My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Where the Stars are Strange: 7. The Lady by the Sea
Ragged grey clouds scudded along the horizon pushed by the still strong west wind. The gale had finally blown itself out and the weak sun glittered on the wet and windblown land. It gave no warmth, but Finduilas was happy with its light. She had been shut up for three days, the wind, rain, and high surf trapping her inside, and the weak half-light of the storm had caused the nineteen year old to order every lamp and candle in the palace lit. Still she had felt like a caged animal.
This morning as dawn broke, she ordered her horse saddled. Riding out, she hoped to escape the confines of her home as much as to view the storm-ravaged shoreline. Her escort learned long ago that it was fruitless to waste breath in trying to persuade her to stay in the estate park of the Dol Amroth compound. Both soldiers would protect her with their lives, but they thanked the Valar the fanciful, stubborn princess was not their daughter.
Finduilas guided her mare down the track that led to the beach to see what the storm had washed ashore. The sea was always sharing its treasures, both beautiful and awful. Her apartments were decorated with some of her best finds, many of which she romantically dreamed were gifts from the lost island of Numenor. Her father assured her were they simply flotsam from old wrecks or cargo washed overboard from passing ships, but Finduilas stubbornly insisted on her fantasies.
The storm surge caused the morning's findings to be particularly bountiful. Huge spiral shells, beautiful creatures that looked like glass bubbles but were painful to the touch, and both red and green seaweeds littered the eroded beach. She saw several starfish, which legend said Eärendil the Mariner had created to remind him of the stars on cloudy nights. These she would toss back into the water on her way home. There were broken spars and sailcloth, perhaps bits of a shipwreck, although there had been no calls from the beacon-watchers for rescue. She urged her mare over a sea dune and was only half-surprise to find the body. The wind ruffled his dark hair and his hands were outstretched, fingers dug into the beach as if he had crawled ashore.
Finduilas called to her escort: her two usual soldiers and her handmaiden who was flirting with them. She sat her mare unafraid, staring at the man lying face down in the sand, and thought of who this poor sailor might have been. What grieving family had he left in some distant port? Did a young wife watch the horizon for a sail that would never bring him home? She realized suddenly his chest was rising; he was not dead!
The girl was off her horse and on her knees next to him. Her attendants rode up and shouted unheeded protests. With their help, she turned him over, brushed sand from his sun-swarthy face, and smoothed back his long hair.
"Who do you think he might be?" she asked Lieutenant Warsen, who stared down at the man, a look of distaste on his face.
"By his clothes and look, lady, mayhap a corsair, probably a Haradrim. Leave him! We'll send for the beacon-watchers; they'll know what to do." She stared down at the handsome lines of the young man's face. The law of salvage said anything found from a wreck belonged to the finder and she had found him.
"Nay. Captain Robermin," she directed the other soldier, "ride for the stable. Bring back a cart along the wainroad. We can move him up there to wait you." The soldier was hesitant. "Now!" she ordered regally straightening her shoulders and staring at the men with the imperious gaze of her father.
As they waited for the wagon, Finduilas tried to make the unconscious man comfortable. She pulled off her own cloak and covered him. He was shivering but burned with fever. She studied him closely. He seemed as young as her brother and didn't look much like a corsair to her, although she'd never seen one. His features were angular and strong, much like the Dúnedain at Lossarnach; perhaps he was Earendil finally returned from the sea. He moved, seemed half-conscious.
"Warsen, get my water flask from Copper!" The soldier reluctantly complied. Finduilas raised the sailor's head and held her flask to his lips. The little she gave caused him to cough. He opened his eyes and their gray depths, like the sea reflecting a stormy sky, amazed her. He looked full at her, but only seemed half-aware.
"Le hannon, vanima helir." He murmured before he fell into unconsciousness again.
Finduilas sat back. "Warsen, we must hurry." Whatever he was, this foundling was no pirate or common sailor. He spoke the High Language even when half-conscious. She had truly found a treasure washed up by the storm this day.
"Dago hon! Elrohir! Loose your archers! Nad no ennas!"* The young man lapsed into garbled murmurs but his thrashing had dislodged his blankets. Finduilas once again tucked them around him. She looked over her restless guest to her father who curiously watched the bedeviled young man.
