Many Guises and Many Names
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Thorongil: 1. Chapter 1
Appendices and the Tale of Years, it simply says that Aragorn made 'great
journeys' and served both Thengel of Rohan and Ecthelion of Gondor as
Thorongil. This is the story of those years. Some of 'em, anyways.
THORONGIL: Chapter 1
Aragorn stood looking over the valley of Rivendell, his legs weary but his
heart joyous at seeing the home of his youth. It had been a long two years
since he had left, and he longed for the light and music of the Last Homely
House, and, perchance, a glimpse of the fair face of Arwen Evenstar. He
smiled at some memory and set off towards the blinking lights.
Inside he could hear singing from the Hall of Fire, and leaving his bag
outside the door he pushed it open and went in.
The long room was lit with the flickering red light from the huge fire
blazing, and the shadows cast upon the walls were strange and tall. At one
end Elrond sat in a wooden chair, Elladan by his side. In the middle of the
room one tall Elf was singing the tale of the downfall of Isildur, and
Aragorn standing there listened motionless, one hand on his sword hilt.
As the song ended, on a single mournful high note, Elrond looked up and saw
the figure of the Man in the doorway. He got up from his chair and came
forward, the Elves turning as he did so to see Aragorn.
"Master Elrond," said Aragorn, embracing his foster-father.
"This is a pleasant surprise, Aragorn," said Elrond, beckoning for a glass
of wine. "What brings you home?"
"Mithrandir," said Aragorn. "We met in Bree."
A shadow of concern flitted across Elrond's face.
"I see." He handed Aragorn the wine. "Drink that, Estel. I'll have some
clean clothes sent to you, and I will be in my room in an hour. I sense we
need to talk."
Aragorn nodded, and turned to go out of the room. As he did so, the clear
voice of an Elf was lifted again in song.
"A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
Estannen e môr ."
The sound faded as he walked away into the house.
Later, cleansed and dressed in new clothes, Aragorn went to Elrond's study.
The Elf was sitting in front of a roaring fire, thinking quietly. Aragorn
took the seat opposite Elrond and stretched out his legs with a sigh.
Elrond glanced across at him and smiled.
"Yes. Too long in the Wild."
Elrond folded his hands and got straight to the point.
"You said you met Mithrandir, Aragorn. How long ago?"
"Nearly a week," Aragorn said.
"What did he say?"
"Very little, save that Saruman's spies were following him. One of them
caught up with me a day outside Bree. He knew nothing. He won't be going
back to Isengard. But there are too many strange people in the North,
Elrond, too many that do not belong."
Elrond assented with a nod, and turned his chair a little more toward the
fire. "So what brought you home, Aragorn?"
"I am going South."
"South?" exclaimed Elrond.
"To Rohan. Mithrandir says that Thengel needs help."
"Thengel does indeed," said Elrond, "but it is a long and perilous journey
before you reach Rohan."
"What are long journeys to me?" asked Aragorn. "I have a desire to see the
white mountains of Gondor. I am no longer a child."
"To me you will always be a child," said Elrond with a sad laugh, "but then
I am looking on from another perspective. I remember the founding of Rohan,
all those years ago." He leant forwards slightly. "But, Aragorn, have you
thought how you are to get to Rohan?"
"I imagined I would go south through the Gap of Rohan," Aragorn said with a
shrug. "I was going to ask you for the loan of a horse."
"It would certainly be the quickest way," Elrond mused. "Otherwise you will
have to scale the heights of Caradhras or go into Moria - I do not advise
*that* way at all. I have heard the Dwarves wish to recolonise their
ancient home, but I am wary of them doing so. Something lurks there.
Besides, the way in is hidden and hard to find even for the most skilled
hands. Yes, you should take a horse." He stood, and went to the large table
in the centre of the room, on which lay a pile of parchments. He rolled out
a map, and Aragorn went to join him.
"See, here is Imladris. And there is Rohan, with Edoras there. You cannot
speak the language of the Rohirrim. You should try and learn some words
before you set out; they will welcome you more eagerly. Though Thengel, and
his wife, I believe, both speak the Common Tongue and possibly some
"I will try and learn a little." Aragorn moved across to the window and
twitched the hangings aside to look out into the starry night. "Elrond . is
the Lady Arwen here at present?"
