My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Good Man is Hard to Find, A: 4. What an Elf Would Do
"Legolas Greenleaf, Prince of Mirkwood," the tall Elf announced, presenting the royal summons which he had received from Queen Undomiel to the Guard of the Citadel. Bowing deeply, the guard said, "We will inform Queen Undomiel of your arrival at once," then calling for a page, he continued, "Show Prince Legolas to the Queen's Garden."
Legolas followed the young man in black livery through the Court of the Fountain where the white sapling was thriving, through echoing passageways of pillared stone, down a short flight of steps and out an arched double door to the Queen's garden. Looking around, he was pleased to see that the trees and flowering bushes which he and his fellow Elves had planted here looked vibrant and healthy.
He remembered the work they had done to make this place a serene retreat, a sanctuary of green in this city of stone. When he had come, as he had promised, with his team of Elven gardeners, Aragorn had insisted that the transformation of this place be their first project. He intended it to be an anniversary present for his beautiful bride, Arwen Undomiel, the most noble lady of the High Elves yet remaining in Middle Earth.
Through the weeks of their labor, Aragorn had insisted that their work remain hidden from Arwen until the task was complete. Only then would he allow her to see his long awaited gift for her.
It had been Midsummer Night, Legolas remembered. He and a score of other Elves had climbed into the trees, to await the Lady's arrival. Silver lamps of Elvish design bathed the garden in soft, white light. As twilight faded into evening, Aragorn had at last escorted his lady, blindfolded, into the garden. As he uncovered her eyes, the chorus of Elves had begun singing in the tree tops.
Legolas would never forget the look of wonder on her face. Joy transformed her countenance from beauty to a stunning radiance. Her eyes shone like stars. She embraced and kissed Aragorn with grateful delight.
Legolas' heart had swelled with pride to have given this noble lady such pleasure. He had a profound reverence for her, which was completely devoid of covetousness. What he wanted more than anything in the world was to see Arwen happy, and Aragorn made her happy.
He wondered why she had summoned him. He was more than willing to help her in any way he might. Her summons had been urgent, but somewhat vague.
The Queen hurried into the garden toward him. "Dear Legolas, thank you so much for coming. I'm in desperate need of aid, and I believe you alone can assist me."
Legolas was appalled by the change which had come over her since he'd seen her last. Her face bore the marks of extreme fatigue, and the light in her eyes had all but died. They were red from weeping, and her skin had an unnatural, sickly pallor. Her whole demeanor reminded him of one who is overborne by grief.
"Lady Undomiel, how may I be of service to you?"
"Please, dear friend, I beg you, find my husband!"
"What has happened to him?"
"He disappeared without a word, riding off into the night without telling anyone. He took only a few things with him, gear such as he might take on a hunting trip. No one has seen or heard from him for over a month now. We don't even know whether he's alive or dead." In just recounting this story, the Queen was having difficulty holding back the tears. It was painful for Legolas to see her in such distress.
"And what's more, if Aragorn doesn't return soon Faramir plans to crown Eldarion as king. Please, Legolas, you know my husband as well as anyone alive. If anyone can find him, you can."
"Have you any idea where he might have gone? Any clue which direction he headed?"
"Only this," Arwen answered, producing a piece of parchment from her sleeve, "shortly after I sent the summons to you, we received word that a horse similar to his was seen wandering free in the fields of Anorien, near Mardol. Though several people have reported seeing the horse, no one has thus far been able to capture it. I know that's not much to go on…"
"Don't worry, my Lady. I will do whatever I can," the Elf assured her. "I am honored to be of service."
Legolas had ridden out in haste, and arrived quickly in the village where sightings of the horse had been reported. The villagers agreed that they had seen a chestnut brown horse roaming free in the fields north east of their town. Several attempts had been made to capture the animal, but none had been successful.
Legolas rode out to the pasture lands where the horse had been sighted. Dismounting, he bent his ear to the ground and listened intently. The sound of distant hoofbeats coming from the direction of the mountains was unmistakable. Remounting, he turned his own horse in the same direction.
