Actions

Work Header

Tales of Hope's Youth

Chapter Text

Late Fall/ Early Winter 3020, Minas Tirith, the King’s sitting room

“Check, Aragorn.” Faramir advised his King with a gentle grin.

“Oh, you think you have me, eh, tithen-gwador?” the King of Men teased his Steward with a rare open smile. “Let us see – ah, you became overenthusiastic, and neglected to observe my Knight, who has captured your valiant pawn, and saved my King.”

“Huh.” Faramir gave his King an embarrassed smile. “I did. You kept distracting me with talk of taking the twins with me to Dol Amroth. It would be perfectly safe, I think. After all, my grandfather no longer lives there.” Faramir said with a straight face, causing the King to burst out laughing.

“True – ah, and I neglected to note your castle, which was then in position to take my King. Well-played, Faramir.” The King conceded this game with a smile, before getting up to pour himself another glass of wine from a sideboard. “We have something else in common, you know, my friend.”

“Oh?” The Prince of Ithilien asked, carefully putting chess pieces away. Arwen had adopted one of Faramir’s cats, and Thumper found that chess pieces made excellent toys.

“Yes, both of our grandfathers were spies.” Aragorn noted with a pensive smile, handing Faramir a glass of wine.

Faramir’s gray eyes widened slightly. “I always forget that you knew that, about my Daerada Adrahil. Lord Dirhael was a spy, as well?”

“Aye, and he always knew just what to say to get me to mind, when I was a child. It was intimidating.” Aragorn related, his thoughts moving back to his distant, happy childhood.

“For me as well.” Faramir commented. “Daerada Adrahil always knew where I was, even when Boromir had no clue. My pardon, Aragorn, but I had thought that you did not meet Lord Dirhael until after you came of age?”

Aragorn reclaimed his seat, lit his pipe, and prepared to tell a story. “I didn’t know him as my grandfather, but I had met him a couple of times. Purely accidents, I was supposed to have been somewhere else.”

“It seems like being where we are not supposed to is something else we have in common…” Faramir murmured, sotto voice, quickly removing himself out of range as his King and friend tried to kick his shin in retaliation.

“Do you want to hear the story, or not?” Aragorn asked, with only a little asperity. Mostly the King delighted in having his shyest friend feel comfortable enough to tease him in turn.

“Please.” Faramir replied, “It is still raining too hard to make traveling back to Ithilien this eve pleasant, even had I your leave.”

The King looked outside, where rain drops were still smattering against the glass window. “Hmm, well it is up to you, but I would prefer you not, and I suspect your wife the healer would feel similarly.”

“No doubt.” Faramir agreed, philosophic at this point in his life about being surrounded by healers – King, Queen, King’s brothers, wife.

Aragorn smiled and nodded indulgently, “Well, I shall tell you my story, then. It all began with a game of “Chase me, Find me,” with Glorfindel…

Year 2937 of the Third Age, outside Imladris

Dirhael felt watched. So did Captain Daeron, the senior captain of the northern Dunedain rangers. Nothing should be hunting them, this close to the refuge of their ally Lord Elrond. The other rangers accompanying them pulled in closer, and the column continued.

Out of the corner of his eye, for a moment, Dirhael thought he saw his oldest son, as a child. His first boy had died of a fever, at age 4. The current acting Chieftain and former spymaster of the northern Dunedain suppressed a shudder. Dirhael liked Elrond well, but the way to Rivendell could be spooky, at times. These trees had seen too much, over the years.

All of a sudden, a piping, very young, voice warned from above them, “Bad kitty!” moments before an injured mountain lion came roaring out of concealment, its teeth aiming for the throat of Daeron’s horse.

The warning had been in time, Daeron managed to hit the lion in the eye with an arrow. Dirhael’s back-up shot, landing a moment later, dropped the creature. Daeron dismounted to cut the creature’s throat, a mercy given the severity of its injuries. Dirhael turned to look for the hidden sentry who had cried the timely, if irregular, warning. He saw, to his shock and horror, that their savior was a small child, precariously perched high in a pine tree.

