The Guardian by Alina|
Summary: One dark night in Imladris, a brother seeks to protect his siblings and learns that some things are beyond his control.
Disclaimer: Not mine
Author´s note: This tale is AU in some ways. I assume that both of Aragorn´s parents have died before he was taken in by Elrond.
Silence had fallen over Imladris.
It was the quiet that followed deadly fear once it had dissolved into utter relief. Exhaustion had claimed those whose hearts and souls had hung in the balance for days, and sleep mercifully swept though the corridors of the Last Homely House, taking with it those in need of peace.
It seemed like all had succumbed to the gentle call of dreams but Lord Elrond´s own family.
The healer stood in the door-frame of Elrohir´s room, feeling a cloud of sorrow and worry shroud his tired mind. Truth be told, he was not standing freely. He was leaning against the comforting wood for support. The warm weight cradled in his arm would have felt like a feather to him on any other day, but today it was a burden, albeit a welcome one. The last days had taken their toll on him and he was weary. Yet how could he find rest when his oldest son would not?
Elladan sat beside his twin´s bed. He was holding his brother´s white hand in both of his own with tender care, as if he was afraid to break it should he apply too much pressure. He leaned forward slightly, offering Elrohir a shield of protection from dangers that had long passed. The older twin´s black hair had come loose from its braids and now veiled his face as he sat with his head bowed.
"Ion-nin." //My son.//
Elrond did not know what else to say. He could offer no more comfort than his presence. Many times had he reassured Elladan that his twin would be well, that he had finally overcome the orc poison that had threatened to drag him into the dark abyss of death. Yet despite the relief that had been evident on Elladan´s face at the news, he had not found peace.
The Lord of Imladris shifted slightly, the arm not holding the little boy against his chest protectively wrapping around the small frame. He drew comfort from Estel´s regular breaths that fluttered past the skin of his neck, and he began to gently stroke the little one´s back as if the caress he offered to his youngest son would extend to his oldest. He knew from experience that Elladan would not accept his embrace just yet, and it pained him to be so helpless to soothe his hurts.
Finally, the older twin reacted to his father´s presence. Not changing his protective posture, he turned his head towards the door. His skin looked deathly white contrasted against the dark hair that framed his gaunt features. For long heartbeats he simply stared, and Elrond´s soul ached when he realized that Elladan was gazing at a scene of comfort he himself could not receive.
Almost guiltily ceasing his stroking, the older elf spoke once more.
"Get some rest, my son. The hour has grown late but the danger has passed. Elrohir will not leave us."
Elladan did not reply but simply turned his attention back towards his twin. His silence seemed to stretch forever and Elrond almost flinched when it was finally broken.
"I cannot fail him again."
The Lord of Imladris felt his heart grow even heavier at these words. "You did not fail your brother, Elladan. It was you who rode day and night to bring him to safety. It was you who shared strength and soul with him to keep his bonds to this world. It is your weariness that turns to darkness what should be light. Sleep and wake to a better world, ion-nin."
Elladan shook his head stubbornly, denying the hope he was offered. "A better world, Ada? One devoid of foul creatures that tear from us what we love the most? I do not remember the world healing after Nana´s departure."
The words sparked a fresh wave of pain in Elrond´s own heart, and he drew a deep breath to soothe it. "Not all wrongs can be righted by the morning light. But some can be eased. Your brother will not leave you."
"And I will not leave him."
There was steely resolve in the younger elf´s voice, and Elrond sighed in defeat. He could feel the world sway beneath him. He would not do his son a favour by collapsing at his feet.
"And leave him you shall not", he reassured softly, "yet I ask you to make the same promise to me."
Elladan turned to him with a look of surprise on his face, and Elrond smiled tiredly. "Come to me when you are ready, ion-nîn. Your distance tears at me heart."
The older twin hesitated, then he nodded with the shadow of a smile on his lips before focusing his attention on Elrohir once more, a silent guardian in a silent night.
Elrond straightened and walked down the hall towards his own chambers. His heart was not yet eased but he sensed his worries diminish ever so slightly. He hoped that once the younger twin awoke, he could take some of the guilt off his brother´s shoulders.
