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Aragorn had lain down for but a moment, now that all had been arranged for the morning. Long years of travel and toil in the wild had taught him to snatch sleep whenever he could.
Gently, subtly, the harp song drew him from his rest. He knew at once that it was one of the Firstborn who played, for no Man could touch the strings with such delicate strength. So quiet was the music that at first he thought the harper sat just outside the pavilion, but then he heard the slight sibilance of fingers on the strings, and he knew he was within. There was no urgency in the music—no summons. It was more as if the minstrel desired not to wake him but to deepen his rest. Part of him wished to comply, but curiosity drew him to wakefulness, and he opened his eyes and turned his head.
The harper sat on the floor, his back against a chest, his legs stretched out in front of him. In the low light of the trimmed lamp, the strings of his instrument gleamed softly as if they were made of mithril. The long fingers stilled, and the minstrel smiled a little ruefully.
"Your pardon, my friend. I did not mean to wake you."
Aragorn returned the smile, but said, "I shall have to chide the one on guard."
The other laughed, a clear warm sound. "Nay, do not blame him. He is not at fault."
Man and Elf regarded each other, and Aragorn found himself at ease, though his visitor was not known. Yet there was something familiar in the cast of the Elf's features, what he could see of them in the dimness. After a moment, he asked, "Are you from Imladris?"
"I am not," the other replied, but said no more. Aragorn sat up and swung his legs to the floor. "Will you take a cup of wine?"
"Nay, but I thank you. I thought to keep you company for a while, unless you desire solitude."
Aragorn stood up, as did the Elf, and they went to the low camp table. They seated themselves on two stools, and the Man turned up the flame in the lamp to see his visitor more clearly. The Elf was dressed in a simple traveling tunic and trousers of soft brown. His deep gold hair was bound back from his face in a single braid. His countenance was calm and open, the expression gently amused.
"Why is it I feel I know you? Have we met somewhere?"
"Only in imagination, I fear. Just this evening, you were wondering what I would do with all this." The Elf gestured toward the piles of dispatches and documents which littered the table.
Aragorn had been reaching toward the wine flagon near his right hand, but now he stilled, a chill of awe coursing down his back.
"But how is this possible? Have you returned to us?"
"I have not. At this moment, I am sitting in my father's garden in the city of Tirion. Nonetheless, son of Arathorn, I have obtained this grace from the Elder King—to speak with you a little in ósanwë. If it disconcerts you, you can, of course, close the door to me."
Aragorn sat a moment, then, springing up, he bowed to his guest. "No, Finrod Finarfinion, I will gladly speak with you. My father of the heart has told me of this gift of the Eldar, and I have indeed spoken with you in fancy, but did you hear all my musings?"
Finrod laughed. "Only those tonight. Please, sit down and be at ease."
Aragorn complied, and looked across the table into the smiling eyes. "How is it I understand you?"
"In ósanwë, if both the sender and receiver are willing to communicate, each seems to hear speech in his own language."
Aragorn nodded. Then, with a grin, he asked, "So, what would you do with all this?"
"Burn it—after due consideration of course." They both laughed, and Aragorn poured himself a cup of wine. "You said you had obtained this grace from Lord Manwë. Does he still regard us, then?"
"Why would he not? He and the other Powers are the guardians of Arda—all of Arda, but I had a particular interest as well. I have been and am still insatiably curious about the Secondborn, especially those of Bëor's lineage. Not only that, but my sister's heart has turned homeward at last, and I wished to know more of those beside whom she has fought all these years. Then, of course, there is you. I wished to know the one who has kindled the fëa of Luthien's descendant. I have learned that your quest has been long, and her patience deep. It is joy to me that such a union has come again."
"Truly? I had thought that you might disapprove, since in your conversation with Andreth you spoke of such unions as fraught with sorrow."
"So I did, and so it shall be, for we still live in Arda Marred, my friend, yet it seems that Ilúvatar desires His sundered Children to unite with one another once again. May you have joy."
Aragorn smiled. For a while, neither spoke. Outside, there was a soft challenge and response as the watch was changed, then silence. Finally, Aragorn asked, "What is it like to rule over others?"
"Hmm. Well, as to that, it is service. It is the willingness to bear with the foolish, even the sycophants with as much patience as you do with those you judge to be worthy. There will be those who seek your favor in order to advance themselves, as well as those who truly need your help. You must endeavor not to let such people embitter you, for if you do, you will not be able to rule with mercy or justice. Do not fear to ask for aid from trusted counselors, for no one possesses all the wisdom needed for such service. However, when you have listened and considered well, do not fear to speak with authority, for it is upon your shoulders that the realm rests. It is a heavy burden, so allow yourself to be upheld by Ilúvatar."
"Yet you yourself laid down the burden."
"I did and would do so again, for I deemed that my oath to Barahir and his house surpassed even my oath of kingship."
"May I know why?"
Finrod leaned forward slightly, his expression earnest. "The relationship between king and subject is a compact, Aragorn. The king provides protection and guidance to his people. The subject provides service and counsel to the king. It is a dance, but it also involves obligation. When Barahir rescued me in the Fen of Serech, he laid on me the onus of aid at need. If I had not fulfilled that oath, I would have broken the compact between his house and mine and therefore with all the people under my care."
"Are you ready for the morrow?"
"I doubt it, but it will come whether I will it or no."
"Are you unwilling then?"
"Not unwilling, for, as you said earlier, we have labored long for this day. Yet I sometimes wonder if I am adequate to the task."
"Good, for if you were beyond doubt, you could not understand the needs of your subjects. None of us within Arda can see all the consequences of our choices and actions, not even the Valar, but, as I said before, let Ilúvatar uphold you. His sight is clear. Your childhood name was not given in vain, I deem."
Aragorn chuckled. "May it be so."
"Will you rest now?"
"I will." Aragorn finished his wine, set the cup down, trimmed the lamp and went back to sit on his bed. Finrod came and sat on the floor as before. Picking up his harp, he began to play softly, as he had in the hills of Beleriand, beside the dying fire, to the folk of Bëor. Aragorn stretched out, and let the Friend of Men lay rest upon his mind and body. Tomorrow would be what it would be, and he gave thanks for the gift of this sending.
"You are welcome, Arathornion. Rest now."
And Aragorn son of Arathorn, who would be crowned Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar in but a few short hours, slept while the one-time King of Nargothrond continued to play.
* * *
Author's Note: This story was born out of a discussion with my friend Aglarendis. It almost wrote itself during a fierce autumn storm which kept me housebound. I am very grateful to God for such inspiration.
My thanks to my beta reader, Fiondil, who, among other things, gave me the final sentence, to Aglarendis and to J. R. R. Tolkien, whose genius has inspired me for over forty years.
To those who are interested in ósanwë, or the Elvish gift of interchange of thought, I highly recommend the fascinating essay called Ósanwë-kenta, found in the journal Vinyar Tengwar, No. 39. This also has a chilling and thought-provoking discussion as to why Manwë had to release Melkor from Mandos, which bears on Finrod's advice on kingship. Finrod's conversation with Andreth is found in Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth in _Morgoth's Ring_.
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