Prince of Númenor by Tanis

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Prince of Númenor

 

Chapter One

 A freshening breeze snapped the sails smartly above his head and blew up salt spray at the bow where he leant upon the wooden railing, grey eyes straining to see beneath the waves to the bottom of the sea. He had no fear of sea monsters, nor any other creatures of Ulmo or Ossë; no, what he sought beneath the waves were the ancient ruins of his ancestors.

Beneath the gliding hull of the ship, at the bottom of the Sundering Sea, lay the secrets of a heritage he had only begun to assimilate in its full import. He wondered if they had passed already over the thousand caves of Menegroth, and if ages of erosion had worn away the fell beasts and birds of the beech forests carven into the stone halls of his venerable ancestors Thingol and Melian. Or if perhaps the foam trailing in the wake of the stern had once been mist over Mithrim and the lake where Fingolfin's decimated host had long ago encamped at the southern end, opposite their betrayers, the doomed sons of Fëanor, following their desperate crossing of the Helcaraxë.

Shifting against the rail, Aragorn frowned, picturing himself bent over the First Age scrolls preserved in Elrond's library, Erestor pacing solemnly behind him, listening and correcting, as he had repetitively recited names and dates. Oh yes, Elrond's chief counselor had been complicit in the training of Estel.

No, not Estel – Aragorn.  Erestor had been complicit in the education and training of Aragorn, sixteenth Chieftain of the Dúnedain, distantly related to one of the most notorious men of the Second Age; Isildur, who had forfeit his honor under the influence of the One Ring. No longer could he name himself Estel, son of Elrond.  Pain, masked as anger, flared anew and his fists clenched over the railing.

They had seen to it he could name every one of the kings and chieftains begat by the line of Isildur, all the way down to the father of whom he had no memory. That he knew battle strategy, could think quickly on his feet, turn any situation to his advantage, remain level-headed under pressure, taught him everything he would need to know to govern a kingdom – yet kept from him the why of it.

Aragorn sighed. He could *hear* Elrohir in his left ear, as if his brother was standing in his accustomed place. Careful, or those sighs will blow us off course.  And Elladan in his right, finishing the thought, and it would be a long swim home.

He was on this ship in defiance of Elrond's flat refusal to countenance such a journey – too risky, he had said, to travel by sea, especially to the Isle of Meneltarma. Few were the seekers of that fateful place that completed the journey home.

His brothers would have accompanied him, had he allowed it. They had argued persuasively for inclusion in the adventure, and he was a bit ashamed, now, of his obdurate refusal to accept their companionship. But he had painted them with the same brush as their father and his erstwhile tutor, Erestor. Though he understood the need with his head, his heart was still troubled by the insidious deceit in which he had been raised. Many had been the assurances that he had never been outright lied to, and it was likely true. But he had learned his lessons well; so had the mendacity of the first deceiver beguiled his hearers with half-truths and misdirection.

Somehow he must reconcile two juxtaposing truths – he had never been lied to, but his identify had been veiled from him as surely as if he had gone through his early life with a scarf tied over his eyes. He had been mentored to adulthood by people who had lived the history of the First Age, had received a king's education, and grown up - he had learned upon meeting his own people - in an elegance and splendor that among the scattered Dúnedain was known of only through the ancient history passed down through the long line of lore masters.

He could not fail to see, as he stood at the railing suspended between water and sky on a frail vessel of wood, the distinct correlation between his physical and mental states. In the moment, he existed merely, between the reality he knew and a foreign reality he could not quite comprehend. His fledgling hopes and dreams lay shattered at the feet of his destiny. Unless he could determine a way to integrate his past and his future, the present was likely to be in continual turmoil.

He had tried to explain this to both his father and his brothers, exercising everything he had ever learned about diplomacy and statecraft in an effort to convey the hurt and bewilderment without accusation or blame. In the moment, he had imagined his first foray into that realm a total failure. In response to the deeply felt, bitter betrayal, there had been words of reassurance and repetitions of stories he had heard multiple times, of others among his kin who'd been unpleasantly surprised by their heritage too. He had left the valley believing his voice unheard, his pain unrecognized.

