His Mother's Son by Alina|
Summary: Life is perfect for Aragorn – he loves his wife, adores his son and his two best friends are in Minas Tirith for a visit. Yet sometimes on the brightest days lightening can strike…
Rating: PG 13
Disclaimer: Not mine
His Mother`s Son
Elessar, king of Gondor, had never been happier. He felt blessed, fully and truly, as if the Valar`s light that had eluded him for so many years of doubt and indecision had now permanently settled upon his life`s path.
It was late at night and the castle lay in deep sleep – or so it seemed. Aragorn chuckled fondly at the thought of the two friends he had just left arguing in the guest quarters. He was sure that elf and dwarf had not yet settled their dispute about the quality of dwarven literature. It had been a long fight for Gimli to even get Legolas to acknowledge the mere existence of such a thing, and tempers had still been high when the king had excused himself from the battlefield in order to keep his wife at least some company this night.
It might seem strange to many that elf and dwarf showed their mutual affection by endless quarrels. Yet it warmed the king`s heart that his friends were clearly in no danger of running out of ammunition for their verbal battles.
His footfalls almost mute of the polished marble floor, Aragorn approached the doors of the bedchamber he shared with Arwen and carefully eased himself inside. As it turned out his caution was in vain, for he found his wife sitting upon the side of the bed, her gentle face turned towards the window to bathe in Earendil`s light that streamed into the room like a stream of pure bliss.
But then again, anything that so much as touched Arwen seemed to bloom into perfection in Elessar`s eyes.
As the man approached a smile tugged at the queen`s lips and she spoke without turning. "Do I smell wine and pipe-weed on you, husband? Pray tell, which inn did you drink and frolic at this night? I should question the ladies there tomorrow to make sure no harm has come to my honor."
"No harm shall ever befall your honor from my hands", Aragorn replied as he sat down beside his wife and placed a gentle kiss upon her bare shoulder. He matched Arwen`s mock seriousness when he continued: "Alas, my own reputation may have suffered fatal injury tonight. It seems that I have lost my ability to keep in check both elven wit and dwarvish boasting at the same time."
Arwen turned to face her husband now and her pretence melted into a laugh that lit her eyes as well as her voice. "Ah, do not worry so, Estel. I shall protect you from any rumors, for I know enough about the Mirkwood prince to force him keep your failures secret. And as for Gimli, one smile of mine should do."
"Noble saviour, you have my gratitude." Aragorn grinned as he leaned in for a long, deep kiss. He could feel his wife chuckle through his caress and could not help but join in, burying his face in silky dark hair to stifle his giggles. Arwen ran a gentle hand down her love`s back.
"I have missed to see you like this", she whispered, real seriousness creeping into her tone, "I have missed the careless mirth that engulfs you now. It seems that Legolas and Gimli are as good for your spirit as they are bad for your reputation."
Aragorn sighed and stretched out on the bed, not caring to undress. He pulled Arwen down at his side and she settled against him, her head resting on his chest.
"Aye", he answered finally, "their visit refreshes my senses. It has been too long that I escaped my duties for even a day or two."
"As I have been telling you for weeks", Arwen agreed wisely. "I am all the more happy that Faramir has agreed to take matters into his hands for the next week or so. Have you decided what to do with your freedom?"
"Freedom?" Aragorn chuckled. "Faramir may grant me freedom from my royal duties and you may free me of those tiring tasks of a husband…" He drew a sharp breath when Arwen`s reaction to this insult came swiftly, yet he managed to keep his voice straight. "… but Eldarion has not at all set me free. On the contrary, he has ensnared my two best friends also. We shall try and satisfy his need for adventure by taking him for a ride tomorrow."
"Then Gimli must have kept his devotion to our son since he last saw him two years back, or he would never mount a horse again on the first full day of his visit. Especially because his and Legolas` journey was hampered by such foul weather."
