8. North to the Golden Wood
Aragorn rode north along the busy Amroth Road that cut through Lebennin and ran along the Anduin. It was one of the few regions in Arda where there was high traffic in goods, and citizens felt safe enough to venture between the towns that dotted southern Gondor. He passed regular patrols of Swan Knights and Gondorian soldiers protecting the byways.
As he rode, Aragorn mused on his adventures with the pirates and Lady Finduilas. In Gandalf's reckoning, it would be accounted time well spent. These travels had introduced both the southern reaches and Dol Amroth to him. When next they met, he could brag to the wizard he was creating his own experiences for acquiring the skills to be king, though he was not sure how learning to man a sailing vessel might help him win a kingdom.
Twilight fell quickly in the south and as the evening horns sounded for the closing of the gates, he rode for the first time through the tall gates into Minas Tirith, the City of Kings. He felt a strange longing stir in his blood as the silver trumpeting echoed up the soaring rock face. The White City was the seat of power of his ancestors, the tower of Ecthelion rising to a dizzy height; the awe-inspiring seven city levels built into the side of the mountain, weaving around a natural rock prow jutting to the east. It was a constant reminder of the sea-faring Numenoreans who had founded Gondor.
Aragorn reined in, chatted briefly with the postern guards, their livery embroidered with the White Tree, and they directed him to a clean, comfortable inn on the third level of the city called The Laughing Dwarf. The hostler stabled Fengi, his roan. The innkeeper, a tall, no-nonsense woman greeted him warmly, eyed his cloth and calculated the weight of his purse. She seated him at an alcove table and Aragorn watched the room full of black coated soldiers with interest. For as desperate as the skirmishing was here on Mordor's very border, these men seemed hale and in good spirits. After a plain, but plentiful meal of stew and hot fresh bread, lemon wafers and strong tea, he went abovestairs and collapsed into a comfortable bed, still feeling the effects of his long fever.
Rising before dawn, Aragorn climbed the streets of the city to the Citadel. In the early grey half-light, the winged-helmeted guards eyed him warily since few tourists or pilgrims came to the Plaza to see a dead tree. As sunlight touched the high tower, he looked upon the twisted trunk of the White Tree in awe. In his mind, he saw it alive, vital, in full bloom. Suddenly, people filled the plaza and he saw himself standing on the stairs above the tree, older and hopefully wiser, with a winged crown of mithril and gold on his head.
"Do you like the tree?"
"It is magnificent," Aragorn whispered, still wrapped in his vision. Deep laughter at his side ended his imaginings. Beside him stood a man as tall as he, clothed like a soldier in the livery of the country but with a richness of fabric and trim, a lord by both appearance and air. His dark hair was silvered and his grey eyes amused."Only one of the old blood could recognize such magnificence in a dead tree."
"Mae Govannen, my lord." Aragorn bowed slightly. "No, I'm simply a traveler, stopped for the night in your fair city."
"Perhaps," the middle-aged man appraised his rich clothing keenly, "you are a nobleman of Lossernach? Perhaps one of the Dúnedain of the North?"
"I am Thorongil, a captain of Rohan. I have pledged my sword to Thengel these past five years." Aragorn felt compelled to explain.
"Thengel is a good man and a friend to Gondor and the Steward." The lord still stared at him intently as if taking his measure. "Well, Thorongil of Rohan, if you tire of the horse-lords, come to Minas Tirith and offer your sword to Ecthelion. The Steward has need of brave officers and" he looked knowingly at Aragorn, "Gondor needs her sons fighting for her."
"My lord is too kind. I am sure Ecthelion's troops have better leadership than I could provide," Aragorn deferred modestly.
"Don't gainsay me, Captain. I pick my leaders well and you I would like leading a company for the White City. Come to me if you change your mind." For a moment, grey eyes met grey eyes, and then the tall man nodded and turned away. Aragorn stared after him, realizing he had just met the Steward of Gondor. The crested sentinels saluted smartly as Ecthelion entered the building.
The long ride north to the Gap of Rohan gave him time to think on the Steward's words. By all rights, he should return to Rohan, yet his heart yearned for home in Rivendell. But, the hereditary feelings he had experienced standing before the White Tree left him with a strong desire to return there and fight for Gondor, for his people. Thengel himself often encouraged Thorongil to go to Ecthelion. "My friend needs strong swords such as yours; I'd hate to lose you in Rohan, but I'd hate even more to have the White City fall."
