For Shane…thanks, Trouble. Could never have written this without you as my muse.


"Haldir has called a meeting for the elves. He wishes you to be there." Aragorn looked up as the words escaped Legolas' lips. "Is everything alright?" Legolas quirked an eyebrow at his best friend. "Here we are, less than eight thousand strong, against a host of more than ten thousand orcs, and you, Estel, are asking if everything's alright? You have a strange sense of humor, my friend." Aragorn turned from his work, which, Legolas saw at last, was the polishing of his sword. The two-handled blade slid easily into Aragorn's scabbard as he stood. "Shall we go, then?"


"Silent, everyone! Estel has arrived." In the inner court, the great Lóthlórien elves sat all over, some preferring to stand. Mortal sentries, posted by Théoden, no doubt, were lining the walls, watching the congregation with interest. Aragorn started slowly down the steps, Legolas at his heels. He made his way silently to the center of the area, where a bonfire had been drawn up. Haldir, who'd commanded everyone's silence, stood still as the Ranger approached him.

"Something troubles you, my friend?" The words were spoken in Elvish to avert prying ears. Haldir leaned forward and whispered, "My men are losing their strength. Darkness covers this land. With even your diluted Elven blood, surely you can feel it? It drains their resolve, it weakens their morale. They are not warriors when they are like this. They are merely pigs, lined up for slaughter. Talk to them, Estel. All elves respect you and trust you. Talk to them."

Aragorn listened with a heavy heart; yes, he'd indeed sensed the evil blanketing the area. To him, it was like a smothering blanket. To hear the words come from his friend's mouth simply meant that it was worse for the elves. Turning his silver eyes to the elves, he took a slow turn, taking in every fighter. Finally, he gathered the words to speak.

"Most of you know me. Just as I know most of you. Some of you…I have not had the pleasure to meet. Haldir tells me of the darkness covering this area. Can you feel it?" Clearly not a hypothetical question, dozens of elves nodded their heads. "I feel it as well. It's as a fire that consumes all in its path. It's fighting you, fighting your very will. And I can sense, that in some of you…it's winning." Several elves pulled faces, but most didn't bother to deny the fact that Aragorn was right.

"But my friends, there is one thing you seem to have forgotten. One thing that may push back the tide, that may loosen the darkness from your minds." A pause as Aragorn turned once again, and Haldir found himself hanging on to the Ranger's every word. So engrossed were the elves that none of them noticed Théoden take post at the top of the Great Gate and watch the meeting.

"You seem to have forgotten that one thing still exists in this world that evil fears. Hope." Legolas felt a proud smile cross his face as he listened to Aragorn's speech. "You may think you have the right kind of hope. 'I hope that we win this battle,' or, 'I hope that Middle Earth is not lost.' But that is a surface feeling only. There is a deeper hope that lies within you all. Within everyone."

"Some call it a soul. Others call it will. I prefer the name hope. Hope is what drives the enemies of Mordor. Hope that he will one day be vanquished, even if that day is not the day we live. Hope that your children, and their children, can live on in peace in Valinor, without the painful memories of war and death. These hopes are what the enemy fears. Because it is because of elves like you that he was defeated in the First War! It is because of elves like you that his forces were turned back! And, today, it is because of you all, that his fighters will once again taste the bittersweet bite of hope!"

Aragorn's voice had been slowly rising in pitch, and as he shouted the last part, all the elves broke out into shouts and war cries. Many raised their bows and waved them high in the air. Others unsheathed their blades and made their daggers glimmer in the firelight. Aragorn smiled a sad sort of smile as the elves sang of the coming battle. He quietly and unnoticeably made his way to the staircase to the Keep, and was at the top landing when Haldir suddenly shouted for silence.

In Elvish, the Lóthlórien commander cried, "Estel, you mistook one thing only!" Aragorn cocked his head; two steps below, Legolas also wore a puzzled frown. Haldir shouted, "We do not fight for Middle Earth! We do not fight for the races of Men, Dwarves, or any other free folk!" Aragorn stayed silent in his confusion, and Haldir yelled, "We fight for you! We fight for Estel! We fight for our hope!" Screams and hollers of approval rang from the crowd, and all elves turned towards Aragorn. For a moment, the Ranger just stood there, then he drew his sword.

There was near immediate silence, and Aragorn called, "The bones of our foes will gleam under the sun! Their corpses shall cook in the midday sun! " Cries of approval from the elves, and Haldir shouted, "We will follow you to death and beyond, Estel!" The future King of Gondor raised his sword high in the air and shouted loudly, "Death to our foes! Death to the foes of the elves!" The other warriors took up the cry. "Death to the foes of the elves!"


On the brick wall of the Hornburg, Théoden watched the meeting with awe. He saw the respect that Aragorn commanded and easily received from the elves. He saw the comradeship the hundreds of elves seemed to bestow effortlessly upon him. As he watched the shouting elves, he suddenly realized what made him dislike the Ranger so badly. "They respect him…only because he asks it." Beside him, Éomer looked at him in confusion. "What, my lord?"

Théoden quietly said, "That is how I've always wished my people to look upon me, Éomer. I've always wished them to respect me because of my authority, my power. But they respect him simply because he asks to be respected. No doubt, he's earned some of that respect, but again, there's also no doubt that some down there who do not know him, now respect him more than they do their own kin." Éomer softly said, "He is one of them, my lord. Raised in Rivendell for a time, foster son of Lord Elrond, descendant of the line of Númenor. He is as Elven as they are, perhaps not in flesh, but where it matters, in heart, in mind, and in spirit. They respect him, my lord, because he's their leader. He's their leader without even realizing he's leading them. He gives them what they want." Théoden turned questioning eyes to the man. "And what is that? What does he offer them?" The other gave a small smile. "Hope, my lord. He offers them hope, even when there is none left to give. Even when there is nothing more of himself, when there is nothing left for him to give, he still offers them hope."


It was only later, when Aragorn was burying the body of Haldir, when the dirt was hitting the elf's pale face simultaneous with Aragorn's tears, did Théoden find out that Aragorn's Elvish name, the one used so many times in his speech, the one that so many cried out with their last dying breaths, it was then that he find out that Estel meant 'hope.'