Moments later, the Lords Elrohir and Elladan rode up, closely followed by Lord Glorfindel. “Estel!” Scolded Lord Elrohir. “You are not supposed to be outside of the grounds!”

Lord Elladan continued. “Not only are you cheating, muindor-laes, you are in BIG trouble.”

Captain the Lord Glorfindel gave the twins a frustrated look before coaxing the small child, “We have found you, Estel, why do you not come down?”

The child, Dirhael’s younger grandson, Isildur’s Heir, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, the Cheiftain of the Dunedain, who knew himself only as Estel, seemed not at all aware that he was perched on a thin branch of pine, near fifty feet up in the air, or that he might come tumbling to the ground at any moment, ending any hope of fulfilling the prophecy and destroying Sauron, as well as the Line of Isildur, and Dirhael’s own daughter’s line. Instead, Estel looked down at them with a remarkably caustic expression on his sweet, innocent face. “I’m not stupid, Glorfi. If I come down, I’ll be in big trouble. And its not fair. You all cheat at “chase me, find me” all of the time, helping eachother look for me. It was just you and I playing, not my brothers and Mel and the rest of everybody. Besides, I didn’t know that the tunnel I found went outside of the grounds ‘til I went through it. I thought I was still in the wine cellar, which isn’t one of the places I’m not allowed to hide.”

“Mel told you we were close.” Elladan murmured under his breath to his brother, realizing that Estel must have found the secret door and exit in the wine cellar.

Elrohir held onto his temper by an act of sheer will. “But once you were outside of the grounds, tithen-pen-nin, surely you realized that you were no longer within the grounds. You must have known you were out of bounds, and that you should have come back to Imladris, rather than playing by the stream and climbing trees to watch …our visitors.”

“You and Ada said not to go over the wall. I didn’t go over the wall. I went through the tunnel.” Estel argued, quite pleased with himself. “And once I was outside, I had to wash my hands because they were dusty. Then I saw the hurt kitty, and I had to climb a tree so he wouldn’t eat me for his dinner. Then he went away, and I went to follow him, because I couldn’t come down until he was far away. Then he was going to eat the horse, and he was a bad kitty, and I had to warn the men.”

Momentarily stunned by that stream of Estel-logic, Elrohir paused.

Dirhael looked up at the boy. “We wish to thank you for saving us from the bad hurt kitty, young one. Will you not come down and make our acquaintance? And I imagine you are in big trouble whether you come down or not, but I suspect you will be in less trouble if you come down of your own accord. If we hurry to Rivendell, we should arrive in time to have some hot spiced cider and biscuits before the kitchen starts preparations for dinner in earnest.”

The boy cocked his head, looking for a moment like Gilraen intrigued. Dirhael fought to keep his expression light. He was meeting his grandson for the first time since the boy had been barely a toddler. Aragorn was in peril, and Dirhael could not even claim the child as kin.

“If I come down now, you will tell Ada that I should have spiced cider? Even though I am… in trouble? Estel asked intently, but politely. “Do you promise, Master…I’m sorry, I do not know your name.”

Dirhael swallowed, years of practice as the Dunedain spymaster before he had retired to his stronghold and the temporary rulership of the Dunedain allowing him to keep an easy, pleasant, expression on his face. “I am Lord Dirhael, young Estel. And you have my word I will see that you receive spiced cider for warning us of the mountain lion, if you descend your tree carefully.”

Estel considered that, and Glorfindel considered how much he did not want to risk startling the boy, and did not queer Dirhael’s pitch. And whacked Elrohir when the younger elf seemed likely to start yelling again. After a few moments, Estel nodded. Instead of descending the tree he was on, which was remarkably underendowed with branches, the boy scampered as nimbly as a squirrel from that tree to an old birch two trees over, from which he carefully descended, making sure of his hand and foot holds.

