By: Cheryl W.

Disclaimer: I don't own The Lord of the Rings or anything in conjunction with The Lord of the Rings nor am I making a profit from this story. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Notes: Hope you like this final chapter and I'ld love to hear your thoughts!


Chapter 3

With a heavy heart, Estel descended the stairs of the Last Homely House. Leaving his brothers behind maybe forever was an agony not even their words of love could lessen. His cowardice was leading him upon a bitter path but still a path he would not abandon.

Upon the bottom step, he had a burning desire to turn again, to search out the faces of his brothers who he sensed stood at the top landing. But instead he drew a fortifying breath and began to cross the great hall to the door.

He was startled when Elrond rose from a chair that circled the fire place. Seeing his father, Estel's steps faltered even as his heart broke. He had hoped that he would not have to face his father again, to see the disappointment rage in his eyes, to be pierced so acutely by the shame he was bringing to his father.

Elrond walked toward his son but Estel again began to stride determinedly for the door.

"My decision is made. You can not unmake it," Estel firmly forestalled any words he feared Elrond would utter while keeping his eyes fixed on his objective, the door.

But Elrond would not see his son slip through his fingers so easily. He stepped in Estel's path but for the second time in his life, his son skittered away from his touch. Not letting the pain of his son's rejection dull his reaction, Elrond's hands shot out and seized Estel's shoulders, stopping the human's forward motion.

Turning his son to face him, Elrond studied his son's features as he sought the courage to say the words he had rehearsed all the long night. "Estel, my son," he gently began.

His father's words, the love that they emanated, caused Estel to flinch and he began to brokenly protest, "Don't..." as he dropped his head.

"No," Elrond overrode with gentle strength, and he tenderly lifted his son's face so their eyes met. "We must talk."

Swallowing down his emotions, Estel firmly retorted, "I have said all that needs to be said."

With gentle love, Elrond countered, "But I have not."

Fearing his father's words, Estel stammered, "I..I am sorry but I can not follow your wishes this time, ada. I can not walk the path you wish me to, whether it be my destiny or no." And he pulled from his father's hold and walked to the fireplace.

Elrond watched the tense set of his son's shoulders and the words from the day before came unbidden to his mind. "You are Estel and Aragorn and you yet may be Strider. But no matter what name you bear, this destiny is your burden. I can not take it away from you." He let those words sink in before he quietly said, "And you can not undo your destiny by running away."

A flinch shuttered through Estel at his father's words, the words he had dreaded to hear. But he lent his pain into the avenue of bitterness. Swinging around, he angrily faced his father, "You speak to me of destiny and yet "you" could choose your own final destiny, mortality or immortality, life or death. What do you know of being bound to destiny?"

His son's words sank into Elrond's heart and he knew that he would never truly understand his son's pain. "I know that, once set, destiny can not be altered." Crossing to Estel, Elrond stood before his son. "You hold the fate of Middle Earth in your hands."

"Look into the future again," Estel entreated desperately. "Seek another to bear this burden!"

"You are the only one I have ever seen, my son. Your destiny can not be given to another for no other has the strength to fulfill it as you do," Elrond softly said.

"Strength?!" Estel scoffed. "There is no strength in a coward! A coward like myself knows only about saving himself! Middle Earth can fare better making it's own destiny!"

Estel brushed by his father, now desperate to leave the house which had long been his home.

"You are no coward!" Elrond thundered in outrage.

Estel strode still for the door. "Why? Because I am your son, because I am descended from your brother who knew no fear!? I know the bitter taste of fear."

"All mortals fear death."

With his hand on the door knob, Estel stopped and a bitter laugh eminated from him. Facing his father again, Estel contradicted, "Immortals always believe that death is the worst fate that awaits man."

"And what fate do you fear above death?!"


Stunned by his son's admission, Elrond stammered, "We...we all fail, Estel. Immortal or mortal. But we must have the strength to try and right our wrongs."

"How do I right Isildur's wrong?! How can I undo the unleashing of Sauron?! And if I should fail to save Middle Earth, how then shall I right that wrong?! Some wrongs can not be righted. Some of destiny's paths offer failures that are too great to risk."

"And if, by turning from your destiny, you doom Middle Earth?" Elrond quietly asked not with judgment but with fatherly concern.

