My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Water and Stone: 29. Isildur's Heir
‘I will speak to Curunir when he comes here for the meeting of the White Council, Estel,’ said Elrond. ‘He needs to know what has been happening on his borders. He must be occupied with matters weighty indeed not to have known of it already.’
They were sitting together on a stone bench in the high garden looking west on an evening two weeks after Midsummer, the day after Aragorn had come to Imladris. Elrond reached out and touched one of the new braids Aragorn wore.
‘So these are the gift of the Galadhrim,’ he said pensively.
‘They wished to honour me as their comrade,’ said Aragorn, not meeting his eyes. ‘and to mark my avenging of the wrongs that had been done to them.’
He fell silent, his eyes haunted. Elrond waited, knowing he was thinking about the disastrous raid and its consequences, began to prepare words of comfort and encouragement. But Aragorn braced his shoulders as if taking on a burden, and when he spoke it was of something quite other.
‘Father, give me leave to speak with Arwen,’ he said, the words coming out in a rush like water from behind a breached dam.
For a moment Elrond was disorientated, so unexpected was this. Then a blazing flame of anger flared in him, and he was on his feet.
‘How dare you speak of this to me, Estel, after what I have told you?’ he shouted. ‘She is not your equal, and even if she were, you may not bind yourself to any person until you have fulfilled the task laid upon you. And even were you crowned in Minas Tirith itself, King of Gondor and Arnor together, would you ask her to give up her immortal life and taste the bitterness of death and the loss of her kin, to share a life as short and fading as yours will be?’
As soon as the words were out of his mouth he regretted them, but they had been spoken, and could not be taken back. Aragorn sat watching him, quiet and still, as if he had not just been lashed with his father’s devastating anger, but had been listening to observations on the garden or the weather. But his sword hand was clenched tight on his knee, and his face was so white that there were blue shadows around his eyes and mouth.
Elrond pressed his hand to his temple and closed his eyes. ‘Estel,’ he said hoarsely. ‘I don’t think I expressed myself very well…’
‘No, father, you made your meaning extremely clear,’ said Aragorn in a voice Elrond did not recognise. He opened his eyes and looked at his foster-son, and he felt disorientated again and had to sit down on a chair at a little distance from Aragorn, because sitting before him, dignified and composed, was a full-grown man with a deep and measured gaze, a man who was prepared to challenge him. And he knew with a shock of loss that Aragorn had outgrown his tutelage, and that he had become a man to be reckoned with, and that Elrond might have to pay a bitter price for raising Isildur’s heir under his own roof.
‘We both know that my life is not like yours,’ said Aragorn quietly. ‘I will not live until the end of Arda; I will not board the ship to go beyond Sea as you will, father. My time is finite and to you, almost meaninglessly short. But it is my time, and I must live it as well as I can.’
Elrond sat with his head bowed, feeling Aragorn’s words like darts piercing his flesh.
‘I know you have suffered, father, and if I could, I would hold this back from you. But I cannot. Let her choose for herself. Let me speak to her of what is in my heart. I have seen love, father. Not here in your house, where you have lived with no companion for my whole life; but in Lorien, where I have seen it grow and blossom from the deepest tragedy. Why would you deny me this comfort, when my path is so hard and so lonely? When I left Imladris after you told me my true name, I was young and green and thought that all I needed to do was to strive honourably to do what is good. But I know now that even that, admirable though it is, is not enough. Darkness is in all things, even in myself. That is why the wiles of Sauron entice men so easily into his net, and make them his servants: because it is already in us to be so.’
He paused for a long moment, looking out bleakly at the violent purple and gold of the sunset over the mountains.
‘My path is hard enough without being made to deny my own heart. If I am king, I will need an heir of my own to follow me. I do not want Gondor or Rohan or any other place preening themselves over my choice of wife, and expecting favours because she comes from their lands. But more than this, father, I love Arwen. It is a good love, deep and true and lasting. Why keep this gift from her?’
‘Oh, my son,’ sighed Elrond. ‘Because you will die, and so will she, and I will have to give her up forever. And if my sons choose to stay here once my time is over, I will have lost everything. Everything, Estel. You are asking me to give up everything.’
Aragorn looked at his foster-father, and all at once he could see the long years he had lived in the weary lines of his stooped shoulders and the deep little crease between his closed eyes.
