1. From Sunlight into Shadow
Estel, they call him. Hope. To me, he is my baby, my Aragorn, my life.
Here in this fair meadow on the outskirts of Rivendell, he reclines with his head in my lap, toying with a blade of grass. Bright, clean sunlight swathes him, and I reach down to run my fingers through his thick, tangled locks, breathing deeply his sweet scent. How did my every breath come to be all wrapped up in a curly-haired boy of four? Yes, four years old today, in fact. Has it really been that long since Arathorn and I welcomed our boy into this troubled world?
Ah . . . Arathorn. Will it always pain me to think on him? Did he have to be so brave? Oh, I know what he would say were he to hear my current thoughts, for I knew my beloved far too well: "Gilraen," he would say in that voice that was both stern and gentle, "Gilraen, you knew when you met me, young though you were, that my path would often lead me straight into the arms of danger."
Yes, I knew it, yet I did not accept it, wanting ever to know the peace, the freedom, the bliss that enveloped me when I was in his embrace. And now I fear for our son. Will his future take him from me, as well? It was my decision to bring the boy here to Rivendell, but was it the right choice? I brought him here in order to protect him; could there have been another way? A safer way? Perhaps we could have fled to some distant place where no one would know who he was, and there he could have grown up to live a simple life. But not here. Here, he is a king in the making, not simply a little boy; here, he is Estel, not my Aragorn.
Wishing to block my darkening thoughts, I concentrate on the flashes of white, violet, and orange irises that pepper the field where we have celebrated Aragorn's birthday with a picnic. As I tip my head back and close my eyes, wrapping myself in warm sunshine and inhaling the sweet smell of the flowers, my mind drifts to brighter times, and I find myself beginning to relax. It is difficult to believe that this fair place is not at all far from the woods, where foul creatures dwell.
"Come, Estel. Hurry!" Elladan, son of Elrond Half-elven, cuts short my repose as he lightheartedly beckons my boy to follow him up the darkened path that leads from the sunny meadow.
"No, Elladan. That path is too thick with trees. The boy might get himself injured, and I do not wish him to follow a path into the woods. Who knows what ill might befall him in there?" My voice betrays my anxiety as I try to reason with Elladan, hoping to keep Aragorn here by my side in this bright, breezy place of flowers and freshness.
"Worry not, Gilraen! We shall all accompany him. The young one shall be just fine," Elrohir, the younger of the twins, interjects.
"Please, Mother. May I go? I wish to explore with Elladan and Elrohir." Aragorn turns his wide eyes to me and pushes out his lower lip. I cast a glance at Master Elrond, who sits nearby watching the exchange, a bemused smile adorning his usually serious face.
"You heard the boy, Gilraen. After all, it is young Estel's birthday. I believe that a big boy of four should be allowed to follow the path into the woods."
"I . . . yes, alright. You may go, Aragorn."
"You are not coming, Mother?"
"Oh, very well," I acquiesce.
"Yes, we shall all help young Estel along on his first trip into the woods," Elrond concludes with a single, firm nod of his stately head. "But you must lead the way, Estel."
"All right!" Aragorn replies with delight. Too eagerly does he take the lead, I notice. Would that my boy were more of a follower!
Yet lead he does, and we all begin to make our way down the dark, tangled path that leads from the sunlight of the meadow into the darkness of the woods.
The walk is not easy, cluttered as the way is with protruding tree limbs and jutting rocks. Surprisingly, I find myself struggling to keep up with my little one. It is he who should be tired, not I! In truth, I feel well beyond my twenty-eight years this day. No, if I am to be honest, it is not only this day. It seems that more and more frequently I feel old, I who only a few short years ago was a carefree child. I fear I shall not live to see much of Aragorn's life, and the worries I carry for him and my grief over my husband's death only serve to wear me down more every day. Will my fretful and saddened heart cause me to bid farewell to my son before I ought?
"Mother, is something wrong?" Aragorn's sweet voice stirs me from my gloomy thoughts.
I glance up to see him standing in filtered sunlight, concern marring his darling face.
"No, no. Everything is quite fine, dearest boy. I was merely concentrating on the path." I cast him a weak smile. Even at his young age, Aragorn seems to be aware of my increasingly dark moods.
He resumes walking, but does not turn his head back around immediately, and his lingering glance on me causes him to trip over a branch and tumble to the ground. He lands with a solid thud against a large stone.
"Aragorn!" I shriek as panic floods my body. Did he hit his head? I run to him and scoop his tiny body into my arms. His soulful eyes fill with tears, which he valiantly tries to repress. I see his bottom lip tremble, but it is I who begins to cry, not my brave boy.
"Baby, baby, are you hurt? Are you bleeding? Is anything broken?" My questions shoot forth like arrows, and Aragorn merely gazes at me with a bewildered look upon his face. Does he have a concussion? Why does he not answer me?
"Estel, are you injured?" Elrond, who has come to our side, asks in that ever-calm voice of his.
"No. I am well."
"Aragorn, why would you not answer Mother when she asked if you were all right?" I inquire, slightly offended that my own son would answer Master Elrond but not me.