"So our merman speaks like a high Elvish lord." The man who spoke was tall with grey-shot dark hair and eyes ringed with lines from too much laughing, his daughter always said.
"The fever has caused him horrible dreams. He's been going on like this for some time. It seems he's dreaming of a most terrible and long battle. Like he's fighting all the foes from Mordor." He looked closely at his daughter, who had chosen for this week's whim to play nursemaid to this sailor the ocean had washed up, refusing to let him send the man to the shore guards, demanding their own healer treat him, and ensconcing him in one of their best guest rooms. Adrahil shook his head.
"More like he is from Mordor, daughter, or a land in league with it."
"Father," she whispered as if some foe listened at the window. "I think he is a most important person and he is hiding from something. We should be cautious in letting anyone know we have him here." Her father smiled indulgently.
"Now, he is strange and mysterious and an outlaw? Your fancy gets the best of you, Finduilas. He most likely is some poor sailor washed overboard by the storm." So he spoke to his daughter but Adrahil suspected there was more to the stranger. The older man again examined their visitor's possessions laid out on the coffer: a curved Elven knife in an ornate sheath, the strange green-gemmed serpent ring, a leather bag filled with precious jewels. All could have been pirate booty, but the adamant brooch he recognized as a clan badge of the Dúnedain Rangers, and the mithril and adamant necklace he lifted by its fine chain was the most exquisite work of Elven craft he had ever seen. Finduilas was an imaginative child, seeing dragons in storm clouds and magic in common objects, but for once, he felt she might be right about this stranger.
"I'll agree at this point. We'll keep our guest a secret and you may create a wondrous and mysterious past for this sailor, but I think you'll be disappointed when we find out who he really is."
Sunlight streamed through colored glazing, creating a mosaic pattern on the white blankets. He could hear the ocean and the call of the gulls. He lay in a soft bed in a noble house, that much he could tell. An embroidered yellow and blue wave design circled the fine fabric of his nightshirt cuffs. Aragorn tried to picture where he might be. He remembered a storm: so much water he couldn't tell rain from sea; and then, bright sunlight and the mermaid---copper-haired with violet eyes---bending over him. A dream brought on by fever, no doubt, but he seemed to be free from the pirates at last.
The door opened and a young woman came in bearing a tray; it was his mermaid. She seemed startled he was awake. The she smiled and came to the bed to help him to sit up, fluffing the pillows behind his back. He swayed, dizzy. Aragorn felt weak and out of step with time. He once felt like this was when he was a boy and had been delirious with fever for two weeks.
"Careful," she said. "You drank a large amount of the sea and your fever only broke yesterday."
"I've been very ill, haven't I?" he croaked in a whisper.
"Yes, since I brought you home, you have been feverish." She understood his unvoiced 'when,' "Six days ago, the morning after the storm." He remembered more: fleeing the Sea-wolf in the small launch, the sail rent quickly by the wind, the rocks---splintering wood. The young woman brought a cup of tea and helped him drink.
"You saved my life," he whispered. "Le hannon, Lady---? "
"Finduilas. And your name, sir? Though you've given me three already. Are any of them real?" She laughed, for suddenly he looked so serious and guarded.
"Which have I given you?" his voice was stronger.
"Oh, that's unfair to ask!" she laughed again. "Well, you must speak truly this time. I must tell you, I'm part Elf and can ferret out a lie!" He smiled then and nodded. "You have spoken 'Aragorn, Estel, and Thorongil'. Now which is correct?" He groaned inwardly.
"Thorongil, a soldier of Rohan," he said sheepishly. She looked at him sharply and shook her head.
"Come, sir. By appearance, you are not Rohirrim. You speak Quenya and Sindarin better than I do so you obviously are noble-born. I thought that maybe you came from Minas Tirith---from the Steward's house. You have the look of that line. I thought perhaps you might be the Steward's son, Denethor."
"Nay, Lady, I am a common soldier, not a lord," he protested.
"I am young, Thorongil of Rohan, but I am not a fool." She looked at him sternly. "We may argue your name and origin at leisure, but now if you are able, my father wishes to speak to you." Finduilas pulled a fine robe out of a chest and helped him up. "My father will no more believe you Rohirrim than I do." He looked in the mirror set on a chest next to an ewer of water and a basin. The face looking back was gaunt with a fading tan. His hair was trimmed and braided elf fashion. He touched the braids and met her eyes over his shoulder.
