-The Curse of Angmar-
By: Cassia and Siobhan
Their footsteps could barely be heard as they crept through the large house nestled deep in the beautiful valley of Imladris. Sneaking up the elegant stairway and quietly entering the room at the end of the hallway, Lord Elrond’s twin sons silently approached the bed that held their younger human brother, Estel.
The ranger had returned the previous day and the twins had not yet had the opportunity to see him as they had only just returned from a quick trip through the mountains themselves.
The human lay on his stomach, his face turned to the far wall. The sheets fell in folds off the bed, wrapped about his waist, exposing the top of his sleeping breeches. One arm lay under his head beneath the pillows that cushioned him and the other dangled off the mattress.
The man had filled out since they had last seen him. He had grown up. His shoulders and back were broad and muscular and his facial hair, albeit scraggly in comparison to others, had grown as well. Shoulder length wavy tangles of dark hair, coated with the warm glow of early morning light, fell across his face as he breathed deeply in sleep.
His senses, having been battle-heightened over the many years of war he had seen, were alert and although the man had not completely woken, every fiber in his body tensed, bringing his awareness slowly to the surface.
Elladan barely knelt on the bed; it gave way easily beneath him with a soft squeak. The elf leaned towards the ranger, a devilish smile on his face; it had been a long time since he had been able to surprise his youngest brother.
Instantly awake and on the defensive, Estel twisted in the bed sheets, recoiling from the presence he had felt. Automatically his hand wrapped around the hilt of the elven blade he had placed beneath his pillow out of habit sometime in the pre-dawn after his father had left his room. He slept better with it near at hand lately and putting it there had been an almost unconscious reflex.
Bringing the weapon up with lightning fast speed, Estel pressed the sharp edge of the knife against his perceived attacker’s throat. His left hand wrapped in the dark hair of the elf that knelt next to him, holding Elladan still against the steel razor and pressing forward threateningly.
The elf froze; breathing carefully as the blade scraped dangerously against his jugular. His eyes wide, Elladan slowly raised his hands, taking note that the human who held him so precariously was not quite awake or aware yet. His younger brother’s attack had simply been an automatic response to a perceived threat. It was an action that neither twin was prepared for however; the ranger had never raised his weapons against them before save in jest or to spar... this was neither.
“Estel?” Elladan spoke his name softly, causing Aragorn to blink several times as he took in his surroundings. He was not on the banks of Pelargir nor the blood-soaked plains of South Gondor, the attacker before him was not a Haradrim or Corsair, it was an elf with oddly familiar eyes...
Aragorn loosened his hold at once, releasing his brother and allowing Elladan to press him back against the pillows while Elrohir slipped the blade from the human’s hand. Aragorn breathed in deeply, closing his eyes and holding his breath as his heart pounded wildly in his chest, trying to absorb the adrenaline that had shot through his system.
The ranger sighed softly and stared up into the blue eyes that scrutinized him. Estel didn’t move when Elladan pinned him to the bed, his hands on the younger human’s shoulders as he leaned over the man. His nearly disastrous reaction to his elven brother frightened Aragorn; he hadn’t heard the twins enter his room and had forgotten that he had slipped his knife under his pillow before he had fallen completely asleep. The reaction surprised him as much as it did the twins and so he simply lay on the bed, catching his breath. If he had pressed against the blade even a little too hard... Aragorn shuddered slightly. The wars he had lived through these past years had marked him too much; he had a great deal to unlearn.
It had been many years since the twins had seen their brother and the visible changes in the human both intrigued them and saddened them as well. The emotions were foreign and strange. Aragorn knew there would need to be a time of adjustment. Things weren’t as they always had been and Elladan’s keen senses picked that up immediately.
“We heard you had returned. You have... changed, little brother.” Elladan whispered softly. It wasn’t just his outward appearance or actions; they could see the age in his eyes, more so even than his years. Because elves aged so slowly after reaching maturity, it was almost as if their little brother had grown up to be older than them. It was strange to the twins, unsettling.
Changed. An understatement, Aragorn thought sarcastically, but he simply nodded. There was nothing else to be said, it was true. He tried to explain himself, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I wasn’t awake... I... It was an automatic response; I thought you were an enemy.”
