No Man's Child

Author: Anoriath

Nominator: annmarwalk

2007 Award Category: Genres: Alternate Universe: Incomplete - Honorable Mention

Story Type: Incomplete  ✧  Length: Novel

Rating: Teen  ✧  Reason for Rating: Mature themes.

Summary: Aragorn, Dúnadan, little is told of the Dúnedain of the North in the tale of the twilight of the Third Age. The fate of your House lies instead to the south, this hope you have planted as a seed within your heart. You till its ground and water it well o'er the long stretch of years. But your folk, the last and ragged men of Arnor long bereft of kingdom and throne, do they not have equal claim? And when their need can be met by no other, shall then the intellect of the mind overrides the intuition of the heart? When hope withers in the winter of approaching night, shall you deem it an act of courage or cowardice to foreswear the word you had given in its spring?(Target length of 60 chapters, 45 posted as of 7/17/07)

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Reviewed by: annmarwalk  ✧  Score: 10

In this richly detailed story, a gravely wounded Aragorn is recovering "at home" in the Angle, the northern lands traditionally occupied by the Dunedain. The seriousness of his injury reiterates to companions and counselors a burdensome fact: the line of Elendil will fail unless Aragorn can produce an heir. Amid the burdens of constant warfare in the North, the fate of Gondor seems a far-off dream, and so Aragorn consents to take a woman of the Dunedain to wife. Nienelen, his bride, soon realizes that another holds his heart, but her duty to her Dunedain heritage is no less than his, and she accepts her responsibility to bear his children, order his household, and protect and lead the folk of the Angle in his absence. Anoriath is an artist, no less than Brueghel the Elder, and her pen brings the extraordinary tapestry of the Angle to life just as vividly as his brush. No detail is too small for her meticulous and loving examination: cooking, dyeing, and herblore; animal husbandry; Dwarvish visitors; agricultural economics of the mid-Third Age. She has created a world rich beyond even the Professor's imagining. When her view moves inside though Aragorn's house, though, Anoriath’s wordcraft takes on the cool northern light of a Vermeer painting. Voices are muted to the barest whisper, and words are of the coolest courtesy, for the anguish that underlies this tale is the desolation of Nienelen and Aragorn's relationship. It's a heartbreaking tale to read, yet we cannot help but be transfixed by the exquisite telling of that tale.

Reviewed by: Gandalfs apprentice  ✧  Score: 10

Anoriath has taken on the challenge of one of the very hardest of AUs: that Aragorn takes another woman as a wife. Here, however, she doesn't ask us to believe that he does not love Arwen. Rather, he decides, about 11 years before the War of the Ring, to marry in order to beget an heir. It is a marriage of convenience, as the old phrase goes, and full of heartache. Anoriath tells the tale from the wife's point of view--and we, the reader, know more of what is really going on than the wife. She eventually figures out that Aragorn's heart is given to another, but she does not know who that woman is, nor why the marriage could not happen. Indeed, since the tale is unfinished, the reader has no idea what, if anything, Arwen knows of what has happened--or if the betrothal of Aragorn and Arwen never happened. The reader never knows what Aragorn is thinking except through the observation of his wife, who is privy to very little of his heart. It's a situation of great sadness, for of course she falls in love with him. I think the very saddest moment is the jealousy Nienelen feels of her own son, who has his father's dearest love. The story is a masterwork of careful, every day detail, showing the valor of the women of the Dunedain in their unsung labors. My guess is that Anoriath intends to somehow dispose of Nienelen and make Arwen the Queen of Gondor and Arnor. Whatever happens, it will be sad, because the reader comes to care about her and her children very much. What a good thing "marriages of convenience" are not so common any more.

