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Beyond Imladris  by PSW

A/N:  I did manage to find some writing time this week.  Yay!

So, due to popular request, and because Estel is still asleep at the moment …  ;-)

It took a moment for him to realize that the battle was over, and another for him to realize that he was no longer alone.  Dorhaur lowered his sword, suddenly dizzy and overwhelmingly weary as the rush of battle faded.  His leg throbbed where the warg had gotten through his guard, but things could have been far worse.  He shook his head, reaching for the strands of his scattered wits—until he surveyed this new situation, he could not afford to lower his guard—and jumped slightly as a hand closed around his upper arm.

“Are you injured?”

He blinked in the direction of the new voice, and then truly did need to sit.


The hand steadied his descent, wise given their precarious position upon the fallen boulder.  By the time he eased his injured leg out the dizziness had passed, and he squinted again at his companion.

No, he’d been right.  It really was an Elf.

Today, apparently, was a day for shocks.

The Elf was already poking around at his leg, and Dorhaur winced.  The pain sharpened his thoughts, however, and with that he remembered Estel.  He looked quickly around.  Another Elf crouched over the dead wargs, this one with hair the golden color of ripened wheat in the sunlight—blond was too dull a word, even in the dark, and perhaps his wits were not as gathered as he imagined, if he was waxing poetic.  He had, after all, given that up years before, after his wife had lovingly but laughingly informed him that his attempts were worse than awful.  Roughly, Dorhaur dragged his mind back to the present.  The walls and floor of the ravine revealed no trace of the boy, and he started up abruptly.  The hand pressed down on his shoulder.

“Not yet.  Let me see this—warg scratches will be none too clean.”

“My charge,” he growled, batting the Elf away.  “There was a lad with me …”

The Elf pressed him down again, then looked up.  “Elrohir!”

For the second time in as many minutes, Dorhaur gaped.  He had never met the sons of Elrond personally, but every Ranger knew of them.  A dark silhouette appeared immediately over the edge of the ravine.

“Estel?” the Elf beside him queried.

“Well,” replied Elrohir, then chuckled softly.  “And asleep.”

Worry surged.  That made little sense, and if the boy was unconscious he had been injured in some manner Dorhaur knew nothing about.

“Already?”  The Elf beside him—this must be Elladan, then—was both incredulous and amused.

“Indeed.  And yet squeezing so tightly that I know not how Adar draws breath.”  A soft murmur reached Dorhaur’s ears, and Elrohir laughed again.  “Adar also says that if Estel does not shift soon, he will entirely lose the use of his left leg.”

Elladan laughed as well, though there seemed more of relief and less of amusement in the sound.  For himself, Dorhaur was beginning to wonder if he was truly more addled by the fight than he had realized—it was difficult to follow this bizarre exchange.  Two realizations, however, were slowly beginning to impinge upon him.  One, these Elves knew the boy’s name, and he had certainly not been the one to tell them.  And two … if Adar meant ‘Father’ among the Elves, as he was nearly certain it did, that meant that Elrohir’s companion above was—

“Come, let us finish this so that we may leave this ravine.”  The blond Elf crouched beside them, eyeing the ravine floor in both directions.  “We cannot be certain this was the entire pack, and I do not wish to be trapped here if more arrive.”

Dorhaur scowled.  “We’ve not seen wargs in this area for some time, though there has been an increase on this side of the Hithaeglir since the Necromancer was driven from Dol Goldur in Mirkwood.  Still, I would hope that had a large pack taken up residence so near the Bree-lands, we Rangers would have seen some sign ere this.”

The blond Elf nodded.  “Perhaps.  Your numbers are spread thin, though, and it does not do to take chances where there is no need.”

That was difficult to argue, so he didn’t try.  Instead, he held out an arm.  “I’ve been remiss in my gratitude.  I thank you for your aid—I doubt not I would have taken further injury without your assistance.”  The Elf gripped him with a warrior’s clasp.  “Dorhaur, son of Dedhalin.”

“Glorfindel, of the House of the Golden Flower.”  Bemused yet again, Dorhaur simply nodded.  This, too, was a well-known name among the Rangers, though it was more the stuff of story and legend than the solid memories and tales of those who had ridden with the sons of Elrond.  “And, you are most welcome.”  The Elf glanced up, toward the ravine edge.  “More, indeed, than you know.”

