Discussion in 'Non Star Wars Fan Fiction' started by Mira_Jade, Jan 31, 2013.
Gorgeous & moving! I love! MJ-sized fics. I'm kinda used to the length LOL !!!!
@Nyota's Heart: MJ-sized ficklest, I like that. As always, you are too kind with your words. I thank-you so much for reading!
Author's Notes: This ficlet is in reply to the prompt: hit me with your best shot, over at the NSWFF prompt thread. My muse took the idea a bit literaly, and as a result we have some fun youthful antics - and lessons learned, during the time of the Trees' in Aman.
I have no backstories for this one, only the usual notes on names . . .
Nís: Quenya for 'woman'
That said, here we go.
"through to the heart"
The first time Irissë was old enough to remember meeting Turkafinwë Tyelkormo, she slapped him.
He had deserved it, Irissë had thought darkly as a print of her hand bloomed on the tanned skin of his face. She had defeated him fairly – beating him in a foot race from the mouth of Indis' gardens to where a small, elegant bridge stretched over one of the ornate ponds in the back of her grandfather's palace. It was he who could not bear his loss with dignity; scrunching his face in a way that made his eyes squinty, and muttering out insults underneath his breath for her victory.
Irissë had slapped him for him calling her a cheater. She had pushed him in the pond for saying that, as a girl, her defeat should have been assured. Of course, he had sprang up from the green water to wrestle her from the bridge, and she got strands of water lilies tangled in her hair when she tried to dunk his head underneath the water. They were returned to their parents soaking wet and dripping pond-water onto the ornate tiled floor after Findekáno and Maitimo were sent to fetch them. Her brother had pulled leaves from her hair, trying to scold her with his words even as his eyes smiled in betrayal to his voice. Even still, he told her well done once their mother's back was turned. At his side, even Maitimo had looked satisfied for her manner of extracting vengeance on Tyelkormo once he wrought the story from his stuttering brother - the much younger elf looking rather pitiful indeed for Nerdanel's scolding.
Later, Anairë got her into the bath while sighing over the green stains that ruined her once white dress. Why do you insist on this color, daughter, if you inflict on me many pains to keep it clean? She was not as gentle as Findekáno had been when she combed the snarls from her hair, scolding her as to how a princess of the Noldor was to act in the house of their King. How a granddaughter should play in her grandfather's house with one of her cousins, her father had returned to his wife when he thought that she could not hear - even as her mother sighed in that way that said that she was exasperated, amused and cross all at once. Irissë knew that sigh well.
The next day, she explored the park beyond the palace once again. Her child's mind called the small stream a raging river, while her imagination turned the ornamental trees into the great and tangling forests of Middle-earth beyond the sea. She walked with a wooden stick in hand, pretending that she was a warrior-maiden protecting her people during the Great Journey. In her mind, she was one of the great heroines from the dawn of her people; renowned for her deeds of might and valor against the fell creatures of the Dark Lord.
It was then that she became aware of the sound of voices through the bushes. Curious, she came in closer - hearing the dull sound of wood striking wood, followed by the sound of a child's shout. Intrigued, she pushed closer to see . . .
Tyelkormo, her jaw set when she recognized his mane of white gold hair. He was crossing wooden swords with his youngest brother – whom Irissë did not know very well. She only knew Curufinwë as the baby of Finwë's house (finally taking the shared title from she and Artanis, who were born only a season apart), easily recognized by his long black hair and the strange fire burning in his eyes - the same as all of her half-uncle's sons had. Curious, she followed the crossing of sword on sword, her eyes following with something she refused to call greed.
Her father had said that such skills were worthless in deathless Aman as it was, calling them an insult to the ones who protected and sheltered them; who had called them to the West as friends in the eldest days. And yet, she could not help but turn towards the mock fight beyond, curious . . .
Irissë did not think that she made a sound, but she must have, for a moment later Tyelkormo's eyes were narrowing, and then he peered past the bushes to find -
“What are you doing here?” he asked crossly, the hand not holding his sword propped up on his hip. Behind him, Curufinwë peered curiously around his brother's arm, intrigued.
“I could ask the same of you,” Irissë challenged, coming out from the shade of the bushes to stand with her own hands propped on her hips.
“No one else is supposed to know,” Curufinwë ignored her in favor of tugging on his brother's sleeve - biting his lip and glancing beyond. “That's why Atar said that we were not supposed to practice here -”
“Silence, Curo,” Tyelkormo snapped at his brother, pushing him back a step. Curufinwë's mouth set in a thin, dangerous, line, and he took a step forward -
Irissë darted between the two, not wanting their meeting to deteriorate into blows. “It is not his fault,” she said, tossing her head imperiously. “I already knew.”
She did not, but -
“Oh yeah?” Tyelkormo challenged. “How?”
“My brother told me,” she said, hoping that that would be enough to dissuade him from questioning her further. It was true enough, Findekáno and Maitimo were always together – and if there was someone in her family who would know the secrets of Fëanáro's house . . .
“Turukáno?” Curufinwë blinked dubiously. “But I do not think he would -”
“Not Turvo, obviously,” Tyelkormo all but growled. “Findekáno.” He spat her brother's name on the ground as if it were a curse.
Tilting her head up, Irissë stood with her feet squared with her shoulders. She made a thin line of her mouth, and said, “It does not matter how I know,” in the haughtiest voice she could muster. “What matters is that I do know. Now, what are you going to do about it?”
Irissë glanced down at the wooden sword in his hand, letting her eyes rest in a meaningful pause. And -
Tyelkormo barked out a laugh, reminding her of a baying hound with the way his teeth flashed. “You . . . want to learn the sword?”
“As the price of my silence,” she confirmed, holding her nose up. He was staring at her as one would look at a bee in the honey pot. He stepped closer, as if thinking that his greater height and age would let him tower over her and cow her into submissiveness.
She stood up straighter underneath the heat of his regard, holding his gaze stubbornly with a glower of her own.
“Now, your answer?” she pressed him.
“Teach you?” Tyelkormo scoffed. “You are but a nís.”
“You have eyes that see. I congratulate you,” Irissë drawled sarcastically. “And yet, this nís pushed you into the pond yesterday – after beating you fair and square in a foot-race. What say you to that?”
Curufinwë gave a snort of laughter, and Tyelkormo turned his glare on his brother – who returned the look with one of his own.
“Are you afraid to show me?” she gave her challenge next. Curufinwë darted his gaze rapidly between them, drinking in their words as if to more accurately retell teach one to the rest of their brethren when first he could. “Are you afraid to be beaten by me again?”
Tyelkormo glanced from his brother to her, his face flushing at her accusation. “I am a son of Curufinwë Fëanáro,” he returned haughtily. “I fear nothing.”
“Well then,” she held up her wooden stick as if it were a true weapon. “What have you to fear from a nís holding a wooden sword? Please, cousin . . .” she dropped the line of steel from her voice to ask him truly, “Would you show me?”
Tyelkormo snorted – but there was something else in his glance now, as if he was trying not to smile. This close, she could see where there was more green than grey in his eyes – a curious combination, she thought. The dappled patterns the sunlight made through the trees danced over him when he walked over to where he and his brother had left their packs resting by a treetrunk. He picked up another wooden sword from the canvas flap, and then turned and tossed the sword to her. While she fumbled with catching it, she did not let it fall.
“If we are going to do this, we are going to do so properly, at least,” he sniffed. Irissë smiled, reevaluating her opinion of her cousin – ever so slightly, at least.
“Now,” she said, holding her sword in what she thought was a reasonably descent stance. “Where do we start?”
As the years passed and their relationship grew, she found a friend where first she had thought such a thing hopeless. The daughters of the Noldor looked at the earth on her hands and the green smears on her gowns with odd gazes, as if she were a being apart from them. Better than embroidery and dancing did she enjoy riding and the wide open spaces beyond Tirion's marble walls. She enjoyed her fine gowns and twining elegant braids in her hair; but better did she prefer the sun warming and browning her skin, the smell of oiled leather to that of the gently perfumed ways of the court. Better for my daughter's happiness would she have been born to the Laiquendi of Lenwë's house, her father would tease her whenever her thoughts turned morose on the matter. And yet, then I would be deprived of her light, and so, I selfishly thank the Valar for the gift of her.
Such words could not help but lift her spirits. It did not matter, she thought whenever her mind wished to draw her down – Tyelkormo liked her just the way she was, and that was all that concerned her. Oh, he was still insufferable and arrogant, but she knew him to be more than that. While he was not soft underneath his rather harsh exterior, per say, he bore his own sort of gentleness. He could speak to the birds and feel the hearts and thoughts of animals the way she could hear words spoken aloud. She had once seen him nurse a tiny fawn to adulthood after he struck a doe he should not have during the hunt. That fawn was now a great white stag in the woods beyond Tirion, with a massive crown of antlers that was both graceful and humbling to look upon at once. When she thought of her cousin, she did not think of the harsh words and the fire in his eyes, but rather, his gentle fingers coaxing the tiny fawn in his lap to drink from a bottle. She thought of him singing on the path and the birds answering him - better was his soul known to the wild than it was to those of his own kind.
He enjoyed the challenge she presented, he said whenever she dared him to admit that he enjoyed her company. She forced him to run faster, ride harder, and aim truer than any of his own brothers. He was grateful to have some competition in Aman, at least, even if that competition was a girl. He was used to her swatting at him for such words, and now she rather thought that he did so on purpose, trying as he was to exact such a reaction from her.
Now, it was the spring of her fortieth year, and she was finally old enough to enter the Games for the first. It was whispered that the Vala Oromë was to attend the festivities that year, searching for a new apprentice to join his fold. When she had repeated the rumors to Tyelkormo, breathless and bubbling with excitement for her news, his look had turned serious in reply. She knew the wish of his heart, and she was happy for her friend – truly she was. Oromë would find no better pupil – and while Tyelkormo said that he would be honored for the Vala to look his way, she secretly thought that the blessing would be Oromë's, in turn.
For herself, she was merely happy to put to use the skills she had been learning. She made a good showing in the knife toss, and came in second to Artanis in the long race – which, to anyone who knew Artanis, was not anything to be ashamed of. Afterward, she and Turukáno took a respite from competing to watch Maitimo and Findekáno face off in the staff games – where they fought with long poles while balancing on a log in the water – which was always amusing to watch in every sense of the word. For their great friendship, they were both impossibly competitive, and it was always a toss up to see who would come out triumphant. This time, Findekáno was able to knock his cousin in the water first – and yet, as soon as he surfaced, Maitimo reached up to pull the other into the water by his ankle, and there was laughter from the throats of all gathered as Findekáno spluttered to clear the water from his lungs.
In the afternoon, she placed well in the stationary archery contests, and did even better in the equestrian sports – taking another second place in the jumping. Yet, it was the finale of both competitions that she was truly eager for. To test both the skill of the rider and the aim of the archer at once, there had been a cross country course prepared through the wood, with thirteen moving targets that were set at random in the trees. The course was to be rode in pairs, with each rider both striving to beat the other to the finish, and hitting the tagets as accurately as possible. Irissë had practiced long and hard for this event in particular, and it was her main focus at the Games.
To sweeten her incentive to win, both her father and the Vala Oromë were watching that game in particular. She was eager to prove herself to her father – to prove that his letting her go so often in the wild was a wise decision on his part. She wanted to make him proud – and it helped that her half-uncle was standing by her father's side, his every look imperious and haughty. She knew that it was an unspoken competition between Fëanáro and Nolofinwë to see whose children would perform the best at every Game, and at that point in the day, her father held a narrow lead on his half-brother. The Trees were waxing above them, Teleperion's silver light slowly overpowering Laurelin's gold with the onset of night – which meant that there were few sports left for the day. And so, the honor of her family was now in her hands.
Irissë beat each rider she was paired with until it came down at last to her and Tyelkormo in the final race - which would decide first and second place. Beforehand, she wished her friend well, and teasingly offered him one of her ribbons as a lady's token – to which he smiled a smile full of teeth and told her that he made his own luck. He handed her her quiver then, an image of chivalry that had her rolling her eyes as she mounted her horse, and then they were being called to the start.
She inhaled a shaky breath as she saw her whole family gathered and watching on the sidelines. Even her grandfather looked on her with pride in his eyes, even though that look could just as easily have been for Tyelkormo. She saw a figure cloaked in hunter's green at the back of the crowd, and while she did not know for certain, she could feel the leashed power lingering about the man - and she knew then that the Huntsman's eyes were upon she and Tyelkormo both.
Irissë felt a tremor of anticipation trickle up and down her spine, and then -
The horn was blown, and they were off.
She hunched low over her horse's withers, guiding with her seat and her hands as they raced to the first target. She balanced with the strength in her legs while she drew the first arrow from her quiver and aimed for the target as it swung down from the trees – hitting the center of the circles with a satisfying whoosh and thud of sound. A perfect hit. Tylekormo was a heartbeat behind her, his arrow embedding in the ring just below her own.
Close, but not close enough, she thought in satisfaction.
The ground dipped and the terrain turned rugged, and she had to focus on the jumps and trials of the path as she aimed her next arrow. She carefully anticipated the way the target was moving in the trees – pulled along by elves in the branches, mimicking a true target with their actions.
Another clean hit . . . another, and then another.
By the time the path doubled back on itself, she and Tyelkormo had each taken six of the thirteen targets apiece. They were riding neck and neck, meaning that no extra points would be gained for the quickest ride. It would all came down to whoever cleanly hit the last target.
Taking in a deep, settling breath, she took the last arrow from her quiver. The world seemed to fall away from her; the cheering from those onlooking was nothing but white noise in her ears, she could feel her heartbeat thunder in her chest. She counted out each breath, timing her shot in between the rise and the fall of her horse's strides. She and her dappled grey mare were moving together perfectly, seemingly one being as she took her aim, and -
A perfect shot, she felt it in her bones as she let the arrow go a second before Tyelkormo did, and then -
The arrow went wildly astray, spinning though a tumbling arc before embedding itself in the ground beneath the target. She missed completely, even as Tyelkormo's arrow struck the dead center of the target, embedding itself so fiercely that the shaft splintered on contact.
She came back to herself. The cheers were deafening. Her heartbeat skipped in her chest.
She . . .
She had missed.
. . . how? She did not understand where she had gone wrong.
Moving numbly, she dismounted from her horse, feeling as if she moved separate from herself as she was clapped on the back by her brothers and praised for the skill she displayed in her ride – a great showing, even if she did not take the victory from their half-cousin. She felt as Findekáno picked her up and spun her about in the air, and yet . . . She pushed away from him once he set her down, trying not to flinch as she saw the way her uncle smiled at her father with his victory. She could not look at her father - her father, who had not a care for Fëanáro and his words, but was instead walking towards her, concern etched into every line of his face.
He knew her better than any other, she thought, blinking against her suddenly burning eyes. He would know how utterly disappointed she was.
Her aim was perfect, she thought next – numbly, defiantly. There was no way that she could have missed the target entirely. She had felt the rightness of the shot as she released it . . .
Without consciously registering her movements, she walked back onto the field to pick up the arrow that had failed her. She examined it – from the head she had sharpened and attached herself, to the wood she had carefully measured and cut, and the fletch she had strung with silken thread . . .
Irissë ran a careful finger over the feathers, to see . . .
They had been cut.
She felt fury erupt as something molten to cover her bones. Her hands made fists over the sabotaged arrow, remembering only Tyelkormo smiling, and Tyelkormo handing her her quiver before the start of the race. I make my own luck, he had said. And . . .
He wouldn't, she felt her fury fade, giving way to the even sharper cut of hurt. He was her friend, and he would not hurt her like that. He wouldn't.
But Oromë was watching; watching the same as Fëanáro was watching . . . Could he have been moved to such extremes to assure that he failed neither? Could he . . . would he do that to her? She knew what she wanted to believe in answer, and yet . . .
Irissë felt a hand on her shoulder, and looked up to see Tyelkormo's dancing green eyes smiling down at her. “Better luck next time, my friend,” he had the audacity to tease her, tugging on one of her braids with a traitor's affection. “Perhaps you will defeat me next year, no?”
She leveled him with an incredulous look – the fury in her eyes made all the more potent for the gushing hurt she felt - like a tide of blood accompanying the withdrawal of a knife. She felt her eyes burn then, and rather than let him see just how much he had wounded her, she threw the arrow down at his feet without saying a word. She turned on her heel and left, uncaring about the eyes who would see her doing so and interpret it as a fit of bad sportsmanship. Let them think what they wanted - she did not care. She simply had to leave before . . .
She barely made it to an empty stall in the stables before she buried her face in her hands and let herself cry. She cried with ugly, hiccuping sounds, frustrated and hurt. He was her friend, she could not reason beyond that simple truth. He was her friend, and friends did not treat each other so. They did not use each other so callously for their own gain.
Only moments passed before she heard another enter the stables. At first she thought it was Tyelkormo, and she felt her top lip draw away from her teeth in a fey expression of anger at the thought of his presence. Even worse would it be for him to see her crying than he having cheated her in the first place. But it was not Tyelkormo who came up behind her, but an even more familiar set of arms that surrounded her – her father pulling her to his chest and enfolding her in his embrace.
“My daughter,” she could feel Nolofinwë's voice rumble from his chest more than she could hear it. He soothed a hand over her braids – the braids that she had so carefully set with blue and silver ribbons, eager as she was to do her family proud – and shushed her as if she were still a small child. At the warmth of his comfort, she felt her tears come upon her more violently still.
Somehow . . . he knew, she understood then. He must have seen her with the arrow, and glimpsed her thoughts as they formed - so strongly as she must have been projecting to anyone with an ear to hear.
“I hate him,” she hiccuped on an ugly voice, making fists in the rich brocade covering his chest. “I hate him so much . . .” The pain in her chest stabbed all the worse for her words – for truly, she did not. And yet, her love for the other just made it all the worse. She wished that she hated him, she truly did . . . it would make things so much easier. “I hate him . . .” she gave on a whisper, and willed the words to be true.
“I know,” Nolofinwë sighed against the top of her head – understanding her turbulence of feelings as few others could. “I know.”
Her father held her until her tears quieted, and then he and her mother walked her home. They slipped away from the crowd where no eyes could see, each walking with their arms about her - lightening her spirit with the warmth of their own as they had not since she was a very small child. She washed the dirt and grime from her body upon returning home, and after, she let her mother brush and braid her hair for her. Anairë did not say much as she worked. She merely hummed underneath her breath as she tended to her daughter, and at the gentle mothering, Irissë felt a calmness descend over her, replacing the numbness that had followed her tears earlier. I do not care, she told herself more than once. I do not need him for a friend, anyway. I am better off without him.
It was a lie, but for the moment, it was easier to face than the truth.
She went to bed after, heart-sore and utterly exhausted, but she could not find sleep, no matter how she beseeched Irmo for dreams. Instead she stared at the ceiling, awake and lost to her thoughts. She knew not how long she laid there before she heard an odd tapping at her window. A moment passed, and then she heard it again. Annoyed, she turned over in bed, but the sound persisted.
Again . . .
. . . and again.
She sat up, her eyes narrowing once she realized that someone was throwing pebbles at her window. By Eru, but who . . .
There was only one she could think of who would have the gall to do so. She set her mouth in a thin, cross line, and laid back down, determinedly turning her back on the window.
Some time after she thought that the pebble-thrower had given up, she heard as her window was pried open from the outside. There was a shuffling of sound, and then she heard her intruder breathe out a curse underneath his breath.
And then, louder she could hear, “The way Maitimo speaks, I saw that going much easier in my mind.”
At hearing his voice, she burrowed deeper underneath her blankets. She did not want to hear anything he had to say. Her back was still to him, but she could see where his shadow became smaller as he came closer to her bed.
A moment passed. She heard him draw in a deep breath, and then, “Irissë . . . I came to say that I am sorry.”
Still, she was silent. She ground her teeth together to bite back her words.
“My father was watching,” Tyelkormo tried to awkwardly explain next. He was never fluid with his words, let alone with speaking about his own heart and feelings. She watched his shadow as it paced. “I . . . I fail so often when he is around, and I . . . I could not fail again. I am not the son of the forge he wanted, but I wanted to prove that I could excel where my talents laid . . . I thought . . . I thought to make him proud. And you . . . you are good. My equal, even, and I could not . . . ” he gave that last truth as if he spoke around a blade.
Still, Irissë was silent. Had she truly lost the competition, her father would still know pride in her abilities, she thought then. She was certain of her father's love; certain of his joy in who she was growing to be. She could not imagine . . .
In skill, Fëanáro was the greatest of their kind who would ever walk the ground of Arda marred – that, even the Valar had whispered as truth. To grow under, and live up to his demanding a similar perfection in his sons . . . a perfection impossible to achieve . . . She wanted to tell Tyelkormo that his father was not perfect. Skilled, yes; but he lacked in matters of the heart and tender feeling – or, if he did not, then he lacked in his showing of such emotion. His fëa was chasmed by many lines - no matter the violence of flame that erupted, dazzling, from those fractures.
“It did not matter anyway,” Tyelkormo continued when he realized that she would not reply. “My father knew, and he was . . . disgusted that a son of his would need to cheat to prove himself superior in any way.” She could hear his voice as it trembled over the word.
And yet, she sat up - her anger suddenly erupting fresh within her. “You are apologizing because you were caught ?” she asked, incredulous as she whirled upon him.
“No – that's not it at all,” Tyelkormo swiftly backpedaled. She looked, and saw that his eyes were very wide, showing more silver than green. His nearly white hair burned about his head.
“No,” he said again, more calmly this time. “I am here because I hurt you, and . . . that in turn hurt me more than I thought it would . . . my father gave a formal apology to your father for my actions, and that too hurt. Better would it have been for him to acknowledge you the victor truly than admitting that his son was a liar and a cheat . . . It shamed me. Nolofinwë said that I moved you to tears . . . you are Irissë, and you do not cry . . . It was not losing that wounded you so, but rather the knowledge that I had done you wrong . . . and that shamed me even more than my father's disappointment. It was as a physical pain in my chest, and I . . .”
He sighed, running a hand through the mused strands of his hair in frustration at his inability to articulate his thoughts. The flicker of shame she felt at him knowing her moment of weakness passed quicker than she would have first thought. Under any other circumstances, it would be almost natural for him to see her in tears – he was her best friend, and she hid nothing from him, not even that which was not strength.
“Oromë too knew that I cheated,” he said next, sounding truly miserable then. “He was the one to tell my father, and to see the look on his face then . . . I wanted so badly to prove myself worthy of the Vala's attention, and instead I shamed myself.”
She fought the urge to wince at his saying so. To see proud Fëanáro humbled before the Valar he refused to acknowledge as lords over their people . . . to know that such a being saw him at his worst . . . She almost wished that he had beaten her truly, just to spare him the pain of rejection and humiliation he felt now.
. . . almost.
“And then it occurred to me that you are the only one I have never feared failing in front of. You are the only one who has ever accepted me – all of me – and I . . . I betrayed the trust you had in me. I am not asking you to forgive me; I am simply telling you how sorry I am . . . and that I hope that you will still continue to be my friend, and let me make amends to you.”
Irissë felt her heart soften, even where she willed it not to. She wanted to be angry, and yet . . .
Tyelkormo saw the moment where her eyes softened. “If you wish, you may push me in the pond tomorrow.” He grinned, his teeth flashing white in the shadow.
She was still silent, weighing him with her eyes, and then . . .
“To start with,” she finally said, tilting her chin up haughtily. “But don't think that you will get off so easily, Tyelko.”
His smile only grew. “Does that mean that I am forgiven?”
She raised a dark brow, but refused to answer him. Instead, she turned her back on him, and laid down once more – effectively dismissing him. And yet, she could imagine his smile as it turned.
A moment passed, and then she heard her window open once more. A second later, she heard the small sound of it closing.
Irissë allowed herself a single smile as she settled into her pillow once more. When she closed her eyes, she found the path of dreams open and easy before her once more.
Excellent and fun bit of competitiveness
@Nyota's Heart: Why thank-you. These two certainly are a pair of fire crackers, it's true.
Author's Notes: The latest Sunrise, Sunset prompt is stumping my mind something fierce. As a result, I decided to put that one on the backburner for now, and move on with the 50 sentence prompts. This prompt is Truth, while the next prompt is Hope - for which I want to handle a young!Aragorn tale for obvious reasons. So, what better sort of ficlet to lead into that tale than an Arathorn/Gilraen ditty? Especially when they are a couple we only see glimpses of in the Appendixes of LoTR. I could not resist.
So! My notes for this ficlet are . . .
Arathorn II was the 15th Chieftain of the Dúnedain, and heir of Isildur. He was 34 years older than Gilraen, who was only 22 when he asked for her hand. Gilraen's father wanted them to wait until she was older to wed - the Dúnedain were long lived, and thus, the age difference was not so terrible that way - but Gilraen's mother foresaw Arathorn dying early in life. She counseled her husband to allow Gilraen to marry early and enjoy the time she had with Arathorn, saying, "If these two wed now, hope may be born for our people; but if they delay, it will not come while this age lasts." That hope, obviously, was Aragorn. If you are further interested, there is actually a rather excellently done fan movie called [link=[media=youtube]qINwCRM8acM[/media] Born of Hope[/link] that details their story. You can watch it on youtube free of charge through the creator's own wishes. (I am sorry, the website will not let me clean up the coding! ) While it has its flaws, the work and care put into it are just beautiful to see. Of course, after I offer up that link, I have to warn that my characterization differs slightly - so you will get two different interpretations.
Now, that said . . .
"moving swiftly, ever on"
Autumn had touched the land, burning the leaves of the trees with rust and cooling the heat of the summer with a warning of the winter to come. The fields were gleaned, replenishing their storehouses for the cold season to come. Their dresses turned layered as the winter grew ever nearer, while gloves and scarves were stitched and knitted by careful, mothering hands. The world turned as though touched by fire, burning out to rest as ash until the spring arrived once more. Lost in those last moments of warmth, Gilraen inhaled the season's dying breath and felt her own heart fill.
The riverbed was at the lowest point of the year, even where the rushing Loudwater was joined by the Hoarwell, rushing down from the north. Soon, the calmer straights of the river would freeze with the winter - and then flow with the return of the snow-melt and fresh mountain water in the spring. For now, she stood on the bank, throwing pebbles against the top of the current. Some stones, she could skip. More often than not, they sunk.
Arathorn watched her with something soft coloring his eyes. She had asked him to join her when she first broke from their walk to do so, but his hands were restless that day. He was not made for fine tasks, not then, and so, she hummed and skipped her stones, waiting for her husband to share the burdens of his mind with her. His concerns were many as of late, and she had learned well the wisdom in patience. Her silence would reveal more than any searching query, even when she fairly bristled with a concern to match every unspoken thought that darkened Arathorn's brow. Even sheltered in the angle of the rivers, the weights on the mind of the Chieftain of the Dúnedain were many - with fell folk pushing down from the mountains, sent from their Enemy in the east as they sought Isildur's heir as they always did. Always had it been so, from the first Chieftain to the last, and she knew that the Enemy would not stay his efforts simply because she wished to live with her husband in peace during the time they had to them. She knew the life she had chosen when she had accepted Arathorn's hand, and she was grateful for the years that would belong to them before . . .
She squared her mouth, and threw her last pebble. It sank like a weight beneath the bubbling water, even as she made a face - annoyed that the stone would give in to the pull of the river.
“The current is not made for stones this day,” Arathorn remarked wryly, speaking for the first.
“The river knows its time is short,” Gilraen agreed, pushing a stray strand of hair back behind her ear. The tips of her ears and nose felt pleasantly cold from the fresh air. “The land sings its last song, and the river is old and wise in its ways.”
She walked back to him, swaying to an imaginary melody as she did so. The trees danced on the wind, their great boughs swaying while the leaves swept across the ground like ladies in their fine gowns. The land moved to its own rhythm, and she inclined her ear to listen.
Her husband had a strong stride and sharp eyes. Neither were quite made for dancing, but she still pulled him to spin with her. They had no music but for the cadence of the river and her own humming breath. He humored her through one twirl, and yet, on the second turn he stopped her. His eyes were searching, and so, she stilled. He wished to say something, and she waited for him to speak.
In the end, Arathorn did not share his thoughts with words. Instead, he reached into the pack at his side to hand her a leather holster, carefully tooled to depict a design of a tree with stretching branches. She raised a brow at the gift before pulling the weapon from its sheath, revealing a small dagger with an elegant curve. The blade was swept through with graceful lines – made for beauty as much as it was made with violence in mind. Gilraen frowned at the gift, not understanding his thinking behind it - not entirely.
“This is of elvish make,” she said, waiting for the tale to come from him.
“Yes,” Arathorn confirmed. “Noldorin steel, from Celebrimbor's workshops in Eregion that was. The youngest son of Elrond has his tells when bluffing at cards, and this was the result. However,” he added ruefully, “do make sure you have the right twin before attempting to try as such. I have lost many a favoured bauble to the elder one's machinations.”
“I shall keep that in mind,” Gilraen said wryly in reply. She traced a finger over the flat of the blade, careful to stay away from the edge. “And yet . . .” she was troubled, though she could not say why. She swallowed, trying to find her words.
“Do you know how to use such a thing?” he asked.
“I know that the sharp end goes through flesh,” she said, raising a brow at her own lack of skill. “I can hold a sword, as you know, but I am no shield-maiden.” She always had her father, and her brother while still he stood to hold a sword in his family's defense. When the day turned dark, she could bare her teeth and stand for those she cared about, and yet . . .
“I knew as much,” Arathorn said, his eyes fond with memory. “And yet, a sword will not aid you if you are come upon unaware - not without years dedicated to its learning. This, however, is small. It can fit at your waist, underneath your cloak. You can be quick and clever with this, which is more suiting, I think, than a full sized weapon.”
“You see the use for much steel in the future?” she tried to tease with her words, but they came out shaped with a whisper of fear. She swallowed back the feeling of soon and borrowed time that colored her every day, trying to grasp and cherish each moment as they came.
“Wanting to find a use for steel and acknowledging its inevitability are two different things entirely,” Arathorn said. His mouth turned down in that way that said that he was agitated, fairly crawling within his skin - though not through cause of her. “I do not want you unprotected when that time comes.”
Slowly, Gilraen sheathed the knife again. His eyes followed the blade as it disappeared, flickering to match the overcast sky above. He had lovely eyes, she thought, a stormy shade of grey that decreed him Elros' heir as much as the ring of Barahir did at his finger. They darkened now, grave and lost with black thought.
“You are ill at ease, husband,” she said softly, trying to consider how to best phrase her words. “You have been, ever since I told you . . .” She swallowed, holding one hand to the small curve that now defined her stomach. She kept the hand that held the sheathed blade away, not wanting to hold steel so close to the child growing in her womb. “Such news is a cause for joy, not the fear you now feel.”
“I do know joy for our son,” Arathorn said, moving to cover her hand with his own. Already Ivorwen had touched her daughter's stomach and whispered of the boy child she carried. Arathorn trusted her mother's insight in this, the same as he had trusted her visions about his own future, and now . . . “Yet, you know as well as I that our joy rests on borrowed days. Someday – someday soon – I shall be there for neither you, or our child, and I wish . . .”
For so many things, she knew then. For so many impossible things.
“Someday you shall leave me, it is true,” she agreed. “But all couples face the inevitability of such a parting. Ill is it indeed for the thought of such a sundering to rob you of your joy for the now.”
“And yet, I will not leave you old and grey with many days,” Arathorn countered, his voice quickening with his frustration and coiled energy both. “I shall leave you soon - before our son walks for the first, or maybe even before he speaks his first word. I will not see him grow . . . I will not see him marry . . . I will not see him have sons of his own . . . I will not give to him the heirlooms of his house and explain to him the rich heritage of his people – a heritage that he will raise above this small band of forest-folk, hidden in the wild. I will not see the glory of our people once again restored through his mettle and courage. And, even worse . . . I will not grow old with you. I married a young wife, and I will leave her both a young widow and an even younger mother to a fatherless boy.”
“Our son will never want for guidance, and never will he be left to wonder if he had his father's love,” Gilraen said, setting her mouth in a thin line as she said so. Did he think that she did not know this? Did he think that this thought did not accompany her both as she awakened and laid her head down to rest at night? Did he think that she could so easily forget? “And yet, our time together has no number of days. Why must you see each day as our last?”
“And why must you be so naïve to think that each day is not?” Arathorn returned. While his voice was not harsh, it carried a desperate edge that struck her as if with a blow. She flinched against the weight of his words.
“I knew the truth of our parting when I accepted your hand,” she spoke with a strong voice – needing him to see how much she believed her words. Did he not see how dear they were to her? How they defined her? Her life itself was he and their son, and she would not see him spend the few days they had together mired down with the darkness of his thoughts. “I knew the truth of your fate when my father stood before me and outlined my future in frank, merciless words – widow, fatherless child, I left alone to age and carry on while he who is my other half turned cold in the ground . . . My mother showed to me her visions, holding my hand as her dreams became as a nightmare before my eyes . . . I knew this, and yet, still I married you. These days are dark, and shall grow even darker still, and yet, if I deny happiness – if I deny love, then I have let the shadow not only defeat us on the battlefield, but in my heart. And my heart is one place the Enemy cannot touch. It is one thing he cannot conquer, nor shall he ever.”
Her eyes burned as she spoke. Her words tangled on her tongue, graceless as she tried not to let her voice tremble with the strength of her emotions. And yet, truth lingered her every syllable as something tangible, something living. Did he not see that she would take even half of the time she had already spent with him as their all, and consider herself as blessed for knowing such a love?
Gilraen still held the knife in her hand. Her fingers tightened over the hilt as if she could hold him from his fate with the strength of her love alone.
Something softened in her husband's eyes with her speech. The dark grey lightened, as the sun rising behind a blanket of clouds. Arathorn cupped her face in his callused hands, and rested his brow against her own, weary then as she had yet to see him. As always, the knowledge that she, a simple woodsman's daughter, could support this great man, in even the smallest of ways . . . it humbled her. She let out a shaky breath, but her next inhale of air was calm. Her heart thundered in her chest, but she could breath against its rapid beat.
“And this is my truth,” Arathorn whispered gently. “Not only do you carry our hope . . . Do you not know that you are my hope; my joy, my reason for existing, even? I selfishly took you, even when knowing of the future I bound you to. Death is easy, but living . . . living is another thing entirely. I want to die knowing that my family is safe in every possible way, and if a small bit of steel can mean even the slightest bit of a difference . . .”
In the smallest of ways, through his teachings, he could continue to protect her, she understood then. In this way, even if only this way, he would never leave her. When she kissed him, unable to respond to such an admission with any form of words, her mouth was as desperate as his was hard - as if she could breathe him in and keep him with her through the force of her love alone. The onset of winter lost its appeal to her as she clung to him, and wished . . .
It was a long moment before she drew away from him. Her mouth was bruised and her cheeks were flushed, and yet she still shared his breath. Gilraen drew the blade from its sheath again, even as tiny snowflakes started to dot the air. She understood now. And she was ready.
