My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Haven of Rivendell, The: 10. Resolution
Elrond watched silently from the shadow of the pillars of the archway leading out to his balcony. Slanting rays of the sun still painted the ridge tops above Rivendell golden. The lamps both inside and out were being lit. In the late day shadow, two figures walked through the orchard, coming home. His daughter was leading, holding Estel's hand.
The pair stopped at the bottom of the courtyard garden. Elrond was struck by the handsomeness of the couple and his heart felt the rightness in their togetherness, but he pressed his lips together in concern all the same. The air was filled with the heady fragrance of spring blooming flowers. The fountain spilled merrily into its basin. With a few spoken words, his hand to his heart and a deep bow, Estel left Arwen and turned down the far walkway to his mother's cottage.
Arwen came up across the courtyard, looking pensive. Elrond marveled at her height and grace and power. She was nothing like her mother. His heart ached daily for the pale, fragile Celebrian. Arwen was his daughter, alike to him as were his sons. The same pride, strength, and stubbornness flowed in her veins, Elrond mused, and she, unlike the twins, was often at odds with him. Arwen felt him watching her, looked up, and smiled. He stepped forward into the dying sunlight. She came up the balcony stairs looking younger that he remembered and lovely in the fading light.
"Ada, nothing has changed yet everything is different." She sat on the ornate settee. "I'm glad to be back. I've missed Imladris." She caught up a book and paged through it; Elrond knew that even her keen eyes could not read in the dying light and recognized it as a tactic of hers used when she tried to appear unconcerned. "I met Estel coming up through the orchards," she said too casually. "Elrohir and Elladan will be pleased. They feared for his safety."
"Estel was safe all the time, a fact his brothers are well aware of: Crendal was never far from him."
"You seem very protective of this man-child," she observed coolly.
"As I am of all I love," Elrond stated. Arwen indignantly shut the book and looked askance at her father. Would they argue so soon on her arrival?
"As you love? He is but another of the Dúnedain---a fosterling, soon to go North to perish in the service of his people." She waited for a response but got none. Arwen looked worriedly at her father. "Ada, you waste your grace on these men and I would not have you disappointed by them!"
"Arwen, how coldly you speak." Elrond sighed. Would they argue so soon on her arrival? Already he was defending Estel to her. Perhaps his visions had been wrong, perhaps he could put away the dread he'd felt ever since she'd ridden in unexpected that afternoon. "Your brothers love Estel. And I treat him as a son. I have kept him longer and protected him more than any other. Shielded him more than I ought."
"I shan't treat him as my brother!" she interrupted. His brow arched and he tried to discern his daughter's true meaning.
"I didn't assume you would. Treat him as any lord of this house. Estel is more elf than man and has an open heart. He gives himself too easily, a fault your brother sees and hasn't found means to correct. Don't trifle with him; you will cause him pain."
Arwen paled at her father's warning and looked into his eyes. Like Estel, she lived for Ada's approval; but in this, she knew she would defy him, forsake all her life had been up to this moment. She had seen her future. One tear glittered on her lash. "I thought not to trifle with him." she whispered. "I too have seen something of the days that will come to pass. The water from Galadriel's fountain works for your daughter also. I know that soon the time comes when we must make a stand. Aragorn shall be king---we have none other and all hope is lost if he turns from that path." She looked directly at her father. "I know what part I may play in encouraging him."
"The road he must travel is a long and hard one. He is young and untried. The role he will assume will make demands that may be unanswerable by him and may take his life. Trustworthy, true companions he needs now." He smiled at his daughter. "None is truer in heart than the Evenstar, but with a father's hope, I thought you could avoid involvement in this. I still hope that you will consider leaving for the Greyhavens soon." Elrond made one last attempt to forestall the fate that had been preordained.
"I think it is beyond that, Father." There was a long silence between the two.
"Be companion then. Years must pass before Estel can think of else. Can you be content in that? She did not answer and in the deepening twilight, he could not see her face.
* * * *
Estel supped with his mother that evening. Although he stopped in to bid her well nearly every day, they usually did not spend much time together. When he had been about six, she had gone to Elrond and asked to move out of the lord's house. Elrond would have granted her any request but one, so she moved into a small cottage at the bottom of the gardens and Estel had stayed in his rooms under Elrond's roof. As Estel grew from childhood into a young adult, they grew farther apart. Gilraen did her duty as the mother of a hidden king should and Estel loved his distant, often sad, mother as best she would let him. Unfortunately, though, they were cordial strangers.
However, her son's sudden desire to share her lodging did not surprise her since Elrond had sought her advice at Estel's reaction to his revelation. She assured the elf-lord that her son would accept the wisdom of their deception and all would be well. That evening at dinner, Estel was her usual respectful, devoted son, but he did not broach the subject of his heritage. They talked of trivialities and he shyly told her he had met the Evenstar, and Gilraen recognized the blush of love staining her son's cheeks. She remained unruffled and told him she had found the lady kind and lovely. After eating, he napped a bit curled in a chair until it was time for his watch.
