My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Haven of Rivendell, The: 8. Reluctance
Spring had come early to Rivendell. The winter ice that muted the sound of the falls had fled under the warmth of the midday sun, and purples and golds, like stained glass, covered the meadows as the flower heads pushed through the new grass. The dew had hardly dried on the orchard sward that March morning before Elrond was in his observatory, adjusting his star instruments, organizing books, scrolls and tablets that welled from shelves and chests and under tables. He was waiting for Estel. He had left word with Erestor, the seneschal of his house, to send Estel to him on his return from his duties.
The early morning sun was barely slanting through the valley when Elrond heard the light step on the stairs. Just reaching his maturity, Estel always seemed in the highest of spirits. Elrohir remarked that now that he rode with the elven patrols, he seemed to flourish with a purpose for his life. Estel's dark hair was still damp from his bathing, his grey eyes were alight with a blue fire that matched the sky, and he had a smile for his foster-father.
"Good morning, sir." Always respectful, the tall young man bowed slightly then collapsed into the chair Elrond indicated.
"How fare our lands?" asked Elrond. Estel loved the night patrols, spending his time under the stars like a true elf-lord. Sometimes he rode in Glorfindel's company, but mostly he was found with Elladan and Elrohir. "No dragons or trolls threatening our borders?"
"Nary a one!" Estel smiled. It was an old joke between the two. When Estel was barely four, he had tottered into the council hall during an important meeting, bearing a wooden sword and shield, swathed in what appeared to be his mother's blue scarf. He dropped to his knees and pledged his fealty to Elrond in front of an assembly of bemused fair folk, swearing to defend Rivendell from dragons and trolls. Elladan, who had been helping his father as justicar, covered a smile, but Elrond accepted the little boy's sincere pledge with equal seriousness. The phrase had become their private language for all being right within their world.
Estel glanced through a stack of manuscripts of lore and star wisdom. This was his tutoring room where he had spent his days with Elrond mastering the sciences and arts and languages. He had been an apt pupil and he amazed himself sometimes with what was contained in his head. "I feel like I'm here for a lesson."
"You are." Elrond laid a long leather-wrapped parcel and a volume of ancient writings on the table between them. Estel recognized the volume as the listing of the kings of men and their deeds, both good and evil, since Elendil sailed from Numenor: additionally, it contained the stories of Beren, of the witch king of Angmar, of Isildur and Anarion, and of Elendil himself amongst the rest, all written down in Elrond's flowing script. Elrond untied the lacings and open the covering of the parcel to reveal an ornate scepter, some yellowed rolled scrolls, and a serviceable long sword, not ancient but tarnished with disuse.
"It's your birth anniversary. You are twenty years in the accounting of men. You have come of age, according to your parents' people, and it is time you learned your story." Elrond hesitated a moment: twenty years---so short a time to learn to be a man! "I will reveal your family history and in the telling, also some of your future." The young man's trusting eyes were upon him; a slight smile played on his lips. He was sure he knew what his father was about to reveal.
When Elrond began the story with the tale of the last Alliance between Men and Elves, Estel thought that perhaps he had forgotten what he was telling. Elrond told the story Estel loved so well of Gil-galad and Elendil, of Isildur and the Ring. He tells the tale so well, thought Estel, because he was a part of it: herald to Gil-galad. Elrond told of the line of kings of the North and South, how the southern line failed, of the Stewards of Gondor, and the Dúnedain of the North. Then he began a tale new to Estel: the story of Arathorn, the last Dúnedain chieftain, who had met and chosen a maiden of the line of Aranaroth for his wife, how she gave birth to a son and it was prophesied at his birth that he would be king of the Reunited Kingdom. Then the tale turned dark: Arathorn was slain by orcs, and his wife and baby came to Imladris for shelter. Some of the light of fun went from Estel's eyes.
"…so Gilraen brought her child to me, to be raised and protected so the line of the kings would not die out. No other of Elendil's line has spent so long with me or been so surrounded by such secrecy, for these are dangerous times," Elrond paused and was aware of his foster-son's eyes, now unreadable, still boring into him.
