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The Name of a King  by Mirach

Summary: Aragorn, Barrow-wights and Tom Bombadil…

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or places, they belong to Mr. Tolkien.

Beta: With many thanks, Cairistiona

A/N: Not a long time ago, Cairistiona also posted a story with Aragorn and Tom Bombadil. I'd like to say that our ideas were indipendent, this story was on my "to write" list for about two years when the Teitho topic "Names" made me write it.

1. Walking in the mist

Mist was falling, as white as milk, as cold as a wet kiss of the northern wind. The steady rhythm of his steps echoed in the whiteness.





Like a mantra the names whirled in his mind as he walked. And between every step, there was a moment of insecurity, of instability when he didn't stand with both feet firmly on the ground. Walking is falling, stopped in the right moment. Walking is also moving forward, but where he was going, he could not see. There was mist all around him. Mist was obscuring his future, too... That short moment out of balance, that was where he found himself right now, he thought. Aragorn was his name, and his father was Arathorn, son of Arador and Chieftain of the Dúnedain. If somebody would call him by that name, however, he would not turn immediately. He did not feel like Aragorn, and he was Estel no more.





Once he was named for Hope, but what happens to Estel now? Was that name gone like the sound of steps long gone, or was it still there, covered with the new name like snow covers the grass in winter? Many steps were between him and Rivendell now, but still he was no wiser. So grandiose it sounded when he learned about his heritage, but now, he saw the reality, harsh and cruel. The Dúnedain were only the last remnants of the old glory, driven into hiding. They were the silent sentries against the darkness, protectors, yet despised by the ones they protected, by the ones who never knew the danger just because someone faced it every day for them. There was no glory in the line of kings anymore, only the promise of a hard life and probably untimely death, like the one of his father and grandfather, and many Chieftains before them.



It was easier when he was just Estel. Now he was a Ranger – one of his mother's people – and was patrolling the road to the west of Bree now. His mother's people... for still he could not think of them as his people, despite being their chieftain by birthright, despite having spent a few months with them before, joining the patrols at the side of his brothers... No, they were not his brothers anymore. They were the sons of Elrond, and brothers of Arwen, the bright star that he could not reach. Maybe Elrond was right when he forbade the love he longed for. That love stood between them now, robbing him of the name he carried for all his childhood, of the only father he knew.




Ar- he stumbled on the uneven ground. In that moment he realized it was no longer the cobbled road under his feet. The ground was softer, more uneven. He walked upon grass. Wet grass. How long had it been thus? He stopped and tried to remember, but his mind refused to provide the desired information. Surely the road was not far from here… He turned around, and walked in the direction from which he came. Or so he thought. But surely he couldn't have walked that far away from the road, could he? A short moment of panic seized his thoughts. He was lost.

Lost in the mist. Lost between two names. Lost between the world of Elves and Men. No! He shook his head to get rid of the unpleasant thoughts. It was just a mist. It will lift soon, in a few hours at worst, and he will be able to see where he is and orient himself. Probably he will find himself just a few steps away from the road, as it usually happens. It had no connection with his own uncertainties.

He took a deep breath, and tried to remember anything that would help him to get back to the road. Had the ground sunk or risen until he got here? With frustration he realized he had no idea, so deeply he has been submerged in his thoughts – a dangerous thing to do in the wilderness, but it was too late to regret.

For a few moments he stood there, deciding to wait until the mist dissolved. The grass under his feet, his cloak, his hair – everything was covered with tiny drops of water. His hair

stuck wetly to his face, and cloak was getting heavy as more and more droplets soaked into it. He shuffled his feet. How long yet? The mist did not lift. It remained the same, a thick white cover veiling the wet grassy hills. No, it moved! It seemed like there were shapes in the mist, formed from the mist itself. Deceptive figures, dancers moving in the rhythm of some strange, unearthly melody.

He followed their dance, but as soon as he fixed his eyes on them the figures vanished and left only the thick obscuring mist. The waiting was getting unbearable. His legs ached to move forwards or backwards, anywhere, just not standing idle in this place. Just move, not stand, stagnate. Stagnation is death. Life is change. He was tired of changes, and yet he knew they were necessary.

He resisted the urge for a few moments, but then he could not resist any longer, as if the mist were a cage, and he had to get out, out to freedom! He took one step, then another. Before he realized it, he was running.