Aragorn could not help but laugh when he remembered the dwarf`s colourful curses that he liked to direct both at Arod and Legolas for being such a nuisance, not to mention a constant danger to his health. He had even blamed horse and elf for somehow conjuring up the rain that had plagued them.
Turning his attention back to Arwen the king frowned slightly, for his wife shifted against him as if she felt uncomfortable.
"What is it, meleth?" //love// he asked tenderly, "are you well?"
"I have never been better", she assured him, stilling her movements. "I am merely bothered by this constant noise. There is a horse in the stables that is restless, pounding his hooves against the wall. I can only assume that Arod objects to being imprisoned. We should remind the stable hands to let him go free from now on or I will never get rest while Legolas is here."
Aragorn nodded his consent and listened intently, yet try as he might he could hear nothing but the soft rustling of wind that caressed the stone walls. Arwen chuckled into his chest. "You look just endearing when you concentrate so hard", she jested, "but do not forget that not all of my elven abilities have left me. My hearing still beats yours, human."
Elessar smiled and nodded. Not too long ago such words would have hurt him, reminding him of the fate that his love had bestowed upon Arwen, but the supreme happiness that he felt from her had in time taken the edge off his worries.
"Maybe I can drown that impatient horse by more soothing sounds?" he asked, and without awaiting a reply he began to sing. The words came naturally to him, taking him into an elven lullaby that sometimes still served to calm Eldarion. The man smiled through his song when he felt it take effect on his wife, too, and he gently held her as she slipped into dreams.
For a long time afterwards he continued to sing, his sleeping love in his arms, while Earendil smiled down upon them both and the world continued to be a pool of endless happiness. Behind the bright star, however, a darkness loomed that Aragorn did not dare to look at too closely, for he feared that it might descend onto his soul one day if he did.
"Let`s do that again!" Eldarion`s excited shout was directed at Legolas. The boy`s cheeks were flushed from the wild ride he had just taken, his sturdy pony mysteriously beating Arod by just a hand`s breadth.
The elf laughed and turned towards the dwarf sitting behind him, seeking his friend`s approval. Gimli`s face had taken on a pale green tinge beneath his beard, but he nodded bravely. "Of course, laddie! Go and race that elf again, you can never beat those pointy-ears often enough."
"But Gimli", Eldarion objected, "I have beaten you, too!"
"Hmpf", the dwarf grumbled, shifting uncomfortably on Arod`s bare back, "I cannot say you did that, young prince. I was merely along for the ride. My only task is to provide weight, so indeed I worked in your favour. That darn beast considers me nothing but a living saddlebag anyway, ignoring me whenever I try to command him."
Legolas laughed again, shaking his head. "That may be because you holler at him instead of asking politely", he chided, "he might do you a favour once you learn to phrase your request as one should."
"I don`t holler!" Gimli barked, causing Arod`s ears to twitch disapprovingly, "and besides, I shall not fall to my knees and beg in front of two princes and a king only to make a silly horse move his hooves!"
"You have even tried that when you were free of a royal audience?" Legolas retorted with raised eyebrows. "Most intriguing. I never have to take such – embarrassing measures."
"Of course not!" The dwarf`s face was no longer green but rather turning an interesting shade of red." You are in league with that four-legged wraith! You bribe him with carrots; I have seen you in the stables…"
"Why do you not go and scout ahead, son?" Elessar asked across the argument. He could barely suppress the chuckle that threatened to rise from him, but he could tell Eldarion was getting impatient. "I have told you many times how important it is that a good scout secures the path. Just do not ride too far."
"Of course not, ada!" Finally equipped with a task that suited his greatness, the seven-year-old pushed his little chestnut into a rapid gallop and raced across the plain, little specks of dirt littering the grass behind him. The pony`s blond mane and tail fluttered merrily while Eldarion expertly steered around the trees that sporadically rose from the flat grounds. The boy`s carefree laughter floated across the meadow upon the gentle breeze.
