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One Title: Your Story

A Fairy Tale, Middle-Earth style

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Friends in Small Places

Two Meetings by Amarok


The Four Elements
Disclaimer: They do not belong to me…, luckily, I couldn’t handle the responsibility.
Rating: K+
 
Warning: This story is backed up by a few lines in the Aragorn-Arwen-appendix of the book, but I am no expert with the whole of the huge thing yet, so there are probably still AU-elements in this.

Summary: Elrond and Estel – now called by his birth name Aragorn – have had two difficult talks. Aragorn has left Imladris after the second... - Written for the Teitho challenge ‘The Four elements’.

A/N:
Male archetypes for the four elements:
Fire – hero, warrior
Water – mystic, wise man
Earth – father
Air – eternal youth
seen somewhere on the net… couldn’t resist that…




Legolas was perched up on a tree, deep in thought, and a slight breeze was stroking his face and playing with his hair. For three days already, he was in the peaceful and homely valley that was called Imladris, and he enjoyed the carefree time. But tomorrow he would have to leave again, so it was time to focus on his mission. Not his official mission, he already had relayed the message he was sent to deliver to Lord Elrond. But there was another business he had, and that was much more delicate and difficult to handle.

Upon arriving, he had asked Elrond about Estel. The polite answer he got was that the young human had left a while ago and had not given an exact date when he would return. Erestor later told Legolas that Elrond talked to Estel about his true heritage. And it was Glorfindel who confided in the woodland elf that Estel – now called Aragorn – fell in love with Arwen. All these were no new tidings to Legolas, though. A subdued Aragorn had come to Mirkwood a month ago and told him bits and pieces with words, and even more with the prolonged silences.

Movement nearby captured Legolas’ attention, and with an amused smile he observed Elrond, who came into the garden and started to care for some herbs. Now, in winter, there was not really much work needed, and surely the elf who normally kept the garden tidy and organized had seen it all done already, but Elrond took his time to go about his work, not caring that he got quite wet and dirty in the process. Seeing the rather reserved and awesome elf on his knees between his beloved plants, hands covered in soil, was an interesting sight. Silently, Legolas stood and moved swiftly through the trees until he was almost on top of Elrond, and then he jumped down.

Elrond did not even flinch when Legolas suddenly appeared next to him, probably the twins and most likely also Estel had done that too often in the past. Instead, the Lord calmly continued what he was doing and said, “Ah, Legolas. Nice of you to drop by, so to speak. Would you hand me that jar, please?”

With a soft chuckle, Legolas obeyed and knelt next to the half-elf to help him care for the herbs. But when the woodland-elf still said nothing, ever-perceptive Elrond stopped what he was doing and turned his head towards his guest. “Is there something on your mind?”

Taking a deep breath, Legolas just went for it. He had thought day and night about how to approach the topic most diplomatically but felt that in this case the direct approach might be the best. “A few weeks ago Estel came for a visit to Mirkwood.”

I see.” Nothing gave away what the older elf felt, and Legolas almost faltered in his plan. Maybe he had been wrong in his assessment of the situation. But then Elrond asked, “How is he?” And this time a slight tremor in his voice betrayed the half-elf’s emotions.

He is well. He asked me to give you his greetings in case I would come here before he would.”

A slight gasp escaped Elrond. “So he will come back?”

Yes, my Lord, he will.”

Elrond turned away, lowered his head and resumed picking herbs and putting them into the jar. He sounded vulnerable when he finally spoke, “Aragorn has grown up so fast. It seems like only yesterday that he was but a small child. And he will be gone too soon, no matter what age he might reach.” The elf looked at the herb between his fingers and continued, “These herbs die also to serve us, but their roots are still in the ground. New herbs will grow out of the roots. But Aragorn… he is the last of his line. If he dies without becoming king, he will not leave an heir. I made sure of that. The roots will die then as well, and most likely Middle-earth will fall. But even if he becomes king, he will be lost to me and perhaps Arwen with him… Legolas, even if I have not lost him yet, I fear that whatever I say to him from now on will only drive him farther away from me.”