Elrond looked up from his perusal of the maps.
"No. She is in Lórien again. There are so few womenfolk here. And Gilraen
your mother is quiet company, Aragorn. I fear she is lonely."
Aragorn said nothing, but continued to stare out at the night.
"Tomorrow I can begin to teach you some words of Rohirric," Elrond
continued, watching Aragorn's back. "And Elladan and Elrohir would be
pleased to talk with you; they have travelled further south than you and
mayhap can tell you much. In the meantime you should try and get some
"I will take a walk first," said Aragorn, turning eventually. "I need fresh
air. Thank you." He bowed his head to Elrond and left the room, leaving his
foster-father staring after him.
The stay in Imladris showed Aragorn how much five years in the Wild had
changed him. He no longer felt completely at ease in the homely
surroundings, and spent most of the days outdoors under the sky. He talked
a little with his mother, whose hair had turned prematurely grey and whose
eyes showed the pain of long loss. Still she seemed glad to see him.
Elladan and Elrohir proved the most cheerful of Aragorn's companions in
Imladris that week, telling him tales of the south, and continually
marvelling at his height; for now Aragorn surpassed all but the tallest of
the Elves in that household, and being broader of shoulder and back he
seemed much sturdier. Privately, Elrond and his sons spoke of the early
wisdom and knowledge in Aragorn's grey eyes, and indeed it was true that
each of them thought of Arwen when they thought of Aragorn.
After a week, Aragorn had a horse saddled up, and made provisions, and he
took his leave of Gilraen and of Elrond. Elladan and Elrohir came with him,
for they also had an errand and would ride with Aragorn some way down the
Bruinen of Rivendell.
On a bright crisp morning the three of them set out, Elladan and Elrohir
with the Elven-light in their eyes, and Aragorn stern and proud on his
horse. The sun was high in the winter sky, and the three sang as they
travelled. They made good progress and on the third morning the brethren
turned off East. Aragorn wished he could have accompanied them, for they
were taking the high roads over the Misty Mountains before striking south
to Lothlórien and their sister Arwen.
Aragorn made good pace after Elladan and Elrohir had gone. He spurred his
horse on over the stony ground, and only ten days after leaving Imladris he
had reached the ford at Tharbad, and the intersection with the North-South
Here he pulled up the hood of his cloak, wishing anonymity. There was much
traffic on the Road; Elves, Men, Dwarves, and at night some other folk;
Orcs passed on two nights. His horse seemed to sense his urgency, and they
pressed on south. This was the land of the Dunlendings, swarthy people with
a look of urgency about them. They paid little attention to Aragorn on the
Road. In contrast, Aragorn was much interested in the Dunlendings, finding
them different to any Man he had yet encountered. Their behaviour and
manners seemed uncultured to Aragorn, used as he was to the house of
Elrond, and yet he could tell that he was as like to the Dunlendings as he
was to the Elves. He spurred his horse on, sensing ahead of him the hills
of Gondor and the grassy plains of Rohan.
Three weeks after leaving Imladris, Aragorn reached the Gap of Rohan. North
lay the vast ranges of the Misty Mountains, and he could see a thin wisp of
smoke reaching up into the sky not thirty leagues distant - the smoke of
Isengard, the home of Saruman the White. To his east were miles and miles
of gently swaying grassland, the sweet scent reaching the nostrils of his
horse. And away to the south Aragorn could at last see the foothills of the
White Mountains, the Ered Nimrais, the border of Gondor. His heart lifted,
and he rose in his stirrups and called the horse on. They sped east, on
through the Gap in the mountains, on to the plains. The thudding of the
horse's hooves was music to Aragorn's ears.
He followed the West Road, keeping on the soft grass for pure pleasure.
This part of the journey did not take long, and three days on from the Gap
of Rohan, with the morning sunrise, Aragorn saw the light glittering redly
on the golden roof of Meduseld, the house of the kings of Rohan.
Around the long house built on top of the hill were many other buildings;
indeed, Edoras was a large city. Down on the grasslands below the
habitations were stables for thousands of horses, and Aragorn could see
them grazing - well fed, well-kept battle steeds, their coats gleaming with
health. And he caught also his first glimpse of the Rohirrim. They were
tall Men, with fair hair and stern features, and they were dressed simply
in tunics of brown and green.