Reviewed by: Dwimordene  ✧  Score: 10

Being the shameless Aragorn groupie that I am, a story that proposes to test what happens when Estel fails of hope and marries a woman of the Dúnedain in order to preserve the line of Isildur is of course going to get my attention. It's a theme I've explored in different ways, but I've never aimed to do something 'irreversible,' as it were: I've never tried to think out what would happen if Aragorn deliberately chose not to marry Arwen. Fortunately, I will never have to now, thanks to Anoriath. The title, ["No Man's Child"], is also its basic premise, which is sort of like "no man born of woman shall slay MacBeth" or "No living man" prophecies: it is not to be taken literally, as we see in the prologue, where we learn why Nienelen is 'no man's child' (anymore). So we know immediately, if the first-person perspective didn't give it away, who will be chosen as Aragorn's bride. Despite this, there was a bit of a red herring thrown in with Halbarad, which worked well in context. Anoriath brings to this story a detailed account of life in the Angle – the tone and style fit the perspective of someone immersed in a feudal economy. There are dynastic obligations, household obligations that go far beyond the nuclear family I think many of us (me too!) tend to write, tithes to keep track of, fields and grain-yield calculations, the need to pay attention to seasons, husbandry, trade, and of course, politics. Anoriath builds up a rich picture of life in a quasi-Mediaeval, rural setting, and her characters move in it as easily as they breathe. As a city-dweller, I appreciate the ability to bring that setting to life without it seeming labored. But if the characters move in their setting naturally, this is not the same as saying there is no struggle to cope with the world as it presents itself. Nienelen is thrown into the role of Lady of the Angle, and must fulfil the obligations of caring for the people of the Angle, and find her allies among the women and certain of the men, even as she struggles to deal with a marriage that she knows is not a love-match at all, but a feudal obligation. Worse, she knows full well that there is someone Aragorn loves still, but about whom he will not speak. The relationship between Aragorn and Nienelen is presented as respectful, good-humored, tinged with sadness, but also extremely formal, which I found striking: Nienelen never calls Aragorn by his name or any endearment. He is her lord, and she thinks of him as such; likewise, I think Aragorn calls her by her name only once or twice throughout, and only in rather late chapters comes up with something like a pet name for her. Otherwise, she is his lady, and he calls her as such. Theirs is a match mediated by ritual, courtesy, and affection, but they both love someone out of reach. Getting children on Nienelen is a chore – one that has its pleasant side, granted, but sex, and especially a sexual expression of affection, is clearly an issue: ["Should I brush my fingers upon the lids of his eyes and down the line of his nose, or press a kiss to the corner of his mouth where lip and cheek meet, what would my lord make of it? Aye, in taking me to bed, I was reminded naught so much as his first act as my husband, when, despite the pain it cost him, he stood between me and the threat of flame. Should he have the power to prevent it, he would ne'er allow pain or fear to threaten me. Could I do no less for him? Should I not burden him with a yearning he had not wished from me?"] And then there is the devastating reunion episode, where after they end up joking with each other, there is an accidental reference to the Beren-Luthien episode that sobers them both and leads to this line: ["When the task is done, and he stands before me wound in a sheet, his hair dripping onto his shoulders and his skin flushed and warm, my lord leans to me and presses his lips upon my cheek. It is a chaste kiss, rich in affection and dismissal."] Anoriath doesn't overplay these moments; they unfold quietly and naturally, so one feels like an intruder on an intimate scene, but also feels the break in that intimacy, the way in which this is simply not what either Aragorn or Nienelen hoped for. Aragorn throughout maintains a robust sense of humor about their situation, and treats Nienelen with all the kindness and respect one could ask, given the way men and women interact in the society Anoriath has built up. He makes her his partner and his friend, and the mother of his children, and even his lieutenant, in a way – she is his eyes and ears and representative in the Angle when he is away on his frequent long journeys. He teases her and tries to make the best of the marriage, including some hysterical, half-serious jokes touching on their own need to have children – he does as Gandalf advises, and tries not to continue looking over his shoulder at the road not taken. This doesn't mean he doesn't have his regrets that fundamentally shape his relationship with his wife. The story is not yet finished, so are left waiting to see where Anoriath will take us with the next chapter. We're getting closer to the events of LOTR, which, I imagine, may be where the choice for amdir, hope grounded in the world, instead of estel, hope that transcends all grounds the world may or may not furnish for it, may become important. Dúnedain fanciers should definitely give this one a try!

Reviewed by: EdorasLass  ✧  Score: 10

This is a truly lovely, bordering on epic AU, wherein a woman of the Dunedain, Nienelen, ends up being wed to a near-mortally wounded Aragorn, in order that his line not die out. With such a set-up, one might suspect Mary Sue-ism, but it is nothing of the sort; instead, it is a touching, wistful, rich, beautifully drawn universe populated with a wide variety of original characters, some sympathetic and some not, in which Aragorn makes only infrequent appearances, which is right, as during this time-frame he is most often in the wild, protecting the lands. The details in this story are absolutely incredible - Anoriath has put in what must be hours of research to make certain that all such details are not only accurate in their description, but accurate to the time and place - and the result of such dedication makes her depiction of the Angle utterly lifelike and believable. All of her characters are as real as if they lived next door to you - her Halbarad is a particular favourite of mine, with his quiet, sometimes overbearing attitude of protection and propriety, while Nienelen, the central character, is wonderfully realized. She is in many ways a perfect wife, in the way she cares for her house, her husband, her children, and the people of the Angle, but she is also often uncertain as to all these things, fearful that she's not living up to her role as Aragorn's wife or to his expectations of her, that she is sometimes overstepping herself with regard to politics in the Angle, and there are many times she just flat doesn't know what to do. There is the fact that she, very gradually, comes to realize that she is indeed deeply in love with Aragorn, but oft times is hesitant to even speak to him in too familiar a tone, along with the creeping suspicion that Aragorn's heart is given to another. All these things, along with Anoriath's distinctive, gorgeous prose, combine to make what is a truly compelling, if heartwrenching tale, and I do hope that all turns out well in the end, for I've grown quite attached to her lovely cast of characters.

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon  ✧  Score: 4

Interesting AU tale about a young woman of the Dunedain who is chosen to wed Aragorn, when, evidently, his romance with Arwen fails. The story is written from the viewpoint of the young woman, who, in accepting the offer Halbarad gives on Aragorn's behalf, lets herself in for a lot more than a title and a bigger house to run. The chronicle of the daily life of a Dunedain Chieftain's Lady is credibly told. Aragorn's brief appearances are well-written, and his scenes with his young son are charming.