Upon hearing the distressed voice, Legolas did something that he normally would not have dared. He gently took the herbs Elrond by now had crushed between his fingers in his own hand and said, while he presented the destroyed plants on the palm of his hand to Elrond, “Aragorn is not like these herbs. He still has his roots, both through blood and from his years with you here in Imladris. The connection is not severed. And if you do not sever it, neither will he. Not talking to him will have worse effects than continuing to speak, even if some of the things you say will hurt him.”

They both were silent for a moment. Elrond still was frozen to the spot. Legolas threw the herbs away and said one more thing, “He understands your conflict, Elrond. Yes, he is in pain, but he does not blame you. Give him the time he needs to come to accept all that happened and all that is laid upon him now, as you give these rootstocks the time to grow new leaves.”

Elrond intently stared at the younger elf, and after a moment he sighed and nodded. “You have grown wise beyond your years, Legolas. I thank you for telling me what I should have seen for myself. If you meet my son again before I do, tell him… just tell him I love him.”

In silence they worked a while longer in the garden, and suddenly Elrond laughed softly. Legolas looked at him questioningly, and Elrond explained, “Mithrandir was here just three weeks ago. I spoke to him about my worries concerning Aragorn’s well-being. He promised to keep an eye on him for a while.”

Legolas chuckled. “Poor Aragorn. He will not know what hit him when Mithrandir is through with him.”

Well, neither shall Mithrandir survive the encounter unscarred. They are an equal match when it comes to strong will.”

They both smiled at the thought, and then Legolas was gone again, like the wind, into the trees, glad that both his missions were fulfilled successfully now.

▲▼▲▼

Outside it snowed, and a freezing wind was blowing. But inside the inn it was warm. A hot fire was burning in a corner of the big room. The air was humid from all the damp clothes people were wearing and thick with fumes from the fire, and smoke. Gandalf contently smiled and took another puff from his pipe. Ah, there was nothing that could be compared with Old Toby leaves. The hobbits really knew about food, and about pipe weed.

From the looks of it, all adult male inhabitants of Bree were currently in the Prancing Pony. Butterbur and his assistant were running around and trying to satisfy the customers. Every table was occupied, in fact only very few chairs remained vacant. Not unexpectedly nobody had sat down at Gandalf’s small table so far. From former experience the wizard knew it was unlikely that one of the Bree folk would sit with him. To the narrow-minded towns-people he was just an old man, and they most likely only saw a potential burden in him.

Chuckling, Gandalf again took a puff from his beloved pipe but refrained from making any interesting smoke figures. When the door opened, he observed closely who came in. Some tidings he had heard, together with his instincts, told Gandalf things would get interesting before this night was over. A tall stranger stumbled in. Not much of him was visible under his dark cloak. But obviously he had been out in the bad weather for a while. He was dripping wet and snow was on his hood and his shoulders. Butterbur caught him at the door, and Gandalf could not understand all that was said. But from the few gestures he saw, and the words he overheard, his guess was that the man asked for a room. As it turned out, he had not enough money to pay for it. With hanging shoulders the newly arrived stranger exchanged a single coin – his only one from the looks of it – for a mug of beer, and then he hesitantly made a few steps into the crowded room.

Silence had fallen. The man looked like a ranger, and they were not well respected in these parts of Middle-earth. Most people did not know of their noble heritage, and the few who might have heard stories most likely did not believe them. And this man was not only a ranger, but a very dirty and doubtless also smelly ranger. His long coat was covered in mud up to the hood, and his shoes left wet dark prints with every step he made. His face was gaunt, and Gandalf was not sure if it was dirt or exhaustion – or both – that gave the man this dark look. Surely the unruly hair was unkempt for quite some time, and a few days’ old stubble was on his face. But Gandalf also could see that under all the grime a young man was hiding. He could not be much older than twenty, if at all. The wizard smiled. Perhaps his wait was over. Then, for a moment, their eyes met, and Gandalf’s guess was confirmed. This stranger indeed was Aragorn, son of Arathorn. He had the eyes of his late father.