As Aragorn came into the grazing lands, the Rohirrim straightened from
their tasks and regarded the stranger with interest. But nobody challenged
him, and Aragorn listened to their tongue; one full of rich vowels, rolling
and deep like the land itself. He continued to ride without having to speak
until he reached the gate of the fort of Edoras, where the two guards
stepped in front of the gate, their spears crossed, barring his way.
"Hail, stranger!" the left guard said. "What is your business here?"
Aragorn thought he understood the gist of the question.
"I come to see Thengel," he said, slowly.
"Men call me Strider," replied Aragorn.
The guards stepped aside, and the gates swung open. Aragorn rode up the
stony path into Edoras. By the side of the road ran a stream, trickling
downhill to the plains. Ahead of him were the green terrace and the high
golden roof of Meduseld. At the gates Aragorn dismounted and gave the reins
of his horse to a boy, who led the horse off talking gently to it. Aragorn
adjusted his hood and walked confidently up to the gate wardens. Somehow he
knew that this was one of his first tests, and that it was paramount that
he passed it.
The gate wardens examined Aragorn for a moment before speaking. They wore
high helms topped with horsehair plumes, and the metal on their armour
gleamed with care. They carried round shields of green, emblazoned with the
image of a white horse. In comparison, Aragorn, in his travel-stained
cloak, felt very inadequate. He waited for them to speak.
"You have come to see Thengel?" asked the taller of the gate wardens.
"Yes." Aragorn had not understood exactly the meaning of the question, but
evidently he phrased the answer right, as the wardens opened the doors.
"We must ask you to lay down your sword," the other warden said, first in
his own language and then in the Common Speech. Aragorn nodded, and
unbuckled his belt, laying down the weapon before the gates of Meduseld.
Then the wardens parted and Aragorn son of Arathorn entered the hall of the
Kings of Rohan.
Inside Meduseld the light was patchy, but clear and bright where it entered
through the high windows. The vast pillars held up the golden roof, and as
Aragorn walked down the room his footsteps echoed off the wooden walls. At
the far end of the room he could see a table, around it sitting a number of
men, and in the corners of the room a number of servants. A bright fire
burned in the centre of the hall.
Aragorn stopped walking a number of strides away from the table, and bowed.
"Thengel King, I bring you greetings from Elrond and from Mithrandir." He
had learnt this phrase whilst in Imladris.
From the table a man stood, tall and fair, yet the tale of years bore upon
his face and his greying hair. His hand resting upon his sword hilt, he
came forwards to Aragorn.
"From Mithrandir? Gandalf Greyhame?" he said, in the language of Gondor.
Aragorn breathed an inner sigh of relief.
"The same, my lord."
"And who is this messenger from the North?" asked Thengel. "Are you Elf or
"A mortal am I," said Aragorn. "A wanderer."
"A wanderer? Even wanderers must have a name," Thengel returned. "What is
"What you choose, lord," answered Aragorn.
"But what do Men call you?" Thengel said.
"My childhood name was Estel," Aragorn told him.
"A strange name for a Man," Thengel said, "but it will do. What do you have
to tell me, Estel?"
"Naught, save that both Mithrandir and Elrond were concerned for you and
your land. I am come to give you what aid you might need."
Thengel threw back his head and laughed, turning to his advisors.
"This solitary man," he said to them, "is come to save Rohan. What think
you of that?"
"I would ask, lord, what he can do," one of the Rohirrim said. "He looks to
me to be young."
"I am but six and twenty years of age," said Aragorn, "yet I have spent the
last six years in the northern wilderness. I can track and hunt and kill as
well as any Man. And I can ride a horse, and I have some knowledge of
"Impressive achievements," said Thengel. He waved at his men. "Look you,
continue with those plans. I will talk with this stranger alone."
Aragorn followed Thengel out of the back of the hall, his mind full of the
splendour of the king's hall, and the knowledge that should fate work for
him, he could himself one day have halls greater yet still.
The passage led into a small antechamber, furnished with comfortable
chairs, a table, and tapestries and murals on the walls. Looking around
him, Aragorn could see many horses, running on the wild open plains, and
streaks of gold and silver glinting in the threads of the wall hangings.
