“Now come the days of the King!”
The crown was placed on his head. The thin crown of Arnor. As his father before him, he preferred the light circlet to the cumbersome crown of Gondor.
Eldarion forced a smile as the people of Annuminas applauded thunderously. Never since the days of the kings of Arnor had there been a coronation in the place, and never in this particular city, rebuilt from ruins by his father.
Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Elessar Telcontar, had died the previous year. He had left his son three things: the sword Anduril, the ring of Barahir, and a sealed letter with instructions not to open unless it was the direst of emergencies.
It seemed to Eldarion that the direst of emergencies was upon him, yet it certainly was not what his father would have considered even a problem. But then again, his father had always looked to the wild with a wistful look in his eye. He had not liked being chained to the throne, but it had been necessary. Necessary for his people, and necessary in order to wed the love of his life.
Arwen was dead now too. She had left after Elessar had died, going north. Eldarion had guessed Lorien, and been proven correct when a traveler came to Minas Tirith telling the tale of how he had found a fair elf woman’s body lying across a mound in the deserted land.
It pained Eldarion’s heart to think of the empty elven lands. It was the Fourth Age now, the time of Men. The end of wonder and song and tales of legend and daring. They were myths now, becoming more and more shrouded with mist as every year passed.
The last ship had passed into the West. The Undying Realm was sealed from entry by the Valar. The Straight Road had been severed. The mystical and the real had been separated forever.
The crown weighed all the heavier on Eldarion’s head.
He glanced over at Almare and forced another smile. She grimaced back at him. She wasn’t as good at faking happiness as he was.
Of all the people in the world, they were the two who should not have been married. Not that they did not get along with each other. They were as close as brother and sister, having been together since childhood. Almare’s parents were powerful nobles of Gondor, the blood of Numenor flowed in their veins.
It should have been a blissful marriage, but the people were going to be lucky if they got a single heir. And they had better not hope for the number of children his mother had had. All daughters except for him, and all married off to lords of various places. One had wed Elfwine of Rohan, thus binding the two realms all the tighter.
The problem was that while Eldarion loved Almare as a most cherished friend, and that while he loved his sisters as…well, his sisters, he did not love women with any passion. His eye strayed to handsome men rather than women who were practically pulling their dresses off to get him to notice them.
It was the same with Almare, whose eyes were lingering rather inappropriately on a beautiful young maidservant. Eldarion subtly elbowed her.
“What was that about?” she hissed.
“You were staring again.”
“Oh, damn. Was I really?”
“Yes. Quite obviously.”
“Damn. I thought it wasn’t obvious.”
“Just stop staring.”
“Then you stop looking at that lord in the tight pants.”
“I am not – Wait, how did you know that?”
Almare raised an eyebrow and smiled. “I just know things,” she said.
The King and Queen rose from their thrones. Eldarion gave a quick speech, which the people seemed to like all the better because it was short. Then it was time for a feast that the cooks had been working on since yesterday.
“I don’t like it here,” Almare said as they ate. It was good food, but Eldarion had to keep an eye on Almare. She had a habit of eating far more than was ladylike. The women of the court noticed these kinds of things.
“What’d you mean?”
“I want to go back to Minas Tirith.”
Eldarion sighed. “This is the traditional seat of kingship.”
“There are two capitals. One of them was traditional for, what, ten years maybe? And then never again until your father took the throne. Whereas Gondor stood for a thousand years after Arnor fell.”
“I like it here.”
“And I don’t. The women say the weather isn’t good for pregnancy.”
“You’re never going to get pregnant, so I don’t think we have to worry about that.”
“I want to go to Minas Tirith.”
“Who is King here?”
“Who is Queen here?”
Eldarion sighed again. Dealing with Almare was always exasperating, but it promised to be exceptionally awful now that she was Queen. “I will be spending at least a year here,” he said. “And then we’ll talk.”
“It’s cold and wet. And the people are so…grim. At least they smile in Minas Tirith. And there are interesting places you can go there. Gondor is such a beautiful land. Especially Ithilien. I miss Ithilien, Eldarion.”
Eldarion missed Ithilien too, but he had to stay here for a while. His father would have wanted him to. “We’ll leave next year,” he said.
Almare brightened up immediately. “Good,” she said. She took a drink of wine. “Actually, the wine of this land isn’t too bad.”
“Do you want to stay?”
“I thought not.”
“You’re very gloomy today. What’s wrong? You’ve just been crowned King! You rule practically all of Middle-Earth.”
“Not all of it,” Eldarion said.
“Mirkwood’s almost empty, and Lorien’s abandoned. Rohan’s virtually been assimilated. There’s no one who could challenge you.”
“Elessar made peace with them. They’re allies now. Umbar should be nearly rebuilt by now. Oh! We should go and inspect it!”
Now that was an idea. Eldarion had seen the south once in his life and he longed to go back. “That’s a good idea,” he said. “I’d like to see the jungle.”
“I hear they have birds with feathers of a dozen colors!”
“I think that might be a slight exaggeration.”
Almare shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. As long as it gets us out of this depressing weather I don't care what it is.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Eldarion said with a smile.
Later that evening they found themselves in the royal apartments lying on a large bed. Almare had discarded her coronation gown and was lying in her pale blue underdress. Eldarion had dispensed with formal clothing as well, and was clad in a simple shirt and breeches.
“The maids were giggling,” Almare said after a while.
“I suppose they were,” Eldarion said. “They’ll be disappointed though, if they think to hear anything.”
“I hope they aren’t listening.”
“They better pray they aren’t,” Eldarion said, raising his voice so that it would carry out of the room.
They were quiet and listened. Indeed, they heard footsteps hurrying away.
“I want to go back to Minas Tirith,” Almare said. “They never did this there.”
“Of course they did. They were just far more subtle about it.”
“And I prefer subtle to so damn obvious.” Almare folded her arms and heaved a sigh. “I want to go to sleep.”
“Then go to sleep!”
“I can’t sleep with you lying next to me.”
“I’m not sleeping on the floor.”
“Isn’t there a chair around here?” Almare asked, standing up and searching the dark room.
“Planning to sleep there, are you?”
“No. That’s where you’re sleeping.”
And so Eldarion, of the line of Luthien and Beren and Melian the Maia, spent the first night of his reign sleeping on a hard chair, shivering slightly in the cold.
Chapter End Notes:
In year 120 of the Fourth Age, Aragorn (Elessar Telcontar) died at the age of 210. The following year Arwen Evenstar died in the deserted lands of Lothlorien.