A TolkienSecretSanta2017 fic for the wonderful Vinyatar who asked for Twins or Doriathrim and nothing shippy. Set in December TA 3017.
“Brother, we are late!”
Elladan yells this to an already retreating rump and back, knowing it to be quite futile. But something must be done.
It was well on to dusk. High on Hithlaegir’s western slopes the sun sets early in the deeper vales. They are already limned by shadow. Anor’s thin rays have already lengthened the shadows of afternoon beneath the frosted trees. Their deeply smudged grey blue casts stripes across the shining snow, swallow his brother’s cloak briefly ere he raises his sword and cries a blistering defiance.
Elladan sighs heavily. It is far to go before the night’s resting spot, there is no time for sport. Tulkas give me strength.
His beloved brother either does care or his urgent words simply do not pierce the battle fog of Elrohir’s fevered brain.
The filth, well served by instinct and experience to abhor golug on horseback, scatter like geese from their sharp defile of rock, fleeing as fast as their squat bow-legs will take them. It is a hopelessly unmatched parody of a fight.
They are pursued by a mist grey tornado of fury and pure ire.
Elrohir’s sword flashes, his knife poised in his shield hand, for his mare, Belan, needs no guide as they wheel and dance, already laying deadly waste to the unlucky troop.
Nienna’s mercy. There is nothing for Elladan to do. He heaves a sigh, loosens his blade within its sheath and shortens his stallion’s reins. “Hai, Suldal!” rings through the trees and they are in the thick of it. the bay trembling in anticipation for he well knows that stench. Two arrows swiftly fly and two black shapes fall down. The rhythm of his blade is pure and deadly: they are just Orcs, just a dozen, no match for brethren trained by the Balrog-Slayer himself. The wretched creatures scramble, cumbered by the mud and snow, and the nearest falls. Ahead he sees Belan rear, trumpet her defiance, pummel another to a black-violet pulp.
Both blades sing, fall again and again, and then, there is only one.
This last Yrch, man-high, putrid and sallow-skinned, stands frozen for a startling moment, slanted pig-eyes narrowed to tiny slits. Smarter than all his swiftly dispatched troopmates, does something unexpected.
He eschews the track and turns to flee upslope.
Not a single drop of black blood must escape the thirsty clutches of the mountain’s soil.
Elrohir urges Belan straight up, charging after the fugitive as the creature crashes through the bare black thickets dotting the steep and rocky and slope. It is no contest. The roan’s haunches flex and bunch, her rider bending low over her neck, sword out to strike, gaining yards at a time, certain of his goal.
Desperate, wheezing clouds of foul and frantic panic, the Orc kicks with the strength of certain death at the next boulder that he reaches.
It all happens in an instant.
The rock tumbles inexorably with the fall line. It careens off a slender sapling of pale aspen and then another of hemlock straight to the pursuing pair. Elrohir and Belan are both of one mind, their swerve is instant and life-saving. The mare leaps away but regains the turf on the worst purchase she can gain: a patch of needlegrass watered by a mountain seep. With the cold it has swiftly frozen to solid ice.
There is a mighty crash.
Elladan’s heart freefalls into his stomach. He knees Suldal at speed up through the copse, near falling from the saddle in his haste to dismount and reach them both. Belan, squealling in fright, rolls up at once: she regains her feet and stands trembling, eyes white and round. Below, where her shape is imprinted the snow, Elrohir lies still upon the ground, eyes closed, fair face lined with pain and smeared with dirt. There are leaves in his hair and his shoulders are flecked with dirty snow.
A finger of pure fear freezes Elladan’s heaving chest. “Tôren!”
He falls to his knees, searching for injury but there is that he can see: no limb at an odd or awkward angle, no blood flowing, but neither does his brother move. “Elrohir!” He shakes gently at one arm but then something startling unexpected happens. Every limb convulses sharply. A green gloved hand flings out and pounds furiously against the muddied snow.
Dumbfounded, Elladan stares at the brother who has suddenly come to himself. The grey eyes so like to his own are open, dark with displeasure but most certainly alert. “You are not hurt?!” Had Elrohir been merely stunned? Or lain gathering injured wits?
