The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 375-385
After the encounter with Gollum upon the eyot, the small island in the river, the danger of the journey begins to grow. Orcs upon the eastern side of the river fire at the Fellowship and, for the very first time, they meet a Nazgûl, mounted upon his foul winged steed. Legolas uses the bow given to him by the Elves of Lothlórien and brings the creature down from the sky. One cannot help but feel that a company of archers from Lothlórien, armed thus, would have been very useful at the siege of Minas Tirith.
It is not only the threat of enemies that grows as the party travels southwards but the river itself becomes more dangerous. More suddenly than Aragorn had anticipated the boats arrive at the rapids of Sarn Gebir and the Company are forced to carry both them and their baggage on an old portage-way on the western bank of the river until that danger is passed.
Every mile southwards is bringing them all closer to the moment when a choice will have to be made. Either, as Boromir is beginning to urge, they will make their way down to Minas Tirith or they will begin the journey to Mordor. Aragorn has little wish to make this choice and searches for any kind of sign to aid him in the task. His immediate aim is to reach the lake of Nen Hithoel that lies above the Falls of Rauros and which is fenced upon the left by Amon Lhaw, the Hill of Hearing, and upon the right by Amon Hen, the Hill of Sight. It is there that the choice must be made.
And before they reach this point the river cuts a narrow channel between the Pillars of the Argonath.
“As Frodo was borne towards them the great pillars rose like towers to meet him. Giants they seemed to him, vast grey figures silent but threatening. Then he saw that they were indeed shaped and fashioned: the craft and power of old had wrought upon them and, and still they preserved through the suns and rains of forgotten years the mighty likenesses in which they had been hewn.”
The likenesses are of Isildur and Anárion, the sons of Elendil, and first kings of Arnor and of Gondor, and they stand with hands raised and palms stretched outwards “in gesture of warning.” It is a terrible and an awesome place and poor Sam is overcome by terror. Indeed all the company are very afraid, all that is except Aragorn. In the film he is depicted standing proudly in the boat and it is a very impressive scene. Tolkien, more sensibly, has him seated, but his description of Aragorn is equally impressive. He is Strider “and yet not Strider”. He is proud and erect, “his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land.”
“Fear not!” he said. “Long have I desired to look upon the likenesses of Isildur and Anárion, my sires of old. Under their shadow Elessar, the Elfstone son of Arathorn of the House of Valandil Isildur’s son, heir of Elendil, has nought to dread!”
Nought to dread maybe from these mighty symbols both of Aragorn’s ancestry and his destiny but Aragorn does fear the choice that he must make. He longs to go to Gondor. His heart “yearns for Minas Anor”, the ancient name of the city that is now Minas Tirith, the Tower of the Guard, but he also knows that the task that the Council gave to Frodo was to take the Ring to the Fire and now that Gandalf is gone how can he abandon Frodo?
Eventually, as Galadriel foretold in Lothlórien, his path is already laid before his feet. The path that he will take will lead neither to Minas Tirith nor to Mordor, not yet at least. It will be a series of events that are now entirely unforeseeable that will make the choice clear to him in a way that is impossible as he passes the Argonath or when he climbs Amon Hen. It is clear as he navigates the passage that his heart’s yearning must eventually lead him to his city but it is rare in our lives that the path between our current position and the place for which our heart yearns is a clear one, even for those of us for whom that place is known. Aragorn’s path to his city and to his kingdom will wind and twist through many unexpected places.