As he rode, the Elf watched the ground. Soon the tell-tale signs that a horse had passed that way were everywhere to be found. From the age of some of the animal's scat, it was obvious that it had been roaming out here for several weeks.
Legolas turned his keen eyes to the horizon. Scanning in all directions, he was soon able to spot the truant gelding. Speaking to his own horse in Elvish, he urged it to gallop toward a high rock face near the mountains' foot.
The escaped animal spotted the Elf coming and turned and ran in the opposite direction. This didn't surprise him. The horse was wary of people and had clearly become quite skilled in evading capture, but he had never encountered a hunter like Legolas.
Coming to the foot of the rock face, the Elf dismounted and whispered to his horse in his native tongue. The white animal nickered, shook its mane and began contentedly eating the tall grass. Meanwhile her master clambered up the steep cliff face, clinging to hand and foot holds which were barely visible in the sheer rock. In a few minutes, the Elf arrived at the summit. Crouching low to the ground, he crept like a large cat to the edge of the cliff. He waited there, in perfect silence, poised to spring.
Ten minutes passed, then twenty. Legolas remained perfectly still, barely breathing, as he peered down to the plain twelve feet below.
Soon, the runaway spotted the Elf's horse, and trotted over to meet his new neighbor. The two horses snorted at one another amicably. Having sniffed the white horse and determined that she was not a threat, the gelding lowered his head to graze.
In that instant, the Elf sprang like a wildcat down from the cliff onto the brown horse's back. The horse laid its ears back and tore off across the pasture land, screaming as though a Nazgul were at its heels. Hanging on for his life, Legolas gripped the terrified creature with his knees as it careened across the field. He leaned far forward on its neck, gently stroking it and speaking soothing Elvish words in its ears. The animal slowed his pace and began to relax, soon recognizing that the cat on his back had no claws.
Legolas turned the horse and rode back to where his own animal was complacently looking on. "What can you tell me about your Master, hm?" he asked, dismounting and beginning to examine the truant horse from nose to tail. It was obvious from the brand on his flank that the animal had come from the royal stables. "Why would Aragorn leave you behind?" The horse bore no claw marks or other signs of injury from predators. He began examining the animal's hooves, one at a time, and quickly discovered the answer. The animal's back left shoe was missing.
Aragorn would have known that he could not continue riding this animal for a long distance without having it re-shod. Yet this close to Minas Tirith, he had obviously been unwilling to risk being recognized if he took the horse to a blacksmith. The horse would be fine if he turned it loose, and he would have assumed that someone would catch it eventually.
Legolas thought it most likely that Aragorn had been heading for the North to the regions where he had grown up and lived as a Ranger. Such a long journey would require a horse, though. Deprived of his mount, and at risk of being recognized, where would Aragorn go next?
"When hunting one must think like the quarry. He didn't want to be recognized by a blacksmith. He felt vulnerable. He would look for cover," the Elf thought. Legolas looked up at the high mountain range looming over the plain. That would be the next place to search, but first he needed to return Aragorn's horse.
Slipping a halter of rope around the gelding's neck, Legolas mounted his own horse and began leading the run-away back toward the village. He stayed near the foot of the mountain, his keen eyes scanning its terrain as he rode past. He noted every slope that looked like it would provide an easy path up the mountain for the Ranger.
As they passed by, he noticed a rock face which jutted out at the top, creating a sloping recess at the bottom. Legolas signaled his horse to stop. There was something unusual here, something which warranted further investigation.
Against the rock wall, at its base, there was a pile of stones. They were heaped up like a funeral cairn, but there were far too few to conceal a body, and the little cairn did not smell of death. Legolas dismounted and began examining the pile, carefully removing a few of the rocks at the top. He had discovered another missing piece of the puzzle. Concealed beneath the rock pile were a saddle, and the bit and metal parts of a bridle. The reigns, and all the other leather parts of the headstall had been removed, as had the straps which should have connected the stirrups to the saddle. There was no sign of a saddle blanket, either.