The answer comes as a vicious, graceful arabesque of a fighting knife is thrown abruptly to one side. “No, It got away! I am furious!”
So much that you let me think you hurt? Mouth agape, the diplomatic eldest of Elrond’s children cannot stop the truth from blurting out. “As am I! You frightened me almost to Aman!”
Ridiculous, Headstrong. Impulsive. The furious litany flashes as he glares hotly at his sibling. His brother’s need to take every chance to strike is now nigh compulsion, a possession like the Men of Calenardhon are said to sometimes bear. Elladan sits livid, anxious heart pounding, but then the anger pours away like water.
This will not help. And his eye has noticed something else.
Elrohir, the fire swiftly fading from his silver gaze, braids flung out wide and snow-melt soaking into the fine grey wool of his winter cloak lies uncomfortably straight downhill. But has moved no muscle to get up.
Elladan rises, reaches out his hand, eyes narrowed and assessing. “Since you can expend much energy in cursing I expect you will not to fade. Come.” He grasps his brother by the forearm and begins a steady tug. Elrohir frowns but acquiesces, rolls up, elegantly as ever, until his right boot touches down.
His mouth twists in sudden pain.
“Nothing. I am fine. Fine.” The reply is swift, but Elladan’s mouth flattens into a line. Mules have been known to be more cooperative than Elrond’s younger son with an injury. He could be lanced by shards of agony yet loathe to admit the weakness.
“Your leg? Your ankle?” But Elrohir mutely shakes his head, looks away from the intensity of his stare. Belan, too, stands awkwardly, pulling up her off hind foot and favouring it noticeably.
Her master stands gingerly, in unconscious imitation of his mount. “Ankle.” He finally admits, rolling a shoulder experimentally. “And a bruise or two. Can you see to her?”
It is debatable which patient he should treat first, though Elladan is in no mood argue. He sheaths his own long knife and turns to the roan. “Easy dear one,” he murmurs quietly, taking up the trailing rains and gently stroking down her rough winter coat. Belan’s soft brown eyes look pained. Elladan bends in concern, feeling her fetlocks, swearing his own unseasonal sentiment at what he finds. The favoured one is warm and swelling quickly. She flinches from his gentle touch. “Ai goheo,” he murmurs louder, hoping to settle her agitation though his voice startles against the hushed quiet of the forest.
With a sinking heart he confirms the worst. It will be harder and slower going now. “She has a sprain. Bad enough that she must not bear weight. Rest a day or two.” Or three.
“And we will be later still.” His brother’s face pales, white as the wing of a gull. “Our news may not reach the vale before the Company sets out.”
What would it profit to deny it? Now all but certain—a most ill and unlooked for turn of luck. Elladan thinks of the many miles of brown and withered slopes, barren of all save a few corrupted blackened birds and fey snakes that hissed and rattled with every move. The brethren have scouted the route the Company should take and it was only there, east of Anduin above the Argonath, near Celebrant of old, that they doubted the wisdom of the route. No water and no cover. Too many fell things and spies nearer to Dol Guldur’s accursed walls. Grandfather had agreed. Down Anduin by boat they must go, and find some other route into Gorgoroth. The north approach to Mordor will lead only to calamity.
Elrohir’s frown is firm, “You must ride on.”
“It is too risky.” Even here, west of Hithaeglir’s towering spine, a lone traveller can find trouble. Especially if they are slow.
“You might arrive on time.”
Elladan ruefully shakes his head. What were the last words of their foster brother ere they parted at Tharbad? ‘Try not to let him get into too great a trouble.’
“Saes.” Elrohir looks hollow but determined, well aware that the dozen trophies have been a bit too dearly bought.
“What can I do but follow where you lead?”
Haltingly the Peredhel limps to Belan’s side, takes her headstall in hand and leans into her warmth, clasping his fingers around the sweat darkened leather. “I am sorry.” Elrohir falls silent and shuts his eyes. After a moment he speaks again. “This pass is ever ill for us.”
“Nay. Naught happened as we went east. And Aulë does not work so.”
