Warning: Mention of character deaths
Disclaimer: Apart from my OC's, M-e and the characters belong to the Tolkien Estate. This story is written for pleasure not financial gain.
Summary ; The Dúnedain have known many leaders and reversals of fortune, but their courage and resilience endures.
The rain poured down in torrents while thunder crashed overhead. Elenwë and Haleth pulled their shawls around their heads as they scurried to the hall where the ceremony was to be held. The room buzzed with excited chatter.
They were early and the room was still half-empty so the two women were able to obtain a good vantage point with a clear view of the platform.
"This storm bodes ill for the new chieftain," said Haleth darkly. She shook out her shawl splattering the woman in front of her with water droplets. Wiping her damp cheek, the woman glared, and Haleth muttered a hasty apology.
"Why?" asked Elenwë. "I did not know that you were farsighted like your mother or Dame Ivorwen."
"I do not think I have their gift, but methinks such a storm cannot bode well for the future."
"I think Arathorn will make a good chieftain. He is a fine man, a brave warrior and he has a lovely wife."
Haleth snorted. "Gilraen is far too young to be the Lady of the Dúnedain. Lord Arathorn should have chosen a maiden of more mature years as his bride."
It was Elenwë's turn to snort. "A maiden named Haleth you mean! Don't try to deny it. I've seen the way you look at him. You should accept that he has had eyes for none save Gilraen. He has chosen well too. She has already given him a fine son, and there should be more little ones who will secure the future of our folk. And none could deny that Gilraen is almost elven fair."
"What is wrong with desiring a good husband?" Haleth retorted. "At least I didn't choose the first man that asked me for a dance at Mettarë."
"My Finbar is a good man," said Elenwë . "He might not have Lord Arathorn's lineage, but at least I won't die an old maid unlike some I could name!"
Haleth was about to make an indignant reply when the old woman in front of her turned round and said sternly. "They are waiting to begin the ceremony."
Haleth flicked the last drops of rain from her shawl and watched as a small procession made its way towards the raised platform at the front of the hall. First came the elders of the Dúnedain, including Arathorn's widowed mother and Gilraen's parents Dírhael and Ivorwen. Next came the sons of Elrond, one carrying the sceptre of Annúminas and the shards of Narsil, while the other bore the Elendilmir upon a silken cushion. The facets of the gem sparkled in the torchlight and there were murmurs of awe from the assembly, then came Gandalf the Grey, walking slowly and leaning on his staff. Arathorn with his lady brought up the rear of the procession. Gilraen's eyes were wide and she looked anxious.
"No doubt she's missing her babe," whispered Elenwë. "He must be with her sister as I've not seen Inzilbeth here."
Dírhael addressed the company. "My friends, the Chieftain is dead, long live the Chieftain! I present unto you Arathorn, son of Arador, heir of Elendil and rightful lord of the Dúnedain. Do you accept him as your leader?"
"We do!" cried everyone present.
A loud clap of thunder broke overhead and several of the younger women started visibly.
The sons of Elrond then stepped forward and held the sceptre and Elendilmir aloft. "We present these tokens of your line in memory of what is past and hope of what is to come!" they cried.
"Arathorn, son of Arador, do you promise to fight to protect your people and all free folk of Middle-earth from the forces of darkness?" asked Dírhael.
"I do," said Arathorn, shouting to make himself heard as another thunderclap broke overhead.
Gandalf then stepped forward and Arathorn knelt before him as the wizard placed the Elendilmir upon his brow and handed him the sceptre and the broken sword. A flash of lightning illuminated the scene.
Arathorn looked stern and grave, while beside him Gilraen, her beauty accentuated by the green and cream gown she wore, resembled a slender birch tree.
The ceremony concluded, Haleth and Elenwë lingered by the doorway, loth to venture out into the driving rain.
"I never saw Arador wear the jewel, nor wield the sceptre," said Elenwë to her companion.
"The regalia are kept at Rivendell for safekeeping, I believe," said Haleth. "They are only brought out on special occasions such as this."
"I was away visiting my Aunt when Arador was proclaimed Chieftain," said Elenwë.
Just then, Ivorwen passed by and said, "We shall not see the like of this day again."
Haleth turned to speak to her, thinking that she was addressing them, but Ivorwen's gaze was distant as if looking at something that only she could perceive. Another clap of thunder broke overhead.
Two years later
"It looks like rain," said Elenwë. She walked slowly hampered by the bulk of her swollen belly.
"It has done all day," said Haleth. "The skies ought to open and weep for Lord Arathorn."