The elven lord hesitated at the door next to his own, contemplating whether he should place Estel into his own bed. He gazed down at the slumbering face that lay against his shoulder, so blissfully at peace. Quiet warmth filled him at the sight, and his mood lifted when he walked on, carrying the child with him.
"Your name truly suits you, my little hope", he murmured with a slight chuckle. He entered his own room and lay down upon his bed with the child against his chest. Estel frowned in his sleep when his position was changed but he quickly settled down again, nuzzling his face into his adopted father´s robes as tender arms wrapped around him.
Elrond felt his limbs grow heavy and sleep closed in swiftly, promising to veil his sorrow. Lazily running his fingers through the human child´s dark curls, the elf lord whispered "If only your older brother would allow my comfort…" His voice drifted off when his mind found the path to his memories, and complete silence settled over Imladris once more.
* * *
Black blood mingled with red one as the small rivulets met on the muddy ground.
It was not right, Elladan knew, and yet it was. It was history renewed, two races reunited after one had been forced from the other by a black force of hatred so long ago.
But why did they have to pay the price? His gaze reluctantly followed the red blood towards the growing puddle from hence it came and on towards its owner, lying pale and still on the silent battlefield. He had come too late, too late once more to protect his family. Too late once more to keep his loved ones at his side.
Too late…Elladan shook with grief as wave upon wave of despair crashed down upon him, dimming the vision of his slain twin and mingling it with the crushed form of his mother.
The shaking grew more and more insistent, and a voice asked tentatively: "Wake up?"
With a start, Elladan sat up straight and blinked himself fully awake. His heart raced with both fear and guilt and his first gaze went to Elrohir, searching his brother´s still face for any signs of pain or distress. It had been his duty to sit guard beside his twin and he had even failed him in that.
"You are awake. Ada is not, you know." There was a certain amount of satisfaction in the small voice, but the elf paid its owner no heed and instead breathed a sigh of relief. Elrohir seemed to be resting peacefully, some color tingeing his pale cheeks once more. With a tired sigh Elladan leaned forward, gently touching his forehead to his twin´s in a gesture that sought forgiveness.
He remained like this for long moments, relishing in the soft caress of Elrohir´s breath against his cheek. But then something broke into his retrieve. Feeling movement close to his skin, Elladan opened his eyes to see a tiny finger sneak between his face and his twin´s, tenderly touching the younger one´s closed eyelid.
"Elrohir is sleeping?" There was a dim worry in the child´s voice now, as if the boy felt something amiss yet was unable to find the reason for his unease.
Elladan sat back with a weary groan, finally turning his attention to the small human who stood before him clad in nothing but a crumbled sleeping tunic.
"Aye, Estel, our brother is sleeping." He gently caught the boy´s hand and pulled it towards himself. "We should not disturb him."
The child turned, grey eyes wide open and fully awake yet glazed with unease. "Is he sick?"
"Nay, little one, he was hurt and now he sleeps deeply. That is why he has closed his eyes."
Elladan ran a hand down Estel´s cheek. He was sure that he must have seen the human after his rushed return to Imladris, but he had no memory of their meeting. Seeing the boy now brought a strange warmth to his heart, but with it came the sharp bite of rejection. No human should ever be able to touch his soul like that. And yet he had taken to calling him brother.
Estel wrinkled his brow at Elladan´s words, but it swiftly smoothed again and a smile lit his face. "Ada made him better again?" He did not even wait for the elf´s agreement but turned away, wandering through the room. It was clear that his worry for Elrohir had disappeared with the realization that his foster father had taken care of the younger twin.
Elladan leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, still fighting the lingering memories of his dream. The images were vivid in his mind, but the light patter of Estel´s bare feet began to steer his thoughts towards a different tragedy. The older twin felt the old pain in his heart when he thought of Arathorn and Gilraen. Even though he had not been present the day they had been killed, he had often thought he should have been.
It was a blessing to see Aragorn recover from his fear and hurt. Barely three years old now, the little boy displayed a joy in life and an openness towards all he met that was not diminished by the frequent nightmares that still haunted him. He was a resilient child, and he carried the light of hope through Imladris like a beakon in the night.
A soft crunching sound brought Elladan back to the situation at hand. Looking around for Estel, he found the little boy standing on tip-toe next to the table that held Elrond´s healing supplies. His hands were outstretched, reaching for something.