This simple statement of true fact is placed as a bulwark. It is ever thus after the black mist of battle passes. The grief that sleeps below the surface bubbles up like a bitter spring. “Not always.” Above, the peak of Caradhras looms red as madder and below, Eregion’s stands of holly gleam. They are not home yet, even though there are no longer mountains in the way. “If not your Yrch here then another mishap may have fallen nearer to our door.”
He holds his breath waiting for a storm to erupt, but there is just a nod, and his brother’s fingers tightening on the headstall.
Belatedly, Elladan realizes that neither should be leaning on the other.
Suldal hastens at his quiet whistle. He unstraps a water-jug from the bay’s saddle-bow, hands it silently across. “We shall ride double. With as much haste as Belan will allow for the light is fading and t’were best if we made it farther down. I can bind her now but more must wait until we stop.”
Elrohir nods and, marshals finally something of his wry, familiar grimace. “And my hoof also. I fear if you remove the boot it will never go on again.” He takes a sip, wipes his mouth with the back of his gloved hand, shuffling over to clasp Elladan’s shoulder. It too is dusted in white, for the finest shower of snow has begun to fall.
“Aye. And may I trouble you for a boost?”
In the end, it is slower going than even he had gauged.
The sky is heavier. Patches of cloud gather and grow, like flocks of crows assembling for a feast, taking even the last few moments of Anor as she damps her fire. Elladan keeps one to eye above the trees and another to their track. The weather this eve will turn: snow lies far down the mountains’ shoulders, thick and deep, kissing every bush and swale and hollow and more is on the way. The damp that has stalked them like wolf, all the way up the Dimril Stair begins to descend.
It will soon bring sleet or worse. And the birds are most ominously quiet.
Beyond a straight-backed copse of Ironwood he dismounts to lead them all when a most unwelcome shower of freezing rain begins. It is pretty in the muted half-light, liquid crystal rimming each twig, each green and perfect needle, even the edge of their drooping hoods, but though the world is silver/green the trail is sharp and hard. The horses hooves punch through the crust underfoot.
They go slow, and slower.
“Goheno nín,” he pleads with Suldal who has jerked and slipped, but the stallion gives only a shake of his noble head. A patchwork of capricious snow and sleet covers the ground and the winding track they follow is growing treacherous. Belan nickers tiredly and shakes loose the clinging balls of rime. Elladan is glad of his thick new woollen cloak and gloves made by grandmother’s ellith, but he would be gladder of a fire and a hot meal, tries not to think of the waiting endless warm welcome halls of their father’s house. They have been a whole month out and now near that back. The foul fall has slid without appropriate introduction into a bitter winter. Hithui is gone. They lingered a little too long in the peace of Lorien and now may miss Mithrandir’s Company. Draugluin’s teeth indeed.
It begins to snow in earnest.
“I am a trial to you.”
Aie. Elrohir, in pain and proud, silent all the journey has caught the tenor of his thoughts and spoken, soft as the flakes that white-wash the sky. The pale skin of their mother only serves to darken more the loosened wisps of black hair from his braid. They lift and blow about the recesses of his hood.
“Elladan, I have to.”
If, in a far corner of his heart, Elladan wishes that this once his brother could resist the lure of extinguishing the fell light from those hideous slant eyes, he does not say it. This will not deprive the fire of its fuel, merely throw oil on the blaze It is a familiar resignation. He pulls the hood of his cloak farther out to stop the wet from crusting up his lashes. For good or ill, the time of decisions draws nearer, years fall thick as leaves upon Amroth’s golden hill and soon Ada will sail. Arwen will stay with her Estel (he does not countenance any other choice) and Elrohir will stay until their sister lays down her mortal life.
And Elladan will go where his brother does, no matter that he tires of the heaviness of anger.
He lifts up a hand to shield his gaze. Ahead, through the white and whirl, he spies a screen of alder and hazel growing strong. Their bare black branches sway in the breeze and beneath he spies a smudge of purple.
