This is the disclaimer. I do not own anything from Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, they are the property of JRR Tolkien and J K Rowling, this writing is purely for pleasure and I get no money out of this whatsoever, now that is out of the way on with the story!
The aftermath of a battle was always difficult, Legolas mused as he walked towards Gimli, carefully avoiding the corpses that littered the blood-stained ground, it didn't matter how many times you had fought before, the storm of emotions remained the same. The relief of being alive, of surviving, followed closely by joy and guilt as you reunited with comrades and learnt who had perished. That shared relief manifested itself in a multitude of different ways, each unique to the person involved. With Elladan and Elrohir it was in clasped forearms and a quiet exchange in Sindarin, an acknowledgement of a deed well done. For Boromir, a hearty clap on the back and a bark of laughter that was just a trifle too loud and too sharp to convey genuine mirth, and with Gimli;
"Final count: forty-two."
Gimli's reply was laced with a dark humour, comprising of insults that had lost their sting over the months they had fought and killed side-by-side. Their relationship had started as mutual wariness that had morphed first into grudging, then true respect, and later friendship; a process that had only been accelerated by the events in Lothlorien. That friendship remained hidden, concealed as it was behind the barbed words that had long since lost their capacity to wound. The dwarf had exceeded his count by one, however, and Legolas ruefully anticipated the taunts that would no doubt be directed at him in the coming days.
That left four members of their Fellowship unaccounted for. He held no serious fears for Merry or Pippin, they had been in the Keep with the men of Rohan who were not trained to wield the sword and they were unlikely to have been fighting on the front lines. He also knew Aragorn had survived the battle, for the ranger's voice had rung out across the Deep when it had become clear the Uruk-hai had broken and the retreat had turned into a rout. No, his fears now were for the child. The fire that had flown from the heavens was clearly the work of magic, and Elion was the only one in the Keep capable of wielding such power, and Legolas knew, both from his own history, and a long acquaintance with Gandalf, the price a great working could extract.
Gimli was evidently of similar mind, for as the levity of the moment faded he spoke, "The lad's got a stout heart, he's stronger than those miserable wretches."
Despite his words, the dwarf clambered to his feet, his axe returning to its customary place on his back. They made their way purposefully towards the Keep, Boromir and Elrond's sons joining them. Gimli had given the two elves a sideways look when they had joined the party and Legolas had been careful to conceal his expression at the quiet muttering that issued from around the dwarf's pipe. Whilst he and Gimli could claim friendship, unconventional though it was, that did not mean the dwarf was completely comfortable around other elves.
As they approached the entrance to the hall they were accosted by a pair of hobbits, their torn and dirty garb standing mute testimony to the hours of death and danger, but their expressions were remarkably relaxed, the natural cheerfulness and resilience of hobbits clearly evident in the greetings they bestowed on the party.
"Glad to see you all made it through," Merry said once the initial greetings were out the way, "It got rather hairy there for a bit, with those wraiths and whatnot, but those fire creatures were really quite spectacular, weren't they?"
"Never seen anything quite like it," Pippin put in, "Unless you count Gandalf's fireworks at Bilbo's Party." He paused then added thoughtfully, "Although that was only one dragon."
"That one was a lot bigger though," Merry noted, "And Gandalf wasn't exhausted afterwards either. Poor Elion, he looked almost dead when that Rider carried him down off the Hornburg." He quickly continued as several worried gazes were suddenly fixed on him, "Strider's got him. Said he'd only need rest to recover and told Pip and I to go and eat something." Merry jerked a thumb at the hall behind him, "They've got cookfires and tables set up in there. We were just considering taking a bite up to them when you all arrived."
"Big folk may have small appetites," Pippin added, "But they both looked like they could do with a hot meal."
"A meal certainly wouldn't go amiss," Gimli declared, "If there is food and drink and a pouch of pipeweed then this dwarf will be content."
Similar sentiments were echoed by the others, though Elrohir declined, saying, "Don't trouble yourselves about Estel, Master Hobbits. Elladan and I are well acquainted with his foibles, and will ensure that he, and the boy, eat."
Merry regarded the two half elves suspiciously, and realising that in the chaos that had preceded the battle, they had never been formally introduced, Legolas swiftly made introductions, successfully smothering his laugh at Pippin's muttered comment,
"Strider, Dúnadan Aragorn, Estel, how many names does one man need?"