Elladan reached up and carefully plucked Estel from the last branch.

“I could have jumped, ‘Dan.” Estel complained.

“I know, muindor laes. You are a very capable jumper.” Elladan soothed.

“Here.” Elrohir commanded, opening his arms to take the child up on his horse.

“Nay, you are mad at me.” Estel accused, bottom lip trembling a little, after the excitement of the past few moments.

“Nay, I was worried for you, precious little brother. I understand how these things can happen, but you must be more careful. Anything could have happened to you, in the forest by yourself. And we were only trying to find you because Ada wanted you, and the game had to be over. You would have won by default.” Elrohir explained. Estel did not know it, but Elrond had intended to send the boy with Elladan to visit friends on the far side of Imladris, to keep him away from the visiting Dunedain rangers. Estel was entirely too observant, and at six years of age, he looked like Arathorn in miniature. Only Lord Dirhael and his wife Ivorwen, Gilraen’s mother, knew of their daughter’s and grandson’s location. And Elrond had meant to keep it that way.

Considering that, Estel nodded, and Elladan handed the child gently up to his twin.

As they rode back to Imladris, Dirhael offered the boy his coat, as Estel was dressed in play clothes that were appropriate for the indoors, but not the forest on this blustery day. The boy shook his head. “Thank you, Lord Dirhael, but I am not cold.”

“Why don’t you accept the coat, Estel.” Elladan coaxed. “I don’t want your mother upset about you catching a cold.”

Elrohir and Estel both turned to give Elladan almost identical “what are you talking about” looks. “I’ve never been sick.” Estel pointed out.

“He’s Númenorean, ‘Dan. He doesn’t catch colds, and he wears a coat happily enough when there’s snow on the ground.” Elrohir seconded.

Dirhael looked at the child. Arathorn had never felt the cold, either. Not until frost formed in his hair. Dirhael signed to Daeron to have his horse shake a few times, as if it was cold.

“What is wrong with your horse?” Estel asked Daeron.

“Umm.” Daeron said, looking to Dirhael in question.

“He is feeling cold, because his rescuer has no coat.” Dirhael observed quietly.

“I don’t think horses do that.” Estel said doubtfully.

“My horse can sulk all day if he doesn’t think someone he likes is getting his proper due.” Captain Daeron told Estel with a blink.

“I’ll wear the coat if you teach me your hand signs.” Estel offered with a grin.

“Two hand signs for the coat.” Dirhael replied firmly, as Daeron spluttered.

“And so it begins…” Glorfindel murmured.

Elladan gave his Captain a sympathetic look. “So, how did you get talked into playing “Chase me, Find me?’ today, when Estel was supposed to be getting ready for his special trip, eh, Captain?”

Glorfindel favored Elladan with a look. If they had been within the walls of Imladris, and amongst only family, Elladan would never have accepted that answer. But as it was, he merely suppressed a grin.

“What special trip?” Estel asked, curious.

“You don’t get to go today, now. Maybe we’ll go tomorrow.” Elladan replied. Actually, the younger twin was a little glad. The surprise distraction had been taking Estel to see the painters, and Elladan would prefer to wait until Mel could help chaperon that trip. He was afraid he would bring Estel back covered head to toe in blue again. Ada had been amused the first time, but a second…

As he taught the now warmly wrapped Estel several ranger hand signs, Daeron frowned in confused recognition. “You know, Dirhael, this boy looks a lot like Arathorn…”

This comment resulted in angry looks from all of the adults except for Elrohir, who was carrying his brother before him on the saddle.

“Who was Arathorn?” Estel asked Elrohir.

“Arathorn was a ranger, a friend of ours.” Elrohir answered carefully. “He died fighting orcs some years ago, and he, like you, and also like Elladan’s alchemist friend Gerrold, was never upset by the cold.”

