"You were born 'Aragorn', your father was Arathorn, and through him, you are the Heir of Isildur—the last of your line."
So Elrond told me in the spring of my twentieth year, and I believed. I believed because it answered to questions that had become quietly more pressing as I had grown older. I believed because I was then a boy who wanted very much to be a man at long last, and to have a place of my own to stand upon in a world where fathers are that ground. And I believed because my mother stood with Elrond, and afterwards called me by this name, and it did not come poorly off her tongue.
Belief comes first, but understanding later. Arwen woke the question in me—What does it mean, that I am Arathorn's son, and so the Heir of Isildur?—but it was not she who taught me to answer it. Nor did my mother, though she turned me toward the long road along which answers lay, nor did Elrond who, without knowing it perhaps, set me on it.
In the North, we live on words given and heard, and Rangers more than many. We are not in ourselves, but in the confession of father to son, in which is given the confession of his father to him, and of great-grandfather to his son, and back as far as memory stretches. I heard the tale of my fathers from others who have been as fathers to me, and every year since, when new lads joined our company, we all of us would tell the stories of our fathers, so all would know whence we came, where we stood—who we were. So do sons come to know themselves as brothers on the Road.
Much has changed since last I welcomed a new-starred lad to the ranks. 'Tis time, then, to tell the tale anew.
Aranarth was the first Chieftain, son of an unhappy father, who gave him not only an unquiet heart but a shattered land. He inherited failure: he had been a prince, but such titles need kingdoms, and the kingdom he could not salvage. Borders dissolved, cities crumbled, towns vanished, crops failed. Wolves slew herds, killing the herdsmen with hunger. Only graveyards prospered.
But he saved what mattered: our people lived still, and he gave them a son to keep and be kept by. For that reason, he long dwelt in my thoughts as a reproach. Even now, I cannot answer him.
His son was Arahael, and I imagine he was a patient man, though little is said of him, save by his son, Aranuir. Angmar had wreaked such havoc that if there were a slow turn of fortune—a few fewer deaths between one year and the next, a few fewer wolves, a milder winter and earth that gave a little more bountifully—it was long ere folk felt it. By then, Arahael had grown old—peace is hard work, harder than war. Aranuir gave his father his epitaph, I am told:
"Peace unto the one who bore us to it."
What I know of Aranuir from Caranthar and Dírhael and other Rangers is nearly nothing. Mordor slept in the East; in the North, the long work of healing went quietly on, it seems, and so, alas, is not much remembered among Rangers. We recall the ones who led in hardship more readily.
But Ivorwen, who was Lady of the Angle after your grandmother left for Imladris, recalled stories of him—that he won his love with a garden, that the troth-plight tree in the town center was one of his. 'Twas good to learn Isildur's legacy was more than grief.
Aravir followed Aranuir, but the quiet of yesteryears failed along with him. Perhaps he showed the other, grievous side of Isildur's legacy—the tree that fails of promise, where his father flourished.
For though the Watchful Peace endured in the South, shadows crept back to the North. Aravir turned a blind eye to them in his last years. He did nothing to prepare for what was to come, unless it were to pass his title to his son, Aragorn. Despite that blindness, I have not heard he was not a good man. But in a Chieftain, that is not enough.
It fell to Aragorn to rectify his father's reign, and his eight years as Chieftain were bloody. Elrond's books tell that the number of Rangers increased in his time. The Angle's graveyard shows the need for them: the wargs claimed many. When Caranthar recounted his tale, the night before we young men became Rangers, he said he was glad of another Aragorn—in the North, they still sing to honor him.
If I've done well by him, 'tis only his due; I have never cared to sing of him. Nevertheless, I owe him: he's cleared my heart for nearer ghosts.
Araglas continued his father's struggles. I'm told he burned to avenge his father's death, that no wolf or warg was safe from him. In Rohan, they tell of Helm's endurance; in the North, we remember Araglas as implacable. Despite his passion, however, he could but hold the line against the shadow, and I wonder whether he ever knew satisfaction, or if in the end, joy came only in the fight and bitterly at that.
If he taught me the measure of devotion, he taught me also the danger of it. I hope. Sometimes I feel I know him too well.
Of all the Chieftains, the first Arahad was for long the one I knew best: in his time, the Watchful Peace ended and Celebrían made her ill-fated journey. My brothers had the habit of speaking well of him, but ever with an edge of unease. 'Twas not until many years later that your mother told me the full tale: that after Celebrían departed Middle-earth, Arahad fought Elladan, who desired to seek vengeance. Mayhap Araglas' example made a wiser son. Elladan broke his arm for his trouble, but Arahad won that battle, if not the war: Elladan stayed home that year.
