Finding the Way – Linda Hoyland
The familiar characters are the property of Tolkien and his heirs. This story is written for pleasure, not profit.
With thanks to Deandra.
"The cook has made your favourite honey cakes, Eldarion, and there is fresh raspberry jam." Arwen smiled at her son as she poured herself a cup of mint tea from the pitcher her maid had brought. For the first time, Eldarion was joining her in the solar for afternoon tea.
"Thank you, Naneth." Eldarion stood and faced the window.
"Whatever are you doing, dear one?"
"Facing West for the Standing Silence. I know you and Ada don't do it when you are alone, but I was born in Gondor and I want to."
"Of course, you may if you wish, ion nîn, but you are facing East, not West!"
"But we always face the window for the Standing Silence," Eldarion protested.
"That is because the windows in the dining room face west, as do those in the Merethrond."
"Oh," said Eldarion. He looked utterly confused.
Arwen thoughtfully took another sip of tea. "Eat up, dear one," she said. "Then we can greet your ada when he returns from his meeting."
Later that night, Arwen snuggled up against her husband in the royal bedchamber. "I am concerned about Eldarion," she said.
"Why, vanimelda?" Aragorn answered sleepily. "He is a good child. I am proud of our son."
"As am I," said Arwen. "He seems to have no sense of direction, though, and he is the son of a Ranger!"
"No sense of direction!" Aragorn sat up abruptly. "My son has no sense of direction?" His thoughts went back to a young Ranger lad he had tried to train many years ago. The boy had been able bodied, willing, and skilled with sword and bow, but he had been capable of getting lost almost anywhere since he completely lacked any sense of direction. After he had almost led his fellows into a swamp, when he had gone South instead of North, Aragorn had concluded that there must be something ailing his brain. He had taken him aside and suggested he was better suited to the life of a farmer than that of a Ranger. Surely, Eldarion, his own flesh and blood had not been born with such a handicap?
"Eldarion is destined to be King," said Arwen sensing his thoughts. "He does not have to become a Ranger first, even though I know he would like to be."
"Even a King has to know his way lest he need to lead his troops into battle," Aragorn said grimly. "What if Harad attacked and the troops ended up in Rohan instead!"
"Eldarion will have advisors," said Arwen. "Maybe we are making too much of this. Perhaps Eldarion has simply not been taught how to tell North from South?"
"My mother taught me when I was younger than Eldarion," said Aragorn. "She used to point out how the sun rose in the East and set in the West. She would show me the North Star and from her I learned the cold winter winds came from the North and the mild summer breezes from the South."
"My mother taught me too," said Arwen. "My father was too preoccupied with ruling Imladris."
"I fear we have been too preoccupied with ruling the Reunited Kingdom to teach our children," said Aragorn. "I have three free days next week so I shall take Eldarion out into the Wilds and teach him the points of the compass. Maybe Faramir can accompany us?"
"You need to take guards with you too," Arwen said firmly.
"Faramir and I are well able to protect the boy."
"It is too much of a risk to go unaccompanied." Arwen's tone allowed no argument.
Aragorn sighed, knowing full well he was defeated. "Very well, but they must keep their distance."
The sun shone brightly the next week when Aragorn, Faramir, and a very excited Eldarion set off for their camping trip. Aragorn had decided that they should camp out on the wooded lower slopes of Mount Mindolluin. Two guards trailed discreetly behind the small party.
As they rode, Aragorn pointed out various sights to his son, carefully emphasising what direction he should look in. When they made camp for the night, Aragorn continued the lesson.
"We will get a good view of the sunset, here, ion nîn. The sun always sets in the West and rises in the East. Tomorrow we will get up early and watch her rise.
"It is good the sun rises each morning, is it not?" Eldarion said thoughtfully.
"Indeed, ion nîn. There would be no life without her rays."
"So why do we speak of the East as if it is bad?" Eldarion sounded puzzled.
"Sauron once dwelt there and he was very bad indeed," said Aragorn.
"But he's gone now and everyone still likes the West better. Why?"
Both Aragorn and Faramir were silent for a moment pondering the question.
"Our forefathers came from the West and the Valar dwell in Elvenhome in the utmost West," Faramir said at last. "We revere our past when we lived in Númenor."
"History is boring!" said Eldarion.
"You will change your mind when you are older," said Faramir, sounding rather shocked. "We Men of Gondor love our rich history."
