Estel sat on a soft couch in a room in the House of Elrond, his mother, Gilraen, sitting beside him. Spring was rising in the valley and the songs of birds and the warm light of the sun filled the room from the open windows. They talked joyfully, for Estel had not seen his mother for many weeks while he was away with his brothers. The comfort of her voice and the light touch of her hand upon his was a stark and a welcome change from the hard, cold lands from which he returned.
Elrond entered carrying a white wooden box, which he placed gently on a table in the center of the room. He smiled and Estel stood quickly to greet him, bowing his head, but the Elf gripped him tightly in a warm embrace.
“Welcome home, Estel,” Elrond said. “You have brought the Spring with you, or it has told of your coming.”
“Surely I did not bring it, for our road was often cold and harsh,” Estel said, smiling.
“Sit now, Estel, let us speak for a moment,” Gilraen said softly. And suddenly Estel saw that her face had become grave and a look of grief and fear overcame her light.
Estel looked between them concernedly, and Elrond motioned for him to sit. He took his place beside his mother on the couch and Elrond turned back to the table and opened the wooden box. Its contents Estel could not see, for Elrond stood between them. Slowly Elrond turned and his hands were clasped one atop the other and Estel could see in his face that something had fallen upon both his mother and his adoptive father, for they suddenly seemed to carry a weight and Estel felt an uneasiness that soon such a weight was to be passed to him.
Elrond sat in a chair across from them and opening his hands, he held up a silver ring. Brilliantly it shone and Estel could see that it was in the shape of two serpents, each with emerald eyes that twinkled in the sun. One of the serpents devoured, and the other supported a crown of golden flowers.
As Elrond did not speak, Estel remarked, “A brilliant token,” finding little more he could say to break the silence that hung about them.
“Indeed,” Elrond said at last, “for this is the Ring of Barahir, owned by Finrod Felegund, lord of Nargothrond. It has passed through the ages upon many hands, a token of eternal friendship between Finrod and the house of Barahir. Though its history has not always been complete, it came to rest with me nearly a thousand years ago.”
Estel looked with amazement, though Elrond did not speak to the purpose of this tale, or of the artifact itself. But he remained quiet, for he knew nothing of this ring, and Elrond’s eyes searched Estel’s face.
Elrond continued, “The ring came to me from the Rangers of the North, those who remain of the Northern Kingdom, the men of Arnor. You, your mother, and father, are counted among them. It was given to me, as it is an heirloom of that kingdom, and here I hold those in safekeeping.”
“Indeed, now I recall mention of such things in what I have read and learned about the Northern Kingdom,” Estel said.
“Yes, we have taught you much, but though your knowledge is wide, it is not yet deep, and in a way, I am ashamed to say that it has been purposefully kept so,” Elrond said, his head bowed.
“What do you mean?” Estel asked, looking at the Elf and then his mother.
“Lord Elrond speaks truthfully, though he is not all to blame. Please be patient, my son, for we have not meant to wound you, but there is much that has been kept from you,” Gilraen said. Suddenly, Estel felt cold and he looked at his mother, a pain in her eyes. He searched for words to say, but could muster none, and he looked up at Elrond in utter confusion. She put a hand to his shoulder and her touch soothed him for a moment as Elrond continued.
“This being an heirloom of Arnor, passed from Tar-Elendil’s hand to that of his son, and to the Kings of Arthedain, until that Kingdom, too, fell into ruin, it is by right, to pass to the only living heir of that line,” Elrond said, reaching out his hand and presenting the ring to Estel.
Estel’s eyes widened and breath escaped him. His heart fluttered, but then sank, for he churned over many words and feelings in that moment. The truth eluded him still, for how could such a thing be true? His eyes glistening, he looked to his mother, and then to Elrond.
“I do not understand,” he stammered.
“The Ring is yours, Estel,” Elrond said. “Heir of Isildur.”
Estel’s hands shook, and his mother comforted him, “It is much to bear, I know. But the truth is thus: your father, Arathorn, slain by orcs when you were but a babe, was Chieftain of the Dunedain, and through long lines that have withered, but not broken, heir of the last great Kings of Men,” she told him.
“This cannot be true,” Estel said, his voice shaking.
“This is the truth,” Gilraen continued. “After your father fell, as has been tradition, I brought you to Imladris and here we have raised you, and counseled you as best we can. Though, I feared for your safety, for the Enemy has long sought to end the line of Kings, being such a great threat to darkness in this world. Lord Elrond, and I, chose to conceal your identity from all, even yourself.”
“You’ve lied to me,” Estel said, a fire rising in his heart. He saw that the words wounded his mother, and he could not say whether that had been his intent, but his anger withdrew as he saw the pain on her face. “I am sorry,” he said.
Gilraen shed tears as the weight of the moment that she came to dread had finally laid upon her, and the pain in her son’s voice drove into her heart. “I am sorry,” she responded. “You are wounded, now, I know. I have been wounded each day, knowing that this time drew nearer with each passing winter, when spring arrived and you faced another year. I knew that revealing the truth to you meant that you would face greater danger than you could imagine, and that a path lay before you that would send you far from me, into darkness and doubt.”