As Legolas spoke, he saw the misgivings fade from Merry's face, and the hobbit emitted a pleased hum when he mentioned they were Aragorn's foster brothers, though Legolas was careful not to mention that there was actually a distant blood relation. He had suffered through sufficient recountings of hobbit genealogy in the months he had been acquainted with their race, to develop a healthy wariness for a hobbit's love of genealogy and he had no desire to spend the next several hours being pestered by the two as they tried to figure out the precise relationship.
Aragorn gently brushed ebony hair out of Elion's eyes, before straightening. Elion was sleeping naturally now, the normal rest of the exhausted instead of the blank unresponsiveness of unconsciousness, safely ensconced under several blankets, resting in the narrow cot that served as the child's bed in their shared quarters in the upper levels of the Keep. They, along with the remaining members of the fellowship had been assigned quarters alongside Éowyn's and those marked for Éomer above the Great Hall. It was a small sanctuary, but nevertheless comfortable, with simple furnishings, but it was greater luxury than most in the fortress enjoyed and Aragorn was grateful for it.
With Elion sleeping peacefully and likely to remain so for some hours yet and with his wounds cleansed and tended, Aragorn could now see to his own basic needs. In a few practiced movements he removed his chainmail, tired muscles grateful for the reprieve, before reaching for another cloth and using the remaining clean water to rinse the grime of battle from his skin. Within the space of a few scant minutes he was finished and he moved across the room to Elion's bedside, letting the sight of his child, with skin no longer wan, and breathing deep and even, chase away the last lingering ghosts of the dread that had gripped his heart when he had first seen his child lying in Haleth's arms.
He pressed a tender kiss to Elion's brow before heading down to the Hall below. He had some knowledge of who had fallen or been wounded but there were many that he had not yet accounted for, and it was Aragorn's duty to see to the welfare of those he commanded and fought alongside, to offer what healing and consolation was within his power.
He was halfway to the hall when he was met by his two foster-brothers. There were few words to be said. Aragorn had learnt the art of the sword under their, and Glorfindel's tutelage, and had travelled and fought with them unnumbered times, tended their wounds and had been tended in turn. Three sets of piercing eyes surveyed one another, searching for evidence of wounds, and when none were found, Aragorn embraced both his brothers.
"What news of the others?"
Elladan relayed details of the battle on the Deeping Wall, speaking of those of the Grey Company he knew had fallen or were wounded, and Aragorn listened intently even as he ate the food Elrohir had handed to him. Of the twins, Elrohir had been the one who had taken the most interest in learning the healing arts Elrond had attempted to teach them, and had normally been the one to tend Aragorn when he had been wounded on campaign, or during the times he had driven himself past the point of exhaustion. Whilst Aragorn had developed a far better grasp of his limits in the decades that had followed those first missions with his brothers, Elrohir had nevertheless retained the habit of subtly, or not so subtly, checking on him in the aftermath of a battle; hence the meal he had been unceremoniously handed.
Elladan finished his recitation and Aragorn nodded slowly. The news was better than he had feared. He had known those in the Fellowship had survived relatively unscathed, and Elladan's words confirmed, of those who had ridden in the Grey Company only two had fallen, whilst another five were in the care of the healers. He knew the rough casualty figures for those in the Keep itself, however the Deeping Wall had taken the brunt of the assault, and he would not have accurate numbers there until he spoke with Boromir and the healers, but his initial impressions were that victory had been bought in far less blood than he had feared when he had received the first news of Saruman's abominations.
They asked after Elion then, and Aragorn found himself grateful for the fact they were conversing in Sindarin. Whilst he knew it was likely to be futile to keep Elion's abilities from the Enemy, not when they had been so publicly displayed, he still had no desire to set rumours springing up amongst the people of Rohan, or taking action that would lead to Elion's discovery any earlier than necessary. Sindarin was virtually unknown in Rohan, save for snatches present in tales and songs, and thus allowed him to be candid without fearing eavesdroppers. When he had finished, the faces of both his brothers were grave.
