My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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The Reaches of the North: 1. Fare Thee Well
Late summer, 2951, T.A.
The hot breeze lifted the damp hair from Aragorn's neck as he rode along the East-West Road with Elladan. The elf was singing as he usually did when they traveled through safe lands. Aragorn was bound for Fornost, anxious and excited about meeting his father's captain and his men, though he was not exactly sure what the Rangers would expect of him. He assumed they would train and test him before accepting him as the Dúnadan. He still questioned his worthiness, but his mother's revelations at Caew Thoronath had convinced him to embrace his destiny and helped him prepare for whatever lay ahead.
August had just begun and the crops were ripening in the fields as the time for Aragorn's departure to Fornost arrived. On the morning they left Rivendell, Gilraen pulled Aragorn close and whispered assurances that he would be well accepted by his people; Arwen pressed a gentle kiss to his mouth; his father, Elrohir, and Glorfindel embraced him; and all watched as he and Elladan trotted up the track to meet up with the old East-West Road. They turned against the sunrise toward Bree, there to meet Halbarad, the captain of the Dúnedain, in two days' time.
Aragorn reflected on Elrond's parting words: "Keep safe and don't draw attention to yourself". Perhaps his father had said that because over the last several months, he had done nothing but drawn attention to himself, he thought ruefully. When first presented with his heritage by Elrond, he had acted spoiled and selfish, and refused to acknowledge his birthright, but finally, his patient family had made him realize what he was born to do. And, he decided, perhaps if the Valar were on his side, sitting one day on the throne in Minas Tirith with his beautiful Arwen might not prove such a terrible fate. He pushed back his hair and joined Elladan in his traveling song.
Near noon on the second day, the Elf-lord reined in on the rise overlooking Bree. Smoke rose from chimneys of cottages and from the neat hobbit holes scattered over the hillside above the town. Farm carts rattled through the side streets and matrons marched between shops, carrying baskets filled with their daily shopping. The town bustled prosperously though the pair had passed few travelers on the road east.
"This is as far as I go," Elladan said. "Halbarad will meet you at The Prancing Pony." He reached across the space between their horses and gripped the young man's arm. "Ride well, my brother. Halbarad is a good man and a good captain." He looked as if he might say more, but suddenly put his spurs to his horse and galloped back up the road. Suddenly feeling quite deserted, Aragorn took a deep breath, and urged Swallow toward the open town gates.
Maybe he'd left him with Elrond too long, thought Halbarad, watching the young man across the crowded taproom of The Prancing Pony. He looked like an elf with those long, dark, braided locks and fine brocade tunic, and an effeminate one, at that, vulnerable to the ruffians that sometimes frequented the inn. Halbarad shook his head in hindsight. Elrond had been responsible for educating the lad, loading his head with wise lore and the healing arts, but Halbarad was comforted that the twins and Glorfindel had taught the boy to fight. Those skills he might need sooner than any others. He took heart: the boy did wear his father's sword comfortably and the hunting knife at his waist looked too business-like just for show.
It had been necessary for his safety that Aragorn had been sheltered in Imladris. But, there he had never encountered much real injustice, whereas, meanness was tripped over daily in the real world like branches on the mossy forest floor, Halbarad mused. The activity across the taproom had caught Aragorn's attention, and now the Ranger captain was about to see what that Elrond's cautious upbringing had produced. His young lord had just interfered with the amusement of a few rough-looking, drunken locals. Halbarad hoped the pup could fight, for by the looks of the farm lads, he would have need.
At a table in one corner, the farmers, deep in their cups for so early in the day, had been raucously abusing the young hobbit Butterbur employed. One finally stuck out a mud-crusted shoe as he came by with a tray, sending the unfortunate lad and crockery crashing to the flagged floor. The serving girl squeaked in dismay and then screamed as one of the men rudely grabbed her when she stooped to help with the mess.
Heedless of Elrond's parting words, Aragorn rose from his table to intervene, and now stood over the youths. He interposed himself between the guffawing oafs and their victims, his hand resting on the pommel of his sword. The group gawked at his splendid appearance, and thinking they had more easy prey, let out another bray of laughter, nudging each other to punctuate their loutish remarks about the pretty lordling. Halbarad could not make out the words of Aragorn's low response, but the men sniggered and goaded one of their companions into action. He rose and stood toe to toe with Aragorn. He was heavily muscled and obviously used to using his fists, though the farm-boy had to look up to meet Aragorn's eye. His voice carried to Halbarad's table.
"Hey, elf-boy," said the bold, red-haired youth with two missing teeth. Whether through skill or stupidity, it was obvious he hadn't backed away from many fights. "Begone and leave us to our sport unless you'd like some of the same." Halbarad again did not clearly hear the words of Aragorn's soft reply but his friends brayed with laughter and egged on the burly youth.
"Those're fine girly locks what you got," he goaded. "Are you sure you're a man? Maybe you're one of them she-elves. Let's go outside and we'll have a go with both the wench and you." His companions exploded with howls. He laid his rough hand on Aragorn's arm but the young man shrugged it off.
"Let's see those pointy ears." The farm lad made as if to brush Aragorn's hair aside but his hand waved in the air: Aragorn had deftly sidestepped the pawing. Angered, the redhead grabbed Aragorn's coat in a grimy hand and pulled back his arm to take a swing. Suddenly, he was holding an empty coat and staring cross-eyed at the point of a sword that hovered inches from his eyes. One of his more sober companions leaned over to loose a knife stuck in his boot top.
"I wouldn't do that." Halbarad heard Aragorn's clear suggestion. His hunting knife was in his other hand, poised for throwing. Menacing silver-grey eyes took the measure of each of the other farmers and they quickly looked away.
Except for those at nearby tables, no one else in the taproom knew a weapon was drawn. The cunning moves impressed Halbarad: the lad was quick and quiet. The older Ranger decided it was time to intervene before Butterbur at the bar realized there was a problem and sallied forth with his cudgel. He moved up casually behind Aragorn, and laying his hand firmly upon the young man's shoulder, addressed the now-sober farmers.
"Gentlemen, it is time for you to go: step lively." Aragorn lifted his sword and the group speedily left The Pony, needing no second suggestion from the grim Ranger. The red head folded Aragorn's coat neatly over the captain's outstretched arm and hastily followed his companions. Halbarad sat down, gesturing Aragorn to sit also, and caught the young man's troubled eyes assessing him.
"I was warned to call no attention to myself," he stated grimly. "Are you the constable here to arrest me for disrupting the peace of the town?" Aragorn still had the curved knife out, laid before him on the table. He knew he probably faced more trouble now than he dared imagine. The grizzled man across from him had an air of authority and looked to have the skill to use the weapons he carried.
"No, my liege. I'm Halbarad, your captain. That was finely done. You've proved yourself capable to me, though when I saw you, I had my doubts." Aragorn's brow arched in question. The Ranger, unperturbed by the haughty look, leaned forward and raised an elflock with a grimy finger. "Fine and fancy, but you'll serve. Come along; finish your drink. We've a long ride home."
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