Estel of Rivendell - Chapter 1.

Elladan, almost invisible in his grey elven cloak, moved noiselessly through the thick underbrush. He stopped and looked... and in his fair face was despair, for he saw that the enemy was gathering in strength. "Estel, for all his strength, will be broken by them. He must not face them alone...he must not face them at all. I will take him home."

Aragorn knelt to the ground on a high mountaintop. He sensed the presence of the enemy near at hand. His shoulders were bowed. "They are many and I am tired," he thought. He mentally prepared himself to face the unseen threat. Elladan sped back to where the tall Ranger knelt, restlessly fingering the hilt of his sword as his mind raced, considering and rejecting various strategies for the battle ahead. And now, Elladan stood beside him. "Elladan! You have come to fight by my side?" A warm sense of relief coursed through Aragorn's veins. He was still a fresh-faced young man, struggling to come to terms with the hard life of a Ranger. As he strode in travel-stained clothes through the wild lands that had once been the great kingdom of Arnor, he often longed for the peace and protection that he had known in Rivendell. And as he fought his battles against the wild creatures that threatened the peace of the North, the thought often came to him in the voice of a child, "why does my father not come to me back..."

The one whom he called "father" was the only father he had ever known. Elrond, the wise lore-master of Rivendell, who had cared for him since he was a child. Growing up under the warm sun of Elrond's protection, Aragorn had never imagined that he would one day choose to leave Rivendell and take to the hard life of a Ranger. But he could no longer find peace in Rivendell. Because of Arwen. But Elladan was speaking to him...

"This time, Estel," he said gently, "by your leave, you must ride home with me and leave this trial of strength to others." Aragorn's eyes glinted as he stood up to face Elladan. "Elladan, I am no weakling, to hide trembling in the background while others defend me. I cannot do it. I am not used to it."

Elladan sighed. "Some dangers are too great even for Aragorn son of Arathorn and his Dunedain to face alone. Come, let us rest awhile and, if you will, we will set out at sunrise." Aragorn wrapped his cloak around himself, shivering slightly, and allowed the tall elf to lead him deep into the forest.

He could not argue with him. Not with Elladan. After he had left Rivendell, there were times when Aragon had been overcome with a sense of loneliness so total and complete that it seemed to stifle him, to stop his breath. And help had come from an unexpected source. As a child, he had not seen much of his stern-faced elf-brothers, who were often away on errantry. They had then hardly seemed to notice his existence, although they had taught him to ride, and to use bow and sword. It was only after he had left home that Aragorn realized for the first time how much they cared for him. As he roughed it out on his own, experimenting with independence, Elladan and Elrohir had suddenly demonstrated that they were not only aware of his existence, but also understood much of his problems. Orcs, who made the mistake of wandering vaguely in Aragorn's direction, would suddenly find themselves facing the wrath of Elrohir, who "just happened to be passing that way." And Elladan, who seemed to sense his loneliness, comforted him simply by being with him as much as possible. The brothers had, in fact, spent a large part of several years "happening to pass by," never leaving his side until he had found his own feet. Even now, thought Aragorn, they seemed to know when he needed them even before he knew it himself.

Elrohir stopped as they came to a grassy clearing in the woods. Aragorn sat down, his back against a tree, looked up at Elladan and smiled. "Elladan, you knew that I needed you. And you came!" "Nay," said the tall elf, sitting down beside him. "This time, your father sent me." Aragorn looked at him in some surprise. "But he... he didn't... he has never..." Elladan understood. "Estel," he said quietly, "He has never come to your aid when you needed him?" All Aragorn's bitterness against Elrond flooded into his mind. He shook his head, biting his lip to hold back his tears.