"You, Estel, are that child. You are Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Chieftain of the Dúnedain, Isildur's Heir."
Estel's eyes shifted away from Elrond and out over the gardens. Aragorn…the shouted name of his mother's waking visions; Aragorn… half-remembered whispers in his own nightmares; Aragorn… strange voices sighing in the south wind. He was Isildur's heir? The heir to the sword of Elendil? Estel was stunned and silent. It could not be!
At first, Elrond sat patiently, waiting, but as time passed he grew disturbed. Estel's embracing of his parentage was not as Elrond imagined it would be. He rose and pressed something into Estel's open palm. It was a silver ring designed of two serpents, one swallowing the other, golden flowers crowned them, and a beryl of intense green joined them. The ring of Barahir was another relic of legend.
"It's yours now, along with other things of great import, including Narsil, which you know lies in its place in the gallery." The sword that was broken, its shards used to cut the Ring of Power from the Dark Lord's hand. This truly was his heritage? It was not at all what he imagined!
"It seems fantastic. I need to think." was all Estel could say. Elrond felt the dismay in the young man's voice, which seeded doubt and dread in Elrond's heart. Had they thought wrong?
"I need to think!" Elrond heard the anguish in his voice. "Please, Ada!"
This news had come as a blow, not a revelation, to Estel, and Elrond, with all his ancient wisdom, could not account why. This was too significant an age in the times of Men and Elves. The world would end and all of Middle Earth would be laid waste if they were wrong. Had he misjudged the boy's character? He watched his silent foster-son a moment longer then went slowly to the stairs, leaving Estel with his thoughts. The day passed, the wind rose, the light faded in the sky, and still Estel sat silently, staring into the early spring garden.
* * * *
It was long past dinnertime when Elrond looked up from the work he was pretending to do to see his youngest—nay, his foster--- son in the entryway to the study.
"May I speak with you, sir?" the boy asked softly. Elrond gestured to the chair beside his desk but Estel shook his head and went to stand by the fireplace. "My heritage---why did I not know of this sooner?" Elrond scribbled on the paper before him.
"The danger was too great—"
"Nay, I don't mean the entirety. I mean why did I not know my father was Dúnedain? Why was it supposed by many that I—that I was…" Estel was struggling to voice the thought.
"Ah, one of the household?" Elrond asked diplomatically. "When you were quite young, the suggestion was made off-handedly by a guest. Your mother and I thought the tale was as good as any." He could see Estel fighting to control his temper. "We only mean to keep you safe."
"You lied to me."
"I never claimed you as my own." Estel stalked across the room. Elrond saw the cold fire blaze in his eyes.
"Straight from your lips to me for a very recent indiscretion, my lord! Lying by omission is still a lie!" The white-hot anger bubbled over and Estel was suddenly shouting. "You had no faith in me!"
"Estel, it was for your safety. You are the only hope of this world. If you seize your fate, you will defeat the Lord of the Black Lands. You will sit one day crowned with the winged helm of the Kings of Men." Elrond paused. "But, there is also great danger. If you fail, if you are corrupted, there is but pain and darkness for you and death for the rest of us. Nine other kings of men overwhelmed by pride and desire were lured to tread the path of evilness and now serve the Darkness."
"You worry that I could be corrupted?" Estel was still shouting. He made as if to stalk from the room, stopped suddenly and met Elrond's eye. His voice was a whisper. "Father, I would give my life for you—for this place." His voice broke, tears welled over his eyes, and he walked out then, leaving Elrond standing alone in the study. For the first time in a millennium, he was at a loss for words.
The hearth fire chased the night chill from the room. Estel sat, his knees drawn up, arms and chin resting on them, staring at the serpent ring on the table. The green stone winked in the firelight. He had been sitting like this in the window alcove since the cold wind drove him inside from the gardens. The door near silently opened and Estel looked up, anticipating Elladan. The nurturing brother was the one he expected Elrond to send to test the temperament of the new-revealed Dúnadan. However, it was stern Elrohir. Never one to prevaricate, he began directly, leaning against the doorframe.