"Then I pray the Valar condemns my wretchedly cowardice soul to the darkest depths reserved for men." Estel forcefully pulled open the door but before he could take a step the door was slammed shut, cutting off his escape.

Then Elrond stood barring his way, "No, that will not be your fate," he said with tears thick in his voice and he brushed his fingers across his son's cheek. "The Valar knows the goodness of your heart, that you would do all in your power to save this world...even forsake your destiny and chance the condemnation of your soul. Love leads you, not cowardice."

"Ada," Estel brokenly entreated as tears escaped from his eyes.

"Shhhh," Elrond bid and pulled Estel into a tight hug. Immediately Estel's arms clung desperately to his father. "Let your heart lead you where it will, Estel. Destiny and Fate will have to yield to the mercy of love."

"I love you, ada," Estel chocked out.

Elrond tightened his embrace and rested his head against his son's. "And I love you, Estel. I love you no matter what path in this life you take or what name you call yourself."

It was some time later that Estel pulled back and met his father's eyes now without anguish but hope. Tenderly, Elrond wiped away the tears that tracked down his son's face, "I wish you to stay here, Estel but if you heart leads you to the rangers..." seeing in his son's eyes that a separation was before them, he continued, "then I envy the rangers their newest member."

Estel laughed with joy and humor, "They will most likely turn me away, needing no green youth to hinder them."

Elrond traced his thumbs under his son's eyes, "A youth you may be but never green, Estel. You are a great warrior whose skill any would welcome to their aid." Then Elrond reached into his cloaks and pulled out silver brooch shaped like a rayed star.. "This pin was Arathorn's...your father's. It is the pin worn by the northern rangers." Reverently, Elrond undid the elven pin on his son's cloak and put the ranger's pin securely in it's place.

But Estel seized his father's hand that held the elven pin. "I may forsake Aragorn's path but I do not wish to cease to be Estel." With a smile, Elrond placed the elven pin in his son's hand and closed it around the heirloom.

"You will ever be Estel to me, my hope." Placing a kiss on Estel's forehead, Elrond stepped back and touched his hand to his heart and then toward Estel in the elvish gesture of honor and departure. "Take care of yourself, Strider."

Estel smiled at hearing his new name upon his father's lips. "Yes, Lord Elrond."

"May the Valar protect you and lead your paths home to us before too long."

"If I do as you bid me and let my heart lead..." here sorrow entered his eyes before he chased it away with his resolve. "I will come home again, Ada."

"With that promise I will let you depart but know that you carry my love, my heart with you."

"As you carry mine. Goodbye, Ada." Offering his father the same elvish gesture of departure, he turned, opened the door and Strider walked from the Last Homely House, bearing a destiny now of his own making, a destiny guided by his heart and walking a path protected by love.

The End.

Replies to Reviews:

Silvertoekee: Thanks so much for tuning into this story! I hope it's OK with you that I did my traditional happy ending for the story. Writing sad chapters is fine, writing sad endings...well, I'm just too much of a softie for that.

Tychen: Thanks for your wonderful review! I'm glad that my writing made you feel something, even if it was sadness. I really appreciate that you decided to read another story by me but I truly don't think anything will be as good as "Mire." I think I'll only strike that kinda gold once. And since you know me so well, this feel good ending probably wasn't such a surprise. I couldn't have Strider out there in the "harsh cold world" without love. Again I was so glad to hear from you!

Grumpy: Thanks for reading another of my stories! Glad you like the story and that evil part of me loved that you needed kleneexs! And I was a little worried about the bracelet and knife idea since it's AU but since you gave it your Ok, I'm relieved! Love to hear what you think of this final chapter.

Steffi Strider: I'm blushing at your wonderful review! And I'm honored to make it to your favorite's list! Thanks for reading and reviewing!

Catmint: I'm glad you are still tuned into this story and took the time to review! Thanks so much for thinking my story is sad and powerful. Love to know what you think of this final chapter.

Elven Kitten: Thanks for your review! And I would love to hear what you think of this final chapter.

Thanks to everyone who read this story!! I have some other stories about ready to post but I'm also working on another story that will bring Aragorn home for the first time since joining the rangers. I mean he has to come home and reclaim his ring and knife, Right?! Hope you all tune in for that story.

Cheryl W.