Darkness and stone enclosed Aragorn in a space barely large enough for his frame. He lay atop a pile of stones that tumbled down the chasm before him. His body bent across them, his limbs lay across his chest, pinned beneath his body, and pinned beneath stone. Blood, now dry, covered half his face and one eye. There was neither sound, nor movement. The deep booming in the mountain now returned to nothing, and Aragorn would ever question whether his eyes saw truly before plunging into the widening gap.
Aragorn awoke slowly, his head spinning and his eyes heavy. He brought one shaking hand up from his chest and touched his face. He tried to sit up, but managed only to roll partially on his side to free his left arm, pinned beneath him. With both hands he grasped desperately in the dark, feeling the stone all around. A wall stood to his right, and he guessed that he lay beside it and the cavern was open enough for him to reach the full length of his arm before touching stone to his left.
Attempting to move, he found that one of his feet lay pinned beneath a stone and he sat up slowly, pebbles and broken stone falling around him, filling the dark cavern with a grating noise. He reached down to his foot and barely lifted a stone enough to pull his boot free. He breathed heavily, and he fell back again, resting against a wide flat stone. The chill air became apparent as his senses returned, but he could think little beyond the throbbing in his head, the sharp pain in his foot, and the dull aching across the rest of his body.
At last he brought his body forward and held onto the stone to his left, sitting upright. He leaned forward and sat for a while, breathing heavily. His hands felt around him and his fingers pushed something aside, which scraped across the stone floor. Feeling it blindly he could sense its sharp edges and it was large enough to hold in his hand. His heart sank as he realized the full blade he carried had shattered beneath him. He hung his head, holding the broken blade in his hands.
Aragorn put his hands to the floor and attempted to push himself up, pulling a foot in, and trying to stand; but he could not push further, and the weight of his body was more than he could bear. He collapsed once more, breathing heavily in the cold, his eyes wet and stinging. There was no measure of time, and he lay without moving for what could have been moments, or many of the long number of years that remained ahead of him, though, he thought that now he would never see them. In his despair, he fell asleep.
The valley of Imladris was bright and a pleasant wind blew Aragorn’s hair around his face, but he tied it back behind his head. Standing in his room, he looked out over the valley, covered in trees, and the Bruinen loudly gurgling over rocks and falls, bringing a pleasant wave of noise to him, mingled with singing birds and the rustling of leaves.
On the bed was his usual pack of supplies for whenever he set out ranging: a bow, carved himself, and not looking as fine as those made in Imladris; a small bundle of arrows tied together; his long sword in its leather scabbard; and beside it, the broken blade of Elendil. He buckled the long sword around his waist and tied the arrows and bow to his pack, but left the broken heirloom on the bed. Staring at it, the blade shimmered in the morning light coming in through the window. He became lost in the shining blade and the reflection of the room and light within. He thought he heard voices on the wind that seeped into his mind, ancient and deep they were, desperate, yet not weak.
Suddenly, a voice from behind awakened him, “Aragorn?” Gilraen stood there, a bundle of cloth beneath her arm. “I wish you would not set out so soon,” she continued, entering the room and standing beside him.
“My heart is restless, as are my feet,” Aragorn said, avoiding his mother’s eyes and going through the contents of his pack, though he had already checked them twice before. “Going out on the road feels best right now.”
“If your heart stirs for the wild, then I understand. But, are you sure you cannot assuage it with good company and the comfort of home? There is much here you could learn and those whose counsel you could heed, if the recent news troubles you,” Gilraen said.
Aragorn sighed and stopped. He looked up across the room, for he knew if he met his mother’s gaze, he would likely falter, and still he could not bury the conflict within him at the news she and Elrond had given him only a few weeks prior. “I understand, mother. I know you would have me stay, and I admit setting out is rash, and I cherish your counsel, and that of Elrond. But, I must come to terms with what you have told me on my own. I must seek the advice of my heart, and I fear I can only do so in solitude.”
Gilraen nodded and hanging her head, she wished not to press her son further. She knew his mind was made up, and though she wished against it, he would leave Imladris for the first time under his own true name. She sheltered him for many years in Imladris, and each time he left before, with the sons of Elrond, or on his own, she felt a tether between them, that he would safely return, for no orc or servant of the enemy knew his true name, and true worth. But now, the threat grew and her fear, which had long settled, was now renewed. At last, she laid the cloth bundle on the bed and began to unwrap it.
“Elrond wished you to carry this,” she said. “Do not leave the sword behind, and you shall carry it in this.” The cloth held a leather scabbard, but shortened, as if to carry a long knife, such as those carried by Elrorhir. “I know the sword and this news may weigh on you now, but I see in the future that it will shine brightly, and one day, you will carry it proudly, as a light unto the free world. You will remember the light when you need it most.”