Gandalf had never met Aragorn so far. But when he was in Imladris just three weeks ago, Elrond told him all about the young human and also confided in the wizard that during the last year they had two difficult talks, one concerning Aragorn’s heritage, and the other Arwen. Gandalf softly laughed to himself. Elrond managed to look livid as well as concerned at the same time when he told Gandalf about it. Surely, it was not easy for the half-elf. He loved both Arwen and Aragorn very dearly, and also he worried deeply on behalf of both of them. Apparently, after the second talk, Aragorn just calmly stated that he would travel for a while, packed a few things, and was gone. Elrond did not ask Gandalf for aid directly, but when the wizard said that he would keep his eyes open for the young stray, Elrond’s relief was almost palpable.

Suppressing another chuckle Gandalf observed how Aragorn glanced around in search for a place to sit. Still the whole inn was eerily silent. Trying not to be too obvious, a few men moved to make sure that no room was at their tables. Obviously nobody wanted to be near the mud-covered stranger. Aragorn’s shoulders hunched slightly in defeat, but he kept his face calm, and again his eyes met those of the old wizard. Gandalf made no move to invite Aragorn, but after a few seconds he smiled encouragingly, and hesitantly the young man made a few steps until he was standing at the wizard’s table.

Is this seat taken?” Aragorn’s voice was very quiet and hoarse. He sounded much older than his twenty-something years, and now Gandalf also could see that the young man was trembling.

It was not until now,” Gandalf answered, but Aragorn obviously misunderstood his meaning and was about to turn away, so the wizard continued kindly, “Now it is yours, if you want it.”

Aragorn gave the older man a surprised look, but then he nodded once and stiffly sat down. For a few minutes they both were silent. Aragorn pulled his hood down and opened the cloak but did not shed it. His clothes underneath were wet as well, and shivers were running down his body again and again.

The weather outside is even worse now than it was during daylight it seems. Or did you fall into a river?” Gandalf said it in jest, but Aragorn’s sharp intake of breath and the look he threw the wizard indicated even more than his sorry state that, indeed, he had been in water and most likely against his free will.

The ranger said nothing though, and Gandalf did not press him. Instead he sat back and continued to smoke his pipe and drink his beer. Aragorn drank from his mug slowly, and an hour later it still was half full. Butterbur threw the ranger angry glances when he brought Gandalf his second beer, and the wizard hid a smile. It was obvious the innkeeper wished for Aragorn to be gone, and from Butterbur’s point of view it was understandable, but Aragorn seemed to ignore his hostility as easily as the more than impolite comments people on the tables nearby started to make about the smell that emerged from his clothes.

Gandalf could see, though, that Aragorn was not immune to the effect he had on others. A few times when an especially cruel comment was made, Aragorn pressed his lips together tightly and briefly closed his eyes. But he still was freezing, his shivering, probably not visible to anybody else but the wizard, had not lessened, and his hands and face where as white as they had been before. If Aragorn left now, or was forced to leave, at worst it might mean his death, or at least lead to illness. So Gandalf wondered not that the ranger took his time to drink his beer and ignored the looks and comments.

But then one of the people on the table next to them got inventive. On the way to the counter, a man with a thick beard played drunk and managed to push Aragorn enough that the young ranger had to let go of his mug to not fall himself. The mug fell and broke. Everyone went silent and Aragorn froze. Butterbur came in a hurry and whined, “You imbecile. These mugs are expensive. And all the mess you created.”

Now, look…” Aragorn began, but several people, including the man with the beard, came closer and used the chance to accuse the ranger of this or that. Aragorn rose while his hands crept below his cloak and to his side, probably to grasp his sword. Suppressing a sigh, Gandalf leaned forward enough to be able to lay a hand on Aragorn’s arm and calmly said to him, “Peace, friend.” Then he continued loud enough to be heard by all in the inn, “I’ll pay for the broken mug and a beer for everyone, if you will overlook this small mishap,” and quieter again, only for Butterbur’s ears, he finished, “And could you also bring me a bowl with hot broth, while you are at it?”

