Remember How to Smile
Chapter 5: Face Your Fears
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Dark and nameless demons scream
And I can’t awaken from this dream
Help me up, hold me tight
Let me wake to find the light
Fear the darkness, don’t fear the fear
Don’t fear the darkness, there’s nothing there
I will follow where I’m led
But I cannot see the path ahead
Face my fears down, one by one
Will they vanish in the sun?
If I close my eyes I might see the light
And put to rest at last the night.
Bare feet padded silently down the stairwell and crept unnoticed into the Hall of Fire.
Or nearly unnoticed.
Aragorn glanced around him as he pulled a stack of cushions nearer the
fireplace and stretched out on them. He smoothed out the blanket
he had brought with him and draped it over his legs and waist.
Turning towards the fire, he watched the flames dancing on the wood
sparkling and shifting across the logs. His own fireplace had
been lit early in the evening but as always it would die out sometime
during the night and he would wake to the pitch black quiet of his
empty room. And it would be cold. It didn’t matter if it
was the hottest night of the summer, when he awoke in the dark he was
It had been months since they had returned from Angmar, since they had
escaped the Witch-king’s castle and their imprisonment there. His
physical wounds had all but healed. The scars on his heart and
soul, however, remained deeply etched and painful.
The first few weeks after Legolas had returned to Mirkwood it was hard
for Aragorn. Elrond had found his youngest asleep in Elrohir’s
room, curled up in the overly large chair or sharing the twin’s huge
bed. But Estel had begun to feel self-conscious about waking his
brothers. Now he simply slipped down into the Hall of Fire when
he thought everyone was asleep. The fires never went out in the
Great Hall and he didn’t have to worry about waking up in the dark.
He hated it. It still bothered him. And that it bothered
him at all was a point of distress to the man. By human standards
he was an adult. Had he been a normal human and not Numenorean he
would have been more than middle-aged. The point was, he was no
child and to his mind, grown men were not afraid of the dark, even if
they had been confined to it for months on end. Even if it had
once hidden horrors that still made him shudder at the mere memory.
He dreaded the quiet, stillness of night. There were so many
things now, normal things, that he couldn’t quite deal with
properly. Night times were just one of them. Leaving
Imladris for extended periods of time was another.
Aragorn was incredibly fearful of leaving the safe boundaries of
home. Too much had happened too far from his family or any type
of help. He had feared for so long that ‘home’ was something lost
to him, that he now no longer desired to leave the valley. It was
a cowardly thought he supposed, but he felt safe here.
In the silence of the night the Witch-king’s voice would come back to
him, pointing out the very fears that now ruled him and denouncing his
weakness. Oh yes, he was weak, that had always been true, hadn’t
it? Valar... Aragorn buried his head in his pillows and tried to
still the voices in his mind.
He started with a gasp, pulling back as a shadow passed across him,
momentarily blocking out the light of the fire. His thoughts had
been so dark that the shifting shadow had frightened him.
“I’m sorry, Estel, did I wake you?” Celboril crouched down near the
human, gazing into the silver eyes that flew suddenly open. The
servant had come in to stoke the fires and keep them burning. He
knew the human had been sleeping here of late and had been very careful
not to wake him in the past.
Suddenly at a loss for a decent explanation, Aragorn simply laid back
down with a sigh. Placing his arm across his face, he attempted to
prevent the older elf from seeing through him.
“I wasn’t sleeping yet, Celboril,” he answered hesitantly. “Don’t tell Ada,” he asked, gazing back at the elf once more.
“Estel...” Celboril faltered for words. There was nothing in the
house that he kept from the elf lord, and Aragorn’s obvious distress of
late was something he felt unwise for the young man to continue to keep
“Please,” Aragorn begged softly. “Just for a few more nights and
it will be better.” A lie and he knew it, but if wishing could
make it so...
“Very well,” the seneschal acquiesced. He still wasn’t sure that
the information should be kept from Elrond, but he would honor Estel’s
wishes for the time being. Something in the human’s eyes said he
had been through Hell and was still trying to pull his soul back
together. Celboril knew many things, but he did not know how to
deal with that. “If you need anything, you know where I
am,” the old elf offered as he left.
Estel smiled softly and nodded before laying his head back down.
He hadn’t wanted anyone to find out that he had been staying in the
Great Hall. He had always been able to wake before the house and
sneak back to his room before being discovered. With a sigh he
closed his eyes. Surely Celboril would keep his secret until he
was better. It had to be soon. He needed to be better soon.
The claustrophobic, suffocating dreams had only increased since
Legolas’ departure. Every night after he closed his eyes, the
Nazgûl returned to him, searing his mind with lies and
taunts. Every night he had woken in a panic trying to breathe,
trying to remember how to make his lungs inhale. He couldn’t move
when he awakened. There was nothing physically wrong with him,
but for some reason there were always the long, horrible moments right
after waking when he had no control over his body and the helplessness
was overwhelming and terrifying. Afterwards it was hard to get
back to sleep. He found that when he stayed in the Hall of Fire
he hadn’t had that problem and his sleep had been deep and
dreamless. He couldn't stay forever, though, he knew
Celboril walked down the hall, shaking his head. He hated the
fact that the young human wasn’t sleeping well. He knew little of
the abuses he had endured at the hands of the Úlairë, but
the servant had seen this type of reaction years ago, in the elf lord
that occupied this house and more recently in both of his two sons when
they were younger. It had taken unusual steps then for them to
overcome their fears. He had no doubt that it would require such
now...if only Elrond knew.