As evening darkened to full night, the boy left to meet his partner Glorfindel for patrol. Imladris' sword master also found Estel his usual self, if a bit quiet. Glorfindel talked of the travelers in the house that had accompanied Arwen from Lothlorien and a troop of Mirkwood warriors that had ridden in from southern reaches of that forest for rest before continuing on to the Elf-King's Hall. Glorfindel tried to draw his pupil into conversation. There was to be a feast the next evening to celebrate Arwen's return with singing into the night. With a shrug, Estel avoided Glorfindel's gentle teasing about what ballad he would choose to woo the ladies, and silently planned to excuse himself from the great hall.
When dawn broke and the pair rode down into the valley, Estel decided he could easily avoid Elrond that day since he had not yet found the words to explain himself to his foster-father. He planned a long restful day asleep in his bed. But, as he rode in, Arwen was waiting at the stables. She was dressed for riding, dark hair tied in one long braid, wearing a white shirt and leather vest. She held the reins of both her horse and a young black stallion.
"Good morning, Estel. I was hoping I'd find you for a ride." Estel, at a loss, stammered he had to care for his horse. Arwen turned her gazed to Glorfindel, hoping for his assistance. The great warrior laughed at his young companion's discomfiture and overruled his nay by saying he would look to Swallow's care. Glorfindel himself shifted Estel's sword and bow to the black's saddle, and soon, the pair led their mounts out of the gate and swung into the saddles. The black was restive and wanted to run but Estel held him firm and the steep track up to the ridge soon improved his manners. They rode up the trail and onto the old Hollin road.
Estel was reserved at first, embarrassed still by their first encounter, but soon Arwen had him at ease and laughing. She was an excellent equestrian and they cantered along, the leagues rolling away under the hoof beats of their mounts. Estel finally drew rein.
"We are quite far from home; I suggest we turn back. To go farther without a company is to court disaster."
"You are well-armed," she said, indicating his sword, knives, and bow. "And I know your training has taught you to use those better than most." She pulled back her cape, revealing her own sword. "Between the two of us, I believe we could handle most foes. But, the morning does move on, so aye, let's return. Midday meal awaits us in the garden."
A repast was indeed set out for their return. In front of Estel's favorite bench, a table was set with fresh bread and jam, some cheeses and a flagon of wine. Estel sat in the sun, warm and content, and quickly realized he had not been to bed for two nights and could embarrass himself by falling asleep in the company of the loveliest of elf-maidens.
"Eyes are watching us," Arwen said mysteriously, between mouthfuls. Estel raised a questioning brow. "Glorfindel and Haldir are in the stable dooryard; Elladan is pretending to read in the gallery; and, oh, Father's study chair has been dragged into the outer archway."
"Why?" Estel asked trying not to swivel his head as she counted off the watchers.
"Glorfindel and Haldir are my suitors." Suitors: the word brought a metallic taste to Estel's mouth. She saw him pale and touched his arm. "I tease you. Both are like uncles, protective of me, but Glorfindel worries for you as do Elladan and Ada. I think they fear I will bewitch you."
Estel suddenly felt uncomfortable with this overly direct, two thousand year old elf-maiden. He quickly asked her of Lothlorien. She told him of the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn, her grandparents, the grand flets of Caras Galadhon, and the Galadhrim who were much less worldly than the Imladris folk.
"One day you must walk with me under the birches on Cerin Amroth amid the showers of golden leaves." She asked of his life and he told her of orc hunting with her brothers, and suddenly was sharing his love for learning and his skill at music. The pair grew comfortable together, but the day wore on, and they finally rose to part.
"You are coming to the hall tonight? What will you sing?----I hear you are renowned." Her smile dazzled him, he nodded, definitely bewitched, and at that moment, Estel knew exactly what he would sing if he dare.
* * * *
Estel saw Arwen to the house and finally admitted to himself the need to return to his own room to sleep. To climb the main stairs would take him past Elrond's study and he was too exhausted for the soul-searching discussion he owed his father. So, he hoisted his pack and bow, and willed his tired body to swing onto the low arbor and he climbed up to his own balcony archway.
The room was cool and blissfully dark and Estel dropped his gear, preparing to fall across his bed, asleep before he landed. He was stayed in his action because across it already lay a tunic of deep blue and a silver-grey mantle. There were also new shoes of the softest leather and a star-shaped brooch, silver with a center of adamant pinned to the tunic shoulder. As he touched the fine material, the door opened. Elladan strolled in.
"As king, I hoped to get some privacy," Estel quipped to the smiling elf.