"Today has been an interesting day for you." Elrohir's understatement caused something to break inside Estel. The boy turned fathomless eyes on his brother.
"Interesting day? Today I found out what I am…who I am." Elrohir heard biting anger in Estel's voice. He looked straight at his mentor. "Did you know? Of course you did!" Estel continued not waiting for a reply. "Twenty five hundred odd years. What don't you know? Was I at least an interesting experiment? Did I provide some amusement?" The raw note of betrayal surprised Elrohir.
"You are no experiment. You are our brother."
"Sixteen generations of brothers." The word sounded like a slur. Until now, Aragorn had reserved his quick sarcasm for jests. Now he turned it and the cultivated Elvish stare on Elrohir. "How do you keep track? I am just one of many—one of a weak line, without honor."
"Though you won't accept this now, that is not so. You are special. You are our brother." Elrohir did not need the fire to see the anguish in Estel's face. Some minutes passed in silence. Elrohir stood by the door, Estel curled unmoving at the window seat. The fire crackled and flared from a down rush of wind. When Estel began speaking, it was so low Elrohir had to strain to hear.
"I always wanted to be something. I wanted to prove my worth because I was born a Man and not Elven-kind. I thought I had begun to find my place. To pave my path in life. To make Ada proud of me. Now I am something so grand, so beyond reach, I don't want to be it."
"You are Chieftain of the Dúnedain." Elrohir's sharp ears thought he heard a snort of contempt and he felt rage growing in himself. "Be wary, boy. I rode with your father. I was there the day it happened; I caught him as he fell. When you are ready, go to your people. There is much to learn from them. They are bold and noble." The boy remained silent. "What do you want?" asked Elrohir exasperated.
"I was thinking of being a knight-errant." Estel revealed. "Perhaps eventually to offer my services to Gondor." For the first time since Elrond delivered his announcement, Estel felt something other than anger and numbness. "I would like to see Rohan. To see the Meara run on the plains. See Lothlorien and the Anduin…the Argonost." Elrohir heard some joy in Estel's voice.
"Estel, you are a man this day. The path before you lies at your choosing." The boy turned an incredulous look n his brother.
"I have no choice! My destiny is fixed." Estel's anger blazed again. "Ada—Father—oh, blast! Lord Elrond said so!" Elrohir heard the barely contained tears in his voice.
"Did you listen to Ada?" Elrohir's voice softened. "You have the greatest of choices. Do all that you desire; there is time enough. Imladris will always be your home." Estel's wrenching answer made even the imperturbable Elrohir quaver.
"I no longer have a home. I am the Dúnadan, a king without a kingdom."
Elrohir sighed. "Why does this honor not make you happy, Estel? You always have longed to belong to something."
Estel couldn't answer. He swallowed trying to surmount the lump that had been growing in his throat since he sat in the observatory listening to Elrond's revelation. He turned his head away from his brother and stared in stony silence. He wished to cry out that he longed to belong to Elrond's family. He had been raised as an elf and wanted truly to be an elf. He would have welcomed the news that he had expected: that he was Elrond's natural son. His existence, a result of a dalliance between Gilraen, his mother, and Elrond, was a kernel of hope he had kept in his heart since he was twelve and heard two elvish travelers speaking of it.
In his estimation, on this day he had fallen far, from being the son of the wisest elf-lord in Middle Earth to the heir of weak Isildur. Aragorn, son of Arathorn: a dead man's child. Soon now, he would be expected to leave what home he had known and travel north. He must learn to be a Ranger, a chieftain, a king? He couldn't even imagine it! He heard Elrohir leave. He heard the household quiet to silence; the elves go to their rooms to mediate or study or sleep. And still he sat, staring at the mesmerizing serpents and the stone of green fire.
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