He slowed down after a moment, out of breath. It was hard to run, hard to breathe in the damp, thick air. The ground under his feet was uneven; it was rising to a small hill. It seemed the mist was getting less thick. He could discern some dark shapes, like teeth tearing the white haze. No longer running, he approached the shape. It was a dark stone. Again he was slow to realize what he was doing, as if the mist clouded his mind as well. Only when he felt the rough and cold surface of the stone under his fingers did his mind cry out to his hand not to touch it. Too late. In a short moment he remembered everything he has heard about the Barrow Downs. The wraiths from Angmar inhabiting the once solemn dwellings of the dead kings.

But he could not hold the thought.

He felt his eyelids grow heavy, and sleep covered him like a heavy blanket.

He could not resist.

2. To be a king

All was lost. They were coming. Cardolan will fall under the shadow of Angmar, and the ancient barrows in the hills will be the only reminder of the once proud folk.

All was lost.

The sky was dark – it was going to rain. Not that it would change anything about the number of enemies standing against the Dúnedain army. Yet for some reason, it was the last drop in the chalice of despair. They were going to die, he knew it. He just hoped to see the sun for the last time.

Whispers spread among the soldiers. The Witch-king! The Witch-king of Angmar was here! The dreaded name was a rope binding the arms of men with fear, the cold slowly creeping into the pulsing blood and stealing its warmth. No ray of sun shone through the heavy clouds.

A scream. Raw like nails digging into naked skin, chilling like the frost in old bones, a dagger of ice stabbing through the heart and twisting the blade.

He resisted the urge to turn and run, to hide somewhere. There was nowhere to run. They were going to die.

He had seen much of death already. He had seen her many faces, but only rarely the calm and peaceful face of the death of old age. The times were hard, and death often wore an ugly face, smeared with blood and contorted with pain. And the eyes – eyes filled with dread. What they have seen, he wondered. He did not want to die. But he would.

It began to rain.

A dark mass, unstoppable tide – the army of Angmar moved.

He was frozen in place. Wordless dread - the fear like a heavy load bound to his limbs. And the drops of rain falling, touching the hands… the face… like the cold fingers of death.

We should move forwards, he thought. We should meet them in the field and die with honour, like true Dúnedain. So what are we waiting for? Somebody should give the order, break the spell and give the will to move to the limbs leaden with fear. But who? Who led the army of Cardolan and Arthedain?

He looked around, searching for a steady point, for a face that held only courage and determination, no fear. But there was none. He saw the same look in the faces of the other men – fear and despair, looking for encouragement to walk with honour into the arms of death. Their looks were directed to him….

"My lord?" the man next to him whispered, trying to hide the shaking in his voice.

He looked at the man mutely, the surprise almost overcoming the dread. Who was he, he wondered? What did they expect from him?

He took a deep breath. He knew he should say something, but he could not find his voice nor the right words. Again he looked to the sky, hoping to see at least one ray of light – one last ray. The sky was dark, covered with heavy clouds. No light. No hope.

"My King, will you give the order?" another man asked anxiously.

A… King? He was a king?

It all came to him in the moment. He was Arveleg, the king of Arthedain who came to aid Cardolan, for darkness spreading from Angmar threatened the three Dúnedain kingdoms to the east of Misty Mountains, the three realms that once all belonged to Arnor. It was not his choice to be a king in these troubled times. It was not a privilege, but a responsibility. Even when he was afraid just like the others, he could not show fear. He had to be the steady point when everything around crumbled.

Suddenly he felt the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. They were all going to death, and he had to lead them. He wished he would be just a soldier, he wished he could rely on someone else to have the courage for all. But he could not. He was a king and had to act like one. Even without hope…

"Sons of Arnor! Dúnedain! My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"

He did not know where the words came from, it was like an echo of some other words, spoken long ago, or just waiting to be spoken. He saw determination returning to the faces of men. He saw the light of Westernesse in every one of them, a flame rekindled by the spark of his words. He felt the flame burning high in him, thawing the cold in the stunned limbs, stirring the passion of fight in his blood.

It rained. Cold, heavy drops. They will cool the wounds, wash the blood away. The last day, the last hour. Soon they will be all dead. It was not a reason to be numbed with fear. It was a reason to live the hour. He looked at the dark army, and he smiled.

