The Brave Little Boy
Summary: Little Eldarion wants to hear his favorite story one more time.
Disclaimer: I don't own any recognizable character or places.
Note: This story was written for Teitho Challenge "Once Upon a Time" and won third place. Thanks to everyone who read and voted! The results were announced a while ago, but I was unable to post this earlier because my old computer broke. This is also one of the reasons why I'm so late with the next chapter of "The Only Way to Kill the Dragon"; I apologize for making you wait!
"Ada, ada, please do not go!" The five-year-old boy was lying in his bed, stretching his little arms as if trying to reach his father and stop him. His silver eyes were large and pleading and the king's heart swelled with emotion. It was impossible to say 'no' to this little bundle of joy! "Please, ada, tell me one more story! Only one more!"
Aragorn tried to hold his ground. "I am sorry, my son, but it is time for you to go to sleep. The moon has risen hours ago and if your mother finds out that I have kept you awake until so late, I will have to endure a very long and painful lecture."
The little boy grinned conspiratorially and grabbed his father hand in his two small ones. "But ada, she will never know! I will never tell her, I promise! I can keep a secret!"
The king sighed in defeat. How could you hold your ground against this little treasure? How could you look into those eyes, so wide and shining, and refuse any plea? "Very well," he said reluctantly. "What story do you wish to hear? Perhaps the one about the band of brave Dwarves and the clever Hobbit who went on a quest to steal the dragon's treasure?"
The little prince snorted. "No ada, this one is boring. I am sleepy and want to hear something more exciting."
Aragorn raised his eyebrows in surprise. Boring? He would call this tale anything but boring, and yet it seemed that his young son wanted to hear something else. "Then do you wish me to tell you how Uncle Legolas first introduced Uncle Gimli to his father?" He smiled at the memory. It was a story worth telling, but yet again it seemed that the child had something different in mind.
"No ada, not that one. I want to hear the tale of the brave little boy."
"The brave little boy?" Aragorn sounded confused. "I am afraid I do not know that one, Eldarion."
"Oh but you do, ada!" The child cried excitedly. He was obviously looking forward to hearing the tale once again. "You have told it to me once, a long time ago. It is the one about that brave little boy who freed a horse from the stables and rode away in the middle of the night all by himself!"
The king nodded slowly. Now he remembered telling this story to Eldarion, but it had been months ago, perhaps a year even. He was surprised that the child still remembered. "The brave little boy?" He asked. "I would rather say the foolish little boy."
"Brave!" Eldarion stated indignantly. "He was so great and fearless! Please, ada, I want to hear the story!"
"Very well," Aragorn conceded. "It was a cold winter day, about a week after Yule. The boy had received a wonderful present – a young stallion, white as snow. He had ridden the horse in the yard and wanted to take him on a ride through the forest. Unfortunately, his mother and foster father did not allow it. He was too young to go by himself, as he was only five-"
"What do you mean 'only five'?" Eldarion interrupted, sounding shocked. "Five is old enough to-"
"To stay home and be a good boy," Aragorn said sternly. "Now do you wish to hear the story or not?"
Eldarion grumbled something unhappily but let his father continue.
"The little boy was told that he had to wait for his brothers to come back home. Then they would take him for a ride through the forest. Besides, his mother advised, it was even wiser to wait until spring came and the snow had melted. However, the little boy, foolish as he was-"
"Brave!" Eldarion cried. "He was brave, not foolish!"
Aragorn sighed. Telling the story would obviously take much longer than he had planned. "As you wish, the little boy, brave as he was-"
"Much better!" The young prince approved happily.
"The little boy, brave as he was," Aragorn tried once again, "decided to sneak out in the middle of the night and go out riding."
"Brilliant!" Eldarion cried.
His father looked at him seriously. "I hope you will not learn the wrong lesson from this story, my son," he said. "I am not telling it to you to teach you what to do, but to teach you what you must never do."
"But ada, I never learn the wrong lessons from your stories. You tell them so well and only the best ones, and I always learn the right morals."
Aragorn gave up and continued. "The boy sneaked out of his bed, put on his boots and his coat and went to the stables. The white stallion nuzzled him affectionately and looked at him expectantly, waiting for a treat. The boy had forgotten to bring any sweets, so he gave him one of his own biscuits that he had kept in the pocket of his nightshirt."
"He keeps candies in the pockets of his nightshirt!" Eldarion cried. "Does his mother know?"
"No," the king replied. "The boy used to hide those candies so that he could eat them when he woke up during the night."
"He is my hero!" The little prince cried excitedly and his father shook his head in exasperation. Perhaps this was not a good choice of a story, but hopefully Eldarion knew better than hiding sweets and stealing horses in the middle of the night. One look at the boy's happy face made his heart sink. Or perhaps not.
"The little boy mounted the horse," he continued, "or rather climbed on top of the horse with the help of a tall chair, opened the door and let the stallion free. The horse trotted out, towards the forest, the deep snow crunching under the hoofs."
