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Chapter 16: A Father’s Love
2951 TA—The hills past Fornost
Estel looked at the sleeping forms of his two older brothers, as always back-to-back, together in sleep as in all things. Normally they did not sleep so deeply for that was not the Elven way, but it had been a particularly hard few months. Orc numbers were growing in northern Eriador, for this reason the Elven band had again joined forces with the Rangers of the north to try and release the land from the oncoming darkness. His Adar had spoken of it many times. Dark times were coming and the Elves and the Men of the West had to make themselves ready for what was to come. He could not say when the threat would reach its peak and need would be greatest. He only knew that it was coming and sooner, rather than later. Estel smiled ruefully at that. Sooner had a different meaning for Elves than it did for men, being immortal beings, they tended to take the longer view of things.
“What has you smiling in so pensive a fashion on this late night, my friend?” Estel turned around and saw the leader of the Ranger patrols that he had come to love and respect over the five years they had known each other. Erithain’s shock of dark hair and dark clothing nearly hid him against the backdrop of midnight horizon behind. Only his face lit by the firelight and the concerned look it held were clearly visible.
Estel smiled more genuinely at the Ranger, “I was just thinking of Adar’s warning of danger and ill tidings.”
Erithain’s eyebrows arched slightly, “Do you not believe your Adar’s warnings.”
Estel replied, “No, the dark times are coming. If my Adar says it, then it will happen. I was only musing upon the word ‘soon’. What is soon to an Elf may take an entire life span of a man.”
It was Erithain’s turn to smile ruefully, “True, very true!”
Estel shared the smile and then sobered, “Do you think we will be ready when the time comes?” he looked at his friend and saw that odd, yearning look that crossed Erithain’s face from time to time that reminded him so much of way his Naneth would sometimes look at him. Brushing away the feeling of loss always evoked by that look Estel pulled his cloak around his shoulders a little tighter.
Erithain realised he had again let a little too much show on his face and quickly turned his eyes toward the fire before he said, “I think we will be, my friend. But much will be asked of us all.”
Estel nodded and stared into the fire watching the flames jump and listening to the crackle as he pondered the future. “We are heading home on the morrow. Did ‘Dan tell you?” he said changing the tenor of conversation from the imponderable future to the imminent departure on the morrow.
“He mentioned something about it.”
“It has been a long and difficult couple of months and I will welcome my warm soft bed in Imladris. And there’s also,” he added in a slightly more carrying voice, “the bonus of eating food NOT cooked by Elladan.”
A “Hmmph!” was heard from behind them and Elladan seated himself next to Estel. “Insult my cooking. Go ahead! some day my genius will recognised!” posturing and throwing a hurt look upon his face.
“It already has. One of the Orcs who trampled through our camp just two days ago decided to help himself to a bit of stew. Fortunately it had been your cooking and he keeled over dead.”
“Could not have had anything to do with my sword in his gullet now, would it?” Elladan inquired giving Estel the gimlet eye.
“Details, details!” Estel said, a glint in his eye as he waved his hand in a dismissive fashion. “It was the stew I tell you. Too bad he knocked it over and we could not any more in the morning. Shame really!” Estel finished with a big grin on his face.
“Keep it up, muindoreg! And I may not watch your back so closely next time!” Elladan leveled, trying not to grin himself.
“Oh! Now he impugns my abilities as a warrior! I see how it is!”
“Children, children! Can I not get a moment’s sleep without you fighting!” Elrohir loomed above them rubbing sleep from his eyes, the grin pulling at the corner of his mouth belying the sternness in the rest of his visage.
Erithain laughed, “I will miss you all when you return to Imladris. Pity you cannot stay and complete the tour.”
“No, it is our appointed time to return to Imladris. To delay would be to cause unwarranted worry on the part of our Adar.” Elrohir stated.
“A Elbereth! We would not want to worry the Lord of Rivendell over much!” Erithain finished with a playful tone. “I bid you a fair night and good rest.” With that the Dunedain Ranger stood and made his way in the dark towards his sleeping roll on the other side of the fire.
Imladris, One week later…
Gilraen sat at her loom finishing up her daily work on a new rug for the hearth in the council chambers. She thought back to the twists of fortune that saw her sitting in the Last Homely House weaving a rug for Lord Elrond. Even after all these years she still could not think of him by his given name only. Theirs remained a close partnership in the raising of their son. It had even developed into a friendly one, but she could never completely see her way past the fact that Arathorn had died bringing Estel to Imladris at Elrond’s bidding, and too soon at that. Her once-happy life had been torn to shreds by that act forcing her to muddle through without even the comfort of family. She had been forced grieve alone. Not that he did not offer himself up as a confidante, he had and helped her through some very rough times but, he denied her the joy of teaching her son about Arathorn and his love for his small son. She understood the reasoning behind it and had agreed to the strictures only because Arathorn had sacrificed his life so that little Aragorn could have the chance to fulfill his destiny.
