4. A Yearling Shoot
So much had passed since last he felt such a chill wind blow! But no matter the weather, nothing would dampen his good mood and high spirits. This past spring and summer had been the best of his life, so very full of hope, and of new beginnings. The world had never before seemed so alive with possibilities and promise.
Spring had begun in turmoil and strife, and in the shadow of evil. Trolls plagued the High Pass and rained their malice upon those who dared venture there. Elrond, the master of Imladris and the one whom he called father, dispatched his finest warriors to eliminate the menace. Elladan had opposed his inclusion in the patrol, but Glorfindel had stood for him and insisted he take his place amongst them. He, then called Estel, rose to the challenge and proved his worth. With his own blade he felled one of the monstrous beasts, and with his own hands he alone saved the life of his foster father's son.
When he returned home, Elrond had greeted him with most unexpected news. He was not who he had always believed himself to be. Rarely before did anyone, not even his mother, speak to him of his true father, and for many years he had assumed himself a bastard son of some rogue too bereft of honour to even merit mention. Then, so suddenly, to learn that he was no stray whom Elrond in his mercy had agreed to take into his home and foster as his own, but rather, the sole remaining son of a most noble lineage, a descendant of kings, the Lord of the Dúnedain.
On the very next eve he first saw her, and, for the second time in as many days, the course of his life was changed forever. From that hour he loved her, Arwen Undómiel, Elrond's only daughter. The long hot summer days he had spent in their entirety on thoughts of her. In the recollection of her grace, and in the anticipation of catching a glimpse of her again--perhaps even, dare he hope, of sharing with her a few words and seeing her smile--she was ever in his mind. Still he fulfilled his duties faithfully and without fail as always, but, despite the mundanity and routine, all had changed. The mere thought of her made the colours around him brighter, the scents sweeter, the air warmer, and everything better. In her presence, he felt complete and truly alive for the very first time.
Striding down the path, he could not resist a sheepish smile at the trail of his thoughts and, despite the cool air, his cheeks grew warm. So silly such professions of love would have seemed to him a few mere months ago! He could remember, as a boy, reading in the history books of the great romances of the ages, and of all the things, both brave and foolish, that men would do for love. With a roll of his eyes and another vow never to fall to such folly, he would skim ahead in search of the next description of an epic and glorious battle. However, in this short time since first he met his Undómiel, he knew beyond any doubt that he would gladly do all in his power, and more, if only to catch her eye and win her favour. If asked to turn his heart from her, he may just as well be bade to cease its beating, so irrevocably to her did it now cleave.
The sun had just begun to peek above the mountains in the east when he arrived at the training grounds. Stopping at the edge of the field, he shook his head and smiled. Elrohir was already there and, from the looks of it, well into a sparring match. No matter how early Aragorn awoke, he could never manage to arrive for morning practice before his brother. Despite Elrond's repeated assurance that the amount of time he spent each night asleep was perfectly normal and healthy for a young man, he could not help but believe his need for sleep to be excessive compared to his elvish friends and family.
In the dim light of early dawn, it took Aragorn a moment to see clearly with whom Elrohir dueled. His smile faded. He had not expected Elladan here this morn. While in the past the elder twin had supervised his training closely, ever since the battle with the trolls and his injuries in the cave, Elladan had withdrawn, and Aragorn saw little of him now. With a sigh, he realized that over these past months he had grown quite accustomed to the lack of constant scrutiny and criticism, and he could not help but wonder at why Elladan had come to the training fields to spar with him this day.
The twins heard his approach, of course, and immediately ceased their duel as Elrohir turned to greet him with a smile. "Estel! I had begun to think you meant to sleep the morning away!"
Aragorn could only offer a shrug and a sheepish grin in response to the all too familiar jest. "Since finally there is enough light for my dim mortal eyes to see by, I am most keen to begin."
Elladan marched toward him, his sword still drawn and no hint of a smile on his face. "Well, hurry and make ready then! We must get in as much practice as we may before the rain comes. I will spar with you first today."
Still smiling, Aragorn turned aside and removed his cloak, making a point to take his time. Much had changed over these last few months, and he would no longer allow Elladan to unsettle him as he once did. "Why such haste, Elladan? There are but a few small grey clouds in the sky, and they will not last. It will be another fine day, if I judge correctly." Slowly, he began to unsheathe his sword. "And besides, unlike you, I have not yet prepared..."
A sudden, rapid movement at the edge of his vision was his only warning; he barely had time to spin around and raise his sword to block the blow as the clash of metal striking hard against metal cut through the peace of dawn.
"You will not have the luxury of preparation when attack is imminent and unexpected." Elladan ground out through clenched teeth as he took his advantage, pressing his full strength into his sword.