His mother wept, and Estel put his arm around her and held her tightly. Each was wounded, and he came to realize that she passed to him a weight that she herself already bore. He could not blame her; he kissed her forehead and wept, too.
“I understand, mother,” he said. “This weight has fallen to me, and I do not know if I can bear it, yet; but you have already carried it daily, and your strength is more than I now possess. I admit that this news frightens me, more than any danger I have faced in the wild, but your strength gives me hope.”
“Hope,” Gilraen said. “It was I who bore Hope into this world, as it was foretold by my mother, Ivorwen. Though an uncertain fate now lies before you, there is ever hope, so long as you carry it with you. For that is why Lord Elrond and I chose to call you by such a name, but your given name that your father I bestowed upon you, is Aragorn.”
“Aragorn,” he said, at last speaking his own, true name.
As he looked up, Aragorn saw Elrond standing before him, and in his hands he held a shimmering sword. Though it shined brightly, Aragorn saw that the blade was broken, and he knew enough of the history of Men to recognize the sword of Elendil. Aragorn looked from the blade up to Elrond.
“Now, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur, Elendil’s son,” Elrond said to him, “the blade that was broken, must pass to you.”
Aragorn found that he could not reach for the ancient blade that Elron now presented to him, for in his heart he still could not fathom the truth of all that he heard. Finally he willed his hand to reach for the hilt, but it wavered, then his fingers gripped the sword and lifted it from Elrond’s hands. Though it was broken a foot above the hilt, it weighed heavily in his hands, and the thought of it made his heart heavy. Here was the blade that cut the Ring of Power from Sauron’s hand, yet he held it, barely of age, in a peaceful house in spring. Silly it seemed to call the sword his own.
“Now that it comes to you, great danger lies ahead,” Elrond said to him, putting a comforting hand upon his arm. “The Enemy will ever seek you, and you will have to remain vigilant all your life. There is much you must do now, and though you may travel far, my house will ever remain open to you, and I shall be glad to see you.”
Aragorn looked at him and held the sword down at his side, “Nothing you’ve told me here changes my feelings for you, or Imladris,” he said affectionately. “Though, I do not know which course I shall take now.”
Gilraen stood, “We do not intend for this to be a journey you must take right away. There is still much you can learn while here. Elrond may counsel differently, and you should certainly seek his wisdom, but for my part, I wish you to stay in Imladris a little while longer, so that we may speak and that I may answer questions, if I know the answers.”
“Your mother is right,” Elrond said. “It is well for you to stay in Imladris, until your heart bids you to do otherwise. There is time enough for you to face darkness and danger.”
Gilraen smiled at Aragorn, but her heart grew heavy as now her son had grown beyond the bounds of her protection.
Aragorn awoke in the cold darkness of Moria. He sat huddled in a corner of a square chamber that was littered with old, rotting wooden chairs and shelves. He had sat and slept in the dark for an unknown period of time, his cloak wrapped around him. Now awake, he struck his flint and re-lit a torch to cast flickering light across the room. He stood and peered out into the empty corridor, one of many on the Seventh Level. His torchlight illuminated the corridor a few feet in each direction and a light breeze blew through the stone hallway. To refocus his direction, he looked down at the small mark he made in the stone on the lower right of the opening to the chamber where a wooden door long ago fell off its hinges and now lay in pieces on the floor. He looked down the hall to his left and headed there, the sounds of his footsteps bouncing off the walls and ceiling.
The hall was barely large enough for two men to walk abreast, and Aragorn felt the stone walls close to him, as if they closed in with each passing step. The breeze passed like a deep breath in a cavern, whistling at times against unseen corners. He sharply turned back and stopped every few moments to peer into the fading torchlight behind him, the sound of real or imagined footsteps always in the back of his mind. Whether more goblins were on his trail or not, a faint dread ever followed him from the gates up through the levels on the east side of Moria.
At last the hallway opened into a greater passageway, and Aragorn surveyed it with the torch, holding it aloft to light his surroundings. He stood beneath a higher ceiling, and he walked across cautiously to touch the cold stone on the opposite wall. Though the passageway was larger and did not encroach upon him as the last, he did not find comfort, and his senses remained on a knife edge. He thought for a moment in the middle of the intersection and finally stepped to his right, following the passage as it wound ahead, with a vague sense of climbing upward.
He walked with his hand touching the left wall, guiding his way. Suddenly, the wall ended and by the light of his torch he saw there a doorway to another chamber. He entered and found a room not much larger than the chamber in which he slept before. Moving to the center of the room, he could see against the walls rotted wood and stone fragments lying about. Tools and weapons lay there also, brittle, chipped and rusting. He knelt over the head of a great pick axe, whose handle long fell into dust. Looking up, he started at the sight of a skeleton sitting up against the wall. He looked upon the undisturbed bones of a dwarf, clad in mail, a helmet sagging and covering much of its skull. An arrow pierced its chest and a shield lay beside its hand.