"Kings do not sneak up the side of the house past mid day still in their black patrol clothes like a spider of Mirkwood, else they might get their due." He gestured to the finery. "Birthday gifts from Elrohir and me. We didn't want you looking ragged tonight." Always aware of his appearance, Estel had never looked ragged even after long weeks of camping when hunting orcs. Elladan became serious, reaching out to touch the brooch. "That was given to me by your father; today I give it to his son on the event of his learning about his true beginnings. Some day I will tell you the tale of it." Elladan turned to the door. "Get some rest. Your services will be needed in the hall tonight."
Estel carefully moved his gifts, crawled into the bed, and shut his eyes. No dreams came to disturb his deep sleep.
* * * *
The Hall of Fire was crowded. All of the ornately carved doors were opened to the coolness of the spring evening. For the less hot-blooded, a fire blazed in the huge hearth opposite. Estel had not come to dine and his empty place at Elrond's table had not gone noticed. Elrohir had silently inquired of his brother but Elladan had only shrugged in reply. Elrond's face was unreadable. The assembly was in a merry mood waiting for the singing to begin. Elladan heard the noise drop a level and without looking, he knew his brother had arrived.
As Estel entered, many of the travelers mistook him for a young elf-lord of Elrond's house. The fine cloth, the adamant brooch sparkling brilliant in the candlelight, straight and tall, he walked directly to Elrond's chair and did obeisance to the lord of Rivendell. Hand on breast, he bowed deeply. His foster-father had no smile for him, and answered simply with a nod. Head up and eyes proud, Estel took the empty seat on the other side of Arwen, and as the singing started, his hand moved to where hers lay on the armrest.
Several short lays and ballads brought polite applause from the hall. Then there was the call for Estel. He rose and walked to the singer's seat. He whispered a moment to the harper behind him, and then sat with head bowed waiting for silence. The musicians began. The flickering candlelight caught the green stone in the serpent ring on his right hand. Estel's young tenor had lately dropped to a rich bass, and the clear notes of a familiar lay rang out in the hall.
"The warrior Beren, son of Barahir
Fell into an enchantment.
He saw the elven maid at twilight
Dancing under the mallorn."
"Blue was her raiment as the sky
As the starlight shone her grey eyes
Hair dark as shadows at the twilight…"
'Bold, my brother,' Elladan thought, 'singing of our ancestor, the elf-maiden Luthien, who gave up her grace of immortal life for the love of Beren, a mortal man.' Elladan watched him closely. Estel's eyes never left Arwen's face, and awareness dawned on Elladan suddenly. He edged up to his brother.
"What do you think of this? This will not do much to mend his rift with Father," he whispered. Elrohir's answer surprised him.
"Long and sad will their paths be until they can wed, but my sword will support their kingdom." Elladan pondered the leap his brother's words foreshadowed. This mutual attraction did not seem new to Elrohir, who had been shut up with their father in council most of the day, so it certainly was known to Elrond. Elladan turned to watch his father.
"'Who are you,' asked Thingol of Doriath,
'That comes here as a thief?'
Beren answered with stout heart,
'Through peril deep as few would dare,
Fate and love have led me here."
Elrond's face was closed. He did not look at the singer but into his cup instead. However, Elladan could tell his father was intently listening to the song. Elladan continued to edge around the hall until he had a full view of Arwen's face. Seriously courted by many of the highest elf-lords of the land from Mirkwood to the Golden Wood, her gaze held fast Estel's eyes. Someone at her elbow was speaking softly to her but she was unaware.
Estel sang of Huan the hound and the quest for the Simaril, payment asked by the king for the lovely Luthien. As he sang of Thingol's treachery, Elrond looked up sharply. The boy's voice faltered a moment under the elven-lord's imperious gaze. Finding strength, Estel sang on about Beren's imprisonment:
"Cold as stone, heart as barren,
In the Halls of Mandos
All but forsaken.
Luthien came to him then in darkness
And placed her hand in his."
The hall was silent, the young lord sang as if only to his lady about the death of Beren, and the pain of separation felt by Luthien. His voice faltered slightly again when he sang of the choice of mortality made by the elf-maid, the choice she gladly made for what time that was given her to spend with her beloved.
The lay ended with the familiar refrain and Estel rose amid deafening applause. He bowed low to the lady, even lower to Elrond, and seemed to hesitate a moment as if expecting his foster-father to speak. Refusing to acknowledge him, Elrond turned to the side and began a conversation with one of the Mirkwood lords. Elladan caught the confusion in Estel's eyes at the silent dismissal, but the young man squared his shoulders and proudly made his way slowly to the door amid congratulations. Elladan caught up with him halfway there, clasped his arm, and said well done. His brother's eyes were guarded, and though Estel politely acknowledged him, quick as he could, he left the hall.
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