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Summary: Aragorn, Barrow-wights and Tom Bombadil…
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.
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