"For Arnor!" he called, and charged forwards. The men followed him, a steady line shining with polished steel. With a smile on his lips he fought, even as the dark army cut deep dents into their defences, and his arms were going numb from effort of lifting the sword. His blood fell with the rain, and the soil drank both.

Then he saw a figure of darkness in front of him. His eyes met the Witch-king's, and he recognized his death. He knew he would die as a king. Eternal sleep in the barrows of Cardolan until the world changed… He did not falter. The flame in his eyes burned high even when his sword broke under the Witch-king's mace.

There was a moment of terrible pain, but it soon passed. Drops of rain were falling down on his face from the dark clouds. The cries faded. Then he was being carried, a swaying motion like the calm waves of the sea. It was dark when the swaying stopped. The eternal darkness of a barrow…

A/N: Aragorn's/ Arveleg's speech is, with slight changes, taken from Peter Jackson's movie The Return of the King

3. Darkness of the barrow

Darkness. Here he will sleep under stone until the Sun fails and the Moon is dead, until the stars die in the black wind, on gold he will sleep until the dark lord lifts his hand over dead sea and withered land…

No… no, these were not his thoughts… No dark lord will lift his hand! Not while the Men of the West stand! But he was dead, he thought in confusion. He remembered the mace crushing his ribs, taking the last breath away from his lungs.

He took a tentative breath. He could… He tried to open his eyes, and saw a greenish glow. Someone chanting. A voice like rustling of old bones. A sword lying across his neck, and a ghostlike hand creeping to the hilt like a big, monstrous spider. He could not move! The hand gripped the hilt. He could not move!

"Sleep…" the dusty voice whispered. "Sleep forever in the barrow of king Arveleg…"

Arveleg… That was his name! No, no… it was not. His name was different, but still had something in common. Ar… The same line. The line of kings. He was from Arveleg's line. He was Aragorn, son of Arathorn!

He found his name! There was a deathly chill in his limbs, but he felt he could move again. The hand lifted the sword for a deadly strike. He rolled away before the blade fell, and when he looked up, he saw a pale creature, the twisted smirk of death in its skull-like face, and smell of dusty bones.

"You will not esssscape…" the barrow-wight hissed.

Aragorn looked around in a desperate attempt to find a way out. No light besides the greenish glow of the barrow-wight. He was buried alive! There was a bed of stone, and a skeleton lying upon it surrounded with gold. King Arveleg, who fell in the battle for Cardolan in 1409 – the lesson of history was suddenly too vivid in his mind, the cries of the dying and the heavy rain falling down on the battlefield… The calm when the cries faded…

"You have no right to disturb the peace of a king's barrow!" he said angrily, reaching for a golden dagger in Arveleg's hands. It was cold just like his fingers. The coldness of death was everywhere around, but Aragorn knew that the barrow was not evil; the creature who made it its lair brought evil to it.

"Sleep…" the barrow-wight whispered hoarsely, and lifted the sword.

Aragorn tried to dodge the blade, but the sword cut into his forearm. He welcomed the pain – it told him he was still alive. He didn't wait for the next blow, and drove the golden dagger into the creature's chest. "I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, and I banish you from the place of rest of Arveleg, my ancestor!" he said resolutely, and the barrow-wight seemed to shrink with every word. It wailed like a cold northern wind in winter, and retreated back, somewhere into the dark corners of the barrow.

Aragorn knew he did not have much time. The wight was intimidated for a moment, but he could not defeat a creature like this. He had to get out of here! In the charnel glow, he could see roots of some plants growing through the roof. He pulled them, and a few lumps of soil fell down. Feverishly he began to dig around the stones loosened by the roots. He dug with his bare hands. A stone fell out. Another. His fingers bled. He heard rustling from the corner. Chanting.

"Cold be hand and heart and bone,

and cold be sleep under stone…"

He felt his eyelids grow heavy, his limbs numb. Another stone fell out. He could see a dim light through the hole.

„...never more to wake on stony bed,
never, till the Sun fails and the Moon is dead."

He fought the weariness, clinging desperately to the ray of light. He could no longer feel his fingers. Yet he continued working. The hole broadened.

