1. Toy Story
Elrohir’s head jerked up. He looked suspiciously around the room. Was it a knock?
Rising, and placing his book on the window seat, he walked across the room and stopped in front of the door. He waited a few seconds, warily contemplating the renewed silence. The door was not locked. Elladan, his twin, would have simply walked in. Perhaps the person making the odd noise had moved on.
His eyebrows rose. It was not exactly a knock. The sound came from very close to the floor, as if someone was kicking the door. Ten years earlier he knew it would have been Estel interrupting his first quiet afternoon home with unquenchable demands to reenact his and Elladan’s adventures. But Estel was grown to manhood now; this trip, the great deeds had been his. Today of all days, he surely had other things to do than kick his brother’s door.
“Elrohir!” the voice of his foster-brother on the other side of the door sounded exasperated. “I know you are in there. This is getting heavy. Open the door!”
With uplifted eyebrows and a soft chuckle, Elrohir pulled the door open. The young Man, his arms encumbered with a large and awkward basket, stood with one sturdily booted foot raised to kick the door again.
“Estel…” Elrohir began.
“Apparently not,” Aragorn interrupted him. Elrohir had seen his foster-brother stare confidently into orc attacks and face the dangers of the wild unflinching but his gaze now was uncertain and pleading. It did not look as if he had come to celebrate his new status.
Elrohir threw the door open wide and waved him into the room. “Come in then – Aragorn. A brother by any name is always welcome.” He eyed the basket askance as Aragorn set it down with another thud in the center of the room. “It’s a bit large for carrying wine. Is it a whole feast to celebrate the news or really your laundry?”
Aragorn looked sheepish. “I needed to borrow a laundry basket. I had not realized I had so many.” He heaved the basket over, emptying it, and pushed it aside. At least a hundred carved wooden soldiers had tumbled out in a heap on the floor. He started pawing through the pile, sorting the toys into Ranger and elves.
Elrohir sat down on the rug next to Aragorn and eyed the toys incredulously. “I know adar told you this morning that you are Arathorn’s son and Chieftain of the Dúnedain. When you were not at the mid-day meal, I expected you to be celebrating or deep in planning, not spending the time gathering up old toys. Are you going to map out your next campaign with them or do you just want to play?” He gave Aragorn a lopsided grin. “Perhaps I will be sorry I advised him to tell you.”
“Did you?’ Aragorn stopped sorting, a Ranger in one hand, elf in the other. “You knew that I was Aragorn?” He tossed the elf in the far pile, laid the Ranger on the pile in front of him and picked up two more toys.
“Always. Your father was a good friend. He spoke of you often.”
Aragorn looked down and then shyly met Elrohis’s eyes. “That’s what Mother said. I was with her earlier. I wanted to learn what I could about him, Arathorn, my father, and I…” Aragorn held out the carved men in his hand towards Elrohir. “You made these for me. The elves you carved are real. Here is Erestor, and Glorfindel – I know most of them. Are the Rangers you made copied from real people, too?”
Elrohir picked up one of the figures and inspected it. The paint was cracked and chipped in several places, one arm had been broken off at the elbow joint and the sword was missing from the loop at the belt, but the detail that he had put into the features survived. The carved and painted expression scowled at some hapless subordinate. Elrohir remembered that Elladan had goaded him into making it with such a typical although unattractive expression. “Aldanan here died before you were born, I think, but, yes, they were all real.” He placed the man carefully back onto the pile.
Aragorn dropped the toys he held and ran his hand over his face, holding his mouth and chin for a moment while he stared into the brightness out the window. “I was talking to Mother and I … remembered. It was here, Imladris, in the herb garden, I think. I can see it. I can see the color of the sky and the shape of the paths. I can see my hands holding one of these soldiers. I hear my voice saying, ‘This is my daddy.’ Daddy, in westron, not ada, although the rest of the words were Sindarin.”
He scrabbled in the pile of men and held up a cloaked soldier with a rayed silver star on the front. He stared into the painted face and gripped it until his knuckles showed white against the tan of his hands and there was a slight cracking sound. Opening his hand to inspect the toy for damage, he sighed in relief as he saw that the man was still whole. His grey eyes shone with unshed tears as he brought his attention back to Elrohir. Gesturing helplessly at the pile of soldiers, he said, “I can see it, but I can’t tell which one it was. Do you remember which Ranger was Arathorn? Mother says it’s none of these, but this is all of them. He must be here.”
Elrohir sighed and regretted, as he always had, the choices that had been forced on him. He stood and resolved to offer what sympathy he could, gripping Aragorn’s shoulder gently as he went past him to a chest against the wall. “Your first year here was a very hard time for you. Harder, I think, than anyone expected for a boy so young. You had to learn a whole new language. Answer to a new name. Everything here was different. But you would not give up that one link to your past.”
