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For Awallen, Radbooks, and Erulisse for their birthdays, with love to all of you!
Coming of Age
“Thank you Ad—Lord Elrond,” the youth Aragorn said with a highly formal bow. His head held high, he turned and left the study of the Master of Imladris, realizing he was being very much on his dignity. Once he was out in the hallway and the door to Elrond’s study shut behind him, he slumped against the wall, trying to take in all he’d just learned.
Oh, he’d known all of his life that he was a Man rather than an Elf and that Elrond was not the one who’d conceived him with his mother. He’d always known that Elrond was merely fostering him while he was yet a child, raising him up due to some debt Elrond believed he’d owed to Aragorn’s real father. But it had been Elrond who had bound up scraped knees and who gave him his first wooden sword—and who’d scolded him for using that sword on the roses in the garden, setting him to practicing with it instead on the ragweed and goldenrod along the pasture fence. It was Elrond who sat by him while his mother taught him his letters and who introduced him to Quenya as well as Adûnaic and Sindarin and Westron. It was Elrond who took him out into the herb gardens and taught him to tell seedlings from weeds, and who taught him how to harvest and prepare the plants they grew for use in the kitchens and the healing wing. It was Elrond who gave him his first pony, and then his first horse when he was big enough to ride it!
But it was just now that he knew his true lineage and just why Elrond had seen him brought up and educated and trained in so many subjects, why he’d been groomed to administration, record keeping, healing, the study of law, the study of history, gardening, and warcraft as well as languages and the practice of diplomacy. He knew now why his brothers had been tasked with teaching him how to track and how to recognize and deal with the many foes that abounded in the region surrounding the hidden valley of Imladris. He knew now why all had drilled him into an attitude of constant vigilance. Of course he must be vigilant—he was the heir to Isildur and the rightful Chieftain of the northern Dúnedain warriors, and those of his lineage who had failed in their vigilance tended to die violent deaths at the hands of their many enemies! His own father had been slain by an orc arrow that had hit in the eye, after all.
Aragorn son of Arathorn—that was his true name, his rightful lineage. Aragorn son of Arathorn, the Heir to Isildur and through him of Elendil, and heir of the ancient Kings of Númenor as well.
He looked up, startled. So much for the constant vigilance he’d been trained in! He’d not heard the approach of Glorfindel, who was the Captain of the forces that protected the valley. Not, of course, that Glorfindel generally allowed his approach to be detected….
“You have known my true name and history?” he asked, realizing as he spoke how petulant the question sounded.
“Of course. I helped in the training of your father during his own years of fostering here, as I did with your grandfather and his father before him. All of your ancestors since the return of the followers of Elendil to Middle Earth have spent time here in Imladris, after all. Although I do not believe that Elrond has been as close to any of them as he is to you since he fostered Valandil here.”
“And why do you call me Dúnadan?”
“Are you not the Man of the West, child? It is ever one of the titles borne by the heirs to Elendil.”
“But we have not dwelt on the isle of Númenor for three thousand years!”
Glorfindel gave his elegant shrug. “Perhaps not, but the memory of those golden days lives on in you, Aragorn. The hope of your bloodline is there within you, and it is likely that the time for that bloodline to reassert its innate royalty will come during your lifetime.”
The young Man closed his eyes and swallowed deeply. “Is that why he called me Estel as a child?” he asked as he reopened his eyes to meet the Elf’s gaze.
“Yes. All of your life you have embodied the hope of the Dúnedain as well as the hope of all who seek to defeat the evil of the dark powers. In you your adar has seen again the greatness of his brother, whom he lost so long ago when Elros chose the mortality to which you were born. He has seen the great integrity he honored in Elendur, Isildur’s oldest son. He has seen the promise of nobility that so many Men have doubted they can again achieve after so many yen deprived of proper rule by those intended to serve as their Kings. It is in you, beloved one, to lead the forces of the West against the evil of Mordor and to see it defeated once and for all.”
“That is much to ask of me, a largely untried youth.”
“Perhaps. Do you think yourself unprepared to follow the path appointed to you as Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain and perhaps as intended King of the reunited realm? Not that you are expected to take on the rule of both Arnor and Gondor all in an instant. You will take some time to gain the trust even of your own people within the Angle and across northern Eriador, for but a few of them have held the knowledge that you did not die as had been feared in the last great plague visited upon the western lands by the Necromancer ere the White Council forced him to reveal himself as Sauron. You have been trained as a warrior and a great captain; now you must convince the Rangers of the north that you are that indeed. You must earn their trust and demonstrate that you can give just judgments and accept counsel and make the hard decisions expected of those who are intended to rule. You must come to know them and their hopes and fears, to stoke the former and strengthen them against the latter. You must approach the various peoples of the northern lands and coax them to cooperate with one another, to stand together against the evil of the darker days to come.
“You will be misunderstood by some and reviled by others, and will be embarrassed by the blind love offered by some few you will find difficult to understand. It will not be easy to take your place in the world outside this protected vale, but it is needful that you be willing to do so if the Darkness is not to overwhelm us as it intends.”
“And you think that I can do this?”
Glorfindel gave a smile that was overwhelming in its delight. “Oh, but if anyone can achieve this, I think it is you, for are you not both Estel and Aragorn, Hope beyond understanding and the Valiant Lord? Yes, child, I do believe that you can achieve this—if you can believe in yourself as we have all of your life so far. Do you question your adar’s judgment, or mine?”
And in that moment the hope that had been inherent in his childhood name filled him, and Aragorn son of Arathorn put aside his doubts, and went out of Elrond’s house to seek a place to practice his new identity, singing the Lay of Lúthien as he sought the comfort of the birch wood where he’d often found the solitude he needed to accept to himself some new truth or responsibility.
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