And somewhere while you’re sleeping
Someone else is dreaming too,
And counting down the days until
They hold you close and say:
I love you...
--Steven Curtis Chapman
Elrond stood on the starlit balcony, lightly leaning against the cool
railing as the stillness of nighttime in Rivendell surrounded him.
Imladris was sleeping, but the elf lord was not. Nor was he likely to
this night. His heart was heavy and troubled. In his hand he held a
small silver circle. It was the ring of Barahir. Aragorn had left it on
the nightstand by his bed and Elrond had found it there not long ago.
Up to this point, the young man had worn it constantly since Elrond
passed it on to him and the elf lord knew it had not been left behind
Elrond’s love for Estel had not changed because of the young man’s
feelings for his daughter. It was pointless to worry over much about
that yet, because Arwen was very clearly making no choices or promises
at this time, whatever she felt for the Dùnadan, it could very
well be that all this would come to naught... or then again it might
not. But that was not what sat heavy on the elf lord’s mind tonight.
No, right now the grief that pulled at him was for Estel. He knew his
youngest son’s heart must be breaking and there was nothing he could do
about it. That was the hardest thing for him to accept.
He wished he had stopped the young ranger before he left, wished he had
tried to tell him... tell him what? Elrond sighed and leaned a little
harder against the railing. He didn’t know what, but something. However
Aragorn had not been ready to listen. He had all but physically pushed
the elf lord away from him. He had been holding them all at arm’s
length since Arwen left and that made the elf’s father’s heart ache.
"What have I done wrong Estel?" he whispered quietly to the silence of
the night, slowly turning the ring hand over and over between his
fingers. "What have I not done to prove that I love you? That you don’t
believe me the many times I’ve told you that I would never, *could*
never cast you aside? And if you haven’t heard it before, what could I
have said now that would be any different?"
The steady hum of the crickets provided him no answer.
"Father?" the soft voice behind him made Elrond jerk slightly. It spoke
volumes of his disturbed state of mind that he had not even heard his
"Elladan, Elrohir, I thought you went to bed hours ago," Elrond turned
to face the twins, his eyes traveling searchingly over their attire.
They were not in their sleep clothes, nor even their evening attire.
The two younger elves were in their traveling clothes with their cloaks
already fastened about their shoulders.
"We couldn’t sleep," Elrohir said quietly. "Apparently you couldn’t
"No," Elrond looked out at the stars again, folding his arms and
leaning forward against the railing with a sigh. The weariness of his
many long millennia of life seemed to hang heavily upon the elf lord’s
shoulders this evening. "There is no rest for me tonight."
There were several long moments of silence.
"You cannot go after him," Elrond quietly broke the silence without
"But..." Elladan started to protest, although he knew in his heart that
his father was right.
"Elladan, he doesn’t *want* you with him," Elrond turned to face his
children, sorrow in the depths of his eyes.
"He wishes to be alone or he would have taken you with him when he
left." The elf lord held up his hand to ward off further argument. "And
you cannot follow him in secret. He will know you are there, and I fear
he will only resent it. Elladan, Elrohir... Estel is a man now. I have
told you that before. As hard as it is, we need to respect him enough
to give him however much time and space he needs... when he is ready,
he will come back to us." Elrond closed his eyes for a moment because
even as he said it he felt a strange, vague feeling of dread deep in
the pit of his stomach, whispering to him that he was never going to
see his youngest son again, but that was an impossible thought. Estel
just needed some time alone to sort his thoughts out. He would be back
in a few months at most... there was no reason for him to not be.
The twins did not look happy, but they heeded their father’s words. "We
feared as much," Elladan sighed slightly. "But I do not like how he
left... I fear for his safety in the state of mind he is in."
"Really we-we just wanted to talk to him... but we’ve tried that
already. He’s not listening. It’s as if he doesn’t want to hear us,"
"What Estel is going through is not easy," Elrond touched his son’s arm
gently. "Nothing in his life will ever be easy I fear. I do not think
he intends to reject you my sons, but he is troubled and more than
anything fears our rejection I think."
"Doesn’t he know how stupid that is?" Elladan shook his head. "How
could we ever reject him? He’s part of our family! We *raised* him!
Doesn’t he know we love him?"
Elrond turned away from his son’s searching eyes. He wished he had all
the answers but he didn’t. "He has always been afraid of this Elladan.