He paused while unlocking the chest and sent a reassuring smile back to the man crouched motionless over the toy soldiers on the rug. “Arathorn was the first soldier I made for you, even before you moved here to Imladris. Before we realized we would have to conceal who you were to keep you safe.”
Opening the chest he removed a fitted tray from inside. Placing it on the floor, he reached back into the chest. “It was your favorite and you carried it everywhere. In every game, he was always the best and bravest of your soldiers. I made you others because I hoped you would like one of the new ones better. But you never did.”
His questing hand touched a soft package tucked in the bottom corner of the chest. He pulled out a small bundle wrapped in dark green cloth and carried it back over to where Aragorn sat. Pushing a few stray soldiers out of the way, Elrohir sat down close to his foster-brother. “It was getting awkward to have you still calling that Ranger doll ‘daddy’. The next time it needed fixing, I took it and kept it. I always told you some excuse about it not being ready. You were so very young, I thought you would forget it very quickly, but you did not. You asked me about it for almost two years.”
Elrohir gently placed the cloth-wrapped bundle on the young man’s lap. Aragorn carefully unwound it with trembling hands. The soldier inside was in perfect condition and very detailed; a star of Arnor gleaming on the breast, eyes sparkling, sword silvered and ready to hand. Stroking his father’s face, he traced the faint line of the scar that marred one cheek. One tear dropped onto the figure and Aragorn hastily scrubbed it away.
“Mother said he was scarred, but this is not so bad.” He looked up at Elrohir for confirmation.
Elrohir shrugged. “I was there when it happened. He fell off a horse into a bush the first week he was here for fostering and gouged his cheek.” He flashed a grin. “I do not think that is the way he told the story later.”
“He was real,” Aragorn whispered, hands and eyes avidly exploring every detail of the figure. “I had known for years, I think, that I was not truly part elven but I was fourteen when I finally accepted it. I went to mother and asked her about my father. All she would say was that he was a Ranger, a good man who knew me and loved me before he died.” He chewed his lower lip and looked away. “I did not believe her,” he confessed, “and I imagined horrors.”
“Gilraen never lied to anyone about your father and certainly not to you. She was always careful to say that she would not name him, not that she could not. You should have come to me. I could have told you your fears were unfounded.”
“I did,” Aragorn said, snapping his head up in indignation, “or I tried to. You and Elladan were both as adept at turning away questions as adar. I knew there was something being hidden from me. Because no one would speak of it, I thought it must be shameful. I swore to myself that whatever the secret was it could not touch me and would make no difference in how I lived my life. I never expected… this.”
“Oh, Est… Aragorn.” Elrohir corrected himself with a shake of his head. He had schooled himself against using that name and knew it would take time for it to sound natural. “Yesterday the highest ambition you could conceive of was to be a Captain in the Rangers and today it has come to pass. And more. You are Chieftain of the Dúnedain.”
“I had supposed that I would earn my commands and not be given them.” Aragorn stood in one fluid motion and moved restlessly towards the window.
“Given?” Elrohir admonished him. “I assure you, for it to mean anything, you will still have to earn it. For what have you trained, if not this?”
Aragorn paced once around the room and ended up back at the window-seat, pulling the fringe on the pillow cushions. “I do not know. This morning I was Estel. I had no father but I knew who I was, what I could do, and what I would be.” He leaned against the wall and looked wistfully back at Elrohir. “I had long accepted that I must make my own way and find my own honour. But now I am Arathorn’s son. Adar explained… he said that so much, and so many, depend on me.” He held up the soldier and studied its expression, but seemed to find no solace there. “I am no longer certain of anything. I do not know if I can be Isildur’s Heir.”
Elrohir saw him turning the model of his father over and over in his hands, and his heart went out to the boy grappling with such a changed reality. Adar, what did you tell him? While a few of the Chieftains’ sons fostered here had needed long lectures and hard schooling in the nature of their responsibilities before they became leaders of Men, Elrohir knew well that Estel had breathed in those lessons with the air of Imladris. But of all those who had fostered here, only Estel had not known he was being groomed for great position. Elrohir realized with dismay that they had utterly failed to take that into account. But Aragorn was a king of Men and it was his nature to lead. He needed to stop worrying so much if he were worthy of what was rightfully his. Estel had had more years of schooling here than any other fosterling and was ready to take his place in the affairs of the Dúnedain.
Elrohir joined him at the window. Taking Aragorn’s shoulders in his hands, he turned him so the light streaming in the window from the lowering sun shone on both sides of his face. He pursed his lips and nodded seriously.
“It all comes from teaching you to think and worry about the consequences of actions. You are very like Arathorn,” Elrohir intoned sententiously. He suppressed his smile as Aragorn’s startled eyes opened wide. “I told adar generations ago that it would be better if we trained the Dúnedain chiefs to be doughty fighters who followed our instructions and did not think too much. But he has foolish notions about his brother’s heirs and will educate you to be good and honourable leaders of Men. And you all the more, for you started younger.”