"…then once you even whispered to him", Gimli accused, clearly on a roll, "and not a heartbeat later he tried to bite me."
"Nonsense, it was your own folly to approach a horse while eating an apple – where is Eldarion?" Elf and dwarf fell silent when they finally realized they were no longer watched by the child. Aragorn could not help laughing out loud, earning himself pained glances from both of his friends.
"You truly are a sight", the man panted amidst his laughter, "I cannot help but think of jesters that are not funny at all once the crowd turns its back."
"We are always quarrelling", Gimli defended both himself and his friend, "an audience matters not. It is my quest in life to beat some sense into elven arrogance and alas, a mighty task it is."
When no response was forthcoming, he nudged Legolas into the ribs none too gently. "Did you not hear me, elf? Elven arrogance?"
Yet Legolas paid the dwarf no heed. His eyes were fixed on Eldarion who had by now gained a good distance to them. Towards the left of the plain the White Mountains rose, steep slopes marking the ascend of the massive rocks. The boy had steered closer towards the looming mass, he and his pony by now almost swallowed in its shadow. The trees grew slightly more dense towards the mountains yet the child`s reddish pony could clearly be seen darting around their sturdy trunks.
Aragorn had caught on to the change of mood more quickly than Gimli had, and he realized with growing dread that the elf sensed danger to his son.
"Eldarion!" he yelled, "Come back here!" Even though he could see nothing amiss, his heart beat in his chest with a ferocity that threatened to shatter his very being.
The boy turned on his pony and waved at his father but then disappeared amongst the trees once more, never slowing down.
"E alasta chen!" //He doesn`t hear you!// Legolas` words had barely left his mouth when suddenly Gimli found himself on the ground and Arod shot ahead, the steed`s long strides eating away the distance at a frantic pace.
Legolas turned long enough to call out to his friends: "Amon rhitho!"//The mountain moves!// before focusing his attention on nothing but the child. Aragorn spared an apologetic glance at the dwarf, then he followed the elf as fast as he could.
"That`s right", Gimli huffed as he started running, "leave the dwarf behind when there`s trouble with a mountain!" He cursed under his breath but soon ceased doing so as he needed all his air to keep moving towards the tragedy that unfolded before his eyes.
Outrunning the Flood
Aragorn was not far behind Legolas but he knew that he would never beat his friend to his child. The elf was steadily pulling away from him thanks to the smaller burden that he presented to his steed. The king prayed to the Valar that his friend would be in time even though he himself would not. But looking at the scenery as it unfolded before him he was not sure even Legolas could outrun fate this time.
By now he could see what Legolas had been talking about. The thin vegetation that clung to the slope above them was moving almost sluggishly, yet gaining momentum by the second as the soaked grounds beneath it failed to offer any hold. The only barrier still keeping the brown beast caged was the rocky ledge at the edge of the slope. It would not be strong enough, though, to hold back the tide for long and soon a whole flood of mud, rocks and trees would pour out across the plain.
And Eldarion was right in its path.
Legolas leaned over Arod`s neck, leaving it to the horse to choose the fastest path towards the boy. He had no doubt, however, that he would be too late, no matter how mercilessly the stallion pushed himself. Already the avalanche of mud was piling against the rocky ledge high above them. The very ground beneath them heaved and shook in anticipation of what was to come.
The air began to hum and quiver. The elf could sense the trees straighten, their branches stretching upwards in an attempt to reach for help whilst their roots clawed themselves into the earth. His heart clenched when the voice of the wood rose loud enough for him to hear it without even straining. Pain shot through his being when he realized that the trees were calling for the Ent shepherds that had left these lands so long ago. No aid would come for them now, no advice. Just destruction.
"Ada! Ada!" Eldarion`s frightened shrieks helped Legolas to close his senses from the trees` plight. The boy had by now realized that something was amiss and had stopped his quivering pony, uncertain of where to turn. He sat still amongst the weeping trees, staring from Legolas to Aragorn and back, their obvious distress only adding to his own.