“Oh.” Estel said, interested. “I must tell Nana that there are others who feel as I. She is forever trying to stick me with scarves and hats and coats.”

“Best not to mention Arathorn’s name, muindor-dithen.” Elladan put in gently. “Your Nana knew him once, and might be saddened by the memory of his death.”

Estel nodded in agreement, adding “Thank you, ‘Dan. I hate making Nana sad, and mentioning dead rangers is like… talking about the history of Gondolin around Glorfindel, or mentioning the Battle of the Last Alliance around Ada and ‘Ressor.”

“True enough.” Elrohir noted, “And you’re a considerate boy to wait to mention that until Captain Glorfindel had taken Captain Daeron aside to show him our new fortifications.”

Estel smiled at the praise. He tried very hard to be a considerate boy. It was hard, being the only child in a home filled mostly with ancient elves, who had had centuries to learn how to act.
Lord Elrond, Gilraen, Lord Erestor, Lord Melpomaen, and Junior Captain Drystan met their party at the gate.

Lord Elrond’s eyes, Dirhael noted with approval, went first to Estel, then to Elladan, who nodded that the boy was fine, and then to Elrohir, who nodded as well, though he wanted to roll his eyes, that his father always asked for Elladan’s opinion as a healer first, though Elrohir, too, had been competent in the art for a long time. The Lord of Imladris next greeted the rangers kindly, as Lord Glorfindel directed his second-in-command to guide the rangers, except for Dirhael and Daeron, to rest and food.

Elrond greeted Dirhael as a long-time friend. Dirhael had once been his student, as many promising young rangers had been over the centuries. Gilraen greeted Dirhael as if they were meeting for the first time. Sauron probably had no eyes at Imladris, but Gilraen had been raised to be careful. And her son’s eyes were keen indeed. As worried as he must be over Lord Elrond’s response to his adventures, the boy still watched everything, as if memorizing it. He had his father’s gravity, already. Six years old. What Dirhael wouldn’t give, what Daeron, still pale-faced from his conversation with the balrog-slayer, would not give, for trainees with half of little Estel’s attention span, and observation skills.

“Nana, Ada, may I go watch our visitors settle their mounts? I would like to meet all of the new horses!” The boy enthused.

Gilraen sighed. “No, my love. You should not have been out-of-doors at all today, as you were meant to go with Elladan on a trip.”

“But no one told me that.” Estel pointed out.

Elrond gave his young foster-son a critical look. “Mmm. But you did hear your brothers and Mel calling for you, and telling you that the game was over, did you not?”

The little boy’s face turned stubborn. “Everyone but me gets to decide when the game is over, or when its time to do something else. It’s not fair, Ada.”

“You know the rules, Estel.” Lord Elrond said sternly, though his embrace for the boy had been loving, and his hair on the child’s soft, dark curls was gentle. “More, you know that you are not supposed to be out of the city, no matter how you came to be there. And that you not allowed to explore new places in the city by yourself.”

“Nobody else has to obey those rules.” Estel refuted, sure he was right, and unwilling to back down, even though he knew he could not win.

Elrond, aware of the constraints on Dirhael’s time, seemed unsure of how to proceed with Estel. Dirhael could sympathize, with foster-father and son. It must be no easy thing, to be a human child in a house of elves.

Lord Melpomaen broke the stalemate, kneeling to whisper something in the little boy’s ear. Estel listened attentively, then gasped in astonishment. “No!” The little boy said in shocked surprise.

“I assure you, it happened.” Melpomaen told him gravely. “A whole year. And even your Ada needs an escort, tithen-gwador, when he leaves the city. Even if it is just to hunt.”

Dirhael gave Melpomaen a re-appraising look. When he had first met Mel, he had thought of the slender elf with the dark eyes as merely the twins’ shy shadow. Mel had not sojourned long amongst the rangers in many years, but it seemed his time had been well-spent, nonetheless.