Gently placing the sharp elven blade on the dresser, Elrohir sat on the edge of the bed, watching his brothers. Deep in his heart he knew Estel was different... older, and he could feel the weight the human carried in his own heart. He smiled softly as the ranger’s silver eyes turned to gaze briefly at the dark haired elf. Although things had changed, he for one was very glad that Estel had returned to them, the years since they had last seen the ranger had been long indeed, even in a timeless place such as Rivendell. After all, life was full of changes; they didn’t have to be bad. Estel would always be their little brother in their hearts, no matter what happened.
When Aragorn glanced back at his older brother he noticed the frown that creased Elladan’s forehead. The elf was staring at the scar that marred the man’s lip. Self-consciously Estel covered the blemish with the fingers of his right hand, dropping his gaze from the twins. His slight beard and mustache concealed the worst of the scar but it still bothered him.
Elrohir caught the ranger’s wrist and gently pulled Aragorn’s hand away.
“What happened?” He asked softly.
Moving out of his brother’s grip Estel scooted back against the pillows behind him and sat up in the bed, drawing his knees up to his chest and fingering the mark.
“It was a war wound, from a fight with a Haradrim. They are fierce warriors.” He glanced at Elladan as he spoke, “But he did not return home and I did.”
Elladan nodded, a smile slowly spreading across his face. “Well you know, they say that women find battle scars very attractive.” The elf looked quickly at his twin who matched his smile.
Shaking his head, Aragorn rolled his eyes, “Leave it to you to find something positive about it.” He scooted over as Elladan seated himself on the edge of the bed across from Elrohir.
“Tell us of it?” Elrohir asked cautiously.
“The war, your time with men, all of it.” Elladan finished the thought his twin had started, eager to hear how their brother had fared. Little word had been sent through the years as carriers often fell prey to the ravages of war, bandits in the hills, or worse.
“Not yet.” Aragorn glanced from one twin to the other, “Please, let me leave it for a while. I only wish to be Estel. There are some things I *need* to forget.” Deep weariness marked the gaze he laid on the elves and they immediately withdrew from their questioning.
Gently touching Estel’s shoulder, Elrohir apologized, “We meant no harm Estel. If it is painful it is best left until you are ready.”
Aragorn smiled softly, his hands busy worrying the edges of the blanket that he had pulled up to his chest, a habit he had never broken himself of, “It is... I am weary of it. The world men of has taught me many things, some good, but much of which I wish to forget.”
“I see it has also taught you to sleep with your blade under your pillow.” Elladan eyed the weapon that rested on the nightstand, his tone taunting as he deftly changed the subject, not wishing to make his younger brother any more uncomfortable than they already had.
“Oh that.” Estel laughed quietly, “Yes, I got used to sleeping with that in my hand. I slipped it under my pillow out of habit last night after father left me. Please forgive me Elladan, that is one routine I will need to break.”
“*Before* you kill someone would be nice.” Elrohir chided playfully.
“Oh and you think you didn’t deserve it!?” Aragorn glanced from one twin to the other, his eyes narrowing in mock suspicion, trying to hide his smile. “You think I don’t know that you were trying to scare me?” He laughed as the twins affected an air of shocked innocence. “Probably had in mind to drag me out of bed and play one of your tricks on me didn’t you now? Well they won’t work anymore.”
Elladan sobered immediately. He knew that Estel was teasing them but he could also feel that the human spoke the truth. Aragorn’s age of innocence was gone and the little brother that they had known had finally, truly grown up. The older twin looked quickly away, trying to hide the sadness his thoughts had suddenly evoked. He knew it was natural, but could not help the bitter-sweet feelings of one who has watched someone grow from infancy.
Aragorn however was not fooled and leaned forward, tipping Elladan’s chin up, forcing the elf to look at him. It was a tiny action that the elven twins had done a thousand times with their younger brother and now the roles were reversed. “What is it? What have I said?”
“You are not the young Estel that we remember.” Elrohir whispered softly, his voice uncertain as he spoke the words. They knew. They knew their brother was human, they knew with their heads it would be this way, but their hearts still had trouble grasping the fact that their young Estel had become a man, a battle-weary man whose cares hung heavy upon him.
Aragorn glanced from the youngest twin to Elladan who was watching him again carefully. “He is right. You are not,” The elder twin concurred quietly. It was not bad that Aragorn had become an adult, they were proud of the man he had become... but it was hard to let go of the boy.
