Author's Note: I usually post all my little Estel stories in my Dawn of Friendship collection, but since this one is longer than usual I decided to post it on its own. I hope you don't mind reading a summer story in winter. ;-) Thank you to everyone who reviewed my last story, I really appreciate it!
I hope you'll enjoy reading, and would love to hear how you liked it. :)
Title: The Stone
Author: Silivren Tinu
Beta: the wonderful Imbecamiel (((hugs)))
Summary: King Elessar remembers a special day during his childhood, when he received a priceless gift. Characters: Aragorn/Estel, Legolas, Arwen. Written for Prompt #127 "Stone" in the Aragorn Angst yahoo group.
Disclaimer: I own the pebble. Ha!
- The Stone -
Minas Tirith, several years after the War of the Ring…
King Elessar was standing at the window of the bedroom he shared with his queen, his eyes resting on a dark stone laying on the windowsill. It was a plain, small stone, rather a pebble, but something about it had the power to put a wistful smile on the king's face. In the grey light of early dawn, the stone was nothing more than a tiny solid shadow among shadows.
Aragorn leaned against the windowsill, looking out at a waking world. Absent-mindedly, he picked up the stone, enjoying the familiar feel of it against his fingers. It was a late summer day, and the air coming from outside was fresh and cool. The voices of birds could be heard from the palace gardens, but apart from that, there was no sound.
Far beneath him, the Pelennor fields and the banks of the Anduin lay shrouded in mist, and on the Eastern horizon a red-golden rim had appeared over the Mountains of Shadow, announcing the rising sun. A soft draft caressed the king's cheek, and he smiled as warm, slender arms hugged him from behind.
"Watching the sunrise again?" a soft voice asked.
"Whenever I was in Imladris, Elrond and I would watch it together," he answered, speaking as quietly as she had done, a hint of sadness in his voice.
"I know," Arwen whispered, hugging him closer, whether for his comfort or her own, he could not tell.
"I'm sorry," he said, his hands coming to rest lightly on her arms.
"Do not be. There is no need. Now that everything I dared to dream of has come true, how could I ever rue my decision?"
"I love you," was all he could say.
He could feel her smile, as her hands moved to close around his own. Suddenly, he felt her stiffen slightly behind him. "That is cold!" she complained, breaking the romantic mood.
Taking his right hand and turning it around, she espied the dark stone between his fingers. Aragorn could feel the warmth of her chin on his shoulder and her breath on his neck, as she leaned forward to get a closer look. He allowed her to take the stone from him and turn it between her own slender white fingers.
"I know that stone," she said softly. "You always carried it with you when you came back home to us during your days as a ranger. I saw it on the windowsill several times." Letting go of his other hand, she stepped to his side to be able to look into his eyes. "You never told me what it meant to you, or why you still carry it with you after all this time."
The first rays of sunlight fell into the room, dispersing the shadows. "Hold it in the light," Aragorn bade her, and Arwen did as she was told. At first, the dark pebble seemed to simply soak up the light, but when she turned it, it suddenly began to sparkle, as a well-hidden vein of white crystal reflected the bright sunlight.
"It is beautiful!" she whispered.
"That is what I said when I first discovered its secret," Aragorn told her. "It was a gift from a very special friend." He smiled, and his eyes took on a far-away look as he lost himself in the memories of a day a long time ago…
Rivendell, about eighty-five years in the past…
"Did you always know what you wanted to be once you were grown up?"
Legolas, who had been patiently watching his young friend throw pebbles into a pond for the better part of an hour, was taken by surprise by the sudden question. "I believe you could say I did," he answered after a moment of consideration. "There was not really a choice in my case. I always knew what I was going to be."
Estel nodded thoughtfully. "I always forget that you are a prince," he said apologetically. "You do not act like one."
"How would you have me act, to seem more like a prince?" Legolas asked, amused.
Estel seemed to give that problem serious thought for a moment. "Well," he began finally, "first I think you should wear robes, with lots of jewels on them. You should also be a lot more arrogant, and always have several servants trail after you. When you enter a room, everyone should bow or kneel, and-"
Legolas' merry laugh interrupted the boy before he could further warm up to his subject. "I am sorry, Estel," the elf said, "but it sounds dreadful. Do you really want me to behave like that?"
"No!" the boy said emphatically. "It's just the way most princes and kings seem to be in the stories." He cast a quick glance at the elf. "I'm glad you are the way you are," he added almost shyly.
