The fire burned low in the hearth of the King and Queen’s private sitting room one evening in late spring.
“Would you like me to fetch more wood, my lord?” asked a servant.
“No thank you,” said Aragorn. ”The evening is warm; and we shall only stay here until Prince Eldarion's bedtime.”
The girl bobbed a curtsey and scurried from the chamber.
Arwen bent over her needlework while the King watched his son playing.
Three-year-old Eldarion, clutching his toy horse, moved nearer to the glowing embers. “No!” Aragorn said sternly. “Do not go near the fire. It will hurt you.”
Reluctantly, Eldarion moved back a few paces; his eyes still fixed on the hearth.
“I worry for our son,” said Arwen, putting her sewing aside. ”These past weeks he has become enchanted by fire. He keeps trying to approach the flames; no matter how many times his nanny or I tell him to keep away from it. No, Eldarion!” she cried, dragging her son back from the hearth.
“I fear children are curious,” said Aragorn. He looked troubled. Eldarion was the apple of his eye and he would rather have cut off his right hand than seen any harm come to his son.
Eldarion returned to playing with his toy horse, pretending to race it across the floor. Arwen turned her attention back her embroidery, satisfied that their son was safe in his father’s care. She frowned in concentration, putting the final stitches to an embroidered rose that looked real enough to sweetly scent the chamber.
After a few minutes had passed, Eldarion toddled purposefully back to the glowing ashes. Aragorn watched him intently, a look of anguish in his grey eyes. This time he did not admonish his son. He simply watched the child’s every move. The little boy stated at the embers for a few moments then reached out towards them. He screamed as his chubby finger touched the glowing fire.
Aragorn, who had been poised like a cat behind his son, now swept up the weeping child. He plunged Eldarion’s finger in the water jug, and then placed his hands over it to ease the pain. Arwen kissed her son’s cheek and murmured soothing words.
“It hurts!” said Eldarion once his sobs subsided. ”Bad fire, won’t touch it again!”
“I am taking my son to bed,” Arwen said, glaring at Aragorn. “I shall speak to you later!” She strode from the room, her child in her arms.
“How could you, Estel?” Arwen raged when she joined her husband for dinner an hour or so later. “You were watching our son and you let him get hurt!”
“It pained me deeply to allow it to happen,” Aragorn replied. He picked at the beautifully cooked food on his plate with little appetite.
“You deliberately allowed him to burn his finger?” the Queen demanded, her eyes aghast. "How could you?"
“When I lived in Gondor many years ago under the guise of Thorongil,” the King replied, “a kindly Guardsman and his wife befriended me. They had three children, their youngest being a little boy of Eldarion’s age. Like our son, the beauty of fire charmed him. One day, when his mother’s back was turned, the lad plunged his arm into the flames. His clothing caught fire and he was badly burned. I tried my utmost to heal him, but his injures were beyond any man’s aid. He died in agony later that night. He was a fair child and it still grieves me to think of him. When I was small, I once touched some embers like Eldarion did tonight. Ever after, I had a healthy respect for fire. It was hard to see our son in pain, but it was a fleeting hurt, that should be healed by the morrow. Yet the memory of that pain will return whenever Eldarion even thinks to approach a flame. I could think of no other way to protect him, especially since our duties necessitate that we must often leave him in the care of others.”
Arwen looked across at her husband and saw that his eyes were wet with tears. She patted his hand tenderly. It seemed that even after almost six years of marriage, there was still much to learn about her husband. “It seems some lessons must be harshly taught,” she whispered.
“I hope I shall never again need to teach so painful a lesson,” Aragorn said sadly. “I felt that I too played with fire tonight.”