Willow! Where there is willow there is water. He turns toward the blessed sight and sure enough, a narrow stream glimmers dully in the gloom. Below the thin black glaze of flash frozen ice fresh water sings. Nienna’s grace.
He has begun to think that they must stop. They are not lost—much of the pass has been focus of their scouting--- but dusk is falling more quickly and the half- shadows of the trees begin to stretch. The Frost Moon soon will rise and the temperature drop until even stones crack in the hushed silence of the night.
If there is a stream to feed Sirannon below, there will be a lee of a river bank and tree roots to nestle by.
He drops both sets of reins and puts out a hand. “Stay here,” he tells the parade behind him and continues warily on the icy crust, searching along the short cut bank for some spot that looks to suit.
A whistle, a little like the wind between the rocks, rises above the muffled crunch of his own footsteps. A bird? A beast? He looks up and just along the bank, a shape, a little ghostly, gathers from the fat perfect flakes.
At first he takes it for a stag but then the whistle becomes a tune, delicate and low. Of Eru’s children, not beast.
“Who goes there?!”
Out of the shadows walks a stranger. Tall, fair of face, with something ‘other’ of the Eldar about him, at first Elladan wonders if he is of Eregion, but no. None have lived there since the Enemy defiled it long ago. And the men of Anor are scattered and too few.
Hands out and open, the stranger solemnly inclines his head in greeting. “Mae govannen, traveller. Valar guard and guide you.”
“And also you,” Elladan answers warily, standing still, poised to clutch his knife. for he likes not surprises in the woods. They are pretty words but ones known to learned unwelcome foe.
The man nods and steps nearer by a pace, out from beneath the dark bare branches. Soft shafts of the setting sun on cloud gild the stream bank just enough that he can see the stranger clearer now. His hair is dark as the shadows of midnight, brow strong, deep eyes all the colours of the forest floor. It is a proud face: one that has seen much of the world but he is not an elder, more a seasoned warrior in the fullness of his strength. A Dúnedan, perhaps, though he is not clad as such. Besides trews and shirt of heavy buckskin and a cloak of fur, he bears only a horn on a well-worn baldric and a bow of Lebrethon.
The great head looks up to the near ceiling of the clouds and one broad hand rises to rub across a bearded chin. “Tis a rude night to be wandering about the woods. Have you far to go?”
Elladan narrows his eyes, thinking Winter’s darkness hides many things. It is a strange and sybilant accent, and one that he cannot place. “A ways. And you? What is your business out this night?”
“Hunting.” A curt but not unfriendly reply. The man points his horn back through the glade. “Your horse and companion have been injured.”
Elrohir has been seen?! Alarmed, Elladan lets no outward worry ride upon his face, thinking he might draw is knife and sword before the man’s bow is knocked. The Enemy owns many spies and not all are foul to look upon. “What of it?” he growls.
“Peace. I mean no harm. My hut is not so very far. It is simple, but you are welcome.”
“That is a generous offer from a chance met wanderer on the trail.”
“And that is not an answer,” says the man without heat. His arms are crossed across his chest, patiently, as if he has settled in to wait the winter through.
Elladan frowns and shakes his own drifted hood. It is most generous, but he is not in the habit of taking hospitality from one who does give up his name.
He expends a little of his father’s skill, reaching out but finding no hint of dark intent. Only calm and strength. Amusement and concern.
The snow falls harder. It comes in thick clumped balls of white, glimmering and so heavy they land with a short soft hiss. A great ledge collects, flake upon perfect flake, over the stranger’s hair and beard.
If only he could confer with someone else. It would be good to actually rest. To treat Belan and his brother under a roof and not in biting cold. But a long-honed wariness outweighs the lure of comfort.
He is about to reluctantly take his leave, when the man shakes off his snowy shroud and another shape separates from the silent curtain of falling diamond.
A stallion. Silver-grey and with a great spear mounted in its stirrup.
For no reason that he can name this makes up his unsettled mind.
“Le hannon nín. We would be very grateful.”
The stranger bows his head and a smile, warm and wide, creases the cold reddened face. “Follow me.”
And so he does, and his brother and their mounts. Under a waxing moon, through Hithlaegir’s ancient forest and across her older rock.