"Thank you," Legolas replied, doing his best to stifle a smile. "I fear if I ever tried such behaviour, the results would be rather embarrassing."
"It must have been very different to grow up as a prince," Estel remarked.
All of a sudden, Legolas found the pond in front of them very interesting. As Estel grew older, it became increasingly difficult for the elf to keep secrets from the inquisitive and attentive child. The knowledge of Estel's – Aragorn's – heritage was not an easy secret to keep, but Legolas had given his word to Lord Elrond and, knowing that the boy's safety was at stake, agreed with the Elf Lord's decision.
"It was not that different," he murmured. He, too, had experienced tragedy and loss in his childhood, but also the love of a family. The only real difference between them was that Estel was already entitled to the crown of Gondor, while Legolas himself had always been a prince and hoped to stay one for the rest of his life.
"To know that you were going to be a king one day must have been very different," Estel insisted, frowning. "I could not imagine growing up with the knowledge that I had to be king one day! It must have been daunting sometimes."
"No more than growing up always is," Legolas said, and went on before Estel could protest again, "It was not all that important who or what I was going to be. The only thing that really mattered was, I had a family who loved me, and so do you. It truly wasn't all that different."
Estel thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "Perhaps it wasn't," he conceded.
Legolas breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that the conversation would now finally revert to a safer subject.
"So… you never wanted to be anything else but a prince?" Estel asked curiously.
Legolas suppressed a sigh. For some reason, his young friend seemed to be quite intent on talking about princes and kings today. "Never," he answered truthfully. "I adored my father as a child, and my one true dream was to one day become as wise a ruler and as mighty a warrior as he was. Thanks to him, I embraced my heritage instead of questioning it." Legolas could not help smiling at the nostalgic memories, but by now he was also becoming curious himself. "Why do you ask?"
Estel looked down at the small heap of pebbles in front of him, using a finger to push them this way and that, like an unwanted side dish on his plate at lunch. "The children in the village were talking about what they wanted to be when they were grown up," he finally said.
Picking up one of the pebbles, he threw it into the pond, creating ripples on the previously calm surface. A lonely water lily swayed gently while it rode out the tiny waves. For a short while, elf and boy sat there silently, watching the ripples. Legolas had known that Estel had accompanied his brothers on a visit to a nearby village this morning. He had been wondering when the boy would begin to speak about it.
While Estel oftentimes liked playing with the children of the villagers and had fun doing so, he just as often was confused or disturbed by something one or more of the children had said to him, even if no harm had been meant. Considering the differences between Estel and the other children's background, upbringing, and family life, it was not really surprising that Estel's visits to the village were not always a pleasant experience.
Finding a very thoughtful and silent child sitting by a dark pond with only some pebbles as company, Legolas had been reasonably sure that Estel's trip to the village today had been one of those times. Knowing that Estel would talk if he felt like it, the elf had decided to stay and provide the boy with company a bit more eloquent and stimulating than that which he had chosen for himself. It seemed the boy was finally ready to talk now.
"What did you say?" the elf asked quietly, honestly interested in hearing the answer.
"I didn't say anything," Estel replied. "They would only have laughed at me." Giving Legolas no opportunity to dig deeper, he went on, "They already seem to have their entire life planned out for them. They know exactly what they want to do with it and how they want to spend every minute of it. I would not even want to think so far ahead. I wonder if they know… that there may not even be a future for Middle-earth at all."
Legolas said nothing to that. His knowledge of the growing darkness and the fact that he had already experienced its consequences first hand, were one of the things that distinguished Estel from all other children he had met. As sad as it was, it was a part of him that could not be denied. A villager's life was very different from the one the heir to the throne of Gondor would have to lead, though the fate of the latter would likely determine the fate of the former.
When it became obvious that Estel had said all he intended to say, Legolas asked, "What do you want to be?"
Estel looked at him. Seemingly deciding that he trusted his friend not to laugh at him, he said, "I want to be a stone."
Legolas blinked. "It does not have to be a big stone," Estel added. "A pebble would do."
The elf looked from the boy to the pebbles on the ground in front of him and back again. "You have not, perhaps, spent a significant amount of time in the company of dwarves lately?" he finally wanted to know.
Estel smiled at the confused expression on his friend's face. "No, I haven't," he assured the elf. "But I did spend some time with Ada."
If anything, Legolas looked even more confused at that.
"He told me that even a small stone carried enough weight to to cause ripples in an entire pond."
