When Summer lies upon the world, and in a noon of gold,
Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold;
When woodland halls are green and cool, and wind is in the West,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is best!
When Summer warms the hanging fruit and burns the berry brown;
When straw is gold, and ear is white, and harvest comes to town;
When honey spills, and apple swells, though wind be in the West,
I’ll linger here beneath the Sun, because my love is best!
— J.R.R. Tolkien, Treebeard, The Two Towers
The courtyard was full of dead things.
There was nothing healthy in the small, enclosed garden. Planters that ought to be full of flowers and shrubs were empty, and dead roots and a dying tree, with only a few blossoms left, were the only things sticking up from the earth. On the high stone walls, some of which were crumbling, a few living vines still draped them, but they had long since stopped blooming and growing. Fallen leaves adorned the floor like a sparse carpet, crunching under the feet of the combatants as their battle moved into the courtyard.
The taller figure, a man dressed in dark clothing, kicked the smaller fighter onto the cold ground. It was only when they rolled and turned that she was revealed to be a woman. A small woman, with golden hair that brushed her shoulders as she moved. Her face was beautiful, the type that stories were told about, and songs sung for. She was dressed in tan leggings and a fitted black tunic, one sleeve of which was ripped, revealing a bloody wound on her arm. She paid no attention to her injuries though; her focus was on the fight. Her sword clanged as it engaged the man’s, slicing cleanly through the air. However, the thrust of the other sword’s parry forced her own down, allowing the man to stomp it out of her grip, and backhand her.
She fell, knocking over a stone table as she did. Unarmed, she backed away until her body hit the wall behind her. There was nowhere to go; she was trapped. She looked up at her attacker, her face flashing some fear, and her eyes sad.
The man, though, was smirking as he prowled closer. He gave off a sense of evil, one that simply reeked from him in waves. He had a handsome face, but any beauty in him was ruined by the expression of malicious glee that twisted it. Chuckling, he twirled his sword in an idle move and said, “Now that’s everything, huh?”
He pointed the sword at her, tauntingly. “No weapons…no friends…no hope.”
The girl closed her eyes, as if bracing herself for the death that was about to claim her.
“Take all that away,” he continued mockingly, “and what’s left?” The man then drew the sword back and thrust it forward directly at the beautiful girl’s face.
She should have been dead.
By all reasoning, she should have perished. Were she a normal girl, she would have been. There was nothing normal, however, about her.
The moment before the blade could slice her face, the girl’s hands came up, almost instinctively, clapping on either side of the blade. She then opened her eyes, met her attacker’s gaze and answered his question.
With great force, using her hold on the blade, she slammed the hilt up into the face of her opponent. He staggered backwards, and she used the momentum to jump to her feet and kick him in the chest. She then grabbed her sword from where it had fallen, swishing it around and engaging his blade once more. The battle recommenced and the girl quickly gained the upper hand. Her blows forced the man down, and then back, pushing him once more into the stone house.
She sliced his hand and disarmed him, and then kicked him, forcing him to his knees. He clutched his injured hand as he fell, gasping. The girl then raised her blade, for the final blow, determination etched on every feature of her face. She would win this, and the man would die.~*~2937, the Third Age, Rivendell, Eriador
The boy sat up, gasping.
The sheets of his bed had bunched around his waist, and his nightshirt was damp with perspiration from fear. For a moment, he was still there in that cool atrium, with the slight wind and the growing heat from the rising sun. He could almost feel the heightened emotion from the battle, and then the feeling passed and eased away, along with the remnants of the dream.
This was not the first time he had had the dreams, but they never seemed to get easier. They were always the same, or at least the theme of them seemed to be. They were always focused around this same young girl, who, oddly enough, often dressed as a boy, and she was always fighting. Different opponents in different locations, but always really the same. The odd thing lately was the change of one of her comrades into one of her enemies.
It was strange, the reversal of roles. The man, who the girl always called Angel, was the one who would traditionally be the hero in stories of battles and wars. But in these dreams, Angel was secondary to her. The girl, the Slayer, Buffy.
He didn’t know if the last word was her name or another title, but it seemed to be what her men-and-women-at-arms called her. Whenever they ran into trouble in skirmishes, they always called out for Buffy, and she always came. She was a hero, a warrior.