His son, Aragost, had other demons to slay: in the North, dragons began to roost, plaguing the Dwarves. Mount Gundabad was home to a nest of them, and there are gravestones that tell of Rangers slain by them as they guarded dwarven wains on their long journeys or fought the fledglings that threatened the passes.
Thus arises the strangest part of Aragost's tale: for his heir, Arathir, died but a year before him, slain by a dragon. But Aragost had a daughter, too—some accounts tell that she was twin to Aravorn, who became Chieftain upon his father's death after a year's contestation with his own uncle.
A strange thing, that contest, seemingly over naught. But the Black Lord was victorious—sixty-six years he led our people well. His sister, alas, was less fortunate: none know what became of her. She disappeared from all the records of our house, save one note in Imladris: that she died the year Aravorn did.
Elrond will say nothing of the matter, and who can say now whether Aragost had three children or two? If rumor be true, then 'Aravorn' was a Ranger indeed, for her service done in secret, cloaked behind a name.
Aravorn's son was the second Arahad. 'Tis said he was close in Aravorn's counsel from time of earliest manhood, yet it appears there was bitterness between them as well. To their credit, all that I know of them says they put the well-being of the Dúnedain above all else, but love guttered between them. Silver stars often make strangers of fathers and sons. Often, 'tis only when sons gain their stars that understanding grows up with them.
But sometimes, even if death slips not in, the rift is never mended. 'Tis a fear that haunts in common kings and Rangers.
If Arahad was at odds with his father, his son seemed at odds with fate itself: Orcs invaded Eriador, spilling across the rivers and down from the mountains. Though Bandobras Took finally stopped the last thrust in the Northfarthing, their numbers were blunted already by the Rangers. Some ten years later, the Long Winter killed many more Rangers caught in the Wild when the cold swept through early; it slew the children who might've replenished their numbers.
Ere he died, Arassuil saw Smaug descend upon Erebor. Trade fell off, and with it, sell-sword's work—between dragons and Orcs, what profit?
His son Arathorn was among those who slowed the Orcs ere Northfarthing, then turned and hunted them back across Eriador's breadth. He heard of Nanduhirion, but the war of Dwarves and Orcs didn't send Orcs fleeing eastward only: many fled west into the arms of Arathorn and his Rangers.
'Tis not as if to die from an Orc's arrows was ever much to sing of among us, it happened so often. But Orcs claimed two Arathorns, and some say my father was doomed to follow his namesake. I've wondered whether Father bore that rumor more lightly than I ever did.
Argonui was fortunate that though he lived in lively times, they did not claim him early. 'Twas perhaps luck that geography favored him—so much happened in the South, and the North heard rumor of it, through merchants, Dwarves, and the like. We had some peace and better earnings when Smaug fell, and Dol Guldur was defeated for a time.
Still, there was much to do, and we had suffered badly for long. They say Argonui married more and younger than any other Chieftain—he husbanded our numbers like others did sheep. My father owed him a debt for that.
I'm told Arador was a man who knew how to laugh. I hope it is true, for it is certain his days ended in grief. The older Rangers, my father's friends, told me this: that when the Fell Winter struck, and the wolves with it, he told tales into the night—awful, artful stories that set men laughing. When Tharbad fell, and his father died, he could still turn a joke. Whatever warmed the spirit, he treasured it.
I like to think he died mocking his captors—the trolls ripped his tongue out, they say, and perhaps for a reason.
Of the Chieftains, I knew Arathorn both best and worst: so many recalled him, I grew to hate his name for long, for I'd no memory of him. I felt that poverty the worse for the burden he left me. He haunted me through four farewells.
'Twas not 'til I came finally home to your mother that I bowed to the yoke and welcomed the name 'son of Arathorn.' I've been many things, a faithful son not always one of them. I've learned the value of such winding roads, though, so perhaps I may yet thank him for his life.
And you, my son, the tale turns to you now—child of Elves and Men and a new Age. One day, we'll speak of this again. No doubt the story shall be different then, for so also shall the teller be—different, hopefully better.
But that, lad, depends upon you, for if we come to ourselves through our fathers, our fathers come to themselves through us—the Valar and your mother know what you've wrought in me, I'm still dazzled.
Yet this I know: you've a surer grasp on me than I do. But that tale will keep 'til Tomorrow...