A Morning Star ~ Chapter 14 of 18 - In the Wilderness
Chapter 2: The Road West
Chapter 3: Questions and Answers
Chapter 4: The End of a Quest
Chapter 5: A New Home
Chapter 6: Decisions
Chapter 7: The Battle of Ridden
Chapter 8: A War Ends and a Journey Begins
Chapter 9: Rohan
Chapter 10: Captivity
Chapter 11: Return to Gondor
Chapter 12: Tearful Partings
Chapter 13: A Meeting with a Ranger
Chapter 14: In the Wilderness
Recap: As Ariya traveled north from Rohan, she found herself in the wilderness near the Shire. In the woods she met a young ranger named Aron, second cousin to Aragorn. After Aron was injured in a wolf attack, she took him to Bree where Strider was able to treat his wounds.
Ariya stayed in Bree for several days. She often spent the afternoons walking through the streets of the village and the evenings in the Prancing Pony with Aron. It was not long before Aron was well enough to join her in the common room. Neither of them saw Strider during this time, and Ariya almost forgot his curiosity concerning her stay in Bree.
On the fifth day since arriving at Bree, Ariya and Aron were in the common room, eating supper and listening to the other patron's stories and songs. As Ariya finished her meal, she looked up and happened to see Strider and Gandalf enter the inn. She could not see Gandalf's face, but she recognized the grey cloak and the large hat that hid his eyes. It had been ten years since she last saw the wizard, and she thought it rather amusing that he still wore the same basic garb.
"Now I wonder what brings Gandalf to Bree?" she mused.
Aron turned toward the door and replied, "I don't know, but surely whatever he has to say would be more interesting than hearing the same drinking song for a third time." Ariya smiled while she watched Strider and Gandalf make their way towards their table.
When they reached the table, everyone exchanged polite greetings. Then Gandalf asked Ariya if he could speak with her alone. Puzzled, Ariya excused herself and the two retreated to a small empty room.
"What do you wish to speak with me about?" Ariya asked after Gandalf had half-shut the door.
"I know that you have come to the north to return to Ridden," he replied. "But I am afraid that the time has not yet come for you to return to your home. Denya is still king and his madness has grown over the years. I am quite certain that he will still attempt to have you killed should you come to Ridden."
Ariya's heart sank. She had been traveling for nearly five months, anxiously looking forward to seeing Duran again, and now it appeared that her travels were in vain. She began to wonder if fate was not against her--would she ever be able to return to her loved one? "I should have never left Rohan!" she suddenly exclaimed. "I have felt a growing doubt ever since I left, but my desire to see Duran again was so strong!" She tried to hold back her tears, unconsciously clenching her fists in the process. "I should have stayed with those who loved me in Durlow." She turned her back toward Gandalf and looked out the window, embarrassed by her sudden display of emotion.
"Perhaps you have not left Rohan in vain," Gandalf said after allowing Ariya a moment to calm herself. "No, it is not yet time to return to Ridden, but perhaps you were meant to come to Bree at a time such as this."
"What do you mean?" she asked, wishing that the wise were not so often enigmatic. She turned to face the old wizard.
"There is a growing evil in this wilderness," he began, and Ariya instantly recalled the similar words that Aron had spoken immediately before the wolf attack. "The Enemy seems particularly interested in the Shire, and the rangers have taken it upon themselves to protect the Shire-folk." At least that explains why Aron was so curious as to who I was, Ariya thought to herself. But before she could say anything, Gandalf continued. "I am well aware of your gift of foresight. If you are willing, such a gift would be of great use to the rangers."
Gandalf paused, and it was not until she had pondered his last words for a moment did she fully realize what he was asking. "You want me to live in the wilderness, to protect the Shire?" she said hesitantly. Gandalf merely nodded.
