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Answering the Call: 6. Aragorn II
Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, the persistent whispers and the spiraling panic were abating. Since Gandalf's fall in Moria, his despair and doubt had plagued him. The Company had rested during their time in the Golden Wood, but as they had left, the shadow of his despair had returned and grown into a companion during the long ride down the Anduin. He saw the same weariness of soul reflected in the others and knew that the Quest was not continuing as before. Without the wizard... could he lead this Company? At times, he felt sure he had the strength, and then unbidden to his mind would come whispers of doubt. Perhaps he was not as fit for this duty as he had cared to think.
He had begun to discern during that ride that he could not lead his companions on this journey without Gandalf. Turning back was not a choice open to them. But to head straight to Mordor... perhaps it was too dangerous. Perhaps it was as Boromir had warned, and they would be handing the Ring to the Enemy. If they first went to Minas Tirith, they could regroup, consider their options, gather resources. Boromir had already made it clear he felt this was the wiser choice. Gimli and Legolas had announced they would accept the decision of the Company as a whole. The other hobbits had turned to Frodo for his decision, but he had hesitated to make one and Aragorn saw that Frodo needed someone to make this decision for him.
So he turned them toward Minas Tirith. For strength and support.
In the days following their narrow brush with the Orcs, he had found a chance to examine their next steps. A wealth of options existed now that he was free to make the decisions for the Company. Must they follow Elrond's plan? Or Gandalf's, for that matter? He was lost to them. The guidance of the Quest was now Aragorn's responsibility. He would follow his own counsel.
'We must appear to play into his hands, in order to deceive him,' Aragorn had explained to Frodo, who had accepted his plan uneasily. 'Only thus shall we defeat him.' He had assured the Ringbearer that he would not wear the Ring, only let Sauron know that It was within his grasp. Sauron would panic and they would attack Sauron when he acted without thought. After their defeat of the Dark Lord, they would bury the Ring deep within the vaults of Minas Tirith, where none but the King would know if Its location.
What concerned him was that in going to Minas Tirith, with the eye of the Enemy searching for the Ring, they would be drawing the forces of Mordor to Gondor, if they hadn't fallen upon her already. They would need strength, strength beyond imagining, if they were to best the forces of Sauron and thus keep Gondor and the Ring safe.
A shiver of anger went through him as he thought of the Dark Lord. He would vanquish that Evil, by whatever means he had at hand. Sauron must be defeated - he must not obtain the Ring. It was too precious a thing to fall into such vile hands.
Aragorn was not unaware that he followed dangerously close to his ancestor's footsteps. But he was not Isildur. This time history would tell a different story. And now that the constant whispers he had struggled to ignore were receding, he could set aside his worries that he was succumbing to the Ring. When he entered Minas Tirith with the Ring, it would be only to deceive and defeat Sauron and safeguard the Ring.
The Orcs, uruk-hai, Easterlings, and other beings in the service of Sauron rained down on Minas Tirith. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur, waged his war, calling for aid far and wide, gathering what forces he could. But Théoden King remained under the spell of the White Wizard and never ordered his men to battle. Saruman's uruk-hai pillaged the entire Mark, leaving Rohan unable to answer Gondor's call. The Paths of the Dead remained untrodden; the Men of the Mountains did not fulfill their oaths. Pelargir was razed; the forces of southern Gondor were not rallied to the fight.
The Witch King led the Dark Forces into battle, encountering only a Man to bar his way into Minas Tirith.
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