And Estel had been dreaming about her for over a year.
At first they were just blurred images quickly forgotten upon waking. Snatches of battles fought and foes defeated. Estel had never seen an Orc before, but the monsters Buffy fought seemed a lot like the descriptions of Orcs he had gotten from Elrohir and Elladan. Eventually, though, the dreams became longer. The battles hadn’t necessarily lengthened, but his window of viewing them had, and the details were clearer and he could retain them better when he woke. This last week had seemed to solidify this change.
She fought in some place he had never seen. It could be in Eriador, but from the stories that his brothers had told him, along with his mother’s tales of the wilds in which she grew up, he thought not. It could be Bree, or near the Shire. Or perhaps the town Buffy fought in was some place far away, like in Gondor. It was possible, but Estel had no way of knowing. In one of his future dreams it might be clearer. The boy just wished he knew why he was having them, and why they had become so vivid.
Looking over at the mantle, he espied the clock sitting there. It had been a gift to Estel from his Grandfather Dírhael, who had bought it from a halfling in Bree. The small folk loved things that grew, but they could be very industrious in building things they liked, and hobbits were very fond of clocks. Elves though, with their sensitive hearing, hated their ticking sounds and Estel’s grandfather had given him a very noisy one. Even though Master Elrond was not a full Elf, he had wanted the contraption as far away from his own person as possible, so he had told his son to keep it in his own rooms and forbade it from being in the common areas.
Squinting his eyes, Estel could just make out the time. It was three in the morning. That meant his birthday had come and he was six now.
Perhaps that was the reason. Six was an important birthday, or at least it felt like it was. It was older than five, certainly, and halfway to thirteen. And, thirteen was practically a man, and the twins had told Estel that they would take him on their Orc hunts once he hit his teens; or at least they would if the boy could convince his mother to let him go. She didn’t like the idea though, and neither did his father. They both wanted him to stay in Imladris, and never go anywhere.
It wasn’t fair.
They were always keeping secrets from him too. They thought he didn’t notice, but he did. Like when that Wizard had visited recently. Estel hadn’t been allowed to meet or talk to him. His father had said something about not wanting him to get ideas, but Estel knew that it was because being a friend of the Grey Pilgrim meant going on adventures. He was always coming and going from the Last Homely House with a tale to tell; not that Estel ever heard them any way but secondhand, for, according to his father, he and the Wizard—were not to meet
And his mother was just as bad as his father. Whenever their kin visited from the Angle, she never let them talk to Estel alone. She was always there supervising, as if she thought her son would get into trouble without her! It was humiliating to have his mother always hovering, and never getting a chance to talk to his grandfather and great-uncle on his own. He had other kin that lived with the rest of the Dúnedain, but he had never met them. He had said to his mother once that they might go visit. She had looked as though she wanted to cry at that suggestion, and yet whenever he had asked her why, she always fell silent and wouldn’t discuss it.
They were the only humans who lived in Imladris permanently. Many came and went; travelers who lost their way, Rangers of the North who often were his kin, even some adventurers who stopped at the Last Homely House before heading towards the unforgiving Misty Mountains. The rest of the inhabitants of the valley were elves or peredhils. They didn’t make tracks in the snow. They didn’t have round ears. They didn’t make noise when they stepped.
He did, because he was a boy.
His father was a peredhil, a half-elven, and his mother was a woman. Estel supposed that there was just too much man in him to give him an elven light.
He wondered sometimes why his Ada had married his Nana. They had nothing in common, and they never spent any time together except at meals. And yet, he was their son. Estel really didn’t understand. Elves weren’t supposed to remarry; it wasn’t their way. And yet his father had, because his older brothers were from Master Elrond’s first marriage. Though his father wasn’t fully elven; maybe that made a difference. Estel supposed that it also could be because his mother was so lovely.
She was beautiful, his mother, and golden like the girl in his dreams. Yet, Estel had always thought that she was very sad. It was sometimes exhausting to be in her presence, if for no other reason than, as he was a child, he wanted to yell and shout and laugh, and doing any of those things would disturb the air around her, as if she was a piece of statuary in the gardens that it felt wrong to speak in front of.
Estel knew little of his life before Imladris. He knew that he been born in the Angle, and that his mother had smiled and laughed then. He knew that he had lived with his human kin, and that his beginnings had been spoken in Westron. The boy supposed that his father had missed his mother and had not liked her being far away.
