Remember How to Smile

Chapter 5: Face Your Fears

by Cassia and Siobhan

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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 always cold.

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.

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 secret.

“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 that.  

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 Estel.

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 spider-webs.

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 not.

“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 palm.  “Why?”

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 life.”

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 between them.

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 light.

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 well.

“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 house.

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 eyes.

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 you do.”

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 again, 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 a lot 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 first.

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 doubt?”

“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 of them.

“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 the memory.

“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 certain.”

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.