Dorhaur had no time to puzzle over this, for Elladan looked up.  “Elladan Elrondion,” he announced, and Dorhaur simply nodded, as Elladan’s hands were gory from contact with his clothing and leg.  “It is deep, but I do not believe that you will take any lasting hurt.”  That was something, at least.  Elladan rose swiftly from his crouch to rummage in a pack that Dorhaur had not seen before.  “We will clean it when we reach the top.”

“The Rangers have a campsite not too far distant.”

Elladan nodded.  “We are familiar with it.  It will do well.”  He returned to Dorhaur’s side and began to wind a wide bandage tightly around leg and clothing both.  It was … uncomfortable, and Dorhaur bit back a hiss of discomfort, watching instead as Elrohir lowered a rope to Glorfindel.  The Elf spent a moment testing its sturdiness, then returned to them.  He hauled Dorhaur to his feet as Elladan wiped his hands and gathered their pack, then the three gathered at the base of the rope.  The pack went first, then Dorhaur tied the rope on, eyeing the steep bank without enthusiasm.  This, he had a feeling, would not be pleasant.

Indeed, the climb was painful, even with Elrohir pulling on the rope from above and Glorfindel ascending beside him with disgusting ease, protecting his leg from additional strain.  He was panting when they reached the top, and blood soaked Elladan’s makeshift bandage.  Still, he rolled immediately to his feet, scanning the area until he laid eyes on Estel.

The boy had indeed curled his lanky frame almost entirely into the lap of yet another Elf, arms locked around the Elf’s torso and eyes closed.  His breathing was deep and even, not the painful or shallow breaths of unconsciousness, and from what Dorhaur could see, Estel was entirely relaxed.  He was indeed, it seemed, asleep at this bizarre time, and far more deeply than Dorhaur had ever seen him.  Dorhaur turned his narrowed gaze upon the Elf, who had tucked the boy’s head beneath his chin and was stroking the tangled hair, rocking them both gently.  It was a strangely … paternal gesture—Dorhaur, who with his wife had reared two sons to manhood and was yet in the process with a third, knew well such actions—and given Estel’s behavior, it suddenly came to him that the boy’s claim to live near Elves was perhaps an entirely different evasion than he had assumed.

That was surely reading too much into things, and yet …

The Elf caught his eyes then.  A small, unreadable smile flickered, followed by the faintest of sighs.  “I am Elrond Eärendilion, and I thank you.”  Elrond closed his eyes briefly.  “He is more precious than you can know.”

The Lord of Imladris.  Here, in the northern wilds, on the edge of the Bree-lands, sprawled back against a tree like any weary Ranger.

He needed to sit down.

A hand gripped his arm, and one of the twins helped to lower him.  One—now that they were side by side he was unable to make out in the dark which was which—began to pull at his hastily-wrapped bandage, while the other dug into their pack for another long roll.  Dorhaur sat quietly and allowed them to work, eyeing the dark shadow to one side that was a combination of Elrond Half-elven and the boy Estel.

There was something here that he missing.  Perhaps, once his wound was tended and his mind again working properly after his battle high, he might impose upon the Elves to offer further explanation for both their presence here and their familiarity with Estel. 

Or perhaps it would come to him on his own.

Grey dawn was beginning to tinge the sky when they rode into camp.  Dorhaur was unsure where the night had gone, but was just as glad that it had.  The camp was empty yet—Baradhald had yet to return from whatever errand had taken him away—and the Elves set about building up the fire and tending to Dorhaur’s wound.  Elrohir spoke briefly to Elrond as his father slid off of his horse with Estel still in his arms, but Elrond shook his head.

“Sleep is best for him now.  His hurts, whatever they may be, do not seem significant, and will be better tended after he wakes.”

Elrohir nodded and led the horses away as Glorfindel set about feeding kindling into the fire and Elladan helped Dorhaur limp across to his abandoned bedroll.  As Dorhaur lowered himself, he saw that Elrond had settled cross-legged near the small blaze with the boy again in his lap, his cloak drawn around them both.  He looked back around to Elladan, but the Elf only smiled tightly and directed Dorhaur’s attention to his wound.

“I will need to cut this leg from your clothing and clean the wound.  It will not be pleasant, I fear.”

Of course not.  Well, it wasn’t the worst hurt he had ever taken.  Dorhaur sighed and lay back on his bedroll, letting rest for the moment the mystery on the far side of the fire.  “I understand.”

It did hurt, and by the time Elladan, with the assistance of his brother, had finished, Dorhaur no more cared for anything but the herbal pain tea they offered and a nap of his own.  As he lay back, drowsiness from the herbs fast taking hold, he murmured, “Captain Baradhald will be here at some time today.  We were to meet and travel north to join with the larger part of our group.”