"Just as you have done ever since the news reached us," said Elenwë. "Your eyes are red with weeping."
"I have a cold," said Haleth. She sniffed loudly.
"Who will lead us now?" said Elenwë. "Lord Arathorn's son is but two years old."
"He is gone and Gilraen too," said Haleth. "Haven't you heard?"
"Heard what?" asked Elenwë.
"Mistress Ruinherdis , my neighbour, went this morning to take Gilraen some of her hotpot fearing she would be too grief stricken to prepare a meal, " said Haleth. "She found the Chieftain's house deserted with no trace of either Gilraen or her child. Then Mistress Ivorwen appeared and told her to think of them as dead."
"Dead! Surely not?" Elenwë exclaimed in horror.
"That would be a tragedy indeed." Haleth said grimly.
"I thought you had no love for Gilraen?" said Elenwë.
"I never wished her harm nor Arathorn's son!" Haleth protested. She wiped her eyes with the corner of her shawl. "How can they be dead? The Orcs that killed Lord Arathorn came nowhere near the village."
"Maybe she died of grief for her loss?" Elenwë suggested.
"That would not account for the child as well. And why has no funeral been announced?"
"I know only what Mistress Ruinherdis told me," said Haleth.
A bell began to toll and the women quickened their footsteps.
"We must hurry if we wish to know who will lead us," said Elenwë. The two women almost ran the rest of the way to the meeting hall. They squeezed in at the back of the crowd that had gathered. The silence of the assembly was as leaden as the clouded skies without.
The Dúnedain elders were gathered together on the platform. Dírhael stepped forward to address the gathering. Ivorwen stood beside him. "My friends, this is a dark day for us all. Our beloved Chieftain, Arathorn, has been slain defending our folk from the Orcs that threaten our villages. The sons of Elrond were with him when he drew his last breath and they buried him with honour where he fell. His grave must remain unmarked grave so that no foul creature might desecrate his body. They believe that the Enemy sought out the heir of Isildur to destroy the line that once brought him low. Gilraen and her son are gone, dead to our people." He paused and took a long breath. "It has been decided that in the absence of a direct heir of Elendil, that I, Dírhael, will lead you as the royal blood of Aranarth flows in my veins. I swear that I am willing to shed the last drop of that blood in your service if you will accept me as your leader."
There was a brief silence and some whispered mutterings but then Ivorwen cried out in a loud voice, "I will."
The others hesitated only for a moment before following her example.
Dírhael took a step forward. He drew his sword and placed his right hand upon the blade. "I am but acting chieftain, I bear no regalia," he said. "I can and will take the oath of our folk, though. I solemnly promise to fight to protect our people and all free folk of Middle-earth from the forces of darkness. I beg of you my friends, however deep the darkness seems, never to lose sight of hope nor to abandon it."
Haleth and Elenwë were amongst the first to leave.
"Whoever would have thought that Dírhael would lead us!" said Haleth.
"He is of a like age to Arathorn and knew him well, though Gilraen's marriage came between them," said Elenwë. I suppose he has as much of the blood of Elendil as any other that still draws breath."
"I believe that Gilraen and her son still live," said Haleth. "He did not look like a man who had just lost half his family."
"Our folk know well how to hide their pain," said Elenwë.
"No bereft mother and grandmother could look as bright of eye as Dame Ivorwen, nor were Inzilbeth's eyes reddened with weeping." said Haleth. "I have seen all too many of our women who have lost everything. They may not weep and wail, other than behind closed doors, but the light goes from their eyes."
"We should keep such thoughts to ourselves while still holding fast to hope," said Elenwë. "The Enemy desires to wipe Elendil's line from the face of Arda."
The sky remained leaden, but the rain did not fall that day.
The wind whipped at Elenwë's shawl and she had to hold on to it tightly. Beside her, Haleth had given up the struggle and went bare headed. The autumn leaves whirled around the women's feet in swirling eddies as they made their way to the meeting hall.
"Who will lead us now?" asked Elenwë. She was already weary of asking that question.
"There will soon only be boys and old men left," said Haleth.
"You have not helped on that count with your refusal to wed," said Elenwë.
"No man, save one, ever stirred my heart," said Haleth. "There are few good men left to choose from so I would rather share my home with my cat. He is far less trouble than a husband."
"Only a cat would tolerate your cooking," said Elenwë. "I almost broke a tooth sampling your oat cakes!"
"My cooking suits me well enough," Haleth snorted. "I am not doomed to spend my nights wakeful with worry lest my husband never return."