"…in the black wind the stars shall die,

and still on gold here let them lie."

It was broad enough for him to get through now. He could feel the fresh wind on his hands. Yet he had no strength to hoist himself to the freedom.

"till the dark lord lifts his hand…"

He gathered all his strength and will. One last desperate attempt. He jumped. His fingers grasped wet grass. A cold hand grasped his leg. He kicked fiercely, and pulled his body after the hands. He got out!

"…over dead sea and withered land," like a faint echo, he could hear the end of the chanting. He rolled a few steps away from the hole, and panted heavily. With closed eyes, he savoured the feeling of fresh wind upon his face.

It rained.


Cold drops falling down from the grey sky. Washing the blood from the battlefield…

Slowly he opened his eyes. No, there was no battlefield. A blade of grass bend under the falling drop just before his eyes, and then straightened again as the drop reached the edge and fell down. He followed it, unable to focus his thoughts. Was there no battle?

There was just a terrible chill in his limbs, deep in the marrow of his bones. For some reason, he expected the excruciating pain of crushed ribs when he moved, but other pains came instead. Blood was dripping from the wound on his forearm, and his fingers were covered with caked blood and dirt. Something jingled when he lifted his hands…

With wonder he looked at the golden bracelets adorning his wrists, and the rings on his fingers. There was a golden necklace on his neck, also. His own clothes were gone, however. All he wore was a thin white tunic – a funeral tunic. He blinked, and slowly, the memory came. A terrible memory of a pale hand, crawling to the hilt of a sword like a big spider. His sight fell on the hole in the ground, and both chilling dread and relief filled his thoughts. It was real. The hand was real, and the barrow of king Arveleg almost became also the barrow of Aragorn son of Arathorn. It had not however. He was free. He escaped… that thought was comforting as he fought the spell of dizziness when he tried to get up. He was so cold…

He staggered, but walked forwards – away from the barrow. To get as much distance between him and the echoes of the dark chanting. To get away from this terrible place. Threads of magical sleep still lingered, tangled around his mind that desperately tried to shake them away. The chill in his bones lingered too, and the thin tunic was a meagre protection against the outside cold. In the rain, it stuck wetly to his shivering frame, but he had nothing better to protect himself from the elements.

Walking forwards was the only thing he could do. It was more difficult than it sounded, he thought distantly. His bare feet were numb from the cold. He wanted to get rid of the annoying jewels, but it was hard to find strength for anything else than walking. They could bring a great price from a merchant, but he knew he would not sell them, but neither could he keep them – he was not a grave robber. He would get rid of them… somehow… when he got… somewhere…

He stumbled and almost fell. He had to focus on walking; otherwise he would never get… wherever he had to get. Putting one foot before the other. One. Other. One. Other. Estel. Aragorn. Estel. Aragorn…

To move forwards, he needed both. Both names belonged to him, and to escape from the barrow, he needed both – hope to not give in to the despair of the dark chant, and the kingly line to claim right over the resting place of his ancestor.





The world spun. He did not know how long he walked. It was so cold.




It was so cold…

A/N: the Barrow-wight's chant is from The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

4. In the House of Tom Bombadil

Cold rain. Cold everywhere. Like the fingers of winter touching frail flowers, cold melting into nothingness, and the rain pouring down to wash everything away.

He was being carried. A swaying motion like the calm waves of the sea. They were carrying him into a barrow, he knew. He could have escaped the wight, but the spell was too strong, the dark chanting too hard to resist. Will they make a barrow for Aragorn, the last chieftain of the Dúnedain? He wanted to look, but his eyelids felt too heavy to open. He drifted in and out of reckoning, out of knowledge of the numb shell of his body.

When he came to himself again, the swaying had stopped. He expected to find himself in pure, impenetrable darkness. Instead, a soft warm light filtered through his closed eyelids, and as from a great distance – a song:

…wake and hear… calling…

He tried to focus on the words, but they evaded him each time he thought he grasped them, danced in the corners of his mind…

warm… heart and limb…

He felt warmth spreading through his numb limbs, drawing the cold out of the marrow of his bones. It was so pleasant to feel warmth again, like lying upon the grass in golden summer and listening to the buzzing of bees. He sighed contentedly. It was now easier to concentrate on the song.

dark door… dead hand is broken… Night under Night is flown, and the Gate is open!

