My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Where the Stars are Strange: 6. An Ill Wind
Dawn saw the grog-soaked crew of Sea-wolf squinting against the rising sun as Captain Ascabar caught the south wind. Even the lieutenant, standing as tall as he could muster on the aft deck, seemed pale as the ship bucked over the breakwater and headed out to deep ocean. Both Aragorn and Kindrel breathed deeply again once the towers of Tastabarin disappeared over the horizon.
"Home, lads, to Umbar!" the captain cried as the crew set all sails to make the most of the freshening wind. The black sails billowed out and the Sea-wolf sent a white rill of foam back from her prow. The captain leaned close to his second in command as if sharing a ribald joke. "We may have to sell our plunder in Umbar for awhile, eh?"
Although Kindrel's eyes watched him closely, Aragorn fell back into his role as an ordinary seaman and the two did not speak of their adventure. Tholvel greeted the young Northman's return enthusiastically and accepted Aragorn's description of the desert lord's fortress as 'uninteresting.'
The clear weather held for a time, and then the contrary wind shifted. The crew put their backs into the grueling job of tacking to and fro to coax the wind to propel them on their set course. Aragorn woke one morning to find the skies leaden, a red band on the eastern horizon the only sign of the sun. Kindrel was already on deck, staring off to the west, watching the dark clouds gather.
"Cursed voyage," he muttered, playing the tiller to catch the contrary breeze. He handed steering over to Aragorn and went below to the captain. After a while, he stepped back up on deck, looking grim and shouted orders into the ship's waist.
"Nail shut the hatches and tie down everything on deck!" Kindrel commanded. "There's going to be a blow and a bad one."
For two days, the ship made poor headway, battling the shifting winds that would rise up, switch direction, and suddenly die under a heavy canopy of ominous clouds. Without stars or sun to guide them, they were blind and Kindrel shook his head in frustration as he tried to determine their course. Finally, the lieutenant took the bad news to the captain. He felt they were woefully off-course. The captain cursed his parents and sent the watch to the top of the mainmast. After hours peering off at the far line where the water met the sky, the man caught sight of a headland off to the east. Kindrel poured over a map and finally decided it was Ras Morthil: they were too far north. Ascabar, cursing Kindrel's offspring and the threatening weather, ordered the ship about. The wind died and they wallowed in the silent sea.
Three hours after noon, the storm hit without warning. A tearing, frigid wind blasted through the rigging directly out of the west, immediately snapping the mainmast's spars weighted by the full complement of sails. Their collapse brought down most of the shrouds, causing an irreparable tangle on deck. Kindrel ordered the men to chop with hand axes at the useless rope and canvas in an attempt to clear away the wreckage before the drag capsized them. The sky was suddenly black as night and cold rain lashed the decks. Aragorn had never seen such lightning, purple and blue etching across a green-black sky, and the thunder boomed as if from the very ocean around them! The captain ordered what was left of the foresails luffed and ten brave men climbed up into the storm. The Sea-wolf ran bare-masted before the wind, pushed swiftly due east toward the cliffs of the coast of Belfalas. Finally, Ascabar ordered the launch dropped overboard into the swells to act as a sea anchor to slow their speed.
As blacker night fell, the coastal lights were visible when the ship crested the tops of the swells. The beacon fire of the watchtower burned through the rain, warning of the rocks threatening ahead. Kindrel, leaning hard against the tiller, coaxed the ship to run parallel to their jagged menace. At his side, Aragorn judged the lights of shore to be less than three miles distant; this could be his chance to escape.
As all hands, the captain, and Kindrel worked the ship through the wild water, Aragorn eased himself away and down into the captain's deserted cabin. The ax he had had for chopping away the rigging soon had the wood around the cabinet lock splintered. With a bit of digging through the chest of gold coin, Aragorn found the bag with his brooch, his ring, dagger, and the pendant. Under his possessions, sparkled a myriad of colors: rubies, sapphires, and adamant glittered amid the luster of pearls. He hefted the bag and shoved it inside his shirt, deciding it was full compensation for the time and effort he had put into this unwanted sea voyage. What of it he did not use for his journey home, the Dúnedain could put to good use.
Back on deck, he tried to keep his footing as waves washed over the bulwarks. Sodden with salt water, he dragged himself to where the launch was moored and stepped over the railing, clinging desperately to the ratlines as the ship climbed up another swell. The giant wave lifted the launch alongside and neatly Aragorn stepped into it and cut the line. The wind whipped the sailing ship away into the dark, and alone, he spun away into the gale.
Aragorn could not tell which direction the coast was or even which was up since water poured onto him from all sides. At first, he tried to row but the sea pulled at the oars as if they were caught in a sea serpent's teeth. He ran up the sail. The wind shredded it from the mast and whipped the remnants away into the blackness. Finally, exhausted, he lay down in the bottom of the craft and asked Ulmo to see him to land.
A vicious wave caught the boat and he spun about until dizzy. A thud shuddered through the craft as it smashed up against the rocks, and with a splintering crack of wood, Aragorn was in the water. Coughing and sputtering, salt water filling his throat, he surfaced and grabbed at a piece of the wreck. He thanked the Valar the current did not immediately hurl him up against the crags that had splintered the launch. An errant eddy spun him around the rocks. The sea was calmer on the lee side but the rain still came down in torrents. Clinging to his wooden float, Aragorn took several deep breaths and struck out swimming toward the light he could see in the distance.
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