Gilraen sighed deeply, “Aragorn.” She whispered the long-ago name gently. He had even been denied his name she thought ruefully. The pain of separation from Arathorn through death and her family through necessity ebbed and flowed within Gilraen. She was for the most part sanguine about her new life. She had lost much, but would sacrifice more if it meant that Aragorn could live and be free to fulfill his destiny. Elrond, beyond the strictures he had places, had been extraordinarily kind and living in Imladris among the Elves was pleasant. The Elves made every effort to make Imladris a home for the Dunedain woman and her son. And home it was. There still were times however when she felt the sadness grow upon her, she could not seem to help it from coming. Estel, as a child, recognised them and would learn to tell when were the best times for a hug and when were the best times to leave Nana alone. Gilraen shook herself out of the depressed reverie into which she felt herself sinking, chuckling slightly, “This will butter no parsnips!” returned to preparing her loom for day’s end.
She was startling by a voice at the door. “Aragorn. He will soon know his true name.”
She turned and saw Elrond standing at the door a somber expression darkening his visage. “What do you mean?”
“When he returns from his journey I will tell him all.”
Gilraen sat dumbstruck over what she had heard. “Is it time that he should know?”
“He is young, yes, but I believe it is time.”
Elrond watched as a burden seemed to lift from Gilraen’s shoulders. Her eyes lit with a kindled fire that he had not seen in a long time. Years seemed to fall from her as she smiled saying, “I am glad.”
The next day…
Elrond was standing on the balcony leading off his study when he saw five horses enter from the south passage. He immediately recognised the twins, but it took him more than a few seconds to recognise his youngest son. It had been five long months since he had seen Estel and even from far away he could tell how much Estel had grown, how much more mature he was than when he left on tour of northern Eriador. Gazing at Estel an overwhelming sadness filled him. He was about to lose his youngest son. Elrond drew a deep breath and thought of a five-year old Estel paging through his Ada’s leaf collection or tearing through the halls with Elmiran or one of the twins in fast flight behind. A ten-year old Estel shooting his first bow or listening enrapt to the stories Glorfindel would tell him. A fifteen-year old Estel receiving his first sword from Elrond, his eyes shining with pride. An unbidden tear slipped down his face as Elrond turned away from the window at the sound of a knock.
Elmiran entered, inclined a small bow, and waited for the permission to speak. Elrond glanced at his page of many years and said before the younger Elf even began speak, “Send for the Lady Gilraen and after bring Estel to me, I must speak with him.” Elmiran saw the intensity on his lord’s face and knew immediately what conversation was about to happen. He bowed his head in acknowledgement, saddened eyes cast down. Elrond thought, You are right my friend, Imladris will be a sadder place without my youngest. But he pushed that thought aside and breathed deeply in an effort to steel himself for the task ahead. He walked over to two deeply engraved doors behind the large table that served as his desk and felt the delicate design of a tree with seven stars encircling beneath his fingertips before his reached inside his tunic to withdraw an key, darkened with several hundred years age, on a blue velvet ribbon. He inserted the key into the lock and felt well-oiled hinges slip into place. He opened the door and reached inside past a wooden oblong box lined with silk to a small cube. He withdrew his hand and carefully opened the box. Inside, protected from the ravages of time, was a ring. Two snakes coiled around an emerald it had been in Estel’s family since before even Elrond had been born and now it would belong to Estel in token of his lineage and responsibility. Elrond set the ring box down and reached again into the cabinet sunk into the wall and pulled out the Sceptre of Annunminas. Younger than the ring, it held no less grandeur, being the symbol of Kingship of the Numenoreans since before the Downfall. This Estel would receive only if he succeed in the task he was born to and not before. Elrond replaced it back in the cabinet and locked it afterwards safely tucking the key inside his tunic.
Elmiran appeared once again at the door, “The Lady Gilraen, my lord.”
Gilraen walked in with a bounce in her step that was unusual. Normally she tread so lightly as not to disturb anyone. Elrond stopped himself. No, she had not always tread so. When Arathorn still lived Gilraen exuded a confidence and a verve that he had always found quite refreshing. He startled to realise the change that had come over her in the eighteen years since his friend’s passing and was even more startled to realised how little he had noticed. But this moment was not given to introspection, he needed to focus on the task at hand and he would mull over his failures at another time.
