My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Good Man is Hard to Find, A: 1. The Disappearance of the King
"Because I need a holiday. I need to feel moss and earth under my feet again…to hear the silence of the wood, to listen to the trees grow." Frustrated by her husband's impassive silence, the Queen exclaimed, "You will never understand what it means to be an Elf."
"No, I won't," thought Aragorn. He was a Man, not an Elf, and he was growing tired of feeling he ought to apologize for that fact.
The Queen continued, "I need to be surrounded by growing things, to hear my native tongue again as it ought to be spoken. Do you know our children, my children, can barely speak Elvish?" She was exaggerating, of course. Their children spoke Sindarin as well as any others their age in Gondor, but they were not fluent enough for their mother's discriminating ear.
"And little Idril has never even met my grandfather, or my brothers. Soon it will be too late. They will take ship at the Havens and none of us will ever see them again."
The fire in the Queen's eyes was daunting even to Aragorn. How many times had they had this argument? Although her request to take the children to Rivendell for a few months seemed innocent enough on the face of it, he knew there was more to the story. She might claim she only wanted a brief holiday, but he feared she was really looking for more than that. He could not bring himself to say yes.
"It will only be for a short while, a matter of months …"
How often had he heard that in his lifetime? Elves had an infuriating disregard for the passage of time. Growing up in Rivendell, he'd been surrounded by people who did not age, for whom a hundred years was like a week. As a boy, he could remember hanging on Elrohir's stirrup, begging to know when he and Elladan would return. "In a short while," they replied enigmatically. By the time he saw them again, three years later, his beard was coming in and he'd grown half a foot taller. The Sons of Elrond remained ageless and unchanged. If he'd learned nothing else, he knew to never rely upon an Elf to return in a timely fashion, if at all.
"I don't want you to go away. I want you here with me."
"Come with us. You could use a holiday. But whether you're coming or not, I must get out of this city or I shall go mad. Please, Estel, I want to go home."
Aragorn could see it was pointless arguing with her any further. She would have her way, whether he agreed or no. He was tired of fighting.
"Please, don't go Arwen."
"It will only be for a few months," she assured him, "We'll be back before you know it."
The King said nothing in reply.
The rest of that day, Queen Undomiel busied herself with preparations for her journey. They would travel as lightly as possible, but directing the packing for herself, her son, and three daughters was still a daunting task. She fell into bed late that night, too exhausted to notice that the King never joined her.
In the morning, she met her children for breakfast, excited to discuss their upcoming visit to the home of her kinsmen. Her twin daughters, Celebrian and Gilraen, were thrilled at the prospect of seeing their uncles again. They had been only four years old when they had first met Elladan and Elrohir, but in the four years since the idea of having identical twin uncles had lost none of its fascination for them. Idril, who was only three, was excited by the prospect of going on such a long journey. Never before had she ventured so far from home.
In high spirits, Arwen went over some of the details of their journey with her young daughters. Her joyful mood turned to concern when Eldarion entered carrying a small packet sealed with the King's seal. Her son was now twelve years old, and looking more like his father with every passing day.
"Look what I found on my pillow this morning," the boy said, presenting the packet.
Arwen lifted the wax seal, looked into the packet, and caught her breath.
"Why would Father give me his ring?" the boy asked, more puzzled than alarmed.
The ring of Barahir was an heirloom of the house of Elendil more ancient than Numenor itself. Aragorn had entrusted it to her when they were betrothed in token of his pledge that she would one day bear the heirs of his body. Since their wedding he had worn it every day of his reign as King of Gondor and Arnor. It symbolized his right to rule as the heir of Elendil. The fact that he had now given it to their twelve year old son could mean only one thing. He was passing the scepter to Eldarion. He meant to abdicate the throne.
Arwen's heart raced. She tried to hide her fears from her son.
"I think he has gone on a journey and he means you to keep it safe." She smiled at her first-born, but the corners of her mouth were tense with worry. "I shall go and find out if he left any word of where he's gone."
Eldarion and his sisters stared after her as she rushed out of the room, the ring of Barahir still tightly clutched in her hand.
Wrapped in his weathered cloak of dark green, a lone figure rode across the grassy fields. His chestnut brown horse whinnied contentedly. It had been many years since they had gone riding together, all alone in the wilds. They came to a stream, and the rider dismounted, letting his beast drink its fill. The man fished around in his saddlebag a moment, and produced a pipe, a small pouch and a tinderbox. He sat down in the grass, leaning his back against a large grey rock, and stretching out his long legs. Quietly he filled his pipe, lit it and sat back to enjoy a smoke as he watched the horse graze awhile. Strider the Ranger had returned.