Butterbur looked indecisive for a moment, but then his greediness won, and grumbling he hurried off to do as he was asked. The people talked excitedly. The prospect of free beer for everyone seemed to satisfy them for now. Aragorn sat down again and stared at the wizard. Gandalf released his arm and leaned back again.

Thank you,” Aragorn said quietly, and Gandalf accepted his words with a friendly nod. A not quite so friendly nod towards Butterbur insured that the ranger was not left out when the innkeeper brought the free beer for everyone.

A few minutes later Butterbur’s assistant set down a bowl with steaming hot broth and a few slices of bread in front of Gandalf. But as soon as they were alone again, the wizard shoved the food towards Aragorn, who seemed lost in thought, and said, “Here, eat. You need something warm inside of you.”

Abruptly Aragorn’s head came up. “What I need is my concern!”

Gandalf chuckled and easily said, “Don’t be excited, young one. I only mean you well. Your inner fire seems momentarily doused, and I thought a bit of hot soup would kindle it again.”

What are you talking about?”

As answer Gandalf just chuckled again and blew a smoke ring into the air. Aragorn tilted his head slightly and quietly asked, “Who are you?”

One of my names is Gandalf. But I am guessing that name will mean as little to you as the name you would give me will mean to me.”

Aragorn’s mouth opened, most likely for a probably not overly polite comment, but then he closed it again and pressed his lips together. With narrowed eyes he stared at Gandalf. The wizard was used to long stares, often enough had he been in elven company, so he calmly continued to smoke. Yes, Old Toby leaves really where the best. He needed to visit the Shire again soon; his stock of pipe weed was almost gone.

I am called Strider. Do you have a problem with that name?”

Ah, the young ranger was done staring and had found his voice again. Amused, but this time not showing it, Gandalf answered easily, “Strider it is then. No, I have no problem with that name. It is a fitting alias.”

Who are you, truly?” Although asked very quietly to not draw attention, the question was posed with a steely undertone and the eyes of the man burned in annoyance.

Gandalf leaned forward and answered equally quietly, “I will tell you one of my other names if you will do the same.”

Startled Aragorn took a deep breath, and after a moment he said, “I do not care much for games and riddles, Gandalf.”

Neither did your father.”

Only a very subtle narrowing of the eyes gave away this time that the comment had thrown Aragorn. Gandalf was glad to see that the young one already knew how to control his reactions and had given nothing away so far, despite Gandalf’s provocations.

You must be mistaken when you think you know me or my father. He still lives and he does love riddles and games,” Aragorn answered calmly, sat back, and took a long swallow from his mug; in short, the ranger looked like he had not a care in the world, like a content man simply enjoying his evening with a beer.

Gandalf checked himself to not show his surprise. Now he was on the defence himself! This young one had wits. The wizard was just debating with himself if he should end the game, fun as it was, and talk in earnest with Aragorn, when suddenly the door burst open, and a red haired man hurried in. He was greeted enthusiastically by a group of others who scolded him for being so late and made crude jokes on all kinds of possible and impossible reasons for the delay.

With interest Gandalf noted that Aragorn put his hands on the table again, leaned forward, and with slightly hunched shoulders let his unruly dark hair fall into his face, never once looking into the direction of the commotion. The wizard concentrated on the newly arrived man again, who was already in the middle of telling the tale that led to his late arrival. “…but then it knocked, and outside a dark figure was standing, hidden in shadows. A creepy sight, I tell ya. And then me son Nor came running in, dripping wet and crying and all. Then the stranger was gone again, just like that. Nor told us what happened. Seems Nor was careless again. The brat fell into that blasted river, but that stranger got him out before he drowned.” And after a pause he continued in a softer voice, “I swear, if I ever meet the man who saved my son face to face, he will be rewarded…”

Gandalf no longer listened. Hiding a smile, he also leaned forward, once more shoved the bowl with the still steaming broth closer to Aragorn’s hands and murmured gently, “So, you really have been in a river. Here, lad, eat it while it is still hot. Or do you want to catch a cold?”

No reaction for a moment, but then slightly trembling, still too white fingers slowly curled around the hot bowl, and with an almost inaudible sigh Aragorn began to eat.