You remember what happened when he was a child and fell out of the
tree. Running off in to the woods thinking we didn’t really want
him..." the elf lord closed his eyes. Things had been so simple then.
They could go searching and find Estel, wrap him up in their love and
bring him home... but it was not so simple now, for Estel was no longer
a child and had to make his own choices. "All we can do is offer my
sons. It is up to him to realize it in his own heart and accept it.
Give him some time. He will."
The twins nodded slowly. "Then we will not go after Estel, but there is
no rest for us either," Elladan shook his head. "Elrohir and I have
been meaning to ride over the mountains and settle up with the
Beornings. We promised them some of the things that are hard to come by
out where they live in exchange for their assistance the last time we
were out there. We would not want them to think we have forgotten."
Elrond raised his eyebrows. "And for this you need to leave right now?
In the middle of the night?"
Elladan shrugged. "It’s better than sitting around here not sleeping
and worrying about Estel."
Elrond looked skeptically between his sons. Elrohir just shrugged. He’d
go along with his brother, although he didn’t understand either. At
length the elf lord sighed. "Very well then, go, but be careful my
"We will father," they nodded.
"Before you go," Elrond held his hand out and dropped the ring of
Barahir into Elrohir’s palm. "Please put this back on your brother’s
dresser to wait for him."
The twins looked down at the ring, taking in the significance of its
having been left behind. Elrohir closed his fingers over it tightly and
they turned to leave.
"Elrohir, Elladan..." Elrond’s didn’t say anymore, he didn’t have to.
"Don’t worry father, we aren’t going to try to find Estel," Elrohir
shook his head as they turned back in the doorway before going on once
more. He shot his brother a covertly questioning glance as they left
their father’s chambers. "We aren’t, are we?" he whispered.
"No," Elladan shook his head. "I think father’s right about that. But
we’re not going to let Estel go off and get himself into whatever mess
you know he’s going to get into all alone either. He isn’t thinking
straight and I worry about him. If he doesn’t want us around, we’ll
have to find someone else."
Elrohir’s eyes narrowed slightly as he understood what his brother
intended to do. It was a good idea, and probably the best thing that
the brothers could try to do for Aragorn since they were incapable of
taking action themselves. "To Mirkwood then?"
"Exactly," Elladan nodded. "But we will stop by the Beornings on the
way, as quickly as possible... what are you doing?"
Elrohir had paused to slide the ring of Barahir into the deep inner
pocket of his tunic.
"You think we should take that with us?" Elladan raised his eyebrows.
Elrohir nodded slowly. "I think Estel is going to need it."
Elrond watched his sons ride off into the night from his place on the
balcony. He would have wagered anything that visiting the Beornings was
not their whole purpose and he had a sneaking suspicion what that
purpose was and what other realms, besides that of the Beornings, lay
on the other side of the Misty Mountains... but he was not going to
stand in their way. Like Estel, they too were grown and he trusted
their judgment, as well as their love for their brother.
"Oh, Estel, don’t let the hurt in your heart lead you into danger, come
back to us safely. Come back to us," he whispered to the silent ears of
Aragorn reined in his horse and dismounted. The sun had risen several
hours ago and painted the world in its warm glow. To the untrained or
casual eye, the glade he stopped in appeared to be completely deserted;
however, the young Dùnadan knew better.
Cupping his hand against one side of his mouth to create the right
echo, Aragorn imitated the call of a morning swallow. Three long notes
and two short. It was the signal that all was clear, and a password of
Several moments later the cloaked and hooded forms of five or six men
seemed to materialize out of the shadows of the trees around Aragorn.
The rangers moved almost as quietly as elves, almost. Most of these men
were older than Aragorn in varying degrees, except for one who was
still in his teens.
"Hail and well met, Aragorn. We have been expecting you," one of the
taller men said as he and the others pushed back their hoods. Halbarad
was only Aragorn’s senior by a small score of years and the two had
known one another a long time. In fact, Aragorn recognized all of those
present save one elderly man who stood near to Halbarad.
The rangers were grim folk some said, but that was only because they
tended to be guarded and serious with those they did not know. So it
was no shock to any there when the man who had spoken cracked a large
grin at the newly arrived young ranger. "But you must have ridden the
wind because we did not imagine you would be able to come so soon."
Aragorn smiled back, albeit somewhat less brightly. "Hello Halbarad. I
left as soon as your message came."