‘Do you not remember what it is like to love, father?’ whispered Aragorn. Elrond flinched sharply but he did not open his eyes.
‘When I saw Celinn and Gwirith on the day of their binding, I saw what love could be like. Not just love of the body, but love of the heart and of the soul. They are like one soul, dwelling in two bodies. My heart and soul call to Arwen in the same way theirs call to each other, father. If you will not give me your leave, I will speak to her without it, and then she may tell me with her own lips that she does not want me, if she chooses. But until I hear her tell me herself that she cannot abide me near her, then I will speak from my heart, and try to win her love. Give me your leave, father, for I would not be estranged from you. I love you, father.’
Aragorn’s proud dignity wavered a little, and the cadences of Estel’s voice trembled behind the strong sure tones of the Heir of Isildur.
Elrond raised his head very slowly and looked at him, and his eyes were dark with pain.
‘Gwirith has bound himself to Celinn?’ he said softly.
‘Yes, father, I told you, I was at their binding at Midsummer. Celinn is well now: your healing was successful.’
‘My healing,’ repeated Elrond.
‘May I speak to her, father? Will you give me your leave?’
Elrond looked at him, narrowing his eyes a little as if he was having trouble focussing on him, but he said nothing in answer to Aragorn’s request.
‘Father?’ said Aragorn.
There came the sound of sudden laughter in one of the lower terraces of the garden, and Aragorn looked down to see Arwen walking with two or three of her maidens. Seized by a sense of urgency, he got to his feet.
‘If you will not give me leave, I will speak to her on my own account,’ he said, calm and defiant.
Elrond turned his head and saw his daughter, slender and beautiful in a dress of shimmering white, her long dark hair a startling contrast to her flawless pale skin. She walked with the grace and dignity befitting a queen, and yet was vital and full of gaiety. Aragorn was watching her, a deep longing in his face.
‘Father?’ whispered Aragorn again.
Elrond felt something give within him, and all at once he was in a dark pit of hopelessness where nothing mattered any more. He nodded once, almost imperceptibly, but Aragorn was already running down the stone steps, and when he called her name, she looked up and smiled at him, waving her hand in welcome. Elrond listened to their voices rising and falling until they faded away completely, and then sat alone in the silence of the warm scented evening, as cold as if it were the middle of winter.
It was there that Glorfindel found him when the short Midsummer night had run half its course, and at last managed to persuade him to come to the Hall of Fire and sit by the deep hearth to chase the chill that had sunk almost into his bones. Erestor and Lindir had wanted to stay up to help him but Glorfindel had sent them to bed and searched on his own, once all the usual places had been found to be empty. Elrond’s hands were shaking too much for him to take up the tea that steamed on a small table beside him, so Glorfindel held the cup to his lips and made him drink, seeing a little colour come back into his blue-grey lips and pale cheeks.
‘Can you tell me what troubles you, Elrond?’ said Glorfindel gently, when the elf-lord seemed a little more composed. But Elrond simply shook his head, his jaw clenched tight with what he would not allow to be expressed.
Glorfindel laid his hand on top of Elrond’s where it rested on his knee.
‘You are not alone, you know,’ he said quietly.
Elrond’s lips trembled for an instant, but he mastered himself.
‘I am alone,’ he said hoarsely, ‘and may be more alone before the end.’
Glorfindel saw that no words he could say would touch the depth of his darkness, so the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower, whose sacrifice at Gondolin so many centuries before had made possible the existence of Elrond, Lord of Imladris, swallowed his dignity and sat down on the floor, laying his golden head against Elrond’s side, seeking to warm and comfort him.
‘I will stay with you,’ he said softly, and it was not clear whether he was speaking of the night ahead or of a time far in their future, but the two great elf-lords, whose eyes had looked both on victory and despair, and who had suffered much in the long years of their lives, sat quietly together through the short summer night, and when it was nearly dawn, Elrond sighed deeply and turned to Glorfindel.
‘You are a great comfort to me,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what I would do without you.’
I am assuming that this is the same Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower of Gondolin who died fighting the balrog so that Elrond’s grandparents Tuor and Idril could escape the fall of the city with their son, Elrond’s father Earendil.
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