The group then tromped en masse to the warm, good-smelling kitchens, where Siana had reigned as cook since Dirhael had been a young ranger, honored to train with the great Lord Elrond. Dirhael redeemed his word, and Estel got to to have spiced cider and sugar biscuits. Generous child that he was, Estel waited until enough biscuits had come out from the oven for everyone to share.

“I still think they cheated.” Estel told Dirhael candidly, as he offered the Lord a biscuit.

Dirhael nodded. “They changed the rules to comport with changing circumstances, something which they do not let you do, yet. But instead of complaining, perhaps you should learn to play by their rules.”

“Why?” Estel asked, a polite child, though a forthright one.

“Because, someday you might find yourself in a situation where you must fight an enemy who cheats. If you can learn to win, even though your opponent cheats, you will be ready for that day.” Dirhael explained, before adding. “Also, you’ll be more likely to have your older friends be willing to play with you, if you show you can learn their rules thoroughly. In time, you may be able to think of ways to change the game without breaking their rules,but which still give you the advantage.”

Estel nodded, eyes wide. “If I can beat them even though they cheat, that’s a better win.”

After the cookies and cider had been consumed, Elrond looked at his sons, and silent communication passed between them. Elrohir handed Estel gently to his brother, and Dirhael breathed a sigh of relief that he would not have to deal with Elladan during their discussions. It had been Elladan who had introduced Gilraen to Arathorn, and Dirhael could not quite bring himself to forgive the younger twin for the heartache that introduction had eventually brought his daughter, though he knew it was no fault of Elladan’s.

Melpomaen slowed his pace to walk beside Dirhael. “How did you know what to say to Estel, my Lord?” The advisor asked.

The last time Dirhael had seen Mel, the quiet elf had been separated from the main patrol led by the twins and Arathorn’s father. The ranger with the most experience tracking had been with Mel, and had found the trolls that the patrol had been sent out to find. Unfortunately, the trolls had outnumbered the rangers. Melpomaen had successfully decoyed several of the foul beings away from one of his injured ranger comrades. It was the first time Dirhael had realized Melpomaen was as much warrior as shadow. It was also the last time he had seen the dark-haired elf, until this day. Mel had been covered in troll blood and scolding, relieved Elrondionnath.When Dirhael had later asked why Melpomaen no longer accompanied them on patrols, Elladan had explained that Melpomaen’s family had thrown a fit about the troll incident, and Elorhir had explained that Captain Glorfindel felt strongly that Melpomaen should first learn to track well enough to realize when he was that close to trolls.

Dirhael looked at Mel thoughtfully. “I just think of how I would explain it to myself, Lord Melpomaen.”

Mel nodded gravely. “I am glad he ran into you, then. It is the first time Estel has ever conceded the point that he must listen to our instructions even when they come during his favorite game. And…pardon me for saying so, but I think it is well that, being who he is, Estel takes after his subtle, clever, mother, and her people, as well as his valiant and skilled father.”

Dirhael cursed inwardly as he realized that Mel was right, and that he, Dirahel, had just seen that he must forgive Lord Elladan the introduction of his daughter to Arathorn.

Estel chattered happily as Elladan took him to his room. Estel’s morning had been interesting and fascinating, except for the part with the bad kitty, which had been a little scary. He was glad that Elladan had promised to teach him more about mountain lions, and how to dissuade them from eating little boys.

“But first, muindor-laes, we need to talk.” Elladan said sternly, sitting down on Estel’s bed, and setting his brother on his lap. “We like to play “chase me, find me,” with you, but sometimes we have to stop playing. Ada and his Council have to meet with the rangers about important matters, so Glorfindel needed to stop playing and get his papers ready.”

Estel nodded, beginning to feel a bit guilty. Glorfindel hated papers, and loved playing with Estel. But Estel understood that papers were important. “I’m sorry.” Estel looked down at his feet, still shod in his soft, doe-skin slippers. “I didn’t realize Glorfi had a good reason for cheating.”