Thengel gestured at a seat and took one himself.
"So," he said, leaning back in the chair and examining Aragorn, who had
taken off his hood, "what brings you, a stranger from the North, and by
your voice and your looks, a man of Gondorian descent, to me?"
"I have told you, lord," Aragorn said. "Mithrandir suggested I come to
"Ah - yes, Mithrandir. Know ye not, Estel, that the name of Mithrandir
brings the Rohirrim no joy? A wise mage he certainly is, but seldom does he
bring good news. And Elrond. We know very little of Elrond. You are
fortunate that I know more than most. Wisdom is said to dwell yet in
Aragorn met the king's blue eyes with his own grey ones.
"You know that Saruman has sent spies to follow Mithrandir, then, lord?"
"No, I knew not this. Yet it does not surprise me. Recently there has been
more activity from Isengard, and some of Saruman's men have come to buy
horses from us."
"Did you sell them?" asked Aragorn.
"Why should we not? Saruman has been in Isengard since Fréalaf's time; that
is, two hundred years or so. Fréalaf was the tenth king of Rohan, I am the
sixteenth. Saruman has not harmed Rohan at all, and indeed having a wizard
on the border is somewhat comforting." Thengel bent forwards. "But we are
not here to talk about me, nor about Rohan, we are here to talk about you,
Estel. I say; Estel is not a name for a Man."
"Men call me what they will," Aragorn said. "I am content for them to do
"Well, so be it," said Thengel, obviously dissatisfied. "It is clear that
you will not give me your true name, if you have one. I daresay you will
have one given to you. Which brings me on. Can you speak our language?"
"A few words," Aragorn admitted. "I have been taught the basics."
"Well," Thengel said. "It matters little, since I prefer the Gondorian
tongue. But that is unpopular here and the éoreds use our language. My
queen will be pleased, though; she is from Lossarnach. Have you been to
"Nay, lord," Aragorn said. "This is the furthest south I have yet been."
"Ah, well, I warrant you will journey further south from Edoras," Thengel
commented. "Gondor is a wonderful land. The stewards' line is strong."
"I heard that Ecthelion II is now Steward," said Aragorn.
"Indeed. He has ruled four years now, and we have had no difficulties.
There are rumours that the people of Minas Tirith are saying that as the
king will surely never return, the stewards may as well take the throne."
Aragorn forced a laugh, and Thengel laughed with him.
"Of course, they never will," he continued. "Too much tradition behind the
post. But here am I once more not talking about you. So you can speak a
little of our tongue, and that of Gondor; what else?"
"Westron," said Aragorn, "Sindarin and Quenya if need calls."
"A learned wanderer!" said Thengel. "And you can ride, I hear; at least I
am told you rode here."
"I ride, yes, lord," Aragorn replied. "Yet I would not be able to match
your riders, I am sure."
"And you are a swordsman?"
Thengel nodded his satisfaction.
"That is good. Well, Estel, I see no reason why I should not let you stay.
I see a light in your eyes that convinces me you are not a spy from the
Enemy, and indeed a spy would not speak Quenya. I shall order lodgings to
be made suitable for you, and you shall have a horse of Rohan whilst your
own rests from your journey. You will ride in the first éored. The lands
hereabouts are uneasy. Another rider will be welcome."
Aragorn stood and bowed to the king.
"Your generosity is much welcome, lord," he said. "Rohan is indeed a great
Thengel shrugged, looking up at his guest.
"Yet not the greatest, nor shall it ever be," he said. "I swore an oath
when I came to the throne, an oath to ride to Gondor's aid should she call.
All those who ride under the banner of the horse must do the same."
"Ever in Gondor's need shall I come," said Aragorn.
At Thengel's command a servant came, listened to the king's orders, and led
Aragorn to some lodgings. Aragorn bowed again, and followed the servant
out, leaving Thengel looking after him thoughtfully. Finally he got up and
went to join his counsellors in the great hall.
That evening, after dining with the leaders of the marks of Rohan, Thengel
and his wife Morwen sat alone in their chambers. A fire burnt in the
hearth, and in the next room their nine-year old son Théoden slept
Morwen was a woman younger than her husband, but steadier of mind. She had
dark flowing tresses and brown eyes, taking after her father's people from
Lossarnach; yet she was happy in the city of Edoras, for she loved her
husband greatly. Still the news of the arrival of the stranger interested
her, and she listened curiously to what Thengel had to say.