They did not talk while Aragorn ate broth and bread. But Gandalf registered with relief that finally the man’s shivering ceased, and some colour returned into hands and face. With an unreadable expression, the ranger also now and then looked at Gandalf. When Aragorn was finished, he pushed the bowl away and said, “Again I have to thank you.”

Easily Gandalf said, “Paying for a bowl of warm food is not nearly as heroic as saving a boy from drowning. I am curious though, my friend: why did you not tell his father what you did? Surely if you had, you would be dry now, with better food and more beer in your belly, and the prospect of a warm bed for the night.”

I’d rather not give him a chance to recognize me.” And as response to Gandalf’s inquiringly raised eyebrow, Aragorn continued, “I have once bought medical herbs he swore were pure from him and only later found out they had been tampered with. Grass was mixed into them. It almost cost us the life of a fellow ranger. Of course, I confronted him next time I was in Bree, but he managed to change the whole thing into a situation where suddenly I was accused of wanting to destroy his repute and his business. I would not trust again in anything he swears. Once he realizes that a ranger saved his son, the story might just turn out to be that I threw the boy in to begin with, and to be honest, right now I can do without such a complication.”

While he said the last, Aragorn’s voice betrayed his exhaustion, and Gandalf was surprised that the ranger was so open with him all of a sudden. But when a moment later Aragorn’s eyes twinkled and he said, “So, oh wise one, who loves to talk in riddles and seems to know my father, tell me: should I take an educated guess at one of your other names, or will you finally give me one I might recognize?”

Gandalf laughed. Obviously he had been found out. Smiling he leaned a bit forward and theatrically whispered, “Amongst the elves I am called Mithrandir.”

Aragorn smiled back and said with a nod, “So my guess was right. I have never heard the name Gandalf before, since the elves use other names for you, but there were enough clues, and if my mind had not been so frozen, I might have found you out much earlier.”

Many have been fooled before; in fact, I am impressed that you figured it out so fast, Aragorn.”

When Aragorn heard his birth name he stilled, and fear entered his eyes for but a moment, before he hid them behind his hair again. “So you have spoken with Lord Elrond.”

Yes, I have, just three weeks ago. He misses his son.”

Aragorn’s reply came fast and was bitter, “Does he, truly? Or does he just miss an opportunity to manipulate the future of the whole of Middle-earth? Is that the reason why he sent you after me?”

Sharply Gandalf responded, “He did not send me. Nobody sends me. I do as I want. And I wanted to meet you.”

When Aragorn flinched in reaction, Gandalf continued much softer, “But he will be glad to learn that we have met. He hoped for it when he told me what happened. He truly misses you. Not Aragorn, but Estel.”

For a while they were silent. Gandalf filled his pipe again and smoked it calmly, knowing that Aragorn had not spoken out of anger, but out of hurt and fear. Nevertheless, he had felt the young man had needed a rebuke. Aragorn just stared once more into his almost empty mug. But, finally, he lifted his head, nervously glanced at the wizard, and said, “Forgive me. I spoke foolishly. Wounded pride and a hurting heart led to my harsh and thoughtless words, but in my mind I understand the reasons for Lord Elrond’s decisions. I could not have asked for a more loving father in the past or a more supportive guide for the future.”

There is nothing to forgive, Strider. You bear a huge burden for one so young, and Elrond knows that, as do I.”

That Aragorn again did not react at all to being called young was a sure sign that indeed the burden was felt heavily. But Aragorn’s face and eyes showed resolve when he gave Gandalf a grateful nod. The man’s energy and inner fire were returning. Elrond had been right; Aragorn was a worthy man, and might one day prove to be a worthy king. They sat in companionable silence a while longer, and when Gandalf finally was about to retire for the night and offered Aragorn the second bed in his room, the young ranger accepted it with quiet gratitude. The next day they set out together, to journey for a while in each other’s company.

▲▼▲▼

End note:
In one interpretation about the four elements, fire and water were linked as one pair of opposed forces (the more forceful ones), while earth and air were seen as the other pair of forces with a slightly calmer quality. I went with that to the best of my abilities.

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