Aragorn sat his horse at the River Glambir where he should continue on the Great West Road to Edoras. He realized he had been sitting for some time and as if on its own, the roan turned north toward Emnet and Celebrant. It was one hundred leagues to Lothlorien. He had never been to the Golden Wood. It would be a good stopping place before the last leg of his journey north along the eastern ramparts of the Misty Mountains, along the Anduin, to the High Pass and home, reachable before the first snowfall, before the drifts closed the Pass. Without mishap, he could be in Imladris in a month. Making his decision, he urged the roan into a canter.
Autumn deeply held the land as Aragorn trotted into the first widely space trees of Lorien. The men of Rohan told strange stories about the Golden Wood: spells, witches, enchantment, and Elves who were fey and dangerous. Aragorn felt a change in the air as the trees grew denser, but instead of a sinister aura, it held peacefulness and felt right to him, who was raised as an Elf. The bare white birches were beautiful; the oak and maple still held their leaves. He swung down from Fengi to walk, breathing the spicy scent of leaves and bark and loam under foot. The pathway glowed with the wavering green-gold light of midday. He led Fengi along the pathway, his senses enchanted by the forest. Not completely lulled by the woodland magic, he heard them a moment before he felt the sharpness of an arrow pressed against his neck. Six fully drawn bows of the Galadhrim were aimed at him. Six unfriendly eyes stared down white fletched shafts. He greeted the tall, fair archers in Sindarin, his hands in full view.
"Mae Govannen, my brothers. May Elendii light your way." Aragorn said. He could move naught but his eyes, the arrows pressed so close.
"What man is this sneaking into our woods, who dares address Elf-kind as his brothers?" A tall warden walked around him, sizing up this intruder. She wore her blond braids pulled back and her green eyes reflected the forest light like mirrors.
"I am---" his response was cut off by her retort.
"We do not need your name!" She answered brusquely. "Why come you to the Golden Wood?" She asked, seeming unsure what to do with her catch.
"I seek my friend Haldir." Aragorn knew Haldir was one of the march wardens and hoped his name carried weight. The only other who knew him here was Celeborn and that was too lofty an acquaintance for this soldier to believe her wandering captive. She seemed a bit surprised.
"You certainly shall see Captain Haldir, though he holds no man as friend. You will be allowed to look upon his terribleness a moment or two before he puts you to death for trespassing." Aragorn nearly laughed aloud at the thought of Haldir's terribleness.
As the archers led him deeper into the forest, Aragorn reflected on the Elven reception he had received in Mirkwood and now in Lothlorien. It was no surprise to him that men believed Elves were both sinister and fey. Travelers unfortunate enough to venture into either realm met sharp arrows and distrust. He marveled at the difference of Elrond's welcoming treatment of guests of all races. Perhaps Elrond held to the old ways; that Rivendell reflected the conviviality between Elves and others, as it was when the world was younger.
The elves leading him came to a clearing and stopped. High above them was a large flet set among the branches of the oaks.
"Can you climb, man?" Aragorn sized up the oak. Imladris elves were rock climbers. He had learned from Elladan to be competent at it at the cost of bashed knees and bruises, but his time with Legolas in the green of Mirkwood had been well spent. He nodded to the leader and did a commendable job following her as she effortlessly climbed to the platform. There, the silver-blond Haldir sat on a bench near a blazing brazier, reading patrol logs.
"Yes, Celti, what is it?" Haldir did not look up, wondering what his novice patrol leader needed now.
"I bring you a prisoner." The young elf saluted nervously. Haldir finished the sentence he was reading and raised his eyes. They met Aragorn's and the Ranger could see Haldir bite back a smile. The Elf looked over Celti's intruder with a laziness that belied his strength.
"A well-armed prisoner, lieutenant," he said dryly, noting Aragorn's curved hunting knife at his waist. Haldir rose, approached the prisoner, and to his lieutenant's complete amazement, embraced him heartily.
"Mae Govannen, Aragorn. You are a welcomed sight!" Haldir smiled broadly.
"Haldir, mellon nin. The diligence of your soldiers is to be commended." Haldir cast a baleful look at his subordinate, his lip curling.
"Lieutenant, you may return to your post. And Celti," he added, "disarm the prisoners before you present them to me in the future. An orc would have gutted me by now." Haldir ordered his aide to bring food and drink and as Aragorn ate, asked of his adventures, laughing in recognition when he heard of Finduilas' bravery.
"Have you news from Imladris?" Aragorn asked. Haldir grew serious and seemed to hesitate a moment.
