The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 646-653
When Aragorn chose, with Legolas and Gimli, not to follow Frodo and Sam but to go across Rohan in pursuit of the orc band that had taken Merry and Pippin to Isengard it was a brave choice but also one of despair. When he had set out from Rivendell with the rest of the Fellowship his purpose was to fulfil his destiny. Through all that was to lie ahead of him, whether war in Minas Tirith or a journey with the Ringbearer to the Cracks of Doom, he would claim the throne, both of Gondor and Arnor, and he would claim Arwen, daughter of Elrond, to be his bride. For Elrond had told him that only the king, both of Gondor and Arnor, could marry his daughter.
Aragorn longs for his beloved.
Perhaps it was always a desperate hope but, step by step, he was determined to pursue his hope right to the very end. But then Gandalf fell in battle against the Balrog in Moria and his hope was dashed. Not even when Galadriel gave him the green stone of his ancestors, borne by Eärendil himself was his hope truly rekindled. Not even when she said: “Take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the house of Elendil!”
So it was that when the Company was attacked at Parth Galen and Boromir fell and Merry and Pippin seized by orcs Aragorn chose to pursue them. Until that moment he had felt that he had two choices. Either he would go with Boromir to Minas Tirith and play his part in the defence of the city or he would go with Frodo to Mordor and there to do all he could to try to destroy the Ring. He felt in his heart that it was his duty to go with Frodo, especially after the fall of Gandalf, but that same heart longed to go to Gondor where his destiny lay.
Aragorn choosing at a moment of sorrow and despair. Inger Edelfelt depicts the scene.
All this was taken from him at Parth Galen. Boromir fell in battle seeking to defend Merry and Pippin and Frodo set out for Mordor taking Sam with him. What little hope remained to him that he might yet fulfil his destiny was taken from him. What lay ahead was what he knew was a fruitless task. He would pursue the orc band that had taken the young hobbits across the plains of Rohan and probably die in an attempt to free them. The pursuit took him to the Forest of Fangorn where he even wondered whether he might starve to death alongside the companions that he had tried to rescue.
And then he met Gandalf in the very place in which he expected to die beyond all hope. On the one hand he is filled with joy as hope is rekindled. On the other hand he wonders what the vain pursuit of Merry and Pippin was for.
Gandalf speaks to him.
“Come, Aragorn son of Arathorn!” he said. “Do not regret your choice in the valley of the Emyn Muil, nor call it a vain pursuit. You chose amid doubts the path that seemed right: the choice was just and it has been rewarded. For so we met in time, who otherwise might have met too late.”
Aragorn chose a path that that was utterly alien in nature to the dark forces ranged against him. For they saw all things and all creatures as objects merely to be used for their own purposes. This was true from Sauron and Saruman right down to the meanest of orcs. He chose to lay down his life, his dreams and deepest longings, in the service of two figures that seemed to be of little more value than lost luggage. Gandalf describes the choice as just. Aragorn acted justly in choosing to serve the weak. And he speaks of reward. He speaks of a sense that reality itself rewards such choices. Sauron and Saruman would dismiss such talk as mere sentimental drivel and typical of the weakness of people like Gandalf, a weakness that deserved to be swept away. Gandalf, and Aragorn too, have placed their bets upon an entirely different reality. They believe in a universe that is just; not an impersonal even an implacable thing. And, says Gandalf, the choice is rewarded. The universe approves an act of justice and of mercy.
The universe approves the actor justice and mercy. Aragorn would die for Merry and Pippin. Anke Eismann depicts the young hobbits lost in the forest.