My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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The Reaches of the North: 5. Of Women and Elves
Aragorn looked up from his desk in the small and much neater office at Fornost. He had vacated the cavernous room Halbarad used for official purposes to one that was easily warmed by a corner fireplace. He appropriated a table, rugs, and several chairs from a dusty storeroom, and once he climbed up the side of the ruins and hacked away vines from the shuttered window, the place became habitable. Now, he seemed to spend great spans of time alternately reading old stacks of writings or staring out the window at the falling snow.
The writings were correspondences from Mirkwood, letters from Esgaroth, reports from Rangers patrolling the frontiers, some so old they crumbled at his touch; some just penned within the month. He was rounding out his knowledge of the Dúnedain. He tried to understand his people and the secretive roles they played as protectors of the peace and in subtle political intrigues as far south as Gondor.
And, the staring outside was to marvel at the duration of the winter season in this northern clime. Where the spring flowers would be bursting forth already in Rivendell, still it snowed here as if it would never end. Halbarad said the climate was actually milder just west in the land of the hobbits. Something to do with sea breezes and warm ocean waters, but not so in Fornost: everything was harsh in Fornost.
"What women?" The young chieftain leaned back in his chair ready for another lecture about something he was doing wrong given by his primary critic and Lord Protector, as he had dubbed Halbarad. His captain came into the room and pulled up a chair.
"Any women. All women." Halbarad seemed uncomfortable, which was new to Aragorn's understanding of the man's nature. Normally he felt no qualms in blurting out any misstep Aragorn made whether they be alone or in a crowd. "Boy, I don't know what you were allowed to do in Rivendell or what your preferences might be, but as the Dúnadan, you are obligated by your people to take a wife and sire heirs!" He nearly shouted his gruff response. Aragorn threw down the pen he held and fixed a curious gaze on his sputtering mentor.
"And when am I supposed to do this siring? This season? This year? Today?" Aragorn asked caustically. Halbarad looked surprised.
"Why, no, my lord. You are quite young. Most Dúnedain men do not marry until their fifties or beyond."
"That is well. I assumed from your urgency, I was obligated to wed immediately." Aragorn's sarcasm was often lost on his captain.
"Of course not, my lord. It's just that some of the women said---they said---you might prefer---" Halbarad seemed at a loss. Aragorn was amused, and tempted to tease his mentor, but felt too overwhelmed by his leadership duties to entertain himself in driving Halbarad to distraction.
"I guess that conclusion could be reached since I have turned several of the young ladies from my bed. Some nights they seem to litter it like fleas." Aragorn still didn't feel quite comfortable dealing with the bold advances of the Dúnedain women, and he counted flight and feigned distaste as his most dependable options for avoiding them.
"So you do like girls?" Halbarad sounded relieved and Aragorn smiled for his captain.
"Is she high-born enough for you? You may dally where you will but you must take a proper wife."
"Good Halbarad, always looking out for me," Aragorn sighed, knowing he would have to tell more than he wanted. "The current question, I believe, is: am I high-born enough for her." Thinking he had given enough information for Halbarad to dwell on, Aragorn went back to his writing.
The captain bristled and paced across the room. Suddenly, he burst out. "Who does this wench think she is? The heir of the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor not good enough for her! Does she believe she's descended from the Lady of the Golden Wood?" The young chieftain cocked a brow at his angry captain.
"She is," he said. Halbarad stood with mouth agape, astonished.
"Arwen Undomiel?" he guessed in awe. "You've promised yourself to the Evenstar?" Aragorn nodded. "But she's beautiful!" Halbarad blurted out. He had met the lady when he was a callow youth and was very taken by her beauty. Aragorn's father and the Elven twins had unmercifully teased him at the time.
"Aye, she is that." Aragorn's frustration was apparent in his voice. "I hadn't noticed I was hideous." Halbarad had not heard or did not care. He went out muttering that the chieftain would be so bold as to wed the Evenstar. Although it was not apparent, he left with a new appreciation and respect for his young lord.
Aragorn worked into the afternoon, trying to sort the pieces of the puzzle that was composed of his scattered people and to divine a way to bring them together while continuing their work of protecting the northern realm. As the sun's rays were slanting red on the wall across the room, the sound of horses entering the courtyard intruded into his thoughts. The noise sent a frisson of unease through him: there were no scouting parties out and no travelers expected. He also realized he had heard no challenge from his sentinels. He slid his hunting knife from its sheath and damned himself for not carrying his sword downstairs. He rose and walked out into the corridor, sliding along in the shadow of the walls to the open entrance. Two horsemen, wrapped in dark cloaks, their backs to him, still sat their mounts, surveying the ruins.
"Ho, Halbarad. Are you all drunk?" one called out. "This wasteland is not so well-hidden that sentries mightn't be a good idea unless you all plan to die in your beds, your throats slit some fine night." Halbarad appeared at the ruined façade of the hall across the courtyard from Aragorn. He leaned against a column, his arms crossed, his sword belted at his side but still sheathed.