“Show me what you will, then,” she said, meeting his eyes. Her gaze was steady, resolute. “I want to learn.”
Slowly, Arathorn stepped back from her. His hand came down to cover her own. “You start,” he said carefully, arranging her fingers about the hilt with a gentle hand, “Like this.”
Splendid and moving -- the emotions are vivid and real. The sense of determination to live and rejoice in the time you have while still railing at the unfairness of it being cut short A hard and complex balance to reach. Thank you for gifting us with the beautiful, valiant Gilraen.
@Nyota's Heart: Thank-you so much! It is a couple we quite literally only get a glimpse at, but their story packs a wallop just that quickly. As always, thank you so much for reading!
Author's Notes: When we first got the extended edition of Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first thing I looked for in the Rivendell scenes was a ten year old Aragorn running around - even if just for a second. And when we weren't given that, this story immediately sprang to mind. When I finally had an obvious prompt to write it to, I had to seize my opportunity. That said, this mingles together book-canon with movie-canon when it comes to the White Council and Sauron's reveal and what not - hence the discrepancies with the film - but I hope you enjoy it even still. Other things, like Rivendell's founding where the Eagles are concerned, and Elladan's preference for the fate of Men (his name means man-elf, and if such a name is given with insight . . . ) is my own conjecture, filling in the holes the original story left.
This one really got away from me in length, so there will be a second part to this piece coming up next. The tale isn't quite done here.
"growing hope next to bones"
There were times when Elladan imagined that he could feel the weight of his every year.
Each millennium seemed to line his lungs, coloring each breath he took. Each century was carved into his bones. Each decade was written upon his skin, and the years themselves . . . While many of the Edhil were aware of the stillness of their days, there were few who toiled underneath its weight as those who also bore the blood of mortal Men in their veins. He imagined that could feel time as a near tangible entity . . . moving slowly, ever on.
Sometimes, it seemed that only a year ago he had sat in Arador's house and watched as Arathorn took his first steps. It seemed that only months ago that he and Elrohir had toasted Arathorn at his wedding, and wished he and his bride every happiness in the time they had to them. Was it not but weeks since he had touched Gilraen's pregnant stomach and declared that Arathorn would be blessed with a strong and wise son? Merely days ago had Aragorn been a wide eyed babe, staring curiously up from his swaddling clothes as his mother drew him beneath the shelter of Imladris for the first. Gilraen had been little more than a child herself, and already she was dressed in widow's robes and pale with disbelief for the loss of her husband.
Days, it but felt, and yet . . .
The child who ran past them on the mountain path was growing, and growing much too quickly at that. Already ten summers had passed, and the child Aragorn - whom they called Estel - was already tall and strong for his age. With his black hair curling wild and unruly about his face, and his grey eyes gravely shaped, but laughing, Estel was the picture of a healthy and happy child. And yet, he seemed to rush on all too quickly for the mantle of a man . . . and the hardships his later years and birthright would bring.
The summer was at its pinnacle. In Imladris now left behind, the midsummer’s revelries would be at their height, even if they would be observed away from home this year. When Mithrandir had come upon the Last Homely House, a curious company of dwarves and one hobbit in tow, it had been deemed necessary to take the last heir of Isildur into the wild for his safekeeping. Though Thorin and his folk were no threat to the son of Arathorn, it would only take one misplaced whisper by a dwarf happy to share a tale for Aragorn's location to be revealed and then spread where it ought not be. The line of Elendil's sons tended to meet early and bloody ends through the machinations of the Enemy, who hated the last of the Faithful as he hated none other in Middle-earth - and they would take no chances.
Coinciding with Gandalf's return to the valley was the White Council gathering to discuss the presence of the Dark Maia, long returned to Dol Guldur and ever growing in power as he searched for that which had been lost to him . . . Yes, it was wise indeed to take Aragorn away until Rivendell was their own once more. There were those on the council, even, whom they did not trust with Aragorn's true identity and location . . . and trusted little more still as the years passed.
It had been his grandmother's bidding to hide Aragorn, and all had been quick to heed the counsel of Galadriel, steeped in foresight as it was. Aragorn himself had been all excitement and breathless delight at the idea of leaving the valley with his 'brothers' – for the time they spent in Imladris and not out amongst the Dúnedain was all but precious to him, and jealously coveted. The child had only sobered in order to solemnly ask his mother's permission to depart – which a quiet Gilraen had been quick to grant. Midsummer’s Eve marked the anniversary of her wedding, and what was a time of rejoicing for others was a time of mourning for the widowed Chieftess.
After seeking his mother's permission, Aragorn had apologized to Lindir, and eagerly asked if the song the minstrel had been teaching him to preform at the festivities could be sung at the next solstice – to which the singer had fondly agreed. More than hope, Aragorn was a breath of fresh air and life to all who lived in the valley, and there were fond faces aplenty who watched their leaving – even as their sentinels set out underneath his father's command to seek where Gandalf and his company had been waylaid by Orcs at the Hidden Pass . . .
The days were growing more and more strange as they hurried on towards shadow, Elladan could not help but think. Orcs and other creatures of the Enemy daring to come so close to the valley? The Greenwood sickening with spider-webs, and rotted by the shadow stretching across its roots and soil? Then there was Dol Guldur itself, growing in darkness as the sky would give way to the onset of the night . . . Events were rushing on towards their inevitable conclusion with a finality that was violent in its intensity and shocking in its audacity. And yet, even with the days darkening about them, there was still laughter . . . there was still light . . . hope, found in the eyes of a child and his simple, unsullied joy for the world around him.
Aragorn knew no cause for sorrow, not as sheltered as he was. He only knew that there was a reason that his mother would look to the west, her eyes lost to memory. He knew that his name was not his own; rather, it was more, and someday a great destiny was to be his. But, until the day when he was Aragorn once more, he was simply Estel. And Estel was a child, with a child's simple joys and wonders for the world and its living.
Throughout the first few days of their journey, it became apparent that the blood of his Ranger father ran strong in his veins. Estel had a knack for picking out tracks on the forest floor. He could identify the songs of the birds, and name the plants and growing things as they passed. He was light on his feet for a human child, almost fey in his step, and the forest seemed to part in order to allow him to pass.
Elrohir tweaked the curved shell of his ear and called him Laiquendi in approval when he found a hart's hoof-print in the ground. Estel's face flushed with the praise, and he held his head high at the compliment, walking through the wood as if he truly w as one of the Green-elves of old - one with the forest and its ways.
When they finally tracked the hart to its place, they found a magnificent animal with a wrack of antlers that was wider than the span of his arms. Instead of the warm, brown-red fur they normally found on the deer in the valley, this one had a coat of the palest brown, almost silver-white in shade. His eyes were old and wise as he dipped his crown to them, as regal as any king upon his throne. They did not reach for the bows upon their back – they had no need to. They had dried rations aplenty for their journey, and the Last Homely House was stocked to abundance in every way.
And yet, even if they were in need . . . there was an old soul in the animal before them. Yavanna's own eyes seemingly stared out from the face of the proud creature before he stepped back into the forest shade, and was gone.
Estel was able to speak of little else as they moved on, traveling to where the trees gave way to a series of rocky clearings. At the clearing's edge, great cliffs pierced the land, and water spilled from their crests to stream on to the rivers below. There were caves aplenty in the rock, all stocked with food and supplies and weapons and anything else one could think of. The cliff-side was marked with targets, as were many of the smaller rock formations – this being one of the outposts where Glorfindel took the young elves of his guard to teach them the sword and the bow; the wild and its ways.
Both he and his brother had learned to aim true in this very clearing, so many centuries ago, Elladan remembered with fondness. Now, it was Estel's turn.
The human child had been gifted with a bow of the Galadhrim when Galadriel and Celeborn had first arrived in the valley for the meeting of the White Council. Celeborn had knelt and solemnly explained the great heritage of the bow, and the legacy that came with such an owning. Though not his grandson in blood, Estel was his grandson in heart, and the same fondness Elladan remembered from his grandfather in days past was now bestowed upon Estel. Estel had bowed carefully to Celeborn, and then he did the same to Galadriel. Her eyes had twinkled as the boy's bow deepened, and she must have felt something that they did not - for a moment later Galadriel knelt and opened her arms, and Estel eagerly accepted her embrace, thanking her sincerely for the gift all the while.
Celeborn had been the one to introduce the basics of archery to Estel, just as he had for he and his siblings. As a prince of Doriath, Celeborn had been taught by Beleg Strongbow himself, and few were the elves of Middle-earth who could match him. Whenever the matter was brought up during his visits, Thranduil of the Green-wood said that he could, but they had never actually seen the Sindar-king do so – and so, Elladan held on to his familial pride, and considered his grandfather the best archer of his acquaintance.
Glorfindel had circled the clearing as Celeborn went about Estel's first lesson, casually offering suggestions. He did so more to tickle Celeborn's ear than to aid Estel – to which Celeborn had icily informed him that when they needed help teaching Balrog slaying, and dying, then he could offer his counsel to his heart's content. Glorfindel's laughter had been merry in reply, but he lingered even so - the uncanny light from his eyes giving the child strength even when he realized it not.
Taking strength from more than Glorfindel's Valar given brilliance, Estel searched out Elrond's eye with every step of his learning. He looked for approval in his foster-father's eyes, and found it easily. Since their mother's departure, the only time when Elrond was truly content was when there was a child to foster in the valley. While he came to love each of the Chieftains of the Dúnedain as they grew in his household, there was something different about Aragorn. Aragorn had no family to return to upon reaching his majority; he had no kindred awaiting the end of his childhood with eager eyes and baited breath. Aragorn was as a true son of the valley, and even with the . . . difficulties that came with loving one of such short days, loved he still was, and loved dearly by all.
And now . . .
“Not bad,” Elladan praised as Estel's last arrow struck the outer ring of the target. Few arrows were a central hit, but all but one arrow struck the target itself – which was more important in the beginning than one luckily shot arrow hitting the center while the rest went astray.
“I would almost go as far to say you are a natural,” Elrohir mused as he gathered the arrows, walking them back so that Estel could try again.
“You are almost as good as Arwen was when she first started,” Elladan picked up the end of his brother's sentence, continuing his thought. “Only, do not tell the lady I said so - for her pride in her abilities is already great enough as it is. She is even better than Elrohir, I would say.”
“She may think she is better,” Elrohir protested, miffed. “They are two different things entirely.”
“Is she better than you, Elladan?” Estel asked innocently as he refilled his quiver.
He made a face. “I prefer the sword to the bow, and thus, it is hard to compare the two.”
“Which means,” Elrohir said dryly, “That she is ten times better.”
“Arwen,” Estel carefully shaped the name, as if testing its weight. He looked up with curious grey eyes as he said so – Lúthien's bright eyes, which had failed to leave the king's line since Elros himself. “She is the Lady of Imladris, is she not?” he asked, his head tilted thoughtfully.
Elladan blinked, taken aback by hearing his mother's title from so young a mouth. “Yes,” he answered carefully, speaking with a suddenly dry throat – for the sunlight and the child before him were reason enough to keep his thoughts from straying to darker places. “I do suppose that she could be called so, though we never have. We simply call her sister.”
“And, in that, we must confess that we have a secondary reason for furthering your skills,” Elrohir said, turning Estel's attention back to him. More empathetic than Elladan, he easily felt his twin's dip in feeling. Elladan stood up straighter as his twin touched his spirit with his own, imparting of his own peace and strength. As always, he felt centered in the wake of his brother's light – the two of them stronger with the other than apart.
“You see,” Elladan picked up his twin's words again, circling Estel as he took aim – adjusting his arm and tilting his chin up so that it was level with the ground. “Our sister is uncommonly fair -”
“ - Lúthien reborn, some would say - ” Elrohir added, fixing the child's fingers on the bow.
“ - the evening star to Lúthien's morning star; lightening the night sky as the other heralded the dawn,” Elladan gave with mock exaggeration, as if he were a bard singing in the Hall of Fire.
“Thus so, we have an unfortunately difficult time in keeping her would-be suitors in their place.”
“After all, we are only two -”
“ - and her admirers are many,” Elrohir lamented.
“Thus, we seek to recruit you,” Elladan explained, “to aid us in keeping the wolves at bay once she returns from Lothlórien.”
“ . . . at least,” Elrohir amended, “Until Arwen stops torturing them, and picks one herself.”
“Yes,” Elladan made a face, “She would not appreciate our 'interference' then, even when done for the best.”
Elrohir gave a rueful snort, shaped in memory. “What say you, Estel Elrondion? Will you help us on this most solemn of tasks? May we count on you?”
The child's grey eyes were set gravely up on his face. He nodded regally, already possessing a shadow of his glory to come as he said, “I so accept this task, and vow to take on your fight as my own.”
“Good man,” Elladan praised, clapping his back to say that he was set, and then -
Estel let the arrow go, and found the center of the target.
They continued practicing until the boy's arms tired him. Afterward, they took a path down from the caves to where a thin waterfall fell into a rippling pool of clear water. The lake was a bright, jeweled shade of blue, warm in its shallow places and refreshingly cool in the deep waters by the cascade. The small lake was a favorite of many in the valley, and already well known to Aragorn. The child wasted little time in pulling off his outer garments and putting his pack aside so that he could dive into the pool from the rocks overlooking the water. He gave a small whoop of excitement – which was followed by a splash and a higher pitched cry when he surfaced, exclaiming at the cool temperature of the water.
Elladan and Elrohir were quick to follow with the same routine – which included surfacing to gasp at the shock of the cold water. It only took a few moments to acclimate to the temperature change, and acclimate quickly – for Aragorn did not give them a moment before he was attacking them with splashes. Such a provocation, of course, led to an all out war between them for the better part of the next hour. When Elrohir later tried to leave the water and doze like a cat in the sun, he and Estel filled their water skins with the cold water from the deep end of the pool and poured them out on the unsuspecting elf – which started the whole thing all over again.
By the time they were building a fire and preparing their supper for that night, Estel was pleasantly exhausted. He held his hands before the warmth of the flames, quiet in the wake of spending his energy. In the setting light, a figure of a massive bird took shape in the red sky, its great wings set aflame by the flickering of the dying sun above. One bird came, and then another, singing their song to the mountains below. Their caws echoed against the stone, dancing up and down their spines with the power of their cries.
“The Eagles of Manwë,” Elrohir, whose eyesight was sharper than his own, espied. “We should view them as a sign of good fortune.”
Estel looked up with wide eyes as the Eagles circled, searching for their supper on the land below. “They have their nests near to here,” Elladan explained to Estel's wide eyes – for this was the first that the child had seen Manwë's great messengers in the sky. “They roost all over the Misty Mountains, but Gwaihir's kindred nest very close to here. We are blessed with this sighting.”
The Eagles figured in many of the tales Estel heard while learning his histories, Elladan knew. Even after so many years of living underneath their shadows, he still knew wonder and respect for the Wind-lords. And yet, he once again found himself looking at something long familiar anew through the child's eyes. Estel's awe was refreshing, and he could not help but share it.
“Did you know,” Elrohir started his tale while Estel stared unblinkingly at the Eagles above, “that the Eagles led us to settle in the valley, back in the Second Age?”
Estel shook his head. The fire cast flickering shapes in his eyes as he stared up at the sky. The Eagle's calls echoed through the stone of the cliffs. He could feel them sing in the chamber of his chest; his ribs echoing the sound and his heart absorbing it. They had been noticed, he knew, and the Eagles flashed their great wings to show off for the child below.
“You know the war of Sauron and the Elves of Eriador,” Elrohir said. “You have been studying your histories with Lindir, I know. Where did last you leave off?”
“Annatar, who was Sauron in fair form, was trying to find the location of the Rings from the Elf-smith Celebrimbor,” Estel recited the words dutifully. “Celeborn roused the forces of Eregion to confront Sauron's army, but they were few, and only escaped alive for Elrond and his army of the High-king's men from Lindon.”
“And after?” Elrohir prompted, nodding at the correct recitation.
“Their forces were overrun,” Estel shaped each word carefully. His brow furrowed, darkening at admitting that two of his life's heroes could be moved to retreat – even if that retreat was from Sauron's black host out of Mordor. Those battles had been the first time that Sauron had wielded the One Ring in combat, and to devastating effect.
“They retreated,” Estel continued, “and yet, Sauron was distracted from giving pursuit by a combination of Elves from Lothlórien and Dwarves from Moria, attacking the rear of his army. They fled north into the mountains, and then . . .” Estel's story tapered off. He looked up, unsure.
“That is where the Eagles come in,” Elrohir took over for the child. “No longer were they just an army seeking a place to regroup and regather themselves. Now the refugees from Eregion were being protected underneath Gil-galad's banner – families, women and children, were there too. Many of the wood-elves had been roused from their places, and Men living in the foothills and the plains had been scourged from their homes. We had a great host to seek shelter from the oncoming winter – and Mankind in particular would not survive the cold without suitable relief from the elements. When Glorfindel and Erestor were scouting in the peaks for a suitable place to hide from Sauron, the Eagles circled above, and Glorfindel – knowing the light of the Valar better than any other – knew to follow them. They followed, and were led to a hidden place in the mountains - a valley of falling water, able to be found only by those who knew where to look. While Imladris was first founded as a temporary settlement and outpost in wartime, it ended up being a permanent establishment for Gil-galad's power in the east of his realm. After Gil-galad's death, and with so few of our kind remaining in this land, Rivendell is now a last haven for any who seek to use it as such – and it will remain so until our folk fade completely from these shores.”
Estel listened carefully to every word Elrohir said, his face solemn as he continued to stare up above. The Eagles called one last time before circling lower and lower still, their prey spotted for the night. When the sun set completely, they began their hunt, winking out of sight even as their last cries echoed in the mountains.
Even when the last Eagle left, Estel still searched the sky, hoping to catch a last glimpse. Elladan watched him, bemused for his fascination.
“It is a mark of passage for young elves in the valley to climb the peaks to the Eagle's nests,” Elladan said next, enjoying the look of eager anticipation that lit the child's face. “If you ask kindly, they will let you into their perch, and even gift you with a feather. We both did so when we were about your age.”
At last, Estel tore his eyes from the heavens to look at them with wide eyes. “Am I old enough now?” he asked.
Elrohir gave a thoughtful look. Tilting his head, he narrowed his brow in exaggerated consideration before reaching out to hold his hand an inch or so above Estel's head. “When you are about this tall, I think,” he said. “Soon you shall be ready, but not yet.”
Estel sat up straighter, as if trying to appear taller before their eyes. “Now?” he questioned, and Elrohir laughed.
“You will be ready soon enough, child – and much too soon for our tastes, at that,” Elrohir said, sadness touching the corner of his mouth with his words. Already the child grew quickly . . . so quickly. Elladan remembered both Arathorn and Arador his father as young men, eager for their years to come. He remembered Argonui before them both, taken by the Fell Winter, and Arathorn the first, taken by the Wolves . . . He remembered Arassuil once laughing as a child through Elrond's halls . . . he laughed as Arahad had laughed, as Aravorn had laughed, as Aragost had laughed . . . over and over again as the heirs of Elros lived and died before their eyes.
Before a blinking, Aragorn would be old and grey with years - and that was if he was allowed to live his life without the Enemy finding him first . . .
And yet, now was not the time to think such things, for Aragorn was still Estel now, and would be for many years. Elladan breathed in deep, and let his breath out slow.
“It takes too long, this waiting,” Estel complained, laying down with a sigh against his bedroll. He stared up the cliffs, to where the nests of the Eagles rested, proud in the starlight.
“So it always seems to the young,” Elrohir said, reaching out to fondly ruffle the child's hair.
Elladan was silent as Elrohir glanced at him, trying to keep his own thoughts at bay lest Estel sense them. Empathetic as any elf was the mortal-child, and he did not want to give the boy dark thoughts to think.
“Sleep,” Elrohir soothed when Estel's eyes narrowed with a familiar stubbornness – a line knotting his brow that went back to Finwë himself, Elladan imagined. “Today was long, and tomorrow will be much the same. Your coveted growing will be done much while you slumber.”
A long moment passed – during which Elladan half expected the child to sit up and argue the merits of climbing to the nests that very night. Elrohir simply smiled benignly, bearing through the challenge, and at long last, Estel nodded. He turned over, and closed his eyes. Though he at first looked mulish at the thought of sleep, it did not take him long to succumb to it – the last two weeks having done much to test the child's strength and endurance both.
Elrohir was silent until Aragorn's breath deepened and his brow smoothed. He ran a fond hand through the child's hair and hummed gently beneath his breath to encourage fair dreams. Elladan watched them as the fire flickered, its light waning as they let it dim for the night.
“He looks more and more like Arathorn with each passing day,” Elrohir muttered. He touched the boy's brow one last time, discreetly deepening his sleep. Elladan sat to the side and watched - Elrohir having inherited their father's skills with healing, while he was more of a blunt force with his own talents.
“It is good that he does,” Elladan said after a moment. He meant his words, even as they came with a pang of their own. “I do not wish to forget him.”
In that way, Elendil was immortal, Elladan thought - for they would remember each son of his line, one after another, deep into the later days. They could do nothing else.
Elrohir was silent for a long moment, during which Elladan did not meet his eyes. He did not need his twin to coddle him, not now, and his energies were better spent on augmenting the child's strength as they went through the wild.
“I will take first watch,” Elrohir finally said, allowing him to keep to himself. The link that ever bound their spirits dimmed for a moment.
He stood to walk the perimeter of their camp, and Elladan let him go. Even though they were still safe within the valley's wards, dark things moved in the night, and the Enemy's forces grew ever the more daring as the years went on. They would not take even the smallest of risks with Elendil's last heir, and so, Elladan closed his eyes to get what sleep he could before he would awaken and allow his brother to rest.
It did not take him long to lose himself to dreams, and yet, he was not sleeping for long before he was pulled awake by a jolt of awareness from his twin.
Instantly, he was alert, his eyes searching the shadows in the dim light left by the embers from the fire. He found Elrohir kneeling by Aragorn's bedroll – his empty bedroll, he saw, unease instantly filling him.
Elrohir glanced to him, his eyes narrowed. “I heard a noise further off,” he explained. “I left to investigate, and upon returning he was gone.”
Elladan stood, warning biting at his bones as he searched their camp. “He could simply be attending to nature,” he gave the possible explanation, even without believing it.
“He took his pack with him,” Elrohir pointed out.
He left, he was not taken then, Elladan tried to puzzle through the riddle before remembering the odd glow in Aragorn's eyes before he went to sleep . . . his troubled gaze . . . his eyes on the Eagles . . .
“You do not think . . .” he started, even as Elrohir set his mouth.
“Yes, I do think,” Elrohir answered grimly.
Elladan circled the camp, but the child's clever attempts at trying to hide his tracks were for not.
“This way,” he pointed out the small boot-prints leading to the cliffs beyond. He felt a sinking weight in his stomach as he thought about the dangers to be found in climbing the steep paths in the dark. And Estel was still a child, with a child's strength, no matter his skills for his age.
“Why would he go off like this?” Elrohir muttered as they tracked him in the dark, speaking more to himself than to him. “It does not make any sense – and it is quite unlike him, at that.”
Elladan thought of the restlessness in his own bones, his unease with his days. He thought of Aragorn growing so fast, as a green sapling shooting upwards to vainly try to pierce a canopy of oak trees. In the vaguest ways, he thought that he could understand.
And yet . . .
“I do not know,” he answered, and then concentrated on following the child's path through the wood in silence. He did not know, and the why did not yet matter. All that mattered was that Aragorn was attempting the foolish and the dangerous while past where he could shield the child and keep him safe. He had promised Arathorn that he would protect his son where he could not, he had promised his own father, and . . .
“I shall return to you, Peredhel,” He could still hear his mother's teasing voice if he all but closed his eyes. He remembered Celebrían touching the furrowed line between his father's brow as if she could sooth it away with her touch. “You act as if the road should swallow me whole.”
“We shall keep her safe, Adar – you have my word,” he remembered vowing, meaning his every word and feeling so very tall underneath the faith their father had in them both, and then -
No . . . it was best not to think of that now.
Elrohir looked over at him, having felt the memory and sharing it as his own. This time Elladan let his twin calm him through their spirit's bond. He needed to keep a cool mind and a calm head right now, not -
They came to the edge of the green, where the ground dropped off to the side of a cliff wall, plunging down to where the river roared on strong and swift below. The stream and lake they had swam in earlier turned into a strong waterfall here, rushing on to join the river below. The tumbling water coated the rock with a thin layer of slippery moss and mist, making the steep cliff all the more perilous. There were stubborn and hardy evergreens growing from the rock wall below – great and strong trees where there could possibly be nests, though it was hard to tell in the dark. The crescent moon above was not nearly enough light to see by when attempting to scale such an uneven terrain. He felt his heart drop when he saw where a rope had been tied around a small tree on the edge of the shelf, and draped over the side of the cliff. The tree did not look sturdy enough at all for his taste, and even the cliff-edge itself felt unstable underneath his feet – made weak from so many years of holding up the cascade as it fell. This was not the place to embark on a climb, he thought grimly. It was not the place at all.
He gave a mannish curse underneath his breath as he ran forward to kneel at the lip of the cliff. “Estel!” he called over the edge, peering down into the shadow to see where a small figure clung to the cliff-side. “Estel, can you hear me?”
“Elladan?” Estel's voice was small from below. “Elladan, is that you?”
Relief bit through his heart, even as the fear rose again. “Estel,” he called again, noticing that the rope was lax – the child's weight did not rest upon it. “Are you stuck?” he asked, dreading the answer even as he searched for it.
“The rope was not long enough to reach the trees,” Estel answered after a moment – fear and the desire to not admit his error both giving his voice pause. “I thought that I had footholds enough to let go, and yet . . .”
He could infer the rest, Elladan thought grimly.
Elrohir was already inspecting the rock. “It will not hold us both,” he already planned the best way to help the child. “It would not be worth the risk.”
“I am the better climber, at any rate,” Elladan waved his hand. “Go back to the caves, and get more rope. I will help Estel down to the trees, and then you can help pull us up.” It was the best he could think of on such short notice. Where Glorfindel camped with his guard, there were supplies for climbing aplenty – and ropes and gear enough to tackle worse places in the mountains than this.
Elrohir did not hesitate to agree with him. He only touched his shoulder in acknowledgment, and then turned to sprint back towards the caves. Their bond was open and full between their minds, letting them share strength and encouragement aplenty – and letting Elrohir know of his progress, at that.
Elladan took a deep breath, and looked over the edge again. “I am coming down,” he called to Aragorn, “And together we will then make it to the trees. Just hold on.”
“Okay,” Estel's reply was muffled against the rock, and the tremor in the voice steeled his resolve more than anything else.
Careful of the loose rock, he lowered himself over the edge, and sought out handholds and footholds in the dark. He was stronger than the human child by far, and he had spent centuries in the mountains. He was able to find his way down relatively quickly as a result. He could feel the tired and old stones speak underneath his hands. The cliff was weary of its weight, he thought, hearing as a voice sounded deep within the rock. The cascade cried out as it swam towards the river, the falling water making the cliff wet and hard to grasp. He felt unease fill him as he peered down to the trees below, wondering if they would even be able to make it that far – where the branches would allow Estel to rest his arms until Elrohir came for them.
But he could not think about that yet. He pushed the thought aside as he came to the edge of the rope. The small human was clinging to the rock a few feet beneath the rope's end with bloodless fingertips, his face pressed against the stone and his arms quivering with the effort to hold himself in place against the vertical surface.
“I can't feel my fingers,” Estel admitted in a small voice when Elladan came to perch on the cliff next to him. That voice, more than anything else, caused worry to pierce his gut – he having ever known strength and eagerness from Aragorn, no matter the situation. He found a good hold with his left arm, and with his right he held a hand out for the boy.
“Here,” he gestured. “Grab on to me.”
Estel eyed him dubiously, but Elladan gestured again. “I can carry us both,” he assured the child. “You just have to trust me.”
He did not have to say more than that. Nodding solemnly, his eyes steeling in the half-light from the moon, Estel gave up his desperate hold on the rock to reach out for him. Elladan helped him swing over, feeling as the child's arms wrapped around his neck, and his face burrowed in relief against his hair. He swallowed, not wanting to tell Estel that the worst was still before them.
The rock was awakening underneath them. He pressed his forehead against the cliff, asking for it to hold itself together just a little while longer. The rock trembled and the cascade sang, but neither could promise what they could not do.
Taking in a deep breath, he found another foothold, and lowered himself down the cliff-face. Their travel was slow, painstakingly so with the dark and the wet stone, but he moved as quickly as he could without endangering them both. He felt Elrohir's progress in his mind – his twin had reached the caves, but had not started back yet.
They were nearly upon the trees. Elladan looked, and saw where there was one large nest resting high in the branches, for the tree was old and set into the deep of the rock. Even if the face of the cliff fell, the tree would still stand tall with the new shape the waterfall made. He breathed out, seeing where a second tree grew out rather than up – holding its branches out over the river, still some ways below. The river was too far away for them to jump as a last case scenario, and after the shelf that the trees grew from, the cliff was much too steep for him to be comfortable climbing on his own - Elladan did not think that he could climb it with the child clinging to his back.
He breathed in again, and told himself to focus simply on getting to the trees – he could think further then.
By the time they made it to the branches, the cliff was all but screaming from its effort to hold itself together. Elrohir was running as fast as he could, the forest helping him form his path as he sped back to them. Any more weight, and the rock would give completely, he thought as he helped Estel grasp the branch and pull himself into a sitting position. He let the child rest on the strong limbs as he looked above to where the shelf was weakening. Even Elrohir stepping forward to pass them the rope could be too much. Even if he tried to pull up Estel alone . . .
His brow furrowed, not liking the options that were left to him in the least.
Estel pressed his forehead against the tree, squeezing his eyes closed and refusing to look down at the river below. “Now, we wait?” he asked.
“I'm afraid that it is not that simple,” he said grimly. “The cliff will not be able to hold us going back up.”
Estel blinked at him. “But I thought . . . Elrohir was getting more rope?”
He shook his head. “The cliff warns even now that it holds itself together for us only.”
Estel swallowed, glancing down at the churning river far below. “Then . . .”
“ . . . we must be very careful with what we are about to do,” Elladan acknowledged, trying to calm the child with his voice, even as he felt his own worry rise in his mind. Very careful, and very lucky, he thought, but did not say. Very lucky indeed . . .
“What do you need me to do?” Estel asked, biting his lip and meeting his eye bravely. Though Elladan was tense and no small amounts of cross at the child for embarking on such a venture alone in the dark, he did feel pride fill him for the way he looked on their predicament, ready to do whatever was needed to be done.
Over the lip of the cliff, he felt Elrohir approach. His twin had already felt his intentions at his mind, and while he did not like his decision . . . he understood. They had no other choice.
“The rock will fall,” he explained calmly to Estel. “The rockslide will not let us climb either up nor down, and so -”
He pointed to the tree that was growing out over the river – the white waters of the Bruinen churning some distance beneath them.
Elrohir got as close to the edge of the cliff as he dared, and he felt him touch his mind when he threw the rope down. Elladan spied up, and saw the silvery thread glint in the moonlight. He held a hand out, and caught the rope, gathering the long length into a coil as he made his way through the branches. He picked a path first, looking back to see that Estel followed him, careful as he moved from the first tree to the second. Climbing slowly, they were able to move out along the tree trunk – where Elladan tied the rope, and let it fall to dangle over the river. The end of the rope would put them at a safe enough height to jump into the river from – though it would still be an uncomfortable fall. The swift currents and the sharp, rocky shore carved out from the swirling eddies was not where he wanted to swim, and yet, their odds were better with them swimming on their own accord, rather than their dealing with the rock-slide pushing them forcibly into the river.
He felt the cliff give a warning, and he knew that they had no time to waste. He did not want to be near to here when the cliff slid into the water – which would make their navigating the river very perilous indeed. Impossibly so.
“I am going to climb down first,” he said, trying to sooth the fear in the child's eyes with his words. He wished that he had Elrohir's talents as he tried to touch the boy's mind with his determination and trust in his skills both. “That way, if you slip, I will be able to catch you. Take your time, and focus on the climb – just one movement at a time, okay?”
Estel nodded after a moment, biting his lip as he pushed his fear away. Once again, Elladan felt pride fill him for the brave front that the boy was putting on. “Alright,” he ruffled his hair once before going down on the rope, swinging himself from the branch and hanging perilously over the white waters below.
“Slowly and surely,” he called up as Estel swung down to join him. “This is not a race.”
The boy closed his eyes for a moment before he told his tired arms to start climbing. Elladan glanced above to see that Elrohir was already taking the trails down to the riverbank below – ready to help them both from the water when they would need it. “Look at your hands, not at the water,” he called when Estel glanced down – so far down.
“It is okay,” he assured the child above him. “It is not natural to dangle in the air like this. Fear, however, is natural. Being afraid does not mean that you are any less than you should be.”
He saw Estel nod, and then his climbing took on a new determination. Fear was natural, and would ever be with you. It was what you did with the fear that mattered, and Estel was handling his admirably.
Then he looked up, hearing as the cliff groaned aloud. They did not have much longer – a few minutes, perhaps. He looked down, seeing that they were still at a dangerous height to jump from. But soon, it would not matter.
They continued with their painstakingly slow progress, and this time when the cliff groaned, Estel could hear it too.
“Elladan?” he called, his voice taking on a tremor.
“Now we need to go faster, Estel,” he hated to rush the child, but they had no choice. “As fast as you can.”
They scurried down the rope, and yet, it was not fast enough. Small stones were breaking loose, coming down to strike the water below. They had run out of time. As the cliff groaned – apologizing as it took its last breath, Elladan reached up to grab the child, tucking him in close to his body as he let them both fall. He made sure he struck the water first - for his elven bones were stronger than Estel's mortal frame, and though the shock hurt his back and shoulder as they crashed through the surface, he did not feel any permanent damage as they sunk. He forced his body into motion, kicking mightily for the surface and carrying Estel with him as he did so.
He gulped in a breath when they broke the surface, trying to adjust to the icy chill of the mountain water – the river here having poured down from the melting snow high on the summit. He had another worry hit him when it came to how long Estel would fare in the cold water, but he had no time to think about that now – not when the boulders were growing bigger and bigger, and -
He took in a breath, and swam as fast as he could, carrying Estel along with him. The human had exhausted himself in the climb, and after a their long two weeks in the wild, his tired muscles were finally protesting their rough treatment. Estel was nearly boneless as he tried to swim with the current, rather than let it pull him under, and so Elladan tucked him in against his side and stubbornly pushed on.
The boulders were showering freely now, and though he knew they would clear the water before the more dangerous rocks fell, these ones presented their own perils too. It would only take one, and -
As soon as he thought so, a stone the size of his fist tumbled down to strike the side of Estel's head. He felt fear bloom inside of him when the blow immediately knocked the child unconscious. The river lapped at the wound, carrying the blood away, but there was still blood and a worrying knot forming as the child became a dead weight in his hold, leaving him alone to fight with the river's wrath.
Unconscious he was, but Estel still breathed. It was not a fatal blow, and yet, if he did not move quickly enough -
Elladan pushed the thought away, and swam with every ounce of might within him.