"Ego, Eldarion! Ego!" //Move, Eldarion, move!// Legolas` voice mingled with Aragorn`s as both called out for the child to save himself, but the boy only began to cry, unused to being yelled at in such a fashion.
Swiftly understanding that pleading with the young one would lead to nothing, the elf turned his attention to the pony. He knew that Arwen herself had trained the gentle beast for her child, not even wanting Éomer to perform this task.
"Ego, Rúnya! Ego hi!" //Move, Rúnya (Red Flame), move now!// Legolas put all his soul into the order, all his ability to command, all his will to save his best friend`s child. And the pony finally answered the call its rider could not follow. It unfroze like a statue coming to life and darted forwards, small hooves flying so fast that they barely seemed to touch the ground. Eldarion automatically leaned forward and held on tight, his round face wet with tears.
Above them, high upon the ledge that overlooked the plain, a quivering brownish mass had collected and now heaved like a troll`s chest as more and more mud and rocks and trees pushed on without mercy. The tension made the ledge groan and crack, trickles of the brown flood already pushing past its hold. Then with a pained roar, the ledge gave way.
The skies themselves seemed to darken as the solid wave broke free and tumbled down the slope, meeting the ground with shattering force. Within mere heartbeats a gigantic waterfall of mud had formed and quickly gave birth to a raging river that shot down the sloping earth towards Eldarion.
Legolas knew that he had no time left. Sharply pushing Arod towards one of the trees and reaching for a branch he quickly pulled himself up. The stallion came to a slithering stop and neighed in anger at being abandoned such. He had been willing to brave even this brown beast at his rider`s side, but the elf had no patience for the beast`s pride, not now.
"Toltho Gimli!"//Get Gimli!// Legolas shouted above the din, knowing that the order would allow his steed to flee. He was also dimly aware that having the dwarf close might prove to be a good thing soon.
From the corner of his eye he could see the white horse racing away even though his protesting shrieks even cut through the avalanche`s roar. They mingled with Aragorn`s frantic calls, and even though Legolas was no longer able to understand what his friend was saying he knew it in his heart. Only one thing counted now. Only one soul. Only one life.
Legolas saw that Rúnya had instinctively headed for him. The pony was only a few paces from his tree but the flood was too fast for it to reach safety. The elf braced himself when the pony shrieked in terror as his legs were ripped from beneath him. Valiantly struggling against the forces that threatened to tear him apart Rúnya managed to keep himself slightly upright while he was pulled along, the white showing in his eyes.
Eladrion was screaming, tears streaming down his cheeks, but he had made out Legolas in the tree and elf and child locked gazes. The immortal held the boy`s eyes, swearing not to let go again. His silent promise of help lit hope in the boy`s eyes even when the elf`s tree shook and groaned as it, too, was hit by the muddy masses. It swayed and then began to bent, ages of steadiness cut short by nature`s fury.
The child came closer at a rapid speed, heading towards Legolas as if the strength of their combined wills guided his path. Then with a sickening crush Rúnya collided with the tree Legolas held on to. The pony shrieked once more, weakly, before growing silent. The elf held on to one of the sturdiest branches and reached down, locking his arm around Eldarion`s chest and pulling the boy free of his dead mount.
Legolas had barely managed to lift the child enough for the boy to cling to his neck when the tree faltered, too, a silent plea for forgiveness its last gift to the elf. Together they fell, and with nothing else to hold on to they were swept away by the sluggish flood.
The elf felt Eldarion`s tears hot against his face and hoisted the child up as much as he could to keep the worst pressure away from him. With the other hand Legolas clung to the tree, praying that it would not be pulled down by the current.
"Hold on, tithen pen" //little one// he ground out, "just hold on."
And Eldarion did. The small boy clung to the elf with all the vigour that ran both in his elven and his human blood, refusing to give in even now.