"Estel, baw!" //Estel, no!//
Elladan was on his feet and beside the child in a dash, gripping the small human and pulling him away from the herbs. He immediately saw that his fears had been correct and that the boy had put some of the herbs into his mouth. The roundish face beneath the dark curls was frozen in mid-chew, eyes wide with a mixture of surprise and guilt.
"Edpuio saleb hi!" //Spit out the herbs now!// Elladan´s voice was an angry hiss. He felt the urge to yell at the boy but restrained himself, unwilling to disturb Elrohir.
Estel did as he was told at once, spitting the wet green mass into the elf´s outstretched hand. It only took Elladan one glance to see that no harm had been done and his anger fled like mist in the morning sun.
Estel remained standing in front of him, stock-still and with a look of uncertainty on his features.
Sinking to his knees with relief, Elladan pulled the child into a tight hug. "Never ever eat healing herbs, Estel", he whispered. " They can do harm as well as good. Do not eat any plants unless one of us allows you to." He ran one hand through the curly hair. "Do you understand?" He felt the mute nod against his shoulder but it was accompanied by something else. A low rumble that vibrated through the boy´s tiny frame.
Gently pushing Estel away from him and holding him at arm´s length, Elladan peered at the child. "How come you are hungry at this hour, Estel? Did you not eat your evening meal?" He could not help but sound accusing once more, and a hint of defiance crept into the boy´s expression.
"There was no evening meal", he declared sullenly, "and no meal at noon." He hesitated, a shadow falling over his face. "Everyone was busy."
Elladan sighed. He was sure that any elf in the house would have gotten Estel something to eat had he asked for it, but the child was used to regular meals being taken together, and those had been forgotten by Elrond´s family in their worry for Elrohir. Estel´s needs had been overlooked.
Straightening, the elf looked down at Estel. "I see", he said seriously, "but that is no reason to eat healing supplies. Let us get you something better…"
"Oh yes!" The child´s face did one of its miraculous transformations, his eager smile melting away all lingering distress and brightening his grey eyes. Before Elladan could so much as turn towards the small table that held the meal Elrond had tried to make him eat earlier, Estel had dashed out of the room.
His bare feet pattered a rapid rhythm onto the tiled floor of the corridor, leading away, no doubt headed for the kitchens.
"Estel, wait! Do not run in the dark…" Elladan´s tired mind raced. He knew how prone the little human was to falling, and even though their family corridor was now always lit by some torches to aid the boy should he seek his foster father or brothers at night, the wide stairs that lead into the hall and all that followed would be dark. Dark and dangerous.
The elf strode for the door, determined to keep the child safe, but faltered when Elrohir moved on his bed behind him. The older twin turned, gazing back towards his brother. The wounded elf´s skin looked much paler once again as moonlight bathed it in a milky veil. Elrohir looked so fragile that it seemed even the moonbeams could harm him.
"Estel!" Elladan hissed down the corridor, his voice echoing hollowly. "Telo nev!" //Come here!// There was no response but the distant sound of eager steps, followed by the subtle creaking of a door.
The older twin cursed under his breath. He swiftly walked back to the bed and bent down, whispering into his brother´s ear. "Rest easy, Elrohir. I will be close, do not fear. I will be back soon." As he had expected there was no reaction, and when Elladan left the room it felt to him as if something tried to hold him back, like an invisible bond with his twin that now stretched and groaned and threatened to snap.
The halls had fallen silent once more. There was no breath to be heard, no step, no sound at all but the gentle whispering of the trees outside and the slight crunching of the elf´s feet on dry leaves that had drifted into the hall. Yet a small human seeking a meal should create enough clanking for an elf to hear, even through a closed door.
Elladan quickened his steps, his heart beginning to race. The corridor around him seemed to dim and withdraw, melting into blurry trees. The floor grew softer and became a forest path at whose end cries of pain could be heard. A forest path that he should have travelled at his twin´s side. A forest path that he had rushed along in a flight, praying to the Valar to let him arrive in time.
The elf did not even realize that he was running yet again. The wide staircase was a ravine of rocks to him, the fountain in the dining hall a shimmering pond. And the eerie stillness of Imladris drifted out of focus to be filled with screams that leaked in not through the open doors and windows but through Elladan´s tormented memories.