"I will wait with the boy and watch over him," Elladan volunteered, "I presume you are heading to see those in the care of the healers Estel, and Elrohir will be of far more use there than I." He paused then added, "Your son will come to no harm under my watch gwador."
Aragorn clasped his brother's shoulder in a wordless display of thanks. Knowing Elion was not alone eased his mind, and it was with a lighter heart he turned to Elrohir and headed down to the hall where the wounded were being treated. He could rest once he had seen to the wellbeing of his men.
It was a weary company that met beneath the looming spire of Orthanc. The dawn had brought welcome relief from the night chill, but the landscape looked no less desolate in the light of day. Thin curls of smoke drifted lazily from the pits that scarred the pockmarked fields, their fires now quenched, but the ashes still smouldered, and the taste of soot hung heavy in the breeze.
The elves had done their work thoroughly, every last creature, be it orc, warg or man had been driven from the tunnels, either fleeing in terror or falling to elvish steel. They moved across the field now, blue cloaks and burnished mail the only spots of colour against a backdrop of ash. Sorrowfully Gandalf recalled the Isengard he had visited only a scant few months ago, the trees in blossom, the flowers and the life flourishing in every inch. It was remarkable he mused, how quickly evil could destroy, how growth that had taken hundreds of years, could be torn down in an instant, leaving nothing but ruin and cinders behind.
Galadriel joined him on the steps of Orthanc, her presence breaking him out of his reverie. She did not speak immediately, first her weary gaze swept across the plains of Isen, anguish flickering in her eyes as she took in the death and decay, yet when she turned to him, Galadriel held herself straight and proud despite the fatigue Gandalf could see concealed in her bearing, and there was a spark of knowledge in her gaze as she beheld him.
"You fell," Her words were not a question, rather a simple statement of fact, "And have been returned to us."
Gandalf inclined his head in response, unsurprised at her insight. There were few now left in Middle Earth who had seen the light of Valinor, but Galadriel was counted amongst them, and to her keen eyes, now she was looking for it, his time on the hither shores would be clear. "I have been sent back until my task is done." He replied.
"Much has transpired in your absence," She said quietly, her gaze going distant for an instant "Rohan has survived the storm this night, their forces at Helm's Deep stand victorious, but the manner of its salvation will have alerted the Enemy. Even now the Eye searches, whilst his forces march on Gondor."
"The assault will be hard and swift," Gandalf agreed, "But there is courage still in the race of men, and as long as hope, faith and love endure there will be strength, strength enough perhaps to oppose him." He turned then took look at her, a question in his eyes but immediately she shook her head in negation.
"We cannot help further," Galadriel warned, "Celeborn and I can hold Isengard and Lothlorien but our power does not stretch further than that. Elrond can hold Rivendell and the dark rests deep in Mirkwood. Thranduil's battle will be hard. We no longer have the strength we had in the days of the Last Alliance, we have neither the forces or ability to send aid. The Enemy stands at our gates, and it will take all we have to repel them."
Gandalf nodded in acknowledgement. It was not an unexpected answer, for Sauron's arm had grown long indeed, awakening dark creatures that had slept for Ages. The forges in Mordor rang with the sound of hammers on steel, and that sound was echoed across Middle Earth, from orc den to ancient fortress, the armies of the Enemy were preparing for battle, and no place would be spared their touch, but the brunt of the assault would fall on Gondor.
He was needed in Rohan. He had felt the surge of power that night, and he knew Sauron would be searching for its source. Elion would need his protection, if they were lucky, Saruman had not shared what he knew of the child with Sauron, but Gandalf knew that was a dangerous assumption to make. They would have to act as if Sauron knew exactly who he was hunting, and even if he did not, rumours would spread, and it would not take long for them to reach the ears of the Enemy. Elion's power had obliterated Saruman's wraiths, and pale imitations of the Nazgul they may have been, but such a feat required power and that Sauron coveted.
Beyond that, he would be needed in Gondor. Denethor had been wise and noble once, but Gandalf feared for him, for Sauron's shadow had grown long, and hung heavily over Minas Tirith. Denethor had been burdened, face lined with old bitterness and wrath when Gandalf had last visited the White City merely a year ago. He had grown hard, and that hardness was brittle under the glare of the Eye, and if Gondor was brittle, it would fall, and the failure of Gondor would see the armies of Mordor sweep across the rest of Middle Earth. They could not be allowed to fall.