Implicit in his youthfully awkward diplomacy had been how hard he had worked to measure up to the high standards of the House of Elrond. His coming of age had been tumultuous and not without heartbreak as he had struggled to come to terms with the fact that he would never measure up to his brothers in anything. In the space of a few short minutes - the tokens of his new house laid warm across his icy hands - he had lost all hold on reality. Arda must have shifted, yet again, on its axis; perhaps it had flattened back to its original state, it had surely felt like another cataclysmic event.

In the end, the ache of deception had overwhelmed him, so he had said only that he needed time to get to know this new person that lived inside his skin – the one they called Aragorn instead of Estel.

Aragorn twisted the serpent ring on his right index finger. He had slipped it on as he had ridden out of the valley with only the clothes on his back, the sword of his youth he had forged himself under the tutelage of Glorfindel, a ring, a fatefully broken sword, and Pelóri. Even Pelóri had been returned, though, since his brothers had caught up with him at the port of Lindon. For that, he had been thankful, as he had not wanted leave the mare with just anyone. He had raised and trained her from a foal and that had been, perhaps, the most difficult parting of all, for she had listened patiently as he had poured the troubles of his youth into her twitching ears. And never once betrayed his trust and confidence in her surety.

He thought now that caught up was perhaps not the case. Likely, the brother's Peredhil had been tasked to follow discreetly, or perhaps they had beaten him to Fornost, as he'd taken his own sweet time making the journey to the last remaining outpost of the Northern Dúnedain. He had not *seen* them until Lindon, but here under the flap of canvas and the cry of the gulls trailing the ship, with nothing but time on his hands and recent memories circling like sea birds above the mast, he could discern their fine hand in his reception among his blood relatives.

While it had been awkward and strange for him, there had been those among the adults who had known of Elrond's son's hastily contrived intercession and their welcome had been effusive and hearty. Among his own generation, the salutations had been a little more reserved. The return of the prodigal would likely threaten the hierarchy folks had become used to over the years of his absence. His coming meant change. It was his birthright to lead the people of the Dúnedain, and he had been raised to be a leader, though he had not expected it to be among men.

And thus his flight; from a responsibility he did not feel in any way qualified for, a kingship he did not want, and a people who knew him not at all.

If he ached for the familiarity of his adopted brothers at his back, it was his own fault he had denied their pleas. He had chosen isolation for a purpose and had found, in the back-breaking labor of smithing, a respite from the endless repetitive circling of his thoughts. While his hands had been occupied with the weight of the hammer, his mind had been required to measure the constant precision of the hammer's fall. Though the moment the tools were laid by the hearth and the gloves drawn off, the memories had been back, sniffing like hounds on a trail, at his resolve to keep them at bay.

But he had discovered some new things about himself, or perhaps uncovered some things he hadn't realized before, brought on by circumstances that, living within the protected borders of an elven stronghold, he had never been exposed to.

His personality had been nurtured around integrity, honor and respect; he had encountered few of those traits among the people of Lindon. The smith he had hired himself to, had not been the most honest man in the city, and though initially Aragorn had taken a perverse sort of pleasure in the situation, it had quickly begun to grate upon Estel. In a way, it had been funny, since he had discovered both Estel and Aragorn despised intolerance and yet within a few short weeks of having deliberately made his choice, he had lost his temper with the man. Another thing he had considered long under rein – the inherited temper Elrond had worked so hard to excise from his would-be-king.

