Suddenly presented with the first sign of Gandalf in three months, it is only through great effort that Aragorn forbears ripping the wizard's message from Butterbur's fat hands, keeping instead to the shadows and waiting—always waiting—as the innkeeper explains himself to Frodo.
Whenever Gandalf relates the story of the quest to destroy Smaug, he always includes Bilbo's initial concern about a forgotten handkerchief; Aragorn used to enjoy that part, but he finds it much less amusing now that he is struggling to lead four hobbits—all of whom actually brought handkerchiefs—safely across the wilds of Eriador.
Having seen Black Riders on the Road and having felt their presence all about Weathertop, Aragorn knows they will need a large, hot fire and thanks the Valar for the peat he gathered days ago on the borders of the Midgewater Marshes.
The Black Riders' retreat is as sudden as it is unexpected, and for a moment, Aragorn wonders if Gandalf has returned to Weathertop and driven the enemy back; his hope meets a cruel end when he finds Frodo unconscious beside a black blade, a sign the Riders need not press their attack now but can wait until Frodo comes to them.
Glorfindel explains that his lot was to draw the Riders to the Road, knowing Frodo was likely somewhere in the Wilds; now that they travel the Road together, Aragorn curses the bells on Asfaloth's tack that surely continue to attract the Riders' attention.
It is not only Frodo who needs healing in Imladris but also Sam, Merry, Pippin, and—if Elrond's assessing gaze is any measure—Aragorn himself, though he doubts he will be able to tarry long enough in the elven lands to truly be well again.
The afternoon following the Council, Aragorn goes in search of Arwen and finds her in the gardens listening to Samwise as he extols the virtues of taters and why the elves should cultivate more of them; she sees Aragorn and smiles but says nothing, instead continuing her walk with Sam while asking about the hardiness of various types in different soils, and Aragorn thinks he has never loved her more.
"Have a care around this particular breed of mugwort," Aragorn warns the hobbits in Hollin when they gather kindling for a fire, "and mind we do not burn it, for its smoke will send visions dancing through our minds well into tomorrow and possibly the next day!"
Pippin's face is icy to the touch and Merry's hands are blue as Aragorn struggles to shield them from the worst of the blizzard, knowing that he was—and still is—right about the perils of Moria but also swallowing the bitter knowledge that Gandalf was right about the perils of Caradhras.
In the far lands of Khand, Aragorn once observed a group of men drive predatory cats into a trap with naught more than an onslaught of drums; he cannot help thinking of that now as they race through the dwarven mines, the pounding drumbeats echoing through the halls behind them.
He feels it coming before they ever enter Moria, senses its approach in the creature Legolas names a Balrog, and knows its certainty even as he and Boromir leap onto the crumbling Bridge, but for all his preparation and foresight, Gandalf's death shatters something deep within Aragorn that he cannot seem to right afterwards.
With Gandalf gone, Aragorn feels it his obligation to guide Frodo into Mordor, yet his heart insists he fulfill his responsibility to Gondor; never before has he found himself so in doubt of his duty, and even Lothlórien's timeless grace brings little peace to his troubled mind.
The longer they remain on the Anduin and delay turning East, the greater grows the danger from both without and within the company, but Aragorn is loath to sunder the Fellowship, though the rift has been growing since Gandalf's fall.
When both Legolas and Gimli are too anxious to press the issue of why Frodo fled eastward with only Sam, Aragorn vows to safeguard Boromir's final words as long as he is able, for in the end, Boromir was indeed the Steward's son, the Captain of Gondor, and the defender of all Free Peoples.
The captive hobbits are far ahead, they have no time for explanations, and there are no means to determine if the Rohirrim are as trustworthy as Aragorn remembers them to be; but Éomer is in need of answers, and seeing an echo of his own indecision and frustration, Aragorn stands forth, declaring his lineage and as much of their story as he can reveal.
For long moments after Legolas recognizes Gandalf, Aragorn can do naught but stare in elated wonder as the disasters of the past two months unravel before his eyes; hope returns, clothed now in white and armed with a purpose and an assurance that Aragorn has been lacking since they escaped Moria.
The palantír sits quiet and motionless as Aragorn considers his next actions, but his hesitation is brief and he leans forward to demand a response from the Seeing Stone; too long has Sauron ruled unchallenged in Barad-dûr, and it is time to show the Dark Lord that the heir of Isildur lives, fights, and has strength enough to reclaim his own.
Éowyn is as her people and as their mounts: wild, free, and spirited enough to follow the call of her heart; but that which she sees in Aragorn is something he can never return, and he leaves her at Dunharrow, saddled with the knowledge that she will not long endure her hobbles.
The Dead come, drawn by the summons of Isildur's Heir, and at the Stone of Erech with one elf, one dwarf, and the Grey Company as his witnesses, Aragorn binds the departed to his commands, sealing his part in a terrible gamble that this force will be enough to liberate Pelargir.
There is no sunrise beneath Mordor's billowing darkness as the commandeered corsair fleet labors up the Anduin, but the arrival of the southern wind Legolas sensed earlier is more welcome than any blood-red dawn.
Amidst the ruin of the Pelennor Fields, Aragorn kneels with bowed head and reverently closes his kinsman's eyes; Halbarad has received the Gift of Man, and even a returning King must give way before the decrees of Ilúvatar.
Were he still alive, Denethor would have doubtless expected him to take advantage of the current situation, but Aragorn enters Minas Tirith cloaked as a Ranger, having no desire to embroil himself in political turmoil; yet in the Houses of Healing, the skill of his hands cannot be hidden, and rumors fly quickly as old tales and verse craft their own tidings of Isildur's Heir.
It is long since he practiced his maths under Erestor's guidance, but Aragorn was an exceptional student and the numbers come with overwhelming despair as he works out the size of the host he led forth from Minas Tirith, the numbers they left at the Cross Roads, the departure of the men who were too fearful to continue, and the swell of Sauron's orcs pouring forth from the Morannon to surround the fly—as Imrahil named them—that seeks to sting the land of Mordor.
It seems no hobbit who set forth on this journey escapes unscathed, and after seeing to Sam and Frodo—injured so terribly and so deeply that Aragorn is already spent—he turns his attention to Pippin's crushing injuries, among which he finds a ring of dwarven fingermarks where Gimli pulled him out of the carnage by the ankle.
The day Aragorn weds Arwen Undómiel, Elrond's eyes already mourn the daughter he will leave behind, but he has a proud smile as wide as the Anduin for the son he raised to be King.
Author's Notes: The potato was originally a South American plant and was only introduced to the rest of the world by explorers from Europe. How it showed up in Tolkien's world is beyond me, but it's definitely in The Two Towers. Sam indicates that potatoes would be out of season at the time he asks Gollum to go looking for herbs, but his familiarity with potatoes cements them as a tuberous staple grown somewhere in or around the Shire. Who knows? Maybe they were a delicacy in Númenor that Elendil liked enough to pack along on his ships.
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.