The soft deep sound of the elf lord calling his name stopped Celboril in his tracks. He grimaced slightly and turned back.
Stepping into the study Celboril approached Elrond, trying to keep his face impassive. “Yes, my lord?”
Without looking up from the tome he was reading Elrond questioned the
servant. “Is Estel sleeping in the Hall of Fire again tonight?”
Wincing slightly, the elf hesitated. When Elrond glanced up at
him it was painfully obvious that Celboril had been asked not to answer
just such a question.
Nodding thoughtfully, Elrond closed the book and walked to the far side
of the study room. He gazed out into the darkened sky, his hands
clasped behind him. The moon was just beginning its descent; the
night was only half over.
“The darkness still haunts him. I thought perhaps if he was given
time... but he will never be free this way.” Elrond turned back
to the elf that waited behind him. “Will you be so kind as to prepare a
horse for Estel and myself?”
“Are you sure, my lord?” Celboril knew what the elf had in mind
but wasn’t convinced that the human was up to it so soon. “He may
not be ready just yet.”
With a smile, Elrond approached the servant and pressed him out into
the hallway before him. “I am not sure one ever is, but it will
do him good. He is human, he has not the years to wait this out
like we do. Please,” Elrond entreated once more, “Saddle up a
horse for Estel. We will be out shortly.”
With a small nod of compliance, Celboril left for the stables. He
did not see the items that the elf packed away in his bag before
heading to the Hall of Fire.
Aragorn had easily fallen back asleep. His rest was deep and
dreamless and he simply lost himself in the peace. Here it was
never dark and he could breathe easy.
Elrond knelt next to the human and gazed at the sleeping man. He
hated waking him, but it had been several months since Aragorn and
Legolas had returned and still the darkness haunted his youngest
son. He remembered a time in the far distant past when it haunted
him as well. He had been helped by an elf older and wiser than he
at the time. It was something he had taught his own sons when the
opportunity arose and now he would take his youngest through this
lesson as well. With a sigh he gently shook the ranger, waking
Silver eyes opened slowly and latched onto the blue ones that gazed
down at him. Elrond was dressed in his riding gear and held a
saddlebag in one hand.
“Where are you going, Ada?” The human asked him sleepily.
“Is something wrong?” Not quite awake, he hadn’t yet realized that his
secret was out.
“We are going,” Elrond answered, hooking his hands underneath
Aragorn’s arms and pulling the man upright. “Quickly, fetch your
coat and boots and come back at once. You won’t need anything
else. I will wait for you in the stables.”
The ranger was puzzled to no end, but obeyed the elf lord without
question. When Aragorn entered the large, open stable, Celboril
moved away from Elrond and proffered the reins of a saddled horse
towards the human.
Taking the reins cautiously, the ranger glanced between the two
elves. Celboril would not return his gaze but simply bowed and
turned to leave. Elrond swung up onto the back of his
horse. The dark stallion had not been saddled or bridled.
Normally for such a trip, Aragorn’s horse would not have been saddled
either, but Elrond had felt it best as they would be riding in the dark
through terrain with which the human was not familiar.
“Come, Estel, let us be off. We have a bit of a ride ahead of
us,” Elrond called to his son as his steed trotted out of the
stable. There was no further explanation and the human knew he
would get none until his father was ready.
With a deep sigh, Aragorn swung up onto the back of the chestnut horse
that awaited him and quickly followed the elf lord. They rode in
silence through the forest. It was easy for the ranger to follow
the gently glowing form of the elf in front of him and he kept his eyes
riveted to Elrond’s back.
This passage that they were using was unfamiliar to him and he was
grateful that Celboril had saddled his steed. He ducked
underneath a low hanging branch, barely avoiding being knocked off.
“Ada, where are we going?” Aragorn finally asked, unable to stand not knowing.
“You will see,” was the elf’s cryptic answer, “We are nearly there.”
Aragorn contented himself with just following. He trusted the elf lord implicitly.
When they stopped before the gaping maw of a darkened cave, his heart
dropped. Elrond dismounted and gently pushed his mount
away. The horse walked a short distance off and began to eat the
sweet grasses that grew in the woods.
Aragorn hesitated. He watched as Elrond carried his saddlebag to
the threshold of the cave and waited at the entrance. The elf
lord knew that his son had not dismounted and he called back to him.
“Estel, come with me.” His voice was soft but commanding.
Swallowing the dread that threatened him, Aragorn dropped lightly to
the ground and followed his adopted father into the cavern. The
light disappeared, swallowing them in darkness as he trailed the
elf. Aragorn’s heart raced wildly. Of all the places he did
not want to be, surely his father understood that this was one of
them. The ranger suddenly felt a deep, brief surge of
understanding compassion for what he had always considered to be
Legolas’ rather silly but strong aversion to caves. For the
ranger, however, it was not the cave that made him hesitate, but the
complete blackness flowing from it.