"Ada, speaking of hoofs, I hear footsteps!" Eldarion whispered urgently, his eyes wide with alarm. Aragorn frowned slightly and listened carefully. His son's hearing was better than his, but soon he could hear it too. There was someone coming their way.
"Your mother!" He whispered in horror.
"She must not know that you are here, keeping me awake! Hide, ada! Quickly!"
The king extinguished with his fingers the candle burning by his son's bedside and disappeared in the darkness. Eldarion closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep.
Queen Arwen had come to check on the little prince. Earlier that evening her husband had told her not to wait for him that night – he had some very important work to do. Used to the king's hectic schedule, she had not questioned him and had retired early. Sleep eluded her, however, and she decided to see how her little son fared and if he was sleeping well.
She had approached the room quietly when she heard a familiar voice. Ah, so this was Estel's important work! She did not mind – it was important indeed. She doubted the wisdom of keeping the boy awake so late at night, but perhaps every once in a while some longer bedtime stories would not hurt. She listened with curiosity when Eldarion promised not to tell her anything and then smiled when her husband started telling the story. She was familiar with the brave little boy story and grinned at her son's comments. If Eldarion wanted excitement, she could give him some…
Arwen walked away from the door, and then walked back, deliberately making her steps a bit noisier than usual. She could hear her son's and her husband's frantic whispers and smiled. This was quite entertaining!
She opened the door and was greeted by complete darkness. The daughter of Elrond walked forward, the candle in her hand spreading soft light. Eldarion was lying in his bed fast asleep, or so it seemed. Her eyes drifted towards the wardrobe. Ah, Estel could hide well, but not well enough. But there was no need to scare her loved ones, and besides she longed to hear the end of the story. Arwen bent forward and kissed the sleeping – or maybe not sleeping – child. "Sleep well, ion nîn," she whispered and walked out smiling.
As soon as she left the room, Aragorn walked out from behind the wardrobe and lit the candle by Eldarion's bed. "This was close," he said, sighing in relief. "Well done, my son!"
The child opened his eyes and grinned. "I would not want nana to give you a lecture because of me," he said. "You can always count on my help, ada! Now could you tell me what happens next?"
"What happens is very predictable," Aragorn said. "The boy rode into the forest, but quickly decided to turn back because it was very cold and his coat was not warm enough. Fate had other plans, however. Packs of hungry wolves looking for food were common in the forest in winter, and the boy and his horse came across one. The horse was spooked, and soon the boy found himself in the snow, alone and surrounded by the hungry creatures."
"He is so brave!" Eldarion cried excitedly. "Everyone else would have been scared, but not him!"
"Oh, he was scared," Aragorn said. "He was scared, but fortunately did not panic and took out a dagger he had taken with him when he left home."
"He has a weapon!" Eldarion was up now, jumping up and down in his bed. "And he is a great fighter and will easily chop all the wolves into pieces!"
The king smiled. "Very few five-year-old boys would be able to do that, my son."
"But he can do anything!" Eldarion protested. "He is my hero!"
"No one can do anything, even him," Aragorn said. "The boy tried to defend himself, but he would have surely been eaten if his worried father had not arrived on time."
"Still, he is so brave," the child said with a dreamy sigh. "I want to be like him."
Aragorn shook his head. "I hope you will never be as foolish as him, Eldarion. He did a lot of mistakes, not only this, but also others, later in life."
"Everyone makes mistakes," the child said wisely. "But I still admire him, no matter what. What is the little boy's name?"
The king smiled. "His name was Estel."
"A good name, easy to remember, not like mine," Eldarion said, but suddenly his eyes widened in shock. "Was?" Why did you say 'was'? What happened to him? Did he die?"
Aragorn laughed. "Do not worry, he did not die. He grew up and found happiness."
Eldarion snorted. "Boring. Is this what will happen to me too?"
"What? Grow up and find happiness?"
"No, grow up and be boring," Eldarion said grumpily.
His father laughed. "I hope you will grow up, unless of course you prefer to do something foolish as Estel did and get yourself killed."
Eldarion was quiet for a moment, his little brow furrowed in thought. "You are right, ada," he finally said. "Everyone should grow, and even if my hero grew old and boring, I still admire him and want to be like him."
Aragorn smiled at his little boy. "I am glad to hear this, my son. Now go to sleep. It is long past your bedtime."
Surprisingly, the prince conceded and huddled under his blanket. His father left the room and closed the heavy wooden door. Eldarion smiled. Did his father truly not know that he had guessed long ago who the little boy was?
Aragorn left the room and turned towards his chambers, not noticing that his wife stood hidden in an alcove by the door. Arwen did not show herself and did not follow him – something told her that she should stay, that there was still something important that she needed to hear. And soon she heard it.
It was Eldarion's softly whispered words as soon as his father's footsteps faded away.
"I meant it, ada," the boy whispered in the darkness. "I want to be like you."
She smiled. Nothing could make her happier than watching her brave little boy grow up to be a man much like her beloved. I hope your wish will come true, my son.
Thanks for reading! Reviews are very welcome! Once again, I apologize to all readers of "The Only Way to Kill the Dragon"; I can't tell how long the update will take, but it is coming.