Legolas tried to keep track of where they were going, but he was turned and tossed about by the muddy earth too much to do more than try and shield the boy from the debris that had collected in the current. He somehow managed to push Eldarion halfway up the tree-trunk and wrapped his arms around him, serving as a barrier between the child and the flood.
The elf flinched when a rock collided with his back, knocking his breath from him. Only a heartbeat later a branch of the tree snapped and lashed against his hand, a small bough going straight through the soft flesh beside his thumb. It took all his self control not to let go, not to allow the shadows that tugged at his consciousness into his soul. He was barely aware that he was still whispering encouragement to Eldarion, his words not longer controlled by a mind that swiftly filled with pain.
The longer he was crushed by the muddy powers, the more keenly the elf felt that this avalanche only held the pretence of being darkened waters. In realty, earth itself was on the move, its grip merciless as it pressed more and more weight against Legolas` trapped body.
When a rough jolt shuddered through the tree it took the dazed elf a moment to realize that the trunk had wedged itself between two sturdy trees that were yet standing, defiantly breaking the flood.
"Tond!" //Up!// he ground out and used his good hand to push the boy, even though his own hold was weakening by the second. After a moment of frozen hesitation the child obeyed, struggling to pull his lower body free of the earth`s grip. Legolas could tell that the avalanche was losing speed, and as it did it grew more solid, almost as if it attempted to become steady ground once more.
Even so, its pull was still strong enough to hurl rocks and pieces of wood against the elf, their steady assault wearing down his strength. Legolas was dimly aware of Eldarion clambering up the trunk, finally free of the mud, when something collided with his head and his vision went from blurry to black.
Aragorn heard the scream echo in his ears, unaware that it had been he who had uttered it. He barely saw Arod chasing past him, his eyes glued to his son as Eldarion was swept away by the mud-slide. The boy`s pony struggled, its hooves resurfacing in a frantic fight against the current yet unable to withstand the cruel force that pulled it along.
The poor beast`s shrieks cut the king`s heart and he called out in agony when the small animal met its end, crushed against the trunk of a wavering tree like a broken toy. Was this the same pony that he had watched so many times, Eldarion easily balancing on its round back even when it raced around tight corners, making it seem that the animal and the boy had become one creature? Was this the pet his son had loved more than any other, often even insisting on sleeping in the stables to be close to his friend?
Not any longer. Now Rúnya was nothing more than a crumbled bundle of fur and bones and flesh, it`s bright color standing out vividly from the brown flood. A life cut short in the blink of an eye.
Yet there was still hope – hope that the small boy who now clung to the lithe elf who had pulled him into his arms would be spared his brave steed`s fate.
Dazedly Aragorn felt Brego slow beneath him, heaving with exhaustion and fear yet succumbing to none of these but to the river of earth and rock that now moved right before his hooves.
All Aragorn could do now but watch helplessly. He wished for wings, for Gwahir to arrive as he had during the War to bring aid when all hope seemed lost. He wished for a will strong enough to have him rush across the moving earth as lightly as an elf across snow.
For a brief second he wondered if Arwen would have been more useful in his stead, if she would have been able to defeat nature and snatch her child from the clutches of danger. But then he saw Legolas fall, saw him barely manage to keep himself and the child above the brown surface, and the king knew that no other than the Valar would have been able to save his son from this senseless madness.
He wondered why the gods` light that he had felt so keenly only last night had deserted him now, leaving him to witness the event that would prove both his destruction and Arwen`s fall to darkness.
Brego started to move along the river of earth, not awaiting his rider`s command to follow the path of elf and boy as they were tossed along by the elements.
Aragorn saw but hardly comprehended how the trunk his life clung to was wedged between two sturdy trees, how his son crawled to safety, how the blond hair of the elf sank into the slowing masses.
It was only when his son called for him, his small voice rough with panic and tears, that the invisible walls around him crumbled.