"I could not, Mother. You were asking me so many questions that I got confused."
A chuckle breaks out among Elrond and his sons. I smile sheepishly, silently cursing my display of emotions, for I do not wish to give Aragorn or any of the House of Elrond reason to think on women as flighty, hysterical creatures.
"Oh, I see," is all I can think to reply.
Gently, I put Aragorn down. He does not hesitate to continue along the path.
The path grows steadily steeper as we enter the fringes of the woods, and I find I must keep my eyes fixed on the ground in order not to stumble. For a moment, I risk an upward glance, and ahead of me, I see Elrond crouched down next to Aragorn, pointing to an area off to the side of the path. They are cloaked in the shadows, and I am unable to see what it is that they study so intently. I approach, hoping to overhear their conversation.
"And this one, Estel? Do you remember what it is used for?" questions Elrond as he directs Aragorn's attention to a patch of foliage.
"Yes, I remember!" He glances up at me as I head toward them. "You see, Mother? These leaves are used to reduce swelling!" Aragorn announces with pride in his voice. Between his tiny thumb and forefinger, he holds the tip of one of the plants, which smell to me like an odd combination of mint and marigold.
"Very good, young Estel!" Elrond praises the boy.
Aragorn quickly dashes on ahead, and I use the time out of his earshot to question Master Elrond: "Do you really think it wise to trouble such a young child with so much information about your healing arts? May not a boy simply be a boy?" My voice sounds harsher than I had intended. Though I hide my genuine feelings behind a guise of anger, the truth is, I am afraid. The early promise Aragorn shows as a healer only serve to remind me that he is the rightful king.
Elrond raises one eyebrow, but says nothing. I know that he knows of my fears, and I am ashamed of both my trepidation and my audacity. Did I really question Master Elrond on matters of wisdom? I, a mere youth . . . a mere woman? My face flushes, and I lower my eyes to the ground, trying to assume once more the role of the docile, demure woman. It has been my experience that in this evil world, a woman must develop strength for survival but feign weakness for approval. Perhaps I shall find it otherwise among these folk.
Elrond turns to follow Aragorn. I take a few moments to breathe deeply, trying to regain my composure, and then I, too, resume the path.
I smell the growing dampness in the air the further we go, for less and less sunlight reaches these parts. The stillness is broken by the strange chirps and buzzes of the woodland creatures, along with the aimless chatter bouncing back and forth between Aragorn and the sons of Elrond. Honestly, sometimes the twins rattle on about nonsense as if they were mere children themselves!
Suddenly, Elrohir picks up a stick and wields it as if it were a sword. "Arm yourself, young warrior!"
Estel smiles broadly, before stooping to pick up a stick of his own. Too easily does he brandish it, I think, like one already familiar with battle. The twig has a reddish tinge to it, and in the deep shadows of these woods, it resembles a flame extending from his arm. With dread, I realize all too clearly that he will have many opportunities to become accustomed to wielding a true blade. Soon, Elladan joins the fray, and the threesome does battle with an imaginary enemy.
Suddenly, my mind twists inside me and sees not Aragorn, but Arathorn, fighting beside the twins. Memories of that fateful day when the three fought side-by-side against a band of Orcs come flooding back to me. Arathorn did not come home that day. He never came home again.
"No!" I scream before I even realize it. "Do not take him from me!"
All eyes turn to me, and not a word is spoken.
How do I explain my outburst or the panic that spreads within me in the same manner that the darkness creeps over our land? It comes to claim me.
"We . . . no . . . the path is growing darker, and . . . Aragorn is . . . tired," I stammer.
"No I am not, Mother"
I want to run to him, to grab him, to scoop him up and carry him away—back to the meadow and the sunlight. No, beyond there. I want us to run far, far away to a place where Aragorn can just be Aragorn, not Estel. Not Isildur's heir. Where is that place? Perhaps if we run fast enough and far enough we could find it. He shall not be allowed to continue on this path! But wait . . . when have I heard those words before? Oh, yes; I remember now. They are the words that Father spoke to Mother when he knew that Arathorn wanted to marry me. He disapproved of my marrying at such a tender age. He also had his suspicions that I would soon become a widow, I think. Yet Mother advised him to reconsider, saying that our marriage might provide Hope in this darkened age.
She was a strong woman who neither hesitated to speak her mind nor allowed her fears stand in the way of my future. How blessed I am that she did not! Had she tried to hold me back from my destiny, I would not have had Arathorn as a husband . . . or Aragorn as a son. No, Mother had the courage to allow me to follow my own path. Can I do less? Certainly not, for I am nothing if not my mother's daughter!
"Mother?" For the second time this afternoon, Aragorn's voice brings me back to my surroundings.
I hesitate only but a moment before offering a firm and decisive response: "Go ahead, Estel. Continue on the path. Mother will be right behind you."
With a smile, he turns from me to continue on his way. Pride takes its place alongside my fear and my love, and I foresee that these three emotions shall become close companions in my heart. This day, however, I allow pride to sneak to the forefront, and a tiny smile creeps across my face as I follow him, watching his tousled curls bounce with each step.
There he goes: my son, my Hope, my king.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.