Elrond’s insistence was the only reason strong enough to make Aragorn
trail him reluctantly into the inky dark. The elf lord continued
walking down the winding path, deeper and deeper underground. His
natural glow was all they had to guide them and Aragorn stayed very
close. The elf lord could sense his son’s growing aprehension but
he pressed onward. The cavern walls tilted inwards, pinching the
passage tightly. Claustrophobia clung to the walls like
Turning sideways, Elrond squeezed through the small opening. The
other side of the walkway angled sharply around a bend and the elf lord
stepped behind it, allowing his light to be blocked. He heard the
small gasp that escaped Aragorn’s lips, as the man was plunged into
darkness, but forced himself to remain hidden.
The ranger had turned sideways, following his father through the
constricted passageway when all the light went out. The wall
behind pressed against his back and the stone in front of him pinned
his chest painfully. The darkness crushed in about him and he
panicked. Feelings of claustrophobia compressed his rational
thought and froze him in place.
“Ada?” he whispered softly.
Elrond stepped around the corner, increasing his glow somewhat and took
hold of the human’s arm, pulling him gently through. He patted
the man on the shoulder and resumed walking. The slope of the path
tipped radically. They were nearly at the bottom.
“Ada, please,” Aragorn barely spoke, “Why are we here?”
The passage leveled out into a huge domed cavern. Stalagmites
rose from the ground, reaching to touch the tips of stalactites that
hung from the ceiling. The far reaches of the cavern were hidden
from view in the all-encasing darkness. Only the immediate area
around Elrond was visible.
Seating himself on the ground, Elrond motioned his son to do the
same. Once the ranger had obeyed, he began to speak softly.
“What do you see?” Elrond asked as he dimmed his glow until it was barely perceptible to the human’s eyes.
Aragorn stifled a gasp and tensed. He despised his reactions and
how this was affecting him. The very last thing he wanted was for
Elrond to see in him what the Witch-king had. He closed his eyes
and opened them trying to adjust to the lack of light. He could
“What do you see?” The question was repeated.
“Nothing,” the human forced out with more calm than he felt.
“Yes,” Aragorn whispered. He waited for Elrond to speak, strained
to hear, strained to see, but it was as though his senses were cut
off. He had the odd, seemingly irrational thought that Elrond was
in fact, amplifying this effect somehow.
“You are alone,” the voice of the Nazgûl floated to him, conjured
by his mind’s response to the darkness. It had been ingrained
into his thinking over those months of torment. It had broken him
down until he unwittingly still believed the lie. Panic
constricted his throat and he fought to breathe calmly. It was
like waking up from one of his panicked nightmares, but worse because
he was already awake and knew he was not dreaming.
Hearing his son’s distress Elrond reached out and gently touched the
mithril brooch that Estel wore. The metal suddenly sparkled and
shown brilliantly under his fingers, reflecting the light of the elf’s
natural glow that was now focused upon it.
Surprised, Aragorn moved back and glanced down. Elrond followed
him and touched the intricate pin again. The fire in the metal
left after-traces of light dancing in the human’s eyes.
“Do you remember the words with which this brooch was given to you?”
Elrond questioned as he sat back, allowing his glow to illuminate the
two of them once more.
“That I would never be alone,” Aragorn answered, touching the brooch experimentally.
“And what did the Nazgûl tell you?” Elrond pressed further.
“He said I belonged to him and I was alone. He said I was like
him, darkness, weakness...failure.” The words were a guilty
whisper. Before Elrond could respond, Aragorn glanced at the elf
and asked him the one question he had been thinking on lately.
“Why, Ada? Why did it happen? Legolas and I weren’t looking
for trouble, yet so much has always found us, whether alone or
together. And this...” his fingers rubbed idly at the scar in his
Elrond considered the human for a few moments before responding, trying
to gauge what the man was really asking him. “Do you mean to ask
me why Ilúvatar would allow it?”
When Aragorn nodded, the elf lord smiled sadly. “I do not know,
my son. We do not always know his ways or his thoughts.
Sometimes it seems there is so much pain and evil in the world that it
must be stronger than any good. Sometimes we cannot imagine why
we are here or if there is a reason to our lives. I do not
pretend to know the greater answers. None of us can, for
now. If there are answers to be found, it will not be in this
Elrond sat quietly for a moment, thinking. He had had much the
same questions when he was younger. “Why?” never got any easier
to answer. He tackled the query from a different point of view.
“Sometimes things have a reason you can see, sometimes they do
not. Did anything good come from what happened to you and Legolas
in Angmar? Perhaps, from a certain point of view, there was
good. You rescued those enslaved by the Nazgûl; you helped
them win their freedom. That is a very good and very noble
thing. I do know that Sauron now believes for certain that there
is no heir of Isildur alive. He is under the impression that even
the rumors are false because the Wraith was unable to pry anything from
your mind. You have been given many years free from the threat of
them searching for you. So perhaps there was purpose in it.”