"Was I right, do you think?" the king asked her. "Right to let him in?"
"I could not say without meeting him," Morwen said, laughing. "I daresay
"There's something . something about him," said Thengel. "He is young, yet
there is an air of authority about him, and a light in his eyes the like of
which I have not seen before." He stood and stretched, yawning. "One man,
sent here by Gandalf Greyhame. There must be a reason."
"Doubtless we shall find out in time," Morwen said, brushing out her long
hair. "So long as he proves to be a loyal and willing servant, what
complaint should you have? I am certain the wizard had a valid excuse."
"Well, if he comes to Meduseld again, I shall ask him," Thengel said.
On the next morning, Aragorn awoke early, and dressed in the new clothes he
had been brought the day before. Then he made his way to the communal
kitchens where he was given a roll and some milk.
At mid-morning Aragorn made his way to the great enclosure on the plains,
and was given a horse. Evidently orders from Thengel had been passed down,
because as he sat astride the horse, a little apart from the rest of the
éored, one on a horse taller than the others came to him. His helm was
high, and he held his head proudly. He wheeled the horse as he came to
Aragorn's side, and halted.
"I am Léod, first Marshal of the Mark. I lead the first éored. I've had
orders from the king that you should ride with us. Your horse suits?"
"Very well, thank you," said Aragorn.
"Good. I fear few of the Riders speak the Common Speech. I shall put you
next to one who does. Today we ride to one of the settlements in the centre
of Rohan. We must verify the safety of all the Rohirrim, wheresoever they
may be." Léod beckoned to Aragorn. "Come."
Aragorn followed him through the Riders until they came to a group of men
earnestly discussing something. At Léod's arrival they broke off their
conversation. Léod broke into a flurry of Rohirric, gesturing at Aragorn,
and one of the Riders nodded and said something back. Léod seemed satisfied
and rode away. The Rider who had spoken smiled cheerfully at Aragorn.
"It seems I have been selected to look after you," he said in the Common
Speech. "Welcome to Rohan."
"Thank you," Aragorn replied. "I must confess to feeling rather inadequate
in my inability to speak your tongue."
"Not many can!" laughed the Rider. "You can at least converse with the king
in the language he prefers."
"True," said Aragorn.
"But tell me, what may be your name and where are you from?" asked the
Rider. "There was a great fluster yestereve when it was told that a
stranger from the North had arrived and had held long talk with the king.
Did you have important news?"
"No news," Aragorn replied. "Your lord was but interested in why I had
"And why have you come?" pursued the Rider.
"I wanted to see more of the world," Aragorn said honestly. "I have lived
all my life in the North and I have tired of it. That is all."
"Fair answer," the Rider said. "And your name?"
"Call me what you will. I have been given many names over the years, one
more will not matter. I do not know your name either?"
"I am Rodulaf," the Rider said. He turned to his fellows and there was a
quick debate in the language of the Rohirrim, before he swung back to
Aragorn. "For now, we shall call you Thorongil. It is fitting you should
have a name in your own tongue."
"Thorongil," Aragorn said. "Eagle of the Star. Well, Rodulaf, so be it!"
With his free left hand Aragorn touched the brooch on his shoulder gently.
"But there is an Elvish light about you . your clothes and your sword at
least!" Rodulaf continued. "Mayhap an Elvish name is more appropriate ."
"You see well, Rodulaf," Aragorn said. "In truth, my sword was forged for
He was forced to cut off his sentence as several horns were blown from the
front of the éored, and the host began to move, the horses trotting in time
with each other. Aragorn followed Rodulaf in the middle of the éored.
They rode all day, crossing the great plains of Rohan. Aragorn marvelled at
the landscape he found himself in; vastly different from anything he had
ever seen before, he recognised its usefulness as a border for Gondor, and
he sensed also the fierce pride the Rohirrim had for their land as well as
the way they had adapted to be at one with the grasslands. He liked the
Rider Rodulaf, and he realised very quickly that Léod was well respected by
By the end of the day the group of horsemen had reached the small rural
settlement almost in the centre of the land, farmed by a few men. The land
looked healthy and the people were content, but happy to see Léod and his
men. The éored camped out that night under the stars, their horses tethered
by stakes driven into the ground. Before he slept Aragorn lay for a while
looking at and learning the southern stars, feeling glad he had come, and
then he closed his eyes and fell at once into a deep slumber, within sight
of the kingdom awaiting him.