“Thank you for apologizing. You should say you’re sorry to Glorfindel as well.” Elladan instructed gently. “And I am afraid there shall be no “Chase me, find me,” for the next week.”

“Elladan! That’s not fair! Its my favorite!” Estel objected.

“It wasn’t fair to Glorfindel that he had to stop playing to do paperwork, and then go looking for you when you disappeared.” Elladan scolded. “And you worried everyone by disappearing and getting caught outside! Next time you get caught in a place you’re unfamiliar with, call out, and stay there. We checked the passage-way, Estel.”

“I’m sorry, I suppose.” Estel offered, ungraciously. He knew going through the tunnel was probably forbidden, and he had also known he should have gone straight back instead of playing outside. But he had wanted to play outside, and no one had had time to go with him, earlier that day. Estel wasn’t much for apologizing when he didn’t feel sorry, but he was still hoping to avoid a spanking.

Elladan raised a skeptical eyebrow. “That wasn’t a particularly convincing apology, tithen-pen. And your disobedience today was dangerous, so that calls for a spanking.”

“Nooo, Elladan!” Estel protested, frustrated. He hated being smacked. Elladan wasn’t quite as bad as Ada or Elrohir, but he was bad enough.

Elladan wasn’t having a particularly good day either. He understood that Elrohir needed to be at the meeting with the rangers – Elrohir was the better strategist, of the two of them, easily. And Melpomaen would remember everything that was said, perfectly, and would be diligent in conveying it to Elladan later. And someone needed to deal with Estel, but Elladan always hated punishing the boy. Still, it needed to be done. “Would you like to contemplate what you could do better next time for a few minutes first, or shall I spank you now?” Elladan asked gently.

Estel was never in a hurry for this part. “Contemplate.” He answered softly, getting up and moving to his desk chair, which Elladan set facing the wall. Elladan used the time to stiffen his resolve. This was never easy.

“Ok, Estel. Come here.” He called. Estel approached reluctantly, feet dragging, but he came. Brave boy. Elladan stopped him with a gentle hand when Estel was right in front of him, gently lifted the boy over his lap, securing him tightly with one arm, as he flipped the lad’s tunic up, and pulled his leggings down, with the other.

“I don’t see why I have to be bare for …this… when everybody is always worrying about me catching cold.” Estel said, his voice resentful, but not over the edge into outright rude. Elladan decided to ignore it as a rhetorical question. Taking a deep breath, he brought his hand down in a sharp smack.

“Ow!” Estel protested loudly. Elladan felt terrible to see a light pink handprint on the boy’s bottom, but he knew his own strength quite well, and knew that his smack had been more noisy than firm, as he had intended. His Ada might have spanked the boy harder, but Elrond was busy. If he delegated the job to Elladan, he’d just have to deal with how Elladan handled it. Fighting his sympathy for his baby brother, Elladan brought his hand down again, a sound smack, but far, far from his full-strength.

“Owww!” Estel yelped. Steeling his resolve, Elladan continued the spanking, alternating four more smacks on each side of the pinkening little bottom, and one extra for each sit spot. It was nothing like the firm spankings Elladan had occasionally found the need to hand out to elves under his command, or even to young rangers. But Estel was still little, so a dozen smacks was more than sufficient.

Estel thought the twelve smacks more than sufficient. He hated finding himself in this position in the first place, up-ended over his brother’s lap, with his bottom in the air. Elladan paused after he cried out at the first smack, and paused again after the second, both times giving Estel hope that Elladan might give this up as a bad job. No such luck. “Ow ow ow ow you are so mean Elladan!” Estel yelled loudly, wriggling on his brother’s lap as Elladan’s hand continued to fall. After the twelfth smack, the mean hand became a kind hand, and Elladan pulled his pants up for him, and then cuddled Estel carefully in his lap. Estel clung back; glad the punishment was over, glad to hear Elladan’s murmured reassurances.