He thought back over the events of the previous night. He was still not sure he'd made the right decision by leaving, but in the face of Arwen's stubbornness, he didn't know what else to do. He knew that once she was determined to depart, even he could not stand in her way. He wondered if it would even be wise to try.
It wasn't merely her desire to take a trip to Rivendell that bothered him. It was more the sense he got when she spoke of it that she would always be one of them, and never truly his own. She belonged with the Elves.
He feared she would go back to Rivendell and re-immerse herself in that world, losing all track of time. Soon she would forget about him. He would be nothing more than a dim memory on the fringe of her thoughts. She would be content in the society of Elves, perhaps for a long season. But soon or late, she would grow weary of Middle Earth. The sea-longing would awaken in her, and she would seek the Havens, as Elves were wont to do.
His mother had been right. She had warned him, saying, "It is not fit that mortal should wed with the Elf-kin." She had tried to dissuade him, reminding him that Arwen was the noblest and fairest lady that now walked the earth. She was of far higher birth than he, even though he was the descendant of many kings.
Yet in his youthful arrogance and indomitable passion, he would not be denied. He would win this lady, no matter the cost. His mother had been right when she told him that he would not have Elrond's good will in the matter, and almost prophetically, he had responded, "Then bitter will my days be, and I will walk in the wild alone." Never had he spoken a truer word.
Had it not been for Arwen, he might have been content to live out his days as his father and grandfather had done, with no higher ambition than to be Chieftain of the Dunedain, wandering the wilderness of Eriador. But Elrond had taught him that he must aim far higher if he would reach the Evenstar.
He had won her heart, but only Elrond could give him her hand. That he would not do unless Aragorn achieved the unimaginable. Until he was King of Gondor and Arnor, Elrond would not surrender his only daughter.
Aragorn had not looked for greatness, it had been thrust upon him. But he bore it willingly for Arwen's sake. To win his lady he would walk the Paths of the Dead and assault the very gates of Mordor. He could endure all these things knowing that at the end of the day, the Evenstar would shine upon him.
Elrond had kept his word. That Midsummer's night twenty-one years ago he had surrendered the scepter of Annuminas and Arwen into Aragorn's keeping. It seemed the King of Men had won.
But the final victory would belong to Elrond. In the end, Arwen would grow weary of Middle Earth and she would embark for Valinor. Elrond would receive back not only his own daughter, but Aragorn's daughters as well.
Though the prospect of losing Arwen filled him with sorrow, Aragorn didn't feel he ought to hinder her. She had always been too good for him, and they both knew it. If she didn't want him anymore, if she wanted to seek the Havens, to take his children and go to the Undying Lands, how could he stop her?
He didn't deserve her. He ought to be grateful for all she had already given him: her love, beautiful children, an heir, long years of happiness. It would seem the height of selfish ingratitude for him to demand that she give up her life for him as well.
Once, he had foolishly believed that his love would be enough for Arwen, that she would never regret forsaking her people and the immortal life of the Elves. Now he knew this wasn't true. There were yearnings in her soul which he could never satisfy. In spite of what she had sworn to him, that she would forsake the Twilight and accept the Doom of Men, she would always be an Elf. He was exhausted from trying to compensate her for the fact that he never would be.
He would not try to hold her. He had wanted to be her lover, not her jailer. If she had grown weary of him, weary of the world, why should he stand in her way? Yet as the King of Gondor, he had to consider the welfare of his people. If she took Eldarion, there would be no one to rule when he was gone. She might believe he could beget more sons, but in his heart he knew that the mother of his children was irreplaceable. Eldarion was his heir and Eldarion must succeed him. So he would make Eldarion the king. He would go now, before she departed. He would disappear into the wild, to the life he had known before. He would become Strider the Ranger again, because he could not face being Elessar the King without her.
Once he had made up his mind, it had been easy to lay out his plans. He packed hunting gear, a small hatchet, a hunting knife, a light bow and a short sword. He would leave his great sword, Anduril, for Eldarion. Aragorn would have no need of it. He was not going to war, and it was the rightful property of the Heir of Elendil. The ring of Barahir he would leave sealed in an envelope on the boy's pillow. He wished he could speak to the boy and explain why he had to leave, but he feared he would be unable to carry out his plan if he did so. It was better to leave quietly, to disappear and let the world go on without him.
He had kissed his son's curly head as he left the packet and stole out of the room. Perhaps in twenty or thirty years, he might return in the guise of Thorongil to advise the young King, as he had the Stewards of Gondor in days gone by. But for now he must simply disappear.
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