“Oh.” Estel silently mouthed the one syllable word and leaned back against the headboard as realization sunk in. His elven brothers were having difficulty with the fact that Aragorn had finally grown up. The ranger reached his left hand behind his back pushing a pillow into a more comfortable position. As his fingers touched the soft, down-filled bag, a thought brushed his mind and he gripped the cushion, tensing.
“You think I am so changed that you fear you no longer recognize the person in this body?” He asked quietly, voicing the elves’ unspoken fears.
“Yes, perhaps.” Elrohir answered hesitantly, glancing at Elladan for confirmation. The brothers had always been honest with one another; it would do no good for them to hide their thoughts now.
Nodding his head Aragorn dropped his gaze, throwing his brothers off just enough so that when he slipped the pillow he held from behind his back, Elladan was unprepared for the soft blow.
The elf fell off the side of the bed; the pillow following him as Aragorn landed the cushion squarely in his older brother’s face. Gripping the edge of the bed Estel looked over the side of the mattress, watching as the elf pulled the pillow off of his head and stared, open-mouthed, at the human.
“Hmm... well, guess if I can still rub your face in a pillow I haven’t changed that much, have I?” The human laughed from his vantage point before being pulled back from the edge by Elrohir. The twin had taken hold of Aragorn’s ankle and jerked the ranger back, pressing a large bed pillow over the human’s head and burying his face in the blankets with a shout of mirth.
By the time Lord Elrond entered the room, followed by Legolas, no one could remember who had actually started the pillow fight, but the broken cases and the snowfall of downy feathers that rained down on the room’s occupants incriminated them all.
When Elrond cleared his throat, Elladan and Elrohir quickly sat up, releasing their captive who bolted upright in the middle of the bed, coughing and spitting out a mouthful of feathers. Fluffy white twigs of down stuck out from the dark, disheveled hair at odd angles and the bright silver eyes smiled as the ranger extricated himself from the pile of pillows and empty cases that he had been buried under.
Looking slowly around the room Elrond shook his head, his gaze landing lastly on his youngest son, sitting in the middle of the bed, flanked by the elven twins who were trying desperately to look innocent - a tactic that very nearly always failed.
“So Estel, I see you have lost the pillow fight again?” The elven lord entered the room, his tone imperious, his eyes full of laughter. He fought to keep contained the smile that slipped slowly across his face.
“I am afraid so Ada.” Aragorn glanced between his brothers, “They were picking on me again.” The human’s eyes took on a pitiable gaze, begging the elf lord to intervene.
When the twins started sputtering in self-defense and pointing at the ranger, Elrond could contain his laughter no longer. “I see some things have not changed.”
“I am afraid Lord Elrond,” Legolas spoke up from his place in the doorway, “that with Estel around, some things never will.”
“Good.” Elrohir whispered, “I like it that way.” He smiled as Aragorn glanced at him.
The ranger pulled his brother into a tight hug, “Me too.” He whispered into the elf’s ear before shoving the twin playfully away from him.
They gave me a life that’s not so easy to live
And then they sent me on my way
I left my loving, forgot my dreams
I lost them along the way.
Those little things you say
When words mean so much
You never back down
When they all shy away
You always listen to me.
--Three Doors Down
It had been nearly two weeks since Aragorn had returned and the rest that his weary heart had begged for was just only now beginning to take hold. Padding barefooted across the wood floor of Elrond’s study room Aragorn quietly made his way to the picture window that stood open, facing the rift that Rivendell had been built into. It appeared that no one was awake yet in the house save for Celboril and the kitchen staff.
Morning was just breathing her sigh of warmth in the valley. The far side of the cleft that held Imladris was aflame with the first touches of the sun.
Estel stood silently on the balcony that overlooked the river far below. His unfocused eyes did not notice as the sun crept over the valley and painted her black and grey palette with brilliant colors of light. His thoughts were flung far beyond the safety of the rift that sheltered him. He shivered slightly but the chill that ran up his spine had nothing to do with the still cool morning air.