Elladan might be mad.
This is not a thought that has ever come to Elrohir before. His careful, conscientious, elder brother, in all ways the rightful heir to their father’s considerable wisdom, is doing something rash?
He would think it a figment of his pained and tired head yet there they are, following a mysterious stranger along crusted rocky paths, through silent snow-bound glades and beneath boughs drooping almost to their toes. Until they are right up against a rough crag of mottled, red weathered granite.
The huntsman (for so Elrohir has assumed), slows his steady plodding pace and stops, motions them to walk ahead. Suldal follows on, squeezes through a crevice so narrow that Elrohir’s stirrups brush the sides, and comes out into a hidden clearing-- a hanging bowl crowned by the mountain and a grove of stately fir.
“Why, this is beautiful!”
It is. Ithil has drifted higher now. His hazy glow spills off spires of deep blue-green to dance among the swirling crystals, limns the wide white meadow in silver and gleaming frost.
It is perfect and peaceful, and quite hidden from the world.
Suldal, excited as if making for his own stall, picks up his hooves. He crosses the unblemished expanse of white to stop not far from a small wood barn. Elladan comes aside and halts, patting Belan’s trembling flank. She has been very brave to walk for many minutes more.
“Let me help you down.”
A steadying arm is proffered. Elrohir accepts but cannot hide the grimace as he swings his injured foot across the stallion’s back. His head throbs sharply. Moving is evidently ill-advised but praise Estë his other leg holds firm. He ignores his brother’s worried gaze, turns toward their refuge for the night. A hut of stout smooth logs lies at the foot of the little cliff, beside the smaller stable. Neat and compact, it is adorned in icicles that drip, jewel-like, from the eaves.
Elrohir assesses the sheer rock face with a practised eye. “Unscalable. We need not fear an approach on that front.”
“Nor any other,” notes the huntsman as he and his stallion draw abreast. The great beast neighs once in greeting, tossing his silken mane as his master leaps lightly down. “We shall be undisturbed. Be welcome and help yourselves inside. I will stable the horses first.”
Elrohir blinks in surprise. After no words spoken during the entirety of their walk, this is a veritable soliloquy. So the man is certain of his safety? That alone is interesting from one who looks but lightly armed. Elladan, more concerned with immediate practicalities, politely inclines his head. “That is a kindness. I will come back and aid you in a trice.”
“There is no need.” The huntsman shuffles through the snow, reaches out to stroke Belan’s soft muzzle. “Utulie oni, melima quen,” he intones, low and admiring.
Both brothers stare, mouths agape, as the mare whickers happily and hobbles unerringly for the barn. Suldal is next. ‘Lle ume quell. Áva estë ‘ is murmured into a sable tufted ear and both stallions follow her, reins trailing, without guide or coaxing.
A pair of war horses taking orders as if they are blushing foals with their dam?
Elrohir stands amazed, although their host clearly thinks nothing of it. The man hefts his spear and turns to the shocked Peredhil with the ghost of a wry smile upon his lips. “The door is not barred. Go and see to yourselves.”
This, too, is a command, though it is very gently said.
“Come, tôren.” Elladan pulls at his sleeve, slings an arm about Elrohir’s waist, and together they shuffle through the calf-deep snow to the hut’s front step. The door latch yields to a gentle push. Elrohir limps inside, decides that he is too tired to worry about his boots, and half-falls onto a wooden chair sitting at one end of a dark oak table.
Elladan’s lips flatten into a disapproving line. He stamps a small hillock of snow onto a braided rug just aside the threshold. “So bad?”
“Not at all. There is but one patrol of Orcs bashing inside my skull.”
This is a lie of course. It feels more like two, or three, now that he is stopped and there is no outer world to focus on.
His brother gives a faintly derisive snort. “Amazing. Your head is not actually made of rock.” He toes off his boots and strips off his wet outergrear, hanging the dripping cloak on a hook he finds beside the door. “This is very pleasant.” He rubs chilled hands together. Indeed the air is fresh and warm, for the logs must hold heat from the morning’s fire.