"One lives with it," said Elenwë. "I have my girls to keep me company. I think -" The wind snatched away her breath and she said no more until they reached the shelter of the hall. "I think my eldest is less than happy to have to watch her little sisters and miss the meeting. I promised to tell her what happened."
The numbers in the hall were fewer than that far off day when Arathorn had been appointed chieftain, but even so, the two women had to content themselves with a place near the back as almost the entire village had come to find out who their next leader would be.
A grizzled elder, Beren rose to speak, "My friends, this is another dark day for our folk. Dírhael was slain two days ago in a skirmish with Orcs. He has led us wisely and well these past sixteen years. We have debated long and hard who shall lead us now, whether we should choose a man of experience, or one nearer in blood to Dírhael and the line of the Kings of old. Our choice has fallen on Dírhael's grandson, Halbarad. He is young, having but lately come of age, but he has already more than proved his valour. I ask him now to come forward and take the oath of our people."
"Halbarad?" whispered Haleth. "Will they choose a babe in arms next? He is still a beardless boy!"
"He has ridden out on patrol since he was twelve years old," said Elenwë. "He is as seasoned a warrior as any."
Beren held up his hand for silence as Halbarad took his place on the platform at the front of the hall.
Halbarad drew his sword and placed his right hand upon the blade. "I might be young in years, but I am old in experience," he said. "I will take the oath of our folk, with my full heart and soul. He took a steadying breath, and then recited the formal words of the oath. When he finished, he turned to the gathering and said, "Until death take me, I swear to defend our folk and our heritage." His grey eyes shone as he spoke.
Inzilbeth embraced her son then Ivorwen came forward and kissed his cheek. "Your grandsire would approve and be proud of you, Halbarad," she said. "As a widow, my heart is heavy with grief, but as a grandmother, I rejoice. We walk in darkness, yet live in hope that the light will overcome it. Even the longest night is followed by daybreak." She then walked away, a slender lonely figure, but her steps were firm and resolute.
"Dame Ivorwen is a brave woman indeed," said Elenwë as the two women left the hall. "Halbarad is the last male of her line who could easily be slaughtered tomorrow, yet she speaks of hope for the future."
"Dame Ivorwen has the farsight of her forebears," said Haleth. "Who knows what she might see?"
The wind caught Elenwë's shawl and whipped it from her head. It blew onto a nearby tree where it fluttered like a standard in the breeze.
It was a squally summer's day. The sun had peeped from behind a bank of high fluffy clouds earlier, but now a heavy shower was drenching the two women as they walked the short distance to the meeting hall. The leaves were turning their backs towards them, whipped by the breeze. Haleth and Elenwë were too engrossed in conversation to pay heed to the downpour. Wrapping their shawls tightly around their heads was their only concession to the elements.
"I can scarce believe it!" said Elenwë.
"I've seen him with my own eyes," said Haleth. "Gave me quite a turn he did, it was as if Arathorn had returned! He has Gilraen's mouth, though."
"I'll believe it's Arathorn's son when I see him," said Elenwë. "How can we be certain it is not some young ne'er-do-well passing himself off as our chieftain to get his hands on the heirlooms of Elendil's house?"
"Gilraen has come here for the ceremony," said Haleth. "A mother knows her own son."
"So she too is alive?"
"Dame Ivorwen told me that Master Elrond believed that the Enemy was actively seeking out the heirs of Isildur to wipe them from the face of Arda so when Arathorn was slain they immediately took his son into hiding at Rivendell with his mother. The boy himself only recently learned of his lineage."
"So they let us believe all these years that he was dead?"
"Dame Ivorwen said it was the only way to ensure the boy's safety."
"None of us would ever have betrayed him." Elenwë's tone was indignant.
"The Elders feared our men might be captured by the Enemy and pressed beyond endurance, or that someone might let a careless word slip after too many mugs of ale in Bree."
"So why does Aragorn return now under his true name?" said Elenwë. "The Enemy grows ever stronger. He will still be in danger."
"That makes little sense to me either," said Haleth. "We have a good leader in Halbarad. He might be young, but he knows us and our ways."
Elenwë nodded. "What can a youth who has lived with Elves most of his life know of our people? No doubt, he spends his days sitting on silken cushions playing the harp and writing poetry! Such talents are all very well, but we need a chieftain who can protect our folk."
"Dame Ivorwen says her grandson is a skilled warrior," said Haleth. "Maybe he takes after Halbarad?" She sounded far from convinced.
