The Smallest Ghost

by Imbecamiel

Rating: Light PG

Characters: Elladan, Elrohir, Aragorn

Summary: Estel - Hope. Aragorn soon lived up to his name. And yet, to certain elves, he was not always a symbol of hope.

Disclaimer: World and characters: Tolkien's. Story idea: mine. Profit made: none. Clear?

A/N: This was written for the SNWCG bi-weekly challenge. The rules for this one: Write a story in 1,200 words or less, fanfic or otherwise, using either the title "The Smallest Ghost" or "The Silver Meteorite". Obviously, I went with the former.

As with other stories I've written, I'm still going with the AU fanon idea that Gilraen died at the same time as Arathorn. It's what I'm used to, I like it for a number of reasons, and I think it simplifies things. :)

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The forest held its breath. Waiting. Expectant. Fog hindered even elven vision, and played tricks with what was visible. It swirled, taking on vague, almost-recognizable shapes, before melting away again, allowing glimpses of dark tree trunks and damp boulders, suddenly strange and unfamiliar in their half-obscurity.

Simultaneously, Elladan and Elrohir shivered, drawing their cloaks more closely about themselves – the gesture one of mental, not physical, discomfort. Their eyes met, and Elladan gave his twin a slight smile, which vanished again as quickly as one of the mist-apparitions.

"He's late. Something has happened." His voice was soft, an instinctive response to the atmosphere around them.

"He's fine. The weather has merely delayed him." The answer was equally quiet.

Aragorn was a grown man, and a remarkably capable one at that. He had been so for years, and this was hardly the first time he had gone to stay among the Dunedain. He was not even very late for their meeting, now.

Normally, Elladan was not one to worry so, simply because Estel was beyond their sight and immediate protection. There was danger, yes, but they could not protect him from his future forever, nor could they be directly by his side for every moment of it.

Normally, his moods were not so affected by his environment, either – particularly when the world around them carried no warning. It was merely hushed, muted. Not the sudden, deadly silence of approaching danger, simply… still. For a human, it might be unnerving. But for an elf, one with the world around him, at home in nature? No. At least – it ought not to be.

And yet, Elladan could neither shake the dread that hung heavy on him, nor give it a definite name. It was simply there, indefinable, just beyond his grasp. Something not only foreboding, but familiar. And, for all his confident words, when their eyes had met he had known Elrohir felt it too.

If only Estel would arrive!

Suddenly, with a start, he recognized the dread for what it was: memory. There was good reason for that sense of familiarity. It was on just such a day, indeed, eerily like, that they had ridden out with Arathorn, decades ago, hunting orcs.

Ai, that terrible day. They had started out with that mixture of grim determination and fierce elation that had always filled them, then, at any opportunity to hunt their mother's tormentors. But things had gone so horribly wrong. Arathorn lost, Gilraen lost, so many of the Dunedain...

And Estel had come to live with them. Ah, Estel, Hope. And yet he had not always been a symbol of hope to them. To Elladan and Elrohir he had once represented only grief piled upon grief, failure, and guilt.

So much was lost that day, so much more had come within a hair's breadth of being lost, not only for them, but for Middle Earth. And they... they had been helpless. They had done all they could, certainly, and yet it did not change that sense of culpability – after all, they were there. And yet, had they been elsewhere, would it have been any better? Their presence must have made some difference – and, after all, there was Estel.

Estel – young, innocent, Estel, on whom rested such great hope and destiny. A frightened child, who wanted his parents to come back and rescue him from a world full of strangers and uncertainty. A tiny ghost, far too quiet for his age, haunting the halls of Rivendell.

His features, those serious gray eyes, so like his father's – it seemed to catch them by surprise every time, that resemblance, driving the shaft of pain yet deeper into their hearts. When he sought them out, among the few familiar faces in his new home, though they knew it was only their own hearts speaking, they felt they could detect hints of accusation in those too-often tearful eyes. Surely, they could have, should have, done more.

What kept them then from fleeing their home, and the small ghost that haunted it, they could hardly have said. Perhaps it was, in part, that very guilt – the feeling that they deserved the reminder, that they owed it to him. Whatever the cause, in the end it was their salvation.

Time affects mortals strangely, and children are remarkably resilient. It was truly astonishing how quickly Estel settled into their household.

Oh, he did not soon forget his parents, and the nightmares from which he woke, sobbing, did not quickly fade. There were still moments when his eyes were far older than his years. But it was not long before they might almost have thought wistfully of those days when he seemed far too quiet and serious for a child.

Their little ghost proved himself overflowing with life. Childish energy, enthusiasm, joy, laughter, the sound of running feet, soon chased the apparitions of the past from Rivendell's halls, and kept life very interesting indeed.

More wonderful and strange yet was Estel's willingness to accept his foster family. The way he had attached himself to their father they could understand – Elrond was Ada, long experienced in raising and loving children. But that Estel's heart had opened to embrace them as well...

Their grimness had intimidated him not at all, and before they even realized it, his life bubbled over into them, reviving places in their hearts that had been deadened so long they hardly remembered what it was like to be truly alive.

Aye, Estel had changed things, more even than he realized.

A twig snapped, startlingly loud in the stillness. Elladan and Elrohir spun, weapons half-drawn, tense, listening. Dried leaves rustled, and there was a soft splash, followed by... was that a muttered Sindarin curse? Then, a familiar voice called out.

"Elladan! Elrohir! Man le?" /Where are you?/

"Sí, Estel!" /Here, Estel!/

Within moments, Aragorn came into view. He was hunched into his cloak, for all the good it was doing him. The bottom half of it was dripping wet, and it was no great leap of reasoning to assume the clothes underneath were equally soaked. It was all Elladan could do not to laugh with relief.

"You have spent too long among mortals, tithen-muindor! It seems you quickly forget all that we labored so many years to teach you." Elrohir shook his head in mock despair.

Aragorn gave him a weary look, and Elladan found himself wondering how he could have ever seen him as a ghost of Arathorn – he was so very, uniquely, Estel.

"Most amusing, elo idhren pen. This cursed fog makes it nearly impossible to navigate – aye, and makes those equally-cursed rocks by the stream incredibly slippery as well." /oh wise one/

"Then it is well that you have us to navigate now. We would hate for you to take a tumble into the Bruinen. I hear it is quite cold at this time of year – and the fact that your clothes will likely be nearly dry by the time we arrive there would make it an even greater pity."

Aragorn's expression was now more sour than weary, and Elladan chuckled, shaking his head.

"Come, muindor. Let's get you home."

Around them, the mist swirled, assuming ghostly shapes – but they no longer noticed, or cared.

The End


There y'are! Hope you enjoyed it. Feedback of any kind is very welcome! Thanks for reading. :)