The idea of a life before Imladris had always fascinated Estel. He didn’t remember much of that time, only small things. There had been a dog that sat by the fire, and Estel had called him Wolf, much to his mother’s dismay. When he thought of then, of before, he could remember warm grey eyes that loved him, a barrel-chested man who tossed him into the air and gave the best hugs, and lullabies sung in Adûnaic, which was the ancient language of his people. After was coldness and sad faces, and a funeral dirge that sometimes he could still hear when he woke from his dreams in a cold sweat, which Estel didn’t understand at all and made his mother pale when the little boy spoke of it.
He could remember nothing more than a handful of thoughts and memories from then, and yet there was a distinct feeling of before and after when he thought of Imladris. He didn’t remember coming there; didn’t remember making what must have been a perilous trip. He didn’t remember the spaces between; the wilds of Eriador, or the way the mountains looked except from the hidden valley he had lived in for years. And yet, when he thought of that time before, when he was too young and too happy, a pervading feeling of loss rose up in him.
His Ada would not have him so. The boy knew this. He knew that his father wanted him to be happy, to make Imladris his home, and forget before. But it all seemed wrong somehow, like his life had been a road that forked, and his horse had carried him astray.
Westron lessons were in the mornings. He was fluent in Sindarin, and his Quenya was passable, if not fair, but he had to be drilled in Westron. It wasn’t that his Westron was bad, his was excellent, but Master Erestor wanted him to have no accent when he spoke. It had crossed the boy’s mind more than once that Sindarin would have been the language he spoke with traces of an accent, not Westron, had he grown up among his mother’s people.
He knew that had he been raised among the Dúnedain that this was the way. When his Great-uncle Halamon and his Grandfather Dírhael visited sometimes, they told stories about the men of Westernesse, about the Angle. He learned then that men spoke Westron first, Sindarin second. Elves did it the other way around, yet he was a boy and he spoke Sindarin first.
No one would answer his questions. There was no good answer to any of it. When he asked his mother why they lived in Rivendell and not the Angle, she had said because I want you to be safe
None of it made sense, and yet it was all he knew.
He wanted answers, but none were forthcoming.
But then the dreams had come.
Estel hated secrets, and yet it seemed like they filled his life sometimes. But his dreams were one thing that he had, that no one else knew about. They were his
secret, and he planned to keep them that way. Lying back down in his bed, the young boy slowly drifted back to sleep, knowing that many hours still remained until morning, and the beginning of his birthday celebrations.~*~
The birthday boy was roused by the gentle hands of his mother. Blinking tiredly, he smiled up at her. “Good morning, Mamil
“Good morning, onya
,” his mother replied, smiling at him. Her grey eyes were abnormally happy and warm, and they made something good and right rise in Estel’s chest. “A thousand blessings on your head; happy birthday.”
“Thank you,” he said, grinning. “I am six now. That’s very old.”
“And so you are, my winter born son who brought Gwaeron
with him at his birth,” Gilraen laughed. She embraced him and the small boy happily snuggled up to her, not yet having reached the age wherein he would learn to shun his mother’s arms. Her golden hair fell around them, and a lock of it became caught in Estel’s right fist.
As he disentangled his hand, Estel asked, “Mamil
, why is your hair gold and mine black?”
“Hmm, you have the hair of our people,” his mother said. “You have the true look of them, while my hair is a rarity that only crops up every few generations. It was very odd that both my brother and I had it.”
“I had a dream about a woman with golden hair leading an army in battle,” Estel said, momentarily forgetting his own resolve not to speak of his visions. “Do you think she could have been one of our family?”
“I doubt it,” Gilraen said with an indulgent smile. “There have been no woman warriors in my father’s line, though maybe your lady was a Shieldmaiden like my mother’s mother’s people sometimes were.”
“She’s not my
lady,” Estel protested. “I’m just a boy. Boys don’t have ladies, only men.”
“My apologies,” Gilraen said, trying to keep a straight face.
“What’s a Shieldmaiden?” Estel asked, his sudden pique forgotten.