His muscles strained to the limit, but refusing to give ground, Aragorn returned force equally to force. For long moments they stood, swords locked, steadfast and unwavering as they faced each other down, and though he saw in Elladan's ancient grey eyes something that chilled him, an intensity that almost compelled him to look away, he did not flinch under the weighty stare. This time he would not yield.
In a heartbeat, Aragorn made his move. He turned to the left, away from the force of the opposing sword, and immediately spun around again to face the threat, his sword drawn and ready to defend, but this time at a far more advantageous distance. His mind and body were taut and alert, and prepared to fight, and for a brief moment, he was surprised to see that Elladan, not some true foe, stood before him.
All was silent and still for a time as they studied each other warily, swords at the ready, each awaiting the other's next move. And then, Elladan's voice, low and heavy with warning, broke the tense silence: "Mark my words, Estel, the weather is changing. The sky grows dark and the rain will fall. Soon."
Almost before Aragorn could register the movement, Elladan had charged at him again, aiming another solid strike at his torso. Only his extensive skill and well honed reflexes allowed him to dodge the powerful blow in time, and, briefly, he felt a surge of fear course through him. What was happening? This was no training match. It was a battle, and with a far more dangerous foe than he had ever known before.
His opponent advanced on him again, and all fear abated as his fighting instinct, perfected in years of hard training, physical conditioning and endless practice, took over. From the corner of his eye, he noticed Elrohir's presence some distance away. He seemed concerned, and he was shouting something, but Aragorn paid him little heed; for now it was irrelevant, and he had to focus entirely on the threat before him. In a furious flash, his opponent struck again and again in rapid succession, but, although this enemy was far more quick and agile and clever than any orc or troll he had faced before, Aragorn found that he could match the strikes move for move.
For what seemed to him an eternity their intricate and deadly dance continued, blades flying almost faster than he could see, till they became like beautiful streaks of silver glowing in the morning light. Strike and parry, parry and strike, each one's sword met the other with no sound but the slicing of air and the ring of metal echoing through the clearing. They were equally matched it seemed, and try as they might, neither could find the upper hand, that small opening that would allow one last strike to end it.
Despite the coolness of the morning, Aragorn grew very warm, and the fine sheen of sweat that formed on his face dripped down his brow and into his eyes. His breath came more quickly, and his arms felt weak. Only now did he realize that his foe, who seemed as fresh as if he had been talking a stroll through the meadow, had been toying with him all this time, slowly wearing him down, patiently awaiting a chance to deliver the final blow.
He knew he could not possibly match his enemy's endurance. He needed an advantage. But what? Pulling back, Aragorn ceased his advances, resorting solely to blocking and parrying the many attacks. And carefully observing. What had changed in the way his opponent fought? Did he favour his left arm? Of course! Why had he not thought of it sooner? Suddenly, Aragorn remembered that a mere few months ago, the bones in that left arm had been shattered to pieces, crushed completely under heavy boulders. Surely, no one, no matter how powerful, could recover fully from such an injury so soon!
Fatigue forgotten, Aragorn advanced again with renewed vigor, striking rapidly and repeatedly at his opponent's weakened left side. Though deftly his foe blocked the blows, twisting and positioning his body to compensate for the weakness and protect his left arm, Aragorn was relentless in the attack. Blow after blow he rained down, forcing his opponent into a completely defensive position for the first time, and Aragorn could see he began to tire from the strain of constantly defending his weak side.
Now he would take his advantage. He swung his sword around to strike from the right, which again was successfully parried. Then, with all the speed and strength he could muster, he struck from the left. This time, his weakened opponent was unable to compensate quickly enough, and Aragorn hooked his enemy's sword, twisting his own blade to wrench it from his grasp. Without pause, he instinctively raised his sword to deliver the final strike, but at the very last moment, he froze. No deadly foe stood before him, only Elladan.
Immediately, he dropped his own sword and, suddenly overcome with exhaustion, he sank to the ground. For a time, his laboured breathing was the only sound as he remained on his knees, head bowed, weary and shaken by all that had occurred. Elladan stood tall and completely still above him, his expression grave and unreadable, and as Aragorn lifted his head to look up at the imposing figure, he felt a sudden surge of pride. In all his years of training and practice, he had never before managed to disarm a son of Elrond.
When Elladan spoke, the depth of the sorrow in his voice caught Aragorn by surprise: "We have tried, son of Arathorn, to teach you all that we can, and truly, you have learned much and grown strong. But I can only hope it will be enough to see you through the long dark days that loom before you. Again and again you shall be put to the test, and you will have need of all your skills, and your strength and your wits if you are to survive. Great evil is before us all, and I fear we all must needs endure much darkness ere we see the light again." Looking away, Elladan continued, much quieter now, as if speaking only to himself: "If ever we see the light anew."