The king`s senses sprang back to life as if they had been frozen by the cold of his heart that was now aflame with hope. He smelled the wet earth, he heard Gimli call out to him from not far behind.
And he heard his son plead for help.
Aragorn dismounted Brego in one swift jump. His sharp eyes sought out the earth and rocks and branches before him, willing them to form a path towards his child. He stepped upon a half-submerged tree that swayed and sunk between his weight yet he walked on to a large rock, to a branch, to another tree.
With each step he took his way became clearer and he walked with growing confidence. Eldarion`s tear-streaked face urged him on and by the time he had reached the two trees that had saved his son he did not even look where he was going, secure in the knowledge that nothing would keep him from reaching his child.
Eladrion flung himself into his father`s arms, his warm, shaking body solid and alive. Aragorn buried his face into his son`s hair and breathed in the child`s sweet scent, Arwen`s scent, the scent that meant everything to him.
The relief that flooded through him was so complete that it threatened to make his knees give way, and yet with the growing realization that his child was alive came the stab of pain and fear for Legolas.
Looking up and across Eldarion`s shoulder, Aragorn saw that the avalanche had come to a stop. It had lost all impression of water and movement and had instead transformed into a still landscape of destruction. Nothing moved but the leaves of the dead trees as they swayed in the wind.
Deadly silence had fallen, broken only by Eldarion`s fading sobs.
Aragorn took a shuddering breath, then another as he began to comprehend the price that had been paid for his son`s life. His knees finally did crumble beneath him and he wept, both for the life that had been saved and for the one that had been lost in its stead.
Dwarven Stubbornness, Elven Senses
Aragorn did not know how much time had passed when he felt a sturdy hand on his shoulder and heard a rough voice behind him.
"Come now, laddie, no time to lose. We have to find that blasted elf or I`ll never hear the end of his complaints. He always had the false assumption that dwarves were slower than elves and I would hate to pour oil into the flames."
The king looked up into Gimli`s face, reading his friend`s steely determination but also the soft worry that slumbered beneath it.
Rising slowly, Aragorn once more gazed across the vast expanse of debris that lay still and grey around them. The ground beneath his feet felt almost solid now.
Clearly reading the human`s face Gimli nodded impatiently. "Aye, the earth hardens. Its weight and pressure transforms it into steady ground once more, but do not let that deceive you into carelessness. We need to move slowly."
"But move where?" Aragorn felt the urge to look for Legolas, hoping against hope to somehow find the elf alive, but he felt drained from his fears for Eldarion. He hated to hear the defeat in his voice and quickly added: "Maybe we should separate and work our way from both sides to the middle?"
To his surprise it was Eldarion who spoke up then. The boy was still snuggled against his father`s chest, but he had turned his head and pointed confidently towards the right. "I watched where he went", the child said, "I wanted to be sure to find him again. See that birch tree, the one that is broken in two? We have to look there."
"My son", Aragorn began, unwilling to contradict the child but quite sure that Legolas could not have been carried that far in the slowing avalanche, "maybe we should…"
"…listen to that fine young man", Gimli cut in, his eyes narrowing as he gazed into the direction the boy had indicated. "I had expected him a bit more towards the left, but then again I did not have such a good view from that jostling horse. Let us go!"
Not even waiting for Aragorn`s agreement he began to gingerly make his way across the hardening earth, moving with far more grace than most people would have given him credit for. "What is it, Aragorn, have you turned to stone yourself? Come now or I`ll tell that pointy-ear that it was a dwarf and a boy who saved him while a king looked on."
The seemingly harsh words were softened by the caring tone they were uttered in and they did not fail to have an effect. Even though doubtful about the location of their search Aragorn followed, feeling his spirits revive once he had forced himself into action.
When they had reached the birch tree the man carefully sat his son onto a nearby rock, earning no protest from the pale child. Aragorn hesitated, watching the boy closely to make sure he was not slipping into a shock, but Eldarion glanced back at him with quiet awareness and thus he turned and joined Gimli who had already begun to dig.