They cleared the bottom of the cliff before the majority of the rockslide fell, and the waves from the fall actually helped to push them with the current for a moment. Elladan looked ahead to where Elrohir headed for a group of logs that had jammed against the bank of the river. They were lodged against the stone shore, while still reaching far enough out into the current, and Elladan swam harder at seeing their chance to exit the white waters.
The swift flow of the river meant that there was no slow and easy landing against the log. The wood was slippery, and he felt splinters embed themselves in his flesh as he wrenched his arm trying to get a hold on the felled tree. His shoulder was already sore from the fall, and now it twisted in an unnatural way as he stubbornly clung to the log, even when the river tried to move him onwards again. He ignored the pain in his shoulder and wrist as he held on tighter, refusing to allow the current to sweep them back out again.
Elrohir was making their way towards them. Now, if he could just get Estel up on the log . . .
And yet, unconscious, there was no way for Estel to help him. He could not lift the child with one hand, and if he let go . . .
There was no choice in his mind. Not for this. Ignoring Elrohir's calls to wait – hearing his own thoughts as clearly as he did his own – he swung Estel up onto the log, feeling as his injured arm protested the motion. Ligaments strained, and his wrist burned, and yet – it was enough. He got Estel up safely, even as the river drew him out again.
He gulped and spat out the cold water; harder as it was now to swim with his injured arm. With every moment fighting the current, he knew that he was making the damage worse, and yet his alternatives were grim and growing grimmer still as the current picked up speed. Small dips in the riverbed made rolling waterfalls, each making the current turn inside out - pushing him down before he forced himself up again. He was too far in the center of the river, he thought – he could not even begin to try to grab for the shore like this. And yet, every time he tried to swim for the side of the river, the current and inopportunely placed debris would push him back.
His mind swam, trying to remember the shape the river took here. While the larger waterfalls leading down into Imladris were still some distance away, there were some midsized falls where the Bruinen was joined by more tributaries from the mountains that were dangerous indeed. While not completely lethal in height, with both his injured arm and the climb and his time in the river draining his strength with each passing moment . . .
He had to get out before that, he thought grimly. He had no other choice.
Elrohir was still at the forefront of his mind. He could feel his twin's strength fortify his own, numbing his arm and relieving his tiring limbs as Elrohir took his burdens upon himself. He was chattering suggestions at him – there was a small footbridge coming up, and if Elrohir could reach him – no, he immediately shot the idea down. Elrohir could not move with an unconscious child, and he -
Another dip in the river pushed him under, and when he surfaced, coughing to clear his lungs of water, he felt a shadow block out the moonlight overhead. He looked up in time to see a molting of golden brown feathers and the warm yellow of a great beak - and then two strong claw dipped into the waves to pull him from the river by each arm. His injured arm cried out in protest against the strong grasp, but it was a small price to pay for being freed from the river that would have soon been his tomb. He looked up, both awed and amazed for the unexpected aid as he felt Elrohir immediately move to block his pain from his mind before unconsciousness took him as a result.
The giant wings of the Eagle made quick work of taking him back up the river to where Elrohir was still attending to Aragorn, his every move anxious and filled with restless energy. He looked up at the sound of an Eagle's cry, his eyes widening almost comically as he rushed forward to help him when he stumbled from the landing – no matter how gently the Eagle tried to make it.
Elrohir helped him lean forward against the grass when his limbs replied sluggishly to his commands – unsure as he was of whether or not he wanted to push his forehead against the ground and gather his breath. or embrace his brother as he tried to cough up the rest of the water in his lungs. His throat burned from the water he had forcibly swallowed, and he wheezed unflatteringly as his body righted itself again. He felt Elrohir's hand at his back, aiding his efforts until he was well enough to breathe on his own once more.
A shadow covered the clearing on the riverbank as the Eagle took a step closer to where Estel was still asleep, curious as to the small creature he had risked his life for.
“This is not an egg-snatcher,” the Eagle said, stepping back as if startled. His voice rumbled in their bones, speaking into their hearts more so than their ears. The Wind-lord's voice was as warm as summer and as strong as the winds that would sweep between the mountain ways. “Rather, this is a Man . . . and a king amongst Men, at that. My kind used to roost in the star-kingdom that was. We knew his line well in the elder days, before black smoke rose from the land and we were forced to seek clear skies once more.”
“He is Elros' heir,” Elrohir confirmed what the Eagle read from Aragorn's heart. “He is the last of Númenor's goodness and might.”
The Eagle ruffled his feathers, pleased. “And the Half-elf did not yet take him to visit our nests? He has with every other of his fostered hatchlings, but not yet with this one . . . Tell the child that he is welcome in my roost the next time he wishes - there is no need for him to steal in as a thief.”
Next time. Estel would live and heal then. Elladan felt relief fill his heart at the Eagle's insight – shared as it was by Manwë his lord, who saw all through his messenger’s eyes.
The Eagle read his mind, as well. He bowed his massive head, his voice rumbling from his chest as he said, “Your father knows of your plight, and sends aid. The child will keep 'til the morn.”
“I thank-you, Lord-eagle,” Elladan inclined his head in respect, even as he pulled himself over to Aragorn, needing to see for himself that the boy was well. “I am in your debt.”
“There is no debt,” Elladan felt the Eagle's eyes on him . . . and felt that something that was more to the Eagle's spirit and sight settle on the air like a light. It was no mere creature of the earth that addressed him then, he knew, feeling that old, humble awe fill him once again. “You serve as we all serve, and together we take the yoke to fight back shadow from this land. I am honored to take your burdens as my own when I could. Return to me when the child heals, and the honor will be repaid in full.”
“It shall be done,” Elrohir answered for him, seeing where he wearied. The Eagle nodded his head, seeing his need for rest as well as he turned to take to the sky again. His massive wings woke the long grass, and moved the trees with a stiff wind as he rose towards the heavens again. Elladan felt his wet hair and sodden clothes lift to flap in the stiff wind until the Eagle was at last far enough above them, his one last cry dominating the night sky as he winked from view again.
Elladan exhaled, even as he traced a wet hand over the gash at Aragorn's head. It was large and wicked looking, but it was mostly superficial, he finally decided. The bump was more worrying to him – as it could be a sign of bleeding underneath the boy's skull. Elladan could not ascertain the extent of his injuries, frustrated then as he had not been before that he did not share his brother's empathy with the healing arts. Where he could not consciously know what he aided, he rested his brow against the child's and imparted as much of his own warmth and well-being as he could, hoping that it would do anything to help.
“You foolish, foolish child,” he whispered in relief and anxious anger both, feeling boneless in the wake of the boy's ill fated adventure. His eyes burned as he thought of how close he had come to once again . . .
“But you did not,” Elrohir whispered as he drew him away from Aragorn – just enough to end the connection between their spirits. “And you have little to give, brother. You will lame yourself further if you do not keep the energy to heal yourself.”
“I am fine,” Elladan tried to say, but his voice was a dry, raw sound – made so from the rough water and his exhaustion both.
“Yes . . . fine,” Elrohir drawled, believing him not. “Rest now – riders already set out from the valley. Thorin's company departed this day, and Mithrandir stayed long enough to call the Eagles for us when Adar felt our distress. We will be joined by the morning hour.”
“I will be able to ride then,” Elladan said, closing his eyes as he settled down on the grass next to Aragorn. Elrohir rolled his eyes as he settled in on Estel's opposite side, forming a warm cocoon about the boy.
“You are just as foolish as the child,” Elrohir scolded, but there was relief too in his eyes and voice. Where Elladan could have lost one brother, Elrohir could have lost both, and . . .
He winced at the thought, and exhaled shakily.
“I would have followed you,” Elrohir said after a moment, his thoughts and presence both warm at his mind. As twins, their bond was closer than that of siblings, even, and there were times when he could not tell where he ended and the other began. “I will always follow you,” Elrohir added after a moment, his voice low and weighty with his vow – touching on the issue that had stood between them for centuries now. For where his twin would make his choice one way, he would rather . . .
And yet, he did not have the energy to think about that now. He was exhausted and weary – in more ways than one, for old wounds and old griefs had swam to the surface of his mind with Aragorn's plight, and he now had the energy for little else. Turning so that his bad arm was free of his body, he rested so that Aragorn's head was tucked in underneath his chin, assuring himself that he would be close on hand if he were needed during the night. The boy was all elbows and knees and growing bones between them, and, thankful for their luck, Elladan placed a hand on the child's chest so that he could both feel the certainty of his breathing, and impart what warmth and healing he could.
He closed his eyes then, and did not open them until the dawn.
He remembered little about the journey home the next day. Horses and aid had indeed arrived the next morning – Glorfindel and Celeborn both riding out with the guards to help them back home. While Elladan was too proud to ride with another for support – and he most certainly refused to be pulled on a liter back home when the whole of the Wise were still gathered and watching in Imladris – he walked the path of waking dreams while he sat upright in the saddle, having allowed himself to be strapped to his horse like a sack of potatoes.
Estel had awakened with the dawn, and, unlike Elladan, he had no choice when Glorfindel pulled the child up to ride back with him. The golden warrior's impossibly bright spirit would do as much to heal the child as Elrond's considerable skills, and Estel too slept most of the way back to the valley, his protests falling away as exhaustion took him.
He remembered even less of his father looking him over upon returning home, recalling only a hazy shimmer of his diagnosis. He had torn the inner cuff of his shoulder after he continued swimming with his arm dislocated, and while it was now back in place, it would not be the same for some time while the internal muscles and ligaments repaired themselves. He had fractured his wrist and fingers in several places, and had again made each break worse with his continued use of the damaged appendage – and yet, that would heal relatively quickly between Elrond's energies and his own elven healing. It was not casted, merely splinted and wrapped – though he knew from experience that a cast awaited him if he could not keep his hand still. In the queer way of the body and healing, he was more irritated by the wounds left by the splinters in his skin. His nails had been removed in full from his first and middle finger from debris jamming underneath and splintering them - and that, more than anything else, was driving him to distraction.
Mostly, he slept upon returning to the valley – which was against his choice, at that. Seemingly everyone who passed him imparted a bit of their strength, and subtly encouraged his rest. First his father had, and then Glorfindel. He had dimly felt each of his grandparents touch his brow to lend him their strength, and Elrohir stayed by his bedside the rest of the day – insuring with a near mothering vigilance that he kept his rest for as long as his body needed it.
It was some time in the evening hour when a rumbling in his stomach – and a lack of anyone else 'ensuring' that he rested – awakened him fully. He could tell the hour by the purple shadows and golden light spilling in from where the sun was setting in the sky beyond, the dying light filling the healing chambers and color ing the gauzy white drapes as they danced in the evening air. He breathed in deep, and already felt cleansed and refreshed – even where his arm bothered him considerably more than it had that night by the river, where both adrenaline and worry had kept him from noticing the abuse he had heaped upon his body.
Elladan did not sit up, not yet, but he did turn to where he heard voices just beyond him. There was a nearly sheer white drape separating his bed from Aragorn's – which he knew by his being able to hear the boy speaking in soft, subdued tones. He saw a larger shadow move, and heard his father question the child as he attended to his patient.
“It does not hurt,” Estel assured as Elrond gently probed the area of broken skin at his brow. “Not any more.”
“And yet, there is wisdom in thoroughness,” Elrond said as he continued with his examination. He saw with more than physical eyes, Elladan knew from long experience, and there were few secrets of the body that could be kept from his knowing.
Estel was silent for a moment. Elladan could see his face through a parting in the curtains, and saw where he winced – his pain discovered. “I am trying to learn to be wise,” Estel said in a small voice.
“You have many years before you in which to deepen those wisdoms,” Elrond counseled subtly. “You may wish to consider your latest experience as a stride down that path.”
Estel flushed, hearing the Elf-lord's words for what they were. He tried to look down in shame, but could not do so with Elrond seeing to the wound on his brow. Silence fell between them for a long moment. Somewhere in the valley, a voice started to sing for the return of the stars to the night sky – no doubt, one of their Sindarin visitors from Lothlórien, remembering the world before the sun and moon. For a long moment, there was only the song on the air between them as more voices took up the melody.
When Elrond finished his examination, he carefully sat by the child's side, looking him in the eye all the while. “Why did you climb down to the nest, Estel?” he asked in a grave voice.
Though he could only see the back of his father's head, Elladan could imagine the weight of his stare from hundreds of such instances himself. Although Estel looked as if he dearly wished to look away, he held Elrond's gaze. “I . . .” he tried to form his answer. He faltered, and had to start again. “I wanted to do something amazing,” Estel attempted to explain, his every word growing more and more unsure as he spoke.
“Deeds of renown will come in time,” Elrond said softly, wryly in reply. “Most often, when you least expect or wish for them to.”
“No,” Estel shook his head. “It is not like that at all.” He bit his lip. His large grey eyes were filling with tears. “I . . . I wanted to do something amazing so that you will remember me. You . . . everyone here is my family. You are my family, and yet, you will live forever . . . you will mean everything to me while I will be nothing more than the blinking of an eye to you . . . a raindrop in the ocean of your years. I wanted to do something for you to remember me . . . so that you will never forget me.
“It . . . it sounds so silly now,” Estel whispered. His face was red in the wake of his confession, upset as he was in the wake of his pouring his heart out. His eyes were running, and Elladan felt a similar burning behind his own gaze. Elrond too blinked as he pulled the child to him, closing his eyes long and slow as he enfolded Estel in his arms.
“Dear child,” Elrond at last said, his voice thick with feeling. “You are foolish indeed to think that you are not loved as you love. You could live all of your days in peace and simplicity, and even still, not a soul here would be able to forget you. You mistake forever for forgetting, when, to the contrary, it merely means that we have longer to remember you . . . and hold that memory dear.”
Estel's small shoulders were shaking as he clung to the other. “I . . . I could have gotten us both killed,” he finally stammered out, the realization horrifying to him. “I -”
“ - certainly created a memory,” Elrond cut him off. Estel had tortured himself enough with the idea of what if – there was no need for him to do the same. “And it will not be the first time, or the last, I foresee, that one of my children move me to such fear. Yet, do you not see? Elladan would have done anything to keep you safe, even at great cost to himself. Such a thing is not done out of obligation for our having you in our keeping, so much it is that you are dear to us. Do you not see that, child?”
“Yes,” Estel drew away, nodding solemnly as he thought about what Elrond said. “Yes . . . I do.”
“Good,” Elrond said, giving him a moment in which to compose himself. “Now, dry your tears. Your mother has been beside herself with worry, and she wishes to see you. Put on a strong face for her.”
Estel nodded quickly at that, wiping at his eyes and breathing in deep. For one so young, he instinctively knew of Gilraen's sadness, and often moved to spare her even the smallest of griefs. Elrond smiled in approval when Estel looked to him to make sure of his appearance.
“You may go now,” Elrond said. “I want to keep an eye on that cut, but you may sleep in your own bed tonight.”
He waved him away, and Estel bounded to his feet with a child's energy.
“But slowly!” Elrond called after him when he tried to run. Estel slowed to a walk, obedient, but still hurried off to meet his mother's arms with a quick step, his pains already forgotten.
Elrond watched him leave, and after, Elladan did not bother closing his eyes to feign disinterest when his father turned to him - aware that he had been known for his eavesdropping the whole of the time.
“You too are awake,” Elrond said as he came over to him, pushing the curtain aside.
“I had little choice before,” he answered – to which Elrond looked decidedly unrepentant. A pain like a war-hammer crashed against his temple, and Elladan held his good hand to his head. “Although,” he admitted, “I do believe that I would rather sleep through the Balrog seeking to escape my skull.”
“You would be much improved if you had not given so much of yourself to the child,” Elrond chided. “While your heart was in the right place, Aragorn was already healing. You needed not do so to such extremes.”
“I could not . . .” he tried to speak, but found the words lost in his throat. How could he say that he saw only his mother bruised and broken when he saw Estel clinging to the cliff-side? Though the situations were world's apart, the fact remained that they were both underneath his protection, and if he had done anything . . . everything more than he had . . . then, perhaps, his mother would still be with them. He could not . . . he would not have been able to bear bringing home another broken soul.
“It seems that I have two foolish sons,” Elrond heard the shape of his thoughts when he could not speak his words aloud. As he had done with Estel, he sat next to him on the bed and placed a warm hand on his shoulder. “Do you not see that the only pain you give to me is the pain you heap upon yourself? And you have burdened yourself with many pains since that day in the mountains.”
He needed to let it go, were the unspoken words. And yet . . . such a hatred still burned in his heart. His spirit was rushed and fast and angry, and he could not get it to slow. Where most of the Wise fought for the good of all Middle-earth, he knew that he fought with vengeance in his heart and hatred in his bones. It was not good or just or noble of him, and yet . . .
He inhaled, and tried to swallow his black feelings away. He had tried letting the feeling go, basking in its every shape and it rose up through every pore . . . he had tried hiding it away completely, forcing it down deep inside, and yet, neither extreme had healed him of his anger and pain. It was a part of him now, and he could not will it away.
Elrond sighed, and Elladan felt a familiar warmth fill him as his father tried to help him fight his demons. It was a temporary fix, but Elladan took the healing for what it was, hoping that someday the effects would linger and become permanent.
In the wake of his father touching his soul, his arm felt much improved, at least. All of his dozens of aches and pains felt soothed, and he could think with a clarity of mind. He felt good enough to take on Dol Guldur alone, even, and -
“Gandalf left this afternoon,” Elrond answered his next question before he asked it. “He wished to rejoin Thorin and his company in the mountains, for he foresaw a shadow falling there.” Elrond was silent for a moment, his brow creased with thought.
And yet, if Gandalf left . . .
“Does that mean you were successful?” he could not help the eagerness in his voice. “Was the Council able to convince the White Wizard to march?”
“We will take our fight to Dol Guldur,” Elrond confirmed. “Saruman at long last gives his blessing to do so.”
At last, he could not help but think. For centuries, the shadow had been growing over the forests and stretching over the land as the Enemy grew in might, but now . . .
“And our forces?” Elladan pressed. “What has been decided?”
“There will be no help from Mithlond but for those few underneath Galdor's command who met for the Council. Círdan would empty the Havens if need be, but his forces would long be seen in coming, and give our aim away, ” Elrond answered first. “And so, in a week's time, we will take the guard of Imladris to join the Galadhrim in Lothlórien. Galadriel and Celeborn will spare as many men as are not needed to protect the Golden Wood - for if our day goes to ill, the battlements of Dol Guldur can be seen from Caras Galadhon, and they will not leave their people so bereft.”
Elladan did the math, and the numbers were still not to his liking. Thanks to Gandalf's going behind the walls of Dol Guldur, they knew that the Enemy was not the same as he once was in might of spirit, and yet, Dol Guldur was still guarded enough. The Nine walked the halls of Minas Morgal in Mordor, rebuilding the dark land to its black glory once more - but the Nazghûl could be summoned at their Master's will, and with their unholy ways, who knew how fast they could arrive to strengthen Sauron's forces?
Their people were few compared to the might they once were. Both death in the wars of old and leaving for the West had exhausted their numbers, and with their families and childbearing couples the first to leave for the Undying Lands, their numbers were very slow to rebuild. Those who remained in Ennor were those who loved the land and stood for its protection, and yet, they were now few. The brunt of the fight to come would not be to the Elves, Elladan knew. When the final days came . . .
And yet, he acknowledged ruefully. It was best to think of one battle at a time. The might of Imladris and Lothlórien would meet, and from Mirkwood . . .
“And the Dragon?” Elladan asked. “Thranduil stands to lose as much as Lórien if this goes to ill – perhaps even more so.”
“Gandalf,” Elrond's eyes twinkled as he said so, “sees to that on his own accord – away from the wisdom and permission of Saruman, might I add. Though my heart bodes ill for Thorin Oakenshild himself, the threat of Smaug has too long reigned in the north. Gandalf's timing is right, and Mirkwood will aid him in his endeavors – whether they realize it or not.”
“Then Thranduil will send no help in arms?” Elladan asked.
Elrond shook his head. “No,” he answered. “He will protect his own, but it will take much for him to march for the good of all once again. He lost more than most on the plains of Dagorlad, and the shadow touched his heart with a grief that has still yet to heal.”
No more than most, Elladan thought, uncharitable as it was. So many had died to bring peace to their lands – as they had ever done. And yet, there were those ready to stand again and again, as many times as would need be. While he did not thirst for war, he was eager to meet the Enemy to return his pain in kind . . . eager indeed.
If Elrond saw the rising of violence in his eyes, he did not comment, but the feeling of warmth around him grew – pushing the red of the bloodlust away.
“Help shall augment our forces in an unexpected way,” Elrond finally said, watching his eyes as understanding dawned.
“Isengard's forces?” Elladan finally understood, delight filling him as he imagined that particular bit of prodding.
“Galadriel can be most persuasive when cross,” Elrond said simply. “In the end, the White Wizard had no choice but to agree.”
Imladris, Lothlórien and Isengard . . . Three Ring-bearers, and three of the Istari between Gandalf and Radagast and Saruman . . . even with their depleted numbers, it would be enough, he decided. More than enough.
“We leave within the week, then?” Elladan asked.
"We shall leave to group in Lothlórien at the next week's end, yes,” Elrond said gently.
Elladan heard the stress on the word, and he knew . . .
“You will go without me?” the words were plain, dropped from his mouth like stones into the water.
Elrond raised a brow, and the golden warmth he had been feeling left him as his father withdrew his power. Immediately his pain came back tenfold, and he grit his teeth in reply, stubbornly holding his father's stare without blinking.
“You need to let your arm heal,” Elrond said. “And, I will need someone left here to lead. The Ring will leave the valley, and the wards protecting Imladris will weaken until I return with Vilya.”
“Then leave Erestor in charge,” Elladan countered. “He knows better than I the running of the valley.”
“Yes, Erestor is both a skilled tactician and a more than competent steward. And yet, he is better when advising, not leading absolutely,” Elrond countered, his voice hardening. “You are a born commander, and you understand - ”
“ - which is why I would be better served with you,” Elladan countered. “It would be for ill to leave me behind. Better, even, would it be if - ”
He almost countered that he would be better suited in his father's place before he caught himself. Though Elrond had spent long centuries as a leader during a watchful peacetime, he knew the ways of war in a way Elladan would never be able to understand – for such a fight would never again belong to the Elves of Middle-earth as it once had. He knew his father best as a healer, as a scholar with a quill in hand . . . but he was also the son of Elwë and Finwë's combined might, with the blood of Mankind's foremost fathers and a Maia divine running through his veins, at that. It was all too easy to forget Elrond's heritage until he was forcibly reminded of it, feeling as the blue weight of his father's spirit filled the air around him – answering his unconscious challenge. He felt his skin prickle in awareness as static seemed to crawl up and down his spine, warning him of a force he would do well not to trifle with. Still, he squared his jaw and met his father's eye unblinkingly, unwilling to give.
“I need you here to protect that which I will not be able to defend myself,” Elrond said plainly, finally pulling back the force of his fëa before it turned smothering. “There will be warriors aplenty marching on Dol Guldur, but I need one here, to protect that which is our dearest hope for the future to come.”
Estel, Elladan thought with a pang, his cheeks coloring as he realized what his father was asking of him.
“You are pacifying me,” still Elladan countered. He could feel as Elrond's healing returned to him, again numbing his pain. The force of his spirit was once more like a star – giving its light, but not burning from such a distance away.
“I would not,” Elrond said simply in answer. “I think too highly of you for that.”
Elladan raised a brow, but could not counter the other when he had been so moved into a corner. He fought the urge to sigh, not wishing to stay behind, and yet . . .
“I trust you,” Elrond said simply, seeing as the war waned in his eyes. “I trust you with all that I hold dear, as I ever have.”
Elladan swallowed, and did so around a stone. His throat was thick as he nodded, remembering only Celebrían smiling as she tried to sooth her husband's fears of her crossing the mountains. He remembered joining her high spirits, vowing, “We shall see her back safely, Adar, you have our word." He remembered the solemn trust that had been gifted to him in return.
He breathed in through his nose, and gave his vow again, “I will not fail you.”
He held his father's gaze without blinking, and saw where Elrond's eyes dimmed for a moment – weary with an old hurt. And yet, it was not hurt felt for his own pain, Elladan realized. Instead - “You have never failed me,” Elrond said gently as he stood. “Never.”
Elladan closed his eyes as he held on to his words – needing them more and more every time they were spoken. He felt tears burn, but he did not let them fall as Elrond gently touched his brow. He felt that familiar warmth touch his spirit, and he did not fight it as sleep settled upon his consciousness once more. Instead, he closed his eyes, and let himself heal.
Oh, that was simply, unmitigatedly stunning!!!!!!!! The Wind-Lord encounter - how cool is that!? The wonderful bond between twins, Aragorn's youthful impulsiveness and the motives behind it and then to cap it off, Elrond and Elladan. How beautifully and vividly you give richness and depth to the times and characters. Oh, but I ache for the temporary separation from Celebrian but am simultaneously tickled by the foregleams around Arwen Evenstar.
Sorry I didin't comment so much as of late, but my thesis tends to assume the shape of a balrog these days, so...
In a few words, let me tell you how much I appreciated these last few entries.
The one in Aman and the one in the Wilds of Middle-Earth, for showing us how true men (be they of Elf-kind or Man-kind) need not feel diminished by teaching women how to fight. In a way, Celegorm and Arathorn are great foils for one another, as the first learned the hard way that trickery is always discovered and does not enhance one's position, and the latter showed that openness and truth is always the better path to take. I was especially glad of this snapshot into the lives of Aragorn's parents, and how you showed that destiny and choice can sometimes be intertwined.
As for the latest entry...
It was a great way to explain Estel's absence from Elrond's halls in The Hobbit, and yet it was so much more, beginning with the glimpse into Manwe's mind through Gwaihir's eyes... My heart ached for Elladan and Elrohir, and for Elrond. So much pain and responsibility in young minds, and I wonder if the healer has allowed himself to fully heal. I a way, I am glad Gilraen and Elrond have one another in this, as they can each offer the other a modicum of solace, knowing they are not alone in their pain. As for Estel... I wonder if Elladan and Elrohir have any idea what they have unleashed, asking him to become Arwen's protector...
@Nyota's Heart: Thank-you so very much for your kind words! What started as a fun little tale quickly took on a life of its own, and I am glad you enjoyed all of its twists and turns - and the family feelings, at that! I could not resist.
@laurethiel1138: First off, good luck on your thesis! That is both terrible and exciting all at once, I bet. Secondly, thank-you so much for your thoughts! I always enjoy reading what you have to say whenever you can do so - DRL can be a Balrog to us all. As for this last one, I could not resist playing with the foreshowing of Arwen and Aragorn, it was too great of an opportunity to pass by. Indeed, they will both ruefully remember that conversation in the years to come, that's for sure!
Now, here we go with part two of this tale . . .
"growing hope next to bones” II
The day after next, Elladan was looked over and declared fit enough to leave the healing rooms. Of course, he was warned to keep to the least menial of tasks – which meant that anything of interest was to be far from him until his arm was fully healed, and he was stuck indoors with scroll and pen as a result.
Upon hearing that he would be taking over Elrond's duties, Erestor had prepared a stack of missives for him to see to – dealing with everything from replenishing the valley's larders and wine cellars (which Thorin's company had been able to consume at a rather alarming rate), to more menial matters, such as the conditions of the various foot bridges over the Bruinen, which would have to be maintained while the summer months were still with them.
It was all very . . . interesting, he tried to convince himself. Though he was over two thousand years old, he was still as a mulish child with his schoolwork whenever there were words on paper to be seen to. At least, that was what Erestor had said as he heaped more scrolls upon his already considerable pile. Elladan had fought not to scowl at the prim steward's well meaning teasing – which would have only solidified the truth of his words. Even so, he made a face when the older elf left, nearly certain that he was being punished.
You are not being punished – but crafted, Elrohir tried to point out when he 'thought' loudly enough for his twin to hear. If the unthinkable ever came to be, or if their father eventually went West before they did, then the valley and its governing would fall to them. Everything he now learned would prove to someday be of value, Elrohir reasoned. Even so, it was easy for his brother to say so, for Elrohir had always been the more patient one between them. He did not mind sitting through the tedious and mundane if it was of importance. And now . . .
He would much rather be in his brother's place, he thought with a pang that was equal parts grief at their impending separation and envy. Elrohir had left him toiling in the library in order to help Glorfindel organize the guard for their upcoming journey over the mountains. The valley all but sang with a restless energy for the fight against the Enemy to come, and he hated knowing that he would not be taking part of it. He should be out there, helping where he would be most of use - not inside, hunched over parchment with a quill in hand.
Elladan felt a tightening in his chest, and fought to push his darker thoughts away before Elrohir could pick up on his frustration. It was bad enough that his brother was going without him, and yet, he would feel as such if Elrohir took any task that separated them. They had not been parted for more than a day at a time since their birth, and the idea of now spending so long away from his twin was something that he could not think of without grief.
And yet, he would not reflect on such things now. He did not want to dampen Elrohir's spirits with the black tug of his own. Besides - the tally of feed the horse-master wished to order was taking all of his concentration. He had room to think of little else.
Sitting at the table across from him, Estel looked just as miserable as he. Elladan had moved his work into the library so that he could sit with the child – who was catching up on the studies he had missed during their two week sojourn from the valley. Head injuries were nothing to treat lightly, and the boy had not been allowed near his pony or to practice with his bow since returning. While Elladan was able to rationalize why he was to stay behind while the rest of their fighting men left Imladris, Estel was a child with a child's mind, no matter how much they prided him for being wise beyond his years - he did not like that so many he cared for were readying to travel beyond where he could see, and went with swords and bows, at that.
Estel carried his worry and his unease close to the surface, and that worry expressed itself as a short temper and a restlessness of spirit. Already he had been scolded for being disrespectful to his mother when Gilraen tried to dress the gash on his brow, and he had coldly ignored Glorfindel when the warrior had tried to cheer his mood – blaming the Captain of the guard for the fight to come with a child's hurt form of logic. Estel had made his amends to both, but knowing that he had acted ignobly drew his mood even further down. As a result, his face was sad as he stared unblinkingly at the empty page before him, and he absently played with the feathered end of his quill rather than writing with it.
When it became clear that Estel was learning as much of his Adûnaic as he was progressing through his tallies, he pushed both of their scrolls aside and took out a deck of cards. While such games were a more human pastime than an elven one, Estel was mortal, and Elladan would see that he was able to bluff his way through any hand by the time he returned to his folk. Aragorn's father had been one of the best card players of Elladan's long acquaintance with the Dúnedain, and he would ensure that Arathorn's legacy was carried on in even the smallest of ways.
This was one of the many things that he wanted to tell Aragorn about his father. Someday, Estel would learn his name and heritage, and while the histories would tell of Arathorn the Chieftain, he looked forward to being able to speak of Arathorn the man. He was counting down the days until Estel's twentieth birthday much as Gilraen did – she being all but eager for her son to know the father who had given his all for his people and his family.
And yet, until then, he regaled Aragorn with tales from own his mother's time spent in Moria during the Second Age. He spoke of how the Dwarves played with dice and cards quite like this, and shared the words of one of their more humorous ditties that detailed the evils that came with placing a bet that one could not keep. His stories lightened the child's mood, and even garnered a smile or two – a smile that Elladan had shared, glad as he was to think of his mother in a lighter context than he normally did. He was happy to dip into his wealth of stories, and Estel had been curious about Dwarves in general since learning who had resided in Imladris while they were gone. Better was Aragorn's curiosity than his bleak mood, and so, Elladan indulged him where he could.
His stories had ebbed to silence as they passed a hand in quite companionship. Estel's brow was furrowed with thought, and yet, his mind was not wholly on the cards. Elladan saw where he gathered his words, and waited to pry – knowing that he would speak when he knew what he wanted to say.
“I am sorry,” Estel said after the silence turned long between them. “It was a foolish thing of me to do, and I know regret that my actions put you - put us - in so much harm.”
Elladan did not have to ask him what he was apologizing for. “Yes, it was a foolish thing to do,” he agreed, having waited for this conversation. “Most likely, we would have taken you at the summer's end, when the nests were empty of the Eagles' young. You did not have long to wait.”
Estel looked down, his face flushing, and yet, Elladan saw no need to put him through more counsel than that. The boy had already been corrected by Elrond and Gilraen both – and was serving out his sentence in the kitchens with Bethril every evening for the next two weeks, at that. So, he softened his face, letting Estel know that he carried no resentment or lingering anger.
“I wanted to do something amazing,” Estel said without looking up, trying to explain his motives in the best way he knew how. He played with the corners of his cards as he spoke, not really seeing the suit they held. “I wanted to impress you with something that had not been done before . . . I thought to present you with an Eagle's feather upon the morn, and imagined that you would have known pride for how much I had learned and applied what I was being taught . . .”
“You already amaze me,” Elladan said, his words simplein reply. “And you do so even without having reached the nests on your own.”
Estel's blush deepened, but not only from shame. The child peaked up from beneath his bangs, his eyes wide with his hope. “I am sorry,” he said sincerely once more. “I will not be so foolish again.”
“I have already forgiven you, Estel,” Elladan said warmly. “And yet, you are a growing child,” his voice turned rueful. “Perhaps it is better not to make promises you cannot keep. I know that you will think more carefully about your actions next time – and there is wisdom learned in that. Your insights will be great as a man, I feel, and you have already taken a great step towards their learning.”
Estel glanced down again, his brow furrowed with his thoughts. “I have been told so often,” he muttered, his eyes turning a stormy shade of grey. “And yet . . .”
Whispers were dropped often about his future, but nothing was ever specifically said, Elladan knew. This was an old and common reason for frustration, and one that grew all the more so with every passing year.
“You knew my father, did you not?” Estel asked after a moment, his every word hesitantly phrased. Since he was old enough to understand – and espy the difference between Men and Elves, at that – he had known that Elrond was not his father in blood. Even so, the idea of Arathorn was a hazy reality to him, something half-understood, as if known from a dream.
Carefully, Elladan answered, “Yes, I knew your father.” He kept his face straight as he said so, for Estel knew that he was at liberty to answer little more than that.
“Can you tell me anything more?” Estel asked, such an eager light brightening his eyes that Elladan felt his own heart hurt with it. “Can you tell me anything about who I really am?”
A moment passed. He reached over to tilt the child's chin up, looking into his eyes as he did so. “You are hope,” he responded simply, watching as Estel fought not to roll his eyes in reply.
“I knew that you would say so,” he complained, and Elladan smiled.
“Ask an Elf no questions, for they will answer you neither yes or no,” he stated, to which Estel gave a loud sigh.
“Then it is wise of me to ask you,” Estel said cheekily, his eyes narrowing. “You want to tell me the truth. I can tell that much, at least.”
The child had him - insightful little creature that he was. Even though his words were matter-of-fact, a part of them still carried a sharp edge. He searched Estel's face for a long moment, seeing both Arathorn's serious brow and Arathorn's expressive grey eyes as they lightened . . .