"I hope you don't mind." Finduilas blushed. "My brother often wore his like that before he became a soldier."
"No, I quite like it." He smiled. "It's been a long time since I had elf-locks. I'd forgotten how they look."
"Ah, a clue to my puzzle! When and where did you have elf-locks, my lord? Not in Rohan, I'll wager. The horse-lords braid neither their horses' manes nor their own."
Aragorn shook his head. His throat was raspy and his head still ached. He was ill equipped to spar with this quick-witted young woman. She saw his fatigue so Finduilas led him to a chair and spread a blanket over his legs. "I'll stop beleaguering you and get my father."
The man who entered moments later, his daughter in tow, was definitely someone of import. Nearly tall as Aragorn, he wore pale blue robes with heavy embroidery at the collar and cuffs. A golden medallion of a swan set with sapphire clipped back his mantle. He was graying but still strong and the look in his deep blue eyes said he was a person not to be trifled with. He inquired after Aragorn's health and comfort and with the pleasantries done, demanded answers. This lord's demeanor reminded Aragorn of Elrond and he felt the same urge to answer quickly and truthfully as if to his father.
"Thorongil of Rohan?" asked the lord skeptically, believing that no more than his daughter had. "Young man, I need the truth. Are you a pirate we have taken to our hearth? By your secrecy, I fear you may put my house in danger."
"I'll not deny you what I may tell, my lord. But first, may I enquire what house this is?" Grey eyes met blue and the lord nodded.
"You are a cautious one. You're in Dol Amroth and this is my house. I am Adrahil, prince of the city." Aragorn relaxed. The princes of Dol Amroth had long been allies of Gondor, and friends and kin to Elven-kind. He again thanked the fey luck that followed him for washing him up on a friendly shore.
Aragorn carefully recounted the tale he and Gandalf had concocted five years ago on the ride to Rohan. Thorongil was the second son of a minor northern lord distantly related to the Dúnedain through his mother. He had been taught the use of a sword and, as a second son, what else could he do but hire himself to kings in need of a strong arm? The truth of his kidnapping and escape from the pirates fit in quite easily.
"You have had quite an adventure," said Adrahil, smiling, "and there is truth in as much as you have told me. But, you keep much hidden, young man. At least, I know we shan't be murdered in our beds." Seeing Aragorn's exhaustion, he rose. "Back to bed and rest more now." Aragorn thankfully accepted his help and with Finduilas' tucking, was soon drowsily comfortable, lulled by the sound of the waves and the gulls' cries.
The next morning found Aragorn feeling stronger and impatient to be out of the room. He rose, found clothes neatly folded waiting for him, and warm water in the basin. Beyond his door was a wide gallery leading to the palace gardens. They were elaborately terraced, set high above the surf. Fan-leafed trees swayed along the walkways, and vividly colored flowers and exotic plants edged the paths. His room was in a one-storey northern wing set off from the main palace. The turreted castle stood on the peak of the cliff side. Built of white stone, it shimmered in the sun as if it were set with adamant and pearl. Blue pennants emblazoned with swans waved from the towers.
The balmy air tasting of sea salt and the heavy perfume of the flowers swirled around him as he wandered down the gravel paths. A spotted cat the size of a hunting spaniel joined him, butting his massive head against Aragorn for a rub. Aragorn tired quickly so when he found an iron bench in a secluded nook, with a view of the shipping lanes at the mouth of the Anduin, he sat. The vista was dotted with white-sailed coastal ships, plying between the sea and the great river. The cat jumped up beside him, curling up with his head on Aragorn's leg. Both basked in the healing sunlight and watched the ships.
Soon, Finduilas, in a gauzy violet grown and large brimmed hat, came along the path, carrying a basket of cut flowers. A guardsman trailed her discreetly. Aragorn made as if to rise, but she without ceremony waved him back down.