“The Rohirrim, that is the people who call themselves the Eorlingas, live in Rohan, which they call the Mark. They are great lords of horses, and they command the fields and rolling hills near to Gondor. My grandmother was one of their number, until she was spirited away by a wild ranger who tempted her with tales of the North,” Gilraen told him with twinkling eyes. “When I was a little girl, no bigger than you are now, she used to tell me about the Eorlingas, and about their people’s history. Sometimes, when men went to battle, women went with them, and they called themselves Shieldmaidens. The tales speak of them as very fair and very beautiful, with valiant deeds to their names. They were not content to sit at home in their solars waiting for their menfolk to return. Instead, they would bear a sword and shield and go bravely into battle themselves, their golden hair unbound and blowing like a banner behind them.”
Estel’s mind momentarily flickered to the blonde girl—the one called Buffy—and knew that she must be a Shieldmaiden. She was strong and valiant, and he knew that she would not be content to wait patiently at home. No, she was a girl that would go boldly into battle.
“Do you think you would like to marry a Shieldmaiden, my son?” Gilraen asked him, not trying to hide her amusement anymore. “Should you like such an unbiddable wife?”
The little boy looked at his mother with a withering expression. “I don’t have to think about marrying for ages and ages! I’m only six.”
“Oh, just six? And to think, not that moments ago six was very old.” She reached in quickly and tickled his sides.
Estel shrieked and laughed, jumping from his bed. He rushed into the bathroom, and saw that a bath had already been drawn from him. Knowing there was no getting out of it, he stripped and climbed in the claw-footed copper tub. Estel quickly worked the soap into a lather, and began washing all over. As he got clean, he could hear his mother singing in the other room as she put out his clothes for the day.
Estel laughed to himself. Mothers had such silly ideas sometimes. He had no plans to marry for years and years, and maybe not at all. Still, as he scrubbed behind his ears, the little boy admitted to himself that, if he were forced to marry, for his wife to be a Shieldmaiden would not be such a bad thing.~*~
Because it was his birthday, he had been able to escape lessons with Master Erestor. The fussy elf was the lore master of Imladris, as well as a counselor to his father, and Estel was forced to attend lessons with him everyday. The Noldorin elf demanded excellence from his pupil, and that made for long hours practicing his script and his pronunciation in all the many languages he was required to learn.
But for once he was free to do as he liked. His Ada had excused him from lessons at breakfast, and now he was running wild along the steep banks of the Bruinen. The water in the river bank was flowing noisily, as it always did, rushing right along. It never dried up, not fully, because the river was constantly being fed by the snow melts. Estel ran across the narrow stone parapet which stretched over the river, nimbly making his way to the other side.
He ran through the trees, his fingers barely lingering on the bark and touching the branches as he passed. The ground was soft underfoot, and the weather mild despite it being the first day of the third month of the year. Being outside was liberating for the young boy, and he intended to take full advantage of his freedom. When he reached a clearing with trees that had branches low enough for him to climb, he clambered up into one of the pine trees, the scent of needles and sap filling his nose.
Half way up the tree, Estel paused, and looked out at the valley below him. Much of the Last Homely House was obscured, but he could see down the length of the great river as it twisted in a serpentine fashion into the rest of the hidden valley. From his perch, he felt so very big, rather than as small as he normally did.
A sound from his left drew his attention, and the boy looked over to see a raven at the end of the branch, cleaning its feathers. He relaxed then, though he noticed that the bird was looking at him keenly.
“Hello,” he said, not really expecting a sensible answer from a bird.
But to his excitement and fascination, the bird replied in the Common Tongue, “Hello, young one.”
“You can talk!” Estel gasped.
“My kin and I hail from Erebor. We were taught to speak by the dwarves there. Some still remain, but those of us who fled when the dragon came made our home in the Misty Mountains.”
“Dragon?” Estel asked, his interest peaked.
“Smaug the Terrible,” the raven said. “He came and took the Lonely Mountain. Most of us fled. Those who did not died a most painful death.”
“I am sorry,” Estel said, suddenly feeling very bad for the raven and his kin.
The raven inclined his head.
As the little boy looked at him, he had a strange pricking sensation that began at the back of his neck. It was as if he had known about ravens being able to speak before, and yet he didn’t remember being told that. Yet somehow the raven talking to him didn’t shock him as it ought to have.