And so, he said, “Your father was a very brave man who gave everything for his family.” It was the truth in its simplest form. “He would have known nothing but pride for his son.”
Estel swallowed. Elladan could see how much even the smallest of words meant to him as he took them and held them close, examining them for their every sound and shape.
“And, your father was the best card player I have ever known,” Elladan admitted when he turned his attention back to their game. “It is a skill you have inherited, I see.”
Just that easily, Estel smiled, his mood lightening as quickly as it had set in. While his face was still grave in expression, his countenance was no longer weighed down. He did not have the answers he sought, but for now, he knew enough to tide him over.
Estel turned back to his hand, and Elladan watched him, seeing the ghost of Arathorn hover over every move the boy made. And yet, such thoughts would not do – for neither he or Aragorn. So, he turned his attention back to the cards, and made his move.
As was planned, the guard of Imladris left the valley at the end of the following week.
At the east-gate, he hugged Elrohir goodbye – not bothering to hide how much he would miss the other while they were parted. When he pulled away, he clapped his twin on the shoulder and gave him his favorite set of throwing knives to use in a pinch. He tried to keep his voice light and easy, but he knew where his sorrow clung to his words and betrayed him in his eyes.
He next said goodbye to his grandparents, vowing that he would set out to visit the Golden Wood when next his time with the Dúnedain allowed him to do so. He did miss Lothlórien and the healing that the realm provided, but crossing the mountains grew all the more perilous with each passing year, and he cared but little for braving the Redhorn Pass for obvious reasons. Galadriel caught the trail end of his thoughts, and the warm gold of her spirit touched his in reply, soothing over the angry lines of his fëa with her grace before she turned away. Celeborn was more tangible with his comfort – embracing him as if he were still a child and smiling warmly before turning to join his wife.
The whole of the time he said his farewells, his father had been biding a quiet goodbye to Aragorn – kneeling down so that he was eye to eye with the boy, and speaking with words Elladan could not hear. Gilraen stood behind her son, her hands warm on Aragorn's shoulders as Elrond promised to return before the onset of winter. Estel nodded at the vow, and yet, his grey eyes shone with the words he refused to say – he liking but little that they rode out clad in mail, with their weapons close at hand. He had already lost one father, and with a child's fear he worried for saying farewell to another. Though Elladan had not of foresight, he felt that he would see his family again, and so, he forced a smile to his face as he promised his father that he would lead Imladris well in his absence.
As he said so, he looked over Elrond's shoulder to see where Glorfindel had picked Estel up and spun him about – asking him not to grow too tall while they were away, else he would not be able to carry him as such upon returning. The request had Estel giving the smallest of smiles in return – the half Vanya's presence ever a light to those around him.
After the last farewell had been said, Elladan stood at the gate with Gilraen and Aragorn as the guard rode out onto the mountain trails. Estel watched the mail clad warriors with wide, envious eyes, only saying, “I wish that I was going with them,” when the last warrior left to form the rear of their host.
“You will find yourself riding out soon enough,” Gilraen said. Elladan looked, and saw the way the tips of her fingers turned white upon her son's shoulders.
“Much too soon for my taste,” Elladan added, speaking ruefully so as to draw a smile from the child. “Already you make me feel old enough as it is.”
The corner of Estel's mouth curved up before turning down again, he watching the guard with serious, narrowed eyes. Behind him, Gilraen too looked on – she had said farewell many times in her life, and looked to do so many times still. She had been young even amongst the eyes of Men when she first came to the valley, and she still looked so with her face untouched by age, and the dark, honey blonde shade of her hair still bright with youth. Only her eyes betrayed her, weighing upon her face with an age still many years past her.
“Who do they go to fight?” Estel asked after a moment. “It must be quite a foe for so many to have been gathered in the valley.” Thoughtfully, he puzzled through his thoughts – this being the first time he had met Galdor and his folk from the Grey-havens, and the representatives of Mirkwood, few as they came. He had spied Saruman from a distance – as they had discreetly tried to keep the one from the other. Radagast too they had steered Estel away from, for while Yavanna's Maia was a kind and gentle soul, he was too close to Saruman in both respect and confidence, and it would take but for a word . . .
And yet, he called himself from his thoughts, knowing that Estel already had a sharp mind for one so young. He would know a lie, and though he was shielded from much, they could not keep him hidden from all. “They go to fight a very dark being,” Elladan answered, glancing over at Gilraen as he said so, not wanting to share anything that she would not agree for her son hearing. Her face was serene. Her mouth made a thin line, and yet, she did not gesture for him to stay his words. “They march upon a creature of evil, who has plagued these lands since days of old. While we cannot yet destroy him, we hope to push him back to the lands of his rule, thus forcing him to leave the forests to the east in peace.”
Gilraen took in a breath at his words, and exhaled slowly. Ever did the Enemy search for the sons of Elendil, and he knew that Aragorn's dreams were at times plagued by Sauron reaching out to touch his mind - vainly attempting to expose him from his hiding place. There was a curse upon Númenor's sons, and though Elendil had been of the Faithful, he had too long lived underneath Sauron's shadow. He, like the rest of Númenor of old, had been touched by a darkness ancient and powerful, and even though his deeds were worthy and honorable, never would he or his line completely escape the taint of his presence until Sauron was destroyed completely.
“I know of whom you speak . . . there are times when I can see him when I dream,” Estel whispered on the wings of his thoughts. He glanced to Gilraen and Elladan in turn, as if asking leave to tell a secret. “He is beautiful in appearance, and when he speaks his voice is as warm as music. He searches . . . he gives such promises . . .”
Elladan swallowed, hating the truth of his words as they were spoken. Even Elrond's wards could not completely keep Aragorn's mind free from Sauron's taint, and he hated the frustration that came with fighting such an intangible enemy . . . an enemy who moved in sleep and fought in shadows.
Gilraen knelt down so that she was eye to eye with her son. She rubbed Estel's shoulder soothingly, her brow as pained as his own, she being even more helpless to fight against the untouchable and formless than he.
“But then the dream turns dark when I run for him,” Estel continued, biting his lip with his words. “Then I see him as he truly is . . . He is fire; seeing everything, consuming everything . . . ”
“Shh, child,” Gilraen said. “These are nothing but dreams, and can harm you not.” And yet, her voice was whispered, she knowing the truth of their threat as her son instinctively understood the foul nature of the mind trying to touch his own.
“Where they go . . .” Estel paused, unsure of how to form his thought. “Do they . . .”
“Yes,” he did not lie. “That is the foe they will face.”
Estel looked to where the last rider had disappeared into the mountains. “It scares me,” he revealed on a whisper, looking back to them when the shadows on the path would reveal no more.
“It scares me too,” Elladan admitted on a whisper as they turned back inside the gate. “ . . . It scares me too.”
It was not until weeks later that he felt a rippling of joy across his spirit.
He paused, and Estel looked up from beside him, having noticed the change in his stride. “What is it?” he asked.
“They reached Lothlórien,” Elladan answered him, his voice soft as a light of white and gold danced about his soul like sunlight upon the water, warming him even from such a distance away.
“How can you tell?” Estel asked, curious.
He knelt down and took the child's hand in his own, unable as he was to find the words to explain what he felt. He opened his mind to the boy, letting him feel the dancing touch of Arwen's spirit as it reached out for his own. While he was close with his sister, her presence within his spirit had been muted from so far away, he sensing her only in occasional bursts of feeling and awareness. But now, with Elrohir at her side, and his twin's joy a nearly tangible thing to his senses as it intertwined with Arwen's presence, he felt as if she were physically by his side – a specter of light and warmth he could almost reach out and touch.
Estel blinked, and looked as if he wanted to step back at the radiance that washed over him. “What is that?” he asked, his voice whispered as he looked on the interplay of spirits with an amazed wonder.
“That is my sister,” Elladan answered, amused as Estel unconsciously tried to reach towards the warmth of their bond, drawn to it like a tree towards the sun. “Ever is her spirit a light, and yet, it is one that I have not felt in too many years. Sometimes, it is easy to forget until reminded, as I am now.”
“She is beautiful,” Estel said on an exhale, meaning his every word as Arwen's spirit winked one more time before fading away, once more becoming a source of warmth deep inside his soul.
“Yes . . .” Elladan could not help the fond look that crossed his face then. “Yes, she is.”
Near the end of the fall, he could feel the day that the White Council marched upon Dol Guldur.
Estel had long since healed from his Midsummer's Eve adventure, and he was now all but pacing the halls with his restlessness for the return of the valley's residents. That day, a feeling of unease fell upon all in the land for the conscious will of Sauron turning for the first in such power and might, and Estel was no exception. While the child could not consciously understand the cause of his restlessness that day, Elladan guessed that he could feel the same shadow that he did – both Sauron reaching out from his stone walls for the first, and the residual empathetic links he bore with those in the valley telling a tale his conscious thoughts would be unable to fully understand.
Elladan had returned early that morning from riding out to check the outer wards of the valley's defenses. Though the spells protecting Imladris were weakened with Vilya's departure, they were still holding, and Elladan trusted that they would continue to hold until the Ring was returned.
Aragorn had been asking for weeks to ride with him – even if it was just to the mountain trails right beyond their home, and no further than that. Those ways were still safe, he was quick to argue, for the outer wards protected the forests and mountains around the valley, and their scouts kept any danger from reaching so close to their dwellings. There would be no harm in venturing out, Estel reasoned, hope lining his every word.
Elladan knew that he was being overcautious, but it was not until that day that Aragorn was finally able to sway him – which was a result of his own restlessness as much as it was due to the child's. He could feel the battle from far beyond as it licked at his skin, and his temples hurt from his constant effort to buoy his twin's spirit from so far away. The peace and tranquility of Imladris was suffocating when he could all but hear the warcries and feel the vibrations of steel crossing steel when he closed his eyes. He would go mad if he was forced to remain still and look over scrolls that day – and in that, he sympathized wholeheartedly with Estel.
Any reservations he may have had about taking Aragorn faded as soon as they left set out upon the mountain trail. Almost instantly, Estel was full of breathless delight, chirping excitedly and trying to take in everything all at once, as if this was his first time leaving the valley's gates.
Elladan did not mind his good cheer in the least. The day had dawned as a shadow in his mind, even though the sky was cloudless and the sun overhead was bright. Though he could feel where Elrohir tried to dampen their connection, he could still sense the battle as it rolled like a tide upon the shore – receding and advancing as Sauron's ranks poured from the gates of Dol Guldur as waves crashing upon the rock. As a result, he was quiet as they walked the trails just above the valley, where the great waterfalls of the Bruinen gathered in jeweled tiers before pouring down into the basins below.
Estel sensed his mood, and he soon turned silent to match. He walked a few steps ahead of him, pausing every so often to shoot at imaginary targets in the wood. Sometimes he would frown, while other times he would smile, his target in the trunks of the trees a clear hit with what he had pictured in his mind. Each time his arrow made a clean strike Estel would look over his shoulder, and yet, Elladan was slow with praise that day. He could feel as Elrohir took his own aim and fought his own foes, while the filth the Enemy employed burned with a cold fire across his senses.
At that, he looked up, feeling a whisper of disquiet ripple across his own skin. For a moment, it was hard to disengage what he felt from what Elrohir felt, and yet . . .
Ahead of him on the path, Aragorn heard what he had sensed. His head was tilted, and his arrow rested nocked against his bow. He lowered his weapon, trying to listen to something moving in the wood.
Elladan stepped forward, peering through the trees to look down on the trail they had just come up from. He looked, and saw -
By his side, Estel started, surprised when there were two deformed figures on the path – Orcs with stooped backs and strong limbs, dressed in light armor with their hands on the hilts of their swords at their sides. The sound of the Black Speech was muttered, and even with the distance between them, the sound was discordant, blighting the natural beauty of the valley with that which was unnatural, that which was blasphemous to the fairness of the creation surrounding them.
The pair of Orcs were complaining to each other as they followed the river, Elladan heard – they liking but little the song of the water and the dance of enchantment that sweetened the air. Imladris was a stronghold of old power and of deep magicks – and that must have sickened the Orcs just as their muttered words pelted against his own spirit as blows against his skin. He narrowed his eyes, seeing the sigil of Gundabad in the black markings upon their armor. They had come down from the north then, he would wager, sent from Bolg's recaptured stronghold underneath the northernmost peaks in the Misty Mountains.
He could deal with them easily enough, Elladan decided. His true worry was for how many more had slipped through the gaps in the valley's defenses. Most of Gundabad's might would have headed east to join Sauron's forces, he would have thought. And yet, if Sauron thought that the valley's weakened defenses would be an ample time in which to scout out the hidden location of Imladris . . .
Most likely, these two were merely scouts – spies with strict instructions to let none know of their presence while they sought to see what they could, and that had true anger burning low in his bones. Imladris was a safe haven, a peaceful land of song and healing, and for the Enemy to dare defile it, even in thought . . .
He drew his sword and turned to Estel – who was looking with wide eyes on the pair below them, this being the first time he had seen an Orc in his life.
“How are they here?” Estel whispered, unblinking as he took in each line of jagged bone, each ridge cut into the pallid flesh of the creatures before them. The first time Elladan had seen an Orc, he had felt pity for the bleak parameters of their unnatural existence – much as what now flickered though Estel's eyes. But those years were now long behind him, and Elladan only felt a cold fury fill him for the defilement of their presence upon the land.
“The wards surrounding Imladris are weakened,” Elladan explained with clipped vowels. “They must have slipped through our watch.” Easier would it have been for two lone scouts to move in secret, he thought. Anything more would have been easily detected and seen to. But now . . .
“I do not think that they come to fight – only to spy, and yet, a fight they shall find.” He stepped back from the line of the trees, walking back towards the path – which the Orc pair would take straight towards them. He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword, calming his breathing as his blood pumped hot and angry through his veins.
And yet, as he drew his sword, something unexpected happened.
A sharp pain bloomed at the top of his thigh, biting into his skin with the familiar burn of an arrow piercing flesh. The pain was ghost like for all of its intensity, forcing him to kneel as he tried to process what he was feeling. He ground his teeth while at his mind, he felt both Elrohir's annoyance and pain with being struck. An Orc arrow, he understood as Elrohir moved to shield him from what he was feeling, shot by a sentry on the wall.
Elladan ground his teeth as his twin pulled the arrow from his skin, feeling it as if it were removed from his own flesh, and -
“Elladan!” he could feel Estel's small hands at his shoulder, trying to rouse him from the haze that had taken him. “Elladan, what is wrong?”
He pressed the heel of his palm into his thigh, as if to stem an invisible flow of blood. The phantom pain continued to ghost through him, and he ground his teeth at the sensation - even as he welcomed more, knowing that any burden he could take from Elrohir could mean the difference between life and death in such a melee. Elrohir protested, but he was stronger than his twin in that moment – and he forced the link between them to remain open.
“Elladan?” Estel asked again, worry leeching into his voice as he glanced back down the ridge again.
“Elrohir,” he forced the name out, even as the Orcs turned on the path beneath them. They scented the air like dogs, their lips drawing back from their teeth as they traded grotesque smiles with each other. “He is wounded, and I . . ..”
Estel's eyes were wide. He bit his lip. “Then you can feel . . .” he waved a hand, unable to articulate his question.
“Yes, I can,” still he answered. “And I will not be able to fight as I normally would,” he said grimly – what had begun as an easy dispatching of an unaware foe turning into a perilous situation indeed. “I need you to climb as high as you can, and hide.” He gestured to a nearby evergreen, its limbs growing tall and strong from the rock. “No matter what, do not leave this tree. Either I will be successful here, or help will come for you. Only do not leave the tree, do you understand?”
He hated the fear he saw in the child's eyes, but there was no time to shield him in that moment. Reality was raw and real before them, and Elladan winced as he felt the pain in his leg throb anew.
“But - ” Estel tried to argue, but Elladan cut him off.
“No,” he hissed the one word out on an exhale. “You are to hide, do you understand me?”
Estel was silent for a moment, but he nodded, bravely holding his gaze. “Yes,” he finally answered. “I understand.”
“Good,” Elladan pushed him towards the tree. Estel climbed quickly and surely while Elladan walked forward to where the pair of scouts had found their scent on the air. Even with his bad leg, he had strength enough in his arms and upper body, and if he could get close enough . . . he was angry and frustrated, and he had someone to protect just behind him. Even with his handicap, he was a foe not to be crossed.
He spun the sword in his hands, and stood his ground.
Though the Orcs could not smell blood, they could smell the sour scent of his pain – and their eyes were wide and glassy with anticipation as they stalked closer, foolishly thinking this fight to be an easy one.
“You are far from home, Elf, are you not?” the first Orc teased as he came closer. His voice was a grating sound, like a blade striking bone.
“ . . . or aren't you?” the second mused aloud, tilting his head. “We must be close then, if you were crawling back from whence you came.”
“We do not smell blood, but pain,” the first one said thoughtfully. “Why could that be?”
“Well, we do not smell blood yet,” the second added, and they both laughed, amused by their own wit.
Elladan fought the urge to wince. The Enemy had never seen that his servants had evolved enough to properly give what he would consider to be true banter, and instead of deigning them with words in reply, he simply bared his teeth and stood his ground, tightening his hold upon the hilt of his sword.
He did not speak before stepping into his opening blow – surprising the first Orc with the strength behind the swing – a blow which would have severed his head from his shoulders if he did not find a way to block it in time. The Orc hissed, and Elladan spun around to fight the second off of his back. His footwork was off, and his strikes were clumsy as he felt Elrohir struggle to his feet again.
The battle beyond was growing, he thought, tasting ash in his mouth and feeling as a shadow rose from the battlements of Dol Guldur, taking shape . . . The spirit of Sauron was rising, and even as a mere shadow the force of his presence was smothering, drawing on unconscious fears and intensifying every pain a hundredfold as he joined the fight as a fell specter of wrath. Elladan felt where Sauron mercilessly tore through his twin's mind – as he did through all upon the battlefield - finding each disquiet thought and painful memory and pressing on them as fingers poking a bruise.
The psychic onslaught was worse than the feel of the arrow piercing his skin. Over and over again he saw the glassy look in his mother's eyes . . . he was reminding of how red the blood of the Orcs was as they turned the den inside out with their scourge of vengeance. And yet, it was not enough to assuage the guilt they felt, the blame . . . From the distance, he could feel as Elrohir's fears about his own choice were brought to life. He feared the black veils of a mortal death, and yet, he would brave through it for him if that was what he chose. Together, always together they would go, and -
He forced himself to cut through his twin's thoughts, bearing through the mental onslaught as if he were a tree with deep roots in a storm. Today would not be the day they faced such an end, he decided fiercely. It would not. Hold on, he thought as Elrohir drew in a shaky breath, trying to stand tall through Sauron's onslaught. Just, hold on . . .
Focus on your own fight, Elrohir hissed at him. He tried to dampen their connection, but to no avail – he could not when his mental energies were being expended elsewhere.
I would be, if you did not distract me to begin with, Elladan tried to return, but the Orc before him was faster than he first had thought, and he narrowly avoided a slash across his abdomen. He snapped his elbow back, and connected with the second Orc's jaw, even as the creature's sword glanced across his arm. The cut was superficial, but it burned – inciting his annoyance more than anything else as he turned away from the blade.
Careful, Elrohir said without humor, and Elladan stumbled when he felt another pain pierce his abdomen – an arrow to the side, he diagnosed, gritting his teeth against the white-hot sensation.
Careful! He gave in return, what he tried to make teasing was instead a sound of worry between their minds. He could then feel where Elrohir was being forcibly turned away from the battle – Glorfindel, Elladan thought, thankful. The feeling of shadow was growing, growing – but it was growing as if chased . . . The Three rings, he understood then. They would be able to triumph over the shadow of Sauron's spirit as long as the One Ring was far from his grasp, and their goal was almost realized as Sauron rose even higher, blocking out the sun above with the great span of his shadow.
Hold on, he thought once more. Just hold on . . . your fight is almost done.
And yet, even as he helped his brother through his pain – forcing him to keep consciousness as he was turned away from the battle – his own battle became perilous indeed. His distraction had cost him, and the pair of Orc had pushed him back to the edge of the ravine, where there was nothing but a sudden drop waiting behind him and Gundabad steel poised before him. He needed to focus, to concentrate, and yet, it was hard to do so when he could not tell one battle from the other.
The first Orc was laughing - laughing, the thought burned. They were not moving quickly to finish him, he realized, seeing where their blows were teasing as they toyed with him – not understanding the cause for his pain and distraction, but taking advantage of it anyway.
That was, until -
He heard a whooshing noise whistle through the air, and then the first Orc fell, an arrow protruding from the back of his skull. The Orc's eyes widened almost comically in surprise, while his mouth gaped – but then his body toppled, his life gone as quickly as they blow had been set.
“Elladan!” Estel called from the tree. He turned just as the remaining Orc did to see where the human child had balanced precariously in the branches to brace himself for a clean shot with his bow.
Elladan felt both gratitude and fear fill him as he realized that Estel had given his position away. He hunched over even as Elrohir did, unable to breathe as he felt another body slam into his own upon the battlefield, stealing his breath away as Glorfindel moved to face their newest foe. Their connection was too much between them, too much, but he could not find the means to dampen it. He couldn't, when he sharing his brother's pain was the very thing keeping him upright as chaos reigned around him, and -
Estel was quick to reload his bow again, but this time the Orc saw him, and batted the second arrow harmlessly away. He stalked forward – forgetting about Elladan in his anger as he moved towards the tree. The third arrow Estel fired was wildly off-mark, and his hands shook as he loaded his forth arrow.
Estel, Estel, Estel, Elladan thought wildly, struggling to get to his feet again. He had to -
Finally, he felt as a great blue weight settled upon the bond he bore with his twin. So immersed as he was then with Vilya, and entwined with both Galadriel and Gandalf as they wielded their own Rings, his father was able to cut his connection with Elrohir, even across such a distance. He did so just as Elladan blinked against the visage of a massive eye, wreathed in flame and blooming from the shadow of his spirit . . . for the Ring-bearers were not the only ones in their minds then. They were not alone, but shared as Sauron saw the boy he had long hunted, and Sauron knew . . .
The fierce rush of protectiveness he felt then was enough to break him free from his haze. No, he thought. He is ours, and you shall touch him not. Not again shall you -
“Little boy, little boy,” the Orc taunted in a sing-song voice as he drew himself up into the first branch. Estel was trying to climb higher, but he would not do so quick enough, Elladan saw as he rushed forward. “Foolish dead little boy -”
Elladan did not think, he flipped the grip of his sword in his hand and threw it as a spear with every ounce of strength he had left within him, wildly hoping -
It was a clean blow. The force with which it was thrown embedded the sword through the scaled armor the Orc wore, and found its place as it sank in deep. The Orc gave a strangled noise in surprise, and then fell from the tree, making a sickening sound as he landed. Elladan stalked forward, satisfied as he turned the body over to find him dead.
He knelt down, still out of breath in both the wake of the battle and he sharing his brother's pain. Though their bond was now muted thanks to Elrond's interference, he could still feel where Elrohir fought, and Elrohir struggled . . .
“Elladan?” Estel jumped from the lower branches to land right beside him. He ignored the corpse at his side to kneel down next to him, his bright grey eyes expressive with his worry and fear. “Elladan, are you -”
He reached over to place a hand on the boy's shoulder. “I am well,' he assured, even as the battle swelled beyond him, reaching its pinnacle . . .
He was still kneeling upon the ground when he felt the exact moment when Sauron fled. The Maia's evil spirit snapped like a cord before flying to the south-east like a storm. Birds took from the trees at the black breath upon the air, and the river splashed angrily in its cradle as the land itself recoiled from Sauron's flight.
Elladan winced, his very bones hurting with the evil presence hovering over the land, until – suddenly - it was over as quickly as it began. The land stilled, and he felt as if he could breathe once more.
“What . . .” Estel tried to catch his breath. “What was that?” he asked. His eyes were wide, and his cheeks were flushed – he having felt the rippling of Sauron's passing as they all did.
“That,” Elladan had to try twice to speak, “was proof of our success.”
“And earlier?” Estel asked, his words coming quickly with his concern. “Is Elrohir alright?”
Elladan closed his eyes, and felt for his twin once more. This time, Elrond let his presence through, and he felt a dull pain echo in his own body as he took stock of his brother's wounds. “He will live,” he finally answered, “I believe that his pride shall remained wounded more than anything else. An Orc archer got the best of him – of which I plan to tease him about for centuries.”
Estel let loose a deep breath. “Good,” he answered, nodding his head in relief. “That is very good.”
Finally, the gravity of what he had done set in. Estel blinked, and sank to sit on the ground, staring numbly at the Orc who had come so close to being his end.
“You saved me again,” Estel said in a small voice. “I -”
“And you saved me,” Elladan cut in, nodding his head at the first Orc, still further off – the boy's arrow a telling mark from the battle. “Just like your father did more than once,” he said, touching Estel's cheek fondly. He still could not quite catch his breath. “Brave and loyal to a fault, as was he.”
Estel flushed, and looked down. When he glanced back up, his pale expression had hardened into something satisfied – something that was both strong and pleased. Elladan gave a smile of his own, pride for Estel's courage and bravery filling him as a warmth greater than the cold the shadow had previously inspired, even as -
“Although, next time, when I tell you to stay in the tree -”
“I did stay in the tree,” Estel protested, his face forming a deceivingly innocent expression. “I did not leave the branches.”
“You are dealing with technicalities, young one,” he pushed the child's shoulder, rolling his eyes as he said so.
“Which worked out for the best,” Estel pointed out. “I . . . before I ignored your counsel out of pride, but here . . .” Here it was different, here it was more than pride, and he was thankful for the child's recklessness – truly he was. Someday, it would not be termed recklessness, but bravery, and he felt pride bloom inside of him for the man Aragorn would soon become.
Elladan's face softened, unable as he was to keep his cold expression. “Wise indeed,” was all he said as he struggled to his feet again.
“Now,” Elladan said, placing his full weight on his leg to find the phantom pain now gone, “We should return. The sun is setting, and there will be those in the valley looking to hear what I may tell them.”
Estel nodded, and accepted the hand he offered to help him to his feet. He dusted himself off, and smiled cheekily – spent adrenaline and boneless relief a heady mixture when felt for the first. “We need to stop having such adventures when leaving the valley,” he said as they started down the trail again. “Elsewise, Lord Elrond will never let us out the door again.”
Elladan smiled, and knocked the child's shoulder as they walked. “Already, young Estel,” he said with a solemn gravity, “You are wise beyond your years.”
As it was with all journeys and their endings, their return trip home was much more peaceful than their first time trekking over the mountains.
This time, Bilbo Baggins was able to enjoy the scenery around him – not running for his life and dodging all sorts of unsavory and dark things along the way. He could almost fool himself into thinking that he was on a rather long walking holiday, though the woods and hills he passed through were far away from the Shire indeed.
Rivendell was quieter this time, though he knew that was mainly from the absense of his companions. He had become quite used to a ruckus at the dinner table; to loud songs and jovial laughter and life. And now . . .
As always, thoughts of the fallen caused a curious sort of weight to settle in his stomach – as if he had swallowed a stone and his body could not quite figure out what to do with it. Though he had his share of differences with the late Dwarf-king, there was no denying the majesty and tragedy of Thorin Oakenshield's tale . . . While the legends would say one thing, Bilbo would remember the one he still considered a friend, and it was the loss of his friendship that he mourned more than anything else.
Rivendell was made for such reflection, Bilbo thought next. It was a warm day, late in the spring, and the waterfalls fell in crystalline shapes, their cascades flashing prismed colors as they caught on the sunlight. The land sung, soothing his thoughts as he reflected on them. The Last Homely House eased his pains and provided rest to his bones . . . bones which felt heavy within his skin now . . . very heavy indeed.
He sat on the lip of one of the fountains, quite content as he smoked his pipe and made grey rings dance upon the air. He had not realized how sensitive Elvish noses were during his first time in the valley, and it was not until Gandalf telling him so that he understood the kindness of doing so outside in the open air. It was better for the tomes he looked over too, he thought – which had been a great relief to the steward, an unsmilling fellow named Erestor, though he did not say so outright. Bilbo was simply glad for the chance to pass more time within thelibrary of Imladris. There was such a wealth of stories and their telling here, each adventure all but waiting for his eyes to live themselves anew . . .
Yes, quite healing indeed, he thought as he flipped to the next page.
While he could not see anyone else, he had been aware of a pair of eyes watching him for some time now. The knowing he felt was a bit of a sixth sense that he had picked up on the road - with so many sleepless nights passing while they were pursued by creatures black and fell. The awareness was a habit he had yet to shake.
Odd, he thought, how this step was heavy to his ears. Most of the Elves he had met were as light on their feet as hobbits were, and -
When next he looked up, he saw a little boy standing in front of him, peering down from over the top of his book. Curiously, he looked up at the child, taking in his mop of curling black hair and the odd brightness to his clear grey eyes . . . a brightness not quite unlike the light of the Elves. He spied next the curved shell of his ear, realizing that he spoke to a child of one of the Big-folk – a son of Men.
Curious indeed, he thought . . . most curious.
“You are not an Elf,” the child said simply, peering into his eyes much as Bilbo had been staring at his own.
“Neither are you,” Bilbo returned, putting the book aside so as to better see the boy as he spoke.
The child gave a half smile, looking impishly up from beneath his bangs. He too held a scroll from the library just beyond – a study on Númenor of old, Bilbo saw, the name touching something at the edge of his mind. Along with the scroll, the child had a long and handsome feather that he was using as a place marker. The feather was nearly as long as Bilbo's forearm, colored a familiar shade of golden brown . . . He puzzled over such an oddity for a moment, before – ah!
“The Wind-lords were once kind enough to give us aid against some rather unsavory folk,” Bilbo nodded towards the feather, understanding at once what he saw. Ever did he enjoy telling his tales, and watching the curiosity leap in the young eyes before him was no exception. “I remember pressing my face against their feathers and holding on for dear life – so, you see, I would remember such a thing anywhere.”
“I climbed to the nests with my brothers and Lord Elrond at the spring's beginning,” he revealed, pride filling his eyes and puffing up his small chest as he did so. “The Wind-lords welcomed me, and gave me a gift.”
“And a kingly gift it is,” Bilbo agreed. There was something almost familiar about his eyes, he could not help but think. There was something there that tickled the back of his mind . . . something that was more than first met the eye.
“I am sorry,” Bilbo said a moment later, shaking his head at his own rudeness. “I must admit that my time spent with too many dwarves to mention has made my manners quite rusty. My name is Bilbo Baggins, of Bag-End – that is, if my infernal relatives have not yet torn each other to pieces fighting for it.”
The boy smiled, amused. “My name is Estel Elrondion,” he said in return, holding out his hand. “I am pleased to meet you.”
Bilbo shook his hand, amused. “Estel . . . hope?” he translated, knowing a story when he saw one. A human boy with an Elvish epessë, and an Elf-lord's own name given instead of his father's . . . Yes, Bilbo reflected, there was quite the story here indeed.
“I am told so often,” the boy's – Estel's - eyes twinkled in a way that was all the Elves in shape.
“Well then,” Bilbo sat back, exhaling a ring of smoke as he did so. “The afternoon is drowsy, and I have found myself quite mourning the loss of my company. If you would not mind humoring a rather odd hobbit, I would like to hear your tale of the Wind-lords.”
Estel bit his lip and glanced down at his scrolls before making up his mind. He smiled, and sat beside him on the lip of the fountain, his eyes alight with his words as he gathered them to share.
“It started,” he began his tale, “when my brothers and I left the valley, right before Midsummer's Eve . . .”
Oh, serious edge-of-seatness there. But a brilliant resolution to Sauron's threat and the one Elladan and Estel confronted. But the final scene was just the capper.
@Nyota's Heart: The final scene was one of the first things I pictured when writing this - it was just one of those things that needed to happen. Perhaps, since we didn't get Aragorn in AUJ, he will maybe be included on Bilbo's return trip for a split second. That's all I am asking. As always, thank-you so much for reading!
Now, it is time to catch up on the NSWFF prompts - only, I am going to be tackling them backwards. So, first off, we have the prompt Far from home, which will feature Thorin and an unexpected kindred spirit found in Rivendell . . . (And that will end my line of Hobbit-esque tales for the moment. I promise.)
“strangers in a strange land”
For some, entering the Last Homely House was said to be akin to stepping into a song of old. There was healing to be found in the water; there was peace for the having on the air. Everywhere one turned there was good cheer and wise faces, and yet, Thorin Oakenshield had never felt more restless in a place before.
Not even the Shire, with its quaint rolling hills and rather simple folk, had put him this on edge. He would rather be folded into Bilbo Baggin's hobbit-sized hobbit-hole once more before he rested his head beneath Elrond's roof. The air in the valley made his skin itch; it made his breath quicken with a nameless disquiet. Magic, many in his company had whispered as they passed over the river into the city, from wide eyed Bilbo to wise old Balin who held stories in his bones. Even his own nephews had looked on in awe and silent wonder, and yet . . .
He had never felt further from Erebor as he did standing beneath the eaves of Rivendell, and that was the honest truth of the matter.
He had spent too long in the sun for such thoughts to be plaguing him, he thought ruefully. Too long had he dwelt upon the ground, rather than beneath it, far from the stone halls of his true home. More was Erebor than the might of his people. The mountain was their very soul, born as they were from the rock and the hot breath of the Maker, and his heart ached all the more so with each season that he passed away from the Lonely Mountain.
They had already tarried in the valley for nearly two weeks. Beyond him, in the Hall of Fire, the sounds of songs and laughter could be heard as the Elves marked the summer solstice with celebration and good cheer. His own folk had joined in with the festivities; grudgingly at first, and more for the wine that was served than any true wish to socialize with their hosts, truth be told. He could hear the deep sounds of dwarven songs attempting to rise above those of the Elves as they were sung. He imagined the look on the face of the leading minstrel – Lindir, Thorin believed he was called – and felt a smile tug on the corner of his mouth, despite himself.
Beyond the main dwellings, the gardens were a grand combination of natural beauty and a careful eye for planting alongside both crafted fountain and the natural flow of water from above. While the gardens were beautiful enough – dwarf as he was, he could appreciate beauty in all things, even in things he himself cared but little for - they were merely another reminder of the strange timelessness of the land about him. Better did he appreciate root and soil than the fair things that grew from the ground, and so, he made fists of his hands as he walked, preventing himself from reaching down to pick up handfuls of the black earth. It had been too long since he molded something – anything – and now, better did his hands know the feel of a sword to a smith's hammer.
His thoughts heavy, he turned down a small path, not wanting to encounter any other on his wanderings. Here the roses grew wild and unbound from their trellises, nearly spilling across the stone path as they grew up the mountainside bordering the city. These blooms were dark, he saw, the red hardly visible in the light of the setting sun. The thorns were hardy and wild looking, the vines tangled and untrained. He blinked, and recognized these from the lands to the northwest - from the forests of Rhudaur. A strange choice, he thought then, different as they were from the more exotic blooms he had seen coaxed to grow in the beds he had passed. These roses were small and stubborn, made to grow in harsh soil, with little sun and the coldest of weather. This plant was a survivor, Thorin knew, taken deep from the forest lands.