"Maybe our preference for the West lies with the wind," Aragorn said hastily before Eldarion could inform them in great detail why history bored him so much.
"The wind?" Eldarion's attention was caught.
"When I was a Ranger, I dreaded the east wind above all else. It usually heralded snow, and even when it did not, it chilled me to the bone. The east wind is a lazy wind. It goes through you rather than around you."
Eldarion burst out laughing and Faramir smiled.
"We are fortunate that the wind is in the West tonight," said Aragorn. "It is gentle wind that feels like a caress against your hair. See the way the leaves are blowing?" He pointed towards a nearby branch.
Eldarion intently studied the swaying leaves.
"The south wind is gentle too like the west wind," Aragorn continued. "The north wind is fierce and blustery, but here in Gondor, I welcome it, for it carries with it the scent of my homeland where I grew up. Now, it is your bedtime, ion nîn."
"But the sun hasn't disappeared yet, Ada. You promised we would see her set!"
Aragorn smiled indulgently. "Very well, but remember that she sets late and rises early at this time of year and we must rise with her."
The three sat in silence watching the pink and gold tipped clouds scudding across the scarlet orb of the setting sun.
They then settled down for the night and Eldarion was soon sound asleep, nestled snugly between his father and the Steward.
"Eldarion listened very carefully to everything you told him today," said Faramir. "You are an excellent teacher."
"But did he take it in?" said Aragorn. "We still have no idea whether the boy has any sense of direction or not. Tomorrow, I will show him my lodestone." He yawned. Faramir had already fallen asleep and within moments, Aragorn was slumbering too.
Eldarion was the first to awaken and swiftly roused his father and the Steward.
Aragorn looked out of the tent, yawning. He groaned. "We rise with the sun, ion nîn. She is still abed as we should be!"
"She is waking," Eldarion insisted. "Look in the East!" He pointed a small finger towards the faintest sliver of light on the Eastern horizon.
Aragorn smiled proudly, his weariness forgotten.
The three enjoyed a spectacular sunrise. As the sun cleared the mountains, though, Eldarion pronounced that he was very hungry. They soon had breakfast prepared. While they ate Aragorn took his lodestone from his pocket and showed it to his son.'
"It's magic!" Eldarion exclaimed as he watched the needle quiver and then settle.
"It always points to the North," Aragorn explained.
"Why?" asked Eldarion.
Aragorn was momentarily taken aback.
"North comes first when we talk about directions," Faramir said. "We use the North Star to guide our travels at night and sailors use it to help find their way at sea." Aragorn shot him a grateful look.
"What other star helps guide travellers at night, ion nîn?" Aragorn asked.
"The Star of Eärendil!" Eldarion exclaimed, bouncing in excitement at knowing the answer.
"That is correct," Aragorn said with a smile. "You can see Eärendil guiding his ship across the sky if you look west after the sun has set." He placed the lodestone on the ground and waited for the needle to settle. "Observe the needle carefully," he said. "We know now that North is that way." He pointed towards the trail. "We travel south this morning and should reach a stream I know of by midday where we can catch some fish for our meal."
"I like fish," said Eldarion.
Aragorn returned his lodestone to his pocket wondering if his son's mind was more focussed on food than finding the trail.
They quickly broke camp and set out on their way. Aragorn continued to point things out to Eldarion as they rode along the trail. The sun climbed higher in the sky and her rays penetrated the woodland canopy. Birds sang in the treetops. Aragorn's spirits soared. It was a perfect day to be out in the wilds. Faramir's contented expression showed that he felt likewise. Aragorn started to sing an old Ranger song and Eldarion and Faramir joined in. Faramir then started a lively drinking song from his days as a Captain, changing some of the words to make them suitable for Eldarion's young ears. The three continued lustily as they rode on their way until they reached a stream where they paused to refill their water bottles and let the horses and Eldarion's pony drink.
Aragorn suddenly realised that he could not hear the guards. The men had struggled to remain unobtrusive, especially as both were City born and bred. They crashed through the forest like a pair of mumakil. He reined in his horse and turned to Faramir. "Have you heard our guards in the past hour?" he asked.
Faramir shook his head. "No, now that you come to mention it, I have not. Maybe they are lost and we should look for them?"
Aragorn groaned. "They are supposed to be looking after us, not the other way round!"