“How do you know that?” Aragorn questioned, leaning forward and listening to all his father had to say.
With a laugh Elrond brushed the question off lightly. “There are many
things I know and many ways I have of finding them out. That is
not the subject of this discussion.”
Aragorn dropped his father’s gaze. “You do not know what it was
like. You do not know what he made me do and say. You have
no idea what it is to be cut off from everything and think you are
dying. To be forced to betray yourself.”
“I don’t?” Elrond asked the question softly, a small smile on his
face. “My dear child, I believe I do.” While he talked he
emptied out the contents of his saddlebag, allowing them to fall
Aragorn swallowed hard as he saw what his father had brought and he shifted uneasily.
“Sîdh, ion-nín,” Elrond reassured. “Let me tell you about
the first time I can to this very place, and why it was necessary for
me to be brought here as you are now.”
As he started speaking, he picked up a length of elven rope and gently
coiled it around his son’s wrists, binding the man’s hands
together. Estel did not move or resist his father. When
Elrond released the ranger, Aragorn tested the bindings, trying to squirm
out from them. The rope tightened about him, holding him pinned
when he fought it. When he relaxed it released its grip and lay
gently against his wrists. Laying his hands in his lap, he
returned his focus to the elf before him.
Elrond waited until the man stopped fidgeting before he continued.
“Your grandfather, Celeborn, has lived longer than I have. He is
a very wise elf, and when a headstrong young elf came asking for his
daughter’s hand in marriage, he saw through the pride and pretense and
recognized the fear. He was a good friend of mine already; we had
fought together in many battles. He respected me, but he also
knew me too well. He knew my past and knew there were things I
had never faced, never conquered. He would not allow me to take
his daughter until he was sure I could face them, and win.”
Elrond picked up a length of black cloth and held it in his hands.
“You see, Estel, the Eldar have the years to heal or hide should they
choose to, like Legolas did for so many years. You, my dear son,
do not. Your life is much shorter and so your healing must happen
more quickly or your scars will own you and in the end cripple
you. Celeborn brought me here years ago and taught me the truth
about fear. Fear is a bully; it is the little death for rational
thought. Its main purpose is to immobilize you so that that which
cannot overcome you otherwise is given an advantage. You can
learn to resist it, if you know the truth.”
Leaning forward, Elrond wrapped the dark cloth around Aragorn’s eyes,
blocking all sight and sending him into a world of complete darkness.
The cloth fell down over his face, slightly impeding his breathing but
not enough to actually impair it. The human tensed and fought to
remain calm. Elrond continued speaking, giving the man something
to focus on for the present.
“You are right in saying that I do not understand how it was with the
Nazgûl. I cannot begin to comprehend what you went through,
Estel, and I would not cheapen your pain by pretending to do so.
However, I do understand fear. Fear of the darkness, of
abandonment and pain. I have never really told you the tale of
what happened to Elros and me when our mother was forced to leave us to
save the Silmaril. We were still almost children at the
time. We never saw her or our father again.” Elrond continued
speaking as Aragorn calmed down and listened to his father’s tale of
enslavement and mistreatment.
As he described the abuse and neglect at the hands of fellow elves,
Aragorn could see the similarities in his own fears and his father’s
circumstances. The young twins had been imprisoned, beaten
frequently, and denied food and water for days at a time. Kept in
a small room barely large enough for the two of them, they were not
allowed sunlight or moonlight and lived in the darkness. Silent
tears coursed down Aragorn’s face as he listened in horror to the
tale. He had not realized that his father had been treated so
badly. He wondered how he had ever been able to get over
such memories, such horrors, especially when they occurred at such an
early, impressionable age. His father had always seemed so
courageous and fearless.
The human easily sympathized with the fear of dark spaces and being
bound. He tested his bonds again experimentally. The elven
rope twined tighter as he fought it so he tried to relax.
When Elrond described his terror at the sounds of Fandril’s footstep,
Aragorn shuddered visibly. He could still hear the way it sounded
when the Nazgûl came for him.
“Ada, I’m sorry,” Estel whispered softly when Elrond stopped speaking. “I didn’t realize...”
With a smile, Elrond shook his head. Knowing that his son could
not see him, he spoke aloud. “It was many years ago, and through the
patient wisdom of my elders and time, it no longer troubles me. I
can own the memories, and they do not own me. That is the way
true healing eventually comes, Aragorn, but it does take time.
First though, you have to know the truth about fear.”
The small sounds of night animals returning to the cave caused Aragorn
to jump. He turned blindly in the direction of the sounds.
Rocks skittered oddly in darkened corners, creating disturbing
echoes. Elrond knew that morning was coming soon and it was time
for Aragorn to face his own fears. Picking up a length of silk,
the elf walked behind the human and leaned down. He
hesitated. It was hard for him to go through with all this, but
he knew it was for the best.
“Ada, what are you doing?” Aragorn asked, trying to keep a worried edge
out of his voice. His heart raced and his breathing accelerated
as Elrond gently slipped the silk over his mouth and tied it behind his
head, effectively gagging the human.