Curious, he continued down the path, only stopping when he heard voices coming from a small alcove made by the rose covered trellises and sharply rising stone.
He peered through a gap in the foliage to see a woman with dark, honey blonde hair gathered beneath a black veil, sitting on the lip of a basin that caught the falling water from the rock above. She was speaking to none other than the lord of the valley himself – and upon seeing so, Thorin fought the urge he had to step back down the path. And yet, something had his gaze returning to the woman in black, drawn despite himself. He had heard tell that Elrond had a daughter – some ethereal beauty, the stories said - and a wife departed over the sea some time ago. And yet, this woman was neither . . . for when she moved, he could see the curved shell of a human ear, declaring her as mortal-kind.
A human woman? Thorin puzzled. Though Rivendell was a haven to all, for a daughter of Men to take Elrond's attention from his kin and their celebrating the solstice was curious indeed. They were speaking, and Thorin pressed closer, wanting to hear what they said.
The Elf-lord had piercing eyes, knowing eyes, and Thorin cared but little for holding his gaze for too long. He had avoided their host for the majority of their stay, and he would continue to do so for as long as he could. Gandalf swore that the long memories in the valley could reveal a secret now lost to his kind, and if the Wizard spoke true, he would be indebted - but no more grateful than that. Yet, while Thorin did not care for holding Elrond's stare, this human woman had no such qualms. She tilted her head up with a graceful dignity, and was somehow made all the more so by the dark shade of her garb, marking her as a shadow on the brightness of the valley around her.
Thorin listened, and he heard -
“Perhaps there will be a Midsummer's Eve in the future where you shall at last convince me to join in the revelry,” the woman's voice was soft with both firm refusal and gentle appreciation. “And yet, for now, I would rather keep my own vigil. I . . .” she exhaled and glanced down, her strong veneer cracking the slightest bit.
She bit her lip, visibly gathering herself. “One day I shall do so,” she finally said, a note of finality in her voice. “And yet, that day shall not be today.”
Elrond was silent for a moment, and where Thorin thought that he would push, he instead inclined his head. There was an understanding in his gaze, and his eyes were soft with that same kindness that unsettled Thorin more than anything else – such a thing at odds with his own deeply rooted notions, his own bruised history. “Then I will leave you to your memories,” Elrond said, his voice gentle. “But know that there are those here who would welcome sharing your burdens, once you are ready to see their load lightened.”
She looked down in answer to his words, but she did not speak – she could not find her voice, Thorin would wager, and upon feeling the thickness of the emotion upon the air, he turned from his spot, not wishing to pry any further.
Yet, as he did so, Elrond too turned to take his leave, and Thorin quickly moved out of the way - hoping that he went unseen in the shadows growing on the path. Elrond did not turn to him, and Thorin thought himself to be successful; that was, until he saw the amused glint that settled in the Elf-lord's gaze - a glint that Thorin knew well enough from the likes of Gandalf to understand in full. He let out an aggravated breath between his teeth, annoyed.
He turned to continue on down the path, and yet, he paused before passing the human woman in her alcove. That same something that inclined him to listen now slowed his step and had him looking in on the woman in black – staring until the weight of his eyes gave him away, and the woman frowned.
She did not look up. Instead, she said on a sigh, “Glorfindel, you are much more persistent than your lord if you think that you can succeed where he - ”
“I am no elf, my lady,” Thorin broke through her words, his deep voice immediately separating him from any other she may have thought him to be.
She blinked and looked up, startled, and yet, the surprise on her face softened upon seeing him. She did not stand from her seat by the fountain, instead staying where she was eye to eye with him. She did, however, incline her head, curiosity lifting the veil of sorrow from her eyes.
“Indeed you are not,” she said, smoothing her hands over the front of her skirts. She reached up to wipe discreetly at her eyes. “I apologize for my error.”
“There is no need,” Thorin replied. “You do not resemble the fair folk yourself, and I must admit myself as being puzzled. It was that which drew me from the path.”
And she was a riddle, he acknowledged to himself - for she did not have the wild look of the Dunlendings about her, nor did she resemble the simple sons of men remaining from Minhiriath and Enedwaith, who moved to join the Middle Men in Bree-land. Rather, she was more like the people from the forests - the remnants of Arnor and old Númenor itself. This he knew from learning his histories while preparing to someday rule from his grandfather's throne.
“Tell me,” he said, recognizing the noble tilt of her brow – the regal way in which she held herself, “What is a Lady of the Dúnedain doing so far from Rhudaur? Should you not be with your kin, celebrating the solstice?”
“No longer do I claim such a title amongst my people,” she replied first. She raised a brow, and yet, if she was put off by the frankness of dwarven tongues, she made no mention of it. “And while you are observant, you cannot see that I do dwell amongst my kin - for the stories have long stopped telling of such things in anything more than whispers.”
Thorin waited, but she did not elaborate. Instead, she titled her head, and introduced herself, “I am Gilraen, daughter of Dírhael. I was born of the Dúnedain, but no longer do I dwell amongst them. I am a refugee, the same as you, for Imladris took me in when I needed its protection, and I am not yet in a position to return to my people.”
He found his jaw setting. “I am Thorin, son of Thraín,” he gave his name in reply. “And yet, I seek not of such refuge,” he added, liking but little of the implications in her words. “I dwell here only for answers to questions I cannot answer alone.”
“And yet, something tells me that you shall find both peace and your answers to be one and the same. Most do,” Gilraen rolled her shoulders in an elegant shrug. “For you too are far from home, are you not, Master-dwarf?”
He narrowed his eyes at her words. She spoke them plainly, as fact rather than question. The warm grey of her eyes held a clear quality that he did not quite know how to translate.
“I am sorry to have disrupted your vigil,” he said after a moment, not wanting to respond to her words. He looked behind him on the path again.
“The gardens are free to all,” Gilraen said. Her mouth made a rueful shape. “And I do apologize for not being the best of company. I believe I have made you uncomfortable, and that was not my intention.”
A moment passed between them, with nothing but the sound of the falling water and the singing from beyond filling the onset of night.
“These roses are yours, then?” Thorin asked when the silence stretched. He felt as if he should apologize, and yet, he was unsure of what precisely he would be apologizing for. “They are from Rhuduar, are they not? I have passed through the north forests before – seeking what work and shelter I could find while traveling back to my kin in the Blue Mountains. Your people were kind, and generous when they had little to give.”
“That does sound like Aranor. He is as Arador his brother was when he led my people,” she said, fondness touching her smile like a ghost. “Yes indeed, I brought these roses to the valley. My husband used to bring me these flowers when we were courting – and long after, at that. I was married on a Midsummer's Eve twelve years ago . . . and eight years ago I was made a widow when my husband was slain. I needed something tangible with which to busy myself from my grief, and this corner of the gardens holds the fruit of my labors.”
That explained her robes of black, and the sorrow that clung to her as a cloak. Thorin swallowed and found his throat thick, for this was ever proving to be a land of widows and fatherless boys. “I am sorry for your loss,” he said, his voice deep and grave – and true, for the empathy in his bones was the same as his pulse then, drawing him breath for breath.
“I keep his memory here,” Gilraen replied in a soft voice, looking down to hold one of the dark blooms in her hands. The red was stark against the pale shade of her skin. “I have tried to join in the festivities in years before, but I do find them to be . . . too much when I am not able to match such good cheer. I detest when all is peace and tranquility, and yet, I alone am filled with such sorrow . . . it is as if my memories are a stain to the beauty around me. Sometimes, it is easier to bear that alone.”
“Perhaps I may at least empathize with your wish for peace and solitude. I have heard more of elvish songs these last two weeks than I ever cared to hear at all,” Thorin said. Amusement touched her eyes in response to his words.
“There is a healing to the songs that I appreciate,” she said, not outrightly disagreeing with him. “And yet, I do prefer hearing them at a distance some nights. My years make me as a child in the eyes of even the youngest elf, and, as such, all in the valley see it as their personal duty to see to my comfort and health in all things. Though they mean well, I do wish to remember Arathorn alone on nights like these.”
She was silent for a moment, and he let her find her words, “And you?” she glanced at him. “You must have had a reason for not passing me on by, even if that reason was not consciously known to you at the time. Who is it that you mourn, Master-dwarf? Who haunts your steps this eve?”
Thorin was drawn short, made silent by her insight. There had been a cord drawing him towards her, and that same cord had bound him even when he wished to turn away. The solstice was filled with memory for him – old memories, so far from his reach that he at times found them to be as specters amongst his own mind.
Unbidden, he remembered how the sunstones high on the summit of the mountain would capture the light on the longest day of the year and reflected it down through crystals into Thrór's halls. The light had shone with such a brilliant glory, making all seem touched by gold and its radiant splendor. He remembered sneaking through the halls with Frerin and Dís, stealing out to Dale beyond to see the human children as they celebrated the solstice with bright colors and loud songs. He remembered, and . . .
He mourned not a mate, but rather a name, a match of spirits that was as true a marriage as any other. He mourned a land, he wanted to say - a beautiful land of mountain stone and halls threaded through the deep places of the earth. He mourned for a stolen kingdom, toiling underneath the desecration of an evil creature. For years, he had longed for, rather than mourning the loss of Erebor. It was as if his mourning would make his loss real . . . as if such grief would make it permanent, and so, he had concentrated only on its return, and let his thoughts of vengeance sustain him.
. . . Erebor was not yet lost to him, not so long as he had a breath within him to see it returned and restored to its glory of old.
And so. “Home . . . I mourn my home this eve,” he finally answered, unable to find the words to say more than that. For, truly, what words were there to explain the gap in his spirit that was Erebor lost and Erebor stolen? No . . . there were no words.
“Ah,” Gilraen said on an exhale. Her eyes were alight with understanding, and he knew that she would not make him say more than that.
Beyond them, the revelry had quieted, and one lone voice started to sing once the last of the sun's rays touched the mountains beyond, declaring the onset of night. The voice was low and mournful, and yet, there was a power to the song - giving hope and thanksgiving for the light, even as it died and the older glory of the stars came out to reign for the night.
Thorin exhaled, and Gilraen started to softly sing along, still holding the rose in her small hands. A long moment passed, and finally, he went to sit on the opposite side of the basin from her. Rather than listening to the elven singer beyond, he instead listened to the cadence of the water as it fell. He concentrated on the heartbeat of the earth beneath his feet, on the music of the stones as they thanked the sky above for the warmth of the day. He listened, not to the minstrel, but rather to the human woman's unpolished voice as she sang, her words full with both her mourning and her hope for the light to come.
And . . . for the first since reaching the valley, he did not feel quite so far from home.
Superb sharing of consoling and empathy. Your insights into Thorin should thrill
@laurethiel1138 Gilraen had her soul-bond for so brief a time.
@Nyota's Heart - Thank-you very much. Thorin is a beautiful character to delve into, even for all of his prickly edges, and Gilraen is just endearing herself to me more and more. Her and Arathorn's time together was too short, it's true. As always, thank-you so much for reading!
For this update, I wanted to catch up on the NSWFF prompts before a new one was released tomorrow, so I am posting two vignettes here at once. The first is set in Valinor with Finarfin and Fingolfin, during the Years of the Trees, in response to the 'We meet again' prompt. (Which I started out writing for, and then ended up leagues away from in the end. But hey - that's inspiration for you. ) The second ficlet is Beren/Lúthien, written for the prompt 'Sunrise, Sunset', which I did a better job sticking to, even if in a metaphorical sense.
Now, that said . . .
"thrown before fists"
At first, his plan had seemed to be a sensible one.
Of course, the rain from the day before had turned the path through the grove behind the palace to mud, and the brambles from underbrush snared at his tunic as if trying to keep him in the hade of the trees. He was sodden, and the tan skin of his boots was now caked the color of mud, and yet, it had been worth it. He had felt only relief, even as he wiped his damp hair from his face. The first days of summer were thick and humid with the spring rains still lingering on the air, and the sky above seemingly pressed down on to smother the ground below.
Unfortunately, his trials were for nothing, for when he came out on the other side of the path - slipping back into the gate closest to his father's halls like a thief rather than a prince - they were waiting for him.
Arafinwë sighed, resigned, and briefly thought himself as cursed.
“We meet again,” still, he forced his voice to come out clear and level. He tilted his head up, refusing to look down. The gold atop his head was very bright, he knew, even underneath the grey of the overcast sky.
By the time he slipped away from them, his lip was swollen and bruised, and his books were hopelessly muddled from where they had spilled from his pack. At least, he reflected as he gathered his things together, the blood on his mouth had ended the insults rather early. The older boys had all fled, whispers of the king's son falling from hushed mouths as they all fled their separate ways. Such a reaction was queer, Arafinwë thought, for the cut on his lip only stung, and he would take that brief discomfort over the continued blows of their words a hundred times over.
Yet, he was young. Perhaps it was something he would understand better with time.
He had not made it but steps towards his rooms before one of his mother's ladies noticed him, and then there was a flurry of movement and questions and seeking hands all around him. He was washed and then put into clean clothing, sitting silent and still as his mother shooed her ladies away to dab a minty smelling salve on his lip herself. He forced himself to remain still at the cold sensation, instinctively wanting to draw away.
When asked what happened, he looked down and said that he fell and hit the rim of the fountain. The stone ways were still slick from the rain, and it was a plausible explanation. It was the truth, as well, minus the part about him slipping. Yet, he kept that thought to himself, not wanting to worry his mother any further. She always had a way of knowing when his words were less than their whole, and so, he kept his words as close to the truth as he could.
Not close enough, it would seem, for a moment later Indis sighed and tilted his chin up, forcing him to meet her gaze. Her eyes were very blue, he thought, like the gems Fëanáro liked to dabble with. His own eyes were more like hers than his father's - unlike the rest of his siblings, who were clearly Finwë's children from the identical shade of their black hair to the clear grey of their eyes.
And then, there was him, who was small and slight like Indis. His skin was pale, more pink than the olive undertones his father and siblings bore. His features were Vanya-delicate, with not one of the stronger features of his Noldo father to be seen. His hair was as Laurelin's light when she was at her full brilliance, bright and gold and not the slightest bit Noldor at all.
Perhaps he thought his last thought too loudly, for Indis looked away from him a moment later. Her jaw was tight, even though her face was carefully serene – the look she wore when she was upon her throne, Arafinwë recognized.
But next she blinked, and she then looked like his mother again. “My son,” was all that she said, kissing the top of his head as she did so. Her quiet voice sounded like an apology.
Her arms were warm, and she smelled like sunrise and spring. Though he was much too old for such things, Arafinwë let himself be held for a moment longer, the embrace soothing away the events of the day. Indis let him go a heartbeat later, and he turned to leave after promising to be more careful in the future. He looked over his shoulder before passing through the door into the hall beyond, and saw that her face was sad when she thought he could not see.
Later, he was carefully smoothing out the pages on his abused books, each tomes about seashells and their classifications, borrowed from the library a few days before. He had so many questions that he wanted answered before they visited Alqualondë later in the summer, and yet, he did not want the library's keeper to think him careless with what he borrowed. So, he strove to return the books to how they were before his encounter with Atsion. He was working, slowly and surely, when a shadow fell over him, long in shape.
He did not look up. “Nolofinwë,” he greeted his brother, having felt him as he came near – his presence ever like the ocean on a calm day, lapping against his senses as if he were a seashore. This too was his mother's gift to him, and one that he valued.
Arafinwë felt a warm hand tilt his chin up, drawing him away from his books. Ever were the points of brother's fingers like brands, for Nolofinwë was the most like their father where he was the most like their mother – and Finwe was ever a fire, warm and consuming. Nolofinwë was nearly three decades older than him, he having reached his majority just the year before. He was as tall and broad as their father, and yet, Arafinwë did not feel small next to him - even though Findis often teased him with saying that he was nearly a foot shorter than his siblings were at his age.
Dutifully, he let his brother examine his split lip, and where there had been sadness on Indis' face, something hard settled on Nolofinwë's brow in response to what he saw. His ocean-soul picked up a ripple, as waves rumbling in warning of a storm.
“You slipped and hit the fountain?” Nolofinwë said, his voice warm and deep. Arafinwë could hear the question there, even though he spoke with no inflection in his tone.
“Yes,” he answered, looking back down at his book again. The page on mollusks had suffered when Atsion had kicked it, and Arafinwë did not know if he would be able to coax the wrinkles away.
He did not need to look up to see that Nolofinwë raised a brow, dubious. He could feel it.
“I may have been pushed,” he muttered a moment later, not looking up from the page. One wrinkle fled before his careful fingers, but there was a larger one down the middle that was beyond hope. Mud muddled the words and distorted the carefully penned pictures. He was not sure how to mend that.
The feeling of storm and waves picked up. Arafinwë could feel the undertow churning beneath them.
“You should have told Amil,” Nolofinwë said a moment later. “She already knows, and yet, it is better to hear it from you rather than glimpse such a thing in your thoughts.”
Arafinwë set his mouth. He moved on to the next page, the mollusks past his ability to save. He pressed his first finger against the wrinkle that greeted him until the skin at his fingertip turned white and bloodless.
“If I did so, I would have to tell her why I was pushed,” Arafinwë said softly. “I would not do so.”
The whispers were not new to him. He could hear them whenever he was near any crowd of people, especially in his father's court. Though they were rarely spoken where he could overhear, he could still feel them, the same as he could sense the ocean of his brother's soul. He could read the stares, he could hear the hearts of those who looked at his mother and called her the false-queen. Her son, the whispers would turn next to him - who looked so much like Indis and so little like Finwë. Born of the Vanya-whore . . . Not-real . . . Not-right . . . Filthy . . . an insult to her memory . . . the words went on and on.
. . . and he would not repeat such things to his mother - his mother, who could feel the thoughts of others as he did.
He tapped his fingers against the wrinkled page, frustrated.
A moment passed before Nolofinwë said, “You can fight back,” in a gentle voice.
Arafinwë shrugged. “I ignore them. My doing so frustrates them; it makes them angry. They want me to fight back, and so, I do not.” Typical Vanyar, they always said in reply. Weak and unable to fight – but able to steal. Do you know that you do not belong, little Vanya? Ever did they mock and sing, and their words always became worse when he said nothing in reply. And if he dared to smile, as if pitying their small and simple views, if he dared to say that he was proud of his Vanya blood, his Vanya hair and Vanya eyes, if being Noldor meant to act as they did . . .
Well, that was when Atsion finally pushed him.
“Then you will have many more bleeding lips in the future, I foresee,” Nolofinwë said dryly. “Come.” He took the book from him, and though Arafinwë did not want to, he let his brother draw him to his feet.
“Now,” Nolofinwë said. “You stand like this.” He stood with his feet even with his shoulders and his knees slightly bent, easy and balanced within his tall frame. He looked more and more like their father with every passing season, Arafinwë thought, and felt a pang that he himself did not.
Arafinwë copied him, making a fist – holding one to his chin to protect his face, and then another out, as his brother did.
“Not like that,” Nolofinwë said. “You will break your thumb before harming anything on your opponent,” he fixed the position of his fingers.
“But I do not want to break anything on my opponent,” Arafinwë said, fighting down the numb, queasy sensation that he had at the thought of fighting anyone.
“And hopefully, you shall not have to,” Nolofinwë said, his voice low and comforting. “When they see that you are prepared to defend yourself, that alone shall help deter bullies. More often than not, they are cowards at heart, and do not wish for an equal confrontation - they wish only to pick on those weaker than they. Use your words first, as I know you would prefer. But if ever things go too far, I want you to know how to defend yourself.”
He let out a breath, but let his brother shape him. He did not like how his closed fist felt; he did not like the coiled energy that met him when he jabbed experimentally with nothing but the air to absorb the force of his blow. It did not feel . . . right, and he could not tell if that was the Vanya in him, or just he . . . himself.
It was hard to tell which was what, at times, he thought next. He did not feel akin to his father's people, and yet, neither did he identify with his mother's people. It was because he was both, he was something more, Indis always said when he tried to explain his feelings, and while that made sense, it still provided him with no definite answers. He still felt as a visitor in his own skin, not quite fitting. That too, was something that would pass with time, or so he was told.
“There,” Nolofinwë finally said when he was satisfied. “More often than not, if you stand up to a bully once, that shall deter others in the future.”
Perhaps, Arafinwë thought, even if he did not quite believe. And yet . . .
“You speak as if from experience,” he said, curious as to that which he did not know.
“I do,” Nolofinwë said, a small smile tugging on the corner of his mouth. “You may look the most like Amil, but that did not mean that we did not go through the same thing when we were younger. Findis had this same conversation with me when I was your age, and I benefited from it.”
Arafinwë nodded, understanding. “Yes, I would not want to fight Findis either,” he said in a grave voice. Where his brother was as an ocean, their oldest sister was like lightning in the sky. She always danced across his senses like static, to the point where there were times when her presence almost tickled. It took much to move her from her calm, but in anger she was truly frightening.
“Neither would I,” Nolofinwë agreed, amusement lining his voice. “That's what they learned the hard way.”
That, he could imagine as truth. And yet . . . Findis had to go through this . . . Nolofinwë had to go through this. He could not imagine anyone being cruel to Lalwen, for Lalwen was gentle and loved by all – she like the Mingling Hour of the Trees' to his senses. And yet, if Lalwen too had to endure this, and came out the better for it . . .
Then, Arafinwë decided, he could too.
A moment passed, and his brother must have seen his thoughts pass over his face. He sat back down when Nolofinwë did as well, suddenly tired from the events of the day. He felt stretched in two different directions, a part of him never wanting to leave the walls of their home again, while the other part of him wished to go beyond the boundaries of Tirion and never stop. He let his thoughts tug on him until he felt dizzy from the effort it took to make sense of them.
“You know,” Nolofinwë said, finally breaking the silence. “Sometimes, I wish that I looked more like you.”
He looked up, surprised. “Truly?” he asked, not able to believe him.
“Truly,” Nolofinwë confirmed, reaching over to tug on one of his braids. “If I did, then I would not look so much like him.” His voice was tight over the last word, and he swallowed afterward, as if trying to clear a stone from his throat. “Sometimes, I wished I looked more like me – myself - and not like . . .”
Him. Arafinwë did not know if he meant their father, or Fëanáro himself – for all three looked alike to the point that was uncanny. Even still, there were times that Arafinwë wished that he too looked as they did – especially when Atsion and his flunkies stopped him. Perhaps, if he looked more Noldo, then he would feel more Noldo. If he looked more like Finwë, perhaps more would see that he too was Finwë's son, just as much as his firstborn was.
“Is Indis really our mother?” he asked then, trying to voice something that had long sat ill at ease with him.
Nolofinwë blinked, clearly surprised. “I think that she would know if she wasn't,” he answered wryly, but that was not what he meant.
“No,” Arafinwë shook his head. “I mean, is she really married to father? People say that their marriage isn't real, and yet, if she is not real . . . then is she really our mother? Are any of us real?”
Nolofinwë was silent for a long moment. Arafinwë could feel the same sadness in him that he earlier felt from their mother. “The Valar themselves decreed our parent's marriage acceptable by the Laws of our people,” he answered carefully. “We are Finwë's trueborn sons, as much as Fëanáro is.”
The Valar said that he was real. It should have silenced all of his doubts. It should have meant more than it did – and in that, Arafinwë reflected, he was not very Vanya-like at all. He looked down, feeling his stomach twist in an awful way.
Nolofinwë put his arm around his shoulder, leaning very close to him – as if preparing to share a secret. “Do you love Amil?” he asked.
What a silly question. “Of course I do,” he answered without a thought.
“Do you love Atar?” Nolofinwë continued to ask. “Findis? Lalwen? Fëanáro, even?”
“Yes,” he answered after a heartbeat. He spoke truly, for he even loved Fëanáro, who felt like flames - nothing but the fire and its heat - to his senses.
“If the love you feel is real, how can you not be real?” Nolofinwë asked him, watching and seeing where he was unable to dispute such logic. “Now, stop thinking such foolish thoughts, for they will do you ill if pondered for too long. You are Vanya as much as you are Noldo. You are born of two great peoples, and loved by those you love – you should be proud of that.”
“I am proud,” he was quick to assure his brother. And . . . he was. Truly he was. Even when Atsion and the others said their cruel words and tried to push their thoughts of his worth in against him, he was still proud. They could repeat the words of their fathers to their heart's content, but it would not matter.
He let out a deep breath, ready to face them again upon the morrow, if need be.
“Now,” Nolofinwë pushed him to his feet again. “Show me your fist. I want to see what you remembered.”
So, Arafinwë stood, and held his ground.
"each sunrise, every sunset"
It struck her then, just how painfully mortal her husband was . . . how mortal she was.
No matter what gift they had been given, all gifts could be taken away. This land was unkind to those toiling upon its surface, and where she was once songs and spells – power and ruin and divinity all at once – she was now only human. Her veins carried only blood, and her heart beat with nothing but the few years she had remaining to her. Her weapons were now the bow upon her back and the dagger at her side. Once, she had learned to use both in order to participate in the games Doriath held during the summer months, but her skills had only ever been used in sport, with nothing but camaraderie and competition in mind.
And yet, now . . .
Lúthien could only protect those she cared for with what her own two hands could muster, and Beren, as ever, did the same.
Their green isle was far from the shadow reigning in the north, and yet, no part of the land was untouched by Morgoth and his taint. They would not journey through Fëanorian held lands to return to Doriath – where her son had spent the winter, for she would not deprive Dior of his heritage, no matter that her own relationship with her parents had yet to fully recover – and so, they instead traveled the little known pathways through the Taur-im-Duinath, venturing to the river Sirion beyond. The paths through the forest were strange and dark, and yet, she would rather contend with the twisting shapes in the wood rather than deal with Fëanor's sons in Amon Ereb – their second and only other choice of travel without going leagues out of their way - and through more dangerous lands than that.
They traveled north up the river, and made it as far as the hills of Andram before encountering the small party of Orc-scouts – looking for a way into Doriath through her mother's spells, or looking to assess the Fëanorians' numbers just to the east of the hills, she was not sure. Yet, it did not matter as she and her husband took to arms, silencing any mouth that would have told them otherwise.
Her new body was slower and more cumbersome than her elven form, but it was still strong and supple enough for her to see their foes vanquished. Arrows rang out rather than words of power, and steel sang in place of spells of protection. It was a dance she was slowly learning, but learning well.
She fought best by Beren's side, her body instinctively knowing the twist and turn of his, even in the heat of battle. Where his sword struck, her arrows flashed, picking off the targets threatening him while he watched her back at close range. It was all a perfect, synchronized dance until an Orc-arrow glittered black in the approaching twilight, and -
Lúthien did not recognize the sound that came from her throat then. It was an ugly, desperate thing as she tried to warn Beren and turn on the archer who had slipped past their defenses all at once. The Orc fell, and yet, she only fired all the more quickly after that – two arrows she released, and then three and four and ten until there was no longer a threat remaining . . . only death and stillness and Beren with a black arrow embedded in the flesh where his chest met his shoulder.
The wound was not fatal. He had heard her and turned in time to take the blow just above his heart. “I am fine,” he tried to assure her. Yet, his face was white; his eyes were bleary from pain.
“You have never lied well,” she tried to twist her mouth into a grim smile as she said so, but she could not force her body to listen to her commands.
Her fingers trembled as she broke the shaft and then carefully removed the arrow from his arm. She observed the wound, and saw with relief that the arrowhead was not poisoned. The wound would pain him, but it would heal. Quickly, she cleaned the wound in the river and dressed it with nimble fingers. Later, when they stopped for the night, she would have to see to it better than that, but for now there were dead Orcs in the clearing, and there was no telling how many more were following.
They were able to make it to the Falls of Sirion before night fell completely. Here the river dipped in massive and breathtaking shapes, its waters rushing and wild from its birthplace in the marshlands just beyond. They climbed up as far as they could while the light was still with them before settling in a defensible position for the night. She formed their small camp as quickly as she could before turning to her husband again. Beren was clearly tired from the events of the day, and yet, while he held his face in a grimace, no longer did he look to be in overwhelming pain.
When at last she drew away the temporary bandages from earlier, the arrow wound was angry and red – but the blood was clotting, and it did not look to be infected. Grateful for small mercies, she treated the wound and rewrapped it once more, frustrated that she had to resort to such rustic measures to take care of him. Once, she would have been able to mend the flesh merely a song. She would have been able to see him made new, and yet, now . . .
If he had not turned . . . if she had not warned him in time . . . if the archer had aimed the slightest bit lower . . . she could have lost him.
Thoughts of what-if were unwise in every sense, and yet, she could not keep her mind from being swallowed by them. Her thoughts turned as the water over the cliffs beyond, and she could not move her spirit to calm.
“That should hold until we reach the Girdle,” she said. Her voice was too quick from her mouth, giving her agitation away. “My mother should be able to heal you completely once we reach Menegroth.”
With but a word, Melian would set him to rights, while she could only watch . . . watch and hope that the Valar would continue to be kind, allowing them to live their few years together in peace. And yet, Ennor was not a kind land, and it was even crueler still to those of mortal years - who toiled with even more than the failings of their bodies during the breath of time they had allowed to them. It was hard to trust in fate and its offerings as she once had, and now, she could do nothing more than inhale and try to get her pulse to slow.
She soothed her fingers down over the bandage, feeling the heat from the ruined flesh beneath. The cloth was very white against the dusky shade of his skin. When Beren reached out to wrap his hand about her wrist, she looked and saw that his eyes were dark; a shade of steel in the night.
“I have survived worse,” he said, his voice shaped to steady her. His thumb traced over the fragile lines of bones underneath her skin. His fingertips were callused and thick, just as hers were starting to be. “I have already moved heaven and earth for you. It will take more than an exceptionally lucky Orc to take me from you once more.”
His bravado was a show, trying to draw her own peace once more. Lúthien tried to let his reassurance touch her and sink in deep, and yet, she could not . . .
She folded her opposite hand over his, feeling as the cold she had felt during the battle warmed again underneath his touch.
“You will see,” Beren continued, drawing her down to lie on the grass next to him. The spring ground was still cool, but it was a soothing bed next to the heat of the fire . . . the warmth of her husband. “Someday, we shall die old and grey together. There will be naught but moments between out last breaths; for you shall go and I will follow, and we will then see what the One has in store for us together.”
She laid her head against his chest, listening to the soothing rise and fall of his lungs; the steady pulse of his heart, ever beating and alive. Alive. The sound did not lie.
“Is that foresight I hear?” she whispered. Her own heart was calming to match his own. She breathed, and breathed with him.
“Not in the way you would know,” Beren allowed with a smile. He ran his hand up and down her arm, holding her securely against him. “Perhaps, I should better call it a hope . . . a wish, even.”
She took in a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, taking his words and trying to make them her own. Hope . . . wishes . . . Each was insubstantial as mist, and yet, they were all that was to be had. All she knew was that she would do her best to see those wishes through to their fullest. She would not give him up . . . not so easily.
Her fingertips were dead of her mother's might and magic, but they were still warm as she leaned over to tenderly clasp his face between her hands, sealing her vow with a kiss. When she closed her eyes, she found them burning and wet, and yet, she did not hide her tears as the kiss became heated between them. Their embrace turned possessive and claiming, almost desperate with the relief that flowed through them both. Careful of his injured arm, she moved to rest atop him, his hand on her back pressing her even closer to him. It was not close enough, she could not help but think, and where she could no longer reach out and touch his spirit with her own she instead burrowed against him – as if attempting to crawl beneath his skin and join him in the flesh, never to be parted again.
She traced every familiar part of him, moving from the stubble on his chin that had so fascinated her at the first to the curved shell of his mortal ear. Each strong slope of muscle and powerful line of limb was hers to remap now, her fingers paying special attention to the missing stump of his hand, telling all where he had given up so much for her – for these years of mortality they had left to live between them.
He was still here, his touch said - ever warm and consuming as he filled her senses with a now familiar heat. She could feel his blood thunder when she moved her mouth down his neck to taste his pulse – hot and aware and alive. Alive, as he would be for many more years to come.
And so, Lúthien brushed her thoughts away, and let herself live.
Arafinwe - brave and stalwart, beautiful in his blended heritage, like another I could name LOL His brother gave wise and practical counsels.
But this one ... SQUGGGGGLES! I would quote the entire gorgeous thing if I could The music you listen to when writing L/B must be magnificent indeed. !!
@Nyota's Heart: You are too sweet! I was listening to the Village soundtrack, of all things, while writing that ficlet. That score is one of my favourite instrumental pieces ever, and has aided me in writing many a favourite piece. As always, thank-you so much for reading!
Author's Notes: While I am working on the Mother prompt, I figured that I would post the next 50 sentences prompt, which I have been chipping away at for a while. This piece is my first time dipping into the Fall of Númenor in my writing - which is kind of big for me. I have never really tackled this part of the Silmarillion, mainly because of the darkness of the subject mater. But, for this prompt - Faith, I chose to explore one of the more hopeful parts of the Fall of Númenor – namely, young Isildur and his saving of Nimloth the White Tree. As a result, I present to you a look at faith through three different eyes.
But first, some backstory:
Nimloth the White Tree: Early in time, Yavanna took a seed from Telperion, one of the Two Trees', and created the tree Galathilion for the Elves of Tirion. From the seeds of Galathilion came the tree Celeborn for the Elves of Tol Eressëa. Later, the Elves of Tol Eressëa brought seeds from Celeborn as a gift to Elros – who then planted and named Nimloth. Centuries later, Sauron convinced Ar-Pharazôn to burn Nimloth for kindling in the Great Temple to Melkor. Isildur, then a very young man, disguised himself and stole a fruit from Nimloth. Later he carried the sapling from those seeds all the way to Middle-earth, where the first White Tree of Gondor was planted and grown. It was prophesied that the fate of the White Tree would grow and fall with the rise and fall with the Kings of Elros' line, and it turned out to be true.
Tar-Calion/Ar-Pharazôn: The last King of Númenor, originally named Calion (son of light) in the elvish tongue before he turned his name to Pharazôn (golden-king) and outlawed the speaking of anything but Adûnaic. He was a cousin to Queen Míriel, but changed the old laws to allow himself to marry her and upsurp her rule. He was a great warrior and commander, but he was greedy and power-hungry. He marched on Mordor to defeat Sauron, but was surprised when Sauron 'surrendered' without a fight. He took Sauron back to Númenor as a prisoner, but Sauron, over time, wormed his way into his good graces, and whispered that if he wanted immortality, he would have to worship Melkor as the lord of all things. Pharazôn did everything that Sauron said, persecuting the Faithful and even offering human sacrifices to Melkor, until he committed the ultimate folly by taking an army to try and storm the shores of Valinor. As soon as they breached the shore, he and his soldiers were trapped underneath a landslide in the Caves of the Forgotten. There they remain until this day, 'immortal', waiting to play some unknown role in the Dagor Dagorath – the end of the world.