"I am glad to see you are up, Thorongil of Rohan." She nudged the cat off and took the seat. Put out, he went to chase a hard-shelled black bug scrabbling on the walk. "You look fine in those." She indicated his clothing. "They are my brother Imrahil's; he's training to lead the Swan Knights and is away fighting at Osgiliath." She sighed, "Men go away for adventure. They seem to be forever seeking danger and many times finding death." She sighed again sadly and explained the origin of her melancholy mood was the new report of Ithilien Rangers attacked by orcs.
"Such dark news for such a bright day, but I know a lady who would share your fears. I'm sure your brother misses his home and family and will return soon." He saw a tear glitter on her lashes. "What adventure does the brave Finduilas seek?" he asked, trying to draw her away from her sadness.
"Brave?" she laughed. "Nay, I will disappoint you; I am a coward. I seek no adventure but what I am supposed to long for—a fine husband selected by my father…children, a fair house…to tend the sick and needy…to entertain my lord and his guests. But, these things I could be content with. I am not adventurous like some young ladies," she smiled, "like the shield-maidens of Rohan. I wish I was but I am shy. I prefer staying with my father and dreaming, pretending… I am much braver and smarter in my fancies than in real life."
"You rescued a pirate from the surf; you have a brave and adventurous soul." His smile was engaging.
"The fault of my breeding." She laughed. "Remember, the Elves! The royal family tree is full of Noldor who fled to the sea, I think, after the fall of Gondolin. Occasionally, one of us is still born with their likeness." She pulled back her auburn hair to show her Elvish ears. "We all are cursed as story tellers and minstrels, albeit badly. My brother can't carry a tune in a basket but he insists on singing Elvish lays in secret or whenever the family will allow him." She chattered on about her family members, her mood brightened, and her observations caused him to laugh.
"Have you ever met an Elf?" Aragorn asked, sure of what her answer would be.
"Why, yes, I have." He looked surprised. "I'm not that sheltered. He was a messenger from the Golden Wood to my father: Haldir was his name. He was quite tall and powerful and well spoken---just as I imagined he would be. And he had long blond hair and amazing gray-green eyes. I quite fell in love with him." Aragorn raised an eyebrow. "Don't look so startled. I was eight at the time." They both laughed. Aragorn realized he hadn't been this happy or relaxed since last he'd been to Rivendell. This ingenuous girl had a way of disarming him with her frank speech and witty observations.
Finduilas' candor was refreshing to Aragorn. In Rohan, he had learned to expect dissemblance from women. In talking to her, he recognized the lack of female friendships he had had of late. The expectations for women in Rohan were different from the females of the Elves or the Dúnedain. The fabled shield-maidens of Rohan were a myth; the Rohirrim sheltered their women from the world and in doing so, treated them as valued possessions, protected and separated from the violent lives of men. The male-centered culture was not open to their voices in the rule of the realm. Women did not speak openly to men as friends or companions. The elaborate rules for proper interaction invariably led to courtship. So he had had no easy friendships with any of the women of the Rohirrim. Only Morwen had been different but she was not of Rohan, and as a foreign queen to a husband who had spent most of his life in exile, could never publicly show too much difference.
The Dúnedain women had all been bold and proud and well aware of their lineage, equals to the men. All at Rivendell treated his mother, revered as queen in Fornost, with great deference and respect. She was a being of great wisdom and strength. The elves believe that their youth in training needed a balance of male and female influences. Among his greatest teachers were his Aunt Laërie, who had taught him herb lore; Tilda, Elrond's cook who listened to his woes and dreams equally and fed him spiced wafers in either case; and Merival Actallion, his archery tutor, an even better shot than Glorfindel.
And, of course, there was Arwen---a combination of her grandmother's foresight and his father's wisdom and stubbornness and, he suspected, her mother's beauty; she was a born ruler and counselor. Like all Elvish women, she was a philosopher and a warrior and…his love. He missed her unbearably suddenly. He shook his head to drive the longing away.
Finduilas jabbed him suddenly in the ribs. "Now it is you who is too silent and melancholy, my lord. You must provide entertainment or I'll leave you to the cat." She settled back into the seat. "Ah, yes. I was working on my mystery of who you might really be. You must tell me about yourself. I'd like to ask some questions, if I may?" He held out his hands, palms up as if a prisoner.
"I beg mercy of my inquisitor. And I will try my best to answer your question without too much torture required," he gallantly answered.