“My lady, Estel has returned. And I have sent for him. This can wait no longer.”
Gilraen touched her hand to her heart and smiled, “I have long waited for this moment, my lord.” Then noting the anxiety in Elrond’s pale blue eyes, she added, “Though I do understand that all has been done through necessity.”
After too many anxious minutes strung themselves together, they heard the expected knock upon the door and Elrond’s head snapped up from the unread document upon which he had been fixating. Though it were only a light respectful tap the sound cut through his nerves and straight into his heart, and breathing deeply Elrond spoke under his breathe, “What must be, shall be,” and quickly placed a happy look on his face lest Estel should sense anything was amiss. “Enter!”
The door strung open and in walked his youngest son, “Adar! You asked to see me?”
Much forced lightness was mixed with genuine happiness at seeing the young man as Elrond said, “Ion nin! It is good that you are home again! ” Whatever happens after today this will always be your home. I can only hope you will realise that! Elrond collapsed the distance between father and son and caught Estel in a fatherly hug, which a somewhat bewildered Estel returned the hug.
Next he was captured in a big motherly hug and said, “Naneth! I am so glad to be home! You are well?”
Gilraen smiled brightly, “Quite well, ion nin. Quite well.”
Estel noticed the marked difference in emotions displayed by his parents. Elrond was quite somber and anxious looking and his normally so calm and sanguine mother was quite the opposite.
“Adar? Is something wrong?”
Too clever by half, either that or I am not very successful at burying my emotions at this moment. “No. Ion nin! There is nothing wrong. Everything is as it should be.” Elrond said fully, his eyes betraying the pain that he felt and quickly looking away.
“I do not believe you. There is pain in your eyes. Tell me. I would know.” Estel paused and paled, “Are all well?”
Elrond looked back and saw the worry gather across his son’s brow. “Yes. I mean No.” He stopped himself. “All are well.” He said in a calmer voice.
Estel had never seen his father as flustered as he appeared before him now. “If that is not the matter, then what is?”
Elrond rubbed his face with both hands templing them at his mouth appearing deep in thought. Or so it seemed to outside eyes. In reality he was quelling the desire to keep silent and allow things to continue as they had for so many years. With effort he pushed his own feelings aside as he began, “Ion nin! Please let us sit for a moment.” Motioning towards the settee in the corner by a shelf filled with scrolls of different sizes.
Alarm bells sounded softly in Estel’s mind, “No thank you, I’ll stand.”
Elrond looked at him, “Please.” Panic started to rise in his breast. Estel looked to his mother for reassurance. She smiled and nodded and Estel did as his father bade him.
When the other two were seated, Elrond remained standing and poured Gilraen and himself a glass of the Dorwinian vintage he favoured so much, handed Gilraen hers, but set his down untasted. He looked across the room through the billowing russet curtains to the far twin waterfalls as he began to speak, “You have often asked why you and your naneth came to live here in Imladris.”
Estel grew still as he listened to his father’s words. Elrond seemed to be awaiting a response, “Yes, but neither you or Naneth would ever tell me.” Estel looked at her mother. Normally when he when raised such questions a shadow crossed his mother’s face and a sadness filled her eyes. He had learned to stop asking and was concerned how his father’s words were affecting her. He was pleasantly surprised to see her unfazed by the mention of that which had always caused her such pain before. In fact she looked radiant, which gave him much confusion. He felt explanation, however, was at hand.
Elrond turned his head to look his son straight in the eye. “I am about to tell you now.”
Estel drew himself up straight as he gazed into his father’s eyes.
“You have not always been named Estel. I named you that when you came here with your naneth. Your true name is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. Chieftain of the Dunedain.” Elrond intoned in as clear a voice as his emotions would allow.
Estel’s eyes grew wide and he quickly looked to his mother for confirmation. She nodded, “It is true.” He noted the pride that filled his mother’s eyes at the affirmation. Her emotions began to inform his as a hint of pride swelled within his breast. All the history lessons that Glorfindel had taught him, many of the stories he had told the eager, young student began to resonate within his mind.
Elrond saw a dawning comprehension within the young man’s clear grey eyes. “Yes, you are descended from Elros, my brother. The line unbroken of Numenorean Kings. The heir of Isildur.”
The dawning pride and comprehension turned to shame as Estel recalled the failure of Isildur to destroy the ring of power. “The sword, the shards. You were the one Isildur would not listen to.” Estel stated in a low toneless voice as history lessons collided with reality.
