It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, Aragorn thought as he stood looking out over Lake Nenuial at the ruins of Annúminas. The gathering of the Dúnedain at Loëndë was a joyful occasion where families were reunited and tales told, but to the young chieftain it served only to remind him of how his people were diminished and diminishing.
He had cherished such high hopes when he first took up his responsibilities six years ago, that somehow he could make his people great again. His hopes seemed doomed to remain unfulfilled. They were so few, while the Forces of Darkness seemed infinite.
It seemed so wrong that the once great Annúminas lay in ruins. If times were different, he would be the King of Arnor and the city his capital.
Aragorn shook himself and turned away from contemplating the ruins. He had duties as Chieftain to attend to. His people were gathered here and they had need of his support and encouragement. He needed to meet with the elders and discuss provisions for the winter and how best they could defend themselves against their enemies.
After the festival was ended, Aragorn decided to leave his men under Halbarad's capable command and visit Rivendell for a few days to see his mother. Maybe he would catch a glimpse of Arwen too. What strange doom was laid upon him that he loved her and her alone? Such a hopeless love could doom him to be the last of his line. He was certain that even if his life were to last for eternity, he would rather remain alone than take any save the fair Evenstar to be his wife. He had heard tales of love that had endured across all ages of Arda, and his heart told him that his was such a love.
Aragorn found his mother engrossed in gardening when he reached Rivendell. She was pruning the hawthorn that Master Elrond used the leaves and berries from to make tonics to strengthen the heart.
When she beheld her son, Gilraen put down her pruning shears and hastened to embrace him. "It gladdens my heart to see you, my son!" she exclaimed. "You look well. Did you enjoy the festival?"
"I was happy to see so many of our people together," said Aragorn, warmly returning her embrace. "You should have come too, mother."
"It reminds me too much of the happy times I spent there with your father," said Gilraen. "I am better employed here. There is much to do in the gardens at this time of year."
Just then, Arwen appeared from round a corner, a basket of freshly gathered roses on her arm. She looked fairer than ever, clad in a sky blue gown, which showed off her dark hair, graceful figure, and pale skin to perfection. She smiled at Aragorn and greeted him in a friendly fashion.
"It gladdens my heart to see you, lady." Aragorn felt tongue tied in her presence. "Um, do you enjoy gardening?" he asked.
"I much prefer embroidery," said Arwen. "I love to walk amongst the flowers, though, and gather some to decorate my rooms." Thus saying, she took a rose from her basket and handed it to the blushing Aragorn. Before the young man could say anything, she was gone.
The brief encounter served only to heighten Aragorn's pensive mood. After talking for some time with his mother and offering to help her with the pruning, an offer that she declined, he made his way to a secluded bench ,which had been a favourite spot of his since childhood. It was surrounded by rowan trees. He had always felt especially safe here, as his mother had told him tales about how the wood was reputed to keep all evil things away. She had told him too how the birds loved to eat the berries, but that he must not unless they had been made into jelly.
His mood did not lighten, though, as images of the dearth of young men and the many careworn widows he had seen at the festival lingered in his mind. He thought too of Arwen and of the rose, she had given to him. Did that mean she liked him, or was it simply a kindly gesture? He gently held the flower and caressed the petals, wishing they were the soft skin of the giver. He knew he should place it in water, but was loth to let go of something that she had touched.
The day had become cloudy and overcast. It seemed that even the weather shared his feelings of melancholy.
"You look very pensive, my boy."
Aragorn started at the sound of Gandalf's voice.
"I had not expected to meet you here, my friend, but how it gladdens my heart to see you!" he exclaimed.
"I came to take counsel with Master Elrond and to rest my weary bones for a while," said the Wizard. He took out his pipe and lit it. The good Elves here do not share my love of pipeweed, so I came outside to indulge in a pipe. But you look troubled, my young friend. What ails you?"
Aragorn had only known Gandalf for a year or so, but there was something about the Wizard that invited confidences. He found himself pouring out his heart to the kindly old man.
"You can do nothing while you remain here," said Gandalf. "You should travel and learn about the world outside, the better to face the Enemy in the struggle that lies ahead."
"I cannot leave my people," said Aragorn. "I am their chieftain."
"They managed well enough without you while you were a child, thought dead by most," said Gandalf. He blew smoke rings in elaborate circles. "Halbarad is a capable leader. He will guard them well while you are away. Your folk are few and isolated. If we are to triumph in the coming struggle, the free folk of Middle-earth must work together. You need to learn about those who would make good allies and make friends with them."
"Your words are wise, Gandalf," said Aragorn. "But how could I support myself if I were to travel."
"You are skilled with sword and bow and a leader of men," said Gandalf. "Why not offer your services to King Thengel of Rohan?"
"You mean I should become a sellsword?"
"There is no shame in serving an honourable master. I know Thengel well. He is a good man."
"If I must leave my homeland, I would rather journey to Gondor. For am I not heir to the Winged Crown, and do not a further remnant of our people still dwell there?"
"If you are one day to rule, my young friend, you need to learn to deal with all manner of folk. Part of your history lies within Rohan too. Forget not the former door where the dead feet walked in!"
"The Paths of the Dead where dwell the unquiet souls of those Isildur cursed? Speak not of that place!" Aragorn shuddered.
"Yet as Isildur's heir, you should at least know where the place is. Those wandering souls are your people as much as the Sons of Gondor. You will learn much from the Rohirrim. They are great hearted folk and their horses are the finest upon Arda."
"I will think on your words, my friend."
"That is all I ask, Aragorn. If you should choose to travel, I give you only this advice; Remember the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"Why must wizards speak always in riddles?" Aragorn regarded his friend with a puzzled expression.
"It is said that once, when a poor man wandered through the wilderness that a dog followed him. The man shared what little he had with the dog and spoke to it kindly. One day, misfortune befell the traveller, when he stumbled and injured his leg. He was near to a stream, so he had water to drink, but he feared he would die for lack of food. All day the dog sat by his side, but when night came it disappeared. Despairing, the man fell asleep. When he awoke the next morning, the dog sat beside him wagging its tail. At its feet was a freshly killed plump rabbit. Until the traveller had recovered, each time he was hungry, the dog brought food during the night. You see, my friend, you will often find friends where least expected." With those words, Gandalf rose to his feet and knocked out his pipe. "Well, I must return to Master Elrond, or he will think I have got lost. We will meet again."
Aragorn remained sitting on the bench lost in thought.
Several weeks later, Aragorn had made his farewells. The Rangers had been far from happy at his decision, but at least Halbarad had understood and promised to lead them faithfully. His mother had wept, then busied herself making him shirts to wear on his travels. Aragorn's hand, though, kept going to inside his tunic where he had stowed one of the beautifully embroidered kerchiefs that Arwen had unexpectedly given him, together with a chaste farewell kiss.
"It is just you and I now," he murmured to his horse and the travelled over the river and through the woods heading ever closer towards the Gap of Rohan.
At last, they reached the borders of the lands Aragorn had known all his life. Beyond a small steam lay the unknown. He urged the horse forward and jumped.
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.