Aragorn quivered, and he looked at her with love, and embraced her tightly. Their tears mingled, and she held him in her arms, until at last he pulled away. “I shall carry it, and though I do not know what strength I may draw from it, I know the strength that you give me, and it could best any foe.”
Gilraen tenderly put a hand to his cheek, “Be safe, my son. I shall see you upon your return.”
When Aragorn awoke again, he looked up and instead of pure darkness above, a light projected in a soft beam from an opening on the left wall of the stone shaft. He could hardly see the size of the hole, but the sight of it warmed his heart, and his body, still aching and throbbing in pain, seemed lighter. He lifted himself up, and in the pale light, managed to slowly stand. He fell against the wall to his right and leaned against it, breathing heavily. He clutched his left arm close to his chest and he could still only move it slowly and with great pain.
Looking up the shaft, the ray of light reached across from a hole that he could now see, a shaft carved in the stone for ventilation. The pile of rubble and large broken stone upon which he once laid reached higher up the wall than he presently stood. Reaching up the left wall, he climbed onto a stone that lay against it and his searching fingers found the rim of the opening, not quite a full arm’s length above his head. He let out a heavy breath and brought his arm down again, knowing he’d have to exert all his strength to pull himself into the opening.
He climbed down from the stone and unbuckled the scabbard of his long sword and left it on the floor of the shaft with the other broken pieces. The broken, ancient blade now hung at his side, alone, but unharmed. He lightened his pack of any unneeded items and cinched it tightly to his body. His bow and few remaining arrows he left there, also. Climbing back atop the stone, he faced the wall and with a great force, he leaped, his arms reaching the edge of the opening. He pulled with all his might, his left arm burning, a flame passing through his arm, shoulder, and chest. Aragorn let out a great cry and pulled his body up, bending finally at the waist and lying half inside the ventilation shaft.
It sloped gently upward, and ahead he could see a faint light, but the passage was long, and square, but barely large enough for him. He found finger holds along the floor and sides of the shaft and pulled his weight up and forward. Once his whole body lay inside, he pushed with his feet, his shoulders cramped and scraping against the walls. He turned awkwardly on his side, lying diagonally in the square chamber and began to push and pull his way up. He felt trapped and panicked with each passing second, for he would find himself momentarily stuck, or so he thought, only to then push himself forward again with great effort.
At long last he reached the end, and tumbled out of the ventilation shaft in a heap on a new stone floor. He breathed heavily, but he closed his eyes and laughed, which was cut short by the pain in his arm. Aragorn rolled over and stood inside a large chamber, lit by pale moonlight from long shafts in the mountain overhead. He stood among abandoned mines, with steps carved into stone and great holes in the floor. Rotting wood lay about, and great scaffolds stood at the rim of the mineshafts.
The cavern stood quiet, and Aragorn looked around, the relief of escaping the tight enclosure of the mineshaft faded away; resignation replaced it. His shoulders dipped and he held his left elbow in his right hand. He felt stuck in place, and thought to the long dark that he could not escape. Some unknown force turned him back just as he neared the western door of Moria. He could not yet escape, and he searched for a reason. He sat on the cold stone floor of the chamber, convinced that the mountain strove against him. Memory of his mother and her counsel to stay in Imladris came back to him, now. Aragorn spoke words of regret and apology in his mind, to her, though she could not hear, and was far away. As usual, she was right, he could find no validation alone, in the dark.
But Aragorn remembered his mother’s strength, and though he drew his line from his father, through the years and age, down to Isildur and Elendil, it was Gilraen who stood with him now. He remembered back when he was young, how she held him and he would fall asleep on her lap as they sat in the grass, beneath the groves in Imladris. Days of just the two of them, wandering through the valley. He ran through streams and thickets, chasing rabbits and squirrels, and she always called him back; he always returned. His father, who he never knew, delivered to him a legacy and responsibility that he now had to carry; but Gilraen carried him, then and now, and suddenly, Aragorn’s heart was aflame, and he stood, a new determination beating back the pain in his limbs and the fatigue throughout his body.
From the large chamber of mines, he found silent caverns that twisted upward and around, roughly hewn, and mostly carved naturally by ancient waters that he found still dripping and coating the walls around him. Aragorn’s footfalls were quiet and as he walked, he felt his path rising and turning, and his heart rose at the same time. The caverns slowly became passageways where dwarven hands and picks had more clearly shaped the stone. The floor was smooth and the passage more square. He came up stairs and ultimately to a hall with three doorways whose paths branched left, down, and up and to the right. Instinctively he chose the path up and continued on with strength renewed.