How long the warrior sat there, he could not tell; and Aragorn spoke softly to himself, to lament the dwarf’s passing, but also to steel his own nerves for he found that his heart fluttered and his thoughts strayed. Would he, too, be found in such darkness, decayed and alone where all sense of time is gone and the warmth of spring just a memory? He sighed deeply, and stood. Suddenly, the sounds of following footsteps, he knew were very real.
Aragorn quickly moved to the wall and put his back to it, standing to the left of the doorway, but he could not conceal the light of his torch, which reached out onto the passageway floor. He set it down in the corner of the chamber, drew his sword slowly, and waited as three orc voices echoed outside in the passageway.
Into the chamber they walked, and Aragorn saw the tip of a raised spear before the goblin that wielded it. As the goblin entered, the light from Aragorn’s torch drew it, and it turned, but Aragorn waited there, and sprung forth, grabbing the spear with his left hand and cleaving it in half with his sword. A second goblin spear thrust forward toward him and it cut Aragorn across the waist. Undeterred, Aragorn faced them, seeing a third goblin enter the chamber, this one wielding a sword.
They rushed him at once and Aragorn parried the spear away, blocking the goblin’s sword with the point of the spear that he now held. The third goblin used the broken shaft of the spear as a club and struck Aragorn in the leg. He fell to one knee, but quickly stuck the goblin with the spear point. The goblin shrieked and fell back with both hands clutching the spear in its chest, pulling it from Aragorn’s hand. Now the other two came upon him again, but he rolled and climbed to his feet quickly behind them. He struck one, then the other and the chamber fell quiet once more.
As it lay in the corner, the light of his torch burned low. A wave of desperation washed over him, and Aragorn rushed to retrieve the torch and blew softly to stoke the flame. He stood among the goblins, who lay scattered on the floor, the light of the torch causing their black blood to glisten on the floor. They would soon lie with the bones of dwarves from ages past; forgotten in the dark for many ages to come. Aragorn breathed rhythmically and his heart calmed. He carried his sword in one hand, now, and the torch in the other, and walked back out into the passageway.
Through many paths and halls he traveled. Large halls showed the old expanse of the dwarven city that once shone brightly beneath the mountain. Aragorn thought of the lights, songs, and the ever-present ringing of hammers that must have filled the halls in past ages. He smiled, even, at the thought, but always the heavy shroud of the current darkness and the unbearable silence overwhelmed him. A splendid kingdom once stood here, and he now looked upon despair and ruin: was this the fate of all things? Could such terror and evil be held at bay by so few? Did he have the strength to stand against it?
He moved through the present hall and into another pathway that branched from it, and a light caught his eye. At first he thought to rush toward it, to seek it with all speed. But he recalled the drawing of the goblins to his own torchlight, and stopped. He moved slowly toward the light, which faintly splashed on the opposite wall of the pathway. He came to a doorway with two large stone doors that hung open, and he looked inside to see a chamber that was slightly illuminated by a shaft of moonlight from above. He entered and stood where the ray of light fell onto the floor.
For the first time since he passed the great bridge of Khazad-dum, Aragorn saw light, and outside, a clear night. He looked about the chamber and found many signs of battle, bones, weapons, and chests thrown open. Recesses were carved into the walls and chests still sat there undisturbed. Aragorn delayed there, in the moonlight for as long as it could last. He sat against the wall and ate from his provisions of dried meat. He refreshed the torch, wrapping it in the old clothes he took from the felled goblins. He sat there and a shadow, some large cloud in the sky beyond the stone, passed in front of the moon, the light in the chamber slowly dying. He once again found himself in darkness.
But, there he saw a light in the hall outside the chamber, and the sounds of goblins moving, their armor clanking in the quiet. Now concealed, Aragorn continued to sit, and the light grew beyond the stone doors of the chamber. Without paying the chamber much notice, two goblins waddled by, one carrying a small torch. Aragorn stood once they had passed and slipped quietly out of the chamber and into the hall, following several feet behind the goblin scouts. He kept one hand on his sword and the goblins’ arguments and clanking armor concealed his movements.
They and the path turned to the right and emptied into a great hall, and the sounds they made echoed greatly. Aragorn stayed just beyond the light of their torch and moved now between the columns of stone that rose high above them. From one column to the next, he continued ahead, overtaking the goblins and at last, putting his back to a column and drawing his sword. He watched the light spread across the floor as it approached him. He turned and moved to the opposite side of the column, away from the light, making another turn and, finally being directly behind them, leaped out and pierced the goblin whose hands were free. The other dropped the torch, but by the time it could draw its sword, Aragorn felled it, too. Aragorn stood silently, looking over his head as if he watched the echoes ring out from him, pass beyond the shimmering torchlight, and into the darkness above.