The older man had almost refused the task. He was loyal and dutiful, but he disliked the necessity, even as he recognized it.
"Someone must ask him. It is time and past time," his wife had said.
Maendir had looked up at her. "We know his care for the Dúnedain. Why can't we leave him to his business?" Yet his words were unconvincing, even to himself.
"Come, you can persuade him of the need. He has refused to speak of it, swept aside our questions, and continues as if there were ten others fit to take his place. This must be settled."
Aragorn had traveled much these past years, and it was only for that, Maendir thought, that the question had remained unspoken so long. It seemed a poor welcome to tax the Chieftain with, but if it must be done, sooner was better - he had to agree with his wife on that. This long-planned journey with Aragorn to inspect the outposts would be the best time to broach the matter, if any time could be good for such an undertaking. He would ride south, expecting to meet Aragorn as he rode North from the Gap of Rohan toward the Angle. Surely somewhere in those miles would be a pause quiet enough to speak of the pleasures of matrimony, pleasures that Maendir fervently believed in.
All that was left was to steel himself to the duty.
They rode slowly, the Glanduin behind, and the Angle beckoning, a comfortable two day's ride ahead. With safe land around them and no need to arrive before the next night, it was a respite from the previous vigilance and fighting on the road. It should have been a pleasant time, with a good companion, a rested horse, and the birds proclaiming the rebirth of spring in the land.
Aragorn had known that the other was troubled about some matter. They had ridden and made camp, and still old Maendir was mostly silent. At last when the horses were cared for and the fire blazing and the pigeons roasting, Maendir spoke of himself as a young man, and of the joy he had found in marriage. He went on to instance his grandson, who had, after sampling many possibilities, recently chosen a bride and was now well content. Aragorn braced himself then, having little liking for what he knew was to come.
"And is there no young lady back in the Angle whose name you hold dear?"
"I have other matters to consider." Aragorn dismissed the subject, but Maendir was persistent.
"Why will you not consider this
matter? You are past the age when most have wed."
The grey eyes sharpened, more edged than the knife laid beside him, but Aragorn shrugged and bent to attend the fire. A hand on his arm stopped him.
"No, you will not so easily dismiss me as you have others. You do not even look at the maidens." A pause, and the needle. "Or is it Halbarad that holds your attention?"
He was silent for a minute; there was coldness, and beneath it, anger. "My business is not for casual gossip. And no, much as I love my kinsman, he does not hold that appeal for me."
"Curse it all, tell me! What keeps you from choosing a woman? A lack of desire? A wound? An unnatural love?"
"Neither," Aragorn said quietly, resigned to the unpleasant necessity of revelation. "My attention is not caught by …males. I have
made a choice. But it is one who is out of reach, at least at present, and perhaps for always. I will not speak of what I cannot have." Aragorn reached for the whetstone and dagger.
"She cannot be of the Angle then, for any there would welcome your attention, whether you pledged to her or no," Maendir mused. "Some lass you have met on your travels?" he asked eagerly, "From Gondor perhaps?" and with less enthusiasm, "Or Bree? Well, why do you wait? Wed her and bed her! None would begrudge you taking a bride from outside our people, Aragorn. All here would make welcome any whom you chose."
The pause grew long, filled only by the drawn-out strokes of steel against stone.
"Is she already spoken for, is that it? Or," and Maendir's voice dropped and grew disturbed, "is she wed?" He shivered slightly.
"No, she is unbetrothed; free, but not freely given." He focused on the honing. "I have said enough; I wish to discuss this no further."
The other looked at him speculatively. "I cannot imagine the woman who would hesitate over your suit." Maendir might not have Aragorn's gifts, but he was no fool. "Is it one of the Elvenkind then, in Rivendell? The unearthly, beautiful Eldar?" It was goading, but hit the target. Aragorn made a slight swift move, as if to turn away.
"I suppose it is only to be expected from your Elvish fostering. They are beautiful, and the unattainable is alluring. You are not the only one to be so captivated by the fair ones," he said sympathetically. "Tis common enough among those who visit Rivendell, a passing fancy. Others who felt the same have settled to a wife and the Angle."
Tightlipped, Aragorn replied, "It is no passing fancy. I do not know if it is from my time among the Elves, or my nature, or a doom pronounced by the Valar before the Sun rose. I know only that she fills my heart; I will have no other."
"Not for a ninemonth or even a night? Will you go to your grave virgin, your manhood untouched save by your own hands? What if you do not gain her heart and hand?"
"Then I will live untouched for all my days and wander the wild alone! My heart only desires this one, and where my heart leads, there only will the rest of my senses follow."
"And your line that will die with you? Does it matter nought that you are the last of the heirs of Isildur and Elendil, the last of the royal line of Númenor?"
Aragorn did not speak at first. He set the dagger down gently; finally he said, "Even I am not directly descended from the Numenorean kings, for my connection comes through Silmarien, daughter of Tar-Elendil. If I were to die without issue, there are others who can trace back to her, if less directly."
"But they have not your qualities!"
"Then perhaps they will also lack my foolish scruples or my unobtainable choices." He took a deep breath, and began on the sword as his voice calmed. "My life among you has been founded on restraint. I came to you as a youth newly grown to manhood, and though a few urged it, forebore to claim high place among you. Did I err in that?"