Ariya stood silently, contemplating this new turn of events. She knew that she could not yet return to Ridden, for she trusted that Gandalf was correct in his assessment of Denya's mental state. She was tempted to travel to Durlow, for she already missed Lamir and his family and knew that they missed her as well. However, Elrond's prophecy from so long ago suddenly returned to her mind. He had said that she would accomplish great things--had his prophecy been fulfilled yet? She knew that she had been invaluable in the defeat of the Northern Tribes and had saved Édren's life in Rohan, but perhaps there was more to come. She also knew that she was not truly needed in Durlow, and maybe she could use her gifts here against the great Enemy. Having experienced the evil of Mordor during her captivity, she felt confident that she could recognize such evil again. She fondly thought back to her brief visit to the Shire years ago, and to Perry and Tanagrim and the kindness they had shown her. Suddenly, her mind was made up.
"I would be honored to help protect the Shire-folk and use my gift against the Dark Lord," she replied. At that, she saw a slight smile form on Gandalf's lips.
Strider and Gandalf left Bree the next day, and Ariya did not ask where they went. After a few more days Aron was nearly completely healed, and together he and Ariya went into the wilderness. For the first few months of her life as a ranger, Ariya spent most of her time with Aron. She already knew a little about living off the land, but he taught her much more. He showed her which plants were edible and which were poisonous, and which herbs could be used in healing. He also taught her how to start a fire without a tinder box, a trick she had attempted in the past with little success. However, he did not have to teach her how to walk silently or hide in the trees, for that was a gift she had inherited from her elven mother.
After nearly four months of training, Ariya then began to spend much of her time alone in the wilderness. Since she was now much closer to Ridden than she had been in Rohan, she took pains to disguise her identity so that King Denya would not discover her whereabouts. She soon took to wearing pants every day, and with her hair braided and pinned up and her hood over her face, few who saw her knew she was a woman, although her voice always betrayed her gender. She made sure that her braids always hid her elven ears, and on the rare occasion that she gave a name, she went by Serië, which means "Peace" in the Elvish tongue. For though many who saw her assumed her to be a warrior, in truth she was content never to draw her sword against another person.
As Ariya became more accustomed to the life of a ranger, she found herself spending most of her time riding Styrra throughout the uninhabited lands, on the lookout for the spies of Sauron. Occasionally she would meet a person whom she could sense was such a spy, and in a few instances she was forced to fight them to make them leave the lands. She would sometimes meet other rangers, but they never stayed in each other's company for long. During this time, Ariya's thoughts were often of Ridden, but she was careful to keep her mind at the task at hand: protecting the Shire. Thus nearly three years slowly passed by.
One cool autumn day as Ariya rode Styrra slowly through the woods, she happened upon a grey-cloaked figure riding a white horse some distance away. She sensed no danger from the person but at the same time she felt strangely pulled toward the figure. Before she had a chance to call out, the figure turned and removed the hood, revealing an elf maiden's face. She had long, dark hair that flowed in front of her shoulders and pale grey eyes that seemed to stare into the depths of Ariya's soul. Ariya realized that the elf must have been traveling toward the Grey Havens, for they were not far from a common route used by the elves.
Ariya took off her own hood in a gesture of friendliness. "I am sorry, I did not mean to interrupt your journey," she said, speaking in Elvish for the first time in nearly fifteen years. The words nearly felt foreign on her tongue, and she suddenly realized deeply entrenched she was into the mortal world.
"It is no interruption," the elf replied. She stared at Ariya with the same unsettling gaze, and Ariya shifted slightly in the saddle. Why did she feel so uncomfortable and yet so drawn to the elf? After a short moment the elf smiled and said, "You must be Melwen's daughter. You look just like her."
"You knew my mother?" Ariya exclaimed. It had been years since she had last considered all the questions surrounding her parent's deaths, and suddenly thoughts of Lómion's ring flooded her mind.
"Yes," she replied. "We were close friends, although we were from different realms. I lived with my husband in Mirkwood, but often visited my parents and friends in Imladris." Ariya saw a brief look of mourning pass across her eyes when she mentioned her husband and she knew that he had already passed over the Sea.
"When did you last see her?" Ariya asked excitedly.
"A few years after you were born. She had already sent you to Rivendell by the time I was able to find her in the northern lands."