"That… sounds like something Lord Elrond would say," Legolas admitted, trying to keep a straight face. Whenever Estel repeated some kind of wisdom he had learned from the stern Elf Lord and deemed to be important, he did it in such a serious manner that it made him seem like a miniature version of his elven foster father. It was both amusing and slightly disturbing.
"I want to be like that," Estel stated. "I want to create ripples."
As if to demonstrate, he picked up another of the small stones and threw it with enough momentum to carry it right to the other side of the pond before it plunged into the dark water with a soft splash, creating ripples all over the pond.
"I know I will have to be a warrior," the boy said, staring at the water, "but it does not seem to be enough. I want to do more than just fight. I want to do something that will change the way things are, for everyone. I want my life to have an impact on the world." He ducked his head slightly. "I know it sounds rather arrogant, but that is what I feel."
Legolas stared at the child at his side, while Estel's gaze was still riveted at the water. Sometimes he wondered if the boy was not already capable of using the gift of foresight he was likely to have inherited from his ancestors. "You will cause ripples," he said, not a hint of doubt in his voice.
The insecurity in the storm-grey eyes meeting his own slowly melted away and turned into first surprise, then heartfelt gratitude. "But," Legolas added, feeling the need to lighten the mood, "you will still need someone to throw that stone you are going to become."
Estel smiled. "That isn't a problem," he said confidently. "I have you."
The unwavering trust in the child's eyes and words took Legolas' breath away. Unable to recover his voice, all the elf could do was nod. Judging from the widening smile on Estel's face, it was enough. Leaning forward slightly, Legolas took one of the remaining pebbles, studying it closely while he turned it between his fingers. The cool, smooth surface of the stone felt pleasant against his skin, but the pebble itself was black and seemed to lack the sheen and lively colours displayed by the other pebbles lying at the boy's feet.
However, when the elf turned the stone into the sunlight, his sharp eyes caught a soft glimmer beneath the dark surface. When he turned the pebble a bit more, the glimmer became a sparkle, and a thin vein of white crystal, which lay hidden right beneath the surface of the pebble, became visible. Legolas looked at the stone for a moment longer, and then a smile slowly spread over his face.
"I think you should keep this stone," he said, offering the pebble to Estel, who took it. "It reminds me a lot of you."
Eying the stone closely and turning it into the sunlight, just like Legolas had done, the boy soon discovered its secret. Estel's eyes widened. "It is beautiful," he said softly, almost reverently.
"As is your talent for creating ripples," Legolas said earnestly, his eyes searching Estel's gaze and holding it. "It may not be apparent to everyone, and perhaps you will even have to keep it hidden sometimes, but often the things that are hidden will turn out to be the most precious in the end."
Estel nodded, his fingers closing around the stone as if he never wanted to let go again. "I will keep it," he promised.
Minas Tirith, present time
"…and keep it I did," Aragorn ended, looking at the seemingly insignificant stone still resting in the hand of his queen.
"All that is gold does not glitter," Arwen quoted softly, wonderingly, "A light from the shadows shall spring."(1)
"Amazing, isn't it?" Aragorn said , his eyes still holding the wonder he had felt when he was given the stone as a child. "Sometimes I wonder if Legolas does not have at least some small amount of foresight himself, though he firmly denies it to this day."
"Oh, Legolas certainly possesses the gift of foresight," Arwen stated with a smile, "but only where you are concerned. He always had the gift to look right into your heart." She eyed her husband fondly. "I know you look forward to seeing him again."
"Gondor and Ithilien caused so much work in the last years that we have barely been able to meet at all," Aragorn complained. "It will be good to be able to see each other more often."
"I have missed him, too," she confessed. "It will be nice to be able to talk to another reasonable being again, after spending years in the presence of humans."
He shoved her playfully. "Is my queen getting tired of me already?"
"Never," she whispered right into his ear. Her fingers closed around the stone, and his fingers closed around hers. "A mere human who is able to cause ripples mighty enough to bring down the Dark Lord is intriguing enough to keep my undivided attention."
"I believe a hobbit is entitled to that praise," he contradicted.
She laughed softly. "I believe you were useful, too," she said, before drawing him close for a kiss.
- The End -
(1): Excerpt from Bilbo's poem about Aragorn, quoted from J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", Book One, Chapter Ten: Strider.
Since I don't know if I'll be able to post again before Christmas, I'll take this opportunity to already wish all of you a Merry Christmas! I hope you are going to have a happy, peaceful, and blessed time and will receive gifts as precious as Estel's little pebble! :)
And stay safe,