"My last one still remains unanswered: the elf-braids?" she tenaciously reminded him. "Why in your past did you wear your hair in Elvish fashion?"
"It was an affectation of my father's house," prevaricated Aragorn.
"Oh, he wanted to be an Elf? Admired the Eldar?"
Aragorn nodded. "That's fair to say."
"You said you are the second son: that means you have a brother?" Aragorn cursed that story; lying always required creating more fiction. He decided sticking as closely to fact as possible was wisest. This was a noble house and chances were that they would meet again, with Aragorn no longer in disguise. He could be forgiven for concealing his real name; telling outright lies might not so slight a sin.
"Two actually. They are twins."
"You spoke of Elrohir in your fever. Your brother?" He nodded and thanked the stars again friends had found him. If he were ever captured by the Dark Lord, Sauron would have no need of torture. A simple fever would cause him to bleat every secret he knew. "That is an Elvish name," she pointed out.
"My father's affectation again." Finduilas was silent for some time.
"How far north do you live? What is it like there?"
"I've been in Rohan for five years, but home…home is beautiful. We have orchards and vineyards, groves of walnut trees, a beautiful garden, and waterfalls. I sorely miss the sound of running water," he confided.
"Do you have a lady?" she artlessly asked. She set him off balance by that, and he began to deny it as he usually did, but then found himself telling her about Arwen, sharing the feelings he had not shared with anyone: how he badly missed her and how he despaired of them ever being together, omitting only the names and reasons.
"Her family feels you are below her? My father says you bear the crest of one of the northern Dúnedain tribes! You are descended from the high nobility of old! You seem a wise and good lord!" Finduilas went on indignantly before Aragorn could enlighten her. "Her family should accept you because you love her. And, your family should allow you to come home, for you obviously miss it badly! It was cruel of them to banish you!"
"Banish me?" he asked startled.
"Certainly! Why else would you stay away from a place you love so well? I will have my father demand they allow you to come home! I will write myself!"
"Lady, I would I could have you defend my back on the battlefield. I would fear nothing!"
She colored prettily. "Well, it seems unjust." Finduilas was silent again for some time. "Though, few of our station marry for love. My father looks to the house of the Steward for a match, but if there was a love match with someone suitable, I believe he would accept it." She sighed, "But mostly, I must be practical and marry for duty."
Aragorn's eyes had grown dark. "I too know duty, lady. It is a curse…"
"Oh, no! It is a blessing." She caught his arm. "Think of all the good we who were born to duty can do in the world! We can help others; we can heal. You, sir, are a fine soldier who can defend our lands and people. Nay, it is not a curse!"
"Duty often makes you something you don't want to be." He thought of his role as defender of the free peoples. How many times in the last fifteen years, frustrated by some setback, had he wanted to tossed down his sword and simply ride to Rivendell.
"All in the world have things to do that they may not want to do. But for many, that is simply scrabbling for a day-to-day existence. We, who were born with the privilege of not worrying about want, have a duty to make life easier for those others." She spoke with such passion.
"Finduilas, you are wise. You sound much like my father. You should be the ruler of a fair kingdom."
She was unsure if he was teasing her. "No, I am not. That was simply my Elvish ancestors speaking again. I feel there is a great destiny awaiting all of us who live in this Age and we should embrace it."
A week passed, and then another. Aragorn grew stronger. Finduilas continued to treat him as she would her brother, seeing to his every need but not above arguing with him if she felt it was required to keep him humble. They rode out often, exploring the beaches and hillsides around the castle, but always discreetly trailed by Finduilas' maid and guards. Adrahil was fierce in the protection of his daughter's life and honor. The lord of Dol Amroth grew fond of the young stranger and, like his daughter, sought to discover who he truly was. The pair often compared notes on their mysterious guest when he was in his room resting.
One rainy afternoon, Finduilas set up the chessboard in Adrahil's study. The prince agreed to play the winner of the game. Aragorn and she had been playing silently for some time and Aragorn regretted to admit Adrahil would play his daughter for the match. She giggled gleefully as she methodically captured most of his maethron, left him with a roch ben and barad, and finally held the bereth in her hand.