On the border between sleep and waking, he could hear the song again; clear and merry like the fresh sound of rippling water.

Wake now my merry lad! Wake and hear me calling!
Warm now be heart and limb! The cold stone is fallen;
Dark door is standing wide; dead hand is broken.
Night under Night is flown, and the Gate is open!

The song bid him to wake, and he did, for there was strength in the tones that was impossible to resist – and he didn't want to. He opened his eyes, and blinked sleepily. The golden glow was coming from a fireplace – it was dark behind the window, but the fire was cracking merrily and bathing the room in a lively light. He was lying on a soft mattress, and in the armchair near the bed sat the most unusual man Aragorn has ever seen. He had a thick brown beard and a blue coat, and his boots were yellow like the curious heads of dandelions in spring. He smiled when he saw Aragorn awake.

"How are you, my merry lad? You had quite a nasty day, I believe…"

"I…" Aragorn wondered what brought the man to the idea to call him, of all people, merry, but he had to smile inadvertently as he watched the sparks in the man's eyes. The merriness was contagious. He smiled. "I feel wonderful, my lord."

"Good, good!" the man clapped his hands. "Goldberry will have the tea ready soon. You would like something warm in your stomach, I imagine. I had to sing the cold out of your bones."

At the mention of cold, Aragorn shivered, remembering the dark words of the chant in the barrow, stealing all warmth from his limbs.

The man noticed it. "Do not fear, Aragorn!" he smiled. "No evil enters the walls of this house. You are safe here from all shadows and spells, from the rain and wailing wind. You can rest peacefully under my roof."

Aragorn relaxed, accepting the reassurance in the words and trusting it fully for some reason. But something made him frown in confusion. "Who are you my lord, and how do you know my name?"

"Ai Tom, Tom, you are forgetting your manners!" the strange man jumped from the chair. He bowed, waving his hand like a juggler after a successful trick. "Tom Bombadil is my name, and I am the Master here. I know your name, for you have been speaking in your sleep, my lad. It seemed you couldn't decide between Estel and Aragorn, but I supposed Aragorn would be the more official one, am I not mistaken?" he asked with a wink, and Aragorn couldn't help himself but smile again.

"You are right, Master Tom. That is indeed my name," he said.

Tom nodded. "I thought you might be from that line. The gold suited you quite nicely, but I though you might not wish to wear it in bed. It's on the shelf if you want it."

"No thank you," Aragorn shook his head resolutely. He noticed that he was wearing a soft nightshirt instead of the thin tunic, and his wounds were neatly bandaged. The deeper meaning behind Tom's word was slow to register in his weary mind, but eventually it did. "You… You know my line?"

Tom laughed. "Tom knows many things, my dear Dúnadan. He knows what the leaves whisper in the wind, what the creek sings to the rocks, he knows where the squirrels sleep, where you can meet a black fox. Tom knows about the men from the West, and the kings buried in the hills."

Aragorn was taken aback, wondering who Tom Bombadil was. Tom didn't give him much time to ponder that, however. "But enough of such things!" he exclaimed suddenly. "The evening is growing old, and you have to rest. Goldberry has the tea ready, and it will grow cold if we speak any longer!"

Indeed, in the moment Tom mentioned her, she entered the room, carrying a tray. Aragorn almost forgot to close his mouth as he watched her walk – no, dance – across the room. Her hair cascaded down her shoulders like a river of gold, and her gown had the colour of fresh leaves in spring, strewn with the silver dew of a fresh morning. Her step was light like water jumping seamlessly from stone to stone, and graceful like the flowing of a river. Like merry rippling of waves was her voice as she laughed. "Tom, you are tiring our guest!" she scolded good-heartedly. "Let him find refreshment before your stories! Here, my dear Dúnadan," she put the tray on his knees. It was more than just the hot, fragrant tea, he saw. There was fresh bread and cheese, honey and yellow cream, and a slice of an apple pie.

"Thank you, my lady," was all Aragorn managed to say. He felt like a beggar being served by an elf queen… a very hungry beggar. At the smell of the food, his stomach rumbled, and he averted his gaze in embarrassment.