“How about a bath, Trouble?” Elladan asked him. Estel nodded. A bath would make the lingering sting from his smacking go away, and he could play with his toy boats.

That afternoon, a storm moved in, and the rangers had to stay the night. Estel was ecstatic; they had such interesting stories, and they were all human, like him. Ada and Nana even let him stay up late, and he fell mostly asleep in his Ada’s lap, listening to Lord Dirhael talk about the increasing troll incursions, and trouble with wargs.
In the state between waking and sleeping, a memory came to Este. “Lord Dirhael, are you sure we have not met? I think I remember you- you had a wolfhound with puppies, and you let me hold one. It licked inside my ear, which tickled a lot.”

Dirhael paused a moment before answering, and his voice sounded funny. “No lad, I’m afraid not. Just a good dream, m’lad.”

Later that night, after Estel had been put to bed, Dirhael pulled Elrond aside.

“He was not more than a year and a half old. How can he remember that?” Aragorn’s grandfather asked Estel’s foster-father.

Elrond sighed, wishing that things could have been different, as much as he loved having the raising of Arathorn’s son. Gently, he explained “Your grandson has a retentive memory, when he cares about what he is learning. And Estel was in the land between true sleep and wakefulness, where it is easiest to remember these things, as once I taught you. But that is also a suggestive state – Estel believed you when you said it was not true. I am so sorry, old friend.”

Dirhael replied sadly, “I…this was my choice, as well. To keep him safe. It was doubly tragic that I lost son as well as son-by-law to that raid, but I have my other grandson with me. I love Estel no less than Halbarad, but having Hal and my daughter-by-law in our home keeps Ivorwen and I quite busy. When Estel comes of age and returns to us, I think Estel and Halbarad will find themselves to be friends, as well as cousins.”

“And comrades in arms, no doubt.” Elrond added sadly, “for all of your people must become men and warriors too early.”

Dirhael nodded in agreement, remembering that he had once been a young man entrusted to Lord Elrond for further training. “Elrond, my old friend, after Estel comes of age, I will not keep him from you. You and your sons have become his family – I would never keep him from those he loves.”

Elrond took a deep breath and nodded, relieved. “Thank you, Dirhael. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that. I had not expected to come to care for him so deeply. I have taken in many fosterlings over the years, but none so young, precocious, and caring as little Estel. I have come to view him as my youngest son in truth, and, when he becomes a man by the standards of your people, his people, I will welcome him, and you and Ivorwen, and his cousin Halbarad, and any others he comes to love, into my home with great joy, the kin of my youngest son, and so my kin as well.

Late Fall/ Early Winter 3020, Minas Tirith, the King’s sitting room

“Is that why you dislike cats, iaur gwador?” Faramir asked, fighting a yawn.

“No, that’s a different story, though one that also begins with a game of “Chase me, find me.” Arwen answered for her husband. Arwen had awoken in the middle of the story, and had sat beside her husband, curled up in his dressing gown over her shift, a faint smile playing about her face.

“And one you shall not get tonight, Faramir. To bed with you.” The King jokingly commanded, having noticed the half-hidden yawn.

“Its not your story.” Faramir protested, “I was up early, making arrangements with Éowyn and our regent and Council in Ithilien. I think this will be the last time we are there for more than short visits before next fall.”

“You do not have to rearrange your schedule for us, Faramir.” Aragorn protested.

“I know. But Éowyn and I are happy to help. Besides, I am much better…er…” Faramir coughed as he realized he might have insulted the King.

“You ARE better with those blasted petitions, I’ll give you that.” The King’s eyes twinkled. “And perhaps, in exchange for my nobly not taking offense, you could cover for me tomorrow with the harvest council? Elrohir and I are going hunting in the morning…”

“Done.” Faramir agreed. “With your leave, Arwen, Aragorn.”