“Yes.” Elrond waited silently as the impact of what he had just revealed work its way through his son’s consciousness. He saw warring emotions flit across Estel’s face. Pride, shock, shame, amazement, but true to Estel’s essence it was the desire for knowledge that won out.
“Tell me everything. What happened to my father?” A salve to Elrond’s heart Estel had instinctively used the Westron word for “father” and not the Sindarin word “Adar.” “Is he still alive?” he asked, looking between his mother and father. Hope flared briefly in Estel’s heart only to have it extinguished by the pain now living his mother’s eyes.
Elrond’s face grew gaunt with restrained emotion as he remembered his friend, “No, he died before you turned three.”
“How did he die?” he asked somberly, “Were you there?”
It slashed Elrond to the heart to be the bearer of such sad tidings, even belated as they were. “Sadly, I was not. But your brothers were. As was your Naneth.”
Estel looked expectantly his mother, “It is best to ask your brothers. I still do not remember quite all of it. I don’t think I ever want to.” The remembered pain etched across her face dissuaded her son from asking any more of her.
“Why did you never tell me of this before? Why did this have to be kept from me? All knowledge of my father denied me.”
Gilraen looked at Elrond with eyes that said Well, now’s your chance. Explain to him because I really can’t. Elrond received the look with aplomb but paused nonetheless to gather his thoughts on the subject. He knew that this question would be soon in coming once the subject had been broached and before, the reasoning had always been so clear. But at this moment with his son sitting right in front him, realising that a portion of his life had been stolen from him, it was harder to explain why it had been necessary. He looked into his son’s clear, but questioning grey eyes. By way of explanation he began, “What did Glorfindel teach you about the Dunedain?”
Estel stated, “Essentially that they were a noble, yet dwindling people. Their one great hope for themselves and for Middle Earth was that through the unbroken lineage stretching back to Elendil himself, would come a great leader, the hope for their people to restore them to greatness and rid the world of darkness.”
Elrond noticed that Gilraen remained silent but only with great effort. Given this show of restraint he continued on.
“The Elves of Imladris have had their share in this destiny. I have fostered every heir of the Dunedain since the destruction of Arthedain but it has always been done in secret. Sauron could never know that the line of Isildur had survived unbroken and that an heir might some day take back what had been stolen.”
“Stolen?” Estel questioned the use of the word.
“Yes, stolen,” Elrond countered. “The good and noble person that Isildur had been was stolen away by the power of the ring. It corrupted him.”
Estel looked his father, whom he loved and respected. The impact of what he was being told was growing in his mind, “Am I to be this great hope?” He paused, hearing the resonance within his own name. “I was your son. Am I now nothing more than the latest in a long line of fosterlings.” Estel ended feeling bereft and hollow, casting his eyes into the distance.
“No! Never!” Gilraen interjected. She turned her son’s face to her and caressed one side with her hand. “Elrond has always loved you. This I know.”
Elrond gave her a look filled with his gratitude over her defense of him. Gilraen smiled gently in return.
“Estel look at me,” Elrond requested. Estel looked his father through eyes of doubt and pain despite his mother’s words. “I have fostered many. Cared for them. Taught them. But they all knew their destiny and what might be asked of them. They were mine only for a short time and then they were gone. You came to me when you were only two, a sad, withdrawn little soul who had lost so much. It has been my duty to foster the Heir of Isildur, but I loved you from the moment you came to live under my roof. You will always be my son, if you can forgive me for keeping the truth from you all these years.” Elrond looked at his son, hoping that the Valar would not punish him for the error in judgment that could sever the bond between father and son.
Estel looked at Elrond through new eyes, Estel no longer but Aragorn. Aragorn, the name rang true within his heart and stirred a sense of greater purpose, yet he did not feel worthy of such a destiny and was completely overwhelmed by these revelations. But whatever else was true or false in his life, whatever revelations that would cause him to sift the shifting meanings of his life, in his heart there would remain Elrond and Gilraen. His adar and naneth. The ones who had raised him. Whatever else, he loved both and always would. Aragorn smiled at his adar, “I forgive you, how could I not forgive the one who gave us shelter and a life.”
Elrond visibly relaxed and then retrieved something from across the room. He opened the box “Here is the Ring of Barahir, the token of our kinship from afar**. This was given to Barahir from Finrod Felagund, brother to Galadriel, in reward for saving his life. Rescued at dear cost by Beren, it has been in the House of Beor since the First Age. Tradition has seen it passed down from father to son, descendant from the House of Beor, through the centuries and now it has come to you. Wear it well.” Elrond finished handing his son the box. Gilraen watched as her beloved son carefully lifted the ring out of its box and ponder its existence. As he slowly placed the ring upon his middle ring she could see the weight of legacy settling upon his shoulders. She had waited for this day for eighteen years, the day that she could finally speak with her son about his legacy, his destiny and what she and his father had sacrificed in order for him to succeed. All this remained of greatest importance, but she stopped short when she looked into her son’s eyes. The grey depths held bewilderment, shame and sorrow mixed pride and expectation. Gone was the youthfulness eagerness and in its place was a sense of awesome responsibility.