Aragorn looked away and moved his head once in a strong gesture of negation. But after a few seconds he looked up and Elrohir saw that his eyes now held a dawning hope. “So Master Elrond said.” Master Elrond not adar anymore and Aragorn did not hesitate over the name. Elrohir heard the change with an inward sigh. “I am trained and fit to be what I am: Isildur’s Heir of Arnor and Gondor. It still does not seem likely. Do you think I can be the Chieftain of the Dúnedain? I know now I have the right, but am I not still Estel? I do not feel like Aragorn, Arathorn’s son,” he held up the soldier that was Arathorn between them, and it trembled as his hand shook, “or worthy.”
“Arathorn would be very proud of you still, as is your family here if you still count me brother. The name you are called is not important. You have already done great deeds.” Elrohir squeezed Aragorn’s shoulders and gave him a small shake. He released him and Aragorn collapsed into the window seat. “Even among the Dúnedain, you are still very young, and yet men follow you gladly. You have seen this, and now you know you need not be troubled by it. Do not doubt yourself.”
Elrohir leaned easily on the wall near the window to give Aragorn time to think. He wondered if his father had ever foreseen this. Everyone, himself included, had expected the newly revealed heir to be joyous and eager to take up the responsibilities of the Dúnedain. That he would be unwilling or uncertain had been unthinkable. He had called many fosterlings of the Chieftains friend, but it was only Estel – Aragorn – whom he loved as his brother. Elrohir willed him to be at peace with who he must become.
Aragorn sat motionless for a long minute, breathing heavily. His body was hunched into the corner of the seat and his brow creased. Elrohir watched as the tension left the young man’s shoulders. He straightened and stretched out his legs. Slowly, a smile crept onto the young man’s face. He mumbled the name “Aragorn” quietly several times.
“I could be king.” Aragorn said at last, his voice filled with wonder and incredulity
Elrohir’s ready laughter pealed through the room. He reached out and lightly ruffled Aragorn’s hair. “If Arnor were still a kingdom I would be happy to see a crown here.”
“Arnor does not use a crown. That’s Gondor.” Aragorn’s lips turned up in a crooked grin. “Of course, I’m Elendil’s heir as well. Do you think…?”
“King of Arnor and Gondor? If you are sure you want that much responsibility, I see nothing in you that would prevent it, but this age has not been kind to kings. Will you not settle for being Chieftain of the Dúnedain, Estel?”
Suddenly, Aragorn grinned and looked at Elrohir. He visibly strove for a look of hauteur and disdain as he said, “I am Aragorn, Arathorn’s son, Isildur’s heir, Lord of the Dúnedain.” He gave a snort of laughter and his eyes lit up merrily. “A lot more names than when I was just Estel.”
Obviously working hard, he subdued his features into a serious expression. “I am Aragorn, Arathorn’s son…” He got no further before his face split into a grin again. He shook his head in mock despair. “That will not do. A man should be able to introduce himself without laughing. I think it will be a while before I can say all those titles with a straight face. I will have to practice.” He cleared his throat and exclaimed in heroic tones. “Aragorn, Arathorn’s son, Isildur’s Heir, Lord of the Dúnedain.” He started the litany over again in an unsteady monotone that threatened to become chuckles. “Aragorn, Arathorn’s son, Isildur’s Heir, Lord of …Oof!” He broke off suddenly as Elrohir grabbed a pillow from the window seat and threw it at him.
Elrohir loomed over Aragorn, hands on his hips. “Go practice in the woods or go down to the Hall of Fire and introduce yourself to the household, Lord of the Dúnedain. I was reading before you came in.”
Aragorn rose to his feet and embraced him. “Thank you, brother,” he said softly into Elrohir’s ear. Still holding the model of Arathorn, he absently left the room grinning broadly and muttering his name under his breath.
Elrohir stood in the middle of the room looking at the chaos of toy soldiers still littering his floor. With a shrug of resignation, he collected the basket and started tossing in the discarded toys. Surveying the chipped and broken figures as he tidied them away, he came across a severed limb. A short search turned up the body it belonged to. Carefully fitting them together, he saw that very little touch-up would be needed to make the soldier whole again. He went over to his workbench in the corner of the room, took out a glue pot and placed it near the fire to heat. Estel was bound to have a son someday who would be fostered here, as all the Chieftains’ sons were.
When he did, the armies would be ready.
Adar/ada Sindarin, Father/daddy
Many, many thanks to my long suffering beta readers, Tanaqui, Lady Aranel and Marta, who patiently untangle my messy thoughts, read my many tweaks, offer wonderful suggestions and keep me honest.
One typo fixed 9/23/2005
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.