Elrond had skillfully chosen to recreate the fears that gripped his son
the most. His gentle restrictions on the human ripped memories
and terrors from the man’s heart and brought them flooding to the
surface. He did not intend to torment his son, only cause him to
face his fears. It had worked with Elladan and Elrohir years ago
after they had been trapped with him in a cave-in. It had worked
when Celeborn had brought him down here and done to the elf lord much
the same as Elrond had to Estel. He only hoped it would help the
human as much as it had the elves before him. Fear had a tendency
to become bigger than the thing being feared. The first step was
facing it and bringing it back down into proportion. He felt sure
that despite what Aragorn might think, the ranger was ready to do
that. Elrond knew that Aragorn was much stronger than he gave
himself credit for.
Aragorn could have ripped the gag from his face, he was not restricted
from moving in this way at all, but fear froze him in place and the
memories of his time with the Nazgûl flooded his thoughts.
He knew full well what the punishment was for resisting – the Wraith
had not tolerated disobedience. For Aragorn submission had become
survival, but it was not the trait of a future king and Elrond knew
this far too well. The hopeless submission that had been so
torturously beaten into him warred with Aragorn’s nature and kept him
unbalanced. It had to be broken.
“Now you must face your fears, Estel.” Elrond placed his hand
gently against his son’s chest. The man was trembling, trying
unsuccessfully to calm down. “Listen to the darkness and what it
tells you. You must face the things that hold you captive.
When you face your fears, move through them. Look back at them
and you will see that there is nothing there. It is but a
vapor.” His voice trailed off softly as he reseated himself a few
feet away from the human and watched his son carefully.
Aragorn tried to do as he was told. He tried to still his
breathing and calm his racing heart. His breath hitched in his
throat as he fought the darkness that tried to envelope him.
The voice of the Nazgûl crowded his thoughts. He saw the
gag and the bridle held before him. He felt the bonds wrap around
him before he was placed in the box. The darkness hedged his
rational thought and fogged through his mind, stifling his ability to
relax. Legolas’ muted cries fought for attention around the
Úlairë claims over him.
His father’s words cut through the chaos as he recalled them. Face your fear and walk through it.
He tasted the gag in his mouth and slowly reached up to remove
it. Pulling the silk away from his face he breathed in deeply,
calmly. The Nazgûl used fear like a weapon, like a
tool. But in the end he was no different than any captor; he was
a bully. He could have killed Aragorn, but he would have never
owned him. Even if he had followed through on his worst threats
and pierced the human’s heart with a Morgul blade, Aragorn would have
died, but never been enslaved, the human felt suddenly sure of that.
In his mind, Aragorn walked back through the laboratory and placed the
gag on the table. Turning, he walked away from it and the
Nazgûl’s lab, back through the darkening mists and into the
Tentatively he reached for the blindfold, but a strong, gentle hand stopped him.
“Not yet. Leave that on until I remove it,” Elrond whispered
softly, pressing the human’s hand down. He was pleased that
Aragorn had pulled the gag from his face, knowing that it was a simple
but important hurdle for the human.
Nodding slowly, Aragorn relaxed and continued thinking through the
fears and darkness in his heart. Silently, hope began to weave
through his thinking as he reached the end of the bitter trail of
torment he had lived through. Yes, the Nazgûl could take
away his ability to talk but he could not take his spirit. He
could bind him, but not capture his will. Aragorn could be
confined, but his soul was ever free. He could be blinded but he
was never alone. He fingered the brooch with bound hands.
He had been hurt and broken and it did matter but it wasn’t his
identity. Sitting here in the dark, surrounded by everything he
feared, but in no actual danger, it felt as if he watched the panic
inside him shrink. Like a child who looks at the shadows in the
corner of his room until he can finally see the shape of his dresser in
them, rather than the nameless terror he supposed to be lurking there.
“I fear being abandoned,” he whispered. He was surprised when he spoke aloud.
“Is that your greatest fear?” Elrond questioned softly.
“Yes,” Aragorn answered, “You, my brothers, Arwen, Legolas - I fear
losing you, because of death or my own failings. To be alone
with no one around and all I love lost to me, that is my greatest fear.”
“My son, if all the earth should fade and all with it die and you
should be left in the darkness of its passing you would still never be
alone,” the elf explained gently. He touched the brooch the man
wore once more. The spark and fire of the mithril was visible
even through the blindfold that Aragorn wore and he smiled slightly.
“You see, you were created by Ilúvatar and for him. No
matter who should not be with you, he ever is. There is nowhere
you can go to escape him or his watchful eye. Not even the
dungeons of a Nazgûl can hide you. Do you understand?
His love reaches you no matter where you are. And so does
mine. You just must listen for it. I can’t walk your path
with you, Estel, and I won’t be with you forever, but my love will,
that I can promise.”
Elrond let Aragorn sit in silence as the man thought through what he had been told.
“What did the Nazgûl tell you, Estel?” the elf lord asked after some time.
“He told me I belonged to him. He said that I was alone and that
no one could hear me or help me. He kept saying that I would be
owned by him and that my torment would never end,” Aragorn answered,
softly recounting the words.