Coming over to the table, Elladan sets his saddle pack beside the chair. “Let me see,” he says, helping Elrohir divest his mail. “Do you remember hitting your head?”
An inauspicious answer. The thorough, and thoroughly unpleasant, assessment that ensues takes longer than he would like. While his head and neck are prodded, boots removed and ankle turned in ways that make it protest, Elrohir distracts himself with a survey of the refuge. The hut is not poor; there is nothing hardscrabble about its simple, homey furniture. A table and four chairs hold the centre of the space. Armchairs and stools hug a carpet before the generous hearth and a double box bed rests beneath one long wide window. All is clean and speaks of love and care. Bright, woven blankets drape the armchair backs. A quilt in hues of russet and gold covers cedar boughs set in the bed. There are candles of beeswax set on the tables and in lanterns on the walls.
Elladan, frowning, pulls a heavy brass candlestick near and declares, “I need more light to work by.” He takes his firesteel, strides to the hearth and strikes the tinder, setting it to the faggots and dried moss waiting there. Bending low to blow gently at the infant flame, it is not long before the kindling catches and the mellow light winks on the ringlets of his mail.
He has chosen to not take it off.
“Still certain I will not fade?” Elrohir grumbles from his seat.
A lit sliver of kindling is set to the wick. “Yea. You are most fortunate to have not cracked your skull. There is a lump the size of a plover’s egg behind your ear. Can you feel it?”
“I would rather not.”
A warm hand squeezes at his shoulder. “Let me get the willowbark.”
There is a faint rustling of leaves in an oiled leather case pulled from the pack and so Elrohir closes his eyes again. All is quiet but for the crackle in the hearth.
Both brothers jump at the whine and gust of cold as the door bangs abruptly open. The huntsman’s heavy fur shakes and he bends to take off his boots, leaving them unlaced and dripping upon the mat. When he straightens up, Elrohir sees that he is tall, tall as their father. It is a puzzle. He is not a man of the Dales or Buckland then. A Gondorian perhaps, ‘tho the nose is a trifle fine.
“I am Feredir,” announces the man, grinnings as he pads in stocking feet across the wood. Elrohir flushes, embarrassed to be caught staring, but his host seems more amused than vexed by the scrutiny. “Be welcome to my hearth.”
Simple courtesy demands they reply in kind. It is a conceit, perhaps, that the Enemy would make use of their names, but Elrohir finds he hesitates. Nothing of the day has been so simple.
It falls to his brother to represent them both.
“I am Elladan.” His twin’s mithril beads chime softly as he inclines his head. “And this, as you can see, is my brother Elrohir.”
From the chair he raises a hand. In lieu of nodding. Which will hurt.
‘Well met, gwanun. Have you all that need?”
“Water to warm?” asks Elladan and immediately a full bucket and iron kettle are produced. While the Peredhel sets the filled pot on the chimney hanger, their host reaches onto a laden shelf, pulls down divers jars of golden buds and bright green leaves. Elrohir watches, fascinated, as the mass is pounded, together with some leaves stripped from a waiting cabbage.
The man raises an eyebrow, watching Elrohir watching him again. “Do fear penneth. ’Tis not our supper, but a remedy for the horse. It might also do you some good.”
Elladan smothers a laugh and comes over to poke a finger in. “It should. May I use some?”
“As you wish.” A scoop of the mash is slopped into a painted earthenware bowl and Feredir takes his portion up. By the door he grabs cloak and boots. “I will be not long. The horses will soon be fed and watered, and the mare poulticed well.”
Elrohir sighs in relief, feeling guilty for his part in her plight. It is one thing for him to pay, but quite another for his faithful friend. “My thanks.”
“None are needed. I would have neither beast nor born suffer more.”
‘Born’? Firstborn? It is an odd, altogether archaic phrasing. Unease prickles at Elrohir’s nape. They have a name but not a people, no certainty as to Feredir’s origin.
Before he can muster the courage to question more, they are alone again. Stiff and sore, not altogether there, Elrohir lets the puzzle go. He sags back in his seat, content for the nonce to let Elladan make a fuss.
