***

At the time it had been too early for love, but that was a long time ago now. Today, in the Fold of Dunharrow, it was most certainly love; strong, passionate, insatiable. Yet, despite the relationship’s undying nature, it remained a complete secret. Aragorn and Éomer lived in constant fear of anyone ever finding them together, for it was a thing unheard of in Middle-earth. A man loved another man for his friendship and valour in battle, but they did not love one another romantically as Aragorn and Éomer now did. It was considered unnatural, ungainly, and generally wrong. And it was for that reason that Éomer felt he had to lie to his uncle.

But it was not easy. With each passing day Éomer’s desire to be close to Aragorn was growing stronger and stronger, to the point where it now hurt him to be separated from the other man. He knew that his uncle was beginning to notice the marked change in his attitude; Éomer could not help but feel miserable and withdrawn when he was not with his beloved. So far he had managed to put the blame on his anxieties over the forthcoming war, and on general fatigue, but he knew those stories could not keep on forever.

Théoden kept his nephew with him until night fell, when he retired to his tent. Immediately Éomer went in search of Aragorn, and soon found him near the centre of the camp, sitting around an open fire with his elven and dwarven companions. The second his eyes latched on to his lover, the Rohirrim man felt comforted and whole again. He knew he could not get as close to Isildur’s heir as he craved at present, while he was in the company of others, but it made him happy just to see Aragorn again.

He sat down at his side, gently resting a hand on the other man’s shoulder. Aragorn recognised the touch without having to look to see who it was, and allowed himself a small smile. He too was beginning to feel the pain from their constant separations.

For a while the elf, the dwarf and the two men sat and chatted idly, keeping warm by the fire’s flames. But as Aragorn and Éomer sat together, close enough for their legs to just touch, their desire for each other grew more and more and desperate, strengthened by the secrets that they had to keep. Eventually Éomer reached a point where he could no longer keep his frantic desire hidden. He stood up suddenly, and stumbling over his words, he spoke, “My lord Aragorn, I am such a fool, my uncle bid me fetch you. It had completely slipped my mind. He will be most irate that I have kept him waiting for so long. Please, we must go now. We have lingered long enough.”

Aragorn stood at Éomer’s side, and with a hurried goodbye he followed his love away from his friends. As soon as they were out of sight of Aragorn’s companions, they changed course and headed into Aragorn’s tent. No one except Aragorn had permission to enter that tent, unless invited personally or unless they were under the orders of the King. As Éomer knew Théoden had no desire to call on Aragorn that night, they were safe to be together without being disturbed. Immediately they were locked in a passionate embrace, holding each other as close as physically possible. No words were spoken; they held each other in silence as an indescribable sense of passion and relief rushed through them both.

Eventually they broke their embrace, standing apart with hands clasped. “I cannot go on like this,” Éomer broke the silence. “You are all I can think of… I’ve never felt feelings so strong before.”

“I know.” Aragorn replied, moving closer to the other man. “I, too, cannot bear us being apart, but it has to be that way. These are evil times, and I wish we did not have to see them through, but that cannot be chosen by the likes of us. We will tell your uncle, and I will make Arwen sail with her kin, but now is not the time. Too much weighs our hearts down already… we must keep our secret a little longer.”

Éomer was silent for a moment, before a sly grin broke across his face. “If that is the case, we must make the most of the privacy we have now.” Aragorn grinned back, and then they were pressed together once again, this times with their lips locked in a fervent kiss. Hands fumbled over the other’s body, clumsily removing shirts and tunics. Boots were kicked off before Aragorn gently pushed Éomer down onto his bed, hands sliding down the Rohirrim’s chest to remove his breeches. Éomer returned the favour before taking the bed’s coverings and pulling them up around himself and Aragorn, curling up close to his lover. Aragorn held Éomer tight, trailing a line of kisses down the other man’s neck slowly and sensually. They lay with legs entwined, arms wrapped around each other, and they stayed like that until they fell asleep.

Aragorn and Éomer had agreed from the beginning that they wanted their relationship to progress just as any other romantic relationship would. That meant that until the day they were officially recognised as being a couple, they were not to make love. They slept in the same bed, they kissed to the height of passion, but they had sworn not to go further, not to actually make love to each other, until they were known to be together, their secrets out in the open.

It was late when Aragorn awoke, his tent in utter darkness. For some reason he felt a strong sense of danger, but he could not comprehend why. Éomer lay beside him still, just beginning to stir; he must have sensed something too. Aragorn sat bolt upright, hand grabbing the hunting knife from his nightstand in case of any real trouble.