"Tell me," Ariya said, "do you know why she sent me away? Why did she stay with Ambilë?" Ariya's heart raced as she asked the question that she thought she would never know the answer to.
The elf sighed and glanced downward, but soon returned Ariya's gaze. "She loved you with all her heart and could not bear to see you fall under the temptation of Ambilë's ring." The elf paused, and when she saw that Ariya did indeed know about the ring, she continued. "It pained her greatly to send you away, but she could not leave Ambilë. She seemed convinced that she could tear him away from the ring, but she never could. By the time I found her, I could see that the ring was slowly beginning to corrupt her heart as well. I am sorry, Ariya Alayah."
"It's all right," she replied. "That is much what I expected to hear." Ariya paused in reflection. She had always hoped that Melwen had stayed in an attempt to cure Ambilë's corrupted heart, but she had always feared that the ring had corrupted her in the end. It appeared as if both of her thoughts were correct. "Thank you," Ariya added after a moment.
"You're welcome," the elf said, pulling her hood back over her face. She then turned and rode off into the trees, leaving Ariya alone in the woods.
Ariya did not spend much time pondering the elf maiden's words, for they agreed closely with her own thoughts. However, it brought her some peace to know for certain what had happened to her parents. It grieved her that the ring's power was so great that they had never been able to leave it to visit their only daughter. But if Melwen had kept a piece of her heart that was pure, perhaps she had never visited for fear of drawing her daughter toward the ring as well, or perhaps had she wanted to wait until her daughter was grown before telling her all that had happened. Ariya reminded herself that she had been only about sixteen when her parents were killed, still a child even for the half-elven. She sighed and gave Styrra a quick pat, then rode off to continue her duties as a ranger.
One morning several months later, as spring turned to summer and the green in the land reached its peak, Ariya was practicing her sword fighting. Styrra grazed nearby, ignoring her master's fight with invisible foes. As her sword flashed in the sun, Ariya suddenly froze when she heard the slow hoof beats of a walking horse. Turning around, she saw a mounted figure emerge from the trees.
"You need not stop on my account." Ariya smiled when she recognized Aron's voice. She had forgotten that he had acquired a horse the previous year. The ranger hopped off his mount, and removing his hood he continued, "Would you like a partner with whom to duel?"
"Are you challenging me?" she asked with a smile.
"Now why would you think that?" Aron answered with a smile of his own, drawing his sword.
Ariya welcomed his challenge, having not battled a friendly foe for years. They proved to be of nearly equal skill, and for a long while their blades rang throughout the forest. Finally, as they locked swords for what seemed like the hundredth time, Aron managed to twist her blade from her hand.
"Well done," Ariya said as she reached for her fallen sword, her breathing still accelerated from the long duel.
Aron walked over to his mount and retrieved his water skin. Taking a sip, he said, "You are a very worthy opponent. Where did you learn to fight so well?"
"My brother trained me years ago," she answered. Anticipating his next question and preferring to not explain Lein's death, Ariya quickly asked, "And who taught you?"
Aron took a seat in the grass and Ariya sat beside him. "Strider." Handing her his water skin, he continued, "My parents were killed when I was young. Since my father was of the Dunedain, Strider took me under his care and trained me in the ways of the rangers. When he went on missions that he deemed too dangerous for a young lad, he left me in the care of an older ranger named Elodil. So in a sense, I have had three fathers during my life."
"You are a fortunate man to have so many who care for you," she replied. Aron glanced her way and saw a sorrow in her eyes. He wondered if she had anyone who loved her. However, he remained silent, deciding that it would be best not to pry.
While the ranger contemplated her answer, Ariya's thoughts drifted to Ridden, to Rohan, and finally to Rivendell. There were indeed many who loved her, yet now she found herself alone, having wandered the wilderness for nearly three years. She knew that her life in these lands was for a righteous cause and that she could not return to Ridden, but such logic did not always appeal to her emotions. I do not belong here, she thought. I am not a Dunedain. I belong in Ridden; that is my true home. As had happened so many times during the last three years, her thoughts returned to Duran and she fought to hide the tears welling in her eyes.
