“So, you have spoken with our newest guest?”
Aragorn nodded slowly. “Yes, Lord Elrond.”
The Master of the Last Homely House sighed. “Why do you insist on calling me Lord, my son?” he asked.
The Man looked at his former foster father from under his brows, then shrugged. “Yet you have ever been more than merely the one who raised me as his son--you are the rightful heir to Ereinion Gil-galad himself; the lord of this land, no matter how small it is; the greatest loremaster remaining within Middle Earth----”
Elrond held up a hand to halt his foster son’s words. “I question that, with Celeborn, Galadriel, and Círdan remaining yet within the Mortal Lands. And do you not also avoid speaking of me as father due to the fact I am that to the woman you love?”
Aragorn faced him directly, and with the pain of his desire conflicting with the loyalty he owed the one who’d raised him as his own written plainly on his face. At last he dropped his gaze. “I am sorry--I would not cause you this pain. Or myself,” he added in lower tones.
“The time comes,” Elrond said slowly, “when either your hope is reached, or we all face the final darkness together.” He sighed as he reached out to place his hand on the Man’s shoulder, and the two shared a look. “Of the two griefs, you know which I would prefer.”
Slowly his Mannish son nodded, his expression softening. “I wish only that neither of us had to face that grief, Adar.” He set his hand over that of the Peredhel.
After a time of quiet, Elrond straightened. “And what was your thought on meeting the son of Denethor of Gondor?”
Aragorn smiled ruefully. “When I realized who it was, all I could think for a moment was of the small child with the chubby legs I last saw with the hands of his mother on his shoulders.”
“Did he recognize you as Thorongil?”
“No, although he knows I am Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain. He met with Halbarad and Hardorn and those with them at Amon Sûl apparently a fortnight past. I was not surprised to learn one or more of them has appeared with news from the Shire and Bree.”
“And why have you not gone to your own rest?”
Aragorn straightened, lifting his head. “Did I not rest long enough after I collapsed the other day, the first time you tried to probe for the shard? I slept for better than a full day then!”
“And how much sleep did you allow yourself during the entire journey from Bree to here, child, and particularly after Frodo Baggins took his Morgul wound? It does no good for any should you become ill for lack of rest--you expended so much of yourself aiding him as you did to fight the progress of the shard and its influence as well as in leading the rest from the Weather Hills to here and keeping the greater part of the watch. You ought to have slept longer, but do not allow yourself the rest you as a mortal require.”
“And had the Nazgûl or orcs or trolls happened across us in the wilderness or the Trollshaws, think you the younger Hobbits could have successfully defended all five of us without my skill and knowledge? I could not allow myself the luxury of a deep sleep when I had under my protection the one bearing the Enemy’s worst device. Not that It was allowing me much rest with Its constant probing. It is disconcerting to find another’s promptings constantly working at one.”
Elrond examined the Man’s face closely. “You felt Its influence?”
“Yes--and that was far worse once Frodo was hurt, for before he appeared to mostly keep Its attention engaged. He was oft only partially aware of us and what we did, for fighting the shard appeared to take almost all of his will, which I have found to be considerable. I am amazed at how strong he is, as fragile as he appears.” His voice hardened. “And I curse Sauron anew for having created such a foul thing and setting It loose to trouble those of us who can only be expected to be influenced by Its will to evil!”
The Master of Rivendell shook his head. “It was never Sauron’s intent to lose It, and I doubt that once It was lost in the river he could have found It. Ulmo has never forgotten how Aulendil betrayed his brother Aulë’s trust as well as all of the Valar and Maiar when he participated in the destruction of the first Lamps and openly declared himself a follower of Morgoth.”
“Yet he gave It a will of Its own!” Aragorn argued.
Elrond shrugged. “He infused his own will, his own nature, into Its being. It cannot help being as It is, seeing that It is merely an extension of Its maker. Be glad, ion nín, that he did so, for in this way was his evil and his will divided for all these last three thousand sun-rounds.”
“Then It must be destroyed.” The Dúnadan’s declaration was one of sheer, unassailable logic.
The Peredhel examined his companion’s expression more closely still, marveling at the sheer determination and the loathing for Sauron’s craft he saw reflected there. “There is but one way that such a thing might be accomplished, and I would not see at this point anyone I love take that road.”
The light in the adan’s eyes could not be denied. “Then are we to allow It to remain here within the living lands, ever a trap and a twisting influence on the wills of those who have sworn to serve the Light? And what if in the end one of his servants finds Its bearer and takes It by violence, and returns It to Sauron himself? Without It he has even now nearly returned to his former strength, according to you and Glorfindel and Círdan and all others with whom I’ve spoken who saw what he’d become before his fall to the Last Alliance. Then it cost the lives of Elendil and Gil-galad themselves to bring him sufficiently down that Isildur could take It from him! Should he retrieve It again now--who could dream of withstanding him?”
“You cannot take it, Aragorn.”
That was spoken so quietly, a mere fact of even stronger logic than the Man himself had displayed, that it froze the Dúnadan for a time. At last he sank down onto a nearby chair, wiping a shaking hand across his brow. “It had almost taken me, Ada,” he whispered, “almost convinced me that only I could show sufficient will to keep It in Its place.” There was fear and distress in his eyes as he raised them to those of the one he’d ever loved as a father. “I dare not touch the thing!”
Elrond nodded slowly. “Now you know why I have refused even to look at It if I can avoid doing so. Oh, It would delight to take such a one as one of us.”
The Man indicated his agreement, his jaw tightening. His eyes dropped as he thought. At last he said softly, “I pray that It does not seek to suborn Boromir. I would not desire to see Finduilas’s child lost to Its power.” Again he looked up to meet the eyes of his foster father and most beloved and trusted counselor. “After seeing what It has done to the likes of Frodo Baggins....”
The heir to Ereinion Gil-galad and the heir to Elendil and Isildur shared one more moment of agreement.