The Grey Company Come to Aragorn

As Théoden and his escort ride toward Edoras they are overtaken by a company of horsemen riding hard. After initial fears that it is an attack they learn that the riders are Rangers of the North who have come to give aid to Aragorn, their kinsman and that with them have come also Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond of Rivendell. Aragorn is delighted. Only thirty have come but, as Théoden declares, “If these kinsmen be in any way like to yourself, my lord Aragorn, thirty such knights will be a strength that cannot be counted by heads.”

And Théoden is right. This is a mighty company of knights hardened in battle and loyal to their lord. The peaceful communities of Bree and the Shire have long been their care and little peace would they have known without it. So careful have they been to hide what they do that they have received little honour from the peoples that they have protected. Aragorn’s name of Strider by which he first introduced himself to Frodo and his companions at The Prancing Pony in Bree, is no affectionate pet name but a dismissal of one who is little regarded.

And yet the Rangers of the North are Dunedain, sons and daughters of Númenor and the once proud kingdom of Arnor. Over the long years since the wars against the witch kingdom of Angmar they have dwindled and their lord can no longer call himself, king, but only their chieftain, yet they have not shrunken into themselves as Saruman does after the fall of Isengard, who, even when he becomes lord of the Shire, is found to be living in miserable squalor. Their numbers may be few but they are a people who know their own greatness.

And this is because of Aragorn, their lord. Some years ago I came across some words of the 16th century Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, that made a deep impression upon me then and still do today. “How are the people to know that they are faithful unless their captains tell them?”

To know myself as faithful is to know that my life has a purpose, a meaning and a value because it has been given to something greater than itself and it has been given well. The reason why the Rangers do not need the praise of the Shire and of Bree is because they have the praise of one that they honour far beyond them. Aragorn, their lord, named Estel, or Hope, by Gilraen his mother, raised by Elrond of Rivendell, befriended by Gandalf the Grey, loved by Arwen Undomiel, who fought with Rohan and Gondor as a young man is one whose praise is to be sought above any that they know. Think of Aragorn’s first words when he greets them.

“Halbarad!” he said. “Of all joys this is the least expected!”

Then think how you would feel if someone that you greatly respect spoke words like that to you. This is a people who know that they are faithful because their captain has told them and in knowing it they grow into the knights that Théoden speaks of. They are not simply a band of horsemen but a company of knights errant who have come to follow their lord wherever he goes even if it is unto death.

How much we need leaders like that today. Leaders who are praiseworthy in themselves because we know that they are willing to make great personal sacrifice for the sake of those who follow them and who make their followers as much a part of the enterprise that they share together as they are themselves. Too often it seems that the true purpose of an enterprise is to enrich a small number of people while many within it make great personal sacrifice simply to earn enough to get by. When things go wrong it is the loyal followers who must pay the price while the leaders walk away enriched by what others have given to them.

Aragorn is not such a leader. There are some that I have met who have something of his quality but not many. And it is a challenge to me to give thought to how I can be such a leader to others. My sphere of influence may not be great but I can make a difference within it.


Strider the Ranger Has Come Back!

As Gandalf takes Theoden and his company to see Treebeard, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli remain at the gates of Isengard with Merry and Pippin. They share a meal together and then the hobbits produce the finest tobacco from the Shire, a spoil of battle, so that they can smoke.

“‘Now let us take our ease here for a little!” said Aragorn.’…I feel a weariness such as I have seldom felt before.’ He wrapped his grey cloak about him, hiding his mail-shirt, and stretched out his long legs. Then he lay back and sent from his lips a thin stream of smoke.

‘Look!’ said Pippin. ‘Strider the Ranger has come back!’

‘He has never been away,’ said Aragorn. ‘I am Strider and Dunadan too, and I belong to Gondor and the North.'”

As I have written before, I love the moments of rest in The Lord of the Rings. In the early part of the story these moments are expansive and gracious in character whether they take place in Farmer Maggot’s kitchen or Tom Bombadil’s house or the halls of Elrond in Rivendell. Now when the tale gathers pace, as it begins to move towards its climax, the taking of ease must be “for a little”. It is in the wrapping around him of a cloak that Aragorn now finds a semblance of shelter and in the smoking of his pipe that he finds a moment’s peace. Pippin is reminded of the travel-stained traveller that he first met at The Prancing Pony in Bree and who he got to know and trust on the journey in the wild to Rivendell and in that memory the young hobbit who has been dragged into a world that is far too big for him feels at ease once again. “Strider the Ranger has come back!”

But Aragorn is not a divided man who is a king at one moment, a warrior at another and a friend at yet another; he is truly himself at all times. The temptation to inhabit a role and to switch that role from circumstance to circumstance comes from the need to please and to be accepted by another person. We may have been enjoying a conversation with someone when an important person enters the room. Suddenly we see the face of the person to whom we had been speaking change as he prepares to speak to the one who has just arrived. We may even find that we are now being ignored. What we thought was a conversation between friendly acquaintances was in fact merely a filling of time before the main event.

When we meet someone who is interested in us no matter who else is present then we know we have received a special gift. We also know that we must return that gift and not hold onto it in order to give it to someone that we might consider more important. Aragorn is the same person whether he is with Elrond or Theoden or Pippin the hobbit. And not only is he attentive to all but he will lay down his life for them too. That is why all who follow him love him. That is why they will give their lives for him. It may be that the stages on which we live our lives are smaller than this but when we have a leader a little like Aragorn we know we have received something very special indeed and that we should treasure it.