The twins stay quiet while the water steams. Elrohir’s swollen foot is set upon a second chair, the sweet-smelling blanket laid across his shoulders. When the water is just shy of boiling, Elladan takes a hook and pulls the kettle from the hearth, fills a basin and casts in a few leaves of athelas. Aie, the scent! It alone eases something of the pain. Pray that the poultice is just as good for swelling. It would be unhelpful to have to slit his boot to get in on again.
Elladan sits down beside him, head down, running strips of bandage from his pack through the brew. Elrohir closes his eyes, tries to drift in the wholesome smell and memory of his father’s workroom but worry flocks back to settle like a stubborn crow,
As usual his brother knows instantly of what he speaks. Skilled hands begin to wind warm bandage against swollen flesh liberally packed with mash. “What choice do we have, now that we are here? I sense no ill in him. Would you rather we brave the storm?”
“Nay. I would rather we knew more about him.”
Elladan stares thoughtfully at the bowl a moment. “Cabbage and bran, clove and rosemary. It is exactly what Ada might choose to use. Glorfindel swears by the mixture when Asfaloth has a strain. Our host is a learned man.”
“In wild healing. As any of Estel’s company would be.”
A wry grin quirks. “None of Estel’s company would converse with their mount in Quenya so perfect Erestor is brought to tears of joy.”
True. That fact alone he finds comforting, for where but Imladris or Caras Galadhon or Minas Tirith was such knowledge held these days? Could there be two Gondorim, even of the line of Denethor, wandering in the wild?
He has no chance to ponder more for presently Feredir returns with the news that the horses are bedded for the night. Elladan, gently as can be, pulls a sock about the ankle’s wrappings, takes an earthenware mug from the shelf and pours more hot water over a few blocks of willowbark. Warmth at hand, bound and sitting at leisure unlike his brother and his host, Elrohir begins to feel a little guilty. His brother clears his healing kit, while Feredir pulls a bright patterned cloth off a pot set beside the hearth.
Supper is about to be set upon the board. “Is there aught that I might do? My hands can chop?”
Elladan pipes up. “We have provisions. We can fend for ourselves.”
“Nay, you are my guests. And I have already made a stew.” Feredir sets the laden pot on the chimney hook to warm. He stirs and sniffs, takes a handful of blue juniper berries and some leaves of teasal from a pocket in his tunic, rolls them in his palm, before crushing them and throwing them into the pot.
The scent is divine. Pungent and peppery, a sharp and welcome contrast to the rich gamey tang that dominates.
Soon a set of bowls and spoons appear. The stew of venison and tuber and wild mushroom burns Elrohir’s tongue,-- the sauce is rich with a full red wine, so far from rotgut that his stomach growls appreciatively as a round of sourdough passes to mop up every drop.
When the bowl are bare Elladan washes them in small wooden bucket and a fresh pot is set to warm. Spiced cider, laced with a tawny spirit, refills the mugs and Elrohir is ushered to an armchair.
Elladan (at last sans mail) pulls a chair close and glowers pointedly. He props his foot up on a stool.
Feredir pokes the fire up and reaches on the mantlepiece for a tin to pass around. It is patterned with painted golden flowers about the rim and filled with sweets.
Elrohir bites into a small round biscuit dusted with fine powdered sugar that melts upon on his tongue.
“This is very good.”
From the other armchair, Feredir salutes him with his mug. “My wife. She delights in all good things of Arda. Particularly its sweets and flowers.”
Arda. Again a formal word. Elrohir would like to ask where he took his tutelage but the food and the drink and the fire’s glow combine make him feel languid and a little lazy. He stretches out his other leg, slumps down while Elladan settles back in his own chair.
His twin’s, bright eyes peer out the arched window to the inkiness of the night. Anor, weak and pale, has gone to her own rest, while Ithil rises above the dark arms of the encircling trees. In the deep blue black vault of the night sky the first of Varda’s jewels flicker as white fire.
“The storm is passing.”
Feredir nods solemnly. “The wind will see it on its way.”
