What Dreams May Come|
Word Count: 1,937
Disclaimer: The characters of “Lord of the Rings” were created by J.R.R. Tolkien, and I am not pretending otherwise. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, please do not sue. No violation of copyright is intended.
Author’s Note: Aragorn’s note to Ecthelion is a direct quote from words written by J.R.R. Tolkien in the appendices of “The Return of the King.”
Summary: A forest covered in fog holds a lifetime of significance for Aragorn.
Aragorn wandered through an unfamiliar forest, with trees high and bare of lower branches, in a fog so dense he could almost feel the dampness on his skin. Looking up at the trees, he was dizzied by their height and unable to see the tops. There was no sign of any of the life that might normally be found in a forest, no sound save the crackle of leaves beneath his feet, until he came to a place where either by the chance falling of tree trunks, or the deliberate action of Men or Elves, what appeared to be a set of steps had formed. He paused, just wondering if he should climb these “steps,” when he heard the sweetest singing he had ever heard.
“Tinuviel!” he cried, and woke to himself again. Whether the forest in the midst of fog was a dream or a vision, he did not know. But he knew this meant he would see Arwen again, the beauteous daughter of Lord Elrond whom he had met and fallen in love with for the first time that day. And so he forgot the forest for a time.
This seems familiar, Aragorn thought as he walked through the forest and the fog a second time. These trees, so tall, and their trunks bare of branches past the height of a man. This fog is the thickest I’ve ever seen…I cannot see more than a few feet ahead... These steps! I have been here before—
He ducked as a great bird swooped down before him. It was an eagle, and he knew at that moment he must follow it, even though the fog prevented him from seeing where the eagle would lead him….
That very day, Gandalf the Grey came to him and told him that Ecthelion II, Steward of Gondor, was seeking men to aid in Gondor’s continual struggle against Mordor. The wizard advised Aragorn that the time had come to enlist in the service of the land of his longfathers. Aragorn, mindful of both Gandalf’s counsel and the vision of the eagle that had drawn him through the forest, journeyed to Gondor. There he was welcomed by Ecthelion and came to be held in great esteem by the Steward, but less so by Ecthelion’s son and heir, Denethor.
“We did it, Captain Thorongil! We defeated the Corsairs, burned their ships, and in so doing have lost hardly a man!” shouted one of Aragorn’s men. The others cheered in agreement. The battle was over, but the men were drunk on their victory, and were still milling about, shouting and cheering.
“Aye, and Captain Thorongil defeated the Captain of the Haven in single combat!” said another soldier of Gondor. “Three cheers for Captain Thorongil!”
As the men cheered him wildly and slapped each other on the back, Aragorn smiled at them, but now that the battle was won, exhaustion hit him like a blow. He thanked his men for their bravery in the recent battle—earning him more cheers—and then excused himself to lie down in his cabin aboard the ship that was returning him and his men to Pelargir.
Aragorn did not even remember lying down, but in moments he was wandering through the forest, the thick fog all but impermeable about him. When he came to the steps, he smelled the sweetly-scented elanor of Lothlorien….
He sat up with a start. Outside the cabin, he could still hear the excited talk of his men. Men whom he loved, and who loved him just as much. He had answered to the name “Thorongil” now for longer than he had answered to “Aragorn.” But he knew beyond doubt that he must go to Lothlorien.
He found paper, quill, and ink on the captain’s table, seated himself, and began to write a letter to Ecthelion. Other tasks now call me, lord, and much time and many perils must pass, ere I come again to Gondor, if that be my fate…
Aragorn was smiling. He had spent a season here in Lothlorien, with the Lady Arwen, and it was the happiest period of his life. He and Arwen had pledged their troth to each other, so he went to sleep smiling, he woke up smiling, and spent most time in between smiling…
What is this? He was wandering through the forest once more, again making his way through trees almost too tall to be seen, and fog thick enough to be felt on his skin. And here were the steps….
Before him, just past the steps, he saw a figure in the fog, barely discernable as it was cloaked in grey. He called out to the figure, saw it turn briefly, and for a moment saw the face of his old friend and mentor Gandalf. The wizard gestured to him to follow….
Aragorn blinked; the forest and the fog were gone, he was back in Lothlorien, if he had ever left. But he knew the wizard had need of him, and so reluctantly, he took leave of Arwen, of Lothlorien, and its rulers Galadriel and Celeborn. Upon taking his leave of the Lady of Lothlorien, Aragorn suspected she had known of his mission before he himself had been made aware of it.
