by Your Cruise Director

Today, as ever, Aragorn will not feel like a King.

He will wake on the ground, covered in filth, with bits of soil in his hair and soot from the fire streaking his face. He will look for leaves to scrub his skin, for herbs to clean his teeth and kill the fungus growing between his toes. When he opens his breeches to piss he will smell mildew on the cloth, yeast on his skin.

Gandalf will sketch a map in the dirt, illustrating what he hopes will be a safer route. Aragorn knows these hills as well as the wizard, but he will nod and acquiesce, even though he agrees secretly with Boromir that they would do better to head for the Gap of Rohan and risk passing near to Isengard. If Saruman intends to destroy them all, a few hundred or a few thousand leagues will make little difference, and the blood of Numenor will not save Gondor.

Frodo will look around with wide, wounded eyes, and Aragorn will feel desperately grateful once again that he need not see the Ring, touch the Ring, carry the Ring about his throat like a noose. Sam will try to comfort Frodo with food and song, gazing dolefully at Strider as he approaches, and Aragorn will know that Sam is right to think there should be more that he can do to relieve the Ringbearer's burden. But Aragorn was a coward when Elrond called for the Ring's destruction, and was not the first on his feet to swear to see the Ring taken into Mordor; and a coward he remains, keeping his tainted blood from coming too close to Isildur's weakness.

Legolas and Gimli will quarrel needlessly, making Aragorn smile despite himself, for he can see that the Elf quietly admires the Dwarf's perseverance, while the son of Gloin has realized that most of the stories he heard about Elves were untrue and unjust. Aragorn could ease their suspicion of one another, drawing them together into speech or song, yet he keeps to himself, observant.

Aragorn does not join Boromir, either, when the Captain of Gondor teaches the hobbits to use their swords and to turn fallen branches into fighting staffs. He smokes his pipe and watches, seeing the admiring glances Merry and Pippin turn on Boromir while he is demonstrating footwork or swinging his blade. The Ranger could keep his own skills in superb form dueling with the younger man, but he will not ask Boromir to practice with him today. He will keep his own weaknesses hidden lest he should someday have to fight Boromir.

Nor will he invite Boromir to share his food, his hunting, his stories, in spite of the eagerness in the other man's eyes. Aragorn thinks that it was easier when Boromir resented him, for then the distance was expected, even comfortable. Now that he feels the pull of friendship from one who could someday become his brother in arms, his conscience -- his Steward -- he feels fear more keenly than pleasure.

Aragorn knows that Boromir does not understand, taking reticence for rejection. And Aragorn knows further that the more isolated Boromir feels, the more intense grows his longing for his home, and thus the more strongly does he hear the Ring's call. Boromir is vulnerable because of Aragorn's silence.

Today they will ford a small, icy stream that will leave the hobbits shivering and nearly drag Pippin down the current. Today Boromir will clear overhead branches and Gimli will take a thorn in his heel. Today supper will be rotting vegetables, stale bread and the meat from one tiny bird that Aragorn will kill with his bare hands, whispering a silent apology to the bird, the soil, the sky.

Truly Aragorn cannot say whether his detachment stems from prudence or terror. For today, as always, he will blot out his birthright, even as he touches his fingertips to the memento of Arwen he carries the way Frodo carries the Ring. Today, as ever, Aragorn will not feel like a King; yet he will sit alone, with the weight of the world hovering about him.


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