Strangely, pride, a thing he had never stumbled over before, had reared its head. The filth and squalor he had been forced to live in initially, due to straitened financial circumstances, had appalled him so intrinsically that he had forced himself to remain in the lodgings even after he could afford better accommodations. The slatternly woman who had taken him into her home, if the leaning planks and timbers that made up the shell could even be dignified with the appellation of house, no longer had to ply her trade in a drafty downstairs room. The house – per his bargain for the tiny attic dormer on the third floor – had been snugged up against the coming winter chill, then cleaned and painted so not only was she more comfortable in her own rooms, she had let many of the rooms on the second floor as well, and was on her way to becoming Lindon's most renowned Evening Star. Though only in Aragorn's mind had he gifted his landlady with the sobriquet, borrowed, tongue-in-cheek, from the absent daughter of Elrond's house.

This one would have had him repeatedly, had he been willing. He had vowed to put the other one of out of mind. She was far beyond his reach and even angry as he was with his foster father, betrayal on that level was unthinkable from the distance of a few months.

Looking back on the experience from the vantage point of a few days at sea, it had not been wholly disheartening. He had learned some valuable things as well: that he was far more adaptable then he had imagined; that even though his dreams were nicked and battered, they could be reshaped to this new world; that isolation and solitude were accessible even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the mortal realm; that humans were greedy for life, though not in the way his ancestors had been before the downfall of Númenór. Life, he had discovered in Lindon among his own race, was meant to be lived fully, to be experienced in all its extremes.

He had experienced the depths already, but something warned him it would be years before he knew the heights. Aragorn found himself greedy for life as well, though it might yet hold more unpleasant surprises.

His gaze returned to the frosted green waves. Were there peaks and valleys still, mountain ranges deep in the bowels of the Sundering Sea? Was the ship gliding over Maglor's Gap? Passing above the fortress of Himling? Had there been enough water in the black glass lake, Helevorn, at the foot of Mt. Rerir, to have made the sea swirl dark and cold with its defilement in the first ages after the War of Wrath? Aragorn blinked, dismissing the strange visions conjured in the water, and shook his head, returning to more pressing thoughts.

He could acknowledge, now, that he had led a privileged and sheltered life for the last twenty years. Perhaps that made his heritage all the more frightening, for it was a vast uncharted, unknown looming over his heretofore serene existence. If he let it, it could take him places, he supposed, that he could hardly imagine. Which, overall, might not be a bad thing. But if he let it overwhelm him, as he had done so far, it would consume him from the inside out. Whether inherited, or learned, it had never been his way to run from problems, and perhaps, he realized with sudden clarity, he had had the benefit of both. For he had watched his mother's patient persistence in problem solving, and he had learned at the knee of a master problem solver, how to untangle the knotted threads of any dilemma.

If he could reframe a kingship in those terms, conceivably the threads he must follow in order to reconcile what he wanted, and what he needed to do, would unravel. He could remember now, too, that Elrond, though he had strongly urged the path of kingship, had also told him this was his choice to make; that whatever path he chose, he would always be a son of the House of Elrond.

The ship had slowed considerably during his cogitations. Wake no longer foamed along the sides and the sea was calm and crystal clear. Leaning out over the railing, he could see a froth of bubbles on the surface above a great school of glistening fish, and he imagined them darting about the stone pillars of Nargothrond or exploring the cavernous proportions of Gondolin in its hidden valley. Though perhaps the mountains around that First Age city had crumbled at the sundering and completely covered the remains.

Aragorn straightened and watched his shadow glide lazily along on the sea. He leant on the railing again, clasping his hands lightly, and closed his eyes. Whatever he was passing over below, he recognized with certainty, he could not lightly pass off the responsibility of his heritage.

The tight knot that had held fast in the six months he'd been gone from Rivendell loosened, the first thread picked free. Whatever path he chose, he knew again, without a doubt, the inhabitants of Rivendell would have his back. Under those circumstances, he knew himself capable of whatever was required of him.

Disclaimer:  This is a work of transformative fan fiction. All characters and settings are the property of the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien and are respectfully used with regard to his genius.  The story itself, and the original characters, are the intellectual property of the author.  No copyright infringement has been perpetrated for financial gain.




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