Elladan’s hands stilled.  “Baradhald, son of Gerhale?”

“Aye,” Dorhaur nodded.  “You know of him?”

“We do.”

Had he not been looking directly at the sons of Elrond, Dorhaur might have missed the faint grimace that passed between them.  Interesting, he thought, closing his eyes.  He himself knew very little of his captain, having only served under him for a year and that mostly at a distance.  From what he had seen, the man was a bit self-important—he was younger cousin to their former chieftain on Arathorn’s mother’s side, and took that role more seriously than it seemed to warrant—but Dorhaur as of yet had no real complaints about the man’s captaincy.  It seemed that the Elves were perhaps not quite as ambivalent about him, and Dorhaur wondered what history they had.

It was his last thought, before he drifted off to sleep.

 Commotion awoke him, though for a long moment Dorhaur couldn’t place its source.  Near to hand, he heard an annoyed voice—Glorfindel’s?—hiss, “Keep your voice down!  He sleeps, and your own man is injured,” and the stride of quick steps across the campsite.  Dorhaur slitted his eyes open, careful not to draw attention to himself.  He spotted Baradhald rounding the fire, and Elrond’s sons appearing as if by magic on either side of their father, and Glorfindel heading the Man off before Baradhald could draw near to his still-seated lord.  Dorhaur remained silent, scarcely daring to breathe.

What was this, then?

Baradhald made no attempt to move past Glorfindel, but pointed accusingly past the Elf.  “What is he doing here?”

For a moment, Dorhaur thought that his captain meant Elrond, and he winced.  It would not do to insult the Dúnedain’s closest and longest-standing ally.  Surely Baradhald realized this.  Elrond shifted, glanced down at the dark head against his chest, then looked toward Glorfindel.  The blond Elf crossed his arms and rose to his full height, seeming almost to grow and loom over Baradhald.  Dorhaur wondered that the man didn’t see the sense in retreating at least a few paces.

“There was an incident, but he is, as you see, safe and well.”

He … was Estel.  Baradhald was angry about Estel?

How did Baradhald even know Estel?

“An incident?”  Baradhald crossed his own arms, snorting something reminiscent of a laugh.  “An incident.  And he somehow ended up all the way here, in the Bree-lands.”  Now, Baradhald did move around Glorfindel.  At Elrond’s nod the blond Elf allowed it, but the twins shifted slightly in front of their father.  Baradhald rolled his eyes, stopping several paces away.  “Be realistic.  I have no intention of causing a scene, especially with him present.”

One of the twins—Elladan, Dorhaur thought—lifted an eyebrow.  “You are already causing a scene.”

The Dúnedain captain ignored him.  “Might I point out, however, that you are supposed to be keeping him safe?  This incident, whatever it was that ended with him all the way on the borders of Archet rather than tucked safely away as promised, does very little to inspire confidence.”

Tucked safely away.  Something stirred in Dorhaur’s mind, the beginning of a wild thought that suddenly seemed somehow more than possible …

Elrond sighed, and spoke quietly.  “It is … regrettable.”

“Regrettable.”  Baradhald lifted his brow.  “And just what did happen here?  What is your excuse?”

The Lord of Imladris might have been carved from stone.  “I owe no explanation to you, Baradhald son of Gerhale, and the one to whom an explanation is owed longs only for his return.”

“He is our chieftain!” Baradhald hissed.  “You owe explanation to all—”

“Quiet!”  Glorfindel seized Baradhald’s arm, and glanced quickly toward Dorhaur’s bedroll.  Their eyes met, and Dorhaur knew that his were wide with all that he had heard.  Their chieftain …  The Elf sighed briefly, his jaw tight, before returning his attention to Baradhald.  The ancient eyes hardened.  “Your own tongue will betray us sooner than such a series of events shall occur again.”

Baradhald extricated his arm, sparing only a brief glance for Dorhaur before returning his glare to Elrond.  “You know my feelings on this matter.  I have made them only too clear.  It is not meet that my cousin’s son is reared not only away from his people, but from Men as well.”

“Indeed.”  Elrohir left his father’s side to stand before the captain.  “You have made it only too clear that you would ignore the choices of Estel’s mother in this matter.  You are, however, alone in this, as you are well aware.  Your leaders  choose to support her decision.  It is only you, who has no say in this matter, who objects.”

