My Father hesitated as we prepared to step upon the shore.
"It is as if we move through a door into a new world," he said to me. "There will be no going back. Are you sure this is what you want? You can return now—your Grandfather remains at home—if this is not for you. I will not force this upon you."
I would have been lying if I had said I was not unsure, because how could I know what I wanted when I did not know what lay before me?
All my life I had heard his tales of this land. I grew up with them; they are a part of me. How could I not want to see it, and see it with him?
And so I looked at him with more surety than I knew I felt.
"I want to go forward," I said, “not back. If this is a door, then let us open it and see what lies beyond."
And he smiled. I knew he wanted me here, although he would not have tried to prevent my return if that was what I had chosen.
So, now, we stand upon a hill, our horses abandoned temporarily so we can bide our time surveying the land before us—wild and green, a tangle of vines, brilliant colourful flowers such that I have never seen, and we hesitate again. This time, however, I do not understand it. He has waited so long for this—fought so hard to reach this moment—why does he delay now? What is it that holds him back at this last hurdle?
"Father?" I question him gently, nudging his focus from the scene below. "Should we not go down there? Do you see something that bothers you?" I am totally reliant upon his decision-making, for everything about this new place is alien and strange to me. To him, on the other-hand, it is home—a wild and exotic home.
My own home—the place that we have left behind— is beautiful and cultured, every leaf, every blade of grass in its rightful place but Father's home….It is a riot of colour and uncontrolled, glorious chaos. He revels in it, but it makes me nervous and I find myself yearning for the steady familiarity of my own land.
He does not look at me but keeps his eyes fixed on the settlement below us.
"Perhaps he is not there?"
Why does he say this when he knows there is no doubt?
"Our scouts say he is there. They are certain."
He twirls a blade of grass between his fingers, a sure sign he is not at ease.
"They could be mistaken."
"You know they are not! Father, what is this?"
It is then he turns to me with the smallest of smiles. A smile that mocks only himself.
"It seems I have lost my nerve. Who would have thought it."
My father is many things but a coward is not one of them. Long has he fought the dark. Much has he sacrificed in that battle. Even when the call came for the last—the fight for this very land, the Battle of battles—the End; he did not shirk his duty.
My mother was angry then.
"You have done your part!" She had cried, "How dare they ask for more after the price you have already paid." My mother can be fiery but Father was having none of it.
"There are others who have paid a higher price than I," he said, "and they will go. . .how can I not?" And I knew, secretly, he wanted to. He yearned for another glimpse at this place he calls home, as I yearn now to see my own safe haven.
I wanted to go with him then, to fight alongside him in this great, last battle for his homeland. The heroes of the past would be there, all of them, in our last chance to defeat the dark—to defeat the dark forever and make Arda anew. There was nothing I had ever wanted more—I; who had never been to war, who had grown up in the sheltered land of Valinor. This was my last chance.
He would not let me.
Though I argued and pleaded, covered him in insults and harsh words, he would not bend.
"I have lost too much," he said quietly in the midst of my raging. "I cannot risk losing you also. Do not ask it of me, child."
There was nothing I could say to that. He has lost much. More than he should ever have had to bear. And now he is on the verge of finding it again, or a part of it, and yet inexplicably he stalls for time.
"You will not let nerves defeat you, Father," I say to him now. "You are named amongst our heroes of old. They sing about you in the halls. There is nothing you cannot survive, even this."
He turns his head away from me then, to look back towards the small settlement below.
"I am no hero." The words are so low I can barely catch them. He is always modest, never does he boast about his achievements.
"You are my hero." I place my hand on his shoulder as I speak it and I hope he hears me for it is true.
"What if he does not remember?" He speaks on as if I had never tried to reassure him. "What if everything is changed. . . If it all is different and there is nothing left? What then? That is what holds me back. I would rather have fading hope of our reunion than the reality of none."
