6. In the Presence of the Past
Aragorn found as the season moved to high summer, he was enjoying himself immensely with these cousins who tactfully pretended he was naught but one of them. He recognized these were the companions he had dreamed of as he grew up a lonely child in Imladris. They provided great fun for him and he valued Deesch's prickly friendship and the sage advice from Harwilthel and Wyorven. His mother had let down her guard and he learned what she truly was like. Most importantly, he had thought deeply about his future as the Dúnadan. Even so, more and more frequently he found himself wondering what his brothers might be doing, what Ada might think of something he had found in the old books, or with a poignant sadness in his heart, where Arwen was at that moment.
One night as the full yellow moon rose in the balmy air, the family gathered on the porch, fireflies dancing in the yard. Aragorn had been in a pensive mood all evening. Even Deesch could not jolly him out of it and Gilraen recognized it as her uncomplaining son's longing to go home. Contemplatively, he watched the heavens for a time, the stars twinkling in the clear black sky. Finally, he yawned and rose, bidding all a polite good night. Gilraen stopped him.
"We will ride out at dawn." She announced, knowing the time had come to face her fears.
"We are leaving?" She heard an undercurrent of joy mixed with his surprise.
"Nay, soon but not yet. We are going on a short ride." She would say no more and Aragorn went off to bed, puzzled at her sudden strange announcement.
At dawn, he found only her in the stable yard, looking as if she had not slept. She had already bridled and led out the red roan and Swallow, so he quickly saddled them both. He noticed she was armed, her sword at her side and a curved dagger on her belt. He buckled his own sword to Swallow's saddle.
"We ride alone?" Aragorn asked, holding the gelding's vine-traced silver bit while she mounted. Gilraen nodded.
"Where we go today is but for us." She led him on a track across the broad waters of the Mitheithel into the western wood. The trees grew thicker here and they held to a narrow shadowed path. Gilraen led and her son followed. Though the sun had risen, the wood was dark and close. Mists hung heavy among the oaks and pines. The dripping damp muffled forest sounds and created other, eerie ones. It was a fell place, the coolness unnatural even for deep forest shade, and it raised the hairs on his neck. Aragorn's mind wandered, and as if in a dream, he heard the clang of swords and shouts near by. He reined in, half drawing his sword. Gilraen laid her gloved hand on his.
"'Tis but shadows of the past, my son. Leave be." He stared hard at dark spaces between the trees as if to conjure up the owners of the disembodied voices. For a moment, he thought he heard the thudding of a troop of horses. From an opposite direction echoed what sounded like his brother Elladan's call and a deeper, somehow familiar voice answering it. Neither Swallow nor the roan heard the sounds and stood quiet, stamping and swishing patiently.
"This is the forest where my father died, is it not?" He knew the truth without the spoken words and did not heed her nod. She clucked to her horse and led Aragorn deeper into the wood, up a small incline and over a windfall elm. The path seemed to open up ahead and Gilraen led him on into a glade where sunlight shafted between the trees. Oak and maple spread their leaves here. In the center, lit by yellow sunlight, arose a grassy mound with an unmarred granite stone standing at its foot.
The woods were silent: even the birds had fled. There was the sound of a high wind rushing in Aragorn's ears. He dismounted as if without control, dropped his rein, and walked, pulled by an unseen force to the mound. His hands touched the cool roughness of the stone. "Father, my father, the man who was my father," echoed in his head. The fabric of time furled and unfurled as he stared at the granite marker.
A branch snapped ending his trance. Beyond the grave at the glade's edge stood a soldier. He wore light mail covered by a green tunic edged in gilt and a gray cloak swirling to the forest floor. Immediately, Aragorn felt danger eddy around the place, reached for his sword, and found he wore none. He realized it was still strapped to Swallow's saddle and he whirled to unsheathe it. His horse and his mother were gone! He was alone in the glade with the grim soldier.
The air had grown cold; the mists returned and were curling between the trees, diffusing the pale sunlight. The man stood still watching him contemptuously. He was one of the Dúnedain, Aragorn was sure, though not from Eagles' Rest; no such warrior lived there. The ranger was broad shouldered and nearly tall as Aragorn, with long, dark hair and a grizzled beard. He silently regarded Aragorn with piercing grey eyes and the boy uneasily felt as if he were a hare under a falcon's gaze. This was a formidable foe to face without a weapon, but then Aragorn realized the stranger wore no sword. An empty scabbard hung at his side.
"Why are you here, boy?" The man's voice challenged him in a rich baritone. "Be gone from this place. You have no need to be here."
"I've a right. This is my father's grave." Aragorn warily announced.