A sneer crossed Baradhald’s lips.  “Estel.”  His eyes locked on the figure in Elrond’s arms for a long moment, then he stalked across the clearing, flung his pack at the edge, and disappeared into the trees.  Elrond looked to Elrohir.

“Keep an eye on him, but stay away.”

Elrohir snorted softly.  “Gladly.”  He, too, slid beneath the leafy boughs, and Dorhaur fell back, mind reeling.

Our chieftain.  Rumor abounded among the Dúnedain regarding the absent son of Arathorn and his mother.   Most—Dorhaur included, until this moment—believed them to be deceased, though tales varied as to the cause.  Some said illness, others accident, yet others that they had been attacked and slain soon after Arathorn’s death.  In any event, the Dúnedain leadership carried on well enough on its own, the only difference being the loss of any future hope for the return of their king and the restoration of their kingdom.

The only difference, but a devastating one.

Some yet insisted that they lived still in hiding, but Dorhaur had always discounted such as desperation rather than legitimate possibility.  It seemed he had been incorrect.

A foot scuffed near his ear—deliberately, he was certain—and then Glorfindel crouched beside him.  Dorhaur focused on the Elf, and spoke the only words that would come to him.

“Our chieftain?”

A faint smile crossed the fair face.  “He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, though he knows it not.”

Dorhaur nodded, both understanding and acceptance.  “Then he and his mother have been in Rivendell all this time.”

“Indeed.”  Glorfindel shrugged easily.  “Elrond has fostered many young Dúnedain over the years, though only Estel has he truly reared.  It seemed to the Lady Gilraen to be the safest option, given the many dangers which lurk in these times within the remains of the northern kingdom.”

Dorhaur nodded, considering.  Yes, given the handful of imperfect options which sprang to mind, it did seem perhaps the safest bet.  He glanced toward the woods where Baradhald had disappeared, suddenly glad that they had not met his captain before the arrival of the Elves.  Without any background, it would have been difficult to know how to react.  Glorfindel sighed, shaking his head.

“He will not cause true trouble.  He speaks much, and to the regret of all present, but he would not fight your leadership in this matter.”

That, he supposed, was a relief, although it should have been only expected.  Dorhaur turned a raised brow on Glorfindel, careful to keep his voice curious rather than accusing.  “How did he come to be stolen from Imladris, if such care was being taken?”

Glorfindel thumped heavily onto the ground, a surprisingly ungraceful move, and shook his head wearily.  “We still do not know the entire tale—it will not be known until we hear from Estel what came to pass.”  He rubbed at his jaw.  “Suffice it to say, a truly incredible series of circumstances came together at exactly the wrong moment, it seems.”  His smile was somewhat bitter.  “One can guard against many things, but random chance is not one of them.”

Dorhaur huffed a soft laugh.  “Very true, my Lord.”  He had learned it many times over the course of his life, and despite what might have been dire consequences, it was good to know that their Elvish allies sometimes fell victim to the same.  Glorfindel spoke again, his voice solemn and earnest.

“You have our wholehearted gratitude, Dorhaur son of Dedhalin, for your care of him.  He is dear to us, far beyond what he means to your people and ours.”

Dorhaur looked again to Elrond, still curled around the sleeping boy, and nodded.  “I have seen it.”

“Then you must understand why we ask your silence in this matter.  Not even your closest kin may hear it from you—it is a secret too great to dilute so.”

The Ranger studied the sleeping boy.  This child—Aragorn, Estel, his name mattered not at this time—meant so much to so many, and his destiny—or his doom—may be great indeed.  It was a heavy burden for a child, especially without Arathorn to shoulder it until he was grown.  Perhaps it was indeed best that for a time he was unaware, free to learn and grow unhindered by it.  Beyond that, however … Estel was a good lad, and Dorhaur had grown fond of him during their days of travel.  He was polite but forceful, overly self-confident in the way of all twelve-year-olds but willing also to listen, self-contained and friendly even in his anxiety and loneliness.

It would be difficult to not share such news with even Haletha—he would have much regarding this matter to sort through in his own mind, and even from the time they were children, he and his beloved had done their best thinking together—but it was truly not his choice to make.  If complete silence was what had been asked of him, he could offer nothing less.  Perhaps at some later time that stricture would be lifted, but he would not expect it.  Dorhaur took a long breath and looked again at the sleeping child, catching Elrond’s eyes and nodding before he turned back to Glorfindel.

“My Lord, I vow it.”

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