He has never told me he worried about this. Never spoken of these fears. . .Perhaps to my mother, but not to me. To me, he has always held up this moment as a certainty. He was so determined it would happen.
"Of course he will remember you!" I cry. "How can he not?" And I mean that also, for my Father burns with a light so strong. He is special, he is beautiful, even amongst Valinor’s perfection he is impossible to overlook—far less forget.
"It has been so long." His shoulders slump with dejection. " And who knows what it is like for them. . . Who knows in what state they have returned. . . Who knows if there is memory?"
My Mother warned me—when the scouts brought news of their discovery and my Father decided he and I would travel here—she warned me to watch out for him. She worried for him should things not go well. For so long this has been my father’s focus. If it is not to be. . . what then? She wanted to come here herself but it was unworkable. Our new small settlement, our people, my siblings, needed her to stay behind. She was right—my mother—of course, to worry, but now I am worried too.
"It will still be him, Father, even if he does not know you. It will still be him."
He pauses, gives one last look at the small town below us, and grins at me. I love those grins of his, small flashes of light through the dark clouds that so often weigh him down. A glimpse of Father as he used to be, as my Mother knows him.
"You are right!" He slaps me on the back as he walks past me, back towards our horses, “It will still be him. If he does not remember then I will have the joy of reminding him!"
As we ride down the hill and the buildings in front of us—which were at first the smallest dots of brown amongst the vivid green—creep nearer, it is I who grows nervous. My father sits straighter, seems taller.
"Be careful," he says. "I assume they will be inexperienced with Elves once more. They will not trust us. They never really did."
I have never seen a Man.
I have heard tales—I know their stories and the names of their great ones—but I have never seen one. My Father has always talked of them, constantly. They still fascinate him. He says he loved the brightness with which they lived their lives.
The first Men we see on the road as the Settlement looms ahead all stop and stare. The women hide their children as if we were monsters who would harm them, the men shy away and stand gaping as we pass.
"Who do they think we are?" I complain. "Are they not educated?" Why do they think we would harm them? Why would we?
"That always bothered me," Father says sadly. "No matter how well they knew me, there were always some who thought I meant them ill. I could not shake that mistrust."
By the time, at last, we stop before the gates news has spread and there are crowds. They mill around us from all sides. . . And they smell!
I cannot help but comment.
"They smell!" I wrinkle my nose and lean in to my Father, and he laughs. His laugh is light and merry and the people pressing around us gasp at its music.
"They always do." He smiles, "I never got used to that. Some of them have a strange— and serious—aversion to water."
A stern guardsman approaches us, holding us at spears length as if he believes we would attack at a moment’s notice.
"What do you want?" He demands, and his words are coarse and harsh to my ears.
I know their language, I do. I, and my siblings, were perhaps the only elflings taught it. My father insisted and patiently, patiently, oversaw our lessons, adamant we would one day need to know.
"The Men are gone," I used to plead with him, trying to get him to see some sense. "We will never see them here. I will never need to speak this!"
But in the end I gave in and accepted the lessons as a necessary evil. They were not so bad after all, as they would always end with Father—distracted—telling tall stories of his life before; in Arda. And time with my Father when he was happy was something to be cherished.
So I can follow the words but the accent is strange and the sound grates upon my ears. The Man speaks so fast I struggle to keep up. Father, however, replies as if he has been speaking it since birth—to my ears at least.
"To see your King," he says with a bow, his manners impeccable.
"Is he expecting you?" The Man frowns, glaring at us from behind his spear.
"I think not!" Father laughs once again and the crowd pressing around us surges back, startled by the bright, vibrant sound. The guardsman, however, is not amused.
"Then why should I allow you entry? How do I know he would welcome you?"
Father is gentle with him then, when I would not be.
"We mean you no harm." His voice is quiet and soft, like a prayer. "We will not hurt you."
The Man, it seems, is offended at that.
"I know what you are. I know of elves!" He cries indignantly, "I am not one to believe in tales of magic. In our old life—before we came to be here—my Father knew Prince Legolas himself!"