“They are lies,” his father stated simply. “Now tell me the truth. What do you believe?”
Aragorn did not answer right away. He listened to the voice of
the Nazgûl, and then forced himself beyond it, sorting out his own
quiet thoughts that lay below the clamor of the falsehoods.
“I do not belong to him and I never shall. I am the adopted son
of Elrond, lord of Rivendell, heir to the throne of Gondor by my sire,
Arathorn, descendant of Isildur. I am brother to Elladan and
Elrohir and friend to Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood. No matter
where I am, Ilúvatar can hear me and I am never hopeless.
I am owned by no creature on Middle-earth. I am one of the free
peoples and I am free,” the ranger countered softly. He was
thinking through it slowly and speaking the truths, one for every lie
he had been told. “That is what I believe. I will never be alone.”
Elrond could see the human visibly grown stronger and more confident as he faced his fears and walked through them.
“And the dark, my son? What of it?” Elrond pressed him further.
“The dark holds no trace of him any longer. He did not create
it. He can manipulate it but it does not belong to him
either. The dark is simply that which I cannot see through, but
it is not evil in itself and does not mean I am alone.” He
reached out and touched Elrond’s hands gently with his bound ones, no
longer remembering that they were bound.
“Never doubt in the darkness what you know to be true in the light,
Estel,” the elf lord gently instructed. “The brooch you wear is
simply a symbol of the truth you carry in here.” Elrond touched
his hands to the man’s chest, causing Aragorn to smile gently.
“Yes, Ada,” he answered softly.
Carefully, Elrond removed the blindfold from Aragorn’s face. The man
blinked several times, allowing his eyes to adjust to the level of
light in the cavern. He was surprised to see a shaft of sunlight
falling from high overhead. A vent in the rock face allowed the
light to spill in, turning the frightening cavern into a softly glowing
work of art. The floor and ceilings were covered in glittering
bits of crystal and ore. It held no fear now at all.
Unbinding Aragorn’s wrists, Elrond continued speaking. “This does
not mean your nightmares will end today. Nor does it mean you
will never have moments of fear or doubt. It is simply another
step in the journey of healing. You are well on your way, my son.”
“Thank you, Ada,” Aragorn whispered. He leaned forward and
wrapped his arms around the elven lord. Elrond returned the
embrace, relieved that the simple exercise had worked with the human so
“You said you did this with Elladan and Elrohir?” Estel
questioned as Elrond stood to his feet and helped the ranger back up.
“Yes, I did,” his father answered conversationally as he collected the
rope and strips of cloth, stuffing them back in his pack. “It was
slightly different with them, however, for they feared different
things. It was many years ago now, after we were trapped in a
cave-in. The twins had been severely brutalized by orcs in a ploy
to capture me. They had many fears to confront after that
encounter. I brought them down here like their grandfather did
with me and we stepped through those fears together. It helped
them as well.”
Aragorn glanced back once more into the cavern before taking the lead
as they walked out. He remembered the passageway and led them
easily up the winding walkway, aided by his father’s bright glow.
Everything seemed lighter to him as though the shadows had fled the
world. He knew that the nightmares were bound to return, he knew
that it would take time but he also realized he was not alone.
When the terrors came he would seek out his father or Elrohir. He
no longer had to fear the darkness; he could walk through it now.
As they passed the claustrophobic section of the path he had a
momentary flare of fear but it quickly receded. Elrond spoke
true. The fear reactions were not going to vanish overnight, but
he could hold onto the memory of the cave, and the way those
apprehensions shrunk and vanished when placed under careful
scrutiny. That would help him eventually put them behind him.
Once outside, the ranger breathed in deeply and looked around the
forests. It was painted with splashes of the early morning sun
where it peeked through the trees at a low angle. Their horses
were waiting for them lower in the pasture and they quickly mounted up
and turned for home.
Celboril awaited them in the courtyard, a pensive look on his
face. He had worried on them over the long night but his fears
were forgotten when Aragorn greeted him warmly. The servant
smiled widely at the father and son, welcoming them home
heartily. With a small nod Elrond acknowledged that they were
indeed well and things had gone just fine. Smiling to himself,
Celboril followed the horses as they made their way slowly back to the
stables. He would see to the animals before returning to the
Once inside Imladris, Aragorn realized just how weary he was. He
turned to the right and headed for the stairwell. His father’s
voice stopped him on the first landing.
“Estel, would you like something to eat? Celboril has food
waiting for us. Your brothers have gone out already and won’t be
home until later.” Elrond walked up the staircase behind the ranger.
“I think I should like to sleep for a few hours,” Aragorn answered
around a yawn. “I am very tired.” He laughed softly as the elf
lord followed him up to the second level.
Elrond stepped around his son and entered the human’s room.
Walking to the large picture window he pulled the curtains closed,
sending the room into a mid-morning darkness. He glanced back at
the man to see his reaction but Aragorn simply dropped onto the bed,
kicking off his boots lazily and letting them lie where they
fell. He yawned again and smiled up at his father when the elf
walked over next to his bed. Pulling the blankets over him, he
sleepily gazed at Elrond.