"Begone from here!" Aragorn almost trembled at the command. "You are not the son of one such as this was." Aragorn was suddenly, overwhelmingly angry at the lack of respect and the threat from this stranger.
"Do not try to intimidate me! I do not fear you!" Aragorn found courage in his anger at this interloper who would ruin such a solemn, personal moment and had driven his mother to flee. He planted his feet and stood tall. "It is you who trespass!"
"A haughty boy without a sword and without a name! Begone! This is a place of shadows, a forsaken, empty place! To stay could bring you death." The Ranger laughed contemptuously. "Flee now before it is too late."
"Do not offend me or seek to threaten! I am the Dúnadan!" Aragorn incensed by his rudeness pronounced. Grey eyes met grey and the man smiled knowingly.
"An empty title you have taken to bandying about for convenience; a path you do not choose to follow; a choice you hesitate to make! There is naught here for you; you have neither the courage nor the worthiness to stand before this grave. Leave here, boy." The man turned away in contempt. In his heart, Aragorn knew the time for declaration had come.
"It is my choice! I am the Dúnadan! I will be King!" He gasped for breath. "You insult both my sire and me! You insult all of my people!"
The man turned back, mists swirling around him. He smiled broadly, and then began to laugh heartily: a years-old sound that echoed in Aragorn's memory, creating a picture of a past time when he was a small child and strong arms swung him up before this man, squealing delightedly, grasping handfuls of the ebony mane of a black charger.
"You show your quality, Aragorn. Truly, you are my son." The image of the Dúnadan seemed to step backward into the forest, receding from Aragorn's outstretched hand.
"Father!" Aragorn whispered struggling on legs that had become stone to reach Arathorn before the mists closed around him. "Father!" His voice seemed to echo in the empty, swirling mist as the tall man disappeared and the air around Aragorn grew into an impenetrable wall of grayness.
"Aragorn!" Gilraen was kneeling beside him shaking his shoulders. He lay prostrate on the mound, palms and cheek pressed to the earth. She had watched him stand entranced before the grave until finally he had collapsed. She had been trying to wake him for some time and she worried at his paleness. "Aragorn!"
Sunlight streamed in the forest; it was midday and hot. Finally, he seemed more awake than dreaming. He sat up and stared unblinking at her. Tears streamed unnoticed down his cheeks.
"Mother?" The voice was small and hurting, a gasp of pain from a young boy.
"I am here." She sat on her husband's grave, rocking her grown son in her arms as he sobbed out his grief for the death of a father he had almost forgotten.
"I saw him." he said simply in explanation. "I finally knew him. I remembered his laugh." Gilraen smiled at her son, smoothing back his hair.
"Whenever he rode in, the first thing he'd do was swing you into the air and you would laugh and so would he." Remembering that time, she allowed memories she had worked to forget back in. Gilraen suddenly began speaking of her dreams and her guilt.
"I saw his death," she whispered, revealing her shameful secret to her son. "I dreamed this wood, dark and fell, under a cold white moon. I saw the orcs in hiding, waiting as they rode through, the shortest path to Rivendell---always the shortest, 'twas his way." She seemed lost in the memory, her eyes staring ahead. "I saw the filthy arrow; I heard their unholy shrieks." Her body trembled and Aragorn's arms tightened around her. "Days later, Elladan brought me the news. I knew then I would have had time to ride from Fornost, to warn them before---but it was only a dream…" she sobbed. "I could have saved him but I thought it was only a dream!" He held her as she cried as broken heartedly as she had in Elladan's arms long ago.
Gilraen finally quieted. She suddenly felt weak, and old, and very frightened for him. "My son, my son. Ah, Aragorn. We sheltered you for so long. We made you Estel and I was happy you were safe. I began to fear I had lost you—you had lost what you really are. In return for your safety, I feared I have bartered away the part of you that was him."
"Nay, Mother. I understand now who I am: I am my father's son and heir. I will take up the mantle of leadership he left me." He smiled down at her. "I will be safe." Somehow she knew that would always be true and suddenly, Aragorn seemed to bear less likeness to the Elven twins he emulated and more resemblance to the brave young men she knew as a girl. She hugged him close. She saw Arathorn's indomitable spirit in his eyes.
"Now I know the blood of your father truly runs hot in your veins."
The wind soughed in the trees. The twittering of birds and the rustle of small animals about their business filled the forest. There was the quiet swish and stomp of the horses grazing nearby, and the murmur of voice as son and mother renewed their acquaintance sitting in the grassy mound in the deep wood.
After a while, the son rose and helped his mother to her feet. They mounted and rode back east to the Angle settlement. In a day or so, they would bid their family farewell and rode on northward to their home.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.