"Oh!" Father is off his horse then and at the Man's side before he can do anything about it, leaving me isolated and insecure on my own until I follow his lead. "Who is your Father then?"
"He is Eadig. Do not think me ignorant, I know of your kind."
"Then perhaps—" Father pulls himself to his full height, taller than this man, he is at his most imperious, so like my Grandfather I can, in this moment, barely tell them apart, "—you would inform your King I come with information of the Lord of Ithilien. Do you think he would wish to hear that?"
And the Man pales.
"The Lord of Ithilien? You know him, sir? Forgive me. . . We have seen no Elves since we were returned here and we presumed. . . But if you know him. . . Is he near? Or his people?"
"Well, that is for me to tell your King, I think." Father smiles. "If you would fetch him."
He is a tease, my Father, a light-hearted tease. Or so my Mother tells me, for we very rarely see that side of him. But he shows it now, as the Man splutters his words of apology and stumbles hastily away to find their King. I almost feel sorry for him, despite the fact he has held us at spear point just moments before.
"His father was the stable-boy," Father says as he sidles close to me. "in Minas Tirith. It is funny to think of him telling stories to his children of Prince Legolas."
The crowds press round us ever closer, making me uneasy, and I am glad of Father's closeness for he is not afraid. He is confident here—at ease—all his previous doubt and worry gone.
It seems just moments before the distant commotion starts but it must be more. Then the crowds part. . .as if by magic, to show us what causes the shouts and excitement beyond them. My father leans forward; tense, a coiled spring of anticipation as he tries to see what lays beyond and I find my breath freezes within me before I even take it and my heart thuds.
It is a Man who runs towards us, the people moving out of his way with deference and I realise, with fear, with trepidation, with hope, he must be the King.
He does not look like a King and nothing as I imagined all those years of my growing. His hair is tousled, shirt loose. It is as if he has stepped away from some manual labour—perhaps he has? But where is his finery? Where are the trappings of a King? He looks like no King I have ever seen, and I have seen many for in Valinor, we are awash with them Father says. But this man is not at all like the High King in Tirion, or even my Grandfather.
But it is he, there is no doubt. He is the Man my father loves, that my mother respects, and my uncle despises. I, myself, do not know what to think of him, except that he is not at all what I expected.
Then Father turns to me and in that moment he looks not like my father at all. In that single instant his grief is vanquished.
His light shines and I am entranced by it.
"He is the same!" he cries. "He is just the same."
My Father who struggles through life, who as long as I have known him has been burdened with loss I cannot imagine, who I have never known whole. . He is transformed. His face is alight, his eyes dance, he glows!
And the King calls his name with joy.
Then Father is off. It is all he needs and there is no holding him back—he is gone. Dancing through the crowds like the sprite my Mother has always told me he was at heart. And his joy as they meet, these two men, amidst the crowds of people, hits me like a wave. I drown in his elation.
As I watch their embrace my cheeks are wet with tears for finally, finally, his long waiting is at an end.
And how I wish my Mother was here to see Father restored to himself again.
"You are just the same!" The King of Men exclaims, and they gaze at each other in disbelief.
"And you are younger!" My Father cries, clasping the King’s face in his hands.
"But come! I have someone for you to meet."
He leads the King towards me, and he is dancing, laughing, glowing, joyful.
And the King stares.
He looks at me as if I am a wonder, a jewel. . . some kind of miracle. We look alike, my father and I, so there can be no doubt as to my parentage.
"Legolas. . ." he gasps. "You have a son!"
My Father smiles and walks behind me. Hands on my shoulders, he propels me forward.
"Aragorn," he says, and all the love I know he holds for me is in his voice, all the tenderness with which he raised me, all the pride he has for me, all the hope. For I know he is proud, and I know, as my Mother tells me, I am his hope. Born when he could find none for himself.. .
"Aragorn. . . " he says, "Meet Estel.”