I remember the fear.
I do not understand it but it wakes me in the night sometimes. The sound of swords clashing, monsters yowling, my mother crying as we hide in darkness, the face of demon who tore me from her.
I wake screaming into the dark of the night until she comes and holds me tight. Until she wipes my tears away and rocks me, singing me songs that banish the fear to the furthest corner of my mind where it hides, and waits, until the next time it takes me unawares.
I live in Imladris but it is not my home. It is filled with elves and I am not one. Neither is my mother.
We hide away from the ones who killed my father. We are safe here she tells me. Lord Elrond will keep us safe.
I am not sure I like him.
He is kind, mostly, but sometimes he growls me. He does not like me to run through his halls, even though they are very long and perfect for running. Why did he build such long corridors if not to run down them? No-one runs here. No-one else but me. Instead they glide. I think it is boring.
Lord Elrond makes me study and that is even more boring than the gliding. He says I must learn my history so I can protect my people. I do not even know my people, and I am just a boy. Why would they need a boy to protect them?
That is why, although he reads me stories and sends the kitchenmaids to fetch me extra pudding, sometimes I am not sure I like him. He pretends he is my father and he is not!
But he does keep us safe and he looks after my mother and so when he is not telling me what to do I do love him.
Nothing ever happens in Imladris. Every day is the same and the only thing that changes is me. Not today though, today is different. Today there is excitement in the air and when I go to Erestor for my studies he sends me away.
“Not today, Estel,” he says. “You can have a day off today.”
A day off? That has never happened before.
“Why, Erestor?” I ask. “Will I not get in trouble?” And he smiles, which is very strange because he never smiles.
“You will not get in trouble today little one. The twins are coming home!”
I know who the twins are. They are Lord Elrond’s own sons but I do not know them. They fight orcs and ride far across the land but they have not been here as long as I can remember. Mother says they were here once when I was very small but I do not remember that.
They are warriors, they are exciting. I want to see them!
So I do not go back to my mother as Erestor tells me to. I go instead to hide amongst the crowds in the courtyard and wait for them to arrive. Perhaps they will even see me and say hello? My heart beats like a drum inside my chest. It is so exciting.
It seems like everyone in Imladris waits in the courtyard today. There must be hundreds of them. There is a buzz of conversation and I can see nothing! I am just too short, even if I stand upon the steps. I give up in the end, standing on tiptoes I still cannot see around them. So I sit down instead—surrounded by Elven legs as if they are trees in a forest—and I listen.
I hear Lord Elrond. He is happy, I can tell, and he is not often happy I think, so I am pleased at that. The crowd cheer and begin to move. I can hear footsteps . . . They come towards us!
Kneeling I try to see between the legs of those around me. It is not very successful but better than just sitting there, lost amongst the crowd, and so it is I lean around the legs in front of me just as the crowd moves back to leave me, sitting there, exposed to all their eyes.
And there he is, looking right at me, coming toward me; my demon. The one who makes me scream at night.
“The boy!” He exclaims and I know his voice. I will never forget his voice.
In my nightmare, the one that haunts my nights, Mother and I are hiding, behind bushes I think, and it is dark. Around us people scream and die but no-one can see us. My mother is crying, softly, her tears wet me as I snuggle into her arms and she holds me oh so tight. I am safe, I think to myself, I am with Mother, she will keep me safe. Mother will keep me safe. I think it over and over.
Then the bushes part. A hand reaches out and pushes our wall of leaves aside.
It is the demon.
He squats in front of us and he is wild, terrifying; his face is covered in blood and his eyes are dangerous.
“Arathorn is lost.” He says to my mother, “Give the boy to me. I will take him.”
And he reaches out and takes me from her. Suddenly there is no safe place for me, no mother behind my back, she is gone and I am alone.
I scream and kick and he calls me names when I hit him. Mother, mother!! I scream it until I can scream no more. I want my mother! But she is not there. It is only him.