This was obviously the work of a Ranger. He had been forced to abandon his horse, but he would not abandon anything of the horse's tack which could prove useful in the wilderness. After taking all that could serve him, he had cached the saddle, and other pieces of harness under these rocks, where they would be safe from discovery and relatively safe from damage by weather, in case he might have need of them in the future.
Legolas looked over the slopes in the area around the rock overhang. There were a few different paths which Aragorn might have taken up the mountain, but he had undoubtedly started from this location. Replacing the rocks piled over the saddle, the Elf hurried back to the village with the horses. He was certain now of what his next move must be.
By the next day he had returned to this spot, having taken both horses to the local farrier. He left instructions for Aragorn's horse to be re-shod, and for both it and his own horse to be returned to Minas Tirith, along with a message for the Queen reporting his progress so far. If Aragorn were on foot, the easiest way to track him would be on foot. He might easily have taken paths which the Elf's horse couldn't follow.
Legolas began his trek up into the mountains, in pursuit of his quarry. There were three things which Aragorn would need to survive in the mountains: food, water, and fire. The most critical of these needs was water, so Legolas began searching for any stream, spring or rivulet which might have attracted the Ranger.
After a few hours search, he found what he was looking for: a small mountain stream flowing down from the heights above. He followed the stream, searching for footprints, broken branches any evidence that a Man might have passed this way. It wasn't long before he found a tell-tale sign. At the base of a large rock, the ground beside the stream was covered with fine grey ashes. Legolas rubbed some between his fingers and brought it to his nose. It was pipeweed ash, the odor was unmistakable. The hunter was closing in.
The day was fading and the new moon would not afford much visibility for Legolas to continue his search. Though he felt little need for rest, he didn't want to overlook a vital clue in the darkness. Somewhat frustrated, he sat down to consider the situation. It was then that he caught the faint wisp of wood smoke coming from far away on the evening breeze. Was his nose sharp enough to guide him in the dark? He decided to try it for a few hours, any way.
Around midnight the smoky smell dissipated completely. Aragorn must have put out his fire for the night. Without the scent to guide him, Legolas decided to rest until dawn and continue his search by daylight.
At first light, the Elf resumed his hunt. Always staying fairly close to the stream, he ranged through the woods searching for clues. At one point, he found a clearing where wood chips littered the ground, giving evidence that Aragorn had used his small hatchet to split some firewood. Legolas rubbed his fingers lightly over them. There was still a trace of dampness on the rough surface. These chips had lain here less than a week.
The light was fading, and the smell of wood smoke began to rise on the wind. For a second night, Legolas followed the scent of smoke as long as he could. When it could guide him no further, he laid down to rest and lose himself awhile among the stars of Elbereth.
The Elf was up before the sun. He continued making his way upstream, searching both banks and the nearby woods for signs of the Ranger.
In the mud by the stream bed he found the unmistakable mark of the Ranger's heavy boot. Up the hill, he found an oak tree, which upon careful examination, appeared to be missing all the acorns from its lower branches. What's more, some of the stems had not been torn, but cut with a knife blade. These stems were still oozing sap.
Legolas quickly climbed to the top of the tree. From this vantage point, his sharp eyes could see far and wide. In the sky, not too far distant, he saw a flock of geese flying in a "V" formation. He could have counted the birds as they made their way south for the winter. Suddenly there was a cry of alarm, and one of the birds plummeted to the ground, an arrow in its breast. A hunter had brought down his goose. Now the Elf must go and bring down the hunter. He took off at full speed, racing through the woods like a stag to the place where he'd seen the bird fall.
Legolas ran tirelessly for hours on end. Now that he'd located his prey, he didn't want him to run for cover. He knew he was closing in. He had found the spot where the bird had fallen. A few scattered feathers bore witness that it had been killed there. From there he could see the smoke rising above the top of a nearby ridge. He followed it over the ridge and down to a hollow below on the stream-ward side of the summit. Taking a deep breath, Legolas paused for a moment. From here, he could clearly see Aragorn, tending his fire and preparing to roast his goose. He made his way quietly into the Man's camp.