It was impossible to say whether the memory flew to his mind because of the intense prophetic dreams he already had, or if it was because his foresight was more developed than the rest of his kin. It matters not. One moment, he was there in the tree next to a talking raven, and then suddenly he was not. He was in a garden, and the plants were very tall, some even taller than him. It took him a moment, but then he realized that it wasn’t the plants that were bigger, rather he was shorter. Before he had time to dwell on that thought, he was hoisted up into a pair of strong arms and balanced on a man’s hip. It was the barrel-chested man from his memories! He had kind grey eyes, and he was gazing at Estel as if he was the most fascinating thing in Middle-earth.
Estel pointed up at the sky, grinning at the man. “Look! Bird.”
“That’s a raven,” the strange man replied in a melodic tone. “It’s odd to see one down this way, they normally stay closer to the northern peaks. You know, onya, there are legends that the dwarves of Durin’s line once taught ravens to talk.” He spoke to Estel as if he understood everything, despite the fact that he was very clearly a toddler. And the man called him ‘onya’! That was a name that only his mother called him. Why would this stranger call him that?
“Arathorn!” The man turned with Estel still in his arms, and the boy could suddenly see his mother standing at the edge of the garden. She was wearing a broad smile on her face, and staring at the man in a way that Estel didn’t understand. “Bedtime for our little one,” Gilraen said. “And if you got him dirty, you will be the one to scrub him down, my love.”
Arathorn smiled at her, and then looked at the boy in his arms. “Time to sleep, Aragorn. You can run in the garden more tomorrow.”
“Not sleepy, Atto,” Estel said, yawning.
He laughed. “Oh, I think you are, my son. I think you are.”
Suddenly the kind grey eyes and the warm arms were gone, and Estel was sitting precariously on a tree branch once more. He tried to make sense of what he saw, but his mind refused to form the proper connections.
How could he have called that man Atto? That was the name for a father, and Master Elrond was his father.
Then, all of those things that had never made sense to him suddenly began to pull together in his mind. His mother never spent anytime with his father. His father was married before Estel’s mother, even though elves only marry once and forever. He didn’t have any elf-like traits at all, except foresight and that was something his mother’s people had. His mother was so secretive with him, and sometimes it seemed as though words were on the tip of her tongue before she pulled them back.
His heart sank as he realized what it meant, and a queer feeling rose in his chest along with tears, which he furiously blinked back.
It was a long walk to return to the Last Homely House. His hands were raw from climbing, but that was nothing to the abused feeling in his heart. At just six, he had never had occasion to feel such a way before—it was entirely unrecognizable to him—and had he been older he would have recognized the feeling as betrayal.
The twins called out a birthday greeting as he crossed into the courtyard, but he didn’t look up. He didn’t even acknowledge them. He just kept walking. One of them must have alerted everyone else, for he was stopped at the base of the stairs to his room by his mother and Master Elrond, both of them looking concerned.
, what is it? What has happened?” Gilraen said anxiously, reaching out a hand to his face.
The little boy jerked away from her hand, and glared at her mutinously. His lip was trembling, and his eyes were filled with tears, and he had to clench his small jaw to prevent them from spilling forth.
“Estel, what’s wrong?” Elrond then asked, making a terrible mistake.
“That’s not my name!” the little boy cried out, tears falling now. “And you, you are not my father! You’re liars, both of you!”
Gilraen gasped, jerking back, while Elrond’s face clouded over.
, please, tell me what’s happened,” Gilraen pleaded, looking as if she too might weep.
“I remembered,” the small Dúnadan bit off. “I remembered Atto
, and I remembered before here too. My father’s name was Arathorn, not Elrond. Where is he?” he demanded. “Did you run away with me? My atto
loved me, and you just took me away!”
“No,” his mother cried, falling to her knees before him. “I didn’t take you from him. He died, onya
; he died. When you were just a toddling babe. We came here so that you could be safe.”
“Estel—” Elrond began.
“Don’t call me that!” he sobbed out. “That is not my name!”
The peredhil sighed heavily. “You are right. That it not your name—Aragorn.”
The little boy sighed, his chest feeling tight again, but this time it was because of the fullness that he suddenly felt. Despite his continued anguish at his mother and Master Elrond’s betrayal, Aragorn’s face lit in a tiny smile. Yes, that was right. He was Aragorn son of Arathorn.
He would not forget again.