Tar-Míriel/Ar-Zimraphel: The daughter of Númenor's last good king, Tar-Palantir. Her father tried to turn Númenor back to the light, and toiled to recultivate Nimloth, who had been neglected for generations. He taught his daughter the ways of the Faithful, but she could do little good at Pharazôn's side. Pharazôn took away her elvish name Míriel, and gave her the name Zimraphel to use instead.
Silmariën: She was the oldest child of the fourth King of Númenor, Tar-Elendil. In those days, the laws were archaic, and did not yet allow women to solely rule, so the Scepter passed to her younger brother, Tar-Meneldur. Tar-Elendil favored her, even still, and gave her the heirlooms of Elros where he could not give her his crown – such as the ring of Barahir, and the sword Narsil. The lords of Andúnië (the western region of Númenor) were born through her line, all the way down to Aragorn, many centuries later.
Amandil: The leader of the Faithful (those loyal to the Valar, and friends with the Elves) and Lord of Andúnië until he lost favor with Ar-Pharazôn and was then sent to the eastern port-city of Rómenna in punishment for his 'heretic ways'. Pharazôn could not kill him outright, because Amandil was a great commander and revered hero of the people. Amandil was friends with Pharazôn in their childhood, but he opposed the King when he turned to his evil ways. He would later sail West to entreat the aid of the Valar, but was never heard of again after that. Tolkien never revealed his fate for good or ill.
Elendil: Son of Amandil, who would later lead the Faithful from Númenor to Middle-earth, right before its destruction (Eru Ilúvatar himself would step in over the Valar, and sink Númenor beneath the sea in true Atlantis fashion). He then went on to found the realms Arnor and Gondor in exile.
Isildur: Son of Elendil, future King of Gondor. (And it just breaks my heart that he is remembered more for his failure with the Ring of Power, rather than his heroics here. )
Anárion: The youngest son of Elendil, and future co-King of Gondor with Isildur.
Ûrien: Isildur's wife was never named, so I gave her a name meaning 'sun-maid' in Adûnaic, as a foil to Isildur's name, which means 'devoted to the moon.' (Perhaps foreshadowing his bond with Nimloth, who was born of the Moon-tree, Telperion? It is something to think on.)
Zigûr: Sauron's title, meaning 'Sorcerer' in Adûnaic.
Âru: 'King' in Adûnaic.
Indilzar: Another name for Elros in Adûnaic that Tolkien later discarded. I am using it as a title here.
Now! Here we go.
“let the water wash our souls clean”
The first time Isildur was old enough to understand his grandfather's telling of Nimloth the White Tree, he thought to understand how his forefather Elros felt when Maglor Fëanorian sang of the wonder of the Two Trees. It was a wonder that was almost spiritual in shape; it was a heartfelt bond with the light that both sheltered his people and symbolized their devotion to the powers in the West. Nimloth was ever a symbol of peace and prosperity, and now, as the skies over Númenor darkened and their days lengthened with Shadow . . . the White Trees' days were numbered, and all in Amandil's household sat in shock upon receiving the news. All around him were faces unable – or, unwilling – to accept such news as the truth.
Amandil had been weary at the end of his speaking, hunched over and still in his seat by the fire. Isildur sat numbly besides his brother, watching as their father put a hand on their grandfather's shoulder, offering a hollow consolation in the face of such an unthinkable horror. As remnants of the Faithful, they all bore the same burdens Amandil bore, and yet, Ar-Pharazôn's slight against the Valar was more to Amandil – it was personal, a gross insult to the once great friendship that existed between them in their youth. Over time, Amandil had ceased to whisper but Calion would not do such a thing, instead he simply sat with a crease to his brow and a frown to his mouth, quiet as Ar-Pharazôn's rule turned even more savage still.
More and more so, Elendil took on his father's duties while Amandil made plans of his own – whispering that he would sail West to entreat the Valar to intervene on behalf of those pure of heart who still remained on Númenor's soil. As their forefather Eärendil had before them, he would brave the ban in place to those of mortal days, and plead for the deliverance of his people. Though Elendil advised against it – entreating rather that they sail back to Middle-earth, and leave Númenor to its doom - Amandil insisted that he had to still try. Númenor had been given as a blessing to Mankind, and he would not give such a gift up to the sea – not until he had done everything in his power to save the land he so loved from the night Pharazôn pulled down around it.
And yet . . . what could they do now? Nimloth was set to burn, and the King was drunk on the idea of immortality – making him vulnerable to the golden voice behind his throne, speaking all the more loudly into his ear with each passing season.
“We can do nothing yet, father,” Elendil whispered, trying to sooth Amandil's guilt over their inability to save the White Tree. “For all of our sakes, do not blame yourself. Calion's mind is not the mind you once knew.”
His father always spoke with a gentle weight and quiet wisdom. Normally, it was a weight and wisdom that Isildur agreed with and obeyed absolutely, as befit an eldest son. Often it was whispered that his father more closely resembled Elros than even the earliest Kings of Númenor. When the Kings from Tar-Atanamir's rule on started to vocalize their desperate yearning for immortality, the ruling family began disposing of the likenesses of Elros in the King's City. Paintings, tapestries, statues - all disappeared over the years as his descendants cursed him for dooming them to a mortal's span of days. And yet, here in Rómenna, where the land was still fair and the Faithful relatively sheltered, there was one bronze bust Isildur remembered seeing in his grandfather's library . . . He remembered being a child, asking why the artist who crafted the sculpture erred in crafting his father's mouth and line of brow - for the rest was quite accurate, and such skill should have demanded that every detail was perfect. Elendil had laughed before explaining that the bust was not he, but rather their first king – though he was flattered by the compliment. Now Isildur held that likeness only in his memory - for even that statue had been smashed with Sauron's rise to power. Such a thing was too dangerous to keep, lest they give Pharazôn any reason to think them anything but faithful to his crown and reign.
And Isildur was tired of whispering in the shadows. He was tired of dreading, of wearing black during the day and bearing the Eye embroidered upon his chest in the light; while, at night, he would bow to the West and whisper his prayers as he had been taught to long ago. He was tired of secrets and shadows, and, most of all, he was tired of seeing hope die in the eyes of the people his grandfather led. Always it was a little at a time, and yet, it was all the more so with each passing day . . .
With these thoughts in mind, he did not say a word after leaving the house that night. He simply saddled his horse, and rode hard for the King's City of Armenelos, a plan – foolish and desperate – forming within the depths of his mind.
He rode fast and ceaselessly across the King's Road, only pausing to sleep for an hour or so that first night and exchange his horse with a fresh mount to carry him the rest of the way. He arrived early the next day, just in time to see the festivities for the burning of the Tree pick up full steam, the people of Armenelos out and rejoicing for the sacrifices that would baptize the new Great Temple to Melkor in a holy fire.
The streets were full to bursting, and banners with the Eye of Sauron waved from every roof and window. Darting like fish through corral where children in black with red streamers in their hands, laughing at what was past their ability to understand. Abâr Mulkhêr! Abâr Mulkhêr! the crowd undulated as something living, cheering with high voices, shaped to worship. Praise Melkor, Lord of Arda and Deliverer of our Souls, the crowd cried, and Isildur felt his ears burn, sickened by what he heard. It was not yet noon, and yet, already the wine flowed and men stumbled drunk in their strides. Women of the night peddled their services in the full light of day, and Isildur pushed one woman with a dark veil of red silk away from him, the golden coins decorating her skirt dancing musically with her every step.
Performers twirled to the sound of the harp, flute, and drum, while jesters drew laughter from the masses by dressing up as each of the Valar and comically falling over each other to please the crowd. Isildur looked to where a jester in blue, with white face paint and Manwë's mark upon his brow, tripped and 'bowed' to another wearing the black and flames of a Priest of Melkor. He felt his heart twist in his chest as the crowd laughed, some even going as far to dump their goblets of wine on the prone clown as they passed by.
Isildur waited for night to fall before donning the 'borrowed' costume of one of the King's Guard and making his way through the palace walls. When he and Anárion were young, they had spent much time in Armenelos with their father and grandfather, and they had learned well the secret passages threading through the palace walls. He now walked those same hidden ways with baited breath, waiting when he heard noises, and creeping on when all was silence around him. Most of the palace's residents were celebrating in the streets beyond, and his way was mostly clear as he came out of the passage behind a tapestry. He was in an empty corridor, one which lead to the courtyard surrounding Nimloth herself.
When Elros had first overseen the building of Armenelos, those thousands of years ago, the palace was wholly designed around the White Tree. Beyond him, the open courtyard was surrounded by tall, elegant pillars of white and pink marble, threaded through with veins of gold. There were guards ringing the Tree, posted to detour any of the Faithful who thought to be foolish with their heroics – quite like himself, Isildur thought wryly. The days were late in autumn, and the winter was nigh upon them. It had rained earlier in the day, and beads of ice crystallized on Nimloth's nearly barren branches. Even in her waning days, after years of neglect and abuse, she still stood with her boughs held high and proud – as regal as a queen with her grace and steadfast endurance. She all but glowed in the light of the crescent moon above – for Ithil was kindred to her, the Moon having been born of the great Tree Telperion the same as she. Nimloth took strength from the moonlight, Isildur could not help but think. He prayed then, hoping to make her strength his own.
He looked, and was nearly disheartened to see nothing growing upon her naked boughs, until he saw - there . . . It was small and withering, but there was a fruit waiting to be plucked on her lowest branches.
Isildur felt relief fill him, nearly tangible in shape. Hope still lived then.
And so, Isildur took in a breath, and stepped out into the moonlight -
- only to be stopped by a voice at his back.
There was not a soul in Armenelos who did not know that voice, Isildur thought, instantly going still as cold dread filled his every limb. He could feel as his heart flickered, as his breath caught. Yet, he forced himself to stillness as he turned to meet the Zigûr's eyes. The guard's helm he wore was thick, and the night was shadowed. He would not be known, so long as he kept his face hidden.
Yet, was the Sorcerer not said to read both hearts and minds? Isildur knew the whispers, but he did not know what was truth and what was fabrication by the masses. Hating his not knowing, he bowed before Sauron's watching gaze, dropping to his knees and making a fist of his hand and touching it to the red Eye embroidered over his heart.
“My lord,” he gave in a low voice. It took everything within him to keep his tone from trembling. He looked, and saw only the polished black boots before him. When the Maia stepped towards him, he did not make a sound upon the stone, moving more like a spirit than a man of flesh and bone.
Isildur had been little more than a youth when Sauron was first brought to Númenor in chains. Even still, he - like every other in Númenor - had marveled when instead of the monster the legends spoke of, they were presented with a fair and impossibly beautiful creature. The great scourge of Middle-earth surrendered to Ar-Pharazôn's might before one sword could be drawn, and freely submitted himself to capture - wise and wry words falling from his mouth rather than oaths and hateful barbs. Even now, after years had passed, Isildur was still not completely used to the tall and elegant man – with a face more beautiful than any Elf and eyes composed entirely of golden flame. More dangerous than his unearthly beauty was the aura of charm and . . . enticement that he seemed to wear like a second skin. Isildur always felt drowsy around the Maia, his thoughts muddled and his spirit flickering - as if unsure of whose control he was truly under.
That was a feeling he could not afford now, not when so much was at stake. So, he steeled himself against the other man's probe, and held himself strong underneath his curious stare.
“The rotations were done a quarter hour ago,” Sauron said, his eyes narrowing as he looked him up and down. Underneath his closed fist, Isildur could feel his heart thunder. “You are late.”
“My apologies, Zigûr,” Isildur inclined his head even deeper. “I was caught up in the festivities, and lost track of the time – a tribute to the splendor and glory you have bestowed upon us, no doubt?”
His temples throbbed as if there was a vice settling about his mind. The aura emanating from the Maia seemed to flicker then, to pulsate. Words lingered on the tip of Isildur's tongue – the truth, his every closely kept secret – and yet, with a mental shove he swallowed them away. He kept them his own.
And finally, Sauron took a step back. His eyes narrowed in displeasure, and Isildur felt as if he had just narrowly escaped a blade at his neck.
“It is a night of revelry,” Sauron finally allowed, the golden melody of his voice nonetheless carrying his ire. “But that does not excuse such tardiness. Do not let it happen again.”
Isildur felt a last wave of discordance brush against his skin – promising of what future errors would bring, and foreshadowing what was to come once his 'superior officer' was told of his folly. Yet, by then, Isildur would already be long gone.
He bowed even lower still, nearly pressing his forehead to the cold ground before a shadow passed over him and then fell away. Finally, Isildur felt as if he could breathe.
He waited until the Maia's silent footsteps left down the hall before looking up to watch as Sauron turned the corner. When Isildur finally stood, his legs were weak. He had to wait a moment before he trusted himself to walk.
Waiting another minute, he then reached into his doublet to take out the powder, turning to step out into the courtyard beyond. His heart hammered in his chest, while above him Nimloth's branches seemed to glitter – welcoming him beneath her silver eaves. He strode across the grass, approaching that first unsuspecting guard with purpose in his stride. He took in a breath, and prayed.
Our mother Varda, dear lady of light, he entreated the Valar as he had been taught, so long ago . . . Manwë, lord of the heavens . . . Aulë, strong in might . . . Yavanna, bountiful in gifts . . . Ulmo, ever watchful . . . Námo, just in judgment . . . Vairë, spinning our fates . . . Irmo, master of dreams . . . gentle Estë, mother of healing . . . dancing Nessa, lighting our joy . . . innocent Vána, keeper of youth . . . Tulkas, unmatched in arms . . . Oromë, father of the hunt . . . merciful Nienna, weeping for our souls . . .
He prayed, and held his faith close as he struck.
Sauron turned from the quivering boy and continued onwards down the hall. Through the pillars surrounding the courtyard, Nimloth cast a tired white glow, throwing long shadows to curve and stretch in the night. The dark swallowed him as a kindred as he walked, troubled by his inability to read the guard's soul.
It was not too surprising, he thought next, trying to dismiss his overactive thoughts as nothing more than paranoia – understandable, given the events of the morrow. Many generations had passed for Lúthien's descendants, and her blood no longer solely remained in the line of the King. There were those scant few in Númenor whose hearts he could not read; whose thoughts he could not deign due to the blessings in their blood – and that boy was simply one of those few. In life, Lúthien had been troublesome enough, and now she continued to plague him even in death.
His thoughts darkened. Around him the shadows lengthened, answering his turbulence of spirit. The flames leapt and danced from the torches on the wall, betraying his unease more so than any expression upon his face. He would be lying to himself if he said that his more . . . tactful way of dealing with Númenor was not only a strategic move on his path to complete dominion over the lands, but also a way to thrust a blade into the memory of Lúthien herself. All of those centuries ago, it had seemed simple to defeat the desperate girl on the isle of Tol Sirion. What would a half-elf, her wolf, and a mortal man do against the Lieutenant of Angband? The very idea of defeat had seemed laughable . . . that was, until he returned to his Master in failure, and from his prostrate position before the throne, stared up at the absence of a Silmaril upon Melkor's brow.
Melkor had held him personally responsible for dear Melian's half-breed whelp making a fool of him. Sauron had held his tongue through his Master's rage, knowing that pointing out that at least he had been defeated in battle – a battle he was prophesied to lose, at that - while his Master had been sung to sleep by the song of a somewhat pretty maid was not the way to earn his lord's good graces once more. And so, he bore through Melkor's rather ingenious forms of punishment, knowing all the while that Melkor sought nothing more than to sooth his own bruised ego by inflicting the blame on another.
And yet, the unforgivable part of Lúthien's crimes had been his Master's inability to forgive him as the years passed. He dropped down in status until he was on par with the lowest of Orc slaves, assigned only the most menial of tasks in the pits while Melkor smiled down cruelly from above – satisfied that he felt his 'failure' in the most acute of ways. And then, he had passed out of Melkor's mind for many seasons to come. Even when the loss of the Silmaril turned out to be inspired in further rendering the bonds between the Sindar and the Noldor . . . even when Melkor laughed to see his enemies tear themselves apart from the inside out in yet another Kinslaying, and then two . . . Still Sauron toiled, and Melkor did not look his way.
He redeemed himself somewhat with his machinations during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears – both suggesting the use of the Easterlings as double agents, and plotting the movements of their troops that resulted in the death of Fingon the Valiant and the capture of Húrin of Dor-lómin. Melkor was power and consuming chaos, but Sauron was logic and strategy – and his Master would not have been able to accomplish what he did without him whispering at his feet. Even still, it was not until he later tore the location of Gondolin from Maeglin's broken mouth that Melkor looked on him in favor again. Yet . . . even then, it was not the same. Only at the end of War of Wrath itself, with Manwë's herald at the door and their army falling in ruins, had Melkor looked at him – truly looked at him once more.
His eyes terrible and fathomless, Melkor had then freed him from his duty to Angband, letting him go to live and fight another day in his name. Melkor had freed him, but never released him, and bound he would now ever be.
Go, little Maia, the stone form had rumbled, not even looking at him as he sat on his throne to receive their 'guests'. His voice had been deep then, a cadence of molten rock and black heat that Sauron felt from the core of his spirit to the bones of the form he chose to wear. Go now, Mairon, but remember . . . my servant you will be until the end of days. Never forget that.
Even then he had been unable to leave. He had remained rooted to the spot as if he were a part of the mountain itself. No, I will stay. No, I will fight . . . I will not leave you. Ever was he the adoring servant, and if need be, he would pay even the ultimate price at his Master's side. In the end, it had taken Melkor flinging his disembodied spirit as one would chase a dog from the yard to get him to leave – just in time for Eönwë's army to breach the throne-room, and all was then chaos and loss.
He felt as if he were leaving a part of his soul behind when flying from Melkor's side, watching as the great might of his spirit was subdued and chained by those who dared to call themselves superior. His own spirit had flickered with rage, with grief, but what could he do? He could do nothing more than wait . . . wait and carefully plan. And now, here he was, all of these centuries later with his Master's name once more arising in glory, worshiped in direct opposition to the powers in the West themselves.
And . . . if he happened to avenge himself upon Lúthien's wretched descendants all the same . . . Well, that was a more personal form of satisfaction, but satisfaction still it was. At first, the idea had been ridiculous – he bowing before the power of Men, no matter how mighty their nation was? Surrendering to Númenor? Quaking in fear at the sound of their marching feet? Even now, the thought caused him to tremble with both dark amusement and rage in the form of flesh he wore. A body was just that, and another one could be conjured at will. And yet, he vowed that he would remember each lash and blow inflicted against this hröa with the memory only a Maia possessed. Dragged through the streets of Umbar and then across the sea to the harbor city of Rómenna, where he was then paraded to the King's City in Armenelos . . . his chains had been gold, but chains they still were, and Sauron remembered.
Each jeer of the crowd . . . each lash this King of Men so foolishly thought his right to inflict . . . each demand this mortal child so arrogantly thought his right to make . . . Even when his answers became dire and direr still, the King still scurried to obey, the tables of power shifting between them without Pharazôn's conscious realization. A temple to Melkor here . . . a sect of black robed priests there . . . and then a sacrifice or three or a hundred to follow . . . He gave trifle parlor tricks of 'magick' until all in Númenor called him Sorcerer and bowed to him lower than they did even their King. Slowly but surely he had moved up from a dungeon cell to a room of his own in the palace to all but governing that palace . . . Do you wish for immortality, your grace? Then pass your enemies through the fire . . . pass the White Tree through the fire . . . pass your sons and daughters through the fires – give and give and give until you have nothing but your own soul to feed the flames. When the smoke at last pierces the Doors of Night, Melkor shall hear your cries, and when he walks free once more . . .
Well . . . Melkor always rewarded his servants most handsomely, even if not in ways his servants always understood, or appreciated.
While Ar-Pharazôn scurried to obey, Sauron kept his counsel close, and remembered . . . He remembered, and he swore to never forget.
It turned out that Eärendil's dear heir was just as debased and deviant as all would claim he to be. While he understood the usefulness of . . . physical persuasion, pains inflicted on others, no matter how cruel or severe, were always done with a purpose in mind. He held the same apathy for torture as he did for beating a fold of metal upon an anvil – twisting and molding it until it formed a shape either practical or beautiful in nature. He himself had learned similar lessons at Melkor's hands. His Master was always few in words with praise and many in blows for failure, and whatever 'pains' he inflicted on his captives he had experienced a hundred fold himself – for the paper thin bodies of the children of Arda could only endure so much before they broke, and broke for good. One had to be clever to inflict pain on a Maia, and yet, from his Master's hands, such pains were a baptism in fire, teaching him, molding him . . . At Pharazôn's hands . . .
. . . this king of Men all but reveled in the pains he inflicted on others. His eyes would lighten and his mouth would turn like a wolf whose mouth whetted at a doe stumbling in the wood. This king of Men was all black rot and a scorched soul that even Sauron the Abhorred looked on and saw debased to its core.
Wiser still were men like Amandil and Elendil, who knew suspicion and caution when he first took the knee to Númenor outside the gates of Mordor. Though descended from a sister of the fourth King, the lords of Andúnië bore more fey wisdom (and Lúthien's enchantments in their blood) than Pharazôn's whole council combined. If Pharazôn had listened to his once-friend in the beginning, then Sauron would have taken much more drastic measures to see Númenor destroyed than the long-term deception he practiced now. The Men of the West had expected a monster, what they received instead was a beautiful being speaking honeyed words and oh so humbly surrendering to the might of Men.
Surrendering . . .
Ha, how such a thing was laughable!
If he willed it, he could have filled the minds of each in the army before him - filled them with brimstone and fire until they were all but clawing each other in their desperation to free their own burning souls from the prisons of their flesh. Such was his power with the One Ring about his finger, (and how he felt an ache of spirit as he thought about his greatest weapon; the child of his spirit that was buried safely in Barad-dûr for the time being.) Dealing with Pharazôn's arrogance in such a way had been his right as Lord of Middle-earth and heir to Melkor's might. Ever was he his Master's devoted disciple, succeeding where he now could not . . . And yet, the strength of Númenor was no trifle matter. It would have to be handled with more tact than such wanton destruction.
Sauron remembered the days before the Sun and Moon first rose, when his Master returned from Valinor after his first imprisonment in Mandos' Halls. Gazing at the stolen Silmarils in the looking glass, his black might of a Lord had whispered the secrets of his escape. His brother wanted words of love and devotion, pleas for forgiveness and hopes for reconciliation, and so, Melkor had spoken all that Manwë wanted to hear. Melkor, whose very soul was Arda had taken a knee to one who was only Heaven, and vowed to live as a thrall, lower than the lowest in Aman, in exchange for freedom from Námo's black Halls. Melkor had humbled himself, he had debased himself, and yet, his guise of 'penitence' allowed him to fell the great House of Finwë with nothing more than whispered words and blackened tendrils of doubt sent deep within dreams.
Love, Melkor had scoffed. Both sons of Finwë had feared the other for their place in their father's heart, and their love for each other had suffered as a result. That fear had stayed as an unspoken whisper before Melkor's fine work; a secret that all tried to bury. And yet, after Melkor . . .
Well, Valinor knew not of the Light for so long, and never again like it did in the days of the Trees'. Now Finwë's house was broken and scattered, and the least of his great might now survived as these Men thanks to the thoughtless choice of Eärendil's son. Elros callously threw away his length of days, failing to foresee the lengths his descendants would go through to reclaim what was 'rightfully' theirs . . . If Sauron moved to further that opinion, if he whispered into ears and ghosted through dreams until the secret wish of the Númenoreans turned into a tempest of righteous indignation and arrogant conviction, well . . .
Sauron had learned well from his Master. Soon, he too would surge forth to take even the light away from ever darkening Númenor. He would not stop until his foes were nothing but a lost people beneath the waves, while he . . .
. . . he would remain. He would remain, and he would endure to live and fight again. This was the truth than allowed his knee to bend, that allowed his head to bow. This was the certainty that let him count the moments until this Man would know, and see that there was only one power left in this world - and that power rested not in Ar-Pharazôn's golden hands.
Sauron looked up at Nimloth's white boughs, quaking in the starlight as if she knew her end was near. Soon, he shaped his thoughts as a prayer as he turned away, as a holy offering of words. He did not know if they reached his Master beyond the Doors of Night, and yet . . .
Soon, he prayed, and felt his faith form as a promise.
The night air was cold with more than the onset of winter. The clouds were few and thin above, draped in gossamer veils around the light of the sickle moon. Crystals of ice formed on the railing of her balcony from the rain that had fallen earlier in the day, lingering long after the stormclouds themselves fled.
Her lady had softly suggested closing the doors and coming in to sit by the hearth, where she would not take ill to a gust of the cold. But she was a daughter of Númenor; she did not take ill, and she was the Queen besides. If she wanted to stand in the cold and look down on Nimloth's empty, barren branches, then she would.
This was what she wanted; and was one of the few wishes she could fulfill with her crown as her shackles and her royal blood the very thing that chained her to the hell of her living. So, Zimraphel sent her fluttering ladies and maid-servants away, and stood with bloodless hands clasped about her balcony rails, ignoring the cold as it bit into her skin.
The hour was growing late, but she would find no respite in sleep that night. Her heart was heavy, swelling to overwhelm the cavity of her chest. After all that her father had done, after all she had done in her days as Númenor's sole Ruling Queen to see the deeds of their forefather's set to right, their hard work was now brushed away as if from a gust of wind. Númenor would now do the unthinkable, the unforgivable, and she could do nothing but watch. She could only watch, knowing that this was wrong to its very core. This was sacrilege, this was blasphemy – an evil even worse than the black Maia that her husband so foolishly thought to claim as his pet and jester. She was wise enough to see the puppet strings binding him, even when her husband so foolishly called them chains. She knew who ruled from behind her husband's gilded throne, and no matter how many times she tried to find Calion within Ar-Pharazôn and beseech him to see reason, she only seemed to secure his feet even more firmly down his twisted path.
Oh, she knew his arguments. She knew them as well as she knew the name he sought to force on her. Often she would listen to him preach, her face pressed to the marble floor as she bowed – bowed - like a penitent peasant rather than Númenor's Queen. She was the rightful heir to Elros' blood, while her husband had to change the laws going back centuries to validate the farce of their union. Even now her blood heated at the thought, turning thick and angry within her as she thought about the indignity heaped upon her shoulders as Pharazôn smiled to see her bowing so . . . She remembered how his Zigûr inclined his head from behind the throne and smiled to match - as if she were a dog to be trained, rather than a queen and wife to hold in respect for her counsel as an equal in wisdom.
“When the Elves first came upon us, we were a small people, little above the beasts of the field with our language and traditions. Now we are mighty, so mighty that even Gil-Galad the High-king of the Elves depended on our forefathers to fight their wars when the Zigûr came forth to conquer Eriador. It was not the might of the Elves that pushed Sauron back to Mordor - nay, it was us. It was our might, our strength. And such was our might and strength that not even Melkor's Lieutenant dared to wage war with us. The great Sorcerer surrendered in wisdom, and threw in his lot with the side of power.
“Now our years do not match our might, and still the Valar in the West would have us toil. They sit on their thrones and lie to us about the existence of the One, while chaining our true lord Melkor away. They watch in glee as we grow old and die after so few years of living - and they do so because they fear us, because they know that we are strong enough to take even Valinor by force if that is what our lord Melkor demands of us. Once we break free from the chain of the Valar, such a reward will then be ours. As Númenor was given to us for our devotion to the One; immortality shall be given to us by one who is even greater than the lie of Eru. We shall be deathless; and our reign – yours and mine, my queen - shall be endless.”
He would always have to stop at that point of his tirade, clenching his fists and taking in deep breaths to calm his rapid heartbeat. He would blink, and always was her husband something more in those moments . . . something other while the Sorcerer's eyes glittered as flames behind him.
The throne-room was all gold and sapphire, denoting the ocean and its might underneath the gold of the sun. The light from the torches chased mad shapes across Pharazôn's brow, catching in his nut brown hair and setting it aflame. It had bothered him since their childhood that he did not bear the coloring of the King's line, she would remember in satisfaction whenever she saw Elros' crown upon his brown brow. Once, she and Amandil had teased him with affection as children, back when her own hair had been thick and black down her back, not bound away in artful coils and jeweled nets. Calion would only scowl and pushed them in the waves in those days, his warm brown eyes laughing. And yet, now . . .
His eyes were cold. She could not see Calion within them no matter how hard she tried.
“It was not our choice that did away with our days,” Pharazôn would then drop his voice to a whisper. “It was not our choice, but rather the Indilzar's choice. It was not his right to do away with the days of his descendants; to chain them to these mortal forms. I seek justice with my actions, I seek that which is rightfully owed to us. And where the Powers in the West will not be moved by our plight, I will seek out my endless days with a higher Power, a greater Might.”
“At what cost?” she would dare to raise her head in reply. “At what cost will you buy that which the One himself has not seen fit to give?” For while the days of Men were relatively few, they were still days to live and live to the fullest before they found beyond the circles of the world and the Gift that their true Father promised to them . . .This she had been taught from her earliest days, and she could not yet bring herself to turn away from those teachings.
She remembered sitting with her father in the courtyard below, tending to the White Tree and praying that Tol Eressëa would once again become visible to them on the western horizon. Her father taught her the names of the Valar. and told her stories of the birth of her people - speaking of both their great friendship with the Elves and their deeds of bygone days. when the might of Men had been so selfless and full of valor that the Valar gave them this great land as a gift, as a blessing . . .
Carefully, her father had taught her how to pray, and Nimloth had turned her crystalline boughs towards their songs of thanksgiving - fully blooming for the first time since the evil of Ar-Gimilzôr's rule.
And yet . . . her father was dead now. Her father was dead, and Calion, who had been her friend in their youngest days had usurped both her hand and her throne, leaving her helpless as her father's fine work was destroyed and Númenor plunged into a blackness darker than any before her husband's reign.
Now the Great Temple to Melkor stood dominating the horizon, terrible in shape and black in might. It's build was young and new, the last stone having been set but days ago. The White Tree was set to burn as the opening sacrifice with the sunrise, darkening the golden ceiling with the black of smoke for the first time. She had lost count of the souls who had been selected to pass through the fires next, and no matter how she worked to secure their release, she knew that they would never walk free again. Those whom her husband believed to be traitors to his rule would fall to the Zigûr's cruel ideas of devotion, slaughtered before Melkor's pitiless eyes in the name of eternal life. When she spoke too vehemently in defense of Nimloth, Sauron had even raised a copper brow, and suggested that perhaps something beloved – something personal – should be sacrificed to Melkor to show the depths of Pharazôn's devotion, cutting her words at their roots. She understood the threat as it was made, and the worst part was that Pharazôn had not blinked in reply. He had considered. He had vowed to give even that if Melkor demanded it so. She wanted to tear the Sorcerer's smirk from her face with her bare hands then, but to do so would have only given him the reason he needed to finally see her cast aside.
Beyond the Faithful whom she worked for behind the scenes, she was simply glad that she only had her own soul to protect from Sauron's Eye, and not a child as well. She had decided long ago that she would never be a mother. When her husband first forced this marriage on her, she had taken precautions so that Calion's child would never take root in her, as much as she had once wanted nothing more than a family of her own . . . a son to give her father's name to, and a daughter to teach the songs and prayers of old. And yet, now she was all too thankful that she took such measures. For the Zigûr's eyes on her were bad enough . . . if she had a child to protect from the flames, as well . . .
She tasted bile in her throat at simply the thought. She could not swallow against it.
And yet, she was startled from her thoughts by a movement in the courtyard below. She looked, but only saw where the guards seemed to be staring straight ahead, looking without blinking as a cloaked figure darted forth over the cool grass. He wore a guard's black uniform and gold feathered helm, with the red Eye of Sauron staring up from his chest, and yet . . . it was no guard who approached the White Tree with a careful reverence in his stride and awe to the tilt of his head. It was no guard, but rather, one of the Faithful who lifted his hand as if in apology to the doomed boughs. Nimloth seemed to brighten beneath the touch, and then, and only then could she tell the face of Elendil's son when the imposter threw his visor back so as to better look at the majesty before him – beautiful, even in the face of such a death. She could easily tell dear Amandil's face in the line of his grandson – spying out the strong features and the nearly fey build that Silmariën's descendants carried even when the king's line had all but completely lost its resemblance to Elros as time went by.
And yet, now . . .
Isildur, she recognized, fear leaping in her chest. That foolish, foolish boy. Did he not know that it was more than his own life that he risked? Did he not understand that Calion had been looking for all but an excuse to see Amandil's kin put to the sword? He would give that to him now, and all for . . .
She turned towards the door – to what end she did not know – but was stopped when Ar-Pharazôn stepped into her chamber at that same moment, his eyes glittering with the promise of the morrow.
“My lord,” her voice came out startled. She fought the urge she had to glance over her shoulder, not wanting to give away the boy in the courtyard below.
“You are as restless as I, if I could startle you so,” Pharazôn said, coming closer to her. There was amusement etched into his face, and yet, there was a question too.
For not the same reasons are we sleepless this eve, she thought, but did not say. “I am filled with anticipation for tomorrow,” she said, placing herself between her husband and the balcony. Her words were not wholly a lie.
“It is to be a day of glory, matched by none other since this nation's founding,” Pharazôn said in a low, reverent voice. If he felt any apprehension for killing the tree his kingship was prophesied to be tied to, he gave no sign. Instead his gaze was eager, like a wolf with eyes turned towards the moon.
Zimraphel came in from her balcony, shutting the doors firmly behind her. “The night air grows cold,” she said in explanation.
And she was cold. Her robe for the night was the finest of silks, but it was thin. Gooseflesh broke out over the exposed skin of her forearms, and she shivered when Pharazôn lifted her hand to see proof of her body's chill. If she were any other wife, and he any other husband, it would have been a mark of affection when he folded his arms around her, sharing his body's heat. She merely closed her eyes against the embrace, and swallowed around a stone.
“You shiver,” he said, his whisper ghosting against her hair.
She exhaled. “Only from the cold,” still she said, her voice a whisper. Let him think her coy, she thought, for she could not hide the leaping of her pulse when there was the sound of the guard below, awakening from whatever enchantment Isildur had used on them.
She felt her breath catch. Her people lived on borrowed time, she knew, for not long would the Valar – would the One – allow this race of Men to so openly scorn their rule. How long would black smoke have to burn the sky before Ilúvatar remembered his children – both striking with a father's rage, and sparing those faithful with a father's love?
She did not have the time to wait, though. Isildur did not have the time – and so, she turned in her husband's arms. She met his eyes even as he looked to turn away, drawn by the ruckus below.
Not once in her marriage had she ever kissed her husband without the affection being forced on her. Never had she accepted Pharazôn with joy, and over the years her husband had lost interest in her bed when her body proved to be barren to him – though he did not know that to be from her own doing. She threaded her arms around his neck and kissed him now, closing her eyes and forcing down her revulsion as she forced her hands to be tender, her mouth to be delicate with a wife's devotion.
“To celebrate your success,” she drew away from him to whisper, her voice pitched low as her heart thundered in her chest. Her pulse leapt from fear and worry, it was true, but Pharazôn did not know that.