But Goldberry only smiled encouragingly. "It is good to have a guest in our house again. Eat, drink and fear nothing. No peril enters these walls," she repeated Tom's earlier words, and Aragorn knew it is the truth. He began eating hungrily, pausing just for a moment to compliment her cooking – which made her cheeks blush with pride like a rose bud. Finally when the tray was empty, he sighed contentedly.

He felt his eyelids grow heavy again, but this time he knew that sleep would be restful, and no evil could harm him while in the house of Tom Bombadil. The barrow was only a bad memory, a nightmare that dissolves with the morning. He could hear the wind in the darkness outside, and the rain falling on the windows, but inside, there was just the warm glow of fire and a soft song coming from the kitchen as Goldberry washed the dishes. He did not resist the calling of sleep, but let himself be carried on its soft waves.

A/N: Tom's song is (also) from The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

5. To be a man

When Aragorn opened his eyes, the first thing he could see were the wooden beams of the roof, and a dim light coming through the window. Drops of water were running down the windowpanes – it rained still: a light but steady rain, just the kind to make one glad to be inside. Yet he could hear a song from outside, and it sounded merry and fresh and clean. It was Goldberry singing, her song complementing the pattern of raindrops on the window. As he listened to it, suddenly the day didn't seem dull and grey anymore, but soft and sweet like her melody.

Feeling refreshed, he sat on the bed and looked around. The chair near the wall was empty, and the fire no longer burned on the hearth. He saw yellow curtains and green mats hanging on the simple stone walls of the room, and fresh rushes strewn upon the floor like a green carpet. A blue shirt with trousers and a pair of green slippers were laid carefully beside the bed. He donned them quickly, and washed his face in the basin on the other side of the room. Goldberry's song moved somewhere out of his hearing, but he could hear the jolly tones of Tom's voice instead, his song a stream of nonsense words, a sheer joy of being. Aragorn smiled, and followed the voice out of the room.

He found Tom just entering the house, singing and dancing. His clothes were dry with the exception of the yellow boots, which he left in the corner. He smiled at Aragorn. "Good morning, my dear lad! Or should I say good day? The sun would be high already, if she would deign to show her face."

Aragorn bowed with his own greetings but Tom had already continued. "So what should we do with you? It's too late for breakfast, but still too early for lunch…" He seemed to consider the problem seriously, as seriously as he could with the revealing lines of laughter around his eyes.

Being a ranger for a few months already, Aragorn didn't consider having to wait until lunch such a tragedy if the meal was certain, but he enjoyed the show, and so he did his best to look disappointed. He was rewarded by Tom's merry laughter, as he strolled into the kitchen. "Goldberry is busy washing, but I'm sure we'll find something for a hungry ranger," he said, and indeed, in a moment he returned with two full plates of bread, boiled eggs and fresh vegetables. He set them down upon a table, and seated himself, too. "I cannot let my guest to eat alone, can I now?" he explained with a wink, and as they ate, Aragorn wondered if Tom was somehow related to the hobbit folk.

When they finished their late breakfast or early lunch, Tom seated himself comfortably in an armchair, and bid Aragorn to sit across him. "Now in daylight and on full stomach, it's time for stories that would not go well with the darkness of the night."

Aragorn shifted uncomfortably, having little desire to speak about his adventure in the Barrow Downs, but he relaxed under Tom's kind look. His blue eyes were deep, deeper than the ocean and sky, and there was not even a drop of unfriendly intent in them. "I have guessed much of what happened already, so there is no need to repeat everything," he smiled, guessing Aragorn's thoughts. "I would only like to hear how you got yourself into such a predicament so I can warn young rangers from repeating such adventures."

Aragorn smiled slightly. "Well, there is not much to tell about that, really. I lost the way in the mist, and somehow I got to that cursed place."

"A ranger losing his way? Well that's something not so uncommon, but with the Greenway under your feet it takes a special talent indeed…" Tom smirked good-heartedly, and Aragorn blushed.

"I guess it does," he admitted. "I have been distracted, thinking…" About who I am, he thought to himself. He wondered if Tom heard the thought, however, for he nodded knowingly.

"I see," he said. "It is a bad habit, to get lost in thoughts so when the shadows are stirring in the barrows. Not healthy at all."

"Aye," Aragorn could only agree with that. "I think I've learned that lesson quite well."