Aron watched her as she struggled with her thoughts. He knew little of her past and nothing of the love she had left behind. However, he did know how difficult the solitary life of a ranger was, for he often longed for company of his own. He fondly thought back to the four months he had spent training Ariya years ago.
Ariya looked straight ahead, ignoring the young ranger by her side. Her tears now under control, she was annoyed with herself for always being on the verge of crying when she thought of Duran for any length of time. She had found it easy to leave him nine years ago, but now all she wanted was to be with him once again.
As she stared into the trees, Aron suddenly did something that she did not expect: he gave her a quick kiss on the check. Ariya visibly startled and looked at him, momentarily at a loss for words.
Aron knew immediately that the kiss was a mistake. "I--I'm sorry, Ariya. You just looked so... sad... and I..." he let his words trail off, unsure of how to apologize to her.
"It's all right," she simply replied, not knowing what else to say. She did not fault him, for she had seen the concern in his face, but she did wish that he had done something other than kiss her.
"Ariya," he said, still slightly hesitant, "tell me what is wrong. The light in your eyes seemed to fade in just the few moments that we have sat here."
His words nearly brought tears to her eyes once again. She longed to pour out the emotions that she had kept hidden for three years, and she soon found herself telling Aron everything about the man she loved. He listened attentively and said little, understanding that Ariya simply wanted someone to listen to her troubles. Thus as the sun set, the golden-red rays illuminated two rangers, one crying into the other's arms.
List of Names and Places through Chapter 14
- Ambilë: Ariya's mortal father. Chapter 1.
- Arelen: "Morning Star"; Ariya's Elvish name. Chapter 1.
- Ariya Alayah: Translated as "Morning Star" in an ancient tongue of men; the heroine of our story. Chapter 1.
- Aron: Ranger of the North; second cousin to Aragorn. Chapter 13.
- Beredhel: "Bold Elf"; Ariya's maternal grandfather. Chapter 1.
- Beros: Lamir's older brother. Chapter 9.
- Cul-Rômen: "Golden-Red Sunrise"; the name of Ariya's sword. Chapter 5.
- Deilen: Duran's brother. Chapter 5.
- Denya: Renya's only son; succeeded his father as King of Ridden. Chapter 6.
- Dunneth: The city-kingdom to which the refugees of Ridden fled. Chapter 6.
- Duran: Advisor to the king of Ridden; succeeded Denya as king. Chapter 3.
- Durlow: A small village in eastern Rohan. Chapter 8.
- Édren: Lamir's father; farmer and soldier of Rohan. Chapter 9.
- Eomas: The first city to be attacked by the Northern Tribes. Chapter 5.
- Halamir: Lamir's younger brother. Chapter 9.
- Isilmë: "Moonlight"; Ariya's maternal grandmother. Chapter 1.
- Kalen: A man from Dunneth; leader of a group of archers in the resistance against the Northern Tribes. Chapter 6.
- Lamir: Son of Édren; Ariya's apprentice in Rohan. Chapter 9.
- Land of the City-Kingdoms: A land northwest of Rivendell, consisting of several small cities of men, each ruled by their own king. Chapter 2.
- Lein: Ariya's half-brother, son of Ambilë; a smith in Ridden; killed in the Northern Tribe's invasion. Chapter 2.
- Lindë: Lamir's love interest. Chapter 9.
- Lómion: "Descendant of Dark"; maker of Ambilë's ring. Chapter 4.
- Melwen: "Kind Maiden"; Ariya's elven mother. Chapter 1.
- Nía: Lamir's sister. Chapter 9.
- Peramac "Perry" Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Tanagrim. Chapter 2.
- Renna: Beros's wife. Chapter 9.
- Renya: King of Ridden. Chapter 5.
- Ridden: A city in the land of the city-kingdoms. Chapter 2.
- Selleth: Lamir's mother. Chapter 9.
- Serië: "Peace"; the name Ariya used while in the wilderness of the rangers. Chapter 14.
- Styrra: Ariya's horse, a mare from Rohan. Chapter 12.
- Tanagrim Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Peramac. Chapter 2.