"Alone this time?" the elder ranger grinned a trifle teasingly,
glancing over Aragorn’s shoulder to see if the young ranger’s adopted
elven brothers had followed him again. The Dunèdain often joked
that Elladan and Elrohir were attempting to become rangers themselves,
because they worked together so often.
Aragorn didn’t smile this time and Halbarad immediately realized that
for some unknown reason he had just brought up a painful subject.
"Yes, I am alone," Aragorn said with a quiet, clipped tone that seemed
to make it mean more than just an answer to Halbarad’s question. "You
said that you intercepted a suspicious letter?"
The elder ranger pressed Aragorn no further on that subject but got
quickly down to business. "Yes Aragorn, we did. Laener?" Halbarad
called on the other ranger to continue.
The man whom Aragorn did not recognize stepped forward slightly. Laener
was older again than both Halbarad and Aragorn, his weathered face
speaking of a long life in the wilds. He pulled a rolled parchment from
an inner pocket of his tunic. "I am Laener, ranger of the south. Many
weeks ago, another ranger, Nevon, and I were in Rohan. We intercepted
and questioned a stranger in West Emnet, below the Wold. He had an ill
look about him and was causing trouble and bloodshed. In his
possessions was this, a letter. What manner of man wrote it, and who it
was intended for we know not, but you can see for yourself why it
Aragorn took the letter and scanned it quickly. Heavy parchment, meant
to survive a long journey. The letters were written by a bold, but
rough hand. In the lower corner a half-broken circle of wax held a
curious signet whose design could not properly be seen since half of it
must be patient, my lord, these things take time. The beasts are hard
to tame, let alone work with, and new armies are not created overnight.
I assure you that we are on the cusp of success. The project has not
failed by any means; it is merely taking more time than we might have
wished. Harad is no small distance away, but I assure you, I will
arrive soon for the rest of the supplies and we will be able talk more
fully at that time. I prevail upon you to withhold all judgments on
this issue until then.
"Do you know who this Seobryn is or what they might be referring to?"
Aragorn queried as he re-rolled the troubling parchment. Talk about
armies and some connection between the distant land of Harad and
someone powerful, possibly in the area of Rohan, was highly disturbing.
"No," Laener shook his head. "But I can assure you the matter is
serious. Nevon was killed when a group of orcs attacked us, their
objective seemed to be the letter."
Aragorn whistled softly. If this wasn’t disturbing enough, just throw
in the fact that orcs were involved into the mix. Something was gravely
"There are very few of us in the south now and most do not walk the
plains of Rohan. The rangers of Gondor and Ithilien are wholly taken up
with their own concerns at the moment and could not give us council or
aide in this situation. So I came hither seeking help in this matter,"
Laener summarized the situation for Aragorn and the other rangers. Only
Halbarad, to whom Laener had come first, had heard the story before.
"What say you Aragorn? Ought we assist our kinsmen of the south in
this?" Halbarad turned questioning eyes on Aragorn. He knew very well
what the answer would be, but for some time now he had been gently
pulling back from the leadership role that had passed to his uncle and
then to himself after the death of Arathorn and the disappearance of
his only heir. Chieftain of the Dùnadan was Aragorn’s rightful
title, and Halbarad was slowly helping the young ranger settle into
Aragorn nodded once, knowing there was no doubt in anyone’s mind, but
understanding that Halbarad wanted him to make the decision. "Of
course, we must. Whatever this riddle, it needs unraveling."
"Good then, come," Halbarad bid them all. "We have much to discuss and
plans to make."
Evening fell, calling out the stars one by one. Aragorn slowly
sharpened the edge of one of his daggers against a whetstone in his
hand, a distant look on his face as he stared into the fire.
Talk and decision making had not taken long. It was clear what had to
be done. The Dunèdain had dwindled in numbers over the years
until there were very few now to shoulder the responsibilities that
they took on. It had been decided that one of their number would return
with Laener to the south and attempt to find this Seobryn person, who
must certainly be coming to that area soon, as his letter indicated.
The other rangers must stay to deal with the threats and duties of
their own lands, but they would do their part on this end, using their
many connections to attempt to narrow down a list of possible suspects
who could have been the intended recipient of that letter. The usage of
the term ‘my lord’ seemed to indicate someone of importance, and they
intended to begin fishing around for suspicious activity by anyone with
any kind of wealth or political pull.
