This Night, of all Nights

by Evermind

He rises slowly from his bed in the great chamber, slipping gently from her side. The night is yet young and the moon is rising, round and full away east behind the mountains of Shadow. He crosses slowly to the casement, gazing across the wide fields of the Pelennor. The white walls of the city shine beneath the light of the last flower of Telperion, and far away he sees light glinting upon the Great River. Elessar Telcontar gazes across the land that is now his, sees the scars of old wars already fading beneath the swift grass. The land is healing, yet he knows that the shadow lies upon it still. he knows that there are some hurts which go too deep to ever be fully healed.

A white crib lies beneath the open window, and momentarily, he touches his son's sleeping face. Then he sighs. For this night, he will be a ranger again.

He opens a chest of drawers that stands aginst the wall. The chest is of oak, finely carved with the shape of a tree in blossom, yet the garments he removes from it are old, stained with long years of toil. Almost reverently, his rough hands take the garments from the drawer. A ragged shirt, so stained with travel that it will never be clean, and breeches of dark wool. A torn cloak of grey cloth clasped at the throat by a brooch like a new opened beech leaf. He clothes himself in them, feeling their accustomed fit, the lightness and freedom that they represent. From a tall wadrobe he takes high boots of worn leather that fit him well, though they are brittle and cracked with disuse. He pulls them on slowly, and belts a long sword at his waist. It is long since he has walked thus, yet he feels more like himself than he has in all the weary days of his Kingship. Beside the door to the chamber, he pauses. Arwen lies where he has left her, and a light seems to hang in the air about her soft form. He smiles gently. She will not awake. Slowly, savouring this night of freedom he unbolts the heavy door and slips from the high chamber.

Through the city he moves silently, unremarked by beast or bird. Minas Tirith is still, a ghost city beneath the eternal moon. He slips silently from the gates, seeing the wide expanse of the Pelennor before him, and he smiles. This is life as he loves and knows it. He runs now with the speed of his youth, and the great leagues of the plains fall away beneath his tireless feet. He runs as he has not run for many years, and he is a hunter again, Strider the ranger as of old. He runs effortlessly, rejoicing in the freedom of this night. The moon-ship all wrought of mithril and pearl rises up to meet him, and he almost laughs aloud, remembering a ridiculous song about a cow who leapt over the moon. The night wind is keen upon his face, and he feels once more the grass springing beneath his worn leather boots. The sky is lightening in the east before he slows at last to a halt before the shores of the great sea.

The pebbled sand scrunches beneath his feet, and the sea is still, the moonlight hemming each gentle ripple with spun silver. The stars shine high and far, and are reflected in the unmoving water. The wind has dropped, and there is only the night speech of plant and stone to disturb the swirl of waves upon the silver sand. Aragorn sighs, breathing deep of the blessed air. He tastes the tang of salt upon the breeze, and he lifts his tired gaze to the heavens where the stars of Elbereth glimmer eternal.

Then he feels a hand upon his shoulder, and a soft voice whispers to him:

"I see that you also could not sleep this night, my friend?"

He smiles then, knowing the voice as well as he knows his own.

"Legolas." the ranger smiles. "This night, of all nights, I had to come."

The tall silver haired elf lord at his shoulder smiles sadly.

"And I also, my friend."

"Where is Gimli?" the ranger asks quietly. The elf smiles his mysterious smile again.

"He lies this night at Dol Elenna by the hospitality of the Prince of Ithillien. I would have wakened him, but dwarf folk sleep sound! His snores could waken a drunken goblin!" the elf laughs gently.

A low chuckle echoes from behind them,

"And the sighs of a certain elf princeling would waken Durin himself from stone!"

Gimli steps from the shadows, and the sound of their soft laughter is mingled in the night air. The dwarf comes to stand beside his friends, and his voice is thoughtfull, and a little sad.

"I came this night to bid them farewell."

They stand for a time without speaking, and above them the night grows old, and the silver moon swings away towards the utter West. The stars slowly receed as there comes a faint lightening in the eastern sky, and still the three friends stand motionless upon the shores of the silent sea.

At last, when the eastern sky is streaked with pink and gold, Aragorn sighs regretfully.

"I still miss them." He whispers; "Mithrandir, Frodo, and.....and Boromir."

"And the Lord Elrond, and Haldir, and Lady Galadriel." Gimli adds gruffly

Legolas's bright eyes sweep the horizon, as if searching for something that can never be regained.Tears dimthe elf's jewel-bright eyes, and silently, the three friends embrace. As Anar the fire-golden breaks free at last from the dark horizon, the dawn is kindled suddenly to flame. The golden rays flicker upon the quiet waves, and the sand is lit to sudden fire by the blush of dawn. The three friends stand, dark shilhouetes against the reborn sun, their shinning tears kindled to a liquid flame.

At last, they break apart, and smile, not for joy, but for acceptance. In their faces there is sorrow, but also understanding, and a blessed pain is written in their eyes.

"Happy new year, my friends." The High King smiles.