“Why don’t you sleep in our guest chamber tonight, Faramir?” Arwen offered kindly. “It is a long walk back to your chambers, though I made sure they would be aired and cleaned.”

“No, the walk will do me good.” Faramir replied with a grin. “I think I ate too much, trying to keep up with you and your ravenous symbiote, there.”

Arwen, who was five and a half months pregnant and glowing, grinned. “Yes, it is wonderful to enjoy food again. I spent the first three and a half months feeling sick, all of the time. I don’t know how human mothers do it, particularly if they have children already.”

“Neither do I.” Faramir commiserated. “I remember how sick Aunt Lorias was with Amrothos, and Nessa with Tavan.”

“Speaking of the baby,” Arwen gently grasped Aragorn’s hand and placed over her stomach. “There! Do you feel it?”

Aragorn frowned. “No, meleth-nin. I still do not – do not fret, I am sure I will soon.”

Arwen pouted. “I can feel it so clearly. Here, Faramir, you try.” The Queen offered, gently taking ahold of their good friend’s hand, and placing it in the same position.

Faramir was obviously uncomfortable at first, then he paused a second. “Just then…and again?”

“Yes!” Arwen beamed. “That is him, kicking. He is a night owl, like my Ada.” Faramir smiled back at her, amazed.

“Here, Aragorn.” Faramir grasped his friend’s hand. “Don’t feel for the kick, feel for a vibration. Like a bow string being pulled back.”

Aragorn did, and his eyes widened. “That’s him? Just now?”

“That’s him. That’s our son.” Arwen confirmed, tears of joy in her eyes.

Faramir congratulated his friends, and wished them both joy, but left as soon as he could without seeming unenthusiastic. He wasn’t unenthusiastic. In fact, he was ecstatic. An heir for Gondor, a son for Aragorn and Arwen, who had waited over sixty years for a child. A child who would be Faramir’s half-brother, though none living knew of that, save Faramir, Éowyn, and Ranger Kasim. Faramir was happy for his friends, excited to meet their son, but part of him was …jealous? Wistful? Some uncomfortable emotion, that led him out into a garden, despite the weather.

“Is there a good reason you’re walking alone in the rain, when there’s a perfectly good interior route from my baby brother’s rooms to where you sleep?” Elladan’s pleasant tenor inquired, concerned and a little exasperated, from just inside the hall.

“Not really.” Faramir answered, embarrassed to be caught behaving like a moody adolescent. “Just reminiscing. Is there a good reason you’re yelling at me from over there, when elves aren’t supposed to get cold or care about things like weather?”

“Yes. I’ve never liked getting wet when I can avoid it. And I’m only a half-elf.” Elladan retorted. “Come inside, Faramir.”

Faramir sighed, and did as Elladan asked. Arguing with Elladan was an exercise in frustration, and Faramir was not in the mood. Elladan accompanied him into his chambers, and ran a hot bath.

“I don’t get sick, ‘Dan.” Faramir pointed out. “I’m Númenorean. You don’t need to wait on me. I’ll be fine.”

Elladan gave him a funny look. “Maybe I want to look at your shoulder, after all the building Legolas and Gimli said you’ve been helping with.”

Faramir made a face, then laughed tolerantly. “‘Las and Gimli are snitches.” He complained lightly.

“Well, ‘Las certainly is. To be fair, he learned the hard way.” Elladan then told Faramir the story of the Great Spider Incident, while Faramir bathed. Faramir had already heard the story from Legolas, but Elladan’s perspective was different, and Faramir found his company pleasant and undemanding, a balm to his strangely unsettled spirit.

Hours later, when Faramir awoke in the dark, still hours of the morning from the nightmare where Denethor tried to burn him to death, only this time it was Aragorn in his father’s… the Steward’s… place, Faramir was able to distract himself from that terrible image by thinking of what Lord Elrond must have thought of the Great Spider Incident.