It was then he saw the man standing at the end of the bed, among the scattered clothes. A man dressed in Rohirrim uniform, one of King Théoden’s guards. Aragorn cursed under his breath as Éomer, unaware of the situation, sat up in bed beside him and also saw his uncle’s henchman.

There was an awkward silence before Théoden’s stunned guard addressed Aragorn. “Théoden King awaits you.” He then turned to Éomer. “It would probably be best if you came too, so you can explain yourself to the King.” With that, he turned and left the tent, leaving Aragorn and Éomer in shocked silence.

“Well… at least we kept our love a secret for a short while.” Aragorn mused out loud.

“It will be round the entire camp by morning,” Éomer sighed. “We had better go and speak to my uncle, it will be the worse for us if we do not.”

They dressed quickly before leaving the tent, walking close together through the darkened and now deserted camp. They reached the King’s tent, and Aragorn entered first as he had been summoned specifically, leaving Éomer outside with a hurried kiss.

Théoden was talking with the guard he had sent for Aragorn when Aragorn himself entered the tent. In a corner sat another figure, hidden beneath a hooded black cloak. Théoden finished his conversation with the guard before turning to Aragorn. He could not read Théoden’s expression as he spoke, “I take my leave to speak with my nephew. Please come to me when you have finished your business here.” Aragorn bowed humbly at the King of Rohan’s words. He did not raise his head until Théoden had left the tent.

When Théoden was gone the cloaked figure stood, throwing back its hood. Standing before Aragorn was Elrond, elven Lord of Rivendell, and Arwen’s father.

“I come on behalf of one whom I love. Arwen is dying. She will not long survive the evil that now spreads from Mordor. The light of the Evenstar is failing. As Sauron’s power grows, her strength wanes. Arwen’s life is not tied to the fate of the Ring. The shadow is upon us, Aragorn, the end has come.”

Aragorn felt a stab of guilt as Arwen’s name was spoken. She was holding on to mortality for him and him alone, yet he could no longer find it in her heart to love her. Struggling for words, he finally managed to reply to the elf. “It will not be our end but his.”

“You ride to war but not to victory.” Elrond replied. “Sauron’s armies march on Minas Tirith as you know, but in secret he sends another force, which will attack from the river. A fleet of Corsair ships sails from the South. They’ll be in the city in two days. You’re outnumbered, Aragorn. You need more men.”

Resigned now to battle talk, Aragorn replied, “There are none.”

“There are those who dwell in the mountains.”

“Murderers? Traitors? You would call upon them to fight? They believe in nothing! They answer to no one.”

“They will answer to the King of Gondor.” Elrond spoke dramatically as he pulled something out from beneath his black robes. Elrond handed the object to Aragorn, and Aragorn found it to be a sword. He unsheathed it, holding it strongly in his hand. It was beautifully made, and radiated power and majesty. It seemed so natural to Aragorn to be holding this sword; it felt like a part of himself.

“Andúril, Flame of the West. Forged from the shards of Narsil.” Elrond proclaimed, watching Aragorn hold the sword. Aragorn’s reaction to this statement was not what Elrond had expected. The future King of Gondor immediately re-sheathed the sword, eyes dropped to the floor. Eventually he looked back up at Elrond, speaking quietly.

“I cannot accept this, my Lord.”

Elrond gave him a puzzled look. “It is yours. It was forged for you. Only you can wield it.”

“You ask me to take it to fight for your daughter… for Arwen. I… I no longer love her. My heart belongs to another now. I would have Arwen sail to the Undying Lands with all that is left of her kin.”

To Aragorn’s immense surprise, Elrond’s face broke into a wide grin. “I thank you, Aragorn. I have secretly hoped that you would find it in your hear to let her go. I can no longer watch my daughter kill herself for your love. I promise that I will speak with her on your behalf. Take Andúril with my blessings on you, and whomever now holds your heart.”

Aragorn raised the sword again, his face now smiling as well. “Sauron will not have forgotten the Sword of Elendil. The Blade that was broken shall return to Minas Tirith.”

“The man who can wield the power of this sword can summon to him an army more deadly than any that walks this earth. Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be. Take the Dimholt road.”

Aragorn bowed at the elven lord, sheathing the sword and attaching it to his belt. “Ónen i-estel edain.” [I gave Hope to the Dúnedain.] Elrond finished the conversation in the Elven tongue.

“Ú-chebin estel anim.” [I have kept no hope for myself.] Aragorn replied, bowing to Lord Elrond before leaving the tent and going off in search of King Théoden to see how he would resolve his relationship with Éomer.
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