Elrond had been awake when the ranger stirred that morning and followed quietly in the man’s wake. The elf lord had fully expected that there was much weighing on Estel’s heart that he was either unable or unwilling to share. A shadow edged the ranger’s eyes and his lightheartedness had not returned fully. Elrond stood in the shadows of the room behind his son watching the young human. He could feel the confusion that warred inside the man, mixed with a sorrow that he did not understand. They had spoken of the dark shadows of Mordor and all that had happened there... but truly, that had touched Legolas’ soul deeper than Estel’s. There was something different that troubled his youngest son.
When Aragorn sighed deeply and laid his head down on his arms crossed atop the balustrade the elf lord moved from the shadows and stepped silently up behind the ranger, gently placing his hand on the broad shoulders as he moved to the side, trying to glimpse Estel’s face.
Aragorn started slightly before laying a rueful smile on the elf lord. Elrond remained about the only being that could utterly surprise him like he just had.
“Father, you startled me.” Aragorn shifted, facing the older elf and leaning against the low stonework. “What wakens you so early?”
“Funny, I was about to ask you the very same question.” Deep blue eyes pierced through to the soul before him and Aragorn was surprised to find himself instantly shying away from the touch that was so familiar and yet so unwelcome. He dropped his gaze to the floor of the valley, watching the Bruinen sweep by below them.
Elrond turned and leaned against the railing, waiting out the human. The quiet roar of the waterfalls at the head of the river could just barely be heard on the still morning air and the silence hung between them heavily. He had finally decided that his son was not going to open up to him just yet, when Aragorn turned his gaze back to the elf and held his father’s questioning glance.
“I do not wish to be human.”
The statement, spoken quietly, was simple and blunt. The grief behind the words touched Elrond’s heart.
“You were never given that choice Estel. Your blood is Númenorean and though there is very minute traces of elvish in you; you cannot choose to be one of the firstborn my son.” Elrond gently laid his hand on the young man’s shoulder.
“If I had been I would go with you now across the sea. The world is wearying. I have seen enough of man’s cruelty and intolerance to last a lifetime. If I cannot be what my heart desires, cannot lay claim to the things I truly love, then I will not walk amidst those for whom I feel so little kinship, will not tread a path whose end I cannot see, I choose exile.” Aragorn frowned deeply and glanced back across the way, finally noticing for the first time that morning had blushed the mountains with its first rays. Obviously these thoughts had been heavy on his mind for some time.
“Your heart is weary.” Elrond recognized the battle-exhausted look; the look of one who had seen too much death and darkness.
“More than you know.” The whispered words fell away, caught by the slight breezes that were beginning to pick up.
“I know full well how you feel Estel. I too have been there and if you think that only men have the corner on brutality, intolerance and hatred you would be wrong.” Elrond stepped back as Aragorn straightened and turned towards the elf, resting the small of his back against the top of the rail.
The ranger shook his head. “I saw men killing each other, not even knowing why, but simply because they were sent out to do so. I saw women and children caught in the chaos and whole cities decimated. Men who sought profit by enslaving another being and subjecting that being to horrible cruelty. Selling one another, murdering, stealing...” Aragorn closed his eyes against the images that surfaced. “The darkness I saw in Mordor was deep and terrible... but I saw glimpses of that same darkness in the eyes of too many in the south that were neither orc nor wraith. I have seen what power does to men, and I want no part of it.”
“The elven races are no different,” Elrond said quietly. “We are simply older now. When one has an immortal lifetime, lessons learned are sometimes better remembered. We were just as you are once. I have seen elves do the same to one another. I know how heavy your heart is. You must trust that it will not always be this way.” Elrond hurt for his son. The things the young man had seen drew scars on the heart of a kind that often did not fully heal, but he could not allow the human to turn from his own race; this one had a destiny that could not be so easily thrown aside.
“It does not feel like it will ever leave, the ache I mean,” the ranger explained when his father frowned slightly at him. “I went to Rohan, to Gondor, to see what their world held. To see if I could be what they need me to be... I cannot. You have told me of my heritage, of my supposed future, but I do not want it.”
“You do not have to right now my son. It is not for you at this time.” Elrond’s words were calm and reasonable, yet laced with compassion.
“But it will be!” Aragorn stepped back, his anger peaking at his own helplessness and sense of inadequacy, “And do you think that in twenty or thirty years men will have changed? I do not. What difference will I be able to make in the world?”