“I’m glad you took me to the cave, Ada. I think it really will
help. I’m just going to sleep for a few hours and I’ll be up.”
Elrond gently touched his son’s face, brushing the hair out of his
eyes, “It is understandable that you would be tired. It is not
easy to let go of ones fears. Sleep well, Estel.” He smiled
as the man pulled him into an awkward hug.
Rolling over, Aragorn stretched out and was instantly asleep, worn out
from the night’s lessons. And as he slept, his dreams were
peaceful and nothing dark troubled his sleep.
Aragorn was pulled from his reverie when Arwen shifted in his
arms. He set his thoughts aside as she sat up and gazed into his
Breaking the silence that had descended on them, he finished all that was left to tell of his explanation.
“When we left Rahzon we headed straight here. Legolas requested
it and I could not refuse. I am sorry how our haste must have
seemed to you, I... I did not know what else to do. There is
something wrong with him, Arwen, something very wrong and whatever it
is seems beyond my skills to diagnose or treat. I had hoped
coming here might be good for Dari, too - to have some new experiences
to replace what he has been through. And... I had hoped it might
be good for you and me as well. Every time I closed my eyes, the
visions were there again - death, cruelty and the dying. That
Dari was there in that terrible place... I still cannot forgive
myself for that. I failed him, and I failed Legolas and I fear...
I really fear that I am not going to be able to help Legolas through
this time. His wounds won’t even heal, and if what Elrohir tells
me is true, not even Ada could do anything in cases like this.”
Standing to his feet, Aragorn paced the carpet once more, his gaze
thrown unseeing out into the dark night. Arwen walked to the
fireplace and stoked the fire. She leaned against the mantle and
watched her husband carefully. So many cares and woes creased his
brow and harried his heart. She crossed her arms and tucked her
hands up under the overlong sleeves of her robe. She did not
question the wisdom of coming here, and she could at least begin to
forgive him his haste now that she saw the devastated worry and guilt
in his eyes.
“Estel.” Her voice stopped the man in his tracks. “You are
a great healer. Ada foresaw that in you and he was right.
But perhaps Legolas does not need a healer. Perhaps he needs time
and a friend. There are wounds that cannot be mended until the
wounded is ready. Legolas is an Eldar; he has time. Give him
time.” She would not let him interrupt her but held up her hand
and continued. “Dari is safe and Legolas is alive because of what you did.
Coming here was the right thing to do. Don’t second-guess
yourself and don’t allow those condemning thoughts to rule your
heart,” Arwen consoled him.
Aragorn shook his head mutely. He had wanted to console her, but
somehow the tables had flipped and she was comforting him now. He
pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes for a moment. When
he removed them, he met his wife’s gaze. “Forgive me, then?
For everything? You know I never want to hurt you.”
Arwen leaned forward and kissed him, lightly. “I will forgive
you, if you will forgive me. I know I place a great deal of
weight on your shoulders, my love. We all need time to heal, even
Aragorn kissed her back, relieved and yet still troubled at
heart. After a minute he broke away and sighed. “I know
that. I do. I just... how much time do you think we
have? I want to stay here forever, but I am constantly reminded
that we can’t,” the man said disconsolately. “If there was just
something I could do...”
Arwen watched her husband carefully. Aragorn was fretting
she knew this expression well. Her own sadness and anxiety was
beginning to fade a bit as their conversation eased the strain of
estrangement she had felt or at least feared between herself and her
husband over the past few months. She was actually able to give a
somewhat wry smile. “Estel, Legolas will heal on his own
time-table, not ours. Give it time... but be prepared to give it
of time. Elves do not solve everything so quickly as you
impetuous humans do.” Her eyebrows tipped up in slight amusement.
“And I want nothing more than that, but I don’t know how to manage it,”
Aragorn admitted with a bit of frustration. “How long do you
think we can shun the duties of Gondor? There are council
meetings, affairs of state and the Winter Fest draws nigh. We
cannot miss it. Jonath reminds me of that frequently. What
if...” a finger on his lips stopped him.
Moving to stand in front of her husband, Arwen wrapped her arms around the man’s waist and stared up into his eyes.
“Yes, Minas Tirith will surely crumble into ruin and all of Gondor will
fall into decay without her king,” she teased slightly. The smile
that played at the edge of her lips belayed the man’s frustration as he
watched her out of slitted eyes.
“Darling, do not push Legolas as he tries to find his peace again. And
do not rush Dari from his nightmares. They will both heal in
their time.” Her smiled widened and her tone turned coy as she
continued. “As for the kingdom, I discussed everything with
Faramir and Éowyn before our departure. The council is at
ease with their steward in your absence. Remember
meleth-nín, that Gondor somehow survived in the hands of the
Stewards for countless generations. Before we left, word was
received that the Southern Treaty had been fully ratified and accepted
in all nine tribes. Word reached them of the attack. Those
responsible were hunted down by their own people and punished.
The trade routes are open and the waterways have been secured. We
are at peace. And I dare say that Faramir and Éowyn will
be just as able to preside over the Winter Fest as we would be.”