Elladan's presence was so familiar, so comforting. Aragorn wanted to curse, to swear, to talk about how much he now hated Elrond, how he felt betrayed by the father who had once loved him. Elladan was Elrond's son...and yet Aragorn wanted to talk to him, to speak of the father who had turned against him, who had taken Arwen away from him, and who never seemed to have even thought about him after he had left Rivendell. He longed to tell Elladan of the despair that filled his mind whenever he thought of becoming King... of Gondor and Arnor. And Arwen... she seemed forever beyond his reach... "No," said Aragorn out loud "he did not... I was alone... sometimes I wished he would come to me and call me back home... if you love someone, Elladan, should you not come to their aid when they need you?" Elladan smiled. "Indeed you should." "Then why did he not come?" Suddenly, the voice of the hurt child inside him spoke out. "Does he not love me?"

Elladan put his arm around Aragorn's strong shoulders. "My Estel," he said gently, "no-one who knows you can help loving you..." His brother's words broke the dam that had held back Aragorn's anger, bitterness and pain. He buried his face in his Elladan's shoulder, his chest heaving with the tears that he could hold back no longer. Elladan stroked his dark head. He soothed and calmed him until he at last fell asleep in his brother's arms.

When he awoke, his brother's arms still encircled him. Aragorn did not hasten to get up, and neither did Elladan press him to. The soft morning light filtered through the trees and the sky was painted in delicate watercolours of pink and gold. Aragorn lay at peace in his brother's arms, watching the world awake. He remembered walking with Elrohir on just such a morning on a lonely mountainside. Smelling the fresh green grass as Elrohir, in a voice softer than the gentle breeze, painted pictures for him in words of the mellow morning light. Aragorn began to speak the words of Elrohir's poetry as Elladan waited patiently for him to get up and face the day.

"Come, now," said Elladan at last, "I will take you home."

"Rivendell is not my home," said Aragorn, rather bitterly. But he was soon riding like the wind through the cool morning air on Elladan's great horse, with Elladan seated behind him. He had not shared a horse with Elladan since he been a child, learning to ride. The rhythmic movement of the horse and the cool air on his face relaxed and calmed him and he soon fell asleep in Elladan's arms again. But Elladan, tense and alert, knew that they were riding through dangerous territory and with his keen eyes, surveyed the landscape that flowed past them like a river. Suddenly, he stiffened.

"Estel!" Aragorn sat up at once, fumbling for his bow. Elladan sat erect and alert, looking at something in the distance that Aragorn could not see. Aragorn wondered how they would both shoot while sitting on the same horse, without getting in each other's way. "I knew that I should not have come with him," he thought, helplessly.

"Only one of us may shoot," said Elladan. "Will you lie low, Estel?" It was more an order than a request. Aragorn obediently sprawled forward, leaning his cheek on the horse's warm neck. "Elbereth, Gilthoniel," breathed Elladan, as with a slow, graceful movement, he fitted an arrow to his bow and waited. There was a moment of total silence. Aragorn waited, not daring to raise his head, not daring to disturb Elladan's concentration. And still, Elladan waited, until Aragorn began to wonder if the unseen enemy had gone away. He wondered who they were, and how many.

And then at last, Elladan let loose his arrows. Aragorn could feel their raw power as Elladan unleashed them. They screamed over his head like a storm, a tempest. Elladan's arms moved like lightning - so fast that Aragorn would not have been able to discern every movement, had he been able to watch. He could sense the power of Elladan's concentration as his arrows flew with deadly accuracy to their marks.

A star shone on Elladan's brow and he was now revealed as an elven warrior in all his wrath. Aragorn had watched Elladan bend his bow before, but only in demonstration of the art. Now Elladan was fighting an unknown foe of great power and Aragorn could feel the difference. He could feel his elven brother's grace and power as he bent his bow with a skill rare even among elves.

Elladan stopped his attack as abruptly as he had started it. Aragorn sat up cautiously, caught up in admiration of Elladan's skill. "There was once a time when I strove to perfect my skill with the bow," thought Aragorn. But that was before his life had become the arid desert that it was now. Before Elrond had asked him to achieve the impossible. He would never be King of Gondor and Arnor.

"You are a great warrior, Elladan," he said aloud. "There was a time when you, too, used to work hard to perfect your skill with the bow, Estel," said Elladan. So he had noticed. He had noticed that Aragorn was not interested in anything anymore... "Sometimes," said Aragorn, trying to explain, "sometimes something hurts you so badly that you cannot stand up again..." He sighed. "Has anyone ever done that to you, Elladan?"