"Some folk here-about believe that the only good Elf is a dead one. I have enough archers trained on you to be assured of that, and," he added, nodding behind them, "a young Chieftain bearing a wicked elven blade at your backs."
Elrohir looked over his shoulder and grinned at Aragorn, who in his surprise at recognizing the visitors, had not sheathed his knife.
"Mae Govannen, gwahur nin*." He swung off his horse as Aragorn closed the distance and threw himself into the Elf's arms. Elladan received an equally warm greeting. He ran his fingers through the young lord's hair.
"What caused this, disease or vermin?"
"Halbarad." Aragorn said, as he led them, arms flung around the shoulders of both, into the hall.
"Ah," Elladan joked knowingly, "vermin." Lady Salanda, ordering servants to bring refreshments for the travelers, was pleasantly surprised by the delighted laughter from the serious Dúnadan.
Continuing in his happy mood, the lord of the hall played servant as the brothers refreshed themselves with wine and cakes. They had a full correspondence bag packed with well wishes from his Imladris kin, formal messages from Elrond, a letter and package from Gilraen, and a copied proclamation from Thranduil of Mirkwood, demanding better protection for the East Road.
As the brothers greeted others in the hall, Aragorn slipped away to find his servant Graelon who he sent running to arrange tubs and hot water for the Elf-lords' rooms. The boy soon reappeared in the hall and nodded to the chieftain.
"My lords," announced Aragorn with pride, "hot baths await you." Elrohir and Elladan exchanged startled glances.
"Halbarad! The accommodations have improved with the change in management! Civilization has come again to Fornost!" Elladan drawled. "I knew our brother couldn't forgo his baths." They questioned whether Aragorn had yet gotten Halbarad into a tub. The captain easily took the good-natured teasing from his old friends, muttering about finicky elves who owed him gambling debts.
Dinner served later in the hall was as much a feast as possible for late winter. There was plentiful game, baked root vegetables, and stewed dried fruits, served with the ever-present hot bread and beer. Elrohir renewed his acquaintance with many of the Rangers, discussing orcs, and raiders, and other evils stirring in the land. Elladan listened and contributed for a while until the sloe-eyed ladies' smiles lured him away.
Evening darkened into night, the hall cleared, and the fire burned too low to chase away the chill. As Elrohir and Aragorn walked to his office to continue their conversation, they caught Elladan in the corridor, kissing the blond Dalenda. He smiled at them and sent her off with whispered instructions for later.
"I'm not intruding, am I, brother?" Elladan teased Aragorn as he swung a leg over a chair before the office fireplace.
"No, not at all. In fact, she'll explain to you that I don't like girls," Aragorn said offhandedly. Both brothers froze abruptly, staring at the reddening Aragorn.
"Tell." Elladan commanded, grinning. The vertical worry line had appeared on Elrohir's brow.
"I-I simply refused to-to-- share my bed with her," Aragorn stammered, suddenly to embarrassed to speak clearly.
Elladan peered at him closely. "Perhaps she is right."
Aragorn blushed deeper. "You know I---I—you know---."
Elrohir smiled and locked his arm around his younger brother's neck. "Ah, yes. Our sister. That's still going on, on your part?" He couldn't continue his teasing; Aragorn looked so stricken. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a thick packet tied up with silver cording. "She bade me give these to you."
The three talked long into the night, the twins sharing news of home and family, Aragorn sharing his trials as the Dúnadan and his missteps as a leader. During the conversation, the young lord's hand often strayed to the packet of letters sitting on his desk. Elrohir finally rose.
"I admit, I am tired, and Elladan, did you not have an appointment?" Aragorn bid his brothers rest well. He went back to his desk and finally untied the knot from Arwen's packet, and unfolded the first parchment note. He was soon lost in a world to the south, unaware of the wind howling through the ruins or when his fire burned low and the air chilled. As he read the lines, he spent the remainder of a delightful night with her in the grand gallery, sitting in the orchard, walking the woodland paths at her side, and resting peacefully beside her in the garden.
Sunrise saw him still at his desk, re-reading her letters. He could almost hear her voice speaking the words. The Lady Salanda looked in as she passed the doorway on her way to the kitchens, not surprised to see the chieftain there but surprised he had obviously not been to bed. She bustled in and tossed a log on the embers.
"You'll catch your death in this room." He looked at her with an out-of-focus gaze and smiled. "My lord, is something wrong?"
"No, Lady, everything is quite right this morning." He held a folded sheet of fine paper in his hand. More were scattered on his desk. Salanda was too far away to notice the scent of spring damp roses that lingered there but she was a wise woman and recognized that love held the Dúnadan in her contrary grasp.
*Well met, my brother
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