He looked at her in such a way then. His hands - his cruel, merciless hands - cupped her face in a way that was nearly tender. For, somewhere deep down inside, he did bear an affection for her. It was debased and it was wrong, twisted as so much about him was, and yet . . . it was love where his bones were black rot and his veins all but yellow with venom. It was enough to save the foolish, brave boy below. And so, Míriel fought with the one weapon she still had to her, and twisted her husband's affections in order to spare the lives of those who still believed as she believed.
Our mother Varda, dear lady of light, she prayed once more, hoping beyond hope that this time they would listen, that this time, her prayers would be heard . . . Manwë, lord of the heavens . . . Aulë, strong in might . . . Yavanna, bountiful in gifts . . . Ulmo, ever watchful . . . Námo, just in judgment . . . Vairë, spinning our fates . . . Irmo, master of dreams . . . gentle Estë, mother of healing . . . dancing Nessa, lighting our joy . . . innocent Vána, keeper of youth . . . Tulkas, unmatched in arms . . . Oromë, father of the hunt . . . merciful Nienna, weeping for our souls . . . Please, remember your servants . . . shelter your children in their time of need. Please, as your humble daughter, I beg of you . . .
. . . Please.
She peered up through the glass panes of her balcony doors, her eyes finding the heavens through Nimloth's great branches . . . but no answer was found by her. And then her husband was blocking out what light remained from the stars, smothering her until there was only him. In reply she held her belief close to her chest once more. She kept her faith as a truth – lining her bones and filling her lungs, swearing that she would let it define her until she had not a breath left within her to do so.
His son did not open his eyes until the first days of spring.
At first, Elendil had known a fear unlike any other when he was broken from his anxious pacing by a page announcing Isildur's return. He had known from the first that something was not right – for the page's face was pale, and his eyes flickered to rest anywhere but on his own. When he had first realized that Isildur was gone, he could risk no action for fear of exposing his son. And then, when word had reached them as rumor that the guards had tried to capture a criminal who stole a fruit from the White Tree . . . while the guards had been unable to capture the culprit, they had dealt the thief wounds aplenty, and were of the opinion that it was only a matter of time before their quarry was found. Elendil had worried, sick with his apprehension until late in the evening the next day, when his son was announced as returned.
His worst fears had been confirmed when he came down to the courtyard to see Isildur bloody and half-alive upon the back of his horse. His ruined guard's costume was in tatters about his body and his eyes were closed with unconsciousness. He had collapsed against his horse's neck, and only some animal's wisdom had kept him from falling during the long trek back to Rómenna.
And yet, in his hand he clenched a single, withering fruit. A single silver fruit, saved from destruction even as black smoke dotted the horizon – visible from the roof of the Great Temple, no matter the miles between Armenelos and the seashore.
“You foolish boy,” Elendil had breathed, he being the one to pull his son from the horse. Once Isildur was on the ground, he held his son close, his heart twisting in both fear and relief – fear, relief, and such an overwhelming pride that for a moment he had not been able to breathe around it. “You foolish, brave boy.”
Those in his household were of the Faithful, and not a one would betray Isildur's deed. Even still, for many days Elendil feared Pharazôn's men arriving with swords and chains at his doorstep. Yet, the days turned to weeks and then to months, and still none had come to take his son into custody. Isildur had disguised himself well, and no one knew who sought to give Nimloth her last chance to grow again. His son was safe. Safe, and yet . . . as the winter came and lingered, Elendil feared that Pharazôn would eventually come to claim a corpse for his torments – for Isildur had been unblinking since the day of his return. No matter what poultice or charm they tried, the healers had been unable to move him to awaken once more.
Isildur still lived, the healers said. Only, he lived lost within his own mind. He could awaken in the next minute, or he could awaken years down the line – there was no way to tell in cases like these. And yet, Elendil clasped his belief close to his chest, and held on to his faith that his son would open his eyes once again. His faith was all he had left to him.
He, Anárion, and Isildur's childhood sweetheart Ûrien, took turns staying with him during the day. The healers said that while he could not reply, he could hear them in his slumber, and their words would do more than they knew in stimulating his brain. Elendil would often sit and speak about everything and nothing, giving his words until his voice was raw. Most nights, he started out reading whatever scroll demanded his attention that day, and ended up telling his son how proud his mother would be if she was still there with them. Anárion found him like this most nights, and yet, as much as his son pushed for him to take rest for himself, he knew that his youngest child slept by Isildur's side more often than not. Anárion was often to be found on his brother's right, while Ûrien slept at his left, they both unwilling to let him awaken to an empty room.
When the winter finally broke and the spring rains softened the ground enough for planting, Elendil himself took the seeds from Nimloth's fruit, and planted them out of sight from all. He then bowed over the hidden seed and prayed – prayed as he had not since he was a small boy and faith was easy in its simplicity and certainty. He prayed for hours, keeping to his devotion until his eyes had no tears to give and his voice was raw. He stayed until he was emotionally spent, and then he left Nimloth's memory to grow again in peace.
. . . it was not until that first green shoot pierced the soil that Isildur awakened, opening his eyes with the first unfurling of the seed, and Elendil knew then with a certainty that the prophesy of old was true. Nimloth lived and breathed with Elros' line, and she had bonded herself to his son for the bravery of his deeds.
The house came alive with sounds of rejoicing that day. There were songs ringing through the halls, while laughter was found around every corner as long, mourning faces remembered that their mouths could smile, that their throats could sing. Elendil welcomed the good cheer with open arms, feeling like the sprouted seedling himself for his son once more alive and well. He could not keep his joy from his eyes, and his mouth all but ached from the strain of holding a smile for so long.
It was late into the night now, and Anárion had left them both to see the household put to order nearly an hour ago. Elendil still sat at his son's bedside, unable to turn away. On Isildur's opposite side, Ûrien had fallen asleep almost a quarter hour ago. She was a slender woman with seemingly delicate features, though the last few months had proven a spine of steel to exist where many would only see a flower, ready to wilt in a stiff breeze, before. Ûrien had been a favored playmate of Isildur as a child, and she had grown to remain a close companion as they turned older still. Elendil wished to someday call her daughter, and the events of the past few months could only hasten that goal towards fruition, he hoped.
With her white skin and pale blonde hair, the black she wore nearly washed her out. The red lining, and the embroidered eye upon her chest . . . the eye seemed to be staring at him, Elendil could not help but think. It stayed unmoving as Ûrien finally gave into exhaustion and fell asleep with her head leaning on Isildur's bedside. Her breathing was deep and even – at peace for the first in far too long.
Elendil watched as Isildur stared at the girl, his eyes far away as he reached out a hesitant hand to sooth her hair away from her brow. The smallest of tasks wearied him after so long a bedrest, and even reaching over to touch her left him drained after a moment. Elendil waited for him to settle in against the pillows, biting his tongue to keep from asking if his son needed help adjusting himself, or if he wanted a glass of water. Isildur would ask him when he needed aid, and he did not want to coddle him too much before then.
Instead, he too looked at Ûrien, allowing a fond smile to touch his mouth – for both of his children. “She has scarce left your side these long months,” Elendil said fondly, giving in to the urge to reach out and touch his son's hand. “She will make a fine wife, when you get to asking her.”
Isildur looked from Ûrien to him, and then looked down at his sheets again. His face was troubled. “I would not bring a wife into such a land as this . . . and I most certainly would not condemn a child to live in such darkened days,” he swallowed, as if the thought was a malediction, rather than a blessing. “Our family is marked in Ar-Pharazôn's eyes, and to bring her into that . . .”
“Time is against those of us with mortal years,” Elendil commented. “In the end, you may not have time to wait against the length of your days.
Isildur raised a dark brow. “You now speak as the Âru does.”
“Perhaps,” Elendil acknowledged wryly, not allowing mentions of Pharazôn to darken his spirits – not this eve. “And yet, I simply encourage you to live in the years you have. Ûrien is daughter to Faithful parents, and she too holds her faith still dear. She is marked with or without you are her husband, my son.”
Isildur let out a deep breath. In her sleep, Ûrien turned towards him, as if unconsciously seeking his warmth. Elendil watched the adoration that filled his son's gaze – even without his will – and knew that he would have a marriage to plan in the time to come, no matter Isildur's current reservations.
He let out a deep breath, pleased.
After a long moment, Isildur turned back to him. “Nimloth?” he questioned then, changing the subject. “She lives no more, does she not?”
“She was the kindling that started the fires in the Great Temple,” Elendil answered, his jaw tight as he forced the words out. “Yes.”
Isildur closed his eyes, long and slow. “Then . . .” he hesitated. He could not form his words. “The fruit . . .”
“Was planted successfully,” Elendil answered gently. “And, most curiously, you only opened your eyes this morning with the seed's first sprouting.” He leaned back as Isildur processed his revelation, confusion darkening his eyes for a moment. “It was foretold, long ago, that the Kings of Elros' line would find their fates intertwined with that of the White Tree. Perhaps, there was more truth to that then first was known.”
“I am no King,” Isildur pointed out wryly. “Our family cannot even claim lordship over Andúnië any longer, and even if we could, I would still have at least another century to come into that title, given grandfather's constitution.”
“And yet, you are of Elros' blood, are you not?” Elendil was not so sure. Ever did Pharazôn move to push Númenor down a path that it would not survive. If, during the days after . . . but no. Such thoughts were formed only through the haze of possibility, and Elendil would give them no further thought. “All I know is that Nimloth . . . she grows with you, she lives with you . . . Someday, you shall plant her again in fair soil, and your children and your children's children will know peace and light beneath her boughs.”
“How very elvish of you,” Isildur said. “Do you have the Sight, all of these years, only to remain silent about it?”
“It is nothing like that,” Elendil said, his eyes sparking at his son's teasing. “I only give voice to a hope, one that I believe in dearly.”
“Faith,” Isildur said in a low voice, solemnly nodding in reply. “Yes, I do understand that.”
And he did. He believed more than them all, perhaps, for none other had dared to stretch their hand towards Nimloth as his son had. Elendil felt pride fill him, even as the days remained dark on the horizon ahead. Isildur was silent now, closing his eyes in contentment – for already the span of the day had wearied him, and the path to healing would be long in the weeks to come.
As his son nodded off the sleep, Elendil bowed his own head, and yet, before he could slip into the familiar routine of his prayers, he paused. He hesitated.
Blessed Father, he instead addressed the One in his heart, needing to believe that somewhere they were heard – that somewhere the one who had created all was indeed listening. Please, watch over my son as you have so long watched over me. Remember your Faithful in their time of need, and deliver us from the Shadow. As your humble servant, I beg of you . . .
He had no signs to say whether or not he was heard. The shadows were still on the wall, and the candles were quiet in their holders. Outside, the wind was lazy against the shutters. And yet, it did not matter. Elendil looked up, and let himself hold faith.
As the last seeds of Nimloth turned in the gardens beyond, Isildur did too, and Elendil watched them both stretch their roots to grow. As he threaded through the main street, almost unable to move for the masses flooding the corridor, he looked and saw where the King's guard pulled bound men through the crowds. Some shivered and stared ahead with glassy eyes, unseeing as they were lead to their doom; while others stood with their heads held tall, all but challenging the crowd and its cruelty with the defiance in their gaze. Each man and woman was either of the Faithful, or accused of being so as a result of their angering the wrong person with the King's ear, and now they were drawn as prisoners of war through the streets towards the great dome in the distance – where they too would feed the flames that would devour Nimloth upon the morrow. Whatever doubt he carried before was replaced by resolve as he followed the poor wretches with his eyes.
That will be you if you are not careful, a voice that sounded like Anárion – ever the sensible one between them – rang in his ear, and he set his jaw, determination filling him.
Keeping his hood wrapped tightly around his face, he traveled deeper into the city, to where the herb-mistresses and seers made their livings off the ever more superstitions masses, peddling both the truly arcane and that which was smoke and glitter to those who passed their way. There was a crone that he knew to be discreet, and he brought his potion from her – adding gold enough to ensure her silence, before slipping back into the crowded streets again to wait for the fall of night.
He could not bribe the King's guards, not here – not with such death and barbaric appreciation for bloodsport all but saturating the air around him. The city nearly vibrated with blood-lust and bestial anticipation for the 'sacrifices' that would start with the morning hour, and Isildur felt his stomach turn at the thought. Any bribe he would attempt would simply be pocketed, and his secret told anyway – he given like a bone to the dogs now reigning at the head of this once fair land.
EDIT: Once again, the website is cramming my words together. I am editing them out now.
Excellent expansion and theme of faith.
@Nyota's Heart: Why thank-you. It certainly was an interesting time period to write for.
Now, here we are with the Mother prompt from the NSWFF prompt thread. At first I was trying to work on something else entirely, but then this little ditty spilled out from my keyboard, and I decided that I liked it. I hope you guys enjoy.
"my spirit born"
The truth of the mater was that she knew absolutely nothing about being a mother.
She had given her voice alongside a thousand others to create the universe itself. She gave music to the throats of birds, she shaped the beauty and of their song, and yet, she had never seen a baby cry. She had never held another being and knew that the tiny form in her arms depended solely on her. Her. Completely.
Melian was Maia; she created, she did not birth. But this was her daughter, born of her flesh as much as her spirit, and so, she vowed to learn this as she learned how to do everything else in the form she wore. She was determined, and she would learn well.
She would not let her ladies and attendants take care of Lúthien in her stead. This was her daughter, a tiny gift of life that she had given up her very divinity for. As a result, Melian learned early on to tie back her hair (Lúthien's fingers were endlessly searching), and refrain from wearing jewelry around her neck and though her ears (and endlessly curious, at that). Melian held her daughter when she cried; she dressed and changed and fed Lúthien herself, for she was her daughter's mother and no other would be so in her place.
Melian had looked about, helpless, the first time Lúthien's swaddling clothes needed to be changed. She had still been weary then – her prison of flesh weak and tender from the unnatural experience of carrying her child to life within her womb – and it had been her husband who came to her aid. Thingol had shooed her hands away and forced her to sit while he cleaned and changed their daughter with deft, easy hands, earning her raised brow in return as she asked a question with her eyes rather than her voice.
“Elmo's oldest son was born before you drew me to Nan Elmoth,” he explained, a smile of his own pulling at his mouth. “I do remember a thing or two.” And what he did not know, they learned together.
Lúthien was a quiet babe, for the most part. She did not cry overly much, and she was quick with smiles and giggles whenever there were arms to hold her. However, there were nights when she would cry for her parents – more often than not, Melian could not help but think. As a spirit, she had needed not of sleep, but this tangible body she now wore needed to pass at least a few hours each night in rest. Lúthien, however, had other plans.
Melian could feel as the stars above her turned. There were only hours until the silver dawn that passed for daylight this far from the Trees, and already her daughter was awake and hiccuping out sobs into the dark. At her side, Thingol stirred, ready to rise in her place, but she placed her hand to his brow and deepened his sleep. He had to speak with his council first thing in the morning, and such meetings were always better confronted when fully rested. For all of his hard lines of temper her husband was surprisingly soft underneath – indeed, that was what had drawn her for the first – and he loved nothing better than their daughter. He was enchanted by the baby they had created together, and he would rise every time Lúthien cried had she not stopped him. While the lives of the Elves were immortal, only a fraction of those lives were spent raising a child who was truly dependent on them. As a result, those years were cherished times in their memories – blessings, even.
She hummed as she came to her daughter's crib, reaching down to take Lúthien into her arms. Her daughter recognized her and immediately burrowed into the warmth of her body, her large eyes lidded with her exhaustion as she hiccuped out her frustration into her mother's chest. Subtly, Melian touched her daughter's mind, feeling the remnant of shadow about her thoughts – a bad dream, she concluded.
“Hush,” she cooed, stroking her baby's head as she went to sit in the rocker carved with vines and forest creatures by the crib-side – a gift from Galadhon's fair hand, he having learned how to craft such a thing for his wife's comfort with their own children, just those short decades ago. “Hush little one, all that plagues you is now gone.”
Lúthien squeezed her eyes shut, completely miserable as she made tiny fists over the thin material of her mother's robe. Still she gave little cries, and fat tears leaked down from her eyes. Melian tucked her daughter in closer to her body, the sound of her tears drawing a matching pang from her own chest.
She closed her eyes and started to hum underneath her breath – a song that once she had taught the nightingales to sing. Beyond them, the night was dark and the stars were bright as they wheeled through their set paths in the sky. Even in this mortal form she could feel their dance brush against her skin. She breathed, and breathed in time with the earth around her.
Melian thought then of starlight, and the colour that waited to be shown to the world when the night would someday break to the light. As she did so, she lifted the hand that was not holding her daughter and called into being small orbs of iridescent light. Blue, purple, and green spheres appeared, dancing on wispy waves of golden brilliance – a dance of light and color that could not be found so far beyond the light of the Trees. Not yet, at least. She twirled her fingers, and the orbs danced and twirled as the stars themselves leapt and spun. The notes of her lullaby lilted to match their unearthly splendor, remembering Varda's ethereal grace as she set the wheels of the cosmos in motion. She shared that memory with her daughter now, and felt her tears dry in reply.
Lúthien blinked, entranced at the orbs of light. Melian could feel her daughter's soul absorb the song she sung, learning even without her consciously teaching her the symphony of the cosmos. Melian hummed, and felt as an answering note reverberated in her daughter's soul, she instinctively trying to mirror her mother's song.
More than that, her tears ceased and wonder instead appeared on the delicate planes of her face. Melian watched as her expression soothed and then calmed. A moment later, Lúthien was asleep in her arms, and still Melian continued to sing.
Her song had drawn more than just her daughter's slumber. She looked up, drawn by a presence pulling on her senses – like summer skies and lightning – and saw her husband at the entrance to the nursery. He had sloppily shrugged on a tunic, and his steel grey hair was gathered in a simple queue at the base of his neck. Even so, his sleep-bleary eyes were filled with warmth as he looked on both his wife and daughter.
“I had meant for you to sleep,” she chided softly, still rocking Lúthien in her arms. She subtly probed, and knew that her child would now sleep without dark dreams.
Thingol raised a brow. “I have grown immune to your enchantments, wife,” he said, his eyes glittering as he came to kneel at her side, looking tenderly down at Lúthien.
“Not all of them, I hope?” This time, it was her turn to raise a brow. With the ease of long years, she could feel his spirit lap against her own, like the sea against the shore, easy with contentment and simple joy.
“Never that,” Thingol assured. He reached out to touch the black curls atop Lúthien's head, his hand gentle. Even in slumber she turned towards her father's warmth, instinctively drawn to him. He stared at her, captivated. Around him, the globes of light started to disappear, leaving wisps of gold in their wake before that too was swallowed by the night. “Already you bring her magic,” he said softly. “She can feel it, and she knows peace for her mother's light.”
“Nay,” Melian said tenderly, unable to look away from the child she held. “It is she who has brought magic to me.”
Oh, oh! Exquisite! I adore this time frame for any pairing/couple, the wonder and wowness of new parenthood. And to pick this particular one and she who sings like nightingales - Now we know why.
You can feel Thingol's joy not over Luthien only but Melian as well. I have always!!!! been fascinated by this pairing, enough couldn't be written about how Melian's experiences are vastly different as a Maia versus a lady of tangible flesh, gorgeous and vibrant with power still as she is.
@Nyota's Heart: I am thrilled that you enjoyed that one - I had a feeling you would! Melian as a whole just fascinates me with her transition from spirit to flesh and bone, and it was just the cherry on top to capture their family at a sweet moment like that! There is just so much to keep one enthralled with these characters in particular!
Now, here we are with the Taking Flight prompt from the NSWFF prompt thread - I know, on time this time! It is a surprise to me too. At first I did not want to go the obvious route, but, the more I thought it, the more and more I wanted to write the obvious thing - namely, Elwing, after her flight from the Third Kinslaying at Sirion. The first time I read the Silmarillion I stared in surprise at this chapter, not believing what I read. And yet, the more I have thought about it over the years, I have come to realize that hers was the ultimate impossible decision - with no completely right or wrong answer. And so, of course, I had to examine that further in writing. Now here we are as a result!
As always, thank-you for reading, and I hope you guys enjoy!
“between sea and sky”
No matter how hard she tried, there where times when she found it hard to remember her mother.
Elwing could remember small things: the feel of her hair, the warmth of her embrace. But the exact shape of her face, the precise timber of her voice? These memories were distorted, and no matter how she concentrated, she could not grant them clarity. Better did she remember the glow of the Silmaril underlighting Nimloth's face as she was pushed towards Celeborn and told to run; to run and not look back. No matter what she heard, no matter what she saw.
She . . . she thought that she stopped running upon reaching Sirion. She thought that she had come to a halt as she learned to lead her people, as she married her husband, as she became a mother herself . . . Yet, it turned out that she was still running, even still. She had never stopped.
The deck of the Vingilot swayed underneath her feet. Although the sea no longer made her nauseous, she was by no means comfortable on the broad and empty expanses between the horizons. Ulmo called to her husband, not to her, and Elwing only cared for the waves when she could look to the land and see the comforting shade of the forest just beyond. Now, she could not see the home she had fled, and her heart hurt for it.
If you cannot cross the sea by boat, what would you do instead? She remembered Eärendil laughing at her as the child he had once been. The girl she once was had smiled in reply, holding her arms out to the strong wind blowing in over the waves. I would rather fly, she said, and Eärendil was not the only one to remember her words from that day.
. . . she had flown, she remembered numbly. She had flown, but she could not remember the wonder of soaring so close to the sun or beating her wings against the thermals in the air. She could only remember her mother pushing her away, and the days months years (even now) after, when she would stare at the Silmaril and wonder: Why was this gem more important than you surviving to take care of me? Why was this worth my brothers' lives? Why did Father deem this bauble worth your life, worth his own life? Why did you not love me enough to stay with me. . .
There were times when it seemed that the Silmaril itself laughed at her thoughts, as if it were triumphant in her pain. The flame-warm voice she could hear speaking during the darkest part of night would turn its head and whisper such promises . . . such lies . . . Where first she could not stand to even look at the Silmaril, she was soon unable to keep it hidden away. Before Sirion fell, it hardly left its place about her throat, where she could constantly sustain herself on the light it offered. It had pleaded when the sons of Fëanor marched against the Havens. It had pleaded, and she . . .
She could not let it go. She was as a lampshade in those days, existing only to let the light of the Silmaril shine through. She would not surrender that which was dearest to her, that which was precious in her eyes.
. . . precious.
Elwing swallowed and tasted something sour in the back of her throat. She looked down at the Silmaril in her hands and noticed that it no longer laughed. It was quiet. There was an accusation in its breathtaking radiance. She closed her eyes, but even that could not shade her from its glow, from its burn.
There was a soft knock, and she looked up to see Eärendil standing at the door to his cabin. She had just awakened and dressed herself in a loose sailor's garb after sleeping most of the day away, exhausted from her desperate flight over the waters. She did not remember Eärendil catching her the day before, let alone leaving her to her rest. She blinked, and it took her a moment to recognize her husband. She had not seen him in over a year, and the differences were slight, but acute. The tan darkening his skin was deeper than she remembered, and his golden hair was nearly white atop his head, bleached by the constant sunlight mirrored from the waves. While his face was still boyish and ever-young, there was a curious crinkling of wrinkles about the corners of his eyes, such as the sons of Men developed with their years. She knew that she was staring, but she could not look away.
“I felt you awaken,” Eärendil said. His voice was slow from his mouth, awkward almost, as if he did not know what to say. She could see questions aplenty in his eyes – his gaze never did hide anything, useless creature of the court he was - but he waited for her to speak. “Are you well?” he finally asked, at a loss for what else to say.
She did not answer. She simply looked down at the Silmaril in her hands.
“Elwing?” Eärendil asked gently. “What happened?”
She struggled not to flinch at the question. Her thoughts were slippery, flashing between her mother's flame-lit face and Sirion as it was engulfed by flames. She remembered receiving Maedhros' first letter and responding, denying his claim to the Silmaril as price of her family's blood, blood that he had spilled, souls he had murdered. She declared that she would make no decision while Eärendil was still at sea, especially while her council was divided around her. Galadriel foresaw only more bloodshed, for Sirion was a city of fisherman and refugees - their fighting men were few, and help from Gil-galad on the Isle of Balar would come too late depending on how soon Maedhros was set to march. Oropher was quick to disagree, accusing Galadriel of sympathizing with her father's kin and demanding that they stand and fight the Kinslayers before letting them take what Doriath had fallen for. It was, she reflected without amusement, one of the few times Oropher had agreed with her on anything.
Elwing exhaled, remembering her mother's hands at her shoulder - turning her away, pushing her - and she remembered pushing her sons into Eliedis' arms and telling them to hide, to run. Maedhros' men marched on the city the same morning she received his reply to her letter - giving them no time to debate, just a moment to choose between giving the thieves and murderers what they wanted and their own lives. In her hands, the Silmaril had cried and yearned: my son, my son, my son, while Elwing could only remember her mother's face as she turned . . . her father's hand on her shoulder as he told her he loved her . . . her brother's laughing as she tickled their sides . . . she even remembered Lúthien herself, pushing the Silmaril away in disgust after Beren laid the gem before her and told her that her father was avenged. Elwing had been a mere child, but even then she was entranced by the jewel. She had not understood how her grandmother could so easily push away something so beautiful.
No, she had thought fiercely – possessively. The Silmaril was stained in the blood of her family, and Maedhros Kinslayer could have it not. It was dear to her – precious - and she would not let the countless deaths of her family and kin be for nothing.
Elwing had known such fey determination then . . . even while foreseeing the hopelessness of their battle and calmly deciding her own end. To the sea with us both, she had thought fiercely, while the Silmaril wailed in her ear, not letting her be with its desire to return to the blood of its maker.
Would that I throw it into the sea and be rid of it, she had told Eärendil as a girl, sharing with him the horror of the Second Kinslaying for the first time. Better would it be in the waves, far from here.
It was the only thought consuming her as she calmly walked out onto her balcony, impervious to the sounds of the battle raging far below her. She could only hear the pounding of the waves against the cliffs, roaring their promises to her . . . calling in suplication as she climbed to stand on the railing. It was not long before the doors to her rooms were flung open, and she spied an Elf with hair the color of red flame from the corner of her eyes.
“Hand us the jewel, Elwing,” Fëanor's eldest son had demanded, his tone as cold as the sword in his hand. Once, she could imagine his voice to be beautiful, his words compelling. In the light of the flames from the quays below, his face was only sharp.
“Elwing, be not a fool,” the second had pleaded, understanding her intentions. His warm voice was steeped with worry, but she could not tell if it was for her or the gem she held in her hands.
“Elwing, do not let anyone take this from you,” Nimloth whispered in her memories. “Run, my daughter, and do not look back.”
And she had not looked back.
I will fly, she had thought without humor as she let herself fall, embracing the wind in her hair and the roaring in her ears as it passed her by, and afterward, she remembered little but for the embrace of the ocean – the tug of the tide upon her heart and the rolling weight of the current against her body - before she was flung into the sky again. And she flew.
Now she sat before her husband – stunned to be alive, stunned to be here - while he awaited the answer he feared most to hear.
“I felt your distress,” Eärendil said when she could not speak. “We turned back towards Sirion for it.”
“There is nothing to turn back to,” she finally said. Her voice was hollow, with not even the light of the Silmaril filling her as she had long depended on it. “Sirion lies in ruin.”
Eärendil took a step back, stunned. His hand found the post of the door for support. “But . . .” he stammered, ever a sort of boyish naivety clinging to him, “There were Noldor there. The survivors from Gondolin . . . Maedhros would not have ordered his own people attacked.”
“You think that it would matter if they were Noldor or Orc-kind?” she asked hollowly. “Noldor, Sindar, Teleri – it makes no difference to the blind eyes of their Oath.”
Sirion was one of the last strongholds of the Eldar, she thought then. Morgoth must be laughing in the north . . . for there was nothing left to stand against him. Nothing left to protest his rule. All of their hopes now rested on her husband's mad quest to make it West, to plead with the Valar for their aid in chaining their wayward kinsman. While she did not carry Eärendil's easy belief – and held a deep seeded frustration that Middle-earth had been left to so long toil while the Valar did nothing - she understood the necessity of his mission, the desperate need they all had for its success.
“Our . . .” Eärendil had to work to form his question. “Our sons?” he finally asked, the words forced from his mouth. “What became of them?”
Elwing flinched at the question. She had given them to their nanny's care, trusting that they would be safe with those who lived, and yet . . . She thought that she heard a small voice cry Naneth as she fell. Was it in her mind, as Elrond sometimes had a talent for speaking into, or did she truly hear . . . If Eliedis fell, and her sons tried to make their way back to her . . . Maedhros and Maglor were right there. Right there, and . . .
Did they have them? She thought sickly. Did they . . .
“I do not know,” she whispered. “They are alive, and yet . . .”
Elwing looked up, and saw where Eärendil moved to hide both his shock and something else . . . something darker as it crossed his face. He blames me, she understood then. He judges me. Anger filled her, thick and fey in shape – for it was he who left first, it was he who abandoned his family long before she did. It had not mattered, she had long thought, for she was used to depending on herself, and she had thought to be mother enough for a loss of a father. And yet, now . . .
“Do not look at me like that,” where her thoughts were sharp, her voice came out weary. Weary and tired. “They still live. I can feel that at least.” That much she could feel in her heart, and know. Even though they flickered across her spirit with the distance between them, she could still feel them – and would continue to do so until the veil of the West swallowed her.
Eärendil could only ever feel his sons as a faint ghost across his senses. He had not been there for her pregnancy or their birth, and his few, short visits to port afterward were not enough for him to develop a soul-deep bond with his children. She buried an old feeling of bitterness at the thought, not wanting it to show on her face now.
Still he stepped back from her, the small space of the cabin not allowing him room enough between them. “You left them,” he echoed hollowly. “You chose the jewel over our people, over our sons. You . . .”
“Do not you dare,” she hissed, her voice low and seething with her anger. If he were closer, she did not know if she would have been able to keep from striking him. “You are no different than I, to stand there in your righteousness – for you have long held the sea as your wife and your quest as the child of your heart. Do not . . . do not judge me for what you cannot possibly understand.”
The Silmaril consumed her, she could not find the words to say. The Silmaril was her at times, so much so that she could not tell where its light ended and the light of her own soul begun. It was a part of her, as much as it was drenched in the blood of her kin, and she could not . . .
In her hands, the gem shivered as if laughing. While it was beautiful and holy, it was also the child of Fëanor's soul, and it yearned to return to the sons of its maker. It yearned as she yearned . . .
“The sons of Fëanor are not evil,” she tried to force the words out. They were hollow to her own ears. “They . . .” And yet, while they were not evil, they were not merciful. Her brothers were hardly older than her sons when Doriath fell, and they were shown no quarter. She . . .
. . . by Eru, but what had she done?
What had she done?
Do not look back, Nimloth's voice rang in her ear, while her own child-self whispered: Why did you not love me enough? Why did you choose this gem over me, over my brothers, over our family? Why . . .
Elwing suddenly felt sea-sick; nauseous and claustrophobic in the small cabin. It was then as if the Silmaril burned her hands, and she could not stand to hold it any longer. She threw it, feeling a vicious satisfaction fill her as it bounced off a wall to skip across the floor, coming to rest in some forgotten corner. She hated the gem and all that it stood for. She hated it almost as much as she hated . . .
. . . herself, the thought fell to pierce her mind like an anchor through the waves. She felt cold and hollow, as if her bones were glass and her skin parchment, with not even the Silmaril's light to shine through her illusion of self once more.
Elwing held her face in her hands, finally allowing herself to cry. She did not know what she cried for – the abandoned child she had been, or the children she left to the care of those monsters. Her sobs were full and ugly, wracking her form with their intensity until she felt the bed dip underneath Eärendil's weight as he sat next to her. He wrapped her in his arms, making soothing noises as he ran a hand though her hair, not quite sure how to ease a pain that had been waiting to come out for so many years now. She could feel his grief and anger eat at their bond – not wholly at her - and it was enough to draw her tears over anew.
For a brief, humorless moment, she wished that she was as a bird again, with nothing but the sky and the sun on her wings to draw her cares. She wished for the breathlessness of flight, for the simplicity of joy that had been beyond her reach for so many years. A bird does not have these cares, these loves, she thought with an ache. And yet, for all of her wishing, she was left with herself and her long bones; her black hair and her elven eyes as she let her husband hold her and mourn a grief of spirit that was too great for words.
In that forgotten corner the Silmaril shone, and for the first, its light went on ignored.
Breathtaking in poignance and intricacy So many layers and levels of feelings tangling together. Superbly, magnificently done!
I love how you are expanding the Tolkien universe with your thoughtful tales
@Nyota's Heart: Thank-you so much! It certainly is a tale with a myriad of mixed emotions, so I am glad I did it justice.
@earlybird-obi-wan: First off I have to thank you for stopping in for the insanity that is this collection of tales! I thank you so much for your kind words.
I actually have an idea for the NSWFF prompt, and I am working on that one right now. But, for now, I wrote this in a flurry to the next 50 Sentence prompt after writing Elwing's thoughts on the Third Kinslaying. One thing obviously led to another with my muse, and now here we are with the opposite side of that battle and its aftermath.
As always, I thank you all for reading, and hope that you enjoy.
“where no water flows”
I killed them, was the only thought he could pick from the jumbled mess of threads that was his mind after the First Kinslaying. Maglor had not been able to form any other thought, and other truth than that, his pulse nearly painful as it throbbed in his neck. At his side, Maedhros had not been able to look at him as they crossed the ocean, burdened as he was by his own guilts. Worse than the mirrored disbelief on his brother's face was the terrible satisfaction in his father's eyes - the determination and righteousness belief in the validity of their actions. Maglor could not bring himself to look his father's way lest Fëanor see the turmoil in his gaze and rightly interpret it. His hands smelled of ash and leather and the sharp copper of blood, each rolling in his stomach as a counterpoint the sway of the ship beneath him. He had thought to be sick, and he instead forced himself to concentrate on the sea salt in the foam of the waves. He leaned into the black humidity that came with the ocean and its storms, and found but a little peace. He has not been able to rid himself of the pull of the sea ever since.
I have killed me, he could only think the second time. Alqualondë could have been explained; rationalized, reasoned. He could plead mercy for the insanity of the days after Morgoth's grip left the throat of his family, choking away all that was good and warm and bright. They were not in their right minds at Alqualondë, any of them. That lie fell, useless, when the snow outside of Menegroth showed the red of blood a hundred times more clearly than the pale sands of the seashore. He did not remember the screams from Doriath so much as he remembered the silence that followed. The winter-wood was soft, heartbreaking in its pure beauty as Maedhros screamed two names that would never be answered to again . . .
The children are dead, he said when their steps led them in circles. There is nothing more you can do. He did not know whom he referred to, Dior's sons or their father's sons. It did not matter, and Maedhros did not ask him to clarify his words.