The farewells he exchanged with Galadriel were brief. Both knew of the urgency of his errand, and both knew how quickly events were progressing. Travel alone would cost precious days, and he could not afford delay.
As he reached the gatehouse of Isengard, now manned by grim faced elves, he paused in surprise. Nestled at the foot of the gatehouse, a small sprig of green poked up, tiny, delicate white flowers basking in the dawn sunlight, indifferent to the ash and decay surrounding it. As he looked at the tiny scrap of life that had clung on in the midst of destruction Gandalf smiled.
Golden light filtered over the Deep as the sun sank below the horizon. The sounds of activity were already beginning to fade as most of those within the walls of the fortress settled down for an early night, the rigours of the past day and night catching up with them. Most had rested throughout the morning, but by the afternoon, there had been necessary tasks for completion. Burial mounds had been raised for the Rohirrim who had fallen, and the carcasses had been piled into pyres and lit, the pyres still glowing a deep amber some hours later as smoke continued to wreathe lazily into the sky. There was still work to be done, some of Éomer's forces were pursuing the remaining parts of Saruman's army, and there were traps to be dismantled, plans and decisions to be made, but they could wait until the morning.
The fortress felt tired, most of the inhabitants slipping into the lethargy of the exhausted, both physically and mentally but Boromir was restless. His feet carried him to battlements on the Keep, the turmoil in his thoughts manifesting itself in the way he paced back and forth along the way, staring unseeingly out across the land, his mind focussed inside on the fields of Gondor.
How were his men faring, how were the people faring? Had Osgiliath been struck again? It had been a bitter fight when he and Faramir had reclaimed it, and he knew that if it had seen an attack like the one they had faced here the previous night their defences would have been overwhelmed. Osgiliath was not designed to withstand a massed invasion force, something he had used to his advantage when they had reclaimed it, and something that could be used against them in turn. Sauron's forces had been pressing hard months before when he had ridden to Rivendell, following Faramir's dream, and that was why the idea of Isildur's bane had been so alluring, the promise of hope, of a weapon that could cast down the Enemy.
He knew better now. That particular lesson had been painfully learnt, but he still worried for Gondor. Faramir was a good strategist and tactician, although he had always possessed a scholar's heart with little appetite for war. His brother was more than capable of leading the defence of the White City, but Denethor had always been scathing of his brother's plans, and Boromir wondered whether that would lead to ill decisions. More than those nebulous fears, he wanted to be back there, the defence of Rohan had been important, crucial even but he longed to be back in his own city, facing the foes he knew would be assailing their walls. It was where he belonged, and he had already been absent too long.
Boromir became aware of another set of footsteps approaching, and looked up to see Aragorn approaching. And that, he mused, was the reason he was not already riding to Minas Tirith. Aragorn was his captain, his king and he would not abandon his king, he would follow and die for this man, and the two desires competed inside him, threatening to tear him apart.
"You are troubled." Aragorn said quietly, and Boromir turned to face him, and the weight of Aragorn's gaze fell on him. Unlike in the earlier days of their acquaintance that gaze no longer make him feel uncomfortable, bringing his pride rushing up to the surface, screaming defiance until he could bear it no longer and looked away, but the scrutiny still pierced right through him.
"Gondor," the word fell heavily from Boromir's lips, "I fear for Gondor."
The sentence hung between them, stretching out into the silence.
"Sauron's forces will strike hard," Aragorn agreed after a moment, "And the White City will need her Captains."
Boromir exhaled, breath rushing out. Aragorn's words struck a chord within him, capturing his restless emotions. That was indeed how he felt, the moment of greatest danger for Rohan had now passed, and he would be needed in Minas Tirith, to help hold back the tide, but he was held here, by love and duty, when he ached to be riding for his home.
Boromir's silence must have been taken as agreement, or maybe Aragorn could read his turmoil in his face, for no more than a moment later the ranger continued,
"My road to the White City is still long, and there are tasks I must complete before I return to Minas Tirith, but I would not deprive her of a Captain willing to fight in her defence."
Boromir turned, his eyes meeting his king's steady gaze, even as hope welled up inside him. "My Lord?" He didn't realise it was the first time he had addressed Aragorn by that title, the first time he had verbalised the realisation he had come to, back in the camp on the edge of Fangorn forest.