"I aran gwann!**" She handed the black queen back to him. "So, my lord, your nameless lady of the midnight hair? Do you think she worries about your whereabouts?" Aragorn stopped abruptly, queen held in mid-air. Gandalf and the Dúnedain would have searched extensively for him when he failed to return to Sarn Ford. Gandalf would have found Vanië and probably gone to Thengel. The wizard would eventually return to Rivendell, knowing Aragorn would send word there if he could…it had been months…early spring when the pirates had taken him on the Baranduin; it was now autumn. They all believed him lost! An unbidden image of Arwen standing alone, eyes filled with terrible pain, came to him.
Finduilas watched with concern as a wild look came into Aragorn's eyes. He rose from the chessboard in alarm, scattering the pieces, and she caught his arm to try to calm him.
"Lady, I must get word to Im---Thengel at Edoras." The panic in his voice attracted Adrahil's attention. "Actually, I should leave!"
"You are not yet well enough for such a journey. You are overwrought and should rest." Finduilas gripped his arm tighter for he seemed ready to gallop away without another thought. The prince came over to calm his guest.
"My boy, I sent word to Thengel the day you regained consciousness." He smiled broadly. "My messenger should be at Edoras, enjoying the king's fine table." Aragorn slowly relaxed. He knew Morwan would send word to Imladris. Elrond's House should already know he was safe.
Aragorn passed a final week at Dol Amroth. It was obvious to the household their guest was eager to depart. Aragorn was beholden for the kindness of Adrahil and Finduilas, and was loathe to part from their friendship but each day found him pacing nervously, desperate to journey north, to assure those he loved he was alive and well. Finally, Adrahil's physician shook his head.
"Boy, whether I say you're well enough for such a journey or nay, you will be off, so may the Valar guide you."
That night at dinner, he announced his intentions to depart the next morning.
"Where do you go, my lord?" Aragorn smiled at the title Adrahil insisted upon, ignoring his protests that he was undeserving of it.
"To Minas Tirith and then on to Rohan, I suppose," Aragorn said. "If I could impose upon you one last time, I need a horse. I will pay…"
"Don't insult me now on your parting," the prince said, with the haughtiness of an offended elf-lord. "My stable is open to you."
"Then perhaps a gift, if you think it not too bold, worthy of a princess?" Aragorn held out a luminescent pink pearl the size of a wren's egg strung on a gold chain. "A bit of treasure for a brave lady who rescued a pirate." He had ventured into the city and sold some of the gems he had purloined from Ascabar's chest for traveling money. There, he had had this necklace made up. Adrahil nodded and Aragorn fastened it around Finduilas' neck. She was enchanted; she touched the pale pink orb glowing against her skin. In the years that would follow, the pearl would become her symbol. She would wear it through her marriage and the birth of two sons, and it would be with her when she was laid in her tomb at Minas Tirith too short a time in the future. But, now she was as dazzled as any young woman would be when given her first jewelry by a man not of her family. Aragorn bowed on one knee before the princess.
"I owe you my life for rescuing me. Any wish that is ever in my power, I'll grant to you. You need but to ask." Though the promise was made in earnest, one day Aragorn would regret that he gave it so freely.
The next morning dawned fair. Aragorn mounted a fine roan gelding as Adrahil and Finduilas bid him farewell. A utilitarian sword from Dol Amroth's armory, swan carved in the hilt, was scabbarded on the saddle. 'In case of need,' the prince pointed out. The prince ordered his saddlebags filled with food and clothing for the journey, and Aragorn protested his coat and boots were fit for a prince of the realm.
"You'll have bandits down on me with such finery." Finduilas looked alarmed at that but Aragorn assured her he would be safe.
"Namerië." Aragorn called as he rode from the palace to strike the road north to Minas Tirith. Adrahil and Finduilas watched him go.
"There are not many such left in the world, daughter. He is an honorable man, and I believe you are right in your guess: he is someone of import. Maybe he really is a merman washed up by the gale," he smiled at his daughter, ""or more like, a Numenorean wandering all these years upon the sea."
Finduilas, for her part, knew Thorongil was near twice her age, but with a young girl's heart, she was just a little bit in love with him. She knew she would miss him in the days ahead. She hoped her path would cross the gallant Thorongil's again in this life.
*"Kill him!.....Something is out there!"
* * Chess terms: pawns, knight, castle, queen and Check mate
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