TITLE: A Most Unlikely Gift
AUTHOR: Marethiel
SUMMARY: Nursing a case of the sniffles, shivering in the wet and cold, Aragorn passes a miserable birthday… until he remembers a gift given him long ago from a very unlikely source! Written for Cairistiona's birthday last month, but timed for Aragorn's birthday…sigh! and I was even late for THAT!! Oh, well,happy belated birthday to them both…
BETA: Cairistiona herself; poor thing had to work for her own birthday gift… LMAO

Valar, but I am getting too old for this...

The Man folded in on himself, tucking his soaked, chilled, boot-clad feet as tightly to his buttocks as he could – quite a feat at six feet and six inches tall -- trying to use an infinitesimal outcropping of ledge as shelter. It is not the coldest March 1st I have ever endured, but far likely the dampest, dankest and most miserable in many years, he thought to himself, sniffling and coughing. As though in answer, the skies redoubled their efforts to empty themselves directly on top of his head; the splashing caused by the force of the icy downpour made calling this tiny space any form of shelter a ludicrous joke.

I must find someplace better than this! the man thought desperately, unfolding himself once more and standing out in the downpour, forcing his sharp eyes to peer through the curtain of rain to map the terrain. He gritted his teeth to fight the shivering that ensued and forced his mind to divorce itself from feeling any discomfort, instead widening out his mind to … well, to see more deeply was the best way he could describe it. It was a technique taught him years ago by a most unlikely warrior, at least in his estimation at the time.

When the Man, Aragorn, was a small child, the name "warrior" was the very last title he would have bestowed upon the Seneschal of the Last Homely House. While the youngster , then Estel, had always recognized the power and ancient wisdom of the tall, somber Elf, when the child thought "warrior" he imagined either the brethren Elladan and Elrohir, or the Mighty Lord Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower, and Master Elrond's confidant and Captain at Arms.

But Erestor? Warrior? Nah……!

And that remained his belief, until he'd begun to stretch beyond childhood into the very beginnings of manhood. In Estel's thirteenth year, Master Elrond chose Glorfindel to begin teaching the boy military history, recounting stories of battles and fights during the First Age. Estel had been amazed by the audacity, viciousness and out-and-out dirty fighting style of one in particular of Gil-Galad's scouts, unnamed until the very end of the class. And after naming this paragon of stealth and cunning, the golden warrior had smirked and suggested Estel close his mouth before flies began to roost.

"Erestor?" he'd recalled squeaking out in disbelief.

"Erestor," Glorfindel confirmed, perching one hip upon Estel's desk, gazing at the boy with amusement.

"But how?"

Glorfindel leaned back, thoughtful. He understood what Estel meant: how could so unlikely a personage be one and the same with this … this spectre of shadow and smoke, deadly as a flash of lightning and just as fast. The ancient warrior studied him, his face impassive for a moment, until the boy believed he would not answer him at all, then he nodded. "I believe you'll have to ask him," Glorfindel had replied seriously.

And Estel, being Estel, did.

"How, Erestor?" he asked quietly, respectfully. "How could you do those things? It is said you knew where to strike the first time out. Your scouting was unsurpassed. The other captains said your skills at making maps bordered on the supernatural, as though all you had to do was close your eyes and the landscape painted itself before you!"

Erestor curled his lip in exasperation. "What unutterable nonsense," he muttered as he studied his accounts. But Estel didn't move. It was clear the child wasn't going to budge until he had his answers. Oh, curse you, Glorfindel, as though I don't have enough to do today…!

"Very well," said Erestor abruptly, rising to his feet, and sweeping out his office door, robes flying in his wake. "This is likely a well-needed lesson, anyway. Come, young one!"

Estel, startled, scampered after him out into the quiet garden.

For the next two hours, Estel learned a tiny smattering of the ability to shut off one or two or more of his five senses and divert his energy into the others for the purpose of gathering information. His sense of hearing, when he disciplined himself to leave other senses out, made it clear where other Elves were nearby, from the stables to the exercise grounds; his sense of smell allowed him to learn that roasted venison and some kind of sweet pastry were on the menu for lunch; his sight, when no sound or smell was included, allowed him to follow tiny rodents in the thicket, his eyes outlining each and every leaf as all energy was poured into his eyes and the information they provided. Even his sense of touch, for when every other sense was stilled, Estel could determine the difference between footfalls of Elves and of animals. He could sense how many. He began to believe he might be able to figure out how far away they were once he could combine this sense with sight. Erestor told him that if he was diligent and practiced, he would learn to taste the weather in the air.

That morning, long ago, had been a most unlikely gift. In the decades since, he'd used those skills – indeed, had tried to teach his fellow Rangers as Erestor had taught him! – to develop into a master of woodcraft. Even the Elves of Lorien knew of Aragorn Arathorn's son and his abilities to be one with the forest. Perhaps he might use that skill to find himself a better place than this to try to pass his seventy-third birthday!

Drawing in a deep breath, Aragorn stood and one by one shut down all senses but hearing, first. .. Patience, tithen pen… be still… As though it were yesterday, he could hear Erestor's calm but inexorable voice, keeping him still to the point of madness for a thirteen-year-old boy. There! A place somewhere behind him to the right where he rainfall sounded out of sync, as though first hitting something else before finally hitting the ground. He turned and now allowed sight to be used… he almost missed it, but there it was, roughly a half mile away: in between two ledges, seemingly leaning drunkenly upon each other, there rested a sturdy, thickly -branched tree. The two ledges and the foliage might provide him a certain amount of shelter.

Quickly, Aragorn gathered his things and picked his way carefully through the treacherous, partially-frozen ground to his destination. Yes! A shelter it is! he thought with relief, roughly five feet wide by two and a half deep. Quickly, Aragorn shucked his cloak and soaked tunic and trousers, shivering as he pulled dry, if not necessarily clean second ones from his pack.

His stomach growled with hunger, and his feet were still cold, but Aragorn was able to rest back against the trunk of the sturdy tree, gratefully gazing up at the thickly thatched boughs. He gave thanks to the Valar: he was not wounded, he had a dry change of clothing, there was a breeze that might help his cloak and other things dry a bit. Yes, he'd definitely spent worse birthdays!

He then smiled as gazed into the grey skies and remembered the face of a beloved friend, offering him thanks as well. He thought Erestor might enjoy knowing how his unlikely gift all those years ago was able to brighten Aragorn's birthday today.