Gilraen sought to encourage her son, “Aragorn,” she said, secretly thrilled to be speaking the name aloud to him for the first time since he was two, “I know you will make us proud,” she said gently and reassuringly.
Aragorn said somberly, “I will try, Naneth.”
Elrond had also been watching as the responsibility settled on his youngest son. He was sorry to bring such responsibility to one so young, but it was necessary. The dark times were coming. Of this he was sure and the more time Aragorn had to understand his destiny and his role in the fight against the shadows the better it would be. The father inside him however wanted to keep him always in Imladris to protect from the hardships and struggles along the road that Aragorn must travel. His heart ached to see responsibility chase away the little boy that he loved so well.
Aragorn stood and two pairs of concerned eyes followed him. “Naneth, Adar, I thank you both, but I must ask if I may take my leave now. I want to go and settle Gilgilath in his stall and unpack.” He said all in a carefully controlled voice. The mundanity of the tasks and the very control he sought to emulate spoke volumes to the confused state of Aragorn’s mind.
Elrond readily granted his wish and after kissing his naneth on the cheek and bowing hand on heart to them both, he departed, closing the door quietly behind him.
“Do you think we should have told him earlier.” Gilraen asked looking at the closed door after him.
“I do not think there ever by a good time to tell him, but he needed to be told.” Elrond sighed, his heart full.
Aragorn left his father’s study with the express intention of escaping into the trees, finding solitude among them. But instead his feet took him toward his brothers’ suite of rooms. Throughout his life he had always relied upon the twins to provide solace and comfort. The door, one corridor away from his own, was open. Walking in, Aragorn sat down upon the large double bed belonging to Elladan and watched as his brothers unpacked their gear from their saddlebags. He simply sat and watched until Elladan said, “Muindoreg! You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” noting his little brother’s shocked look and pale complexion.
“I think I have.” He paused purposefully, “I know.” The last two words resounded in the suddenly silent bedchamber the twins exchanging looks and together realising the reason for the solitary summons from their father.
Elladan dropped the tunic he had been holding and walked over to the bed. Kneeling before his young brother he looked up into his face. “We wanted to tell you, Estel. But we could not. It was not our secret to tell.” He ended solemnly.
Estel looked at the slender and beautiful face of his Elven brother, “You knew my father. What was he like? Adar said that he was not there when my father died, but that you were.”
Elrohir broke his silence and walked over to Aragorn, “He was a good man. We loved him. It was tragic the way he died.” He sighed as he sat down on the bed next to Aragorn. “And yes, we were there. So were you, although you would not remember it.” Aragorn looked at Elrohir, surprise in his eyes.
Elrohir said, “Did not Adar tell you that?”
Aragorn shook his head. “Tell me.”
Elrohir drew a deep breath, “We were ambushed by Orcs bringing you to here to Imladris. Arathorn died trying to defend you and your Naneth.”
Aragorn listened, tears glistening in his eyes, but only nodded for Elrohir to continue.
The dark-haired Elf breathed deeply once again, but continued, “but as his notice was distracted, an arrow pierced him in the chest. He did not linger for very long, although you saw him just before he died.”
“What did he do? Did he say anything?”
Elrohir fell silent and Elladan, sparing a thoughtful glance for his brother, took up the story. “You were right by his side. You had broken free from Elrohir’s arms.” Estel looked at Elrohir for the truth of the statement. The younger elf nodded. “I’ll never forget what your father said to you, although you are probably too young to recall it.”
He said, “My beautiful boy. Make me proud, my little love. Remember, I will always love you. Never be afraid of death for I will be waiting for you on the other side.”
Estel stared into his brother’s star-lit eyes. His heart told him that he had always known these words, but it was not until Elrohir had spoken them aloud, did he realise this. These words that spoke of a father’s love for his son. Somehow in his core of memories that moment was engraved. Love enshrouded by pain.
Author’s notes: I decided to stop the chapter here. Originally I had planned to have Elrond revealing Aragorn’s true identity and Aragorn and Arwen meeting within the same chapter, but it was not to be. Once again the writing process throws a wrench into my plans!! J He will also at handle the shards of Narsil next chapter! I could not make it fit into this chapter!!
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