They worked for long moments. The human`s heart sank at how hard the ground had become already, wondering how anybody would be able to survive in such a prison. Gimli saw his doubts and explained while he worked: "There are pockets of air beneath slides like this one. Rocks or pieces of wood are wedged together to form small caverns. Dwarves have been known to spend hours trapped thus and they still lived."
Aragorn nodded and kept working, sweat beginning to drench his shirt. His hair hung into his eyes and his back began to ache but he stubbornly continued, knowing very well that Legolas would have done the same for him.
He was just removing clumps of earth that he had first loosened with his dagger when his hands suddenly found something soft. He froze, hope flaring up in his heart and he whispered to Gimli, hoping Eldarion would not hear him lest he be disappointed. "I have found something."
They gingerly removed more rocks and mud yet they soon realized that they had failed to find Legolas but had found Rúnya instead. Aragorn`s frantic hands slowed, his heart growing heavy. His absent-mindedly stroked the small patch of reddish fur he had cleared of debris, his eyes seeking out Eldarion. The boy did not seem to realize that they had found his dead pony, for even though he gazed into their direction his eyes were unfocused.
"Small set-backs are to be expected, my friend", Gimli mumbled, "let us continue."
"I doubt we will find him here", Aragorn gave back sadly, even though he continued to dig, forcing his dagger into the ground with ferocity to dig around Rúnya´s carcass. "Eldarion thought he was seeing Legolas when he really spotted his dead pony`s mane in the mud. This is the wrong place."
Gimli looked up at him, fear and stubborn hope warring on his lined features. Before the dwarf had come to any decision, however, Eldarion suddenly jumped to his feet and held up one hand.
"Dînen." //Quiet.// he whispered urgently, and both man and dwarf were perplexed enough to follow the hushed order.
Aragorn watched in amazement as a smile began to grow on his son`s dirty face. "He is here!" the child finally burst out. "Ada, you have almost found him! I can hear him breathe."
The excitement in his son`s voice threatened to break Aragorn`s heart. He got up and swept the child into his arms, trying to offer comfort, but Eldarion wriggled almost angrily in his embrace. "Ada, do not stop now, hurry!"
"But Eldarion, you are mistaken, love. I cannot hear anything."
Aragorn had hardly spoken the words when the boy`s expression turned to one of rage. "But I do!" he called angrily, "I can hear Legolas breathe! I can hear his heart beat! I can hear him and I am not mistaken!"
The man stood, at a loss as to what to say. He wished to believe his son but he could not bear the thought of the disappointment the young boy would almost surely have to suffer.
When his father failed to react Eldarion wriggled in his arms again, clearly demanding to be set down. "I can hear him", the child insisted, "I have Nana`s ears and I can hear him!"
It was in that second that everything fell into place. Aragorn would not remember later that Gimli`s shout of victory had actually come several moments after Eldarion`s words. He would not remember standing there, gazing at his young son with his flushed face and his slightly pointed ears and all the confidence of a child in his eyes.
He would only remember the warm flood of hope that returned to him with Eldarion`s words, as if the clouds that had kept the Valar`s light from him had been chased away by a seven-year-old`s insistence.
Estel had found hope again and it would not fail him.
His Mother`s Son
It had taken them more than one hour to carefully free Legolas of his prison. As they found out later, the elf had been trapped between the pony`s body and several rocks and branches that had been caught in the birch tree`s roots. The immortal had only survived because Rúnya`s corpse had been massive enough to create a small cavern around the elf`s head and torso, keeping him from suffocating.
Aragorn had been strangely confident as he and Gimli worked, knowing in his heart that his friend had not received fatal injuries. They had gingerly moved Legolas once he had been free, but only far enough to carry him off the path of debris the mud-slide had left in its wake. They had then made camp right were they were, neither of them bothered by the eerie scenery that surrounded them. The danger had passed and all that was left was relief.