For the next week the éored traversed the great plains, inspecting the
king's lands and practising battle manoeuvres, and at night sleeping under
the open sky. They arrived back in Edoras on a clear bright evening.
Aragorn took his horse to a stable and then visited the Elvish horse from
Imladris, who seemed to be content and was growing fat on the lush grass.
He then returned to his lodgings, where he found an invitation to dine that
night with Thengel and the queen. He dressed accordingly in the clean
clothes he found lying on his bed, and fastened his cloak over the top with
the star brooch he had been given.
The hall of Meduseld was lit by firelight, the gold glistening in the
flames. A long table was set down the centre of the hall, with two carved
seats at the far end and long benches down the sides. Other men and a few
women were arriving also, and servants directed them to their places.
Aragorn was seated directly to the left of the seats, at the top of the
table, and soon he found that Léod was opposite him. The marshal introduced
Aragorn to his neighbours, and soon a three-way conversation in Rohirric
and Gondorian was flowing. They were interrupted by the voice of a servant
announcing the arrival of the king and queen, and all the assembly rose
from their seats as Thengel and Morwen entered and stood behind their own
places. A few words of Rohirric were said, and then everyone sat down and
the food was served.
Thengel, accepting a plate of mutton stew from a servant, turned to Aragorn
with a smile.
"So, how goes it?"
"Well, lord, thank you," Aragorn replied, taking a plate himself.
"I must present to you my wife. Lady, this is our guest from the North,
called by our Riders Thorongil, or so I am told. My queen Morwen."
Aragorn bowed his head to her.
"I am honoured to make your acquaintance, lady," he said.
"And I yours," Morwen said. "It is not often we have visitors from
elsewhere, least of all those who speak my own tongue with such ease and
grace. From whence do you hail?"
"The North, lady," said Aragorn.
"The North is a large place," Morwen replied.
"Nevertheless, it is my home," Aragorn said. "I am a wanderer, a huntsman.
I do not belong anywhere."
"But where did you grow up?" she pursued.
"I spent some of my childhood in Imladris," Aragorn said, though reluctant.
Next to him, Thengel listened intently. Here was perhaps a chance to
discover more about his strange guest. Morwen looked interested.
Aragorn picked up his goblet and drank a draught of the light ale they were
served with, his eyes far away. He put down the ale.
"But Imladris is far behind me," he said, marshalling his thoughts, "and
now I find myself in one of the fairest lands I have yet seen, with one of
the fairest ladies at its head."
"And very fair is the tongue of one who has lived with the Elves," he said,
still laughing. "But tell me, Léod, how do you find your new Rider?"
"A credit to the éored," the marshal said cheerfully. "He'll do well,
"I am pleased to hear that," Thengel smiled. "I hope you stay long, my
"I hope so too," Aragorn replied sincerely.
Stay long he did. For nearly seven years Isildur's Heir rode as the
Rohirrim in the first éored, rising swiftly to become one of Thengel's most
trusted advisors. The Rohirrim soon learnt that the stranger had far more
skill in tracking and hunting on foot than they, in their lives spent on
horseback, could ever hope to gain, and so it was that when an enemy was
spied and then disappeared, Aragorn was sent to find them. He grew to be
respected and liked by the other Riders, and he picked up their language
quickly, being fluent in under a year. Yet Aragorn at times longed for the
peace and quiet of the North, and he missed the sound of Elvish voices, of
the song and stories of Elrond's halls, and he missed also the gentle voice
of his mother Gilraen, living in eternal grief amongst the joy of Imladris.
From time to time he would spend the nights asleep under the stars,
dreaming of those he loved, and at these times Arwen Evenstar would come to
him and smile upon him.
Three years into Aragorn's life at Edoras, Thengel had a visitor. Aragorn
heard only rumours as he returned to the city from a foray into the plains,
but when there came the gentle tap on his door as he washed away the dust
of travel, his heart rose as he crossed the room and opened it.