It then that I awaken and she comes to calm me, so I can see she really is still with me. It is always the same, my nightmare and now he is here; in Imladris. My demon has come to take me away.
So I run.
I run to my mother, as hard and as fast as I can. Chest heaving, lungs burning, I pound on the door and tumble through it into her arms when she answers.
“Mother!” I cry, “He has come! He has come to take me away. He is here!”
“Hush, Hush, Estel,” she tries to soothe me as she wraps me in her arms. “Who do you mean? No-one will take you from here.”
“The demon! The demon in my dreams. He has found us. He has come to get us. I have seen him . . . There in the courtyard.”
Her face when she looks at me is sad. I never want my mother to be sad and yet she often is.
“Oh, little one. No demon can get you here. Not with Elrond, Glorfindel, Erestor; none of them would let anyone harm you.”
She bids the maid bring me sweet hot chocolate to drink. It warms me from the inside out and calms my pounding heart. She locks the door because I beg her to, to keep him out, and sits with me in her favourite chair by the window. We look out across the gardens of Imladris—so beautiful I could never imagine someone coming to hurt me here—and eventually I sleep because when my crying stops I have no energy left at all.
I do not wake at the knock on the door. I do not wake when she gently slips away from beside me to answer it.
It is his voice that awakens me.
"Gilraen," he says, "It is good to see you. I hope you are well."
"Elrohir!" Mother cries, "It has been too long." I can hear in her voice she is smiling but she does not know he is the demon. Lord Elrond's own son. I am terrified, yet I cannot resist checking to make sure it is him. Quietly I kneel so my eyes peep over the back of the chair . . . Only my eyes.
It is him.
"I startled the boy earlier," Elrohir is saying, "I came to make sure all is well with him."
"Oh, Elrohir, it was you? All this time it is you he fears?"
"He fears me? " He is surprised and it makes no sense. After all he has done to me how could I not fear him? Is that not what he wanted?
"He has nightmares of that night," my mother says. "The night we lost his father. He wakes screaming, saying a demon has taken him from me. I did not realise it was you . . . Until just now, until he saw you today."
"I did not harm him! I would never harm him." He looks at me then. Right at me, right into my eyes, and I freeze. My mothers eyes follow his gaze and she sees me too.
She holds out her hand,
"Estel, this is Elrohir. He will not hurt you. Come and meet him."
I shake my head. I will not go near him. Here in the sunlight, in my mothers room he does not look like a demon. He looks like an elf, an important elf but one just like the others all the same.
And then he lays a hand on Mothers arm. I may be frightened, He might terrify me but I will not let him hurt my mother!
Fast as a flash I am there, across the room, in front of him, and I push him away from her. At least I try to but he is strong.
"If you hurt my mother I will kill you!"
I have no idea how I will do that but I will surely try.
But my defence of her is all in vain for he simply smiles.
"He is feisty Gilraen," he says, before he looks at me. "I will not hurt your mother, Estel. I swore to your father I would protect her, and protect you also."
He knew my Father. The thought of that takes my breath away.
"I would like to be your friend," he says softly and he holds his hand out to me.
But I do not want it, and I do not want him.
"I do not need any friends." I fold my hands across my chest to show him I will not, will not, shake his hand.
He kneels down before me then, so his head is level with mine and it is so much like my dream when he sat before our hiding place I cannot look at him. I squeeze my eyes shut. I try to shut that demon right out of my mind.
"I have something for you," he says quietly, "A present. Do you not want to see what it is?"
I do. I really want to see it. I hardly ever get presents and so he wins. I open my eyes a crack, and then some more.
He is holding a wooden box and as I gaze at it he places it into my hands.
"Open it," he tells me and I do.
And inside . . . Oh, it is amazing!
Inside the box is an army of wooden soldiers, each of them carved so carefully they are beautiful. There are elves, and men, and even the enemy.
"Elrohir!" Mother exclaims as she picks one up to inspect it, "Where did you get these?"