Halbarad sat down next to Aragorn, shaking him out of his thoughts.
"You’re far away Aragorn, where are you?"
Rangers were not infrequent guests in Lord Elrond’s house, for even
before Aragorn’s birth, Elladan and Elrohir had often ridden with their
distant human kinsman. Especially after what had happened to the twins’
mother, when they had started hunting all orcs in deadly earnest.
Because of this, Aragorn had known Halbarad since before either of them
knew who Aragorn really was.
Aragorn shrugged unconvincingly. "Just thinking about the journey and
what we’ll do when we get there... there’s a lot to plan."
Halbarad nodded slowly, although he’d bet that that was not the whole
of what his younger friend and leader had been thinking about. It was
clear that a shadow hung over Aragorn that he had not seen before.
"Do you want me to send word to Lord Elrond that you-" Halbarad
started, but was cut off by a quick shake of the other’s head.
"No," Aragorn said quickly, a little too quickly. "Thank you, but
that’s not necessary."
Halbarad wasn’t sure what to make of that. He knew how close Aragorn
was with his adopted family, and how protective the twins could be of
the one they claimed as their younger brother. "You’ll be gone a long
time Aragorn. If they have no word, they’ll worry about you," he said
"No, they won’t." There was a tone of despondent finality hidden
beneath his words. "Trust me."
"Aragorn..." the other ranger hesitated. "Are you sure it’s a good
idea, your going south with Laener? You don’t have to take it on
yourself, any of the others would be just as willing to go, myself
Aragorn looked up sharply. "You mean you do not think I can handle it?
That someone else would be better suited?" Feelings of his own
inadequacy in so many realms made his voice harsher than he intended.
"That’s not what I said," Halbarad countered. "I don’t doubt your
abilities Aragorn, but I am unsure of your motives for leaving." He
sighed. "We’ve known each other a long time, Aragorn, these are my
people too. If there is trouble that might affect the mission, I think
I deserve to know. What are you running from?"
Aragorn clenched the whetstone tightly in his hand. He couldn’t believe
he was letting himself be that easy to read and he did not want to
share the messy details of his personal problems with anyone else; even
his best human friend. "The mission is safe, you needn’t worry. My life
is my problem. I made my decision, I’m going." He was tired of being
questioned by his own thoughts, and now by Halbarad... he wanted the
other ranger to leave him alone.
Halbarad’s brows furrowed, the young Dùnadan was not acting like
himself. "Aragorn, I’m not sure this is the best thing..."
"What?" Aragorn snapped slightly, the strain in his heart spilling into
the current situation although it had nothing to do with the other
rangers. "You prod me to make the choices, you want me to lead, and
when I do you resent it?"
Halbarad flinched slightly, he hadn’t meant to sound like he was
questioning Aragorn’s leadership, but he was worried about the young
man’s state of mind.
Aragorn stopped himself. He wasn’t angry at Halbarad. He was still
angry at himself and it was coming out in undesired ways. The young
ranger let his head drop into his hand as he sighed. He was not dealing
with his feelings well at all and he knew it.
There was a long silence.
Aragorn raised his hand and cut the other man off. "No, Halbarad... I’m
sorry. I didn’t mean what I said just now; I had no call to be tense
with you. Please forget it."
The other man nodded slowly. "I just want to help."
"I know," Aragorn smiled for Halbarad’s sake. "And I appreciate it.
But... the best thing you can do for me is understand that I just need
to do what I need to do." Aragorn knew that no matter how the other
ranger wanted to, no one could help him. Nothing could fix what had
happened or put the shattered pieces of his life back together. He
wanted to go with Laener; he wanted to go as far away from here as he
possibly could. Most of all he wanted to be busy, to have a purpose, a
job to do.
"All right Aragorn," Halbarad touched the younger man’s shoulder gently
as he rose. "I trust you. Laener said he’d be ready to leave by sunrise
tomorrow. May you find this Seobryn character and get to the bottom of
the mystery. We will do our best to find who the letter was intended
for and what land they call home. I will pray the Valar watch over you
both on your journey... be careful Aragorn, something in my heart
misgives me about this whole situation, I fear there is deeper evil
afoot here than we yet realize."
Aragorn smiled and clasped Halbarad’s hand against his shoulder for a
moment. "Thank you, Halbarad. I will be careful and will return as soon
as I may."