Aragorn stared open-mouthed at his wife as he processed all she had
just said. She had, apparently, thought of everything. It
was very, very good to have a wife who knew so much about running a
kingdom, he decided. He had had no time at all to make
arrangements of any kind before he left and the responsibility had been
wearing on him considerably.
“Then I suppose I should enjoy our time here?” he
questioned. A small smile began to wrap itself around the corners
of his mouth until his heart found its voice again.
“And yet you are not. Why?”
Aragorn stalled for an explanation. He knew why but his heart still warred within him over so many things.
“Why?” Arwen repeated. The gentle touch of her fingertips on his cheek redirected Estel’s attention.
“Because he is not here,” Aragorn whispered.
The answer startled Arwen. It was the last thing she had expected
to hear and yet in her heart she knew she should have thought of it
Dropping her gaze she answered her husband softly, “I know, my love. He is not. But his love is, I can feel it.”
Lifting her chin with his fingertips Aragorn gazed down at his
wife. “I’m sorry, I know you must miss him as much, or more than
I,” he said softly.
“I do,” Arwen admitted slowly. She didn’t really like to talk
about it. “More so now that we are here, I suppose. And now
that there is Dari.”
Perplexed, Aragorn pressed her for an explanation of the last statement. “What do you mean?”
Seating herself back on the bed, Arwen waited as Aragorn pulled the armchair closer and sat across from her.
“When you left with Frodo for Mordor, my father had a talk with me one
night. I had decided to tell Ada of my decision to choose a
mortal life but he was one step ahead of me. He, of course, tried
to dissuade me.” She spoke softly. Her eyes were riveted to her
fingers as she played idly with Aragorn’s hand, caressing the silver Ring of Barahir.
“It wasn’t that he was against my marrying you, in that sense. He
simply didn’t want to lose me or leave me behind. At the time I
thought he was being selfish and I didn’t understand his heart in the
matter. He asked me if he had my love and I told him yes.
And it was true, he did. I loved you both, and one love did not
negate the other... I could never choose between the two of you.
In the end, when he finally understood, he did not make me
choose. But now, so many years after he has gone, I wonder if he
ever truly believed me when I told him I loved him.”
“Of course he believed you,” Aragorn whispered. He had not heard
of any of this and the revelation was new to him. “Why would you
“Until Dari came along I did not understand how much a parent could
love a child. Nor did I ever fathom the depths of pain that the
loss or separation from that child could bring. No one tells you
these kinds of things. And now I realize how much I hurt him,
unwillingly so, but still...” When Arwen raised her eyes to meet
her husband’s they were filled with tears again. “Now I know, in
part, why it was so hard for him to leave us here – why he wanted so
terribly for me to come with him. If you had not been born human
he would have entreated you the same. Instead we have stayed
behind – all of us. How our choices must have hurt him I am only
beginning to understand.”
Aragorn swallowed hard, unable to find words to express himself.
He rose from his seat and sat next to Arwen, pulling her head gently to
his shoulder. He listened to the thoughts tearing through his own
heart. He remembered the severe rage that had burned in him,
bereft of rationale when he had learned what had befallen his
son. If the slavers had not lain dead in Rahzon he would have
killed them all with his bare hands for the injuries they had inflicted
on Eldarion. The fire of possessive love flared in heart at the
thought once more and for the first time he understood Elrond more than
he thought possible. Some things you truly could not understand
until you had experienced them yourself. Being a parent was one
“Ada knows we love him. He has to know. He has our love, he
always has,” Aragorn answered. “When I returned from Harad
after being gone so long and under the circumstances that I left, I was
sure that Ada could not love me anymore, not like he did, not like
before. And it came out in our conversation late that
night. I told him my fears and I fully expected him to tell me I
was right. But he didn’t.” Aragorn looked up and smiled at
“In fact, when I finally got the courage to ask him, Ada got up out of
his chair and strode right over to where I was sitting. I knew I was
done for then,” Aragorn continued. He laughed lightly as he
spoke. “But instead of being angry he pulled me up out of the
chair and just hugged me. I will never forget what he said
next. He told me that I have his love and I always would no
matter what happened. He made me promise to never forget
that. He has told me that many times since, actually.”
“And you have kept that promise,” Arwen whispered. She smiled up
at her husband. She was bone weary. The trip had been long
and the pent up emotions released this evening were almost too
much. Yet, for the first time in the past few months she finally
felt safe and at peace. “I’m glad you and Dari are both back with
me again. Everything else will work itself out in time, I am
Quiet fell gently in the small room and Estel glanced at the dying fire.
“Sleepy?” he asked softly, nuzzling her cheek softly and breaking the easy silence.
Arwen was, but leaning against her husband, whom she had not seen in
far too long, was putting other thoughts in her mind. “Mmm, are
you?” she let the slightly taunting question fell between them.
With a laugh Aragorn rose. He walked to the window, drawing the
curtains and blowing out the small shell night-light. As the fire
dimmed he returned to the bed and gently kissed his wife’s lips,
whispering softly to her and eliciting quiet laughter from the
beautiful elf maiden.