Aragorn reached forward and grasped his shoulder firmly, "Go to Gondor Boromir. You are needed there."
"And what of you my Lord?" Boromir met Aragorn's eyes unflinchingly, the same bravery that had carried him through many battles allowing him to speak his next thought. "Gondor needs her king."
It was Aragorn's turn to pause, and when his words came they were slow and measured, "Gondor cannot weather this storm alone. There is an army that I alone can summon to our aid, and other threats that must be faced before I can ride again through the gates of the White City." Steel grey eyes met Boromir's then, resolve flickering in their depths as Aragorn continued, his voice softer now, "The House of Húrin has stood as lone guards for many a long year, faithfully fulfilling their duty, and those lonely years are nearly spent but I must ask you to stand fast for just a while longer." Aragorn drew breath, and Boromir could clearly see the majesty the ranger normally kept caged shining through. "The King will return to Gondor, though the way may be barred by legions of orcs, and should Mordor be defeated, the standard of the Tree and the Stars will fly once more from the topmost tower of the Citadel."
The veil fell back down then, and Boromir could see the shift as the mantle of the king was put aside once more until it was just Aragorn looking back at him, not a legend or myth, but simply a man, though he didn't seem lesser for it, with a noble air about his countenance that not even the veil could obscure. "You are needed in Gondor Boromir, go with my blessing." The words were softly spoken and simple but they settled the storm inside him.
Boromir turned towards Aragorn raising his head until he met the ranger's eyes before bowing his head in acknowledgement, well aware of the significance of his actions, and of his next words.
"As my Lord commands."
Aragron was abruptly woken from sleep by a familiar cry. He was up and moving across the room before he was even aware of his own actions, reaching out and gathering Elion into his arms, already murmuring quiet reassurances. He had been expecting the nightmare, for, whilst the child's nightmares had been becoming less frequent, the events the child had seen the previous night would have been more than enough fuel for nightmares with an ordinary child, let alone one who had already suffered as Elion had.
However, the reassurances were doing little to allay Elion's fear and the boy continued to sob, his cries interspersed with words Aragorn did not recognise, though occasionally he heard his own name mixed into the litany. Heart aching, he could do nothing more than hold his child close, letting Elion cling desperately to the fabric of his tunic as Aragorn hummed the melody of an old Elvish lullaby as he waited for the storm of weeping to pass. This may have started off as a nightmare, but Aragorn knew how to read his child, and it was rapidly becoming apparent that the nightmare had stirred up something deeper.
Eventually Elion's sobs trailed away, but there was no trace of sleepiness his face when Aragorn gently coaxed the boy to look up, practiced fingers wiping away the last traces of tears. "Talk to me little one," He requested softly, one hand coming up to card through raven hair. When Elion hesitated, he pressed further, knowing it would only hurt his child more if he continued to try and bear the burdens alone, "Let me help you, ion-nin."
Those words received a response, but not the response he had been hoping for. "You can't help." Elion's voice was flat and defeated, "They all died, and you nearly died, defending the castle, and I saw them die Ada, I watched and fought and were overwhelmed and we won but there was nothing left, just bodies and blood and ruins and me, and I watched them die again, watched you die and I don't want to see it, I don't want to remember but being here makes me remember and I watch them die every night and it hurts and it won't stop!" Elion's voice had risen, the Sindarin words falling frantically over each other as Elion grew more distressed and tears were filling his eyes once more.
In response Aragorn pulled his child closer, gently positioning him so that the boy was snuggled against his chest, Elion's head resting just above his heart, hushing his child softly. Elion quietened, the panic giving way to sadness and tears, but the next words he said were plaintive, and achingly vulnerable, "I just want it to stop Ada."
"I know little one," His words were barely a breath, but Elion heard them nevertheless, "I know."
His thoughts raced as he waited for the tears to pass once more. He knew pieces of his child's past, Elion had told him of the war he had participated in, though lacking in detail, and there were further clues in how the boy had behaved in the months since Aragorn had found him in the wilds but with each detail that was added in, he felt his anger and protectiveness surge anew. A last stand. A last stand in which his child had fought, and killed as the rest of his village was cut down around him as their defences were overwhelmed.