The Ranger's rugged face brightened as he saw the Elf approaching.
"Mae Govannon, Legolas! You are most welcome, old friend." Gripping the Elf's forearm, he clapped him warmly on the shoulder. "It's good to see you." Legolas noticed his voice was gruff from disuse. Could he have been out here that long?
Legolas studied the Man's face. The grizzled streaks in his beard and at his temples were far more pronounced than when last they'd met. He was thin. Too thin for his large frame, the Elf decided.
"You're just in time," Aragorn said, gesturing to the goose roasting on a spit over his fire. I can't offer you much to drink, but this is the fattest goose I've shot in days, and I'd be glad to share it with you."
"Now there's an offer I can't refuse. And in exchange for your hospitality, you're welcome to share a little of the best Mirkwood's cellars can furnish," the Elf laughed as he produced a wineskin from his pack.
Man and Elf sat down beside the fire, taking turns at the spit as they discussed old friends and old times, battles they had fought and places they had traveled. They laughed heartily over old jokes, as if this were nothing unusual, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to find the King of Gondor living like a vagabond.
Sitting by the fire, they ate their fill of the roasted goose, and drank their fill of the wine, passing the skin back and forth between them. The sun set and the stars began to twinkle in the sky.
Finally Legolas said, "Aragorn, why are you here?"
There was a long silence as Aragorn stared into the embers. He took anther sip of wine then said, "You've never been married, have you Legolas?" Aragorn gave his friend a rueful smile.
At length, he continued, "I tried to take a wild nightingale and cage her in a city of stone. And now she sings no more. She has grown weary of me, Legolas, and I fear she has grown weary of this world." This was not hard for the Elf to believe, considering her condition when he had last seen her.
Aragorn went on, "So, I will no longer be her keeper. I had to leave to set her free." The fire flared up as Aragorn stirred the embers and the sorrow in his eyes was unmistakable. "I don't deserve her," he concluded with a sigh.
"No. Maybe you don't!" The indignation in his friend's voice took Aragorn by surprise. He stared at Legolas.
"Well, what should I have done? Kept her a prisoner? Demanded she stay?"
"Do you know what an Elf would have done, what an Elf would do, were he in your place? He wouldn't run away, disappearing into the night without a word. He would do what Elrond did for Arwen's own mother. If his lady was weary of this world, an Elf would escort her to the Havens himself and put her safely on a ship."
Aragorn knew in his heart that his friend was right. This was what Arwen would expect of him. This was what he was really running from. He found it far easier to walk away and imagine that she had gone than it would be to kiss her goodbye and stand alone on the quay, watching her ship disappear beyond the horizon. It would be far worse for him than for any Elf in his position, because he knew he could never follow her. There would be no reunion on a distant shore. He would lose her for eternity.
He would have liked to explain this to Legolas, but he already knew what his friend would say. He would tell him that if he loved Arwen so deeply, he would do what was best for her, even if it caused him pain.
He knew he ought to go back, but if he did so, he would be compelled to remain on as King. If he had to live the rest of his life alone, he preferred to do so in the solitude of the wild. With time, the wound Arwen's abandonment would inflict on him might heal in the wilderness, though he would always bear the scar. But the thought of life in Minas Tirith without the woman he loved, sentenced to live out his days and nights alone in a place where everything would remind him of her, would be a lifelong torment. It was more than he could bear.
"If you cannot find the courage to go back and escort her to the Havens, then let her come to you and bid her farewell face to face. The Lady is worthy of at least so much courtesy."
Aragorn didn't argue, but stared shamefacedly into the fire, chastened by his sword brother's reproof.
"I will bring her here when the moon is at its full. If ever you were a Man of honor, if ever the lady was worthy of your love, you will meet with her and speak to her."
"Agreed," said Aragorn.
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