“More than you can know.” Elrond glanced down to Estel’s hands and noticed that Barahir was missing from his fingers. The ranger slowly opened his fist and the ring shown brightly in the warm light. When the elf met his son’s gaze he noticed the guilt that hid just behind his eyes. “You were going to get rid of it?”
Aragorn nodded and dropped his eyes to the floor beneath his boots. “I had thought to throw into the Bruinen where it would never be found...”
“And so escape your destiny?” Elrond closed his right hand around his son’s, the ring biting gently into his palm. “The ring only marks you outwardly as Isildur’s heir.” With his left hand the elf touched the human’s chest above his heart, “The true power you carry, and the goodness with which you will wield it, is in here... and nothing can change that.”
Silver eyes locked onto the earnest blue ones. He knew the truth in what his father told him, but his war-weary heart shied at the thought.
“You have not come to that point in your life yet Estel; you have much farther to go still and many years to enjoy. Do not feel imprisoned by the expectations of others, even those of us who love you. Go where your heart leads you; you know you are welcome to rest here as long as you wish.” Elrond smiled as the hand caught in his own tightened slightly and Aragorn wrapped his right arm around the elf lord, pulling him in closely.
“Thank you father. I would stay on here for a while. I need the rest.” Estel whispered softly into the elf lord’s ear.
Elrond nodded in understanding as the young man pulled back, “I for one am glad, for I missed you these past years. Since you have been in my life young one, I have begun to experience time as the race of men does and I do not cherish that feeling.” He laughed lightly as he wrapped his arm around Estel’s shoulders and drew him back inside with him. “It will do my heart good to have you near again. Besides, Celboril has done nothing but complain about not being able to make panjacakes. You know you are the only one who loved those things. I am sure he will have some ready for you this morning when we break fast!”
Aragorn smiled and walked back into the house, easily allowing himself to be lead through the large mansion. He gently wrapped his arm around his father’s waist and laughed as the older elf began to tell him about a stunt his brothers had pulled just last week. He found he was amazed at how young he suddenly felt and how light his heart became when he released his cares and relaxed into the warmth of his home, Imladris. Something echoed deeply inside and he realized he had missed his family more than he knew.
Slipping Barahir back on his finger he allowed his heritage to settle deep in his heart, far from the surface; accepted but not taken up. For now he was Estel, at home in Rivendell and he could hear the sounds of his brothers echoing down the stairwell as they teased Legolas mercilessly.
He laughed, pulling back behind his father slightly for protection as the Silvan elf vaulted the railing, jumped from the last landing of the staircase and landed lightly next to him.
“This is all your fault. You must stop them.” The blonde elf laughed as he stepped behind the human and the elf lord.
Elladan and Elrohir had chased him down the stairs and the prince glowered at them with unrepressed mirth as he hid behind their father and brother. “*I* did NOT use either one of your closets for my clothes, Estel gave these to me last night! Take it up with him!”
Aragorn held up his hands innocently against his brothers mock-accusing stares. “Well Celboril is the wrong size. I couldn’t find you last night to ask and Legolas said he was sick of wearing my clothing...”
At this Elladan and Elrohir had to laugh. “I wonder he did not weary of that the first day.”
Elrond shook his head with a smile. Aragorn’s clothing, even the silk or velvet tunics and robes he wore around Imladris, had looked slightly off on Legolas’ graceful form. Especially since Aragorn was wider built than the slender elf. However, even the brown and maroon tunic and leggings that Aragorn had borrowed from his brothers, although a bit of a nearer fit, still did not look completely natural on the blonde archer.
“Well the good news,” the elven lord said patiently as the younger beings jostled about him with Aragorn pretending to growl at his brothers for the slight and them pretending to be oh so frightened.
“Is that the tailor said the clothing I commissioned for the Prince should be ready later today.” Elrond supposed rightly that Legolas would feel more comfortable once he was again able to dress in the
familiar styles of his woodland kin.
Legolas smiled gratefully, pretending to ignore the three brothers. “Thank you.”
“Now,” Elrond used a tone one might employ for very small children, which made his three boys look up almost in unison. It was all Legolas could do to keep from laughing. “I believe Elladan and Elrohir expressed the desire to take you both out hunting with them today, so I suggest that this would be a good time to have that breakfast.”
Aragorn smiled. It was *so* good to be home. “Yes, Ada.”