The question caught Maendir off-guard. "You well know you did not; it was your very restraint that stood you in good stead among us. We saw your quality soon enough," he said, and with some force, "tis why we wish to see your heir, as well."
Aragorn was not deterred. "And when the captains knew me, all were agreed by the time I thought it meet to take command. Did I then err?"
"Nay, Aragorn, it was counted exceptional wisdom on your part. You have no need to ask, but it bears little on this matter!"
"Then why is that same restraint now questioned? In this most intimate of matters? Do you doubt my wisdom after all these years among you?"
Maendir rocked back on his heels and sighed. "I must doubt your wisdom now, on behalf of all our people. The man, him I trust to do what is right when it comes to his heart. But the Chieftain? I do not trust him to think of the Dúnedain in this one matter. Your grandfather did not live out even the normal Dúnedain span of years, much less what might be expected of one in Elendil's direct line. Your father fell while still young by the measure of his forebears. If you are slain before siring a child, what do you think will become of us? Of this land? Of all those of every race who fight the shadow? When you are with us, you hold our fear at bay and the shadow draws back in our hearts. What will happen when you are gone and there is none to follow you?"
"My future is pledged to the Dúnedain," Aragorn said, as the sword's edge grew bright under his hands. "I will fight as I must for my people; whether it be a fool's hope as some have named it, I will seek to defeat the shadow until my last breath. And if I fall, I will do so with sword in hand, trying still to defend that which I love. If you do not doubt my resolve in this, then doubt not that I will wed her, or none.
"If I cannot be true in this loyalty, if there is no consonance between body, mind, and spirit, what worth is my word to this land? How could you trust one who would thrust aside his deepest love for convenience, whether of self or dynasty?
"My restraint speaks my heart. It spoke my heart and my worth to the captains of the North. It speaks as well to my beloved."
Maendir was silent, conceding the point. The point only, though, not the war. Besides, the pigeons were well-roasted, and beginning to send up enticing aromas. Aragorn put aside his half-sharpened sword and turned the talk to the outposts yet to visit. After their meal, and small courtesies designed to indicate his basic good will, battle was joined again.
Maendir's next appeal was unfair. "And do you never, in the cold watches of the night, wish for the warmth and comfort of a woman?"
The look returned was exasperated. "Do you think I am not as other men? There are many beautiful maidens; I have tried to imagine it as men do when they are far from the company of their women. And I have seen that no maid, no matter how pliant, how ardent, how well-formed, will serve; nought stirs me save the memory of my beloved."
"If you have dallied with no other, how do you know that some mortal maiden will not stir your blood?"
He shook his head. "I yearn, but only for her. It would be a lie for me to lay hand on another. I am hers, for always, whether so sworn or no."
"You have not chosen an easy road, Aragorn."
He chuckled then. "In no part of my life will my road be easy." When the brief mirth faded he stared down his friend turned judge. "I am not the only Ranger who has scruples about this, or is continent." This with a pointed look.
"Ah, but I am not the Chieftain of the Dúnedain," Maendir countered. "My continence is a matter of months, not years, and," slyly, "certainly not decades. I would fear my scruples are not up to that!"
Then, curiosity aroused, he asked, "You never say anything when other Rangers take comfort where they find it in the taverns and inns of far lands. Do you judge them harshly?"
Aragorn considered his reply along with a last few strokes of the whetstone. "No, not harshly - who can measure what a man needs for comfort, or what his control might cost him? I do not love as most men do. I can scarce condemn others for the same." He shrugged. "I will judge no man for his heart's choice." His voice now carried the whip's crack, "And I will take the judgement of no man on mine."
Maendir looked at him as a man looked at his King, but spoke then as he had not spoken to the other man in years - not since the first days Aragorn had come to live amongst them, an untried youth. "Lad, I wish it could be otherwise for you. Valar grant you the same resolution in the defense of your people."
Aragorn smiled. There were not so many now who could call him 'lad' but he supposed if any could, Gilraen's cousin was one.
But the older man continued, "I am not your equal with the sword. Nor can I plan so cleverly as you do, and foresight is not given me. But this I can see for you as a man: you will have a hard road to win such a one, and an uncertain reward."
Aragorn nodded his agreement, and reached for an oiled rag to wipe down his sword.
Under his breath the other man muttered, with some sympathy, "And until then, a cold bed."
Mike, mainly I'm asking for your reaction to this kind of conversation between two men. If you're inclined to do more, that's always welcome!
I did think of having Aragorn's last action be sheathing the sword, but was afraid I'd already been too heavy handed with that.
I'd like to thank AfterEver and Mike Kellner, and Dwim who sicced this beastie on me. (I'll probably have more people to thank before this makes it out of beta.)
It's been an interesting challenge, to portray the choice of virginity as a metaphor of power.
I have stolen a few lines from Tolkien, but modified them to fit into the dialogue.
In 'The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen' when Gilraen tells her son "But I do not think that you will have the good will of Elrond in this matter." Aragorn replies "Then bitter will my days be, and I will walk in the wild alone."
I have also taken part of a line JRR Tolkien wrote to Michael Tolkien in Letter 43:
"It is a fallen world, and there is no consonance between our bodies, minds, and souls."
The title comes from the third verse of 'Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May' by Robert Herrick:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.