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The Name of a King  by Mirach

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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