"I made them," he says. "There is plenty of time during nights upon the road. I would sit by the fire and carve them. I thought there might be a boy back in Imladris who would like them."
"I would like them!" The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them because I have never had anything as precious as these.
"Then they are yours, Estel."
And it is oh, so, wonderful I do not know what to say.
He returns early the next morning as my mother is getting me ready for the day.
"I thought to spend some time with Estel," he tells her, "to try to repair some of the damage."
I am not damaged in the slightest so I do not know what he means.
"He has studies with Erestor, Elrohir," she says. "Lord Elrond insists on it. Perhaps after?"
"Ah, I have seen to that. Father has given me permission to take him from his lessons, just for today." He drops his voice to whisper in her ear but I still hear it, "I explained the situation," he says, ". . .the nightmares."
Well Lord Elrond already knows of my nightmares so he did not need to tell him. I have not mentioned the demon to him though.
"Oh, Elrohir," Still Mother hesitates while I am beginning to feel excited. Another day off studying? It seems glorious. "I have things to do this morning. I cannot stay with you."
I am not sure I wish to be around him without her.
"So," he turns to me where I stand, to ask, "What will it be Estel? A day with me on our own or study with Erestor?"
I do not trust him. He has taken me from my mother once before, but anything would be better than Erestor . . . I am torn.
In the end the temptation of another day not studying is too much.
"I will come with you," I say.
I bring my soldiers. He walks me down the hallway but I do not hold his hand. I walk behind him, not too close, and he leads me into a room I have never been in to before. One that is always locked. It must be his room.
A fire burns in the grate and he sits down on the rug in front of it.
"Shall we have a battle then," he asks, " with your soldiers?"
And so we do. I am the elves and he is the enemy, and I win! He laughs when I defeat him and I discover it is fun. There are not many people here who I can play with. I am usually by myself.
"So how is Imladris, Estel?" he asks me as we set up the soliders for another go. "Is there anything I can change for you? Anything you want?"
"I want to run," I tell him. "I want them to let me run."
"They do not let you run?" He is disbelieving. I should have known he wasn't really on my side.
"In the corridors . . Some of them are so long, I just want to run down them, if you do it in your socks then when you get to the end you can slide! Lord Elrond will not let me do it."
"Ah!" Elrohir laughs again, "He would not let me do it either, Estel, when I was your age. He never understood the temptation of long corridors."
I am astounded. Elrohir ran in the halls?
"I am sorry," he says then as I gape at him. "Sorry that I frightened you. I took you away from your mother to save you. We were surrounded. There was no time, so I took you and your mother rode with Elladan. I did not stop to think how it would look to a small, frightened boy."
I am almost ready to forgive him.
"Were you with my father when he died?" He said he knew my father and I want to know it all. Everything he can tell me.
"I was with him," he replies, "but not close enough. If I had been I would have saved him. I wanted to. He was a good man, Estel."
"I do not remember him." It is the truth. My father is a stranger to me. I look away then, fiddling with the soliders in front of me. Moving them into meaningless positions for the next is hard to say.
"I do not really have any friends here," I tell him and it is true. There are many who love me but no-one to play with, no-one to laugh with. "It was a lie yesterday when I said I did not need friends."
"And so will you be friends with me?" He asks it again, extends his hand as he did yesterday, waiting for me to take it. "I will be your friend, Estel."
And this time I say yes.
When the nightmare next comes it is different. Still I am hiding in the bushes with my mother, still she is crying, still people are dying, but when the hand comes through the leaves and parts them to reveal a face it is not a demon who sits there, it is Elrohir, my friend. Elrohir who teaches me to track and hunt, to spar with knives, to shoot my bow. Elrohir who plays soliders with me and steals away to quiet secret hallways we can run down . And so when he reaches out and takes me I do not scream for my mother for I know Elrohir will save us. I am not frightened for he is our refuge.
He vanquishes my fear.
He protects my dreams.
I am safe with him.