16. Arnor: “A gentle breeze brushed the hilltop, combing the ruins.”
Aragorn, Elrohir, Halbarad, other Dúnedain
Aragorn, Elrohir, Halbarad, other Dúnedain
A gentle breeze brushed the hilltop, combing the ruins as Estel—nay, Estel no longer, now Aragorn son of Arathorn--breasted the crest of Amon Sûl in the wake of his uncle. Halbaleg son of Dirhael had served in the stead of the Chieftain of the northern Dúnedain since the death of Arathorn, who, so advised by the Council of Elders, had named the brother of his wife the Steward of Arnor (such as Arnor was in these latter days). Aragorn had seen the Man at least once a year since he and his mother were taken into refuge in the House of Elrond. Now he knew why: Halbaleg and his wife were two of the seven witnesses who knew the truth of the survival of the son of Arathorn and Gilraen, and who would stand for his identity before the rest of the remnant of the people of Elendil, Isildur, and Valandil.
It felt strange, to think of those names as being those of his own first forebears in this land. He had learned them well enough in his childhood lessons of the histories of Middle Earth. But to think of them as having been Men of flesh and bone such as his own, and from whom he himself was descended, and whose responsibilities were now become his own? How was it that the passage of a mere day—the day of his twentieth birthday—had so turned his world upside-down? Oh, he’d known that his real father had been a Man and a Ranger, and one of nobility and responsibility. So he’d been assured by both his naneth and his adar often enough since his earliest years. But since the age of two, his few memories of the Man who’d once swung him confidently up upon his shoulder each time he returned from a patrol had grown vague indeed, and he’d never thought of him as the last Chieftain of the Dúnedain whose name he’d had to learn along with those of all who’d come before him, Chieftains and Kings.
He realized that his party had not been the first to arrive here. Others had been awaiting them, and now Men began to rise from where they’d been sitting in the grass. Nor were all of the tall shapes in the shadows remnants of statues and tumbled walls, he realized. At least four Men and two women had been standing there, leaning on spears or staves, and now for the first time stirred. One of the women at least he recognized—his Aunt Anneth, Halbaleg’s wife, who’d come a few times to Imladris to see him, usually for the odd birthday celebration. The other—well, she reminded him of his mother, but older. And the look on her face—was it hope?
Aunt Anneth stepped forward, followed by a young Man who appeared near to his own age, his eyes measuring and uncertain as they met Estel’s own. A few others also followed Aunt Anneth forward, each of whom he’d seen two or three times over the years. These came to flank him, and turned to face the rest who’d gathered here.
He felt Elrohir’s hand upon his shoulder, familiar and comforting. And it was Elrohir’s voice that rose to break the silence. “I come this day to return to the descendants of my adar’s muindor one of your own. Behold, today we return the one we have ever acknowledged as the Hope of your people as well as our own that the Darkness will once more be defeated. Indeed, such was his name when he dwelt with us as if he were son to our adar and our brother indeed, for the child’s name bestowed upon him was Estel. As has been done with each of the Heirs of Isildur, he has been educated in the histories of Arda, in the ways of policy and judgment, of administration and leadership, in healing and warcraft. You will find him a canny tracker and hunter, and a paragon with sword and dagger. He speaks Westron, Sindarin, Quenya, and Adúnaic fluently, and is already skilled in the sifting of hearts. Five years has he ridden out with our patrols to fight the enemies of the Free Peoples, and he has proved himself well.”
An elderly Man who stood by the older woman who resembled his own naneth stepped forward, leaning upon the staff in his hand. “You say that this is my grandson, the son of my daughter Gilraen and her husband Arathorn?” he asked.
“Do you doubt my word, Lord Dirhael?” Elrohir responded.
“We all stand witness for him, Papa,” said Uncle Halbaleg. “We agreed with the wisdom of Elladan and Elrohir that the Enemy has sought too assiduously to end the line of the ancient Kings. When he went comatose with the fever and it was believed that he’d died, we let that belief stand, and for his own protection as well as that of our people. It was not only grief at her husband’s loss that took your daughter from us and into Elrond’s house, you see.”
The woman was smiling tremulously. “I certainly see our daughter’s expression upon his face, husband! Aye, then I was right, and he was not taken from us forever! Welcome, Aragorn! Welcome home to your own people, Ari.”
Ari. How familiar that dear-name was, in spite of being spoken to him only infrequently during his youngest years in his adar’s house. He felt his lip work as he tried to put together long set-aside pieces of his past and history, tried to join them together with what he’d once thought of only as matters of study for study’s own sake!
“And what is to be done with him?” demanded a big bear of a Man with the stance of a tried warrior.
Elrohir laughed easily. “Take him and train him well, Baerdion! He has learned all that we can teach him of our ways. Now it is time for your people to do the same.
“Ai—think of it this way: you all stand now in the ruins of Amon Sûl, the Watchtower of the Winds. I remember well when it stood as tall as Elendil built it. Well, this tower can be built anew upon the ruins of Elendil’s own works, for his foundations still remain. And so it is for the Northern Dúnedain—Estel here, Aragorn the Valiant, shall become the cornerstone for the rebuilding of Arnor and its honor; and, we hope, will bring together North and South once more. No longer should there be a King with no kingdom here in the north and a kingdom with no King in Gondor.”
Considering the weight of uncertainty he saw in so many faces, Aragorn was feeling a most inadequate cornerstone indeed.
Then he realized that the only young Man in the company, the one who’d followed his Aunt Anneth and who must be her son, hers and Uncle Halbaleg’s, perceived his uncertainty and was beginning to feel sympathy for him. He turned his attention back to him, and searched his face, those eyes as grey as his own, and suddenly he felt reassured he could indeed find a place among these people. He smiled----
And the youth, obviously surprised, looked back, his mouth first in an O of startlement, then his eyes growing warmer as he began to return that smile.
He felt Elrohir’s hand squeeze his shoulder for a moment, and then his brother loosed him. Aragorn swallowed. He was now deemed ready, he realized, to fly on his own. He took a step forward….