"We should have brought a couple of my Rangers not City boys," said Faramir. He called out loudly. "Maglor, Caranthir! Where are you?"
The only answer was the twittering of the birds.
Aragorn sighed deeply. "There are no known dangers in this forest or I would never have brought Eldarion here. As my lady frets, I even had my men check for any sign of danger before we set out."
"They still might be in trouble so we had better go and look for them," said Faramir. "They could be anywhere."
"The sooner we start searching the better then."
"Ada," Eldarion interrupted.
"Not now, ion nîn. The Steward and I have a problem to solve."
"I said not now. I am trying to concentrate." Aragorn dismounted from his horse and started to walk back studying the ground intently for tracks. "If only we knew when they lost us."
Eldarion rode up on his pony beside the Steward's horse. "Lord Faramir, listen, please. We heard them last when we turned East. It was just before we started to sing."
Faramir brought his horse to a halt and asked. "You are certain, Eldarion? Aragorn, come here, we have a clue."
Aragorn strode back up the track and re-joined his son and his Steward.
"I heard the guards talking, Ada, when you told me to watch the sun didn't get in my eyes. Then I could only hear the birds and us singing."
"That is about a league back," said Aragorn. He remounted Roheryn.
"We ride westwards for a league," said Eldarion proudly. "Maybe then we will find our guards."
"I certainly hope so," said Aragorn. "I dread to think what your naneth will say if we return home without them!"
They urged their horses and the pony to a canter and rode back towards where the path forked. It was not long before they came across two riderless horses grazing in the undergrowth.
"The guards' horses!" Faramir exclaimed. Just then, they heard a loud groan. Rounding the bend in the path, they came across Maglor and Caranthir in the middle of the track. Caranthir was groaning and holding his head while Maglor was supporting him.
Aragorn and Faramir dismounted and hastened to the side of the guards. "What has happened?" Aragorn demanded.
Caranthir's only answer was another groan.
"I'm sorry, sire," said Maglor. "Caranthir's horse stumbled and he fell and hit his head. I dismounted to go to his aid and tripped over a tree root. I think I've broken my ankle for I cannot walk."
"Why didn't you try to get on your horse and come for help?" asked Faramir.
"I feared to leave Caranthir, my lord. I thought a bear or a wolf or something might eat him!"
"A bear!" Faramir exclaimed incredulously. "There are no bears or wolves in these woods."
Aragorn knelt beside Caranthir and started to examine his head. "Look at me!" he commanded.
"The light hurts my eyes, sire." He started to retch violently. "I feel sick."
"You have a concussion," said Aragorn. "You need to rest." He turned his attention to Maglor's ankle. "Your ankle is badly sprained, not broken. I will bind it for you." He reached for his pack and took out his healing supplies. After removing Maglor's boot and stocking, he applied a comfrey salve and then securely bandaged the damaged ankle. "You both need to go to the Houses of Healing," he told the guards. He then turned to Faramir. "Help me get these two on to their horses, Lord Faramir."
Not long afterwards, the party began their way back to the city. Aragorn rode ahead with Eldarion while Faramir and the two guards made up the rear. The Steward kept a close watch on the injured men. They groaned every time the horses jolted them on the rocky trail.
"I thought soldiers were brave," said Eldarion.
"Soldiers are men like any others," said Aragorn. "Some are brave while others are less so. Most soldiers are usually more competent, though."
"Are they going to lose their jobs, Ada?"
"No, but I shall send them both for extra training," said Aragorn. He knew Caranthir had an old grandmother to support while Maglor had a wife and infant daughter. He would give them another chance. Maybe the recruits nowadays were not spending enough time training in the wilds.
"I thought guards were supposed to look after us?" said Eldarion.
"They do usually, ion nîn, but accidents can happen and sometimes we have to look after them instead it seems," said Aragorn. "I am proud of you today as we would not have found them so quickly without your help. You have a good sense of direction, Eldarion."
So can I be a Ranger when I grow up then?" Eldarion said eagerly.
"I am certain you have what it takes to be an excellent Ranger, ion nîn," said Aragorn. "Now tell me, is this the path we should take to?"
"It is, Ada. We go North now."
Aragorn smiled. "Then lead us the way home to your mother and sister, ion nîn!"
A/n.This story was written for the Teitho "Directions" contest where it was placed second.