No wonder Elion had been so reluctant to sleep two nights ago, of course the memories would have been close to the surface when waiting for battle in another fortress, and the nightmares they provoked inevitable. Silently he chastised himself for not thinking to probe more deeply then. He had known of the demons Elion was carrying, had even been told briefly of the destruction of Elion's home, and he hadn't thought of how it would affect the child, and that was a failing on his part, but he could try and mitigate the damage now.
Aragorn rubbed a soothing hand along Elion's back, "Tell me about them tithen pen," he asked quietly, "What were they like?"
Green eyes blinked at him in confusion and Aragorn elaborated, "Tell me about the good things you remember about them. They may be dead, and the pain of that will never heal entirely, but remembering the good times can make the bad memories less strong, and remind you that there was more to their lives than their death."
Elion looked at him for a long moment, hesitating, then slowly he began to speak and Aragorn listened intently as he spoke of faithful friends, of jokes and childhood mishaps, of a sister who's passion was her books and possessed a fiery temper when riled, and a brother who's love of food was only eclipsed by a love of games and who was fiercely loyal to his family. There was melancholy lacing every memory but the more Elion spoke, the more tension left the child's body until soon, only Aragorn's arms were holding the boy upright.
Elion had just finished telling the story of a snowball fight when he was cut off by a wide yawn. Aragorn didn't try and supress the fond smile that rose to his lips, gently quietening the child when Elion yawned again. "Thank you for trusting me little one." He said softly. Aragorn had half expected Elion to refuse his request, as the child closely guarded his past, only rarely speaking about it, and then, rarely unprompted. At the back of his mind he was aware that if anyone else had made the request it would have been very unlikely they would have received an answer, something that was confirmed by Elion's next words.
"You're my Ada," Came the simple reply, "I trust you."
Fierce love swelled inside his heart and Aragorn lent down and pressed a kiss to his child's forehead.
Elion last words had been punctuated by several yawns, and now the child had stopped talking he did not appear to be eager to start again. The recitation had allowed the last dregs of the nightmare to be overcome, and Aragorn was not surprised to see that Elion was sleepy once again. It was still several hours until dawn and his actions the previous night had left him exhausted, an exhaustion Elion was only beginning to recover from. "Sleep little one," he murmured and Aragorn felt Elion nestle closer, the boy's hands clutching at his tunic.
"Ada, stay please?" The request was a sleepy mumble.
"I'm not going anywhere little one, I'm here." He reassured, his voice tender, and Elion relaxed into slumber, slumping, boneless, against his chest.
Aragorn sat for a long moment, letting his mind process what he had learnt. He was not so foolish as to think that this night's conversation would be able to lay to rest the ghosts haunting his child, but it had soothed them for now, and he knew that healing would be possible with time. He had been glad to hear of the lightness and joy that had existed in Elion's life, despite the pain, terror and sorrow, though he had noted the fact that most of those he spoke of were other children, or teenagers, adults only being mentioned in passing, parents of friends, instructors, other fighters. It made him wonder again, who had looked after Elion following the death of his parents. He was becoming increasingly convinced that, beyond the provision of basic necessities, the answer was no one.
Aragorn shook of his dark musings, for as long as he was able Elion would not want for love and care, but for now, his son was sleeping soundly and Aragorn knew the value of taking his rest when he had the opportunity. However, when he went to lay Elion back into bed, he encountered resistance. Instead of sleep loosening Elion's grip, the boy had instead clung on. Aragorn chuckled quietly, careful not to wake the sleeping child, but when he gently tried to remove Elion's hands from his tunic, the boy grumbled and held tighter, though he didn't wake. Smiling fondly, he moved over to his own bed and lay down, carefully positioning the child so his son lay in a comfortable position.
Curled up against his father's side, and with the steady beat of Aragorn's heartbeat echoing against his ears and warding off the nightmares, Elion slept in a cocoon of love and safety.
AN: And here is the next chapter - I hope you all enjoyed it and are staying safe. Thank you for reading and for all the reviews, favourites and follows - I particularly love reading your reviews!
Life is weird at the moment, and this is the end of my prewritten stuff, so no promises on an update timetable.
Thanks again for reading!