Never Back Down by nautika
Rating: T? Some graphic descriptions (the violent kind, not the other kind).
Summary: Estel is being taken to a place he last saw in his nightmares. A young Estel story.
A/N I consider all my stories AU, but in this one, I say that Aragorn was with his parents when they are both killed by orcs. I realize in the books, his father was killed while fighting orcs with Elladan and Elrohir and mother took him to Rivendell. I looked for the exact location of his father's death, but couldn't find it.
Lucas and his father were first seen in my fic "Is It Really Home Sweet Home for Estel?", but you don't need to have read it first.
Never Back Down
'Never back down from fear, never back down from fear.' The boy repeated the phrase over and over in his mind, his lips moving silently as he focused on the words. He had heard his big brother Elladan speak these words when leading a group of warriors. The warriors had each raised a fist in the air and shouted in support of what Elladan had said. At the time, the words had struck Estel as being important, very important, especially as there seemed a great deal for a small human to be afraid of in the world of seemingly fearless elves.
Now, riding in front of Lucas on the pony Ada had given him, he knew he would need to hold those words very close. They were more important now than when the branches of the tree brushed his window in response to a gust of wind or when a breeze moved his curtains and cast strange shadows that actually seemed to move within his room. Those things were not even truly real. That phrase was now even more important than when the thunder, very real indeed, seemed to shake the foundations of his home in Rivendell it was so loud.
He had not thought the time would come when the words were more important than when the elflings of Rivendell taunted him, calling him names and laughing at all the things he could not do that came so easily to them. At those times, he recited Elladan's words to keep the tears at bay or to keep himself from running away. That phrase, 'Never back down from fear,' often gave him the strength to laugh with the elflings and to pretend their words and actions did not hurt him. And that was important because it would distress his elven father and brothers if they discovered the elflings had upset him again. Those things were very, very real. But nothing real or imaginary had ever required as much courage from the boy as what he faced now.
At this moment, with Lucas' father, Broryl, Lucas himself, and these other rangers, he was riding to the one area he had thought he would never be forced to revisit ever again. They were taking him to the worst place he could ever remember being – the place where he had seen his human parents die. Only his elven brothers' swift actions had saved him from the orcs that had cut down his mother and put an arrow into his father's eye. Estel shuddered in spite of himself and swallowed hard to keep from being ill.
"Estel?" his friend whispered behind him, trying not to attract the adults' attention. The other boy had been worried about Estel ever since they'd overheard the rangers talking earlier about exactly where they were going and how orcs had killed a ranger chieftain and his family there years ago.
"I am well," Estel whispered back. He just wanted this to be over. He knew the rangers would not have brought him if they had known what had happened to him there. If he and Lucas had not heard them talking, it was unlikely he would have recognized the place years later. They didn't know what he had seen happen there. They didn't know about the images that haunted Estel's dreams for months after arriving at Rivendell. Estel fervently hoped that only Elrond and the twins knew that secret. During those night terrors he relived the moment when his father was killed and once again heard his mother cry out "No!" followed by the strangled sound she made as she fell to the ground and lay unmoving, her normally dancing eyes staring vacantly at him.
Swallowing hard, Estel tried to remember what the twins had told him about what to watch and listen for when in the woods. Maybe if he did that, he could forget where they were steadily approaching, if only for a short time. Thinking about Elladan and Elrohir made him think of Elrond. Ada would not approve of him being on this trip. For that matter, he doubted the twins would like him going to this place any more than Estel himself liked it, but there was nothing he could do without telling the rangers – or at least Lucas' father – that he had seen his parents killed here. His adopted father had stressed to him that was only something to be discussed with family and he knew in his heart he would be failing his ada if he told. Besides, talking about it would be worse than going. He would just keep quiet and hope he could keep from giving into fear and not cry or be sick. Lucas might not want to be friends with a baby, and only babies cry.
The rangers traveled noiselessly; not as silent as elves, but almost. Speaking rarely once on the trail, the resulting quiet made the sudden noise of horses' hooves seem loud and intrusive. The sound of a bird coming from the direction of the hooves caused the rangers, whose hands had gone to their sword hilts at the sound of approaching riders, to relax as they pulled their mounts to a halt. Within moments, two familiar figures road into sight.
"Dan! Ro!" Estel was so glad to see his brothers he used the shortened versions of their names, first used before he was old enough to pronounce their full names correctly.
Carefully maneuvering their way between the rangers, the twins road alongside Estel's pony. Elrohir slid from his horse and placed one hand on Estel's thigh while using the other to mess the boy's already wild hair.
"Good morning, little brother." Elrohir stopped just short of asking Estel if he had missed them, the usual greeting, because of a slight shimmer in the boy's eyes.
The younger twin gave a silent thanks to the Valar that they had reached the group before they arrived at their destination. Instead he turned to Broryl and extended a hand, the man returned the grasp and included Elladan in the greeting with a nod. "You're earlier than I expected."