Gimli had assisted Aragorn in binding the elf`s broken ribs and cleaning his various cuts and bruises. Their work had been slow and Eldarion had watched with interest, helping when he could and seeming to find solace in the role he had played in Legolas` rescue.
Night had fallen, and they sat in silence. Gimli did not leave Legolas` side, watching the elf closely and tending to him with a care that made Aragorn smile. Yet the dwarf remained true to his nature and it raised the man`s spirits to listen to Gimli`s grumbling chatter that he kept up almost without a pause.
"Now see here, elf", he growled as he wrung the cloth he used the bathe Legolas` forehead, "I hope you realize what immense efforts form my side were necessary to save you today. First I was abandoned and ran until my lungs burned, then I had to clamber onto that furry felon you call a steed."
Gimli ran the cloth along the elf`s temple and Legolas flinched in pain when it came into contact with one of the numerous bruises that the flood`s debris had left behind. The sudden movement caused the unconscious elf even more agony and he tried to roll over in order to escape it, but a strong hand on his chest stilled his movements. The dwarf was careful not to put any fresh pressure on the other`s broken ribs but effectively prevented him from stirring.
"Now, now, none of that", Gimli chided, his tones far more gentle now than they had been a heartbeat ago, "shush, my friend, lay still." He waited, watching his charge`s pale features with keen eyes until he was sure the danger had passed. Then he shook his head and spoke on. "And I sure hope that you are aware that my presence was vital to you still possessing that immortality you so like to rave about. Without a dwarf`s knowledge of stones and their behaviour you would not have been freed. If not for me, you`d still be trapped and don`t you forget that."
"Hey!" Eldarion objected sleepily from his safe position in his father`s arms.
Gimli winked at the boy and whispered: "I know of your achievement, young prince, and I`ll be in your debt for the rest of my days. But believe me, severe concussion or not, if I keep up this talk I`ll have him annoyed enough to wake by dawn."
Eldarion chuckled and snuggled against Aragorn once more, watching Gimli with drooping eyelids. The child grew heavy in the king`s embrace but just when Aragorn thought his son had fallen asleep he stirred again.
"Rúnya was brave today, wasn`t he?" The small voice was heavy with tears.
"Aye." Aragorn placed a gentle kiss on the child`s head. "He shall forever be remembered for what he did for you."
"And for Legolas." There was satisfaction in Eldarion`s tone now, even though the sadness remained.
"And for Legolas", the king softly agreed, "even though it was really you who saved his life, my little hope." He stopped himself, never having called Eldarion his hope but realizing now that without doubt there was no more suitable description for his son.
"Yes, and he saved me", Eldarion yawned, "and then you saved me when I cried." He turned his face into Aragorn`s chest and finally succumbed to his exhaustion, falling into a deep sleep.
"Poor little bugger", Gimli commented from across the fire, "and I do not mean the elf for once. You`ll need to get him a new pony, Aragorn."
"In due time, Gimli", the human replied, stroking his son`s hair, "in due time. He will need to truly say goodbye to Rúnya first."
They were quiet for a long time, listening to the horses who grazed nearby and the wind that caressed the grass.
"He truly is his mother`s son", Aragorn said with a sudden smile, "he not only possesses her elven sight and hearing, but also her easy hold on my heart."
Gimli chuckled yet replied: "Nay, laddie, there you are mistaken."
When Aragorn raised his eyebrows at him the dwarf continued with grin.
"He surely is lady Arwen`s son, but he is also yours, Aragorn. Seldom have I seen a human who`s so stubborn and neither one who so readily clings to an elf, silly creatures as they are!"
Aragorn`s low laughter rang across the plain. Once more Earendil smiled down upon them and the world transformed into a pool of happiness. The darkness that gleamed behind the elves` most beloved star did nothing to steal Earendil`s beauty but only enhanced it, making it shine with renewed strength.