"Halbarad was raised amongst fighting men," said Elenwë. "He was learning skills with sword and bow almost as soon as he was weaned."
The two reached the great hall and went within, shaking the rain drops from their cloaks. It was packed and they struggled to find a space until one of the other women moved along, allowing them a small corner.
"I'm glad I didn't bring the younger children," said Elenwë. " They would be drenched. Miriel came early with her father to help decorate the hall and Ivriniel is watching the little ones. I told her she would see the new Chieftain soon enough."
Haleth looked around the hall, her gaze moving towards the platform at the front. She nudged Elenwë. "That's him, Arathorn's son, beside Dame Ivorwen."
"Him? He's just a boy! He hasn't even a beard yet!"
"Halbarad doesn't look very happy."
"Would you be unhappy having your nose pushed out of joint, thus? He's standing so he must be going to say something."
The woman in front turned round and glared at the pair. They fell silent.
Halbarad addressed the assembled Dúnedain. "Friends, I have news of grave import to impart to you today. Arathorn's son, whom many of you believed dead, is alive and well and come to claim his birth-right. From this day forward, I am no longer your Chieftain."
A young man, who was standing near the front called out. "It would indeed be a marvel had Arathorn's son returned, but how can we be certain it is he?"
"Shame on you!" cried an older woman. "If you were old enough to remember Lord Arathorn, you would recognise his living likeness in his son!"
Gilraen then walked to the front of the platform. Her fabled beauty had not diminished with the years, though her beautiful grey eyes were troubled as she looked at her son. "Friends," she began, speaking in an accent which had an Elvish lilt to it. "I am come here today to swear to you all that this is Arathorn's true born son, whom I bore to him twenty years ago." She reached out and took Aragorn's hand. "In the shelter of Imladris, I have watched him grow from a babe into a fine young man, who now desires to spread his wings and leave Rivendell behind."
Aragorn squeezed his mother's hand then spoke. "Long have I remained hidden, ignorant of my own name and lineage until but a short time ago. I cannot live my life, hiding like a mouse in the shadows, but I would ask of you all not to speak of my name and lineage, lest unfriendly ears might hear that I yet live." He held up his hand. "Apart from my father's ring, I bear no regalia. I have yet to earn the Sceptre of Annúminas, and I have asked for the shards of Narsil and the Elendilmir to be kept in safe keeping at Rivendell. Gladly, will I take an oath as your Chieftain, but I seek no formal investiture, lest the Enemy should learn of it. Also, I desire to lead you with the counsel of Halbarad and the Elders, for I fear I know little of the ways of my own people."
Ivorwen stepped forward. She was smiling and looked happier than Haleth and Elenwë could ever recall seeing her before. "Well spoken, grandson, you shall have my support and that of the leaders of our folk." She glanced towards Halbarad who gave a reluctant nod. "My friends assembled here, do you accept Aragorn, son of Arathorn to be your leader."
"We do!" cried the people, though some sounded more enthusiastic than others.
"Draw your sword and place your hand upon the blade," Ivorwen instructed Aragorn. "Aragorn, son of Arathorn, do you promise to fight to protect your people and all free folk of Middle-earth from the forces of darkness?"
"I do," said Aragorn.
The people cheered.
Gilraen suddenly turned pale. "He will be the last of the Chieftains!" she cried, then collapsed into her mother's arms.
The ceremony over, the people started to drift away.
"Gilraen is farsighted like her mother is she not?" said Elenwë. "Her words bode ill for us all."
"Dame Ivorwen looked happy, though, so her farsight must not foresee our doom," said Haleth. "Farsight is a strange gift. Sometimes I think I do have it as often I have sensed what is to come before it happens. We cannot know the future for certain, we can but continue to hope."
The two left the hall to be greeted by the sun emerging from behind the rainclouds and a perfect rainbow arching across the sky.
The women paused, catching their breath at this sudden display of nature's beauty.
"A rainbow, a symbol of hope!" said Elenwë. "There will be better times ahead for our folk. The storms will come, but afterwards the sun will shine again."
"I know only that today's storm is passing, " said Haleth with a smile. "If the weather turns out fair, I shall tend my garden this afternoon. The mixture of rain and sun will bring out the roses early."
A/n. Tolkien only lists Arathorn and Aragorn as Chieftains. I have used my imagination to fill in the gaps who acted as leader while Aragorn grew up. A revised version of a story written for the "Teitho Weather Challenge" where it was unplaced. I owe my inspiration of Ranger culture to Cairistiona, Everleigh Bain and Suzelle. Do check out their stories if you love Rangers.