"That's good then!" Tom nodded. "If one can't avoid a mistake, one should learn from it at least. And you did indeed, I see. Otherwise you wouldn't have got out of the trouble you got yourself into…" His face grew serious this time, and he looked old and wise, wiser than any other living being. He did not ask, but suddenly Aragorn felt he wanted to tell this strange man about the dreadful experience - here, in the safety of his walls, shadows did not seem so dark anymore, and he knew he could trust Tom with all of his secrets.

"I have been thinking about my name," he said, "for I learned only some time ago that I am Aragorn, an heir to the line of Chieftains. Until then I have been just Estel, a fatherless Dúnadan raised in Rivendell. But in the barrow… I saw the great battle with Angmar, and the death of King Arveleg through his own eyes. There I realized what being of the line of kings means, and will bear my name with honour, for because of it, I had more right over the barrow than a wight of Angmar, and I managed to flee it," he explained shortly, feeling suddenly a little proud of himself, and of the blood of Kings in his veins. But his inadvertent smile disappeared when he saw Tom shaking his head, frowning for the first time since Aragorn met him.

"You fled, but the song of the wight was too strong in your veins. It would have put you into a dark sleep without waking in just a few more hours, had Tom not found you."

"Oh…" was all Aragorn managed to say, feeling his pride dissipating like a morning mist over the fields. But Tom smiled again, and it was like a sun rising on a clear sky, warming everything around with a kind light.

"You were lucky the mice and finches told me about you, for you were almost beyond waking when I found you. But old Tom knows songs to warm cold limbs and stir up the blood in veins. You were lucky indeed, my merry lad!"

Aragorn looked in awe at his host. "Who are you, Master Tom?" he asked. "Knowing such powerful songs… Are you a wizard, one of the Ainur?"

But Tom only laughed at the question. "I am Tom, Tom Bombadil. Tom Bombadil is my name, and that's who I am. Didn't you find your name so important a moment ago? If you do still, then I am Tom and you are Aragorn, and no other explanation is needed. Or you would introduce yourself as Estel, and I'm Iarwain, if you want to know how the Elves call me – Iarwain ben-Adar, Elders and Fatherless. Or Forn, Orald… you can choose what name you want…"

The answer didn't satisfy Aragorn, though. "You have many names… But who are you really?" he asked.

On that, Tom looked at him, and studied his face long, longer than Aragorn found comfortable. When he finally released him from the scrutinizing look, he smiled gently. "You will have many names too, but no name can say who you truly are. I told you already – I am the Master." He got up from the chair, and suddenly began dancing around the room, and singing.

I am all and all listen to my song.
I am the Master but nothing belongs to me.
Come, my hearties, join me in singing!
Dance and be merry! Have no fear, for nothing harms you here!
I am everything, and I sing my songs in my own tune.
I am the tune and the tune is everywhere around.
The land is me and I am the land.
I wade through the streams and leap on the hill-tops.
I know no fear.
Just the borders of my land, for they are the borders of me.
I am myself and everything is me.
I am Tom Bombadil!

The song whirled in Aragorn's mind, filling it with understanding. He saw Tom jumping and dancing over the hill-tops, wading in the streams. He saw him listening to the wind and talking and singing to the trees when the dark, mighty forests were still ruling over the land. He saw him dancing and singing under the light of the two great pillars, in the darkness after their fall and under the young stars, then in the golden and silver light of the trees and under the rays of Sun and Moon.

He saw him as timeless, the oldest being that walked the face of Arda before the work of the Valar began, walking within the borders of his land and watching it change, mountains grow and crumble, kingdoms rise and fall, and he was changing with the land and yet remaining the same.

He was there when the Little folk came, when golden fields and lush meadows replaced the dark forests of Eriador, and something of those fields and meadows was in him – Aragorn could see the kind light in his eyes, and he was reminded of the countryside at the peak of summer, generous and prepared to give its fruits. He saw Tom and his land as one, the kindness and joy of all things living and growing becoming his own. He saw his wedding to Goldberry as the unity of the Land and the River, the water giving life to the seeds in soil.

Taken aback, he could not find any words when the song ended.

Tom only laughed at his stunned expression. "Well, that's who Tom is. Did he choose a good name for himself?"