"Obviously." Everyone's gaze fell on Elladan. Estel couldn't help thinking that usually only their ada sounded like that, and then only when one of more of his sons had fallen into serious trouble. Estel thought Lucas' father might be in trouble with the older twin. He realized the rest of the group had become totally silent, and he shifted uneasily on his pony, watching Elladan and Elrohir closely.
"Elladan." The younger twin's voice was soft, but it caused Elladan to look toward his brothers. The twins' eyes met and held for a few moments. Finally, Elladan blinked and drew a deep breath before turning to Broryl.
"Adar has sent for Estel. He has a surprise for him and has decided he cannot wait any longer to give it to him."
Broryl nodded slowly and forced a smile. "Of course."
Lucas and Estel exchanged worried looks as Broryl lifted his son down from behind Estel. Elrohir noticed the exchange and touched Broryl's arm lightly. "I hope you will allow Lucas to visit us soon."
The human's eyes met and held Elrohir's – something few men could do easily – and finally nodded as though satisfied with what he had seen. "The next time we make plans for the boys to get together, perhaps all of Elrond's sons would like to come?" He extended his hand to the elf once more, who grasped it firmly in a warrior handshake before releasing it.
Elrohir felt a tug on his tunic and glanced down to find Lucas looking up at him. "Thank you, sir."
Elrohir placed a hand on the boy's head. "You are a good friend to Estel."
"Estel has been unhappy. A good friend would not allow another to be unhappy and do nothing about it. I have failed him and I am sorry." Lucas spoke so softly the men could not hear what he said, but his tone caused Elrohir to kneel before him.
"Whatever has happened, I am sure it is not your doing."
Elrohir looked at Estel to see what his reaction was and realized his little brother was very close to the end of his endurance. Elladan, evidently thinking the same thing, slid from his horse and moved to Estel. Estel leaned to whisper something in the elf's ear. His brother listened intently, then smiled and ruffled his hair, much as Elrohir had done earlier.
"All will be well, Lucas. We will see you again before change of season. And according to Estel, you are a good friend to him. Try not to think on this except to learn from it."
"Oh, I have learned my lesson, sir! Honestly, I have." Lucas thought it would be a long, long time before he listened in on someone's conversation again.
"Good." Elladan turned his glance to include the rangers. "May the Valar watch over you all."
The rangers nodded and Broryl spoke for them all. "And you."
"Come, Estel. You will ride with me. Your pony will be tired by the time we reach home and it will be easier for him if he does not have to carry your weight." The sons of Elrond turned and headed back to Imladris.
After riding several minutes in silence, with the twins exchanging concerned looks, Estel spoke. "How did you know?" he said softly.
"Ada had been feeling uneasy and sent us early. Had all been well when we arrived, we would simply have aided Broryl in his work until time for you to leave. We did not know what had happened until we reached Lucas' home and spoke with his mother."
Elrohir knew what it had cost his older brother to speak so calmly. Elladan had taken their failure to protect Estel's parents even harder than Elrohir. Elladan always felt he was responsible for all those he cared for and after discovering where Estel was being taken he had the same look in his eyes he had carried when their mother had been taken by orcs. It had frightened Elrohir in part because it was likely Estel would be the chieftain of the rangers one day. It would not do to instill distrust of them into him now. Elrohir spoke as much for Elladan as for Estel. "They meant no harm, Estel."
"I know. But I am glad you came." Estel paused, considering his next words. "Elladan?"
"You always tell your warriors they should never back down from fear. Is that not what I am doing?"
Elladan felt as though all the breath had left his body. Exchanging a look with his twin, he picked the boy up from in front of him and turned him so he faced Elrohir, riding to their right. This way Estel could see them and they could both see his face.
"It is true you should never back down from fear, but that does not mean seeking out things we are afraid of and doing them to prove we do not back down. Fear protects us, Estel. It causes us to learn all we can about things that frighten us so we can approach them in the safest way. You know that Ada never allows us to leave without making sure we have a pack of herbs and other healing supplies?"
Estel nodded, frowning as he concentrated on what his brother said.
"It is always wise to be prepared for the unexpected, because it cannot be avoided at all times. But in this case, there is no reason for you to make this trip today. You can prepare for it, talk to Ada and to us about it, and go when you are ready. You may never be fully prepared, but you have no need to go today, surprising you as they did with it."
Estel nodded again and relaxed in Elladan's arms. His brother was right. There was no rush to do this thing, and when he did decide to go, he had rather do so with his brothers than with the rangers. Thinking again on what Elladan had just said, Estel smiled impishly.
"Now what of Ada's surprise?"
The twins laughed with relief. "When you get home, little brother. I do not believe Ada would appreciate our spoiling his surprise."
Hours later, the sons of Elrond rode into the courtyard to find their father on the balcony waiting for them. The sound of their laughter eased the older elf's heart and he moved swiftly to meet them before they entered the stables. There would be time later to learn what had happened at Broryl's. After all, it was he who was giving his youngest his first "real" horse and he wanted to share the moment.