"Hail and well met, Thorongil!" said Gandalf, smiling broadly under his
hat. Aragorn smiled back.
"Come in, old friend, come in." He ushered the wizard in and pushed a chair
forward. "Sit down."
"Do you mind if I smoke?"
"Not at all," Aragorn said. "In truth, I have missed the scent of smoke;
the Rohirrim do not use leaf at all."
"You're well?" asked Gandalf, cupping his gnarled hands around the pipe to
get it going.
"Very," Aragorn said, sitting himself. "The Rohirrim are gracious people."
"They're certainly generous hosts," Gandalf agreed. "I've heard good things
of you. Thengel thinks highly of you."
Aragorn said nothing.
"Your mother has gone home to your kindred," Gandalf said. "Imladris is a
lonely place for those who are unhappy."
"Have you seen her?"
"Before she went." Gandalf lowered his voice. "She's left the shards of
Narsil with Elrond, Aragorn. He sends his best wishes."
"When you next see him, greet him for me?"
"I will do that."
"So, what brings you to Edoras?" asked Aragorn.
"I had business with Saruman," answered Gandalf, his face a little grave.
"I am going on to Minas Tirith to speak with Ecthelion. Have you been there
"Not yet," Aragorn said. His voice was full of longing. "One day, maybe."
Gandalf puffed a smoke ring out of his pipe and thoughtfully sent it
spinning up to burst on the ceiling.
"But what will be the manner of your coming?" he mused. "I cannot see. You
have kept your lineage a secret, I trust?"
"I am not a fool, Mithrandir. I know as well as you what must and must not
be said. Yet Thengel is no idiot, and neither is his lady Morwen. I believe
they guess I am from Gondor, which is both right and wrong. The Dúnedain
are a forgotten people."
"Not forgotten everywhere," Gandalf said. "I have not forgotten, neither
has Elrond or the Lady Galadriel. Ecthelion remembers too, but he has been
taught that the race of Isildur died out. And Sauron also remembers, but
with fear in his black heart."
"Ah, well," Aragorn said. "If he remembers but no more, that is good."
Gandalf sent a smoke ring spiralling around the rafters.
"He remembers. He remembers. The Eye is searching for something, and on
whether he finds it or not rests the future of Arda." He puffed again at
his pipe. "But we are too close to Mordor now. I will not speak further."
For a while the two friends talked of lighter matters, and Aragorn promised
once more to be careful. Then Gandalf left to sleep, and Aragorn lay down
on his own bed and thought long into the night. The image in his mind as he
drifted off to sleep was that of his mother.
Aragorn awoke early the next morning and was able to say goodbye to Gandalf
as the wizard rode off towards Minas Tirith. Thengel rose also to see his
guest away, and he noted with interest the relationship between the young
Man and the old wanderer. Aragorn stood awhile watching the wizard ride
away before turning and going back into his quarters, lost in thought.
Another four years passed, during which Aragorn grew restless, and as
summer grew into autumn in the fourth year he went to Thengel and begged
leave of absence from the Riddermark. Thengel was loath to see his
favourite Rider go, but he could not deny Thorongil leave after so many
years' faithful service, and reluctantly granted the boon. Aragorn left the
next day, having saddled his horse and gathered provisions from the stores.
He dressed in his old clothes, a green cloak over brown and green garments,
and carried no token of Rohan with him as he rode off into the grasslands.
To the south the great White Mountains rose up, impenetrable, and Aragorn
kept on the West Road east, through the Eastfold and the lands of Anórien.
As he rode the grass grew thinner and the desolate Mountains of Shadow, the
Ephel Duath on the borders of Mordor, formed a dark barrier. Aragorn
skirted the forest of Druadan, leaving behind him Thengel's lands, and on
one sunny morning, with the sky tinged pink and orange, he saw with a leap
of his heart the City of Minas Tirith, the white tower at its peak shining
in the morning light.
But his plan was not yet to enter into the city walls, and instead of
passing through the Rammas, the outer walls, he turned away and headed
towards the fortress of Osgiliath. Here his papers from Thengel smoothed
his passage, and soon he was over the River Anduin and heading south on the
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