Pushing open the kitchen doors, the elf forced himself to halt and see what his eyes told him of the here and now. The room lay quiet, mocking him. There was no trace to be found of a human child in search of food. Nothing but stillness – and a door that stood slightly ajar. The door to the cellars.
Elladan´s heart fell. The steps downstairs were steep and dangerous at the best of times, but in the dark…
The elf reached the door in a wild dash and raced down the hard stone, images of crushed bones and gushing blood making his breath catch in his throat. Not Elrohir. Not Estel. Not his brother, ai Valar, not after his mother had left.
Elladan stumbled and almost fell as he collided with a small form. Collapsing to his knees yet again, the elf ran his hands over the little human he had run into, almost beside himself with both worry and the need for relief. His eyes sought out the child´s features in the gloom. He so hoped to see his fears soothed, but instead he could make out the crimson red that covered the boy´s face. Crimson red that trickled from the corner of the small mouth and onto the white tunic.
Sweeping the child into his arms, Elladan rushed up the stairs again. His heart pushed madly against his chest, its pace only outrun by the wild beating of Estel´s own. Once again two images became one and his human brother melted with his elven twin. Dark curls became raven hair. A voice called out to him pleadingly.
"Elladan, berio nin." //Elladan, protect me.//
I tried but I failed.
"Eo nev anim." //Be there for me.//
I will always be there, do not leave me!
"Bodo naeg nîn." //Take away my pain.//
Your voice grows so dim…
"Elladan, tego nin nu!" //Elladan, put me down!//
The voice was not dim.
"Tego nin nu hi!" //Put me down now!//
It was not dim at all. In fact, it was of surprising force so close to the elf´s ears. The sharp sound echoed slightly, and it was accompanied by a wriggling of the small body that was nothing but full of life.
Elladan came to a halt and glanced about him, amazed that he had made it into the great hall without even noticing. The world righted itself, coming into focus more clearly than it had in a long time.
"Please do not tell Ada", the boy´s voice implored, mercifully at a lower volume now. "I did not mean to, honest, I was only looking for some bread."
Very carefully Elladan set Estel down onto the tiled floor, kneeling to have a good look at him. There was no image of a wounded Elrohir any longer, no layer of sorrow and pain. Only the round face of a small boy, a face that was covered in a thick layer of mashed berries.
The child stood bathed in moonlight, his eyes pleading. Clutched in one hand was the remainder of a pastry, a slow rain of crumbs drifting down from it even now.
Elladan stared, baffled, and then he felt the first low chuckle rise in his throat, quickly growing into light elven laughter.
"Oh Estel, pastries do not look like bread at all", Elladan managed to say, mirth in his tone, "and neither are they on the same shelf."
Estel looked down at his bare feet, twisting one toe on the ground slowly. "I forgot", he mumbled unconvincingly, "and it was dark."
Too dark for you to go down there… Elladan pushed aside the thought and instead picked the child up once more, not caring that a good amount of the pastry´s berry filling had slipped down Estel´s tunic and now generously spread on his own, making the stains he had obtained earlier grow in size.
"And that means that next time you want to sneak a pastry at night, you should ask your elven brother." Elladan chuckled again, a swift yet light-hearted exhaustion seizing his limbs. "Or you need to take a candle."
Estel leaned his head against the elf´s shoulder, absent-mindedly nibbling at his treasure. "Yes", he agreed sleepily when they had reached the top of the great stairs and headed down the family corridor, "I think I will do that."
"Of course you will. You should listen to your older brother."
Elladan found his way back into Elrohir´s chamber and smiled when he saw that his twin´s eyes had slightly opened during his absence, revealing the truth of the young elf´s recovery. He sat down in a chair next to the bed, careful to be close enough to lay one hand lightly on Elrohir´s chest.
Estel had grown heavy in the elf´s arms, and he gently peeled the last sticky crumbs of pastry from his fist before settling down. Feeling his twin´s heartbeat under his palm and Estel´s fingers curled in his hair, Elladan finally fell asleep.
As his breaths evened out, silence fell over Imladris once more. True peace spread through corridors and halls like a quiet sigh of relief.
It was a reverie born of joy and love and the acceptance of life itself.