"I've returned from Rivendell within the fortnight with messages for Lord Celeborn. Mithrandir has been here twice since spring looking for you. While I was there, he arrived in Rivendell nearly a full month ago with your horse and sword and closeted himself with Lord Elrond. The concern of the Lord, the brothers, and Lord Glorfindel was obvious, but they were able to keep the news from Lady Arwen for several days. Then she strode into the midday meal and threw your scabbarded sword in the middle of the repast, demanding to know why it was in her father's keeping and you were not." Haldir finally smiled again. "What a glorious sight she was, like Elwing marching to war, defying both Mithrandir and Lord Elrond! She was blazing angry with them for keeping such a secret and ready to ride out in search of you. I would rather take on Elrohir at his worst!" Aragorn was visibly upset.
"I must go soon then! I want none to worry, especially Arwen." Aragorn rose, ready to continue north immediately. Haldir gripped his arm.
"Patience! Mithrandir calmed her. He said his heart told him you were fine so she accepted that and took much comfort, I believe. It would do you no good to stagger off into Gladden exhausted. Bandits haunt the river plain. The place is more dangerous than ever," he said, convincingly.
Haldir gave orders for the care of his horse and led Aragorn deep into the forest to the city of the Galadhrim, Calas Galadhon. He found him comfortable lodgings amid the trunks of the great Mellyrn and introduced him to the cleansing hot springs that bubbled near the Celebrant. Aragorn decided he might never be able to leave their steamy, healing waters. Clean, he found on his bedding fine clothes in the grey and blue of Elrond's house.
Celeborn sent a herald to collect him the next morning and Aragorn was ushered up to the high flet of the rulers of Lorien. Celeborn stood waiting for him, greeted him warmly, and sat talking with him as time spun away. The Lord of the Golden Wood was pleased to renew his acquaintance with the one he knew was his granddaughter's intended. He was convinced as she was that this young man who would someday be king of Arnor and Gondor. After sharing a meal and míruvórë, he sent Aragorn to his pallet where he spent another restful, dreamless night. On the third day, he explored the city and planned that on the fourth morning, he would continue on to Rivendell.
The moon rose over the Golden Wood as he was packing his few possessions into his saddlebags. He looked up and the Lady was standing within arm's length watching him. Her mystic beauty struck him. She glowed in a way he had never seen from any other Elf-kind, seeing for the first time the aura other men said shimmered around the Eldar. Aragorn dropped to one knee and bowed deeply, hand to chest.
Galadriel curiously looked him over, this man who had impressed her husband, son-in-law, and granddaughter so. She reached out, touched his chin, and raised his face. Her eyes looked into his, through them, and into the recesses of his mind, judging him. Aragorn heard the whispered "Elessar" and did not flinch from the Lady's gaze. She dropped her eyes first and an enigmatic smile curled her lips. He was worthy.
"I see now, Elfstone, how you have such power over Elrond. He reads you right. You are pure at heart." She took his hand and drew him to his feet.
"You honor me, Lady." He modestly inclined his head. She led him out into her starlit gardens.
"Walk with me," she said. "I wish to speak of my granddaughter." Aragorn felt a sudden dread that this great lady was about to forbid his match with her kin. She squeezed his hand and her eyes held a smile. "Do not trouble yourself so with such thoughts. Keep to your path and all you wish for will be yours. Be patient with her. Her love for you is deep and unwavering. She will be remembered as a great queen of Gondor." He thoughtfully walked beside her, digesting what she said and watching the moss under their feet.
"I would have something of you, Lady." Aragorn stopped, turned to face her, and solemnly took both of Galadriel's hands in his. She no longer seemed a magical being, simply the mother of his lady's mother, a family member he held dear to his heart.
"A boon?" She was startled but hid it well. She had not believed Aragorn the kind to ask selfishly for a gift from her as many others did.
"Lady, I love Arwen more than life itself. She is my strength, my pillar, but I would have her leave Middle Earth if I am not able to shield her from the Dark Lord. I have asked the same vow of her and of her father. Please, Lady, I would be comforted if I thought you too would see she leaves if all hope is lost." He smiled engagingly at her and she laughed like a girl, relieved by his unselfish request.
"Asking the Lady of the Galadhrim to swear, my lord? My dear friend Mithrandir was right about you." He looked at her questioningly. "You will see."
Celeborn found them later walking under the birches in the starlight. He walked with them back to Aragorn's pallet, listening to their banter and marveling that this impetuous young man could amuse his wise, worldly wife. The mantle of power often weighed too heavily on her shoulders and he seldom in this Age heard her laugh so merrily. They left him there at the foot of the mallorn and wished him well on his journey home, Galadriel pressing a kiss of safety to his forehead.
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.