Elladan was silent for a moment. Should he burden Aragorn with talk of his old wounds? Elladan thought not. He would rather help Aragorn get over his own troubles. "Yes, Estel," he answered. "I have been hurt, but..." "By whom," asked Aragorn. "My mother," said Elladan, "but let us not talk of..."

"You mean the orcs," asked Aragorn, "the orcs who made her suffer?" "No," answered Elladan quietly. "I mean my mother." Aragorn was startled. His mother! Aragorn could not imagine the gentle, perceptive Elladan having a disagreement with anyone, least of all his mother. Aragorn respected Elladan and Elrohir's skill as warriors. But it was their capacity to understand and to heal that he admired most. And what disagreement could one such as this have had with his mother? Aragorn hesitated. "Is it permitted to ask..."

Elladan smiled. "Of course you may ask. Estel, you spoke of hurt, of hurt so great that it can break you..." Elladan paused. "My father healed my mother, healed her body. But not her spirit, which was broken... Estel - we wanted so much to take away the pain, to make the world look beautiful to her again... but she did not allow us to. Estel, the most cruel thing you can do to one who loves you is to refuse to allow them to comfort you and heal you..."

Aragorn understood. He understood both mother and son - both her need to grieve and his longing to bring comfort and healing to the mother he loved. "She did not give me enough time, I could have put it right..." Elladan's voice trailed off into silence and he sat still as a rock, thinking in silence of his greatest grief, his failure to comfort his mother.

His thoughts suddenly moved from the past to the present and his grey eyes fixed themselves on Aragorn. "Estel, do not ever reject the love of those who would comfort you, even if..." Elladan hesitated. "Even if," Aragorn urged him to continue. Elladan knew that Aragorn would not like to hear what he was about to say. But he decided to say it anyway. "Do not refuse to accept your father's love, even if it was he who hurt you. Estel, take the road with hope. The task he has set you may be within your grasp. Take the road, Estel and let your father walk with you, by your side."

"You speak as if he wants to comfort me and would be hurt if I did not allow him to do so. But I cannot believe that he thinks of me at all..." Elladan smiled. "I will not try to persuade you or weary you with argument. But Estel, do you believe that I love you and wish to comfort you? Elrohir and I?" Aragorn nodded. "Yes, but I do not know why." Elladan grinned suddenly. "Because you're Estel."

"Because I'm dirty Estel?"

"Because you're dirty, ragged Estel," smiled Elladan.

The rest of the journey passed in almost total silence. The two brothers found comfort in each other's presence on the road to Rivendell. But as they came in sight of that green valley, Aragorn had to admit to himself that Elrond was still the last person he wanted to meet.

Aragorn walked on the green grass of Rivendell in the cool shadows of the morning. The trees were touched by the soft golden glow of the morning sun and at their feet were deep pools of cool shadow.

Aragorn sat down on a stone step, looking at every familiar tree, leaf and stone. "I am home," he thought, warming his hands in a shimmering patch of sunshine.

It gradually dawned on him that something strange was happening. He could see a warm sun in a blue sky. But the sounds that he heard painted quite a different picture. He could distinctly hear the drumming of rain and the crash of thunder. What was going on? Perhaps it had happened at last. Perhaps he had finally said goodbye to his sanity. So this was what it was like, going mad. The world went crazy before your eyes, while you sat and watched it, at peace. He had always thought that it would be the other way around - he'd imagined that he'd be falling apart himself, while a sane world watched in amused apathy...inexplicably, he felt himself falling...

Aragorn hit the floor with an almighty crash. He blinked blearily as he looked around. It took him a while to get things clear in his head.

He was lying on the floor of his room in Rivendell. There was a storm outside his window. He had been dreaming a strange dream - a long, involved dream, prominently featuring Elladan and a horse, in which the sight of a sunny morning juxtaposed with the sound of the storm outside had finally convinced him of his insanity...

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