Aragorn nodded mutely, still trying to find his voice. No name could contain what Tom really was, but it was fitting for him, expressing the joy of his being better than any other.

"Good, good!" Tom clapped his hands. "Tom does not reveal this to anyone, you know. But I thought it might help you to find yourself, is that not so, my boy?"

And indeed, Aragorn realized, he knew now that no name could contain all the truth about the man he was. He was Aragorn, the son of kings, and he was Estel, the Hope of his people, but before all, he was himself. Being a king didn't make him more than any other man, being Estel didn't give him hope above others. It was he himself who had to become worthy of the title, who had to find that hope within himself. He looked Tom into the eyes. "It is," he said seriously. "Thank you, Tom Bombadil."

Tom gave him another juggler-like bow. "You are quite welcome, dear lad, you are quite welcome. But enough of such serious things now! Lunch is ready, if I am not mistaken, and Goldberry would be mad at me if you missed her soup because of my talking."

Aragorn laughed. "I wouldn't want that, indeed. But didn't we eat not so long ago?"

"Eh, that was just a little snack, and talking is a hungry work, just like listening… and thinking." Tom shrugged.

"Of course," Aragorn nodded, realizing he really didn't want to miss Goldberry's soup. A sudden thought came to him, that something of the people living in the land reflected in the land itself. Much in Tom reminded him of a Hobbit, and he wondered if it was so even before the Hobbits came to this land, or if he changed with their coming. He let the thought go, however, knowing that he would never find the answer, and followed Tom to the table.

It continued to rain, and so after the excellent lunch, they talked for the rest of the day – merry, lighter stories about Tom's adventures that often made Aragorn laugh, and also wonder yet again. When Tom was talking about the adventures of the Man in the Moon, he mused if Tom really knew Tilion, the Maia guiding the Moon-vessel, and considered it quite possible.

In songs and stories, time flew quickly, and soon it was time to go to bed. In the stillness of the night, Aragorn dreamed about a line of men walking through the dark country, tall and grim. He walked in their footsteps, stumbling and staggering on the dark path. But when he was losing the way, suddenly he saw a bright light – there was a star upon his brow, illuminating the way before him.

He woke refreshed, and saw the sun shining behind the window, climbing up her path in the sky. The rain had passed and left the sky washed and clear. He sighed, for he knew that he had to leave the hospitable house of Tom Bombadil today. The rest of his patrol would be waiting and worrying about him. He could only enjoy the last moments (and Goldberry's cooking) before taking leave from the Master and the River-daughter.

But when the time to leave came, he looked a little embarrassed. "I have nothing to wear," he bit his lip. "Could I borrow the shirt you gave me? My clothes stayed in the barrow, I fear, and I do not want the gold of dead kings."

"Ah!" Tom exclaimed. "Tom, Tom, you should have thought of this sooner! Of course you will not leave our house with nothing to wear! Tom will find some of his spare clothes for you! I fear they are not your size nor style, but they will have to do. And you can keep them – as a memory of me," he winked, "and I will keep the gold you don't want, as a memory of you and King Arveleg. He was a good man, you know…"

And so, a few hours later, when Aragorn entered the inn in Bree where he would meet the rest of his patrol, all eyes turned to him. He was wearing a blue jacket, clearly made for someone much shorter, but heavier than him - the sleeves barely reached past his elbows, but it was too loose around the waist and the belt was somewhere around his hips, not having enough notches to make it any tighter. But the most amused looks turned to his feet, for he was wearing a pair of high boots, yellow like dandelions.

He did not acknowledge the looks, but headed straight to the group of rangers at the far side of the room. They recognized their young chieftain, and laughter was in their eyes as they saw him in the strange attire, but something stopped them – even in the hilarious clothes, Aragorn's look was so proud and regal that they wondered what happened to the self-conscious young man that joined them a few months ago. Gone was the insecurity in his look, and they saw before them the true son of Arathorn, a Chieftain. They averted their gazes respectfully, but in that moment, Aragorn's mien lost the lordly pride, and he began to laugh. He laughed so hard he couldn't catch his breath, and they saw before them one of them, a man who can laugh at himself. Soon their laughter joined his, and the merriment spread throughout the whole inn. He will be a good Chieftain, the Rangers - the last remnants of the glory of Arnor, but before all, good and honourable men – thought.

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