The third time, he thought nothing. It was second nature as breathing, the arch and cut of his sword. He closed his eyes and imagined that he was cutting through Orc-flesh, that he rid the world of filth rather than his kindred. It was the only way he was able to move forward without stumbling. He let his gaze turn dim and unseeing, caring not if he fell in their mad rush for that which was always beyond their reach. Distantly, he remembered not even being a century old in Aman. He remembered his father teaching him to wrap uncertain fingers over the hilt of a sword, how the weapon had felt heavy and cumbersome and his arms even more awkward and heavier still. He had to learn the grace his brothers so easily uncovered, and Fëanor scathed you just died as he struck through his half-hearted defenses, over and over again. You just died again.
Imagine you hold a flute instead of a sword, Curufin's laugh had been more of a sneer from the side of the ring. His mouth made an arrogant line on his face when Fëanor had to hide his amusement at his words.
It will come to you, Maedhros was kinder in his aid, while Fëanor only scowled as if piqued that any son of his could be so slow to learn any talent. Then, Maglor told himself that his sire's irritation did not wound him. It was not the first time that Fëanor had found frustration in his particular set of skills, and he knew it would not be the last. He could sing melodies that Manwë himself closed his eyes to, he could pluck reels that Vána would dance to, but he was not a creature of forge-flame - and for that Fëanor would always look on him and wonder just where his fire had aided in his birth.
You are dead, Fëanor whispered in his mind, and Maglor struck - slashing and parrying and thrusting and slashing and parrying and thrusting until the battlefield took on a melody of its own, a refrain he knew as well as his own breath, his own pulse.
You are dead – you are dead – you are dead.
And yet . . . he lived through the melee. He survived. He always did.
He survived, and only came back to himself in time to see Elwing aglow with holy light as she turned - and then both he and Maedhros were lunging for the woman in white, desperately trying to catch her before she fell. Yet, as it always was with the Silmaril, they were not quick enough, and the sea took Elwing in a surge of white foam and bubbling tide. The sea took, and Maedhros cursed as he threw his sword to pierce the waves far below. His hollow shout of despair had been joined only moments later by the caw of a bird, a sea bird, Maglor had first thought until thinking the better of it. The bird glowed as if lit by a star, and for a moment the glassy brown eyes flickered, turning a silver shade of twilight, and then Elwing flew from them, the Silmaril bright upon the white of her throat.
Of course the Valar heard her prayers, Maglor thought numbly, watching her fly away. Of course.
“Order the retreat,” Maedhros ordered on a hoarse voice. They turned from the balcony, their armored steps striking a discordant tone against the pale stone of Elwing's tower. “Our task lies in waste; we are finished here.”
Maedhros' single hand clenched, making a fist. His face was eerily calm, the grey of his eyes taking on a shade of molten silver, bright with Fëanor's fire, and then -
They heard a gasp, moving from the doors as two tiny figures ran forward.
At first, Maglor had not understood what he was seeing. He looked down – down – to see two identical figures darting to where Elwing had disappeared. “Naneth!” the call was more of a sob in the throats of the children, and with a sudden flash of understanding, he recognized the black heads and twilit eyes. They -
“Maedhros, the ledge -” he exclaimed, fearful of Elwing's sons trying to follow her the way she had gone.
He caught one boy about the waist, and heard the child's sharp hiss of indrawn breath as he did so. He frowned, troubled at how easily he had been able to catch the boy before he noticed the pained eyes and the tender way the child tried to cradle his side. He is hurt, Maglor understood, glancing to where Maedhros caught the second child before he could make it to where Elwing had disappeared over the balcony's edge.
Even still, the boy's eyes looked down to the waves below, before he glanced up to stare at the sky. Maglor felt his heart twist, the battle-lust and adrenaline fueled haze that came with the fight already wearing away. His bones felt sharp against his skin in the wake of its departure.
For a moment the child resisted Maedhros' efforts to turn him away from the small white smear on the horizon, bright against the setting sun. He stared, his eyes lost before Maedhros' firm grip finally won. In Maglor's arms, the child he held slumped. His breathing turn thick and heavy – and not just from grief and disbelief, he understood after a moment. Maglor shifted his hold on the boy's midsection, and flinched when he felt the tell-tale bumps that came with broken ribs. Something had clearly harmed the child – and whoever was tasked with watching the twins, he thought, for Elwing would not have left her children so unattended.
“What do we do now?” Maglor asked his brother in Quenya. He was not sure if he spoke of Elwing gone over the waves, their men battling below, or the children and their wide, disbelieving eyes.
A long moment passed, filled with only the crashing of the waves below. Above the sounds of the battle, Maglor thought he could hear the cries of a sea-bird from beyond. “We see to the dead,” Maedhros replied in the High Tongue, shielding the children from that much, at least. The boy in his brother's hold flinched, even so.
The child he held did not blink. He simply stayed very, very still, doing his best not to move his injured side.
“Come, we do not have much time left to us,” Maedhros cast one last glance to the horizon, and then turned away.
They had only hours before the survivors of Sirion regrouped with Gil-galad's forces – even now a speck upon the horizon as ships approached from the Isle of Balar, rising green and proud in the distance. There was no time to properly see to their dead, and their casualties were instead burned in communal pyres as their souls were sung to Mandos' Halls. What they would find when they reached there, Maglor was not sure.
“They are dead,” Maedhros said, numbly gathering the bodies of their youngest siblings from the refuse and debris. Maglor had already known, having felt the Ambarussa flicker against his senses before disappearing completely during the battle. Where once his soul had been filled with the cords binding him to his family, he now felt only another empty place. Another chasm. “They are dead,” Maedhros repeated, more to himself than to him, as if trying to make sense of his own words.
They have been for much longer than this, Maglor kept his thoughts to himself. Tonight we merely burned the bodies.
As he sung the funeral rites, Elwing's twins kept close to his side – out of fear of the sword he wore on his opposite hip, or from seeing him as the lesser of two evils between he and Maedhros, he did not know. When his song came to an end, the twin on the right – Maglor could not tell if it was Elrond or Elros, for they refused to give their names - softly asked, “What about Eliedis?”
“Who is Eliedis?” Maglor shaped his voice as gently as he could.
The boy who spoke stood very close to his brother - who still looked ahead with glassy eyes, holding his hurt side with a careful hand. “Eliedis is . . .was our nanny,” the child spoke so softly that Maglor had to concentrate to make out his words. “There . . . there was a beam that fell after Naneth told us to run. She was able to push Elros out from underneath, but . . .” the child faltered, and had to start again. “Her eyes were open, but she did not move after that. I . . . I could feel her spirit leave.”
The numb haze of apathy that had sustained him the day through cracked. Maglor swallowed against the sour taste that filled his mouth, even as he felt his Oath twist about his bones, even now demanding him to walk on water to reclaim what was theirs if he could.
The child – Elrond, Maglor deducted – let out a deep breath. “It is not right to leave her there. She should be allowed to find her way home, too.” He stared at the pyre, the flames catching in the grey of his eyes.
Maglor glanced over at Maedhros, but if his brother felt anything – either grief at their own brothers' passing, or remorse at the child's words, or that same gnawing hunger that their Oath gouged into his own bones – he gave no sign. “We do not have the time,” Maedhros said tersely. “Elwing knew what she was choosing when she kept the Silmaril from us. Let Gil-galad see to the dead, we must depart.”
“And the children?” Maglor asked, hating the answer he knew would be given.
Maedhros' look was cold. “Bring them,” he said tersely. “Elwing could not have gone far, and if she feels any sort of natural decency as a mother she will return – perhaps with her husband, who may prove to be wiser than she. We will then arrange a trade - their lives for the Silmaril.”
That sour taste grew at the back of his mouth. Elrond pressed closer to his brother's side, standing between Elros and Maedhros as he paced before the blaze of the funeral pyre. The flames merged with the red spill of his hair, dancing over the copper plating of his armor until he seemed to be one with the inferno. Maglor looked away, instead glancing at the injured child who kept close to his side. Elros' eyes were still dim, and his breathing was heavy from the unnatural shape of his ribs. Soon, Maglor would have to try setting them, and repair what damage he could.
“And, if Elwing does not return?” Maglor tried to make his voice strong, but the day had taken even that from him.
Maedhros' mouth stretched in a grim line, as if cut from a knife. “Elwing's twins for our father's twins,” he shrugged his armored shoulders in a show of apathy. “It will be a fair trade once made.”
He narrowed his eyes as Maedhros turned, already signaling for their men to ready to depart. Maglor stood with the children, feeling resolve harden about his heart. You will have to go through me first, he thought fiercely, looking at the pyre burning before him. Already his Oath had retreated to linger behind his bones, and a now familiar self-disgust and wretched guilt was building within him. From one side of the sea to the next lives had fallen in the name of their cursed vow, and now . . .
“Come,” he said to the twins. “It is time to leave.”
Elrond flinched at the idea of leaving his home, even when it stood in ruin. His jaw clenched, as if he was fighting back tears, but he nodded even so. At his side, Elros looked to be little aware of the world around him. His pale grey eyes were glazed and heavily lidded. Maglor did not know how far the child would be able to make it before Maedhros declared it safe for them to stop for the night. Once, he did not have to think twice about whether or not his brother would put the wellbeing of a child before their own, and yet, now . . . he pushed the thought aside, liking it but little.
“I will help,” one of their men stepped forward. Maglor looked to see Arheston – a strong elf with dark brown hair and grey-blue eyes. He was the captain of their archers, of which there were now few, Maglor spied out the numbers behind him – but he had once been a father and a husband, and he knew how to tend children well.
“I thank you,” Maglor said gratefully. He mounted his horse and then reached down when Arheston helped pass Elros up to him. The child was boneless and silent, allowing them to do what they wished, and he felt another stab of worry pierce his gut at the boy's apathy.
Down by Arheston, Elrond looked loath to leave his brother, but he too said nothing in complaint when Arheston mounted his own horse and picked up the second child to ride with him. Maglor could feel the elder twin stare at him, even as their host wheeled to follow Maedhros as they turned towards the north.
Hold fast, young one, he tried to touch the waning fëa before him with the light of his own, but he was unsure of how much Elros was aware of in his state. Careful of the child's hurt ribs, he tucked him close, and breathed in the scent of the sea as they made their retreat.
Traveling was slow with the injured child, especially when they needed speed to carry them a safe distance away from Sirion. After galloping ten leagues up the coast, Elros fell blessedly unconscious in his arms. Grateful, Maglor hummed underneath his breath, trying to aid the boy's healing with the song falling from his mouth. The skin underneath the child's tunic was warm, as with fever. When they slowed to a walk for the narrow path on the cliffs that rose to dominate the shoreline, Maglor lifted the boy's tunic to see a molting of purple bruises, turning yellow and brown about the edges. He could not be sure of how deep the damage went until they came to a proper halt.
“Maedhros, the child,” he finally snapped once they passed another league, Elros' breathing grew labored, even within his sleep. If his brother pushed them they ran the chance of the boy's lungs collapsing, or of some infection setting in. An elven child could withstand much, but this boy had just suffered a shock to his fëa, and, when there was also the blood of Men to consider . . .
Did the Pereldar take sick, he wondered then? He had never been close enough to one to know, and if they killed Earendil's son through their inattention . . .
“We are not far enough away to evade the support from Balar should they choose to attack,” Maedhros returned icily. He reined his horse alongside his own, but his eyes simply flickered over the molting of bruises on Elros' side before falling away.
“If you push us any further, you shall have a corpse to hand to Eärendil. Imagine how inclined he shall be to give us our Silmaril then,” Maglor returned, his voice matching the other ice for ice.
Maedhros' jaw squared. His grey eyes were the color of steel then, and for a moment, Maglor did not recognize his brother.
“Your men are tired,” he tried next, “and their hands are stained red with elven blood. Let them rest.”
“Not through choice of ours,” Maedhros bit out tightly.
“Nonetheless,” Maglor returned. “See reason, brother.”
Maedhros was silent for a long, long moment. He did not give a word in answer, but he did stop his horse within the next thicket of birch trees that stood tall beyond the cliffs. Their position here, high from the sandy shore below, would be defensible enough, and they would be able to see any men Gil-galad sent long before they arrived. Maedhros did not look his way, he simply swung down from his horse and started untacking the animal, even with his one hand. His furious eyes dared him to say anything about his decision.
But Maglor knew how to take what he could in this land. He left the setting up of their camp to the others, taking off his own cloak to lay the injured child down upon the sand. He felt a shadow come over him, and he glanced to see Elrond kneeling in worry beside his brother. He took his twin's hand in his own, and while he said no words, Maglor knew that he had not left Elros' mind since they passed the broken gates of Sirion.
Calmly, he felt and found where three of the boy's ribs were broken on the left, and one was fractured on the right. He had been hit squarely, but the small size of his body prevented him from taking any more of the weight of the beam upon himself, Maglor would say if pushed to guess. The nanny had not been so lucky, he thought grimly. He could not bind the child's chest without constricting the healing process and hampering the safety of his lungs. All he could do was apply a cold salve to his skin, and sing what few songs of healing he knew – encouraging the bones to knit and the bruises to fade. But he was no physician, and they had long lost the few stronger healers amongst them – their Oath allowing not of such souls to follow their cause for long.
It was a long night, and an even longer day following. It was immediately apparent that he was far out of his depth. Oh, he knew how to tend children – he had five younger brothers and too many cousins to count, all years younger than him . . . but this was different. This was not the same.
That first night, Elrond did not sleep. Instead, he curled himself around his brother's body, humming underneath his breath as he rested his hand on his twin's broken ribs. Maglor recognized his clumsy attempts to recreate his own song of healing, and he let the child do what good he thought he could. Elros opened his eyes the next day, but he never became completely aware of his surroundings. His eyes were dull and he did not say a word, not even to give voice to his pain or ask of the home he had been taken from. His flesh turned pallid as the hours passed and his eyes were unblinking, no matter what was going on around him. When Maglor touched his hand to the child's brow, he could feel his fëa just barely clinging to its will to live. He felt true worry fill him in reply.
There was a reason that elvish parents waited until times of absolute peace to bring their children into the world, for their early years of development were crucial, and a harm befalling both, or even one parent could result in the fading of the child. Elven parents acted as an anchor for the souls of their children, and with that anchor cast aside . . .
How young were they? Maglor tried to guess, but could not figure with the blood of Men quickening the growing process in the bodies before him. He would assume twelve or thirteen from their height and the developed cast of their thoughts, but he was startled when Elrond quietly answered, “Six,” without him even having to ask out loud.
So young, he thought, trepidation filling him anew. It just may be the blood of Men that would save them in the long run, he tried to hope, for mortal children had the same strange hardiness of spirit that their elders bore. Yet, as Elros faltered, Elrond seemed to follow him – the twins bound soul to soul more so than they were even bound to their parents. Maglor watched, and yet he found himself powerless to help.
Days passed, yet Maedhros did not move them to break camp, as he had first expected. Maedhros did not ask for the welfare of the children, but he could see him linger when he thought he would not be noticed. Maglor wondered how long his brother would be able to pretend at apathy before his own lies failed him, but even that thought was pushed away as he tried to sing once more to the fading soul before him, determined to keep the child with them by whatever powers he had within him.
A week after Sirion's fall, they were approached by a messenger bearing a white flag – informing them that High-king Gil-galad himself was willing to meet with them for the return of the children. Although he was loath to leave the children behind, he was eager for the chance that either Eärendil or Elwing had returned and wished to exchange their sons for the Silmaril. It was a hollow hope, but hope it still was, for Maglor did not know how long the twins would last on their own.
The meeting, however, went far from how they would have hoped. Gil-galad came, flanked by Celeborn on one side and a blonde Sinda on his left whom Maglor did not recognize. While Gil-galad was calm with his reasoning, the silver lord to his right was barely able to keep from crossing the white line between them. Violence clung to his skin, and the light of his fëa rose from his body with the great effort it took for him to lash his temper in. Even with his arm bound and in a sling, Maglor knew that they would have a foe on his hands if their talk deteriorated in any way. The Sinda was silent, but there was a cold hatred in the haughty cast of his features that was just as dangerous as Celeborn's righteous indignation.
Thankfully, their parley was kept civil. Once, Maedhros had been revered in the court of Tirion for his silver tongue, and Gil-galad was young but wise underneath the weight of his crown. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter remained that Eärendil had not been seen in over a year, and Elwing had not been heard from since her deliverance at Ulmo's hands. They came to plead for the return of the children in good faith – but in good faith only, for Gil-galad knew as well as Maedhros that he did not have the army to spare on a full on assault with his men so thinly stretched trying to keep Morgoth at bay. Their numbers were not what they once were, and they fought a hopeless fight against the black Vala in the north – a hopeless fight that suffered all the more so with each rift that grew between their people.
They could not afford to fight amongst themselves, Gil-galad tried to urge, but Maedhros coldly held to his belief that violence could have been avoided had Elwing decided differently – and until what they sought could be returned to them, the children would remain where they were.
Maglor kept his thoughts to himself as they turned away, disappointed but not surprised with Maedhros' decision. He only hoped that the Pereldar would be strong enough to live through the blow life struck them, elsewise their treaty with Eärendil in the time to come would be perilous indeed.
Their journey back to camp was tense. Maedhros did not take counsel with him, for the words Maglor had to say were not those he wanted to hear, and his own rage was thick and sweeping beneath his skin as his frustration mounted all the more so with every step they took.
It was already evening by the time they returned, and Maglor instantly knew that something was wrong for the way Arheston approached them, his mouth a grim line and his hands fisted at his side.
Maedhros tilted his head, his eyes narrowing as the captain met their eyes. Arheston looked as if he wished to look anywhere but at them when he said: “The children are gone.”
Maglor blinked, surprised. Maedhros, however, was not so subdued in his response. “Gone? What do you mean they are gone?” His voice was hissed through his teeth, rumbling up from his chest like forge fire.
Arheston fought away a flinch. “I thought they were sleeping,” he answered. Maglor peered inside of his tent, and saw the cleverly arranged pillows within. “We have searched the camp, and were widening our search to the trees beyond when you returned.”
“Crafty child,” Maglor muttered beneath his breath when he realized that his cloak was gone, along with the satchel of herbs and poultices that he had been using to tend to Elros. Elrond would have to half drag his brother if he hoped to get far, but he had stubbornly set to doing so.
“How can you lose a pair of children?” Maedhros' voice was incredulous, he seeing what Maglor saw almost instantly. “They are hardly out of swaddling clothes -”
“ - and one grievously injured, at that,” Maglor interrupted, cutting through his brother's anger before it could truly take flame. “They could not have gone far.”
Instantly, Maedhros' ire cooled. His anger still rested in his eyes, but he bit his tongue to keep from giving voice to his thoughts. His gaze flickered to the line of trees that separated their camp from the cliffs beyond.
In the sand, they could see where the children fled, and years spent tracking down Celegorm as a child – a fully healthy and mischievous child, at that – made quick work of their picking up the twins' trail. It did not take them long to realize that they headed to where the waves pounded against the tall cliffs beyond, and Maglor felt a knot of worry rise in his throat as he considered just why Elrond would choose to take that direction.
“The shore will lead them south to Sirion,” Maedhros muttered underneath his breath. “That must be his reasoning.”
Maglor could not so easily fool himself. “Perhaps,” still he answered, his voice toneless as they broke through the trees to see the brown rock that made up the crown of the cliffs that lined the shore.
He cast a worried eye about the barren landscape, looking until he saw two tiny figures at the cliff's edge. Elrond had laid Elros on the cloak he stole and was dragging his brother across the rock to the best of his ability, but his going was slow and he struggled. They made quick work of catching up with the twins, just in time to see Elrond aid his brother in standing, half leaning Elros' weight against him as he crept closer and closer to the edge. He looked down when the toe of his boot sent a rock tumbling into the angry sea below – down and down and down.
Elrond paused, obviously gathering himself, when -
“Child!” Maglor implored before Maedhros could speak – not wanting his brother to frighten the boy into jumping. “Back away from the ledge.” He tried to inflect a note of coaxing into his voice, weaving his words with a subtle Song as he so often had when he needed his own brothers to listen to him in dire times.
Elrond turned to him, putting his back to the sea. But he would not step away from the edge. He leaned against the open air as if making a threat. “We will follow Naneth,” he said. His words were strong and his eyes were level, but Maglor could see where his hands shook. In his hold, Elros blinked slowly, as if not entirely aware of what was occurring around him.
“The Valar choose their favourites,” Maglor disagreed, kneeling down and holding his arms open to the boy. A sick desperation reeled inside of him, and he could not, he would not see a life lost so carelessly before him. “Ulmo chose your mother, and you . . . you will not fly as she did. You will strike the rocks. You will die, you and your brother too.”
Elrond's eyes narrowed, flickering from him to Maedhros. Wisely, Maedhros remained silent before taking a step back entirely, knowing that the twins would be quicker to approach Maglor rather than him.
“Where will you go, even if you do fly? Will you be able to make the long flight to Sirion? Can Elros?” Maglor tried a different tactic. The Valar are not kind, they will not look down on you in mercy, he wanted to plead – but how could he explain that to a child who had only known destruction from the hands of he and his? “Think of your brother,” he entreated, and at last he saw the boy's stony facade waver. “He is hurt; he needs help.”
“Not from you,” Elrond returned in a low voice, and Maglor flinched as if struck.
“Then who shall?” he asked bluntly, infusing his words with power until they were as weights when spoken. “Do you expect the Valar to help you? Do not – do not ever – for it is up to us to forge our fates in this land. Sirion is far behind you, and we are Elros' best choice if you wish for him to recover.”
Elrond wavered, glancing from the waves to him as if he could not decide which was the worst of fates. He was unsteady on his feet, clearly exhausted from both his escape and the events of the past week. His eyes were red from a lack of sleep, and his flesh was the same pallid grey as Elros'. Even while supporting his brother, he held his own side in discomfort, feeling his twin's pain as his own and unconsciously taking what burden he could onto himself. As close as Maglor was with Maedhros, even they did not share such a bond, but the Ambarussa had been much the same . . . so much the same. His memories brought a pain of their own, and his next exhale shook.
Over all else, he could feel the child's spirit, torn and heart-sore as it flickered in the shell of his body. He did not know what to do but to kneel in the sand and push feelings of comfort and promise across the distance between them. He did not know how much he got through or how much he was believed when Elros at last tugged at his brother's tunic. All he said was, “Elrond,” in a hoarse tone, but it was enough for the boy to look down, his decision made.
He took one step away from the cliff, and that was all the sign Maglor needed to step forth and draw them back a safe distance from the edge.
“Then help him,” Elrond whispered as he picked Elros up, wincing when he felt how their desperate flight had injured the boy's ribs all over again. His breathing was labored, and Maglor could hear a wet sound from where he breathed though his mouth. Queasy with fear, he wondered if his lungs had been punctured or bruised. And, if they were . . .
But he could not think about that now. “I will,” he nonetheless swore. He foolishly gave his oath, and Elrond nodded in acceptance. He did not understand why, but the child believed him. In that moment, nothing else mattered but keeping his word, as if one soul saved could make up for the multitudes lost by his hand, and -
He saw Elrond flinch, still in tune to his thoughts as they spun, and Maglor carefully called his mind to order. He forced his spirit to calm.
By the time they returned to camp Elros had already lost consciousness, for which Maglor was grateful. He could feel the bones beneath his hold grate as he walked, and he hummed underneath his breath to deepen the boy's sleep as much as he could.
When they returned to his tent Maedhros held the flap open for him, and then lingered. Maglor looked up, surprised, for on his brother's face was true concern – such as he had not openly showed since Fingon's death. Maedhros reached out to touch Elros' brow, frowning as he caught the trail end of his last thought. At Maglor's opposite side, Elrond stiffened for Maedhros touching his brother, but he remained silent.
He may not last through the night, Maedhros said into his mind, shielding Elrond from his words. His fëa falters.
Maglor turned to Elros, his jaw set in determination. But, he has not faded yet. There is still hope.
For all of his strong words, Elros only grew worse as the night approached. His lungs had indeed been punctured, as Maglor had feared, and his breathing turned heavy and labored as the sun set and the dark stretched across the land. Maglor sat crosslegged on the bedroll, cradling Elros against his chest as he sang, trying to use words of healing to urge the broken spirit in his arms to strengthen and mend. But the child's fëa still faltered. It was mired in a grey haze, and no matter how he shaped his song or entreated with his words, he could not convince it to turn towards life again.
The whole time Elrond stayed close, holding Elros' hands in his own and resting his head where he could stare at his brother's closed eyes. Maglor knew the pain of sharing siblings with Námo, and an awful voice inside of him whispered that if he lost one child, then he would most certainly lose them both. He swallowed against the truth, refusing to give it thought.
. . . he would not be able to live with himself if that happened. Already he dragged himself through life with the weight of so many souls heaped upon his shoulders. His hands were reddened to the point where there was no hope for ever cleansing them again, and yet, these last two losses would be the final straw to break him utterly.
Halfway through the night, Elros' heartbeat slowed. With each shallow breath his fëa turned more and more translucent, just barely anchoring itself to the mortal plane. Maglor did not know how much longer Elros would hold on to the primordial instinct to survive, to live. The boy in his arms was already corpse-cold, and yet, instead of withdrawing his support and quietly let his soul slip away he could only think: no.
Determination filled him anew as he reached out with the light of his own spirit. Even as mired as it was with his many sins, he was still able to gently hold the waning soul before him. Stubbornly he held on, refusing to let go. He felt his eyes glaze over, falling into the same trance that would take him whenever he was completely engrossed in his music. Entwined that deeply with Elros' soul, Maglor could feel his bond with his twin, and Elrond blinked, startled by his presence brushing against his own mind as a result.
How are you here? he asked, wary, but too tired to ask anything more than that.
I told you, his mind's voice was more than the voice of his mouth; a sound that spoke into marrow more so than ears. I am here to help.
Elrond did not believe him . . . neither did Elros, he realized. Maglor understood then that it was not the child's body he should have first coaxed to heal. Instead he should have given the boy a reason to heal, a reason to continue. He first needed to attend to the scars of consciousness that showed as deep gouges before his mind's eye. He gently dipped beneath the surface of the two small minds, and felt only their confusion, their hate and their fear and their missing. He saw Sirion burning from their eyes; he could feel as the sharp bite of ash and flame filled their mouths and noses. He could feel their desperate horror when the beam fell in the tower – weakened from the fires beneath. He could feel Eliedis' death, how the severed core shocked their hearts, even as the onslaught of the warring and the dying pushed in on them from all sides – and it was not the dreaded Orcs of stories that they fought, no, it was kindred, it was Elf-kind who drew sword against sword, and to be of so few years and exposed to such a horror . . . He looked, and felt their confusion and denial when Elwing jumped – abandoning them, leaving without them, and -
- I understand, he breathed, dear child, believe me when I say that I do understand. As gently as he could, he opened his own mind in return. He did not know how to explain his history of centuries in moments, but he did his best. He summoned to mind his memory of his father – great and terrible and breathtaking – and the inspired work of his hands. He shared the glory of the Two Trees and the black stain that was Morgoth upon that beauty, devouring it until nothing was left but for the light his father had trapped away. He tried to explain the Oath they swore, shielding the children from feeling the full brunt of his chains – only letting a whisper of the Darkness awaiting their failure swim across their senses before leashing it back again.
He let them feel his horror and sorrow for Alqualondë, and his relief for the years that he had been able to serve both Endórë and his Oath at once. He let them feel the joys of their victories and the agonies of their defeats . . . and that final, awful defeat at the Nírnaeth Arnoediad. He let them feel the pain that devoured their souls with every day they tried to ignore their Oath, for oh, how they tried to turn their foolish vow of tongue aside, until, finally . . .
He mourned every life lost from Doriath to Sirion, he let the young ones see. It was not enough, and it never would be, but he let them see. He shared everything, giving all that he had to give. As he shared the force of his own life, he could feel the child in his arms grow stronger and stronger still.
And then, he started singing. What started as a song of healing turned into strands of his Noldolantë – the great history of his people and their deeds both high and low. He wove together both his voice of gold and the sheer, incalculable magnitude of his own soul – succored upon the light of the Trees and begotten by the Spirit of Fire himself - until it all but lifted from his skin as a near tangible light on the air around him. He sang, pouring his all into his words, giving and giving and giving -
What is this? He heard Elrond's voice shape in awe. This is more than mere music . . .
This world was birthed through Song, and that Song can still be joined by our voices. It is the song you hear in the trees, the cadence in the waves. Many of the Children can hear it, even if they do not understand that which they listen to – but only a few can truly recreate it, even when all of our songs echo it to a point, Maglor answered as best as he knew how. He wove together the Song of the sea, the melody of the rock and shore itself. He pulled down strength from the stars above and drew from the hundreds of sleeping souls within their camp to recreate the fledgling soul before him. He felt fit to burst with the power of the Song he wielded, but he did not let it go. Healers can give of their own fëa to aid the Song of another, he continued. It is what I try to do now.
Are you one of these healers? Elrond asked, curious. It was strange, Maglor thought, that the child could see through the power of his Song to speak mind to mind with him, finding him as a calm in the storm.
No, I am not a healer, Maglor answered ruefully. Perhaps he could have been, but he had darkened his soul with too many ill deeds for that. Yet, I can hear the Song and recreate it . . . more so than any other left of our kind, perhaps.
It is beautiful, Elrond whispered. I have never heard anything so beautiful before.
It is life, Maglor replied, feeling his heart twist in his chest. It is life itself . . .
Show me, Elrond said after a moment. I want to help.
Maglor did not know what aid an untrained child would provide, but he was Elros' twin, and he could only do good in coaxing his spirit back to life. Shielding him from the transfer of power, Maglor illuminated the notes that reflected the Song of the world around him – singing in harmony with the sky and sea and stars to the point where they all were one for that moment in time.
Naturally, needing but little of his coaching, Elrond added his own voice to the Song, and Maglor felt amazement when the child drew from the melody to strengthen his own soul before using his inner light to bolster the spirit of his brother. A healer in the making, he thought before turning his own attention to Elros. The boy was trying to open his eyes once more. His lungs had cleared of fluid, and his bones tenderly went about setting themselves together again. They were close, he felt, so close . . .
Heal child, he shaped his voice as soothingly as he could. He begged, he entreated.
And, for the first time in centuries, he prayed.
Please, he gave his voice to he knew not whom. He did not know which of the Valar would hear him, and so, he laid his entreaties at the feet of Eru himself. He begged to one who had so long been blind to them all, and he hoped, that once . . .Please, take all that I may give if it means that he may but live . . .
He prayed, and he continued to sing.
Please . . .
And slowly, the world around him went from gold to black.
“You are awake.”
He had to force himself to swim above the comforting blackness of oblivion, slowly rising to consciousness after a long and groggy struggle. Once he did, he almost wished that he had kept himself to the peaceful nothingness that had previously engulfed him. His eyes burned as he blinked them against the light, orange and dappled through the walls of his tent. His mouth was dry and his lips were chapped as he worked to find his breath. He could not immediately sit up.
There was a hand at his side, helping him sit upright in response to his thoughts. A moment later, he was passed a skin of water, and he drank, unreasonably thirsty in that moment. He breathed in and out for a long minute, letting his body find its bearings against the Balrog that was beating its fiery wings against the inside of his skull.
He felt rather horrid, he finally decided. Horrid indeed.
Beyond his tent, he heard the warm timbre of Arheston's voice, followed by the laughter of children. Children, which meant -
“Elros lived,” Maedhros said from his bedside, reading his thoughts before he could speak. “Through that night and many since.”
Maglor blinked, not understanding his words. He did a double take at his brother, not understanding the dark circles underneath his eyes or the haunted cast of his gaze. His fair skin was pale, stark and white behind the silver ridges of his scars, making them even more prominent than usual. He looked, Maglor thought, as if he had not expected to ever see him again.
“You have not opened your eyes for nearly two months,” Maedhros said. His voice was dry, lost in his throat. “You gave much of yourself to the child . . . almost too much.”
But it won their lives, and maybe even more than that, he thought upon hearing Elros chatter about feathers and fletching arrows, while Arheston answered his questions in a patient voice. The boy sounded happy, trusting even, which was no small feat in the face of where they had started from.
“I would do it over again,” Maglor said, and knew that he spoke his words as true.
Maedhros flinched, but he set his jaw in silence. Whatever thought rested behind the stone of his gaze he did not give voice to.
“Have we heard from Elwing?” Maglor asked.
Maedhros shook his head. “No,” he answered, “Though Gil-galad has twice tried again to claim the children. It is generally believed that Elwing will not return. They are convinced that she and Eärendil will continue West on his quest to find the Valar's sympathy and mercy.” There was a note of derision in his voice, for long had Maedhros succumbed to hopelessness in the fight against Morgoth.
His heart hurt at his brother's words, not for himself, but for the twins. They would not be claimed by their parents, he thought hollowly. He had already witnessed the scars their young souls bore, and to have such scars further etched in and then left to heal . . . He took in a breath at the thought, and let it out slow.
Maedhros rolled his shoulders. “They will remain with us until Eärendil completes his quest,” he said, setting his mouth tightly. “The younger one has quite . . . taken to life amongst us. We cannot get him to quiet.” He made a look of distaste, to which Maglor swore he was not amused. “The elder child has scarce left your side these last few weeks. He even tried singing to you – a song of healing, even I could recognize.”
“Perhaps it worked,” Maglor raised a brow in reply, refusing to elaborate about the exchange of souls that had happened that night.
Maedhros sighed, troubled. He swallowed, and Maglor had the oddest sense that his brother was trying to keep himself composed. “Do not . . .” he spoke, and then had to pause. He gathered himself. “Please . . . do not leave me like that again. I do not know what I would have done without you.”
Maglor swallowed, and did so around a stone. Ever had he followed, not out of respect and love for their father, who had long had but little of respect and love for him – but rather, out of love for his brother. He had thought that Maedhros knew that by now. And yet, he had always known with a sinking certainty that he would be the last one left. In the end, Maedhros would leave him, and he alone would be left with his pains and his regrets weighing upon his spirit. It would be fitting, he thought without humor, for the coward that he was - never strong enough to accept the Darkness these three times now, letting the void claim his soul so that hundreds of others could live.
He closed his eyes, and felt as if the ocean rolled behind his gaze.
“I cannot . . . I cannot lose you too,” Maedhros whispered in a small voice, and Maglor reached over to take his brother's one hand in his own.
“And you never shall.” Not even after you too are gone, he promised within his mind. But that he could not bring himself to say out loud.
Instead, silence fell between them, only broken by the sound of the children as they laughed beyond.
Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. That was finger lickin' good, off the chain ridiculous good. That healing song gave me chills Celestial choirs etc. The last scene - ooh, so incredibly touching! Sibling moments are amazing for their poignancy particularly in your stellar hands.
Beautiful story, giving depth to Tolkien's world
I don't know why I didn't before, but I just got round to reading these. The Silmarillion is incontrovertibly the greatest exemplar of modern mythopoeia, and I think your work does it justice (I can't think of any higher praise).
Too many favourites to pick out...but I'll just say your Bilbo is pitch-perfect. Also, I especially love your portrayals of the Peredhel twins, their mother's tortured relationship with the Jewel, and Eärendil - especially the reunion with his elf son. I'd love to see the bit where Elrond shares with his father what he still carries with him of the son who chose the Gift!