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Written for the LOTR Community "Graduation Gifts" challenge. For all who have had birthdays in the last month.
Aragorn found the Lady Galadriel on a low public flet overlooking the Silverlode, staring blindly south and somewhat east and away from the sunset colors that illuminated the crests of the mountains to their west, her hands clasped together over the rail about the edge of the platform.
“My lady?” he asked, tentatively. “Are you unwell?”
She turned slowly toward him, her gaze gradually focusing upon him, searching his face, his eyes. “Unwell? Oh, but no, my Lord Aragorn. Not unwell. No, not unwell, but perhaps unsettled.”
He wisely remained silent but attentive. She finally began to show a faint smile. “Elrond has taught you well,” she said. “Remain silently attentive long enough and the other will eventually begin to unburden himself of his—or her—thoughts.”
He returned her smile. “It is a useful skill, even as Adar described it to me when I was young. Would you like to explain what has happened to make you, of all souls within Middle Earth, unsettled? Or, should I ask what happened between you and Frodo?”
“And what do you know of any discourse between Master Baggins and myself?”
He spread his hands. “I know that you took Frodo apart for what you had hoped would be a private conversation, and that Sam, as usual, would not allow him to go alone. And I have come to depend upon Frodo to surprise people.”
Her brow lifted. “And has he surprised you, of all people?”
He laughed. “Oh, yes—repeatedly. He has done little but surprise everyone—everyone except Bilbo, of course, all through his journey from his home in the Shire.”
Again she searched his face thoughtfully. “And how has he surprised Elrond?”
He gave a slight shrug. “First, he was able to successfully fight the effects of a Morgul wound for seventeen days. Second, once the shard within the wound was successfully removed and destroyed, he recovered swiftly—far more swiftly than any Man or Elf who has been so wounded that we have ever been aware of. Third, he is remarkably resistant to the will of the Ring. Fourth, he appears to have unconsciously become capable of turning the awareness of the Ring away from his companions who also are Hobbits, although he is less successful in protecting those of us who are Men, Elves, or Dwarves. Fifth, his knowledge of the history of Middle Earth is remarkably deep, for which we can thank Bilbo Baggins for the most part. And sixth, he has been able to at least contemplate giving the Ring to others he perceives are perhaps likely to be able to control It, at least somewhat.”
“Did he offer It to Elrond?”
Aragorn slowly shook his head. “No, but he did offer It to both Gandalf and myself. In fact, he seemed markedly relieved when he realized that, as Isildur’s Heir, I was now next in line to inherit the Ring in accordance with Isildur’s having claimed It as an heirloom of our house and tied our bloodline to protect Its safety.”
“And you would not accept It?”
He shuddered visibly. “Of course not! I daren’t touch It at all! If Isildur could not give It up from the first moments It came into his keeping, could I expect myself to be proof against Its blandishments? I rather think not.” He took a deep breath before continuing, “I rather suspect that only a Hobbit would be truly capable of taking relatively little hurt from It, as they are for the most part little given to ambition toward power. After all, Sauron apparently gave no thought to seeing Rings made for any Hobbit to wield.”
She again smiled. “That is true, child.” He joined her at the rail, and both looked off south and somewhat east, there where they knew the Enemy sat, plotting his next moves against the Free Peoples of the West. Finally she continued, “You might have used Its power against him.”
“And what good would that have done, do you think? It was not made for a Man to wield, and look at what has come of those who accepted those Rings intended for Men. They are not free to rule those they previously led. Nay, they are the least free of all, are they not? Neither living nor dead, certainly robbed of their ability to rule their own movements or choices, much less those of anyone else.
“Not, of course, that I have ever desired to rule by compulsion. I rather fear that I never thought too highly of Celebrimbor and his Rings of Power even when I was a small child, reading of the Elven smiths in my adar’s library. Nay, if there was any magic stone I coveted, I must say that it was the Elessar, for my imagination was stirred not by power to compel, but rather by power to renew.”
She turned her head to examine now his profile. “You prefer renewal?”
“Of course. Is not hope a better motivator than pressure, do you think? I would rather that those I might lead would follow my way because they share my own belief in fulfillment rather than because they fear me or would do what they think I would want done solely for the sake of seeking to flatter me. I want to truly honor those who do well rather than to merely reward blind obedience or bootlicking. I, after all, am mortal as are those it is said will be my subjects one day—if, of course, we are able to rise victorious over Sauron. I want those who fight with me to be willing to continue on to reach for the Light even if mine own is darkened by my death; I want those who labor with me to continue to seek to build up our people even if I am no longer here to see.”
Again they stood in silence, each immersed in thought. It was some time before she said, “My daughter’s daughter has done well, I think, in bestowing her heart and her Light where she has. Full worthy are you to love her, for you have set your priorities in good array. You are, I believe, ready to rule if anyone has ever been. And Elrond has ever seen his brother’s spirit reflected in yours.”
He looked down, and she thought he flushed at least a bit. It was some time before he straightened and asked again, “And what did Frodo do that surprised you?”
She gave the slightest self-deprecating shake of her head before whispering, “He offered It—the Enemy’s own Ring—to me.”
Both were still, the Man now searching her face, before he said, “And you would not have It either?”
“Oh, but I would have had It, except that in the end It would have brought me down to his level, even as you have recognized It would have done to you. I would rather be the least of all of the Elves yet living free within Aman than to be the ruling Queen amongst my countless slaves here in Middle Earth.”
He sighed. “What a test to set you, my Lady.”
“And here I had thought to test his will, his wisdom.”
After still another time of quiet, he murmured, “Adar always held that the Creator has quite the sense of humor.”
As Celeborn approached his wife ere they went to bid their guests farewell as the Fellowship set out to sail down the Silverlode into the Anduin, he was surprised to see her pinning the Elessar brooch to the bosom of her gown. “You wear the Elessar openly, o my best beloved?”
She looked up and smiled rather absently as she clasped the guard to keep the brooch in its place. “But briefly, my beloved Lord. It goes to its proper bearer this day.”
He raised a brow in interrogation.
She gave a laugh. “I was left it by Arwen ere she departed for Imladris the last time, charged by her to give it to Aragorn as her promise gift in return for the Ring of Barahir he entrusted to her when they plighted their troth. Well, he has demonstrated that he is fully ready to wear and wield it. When it was foretold he should be himself the Elessar, Healer and Renewer, that was told truly. I have a strong feeling that it shall shine brighter for him than it ever did for me, for all that I am of Elf-kind and he a mortal. And never shall I ever again think of mortals as being of lesser value in the eyes of Ilúvatar than are the Eldar. Well has he studied, seeking to learn how to rule from Elrond, Thranduil, us, Thengel, and Ecthelion. He intends to rule truly by leading, encouraging all others to grow with him even as he grows amongst them. I find I cannot help but respect him, and am certain he will bring Arwen to the fulfillment she so deserves.”
“Then you deem him ready for the kingship that we believe awaits him?”
“Aye, I do.”
“Then allow us to go forth and allow him to know this, heart of mine own.”
Together they descended to the quay where their swan boat awaited them, the sunlight catching the facets of the Elessar stone and illuminating the waterway with lambent green light.
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