With that, Elladan turned and stormed out of the clearing, brushing by Elrohir without another word, and for the first time since the fight began, Aragorn's attention was drawn to his brother. Never before had he seen Elrohir look so unnerved, and at first, it seemed he did not know which way to turn as he watched his twin's rapid retreat in stunned silence. Then, with a shake of his head, he rushed to kneel at Aragorn's side, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Estel, how do you fare? Are you injured?"
Attempting to put his brother at ease, Aragorn forced a smile to his lips as he stood again. "Do not worry, I am merely a little weary and, I will admit, somewhat bemused. Please, do tell me, what just happened here?"
Elrohir stood as well, and with a sigh, turned to look in the direction that Elladan had gone. "I wish I could explain to you my brother's actions. At times lately even I have felt that I no longer know my own twin."
For a moment, Elrohir seemed lost in his thoughts as he stared into the distance, and Aragorn watched with interest the furrow of his brow and the expression of deep concern that crossed his face. Then, as if suddenly remembering the presence of his little brother, Elrohir shook his head quickly and, when he turned back, no trace of a frown remained. "Think no more of it, Estel. You well know how Elladan can be. No doubt, he is just in one of his moods again. Though he would be loath to hear it, I swear he sounds more and more like Father with each century that passes!"
Then Elrohir gave him a smile that did not reach his eyes, and Aragorn knew that although his brother tried to make light of it, Elrohir had been affected, deeply, by Elladan's actions and words. "I believe you have had more than enough practice for today, Estel. Now, if you will excuse me, I have much I must attend to."
Without awaiting a response, Elrohir now turned and left the field, following the path his twin had taken mere minutes before. With a sigh, Aragorn bent down slowly to retrieve his sword. Though the day had barely begun, at that moment he felt quite ready to return to bed and pull the covers over his head. Just when all was going so well, he should have expected that Elladan would try to ruin his happiness. Shivering a little, he picked up his cloak and fastened it around his shoulders. Now that the immediate warmth of physical exertion had passed and he was left drenched with sweat, he felt the chill acutely again. Looking up at the sky, he had to admit that the clouds were more dense and grey than first he thought. But, still, the sun shone through quite brightly in patches. Surely these clouds would burn off before midday?
"What is it in the air that you find so fascinating this morning, Estel?"
Starting at the voice, Aragorn turned quickly to greet the unexpected arrival. "Glorfindel, I did not hear you approach."
"No. Indeed, you seemed quite distracted." Glorfindel came to stand beside him, studying him with that look that always made Aragorn feel as though the ancient elf could see right through him. After a moment, and much to Aragorn's relief, Glorfindel turned his gaze away to scan the clearing. "Where is Elrohir? I had not expected you two to be finished your practice so soon. I trust that you had a good session?"
Feeling his cheeks flush, Aragorn searched for an adequate response that said little. "It was...I most certainly learned a great deal, to be sure."
Glorfindel smiled. "Ah, I see. Well, that is the best that one can hope for in a lesson, is it not?" His smile faded quickly though when next he spoke: "Estel, I have come here at your father's behest. He bid me tell you that he wishes to speak with you in his chamber this morning."
Aragorn wondered at Glorfindel's suddenly serious tone. "Did he tell you what it concerns?"
"Nay, he did not. Though, I will tell you this much, he is not in the best of moods."
Unable to resist a frown at this bit of news, Aragorn looked away as he muttered: "He would not be the first so afflicted this morn." Then, turning back to Glorfindel, he sounded far more assured: "I will head there with haste, just as soon as I have washed up and changed these clothes." Of course, he did not mention that this sudden concern for his appearance was borne at least as much from the thought that he might pass Arwen in the halls as from a desire to please Elrond.
Putting a hand on his shoulder, Glorfindel gave him a smile that Aragorn thought looked overly sympathetic. "I would advise you not to dally too long. I believe your father would not look kindly on tardiness today."
With a tip of his head, Aragorn responded: "Well, then, if you will give me your leave, I will be on my way."
Glorfindel tipped his head slightly as well in reply, and with that Aragorn, too, left the training fields. Though, as he returned alone to his rooms along those well known paths, he now found his thoughts far more troubled than when he had walked in the other direction not so long ago. As much as Elladan's actions unsettled him, it was not so unlike Elladan to be in such a dour mood. Whatever problems Elladan had with him at present, Aragorn well knew it was not for the first time, and nor, did he suspect, would it be for the last. His father's possible censure, however, was entirely another matter. Frowning, Aragorn paused for a moment, trying to recall any sort of transgression he may have committed, but, for the life of him, he could not think of what he might have done wrong that would merit Elrond's displeasure. Of course, only after he spoke with him would he know for sure, and so, with a resigned sigh, Aragorn continued on his way to prepare for this meeting with his father.
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.