Gandalf did have need of him, sending him on a seemingly-impossible quest—to find the creature Gollum. Having agreed to the wizard’s request and set out on what would be a very long search, Aragorn experienced the vision of the forest and the fog twice in fairly rapid succession. Once, he found himself walking through the forest and the fog, only to hear his mother’s voice calling him. This caused him to break off his quest long enough to return to Gilraen and her people to pay her what he knew even at the time would be his last visit to her. She died the spring after he left. When next he found himself walking through the visionary forest, it was particularly horrible—dead faces rose out of the fog at him, and Aragorn came to himself with a gasp, heart pounding. But again the vision was not without purpose; he knew where to seek for Gollum, and found the creature in the Dead Marshes. Having found Gollum at last, Aragorn took him to Mirkwood and left the creature there with Thranduil’s folk, there to await Gandalf.
I cannot move, Aragorn thought. This was new; he was in the forest, the fog surrounding him, but he could not move. Yet he was not afraid or repulsed, as he had been when the faces of the Dead had leered out through the fog at him. And he heard someone else coming…
Four hobbits went past him through the fog. They were oblivious to him, and seemingly also to the fog, as if they were on a walking-party. They went up over the steps, and he heard one who seemed to be the leader tell the other four that they must meet Gandalf at the Prancing Pony in Bree. Upon waking, Aragorn wasted no time, and reached Bree and the Prancing Pony before the hobbits did.
Aragorn clutched the palantir in his hands—his palantir now, as he had wrested it from the control of the Dark Lord. It had come at a cost; the hours in which the two of them had contended against each other had probably taken years off of his, Aragorn’s, life. But he had won, and had put fear into the Dark Lord by showing him the Sword Reforged—
What is this? It is the forest, and the fog! The fog swirled through the palantir; the vision shown by the palantir was the way through the forest. There were the steps…and just past the steps was a path, with dead men on either side. And then he knew that it was his fate to go to the Paths of the Dead.
The Ring is destroyed. I have been crowned King of Gondor and the Reunited Kingdom. The people of Minas Tirith and all of Gondor have welcomed me, the new young Steward has acknowledged my rule, my friends are safe—I should be the happiest Man in Arda! But I would still have Gandalf’s counsel, and it seems he will not remain much longer…
It was just before sunrise, and Aragorn was dreaming. This time, as he walks through the forest, through the fog, comes to the steps, just beyond them, he sees a tree different from all the others. A tree much smaller and slighter, a tree so white and pure-looking that it almost glows, as if it is Nimloth itself. It stands before him in a clearing just ahead, and before he can touch it, he wakes. He is certain this means something good, although as yet he knows not what.
Years passed, many years as Men reckon such things. King Aragorn Elessar replanted the White Tree; wedded Arwen Undomiel; produced a son and heir, Eldarion, and beautiful daughters as well. He enjoys the friendship of many, has the devotion of the people, the kingdom thrives under his long rule. It has been many years since he has walked through the dream-forest and the fog, but now the vision comes to him again.
This time is it almost as it was the first time it came to him; he is wandering through a forest, amidst high trees with no lower branches, a fog so thick as to be impermeable, no other creatures about, no sound save the crackling of leaves beneath his feet. He wanders aimlessly for some time, finally comes to the steps. But this time nothing appears ahead of him; he sees nothing, hears nothing, and feels a strange dread. He does not wish to go past the steps.
He returns to himself by jerking awake and taking a deep breath, realizing as he does so that this time, the vision is telling him that he has come to the end of his days, that he should not wait until he falls witless and unmanned from the throne. Eldarion is a man full grown, and well prepared, and will make a good king.
But just then Arwen, lying next to Aragorn in bed, murmurs sleepily and shifts beside him, slipping her arm around him. He gazes down at her and thinks: Not yet.
He waits for almost a year, but he knows what he must do. He takes the path to Rath Dinen, where he bids farewell to his daughters and to his friends who have not yet gone on before him either to the Halls of Mandos, or to the Undying Lands in the West. He puts the crown into Eldarion’s hands before bidding farewell to his son, as well. Arwen is with him at the last, and she weeps and begs him to stay. Aragorn comforts her as best he can, remind her that they knew this day would come, and he even urges her to sail West to be with her people, if the price of their lives together is too great. She refuses, as he knew she would. And then, suddenly, for the last time, the vision comes to him—
He is wandering through the forest, which seems familiar now, neither strange nor threatening. It is quiet, but the quiet is no longer intimidating; it seems peaceful. The fog is as thick as always, and he walks along until suddenly, the steps are before him. Aragorn looks at them, and for the first time, he climbs the steps.
And then at last, the fog clears.