And the Darkness Did Not Overcome It by MP brennan

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Author's Chapter Notes:

Happy birthday, Rachel!

Estel woke suddenly and clapped a hand over his mouth to keep himself from screaming. His room was dark. Only the faintest silvery light snuck in from the moon-drenched balcony. He screwed his eyes shut and squeezed his hand harder against his jaw. He was eight. That was much too old to scream over a silly nightmare.

Slowly, so as not to alert the things in the dark, he sat up and hugged his knees to his chest. Sweat-soaked sheets fell in tangles around him, but his arms prickled with goosebumps. He stared fixedly at a moonbeam that fell across the floor. It softly illuminated the carpet and the shirt he’d forgotten to put away, but then it struck the corner of his toy chest and the chest stopped it dead. Behind, the shadows were sharp and deep—the kind that could hold anything.

He sat there in the dark, trying to get his breathing under control, until he could bear it no longer. He needed to be with people, and if the things in the dark waylaid him in the attempt, at least he could tell Mandos he died bravely. As silently as he could, he slipped out of bed and crept across the room. The way was long and treacherous. Why had he ever told Ada that he wanted a big boy’s room like his brothers?

At last, he reached the sliding door that separated his room from his naneth’s. He pushed it open, wincing at the terrible racket of clunking wood and rasping iron. How come the door was so much louder at night?

The room beyond was even darker than his; the curtains were drawn. Estel stepped inside, trying not to tremble, reminding himself that Beren hadn’t been scared to walk into dark Mordor.

But, Beren had lost his hand and then he died, so maybe he wasn’t the best role model for a time like this.

“Mama?” he called out softly. He crept a little closer. The big bed was just three steps away . . . two . . . He stretched out one tremulous hand to touch the bedcovers, and his face fell. The duvet was pulled all the way up to the top, the sheets tucked neatly beneath it. How had he forgotten? His naneth would be away for another two days at least. She was off “visiting her kin,” though who those kin were or why Estel couldn’t visit them too, Ada hadn’t told him.

Heedless of the noise, he turned and fled from the room, fled through his room, fled all the way out onto the balcony. He clutched the railing and stared out over the waterfalls. Here, at least, he would see the shadows coming. The moon was almost full. In far too many places, though, trees stretched their dark branches over the balconies or statues stood tall to block the moon.

What he needed was someone who could protect him from the things in the dark. His naneth was good at that, but she wasn’t here. His next choice would have been Elrohir, but he, too, was gone. He was out there somewhere in the shadowed woods where orcs and monsters roamed—him and Elladan both. Far off, around the edges of the house, a few sentries stood with their pale lamps. It was their job to protect the people of the house, but at that moment Estel wanted nothing to do with them or the feeble lanterns in their hands. Besides, they would only laugh at him.

Who, then?

Ada. Of course. Ada had fought in all the great battles of the Second Age. Ada would know what to do about the things.

Estel set off at a run, his bare feet making almost no sound on the polished wood of the balcony that circled this wing of the house. Reaching the edge, he stepped off onto the flagstone-lined path and followed it up the ridge, to the upper levels of the Homely House, where Ada’s quarters were. Ada locked his door, but not his balcony, and a spreading elm nearby offered easy access for a small boy.

Estel didn’t hesitate until he stood right in Ada’s doorway, the curtains whispering around him in the soft wind. Then, he paused. His ada wasn’t like Mama. He didn’t cuddle with him or hold him just ‘cause. What if he didn’t understand about the things in the dark?

Lord Elrond lay still on the big bed, his hands folded across his chest, his eyes open but fixed.

“Ada?” Estel whispered.

He blinked. His eyes began to move as he returned to the waking world. He sat up slowly. “Estel? What is the matter?”

Estel couldn’t answer because at that moment a gust of wind caught the curtain and it swished towards him, trailing a long, dark shadow in its wake. “Ada!” He ran to his adar as fast as he could, leapt onto the bed, and buried his face in Ada’s night clothes.

For a moment, Elrond sat stock still. Then, he dropped a hand to Estel’s back and rubbed comfortingly. “All is well, my son,” he said softly, “Did you have a bad dream?”

Still hiding his face against Ada’s side, Estel nodded. For long moments, he just sat there while Elrond stroked his back. At last, he leaned back and wiped his face—embarrassed. When had those tears gotten there?

Elrond rose silently and pulled on a dressing gown. “Come with me,” he said, taking Estel’s hand in his much larger one. He led him out onto the balcony and lowered himself to sit on a small settee. After only a second’s hesitation, Estel sat next to him and curled up against his side like he used to when he was small. Like he still sometimes does with his naneth when no one else is there to see. Elrond wrapped his arm around him, and for a while they just sat there. The shadows were close, but that was alright so long as Ada was here. Ada wouldn’t be afraid of the things. He would drive them away with all the power of Elbereth.

At last, Elrond spoke. “What did you dream?”

Estel hesitated, but Ada’s arm was warm and strong around him. Ada would protect him. “There was a field,” he whispered, fighting to keep his voice from shaking. “No flowers grew there. I was high up, but far away I could see horses and Men. They were so small. Like ants.” He paused and Elrond squeezed his shoulder. “They were running away. There was a shadow behind them. Long and dark. It looked like it would swallow the world.”

Estel drew a slow breath to calm himself. He tried to imagine himself strong and brave, like a scout giving a report to a great lord. “There was a light racing out to meet them. It was pale, like starlight. Small, like a candle. The darkness arched up like a wave, ready to swallow it. The light reached out . . .” A shudder ran through his shoulders. “And just before it touched the shadow, I woke up.” He fell silent.

Elrond was silent as well. He didn’t tell Estel that it was only a dream. He didn’t tell him that all would be well. Instead, he ran a gentle hand through his hair. “I was little more grown than you,” he said at last, “When I first received the gift of foresight.”

Estel stiffened. “You mean . . . it’s true? It’ll come true like your visions?”

“Perhaps,” Elrond’s voice was gentle. “Not for many years, I’m sure. And likely not how one would expect.”

“But, it can’t!” Estel swiped at fresh tears on his cheeks. “It’s evil!”

“Is it?” Elrond asked quietly, “You said the light flew out to meet the darkness. You said they almost touched. What happens, my son, when light reaches into the dark?”

Estel shook his head. “It was too small—like a candle. The shadow was as big as the whole world. It’ll swallow the light.”

“Will it?” Elrond stood and took Estel’s hand in his once more. “Let us see.”

Tremulously, Estel followed his adar into the shadowed bedchamber. He had to clench his jaw shut when Ada drew the curtains and darkness enveloped the whole room. Didn’t Ada understand about the dark and the things in the dark?

A moment later, though, came a shower of sparks as Elrond struck tinder. The sparks caught, and a small candle glowed to life. Elrond carried it to the center of the room and set it on the table. The warm light shone out, flickering against the walls. “Come and see,” Elrond said softly. Estel approached on silent feet. “Such a small candle,” his ada said, “Yet, look. See how far it reaches? Everywhere it touches, the shadows flee. They cannot stand.” He placed an arm around Estel’s waist and pulled him to his side. “Remember this: the darkness is weak, my son.”

And as Estel stared into the golden light, he thought he understood.


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