“And you, will you hunt again upon the morrow?” Elladan asks. “It seems high for deer.
“Aye, but that depends upon the sport. The darker creatures bide in the wilder spaces.”
Darker? Elrohir sits up at that. “Alone? ‘Tis not dangerous?
The heavy head shakes. “I have all I need. At times, my compatriots also come.” Feredir does not elaborate on what this means. He takes a biscuit of his own and sweeps the crumbs from his lap. “And you, young ones? What has brought you to Caradhras?”
Young ones? Surely he must see they are part-elf? And possibly his elder by centuries? He glances at his brother over the rim of his steaming cup. Elladan still looks unperturbed, though the interrogation he has anticipated looks set to start. Elrohir remains unconvinced. Friend or foe, the less divulged about their movements, the safer the vale will be.
“We also have been hunting.”
“Not the easiest of sojourns. How did you come to be hurt?”
It is a natural enough question, but one that carries hidden pitfalls. Elladan clears his throat. “We were traversing a slope when a rock fell loose.”
Feredir frowns. “Ill luck, indeed. And have you far yet to go?”
“Enough,” Elladan answers, smoothly. “We shall be glad of home.”
“As are all who go out their doors.” Feredir nods and takes a deep draught of cider. “It seems your hunting has been sadly poor. Your saddlebags are empty.”
This is beyond the merely curious, but Elrohir sees no risk in admitting to their quarry. Belan’s hocks were splattered in Orc blood. “What we hunt we leave behind.” He all but spits the word. “Yrch.”
Feredir’s eyes widen in surprise. “And you seek them out? You do not let them come to you?”
His brother’s hands clench upon the chair’s burnished wood. Feredir strays, perhaps unwittingly, a hair too close. None can know that a company will follow in their footsteps. Elladan slowly lets go, raises his hands and touches the fingertips together. It is exactly the gesture their father uses when he is arguing.
“To defend, we must act before the wolf is at the door.”
Elrohir nods eagerly. “What we desire most is to keep our home free of threat.”
“We?” A pair of dark brows rise up, almost to the roof. Beneath the weight of Feredir’s gaze, Elrohir feels like a sparrow pinned by hawk. “Young lord, even you know a falsehood is still a falsehood, though it be breathed through silver. That is not what lies in your heart.”
Affronted, Elrohir begins to rise but his brother is quicker. A steadying hand drops to his leg. “How can you know?” Elladan asks, turning to their host.
“Peace.” Feredir’s hand raises up. A curious ring Elrohir had not noticed flashes in the light. “Forgive the bluntness of my tongue. It takes no great sight to see a heart burdened by heaviness.”
Words grind out, though Elrohir would fain keep them back. “I seek vengeance for a great wrong.”
“So do many.” There comes a heavy sigh. “And what count of years have you sought this out?”
“500. And 8, ” he adds, for though to the Eldar the years fall like drops of rain, fleeting and so numerous they are hardly worth to count, this number-- since his mother was captured and tormented-- he ever knows.
Feredir takes this calmly, neither agreeing nor reproving, merely looking intently at his guest. Elrohir wonders if he is giving space for the Peredhil to compose himself, for so he must. He breathes deep and slow while the tendrils of grief wither and recede.
There is a silence. The man leans forward to the hearth, takes a pinch of herbs from a small wicker basket and throws them on the crackling logs. The scent of pine and bayberry and cinnamon wafts up to fill the room. Feredir sits back and retrieves his mug, callused fingers tapping on the rim. “There is indeed a deep well of vileness in the world for your sword to drink. But I fear a thousand years of killing will not assuage the pain you bear.”
Elladan bites off a gasp. Elrohir, pierced by an unlooked-for arrow, cannot meet his twin’s sorrowed eyes. All the way up the Dimril Stair, Galadriel’s parting words had burned. He bends his head, letting his hair fall to shield his face. At last, he whispers, “So grandmother and Elladan have said.”
“She is wise, Elrohir, son of Elrond. That way you will not find what you seek.
“How…?” Can you know my father’s name? His words trail off for fury flares, hot and sour.
Feredir’s brow furrows deeply. The firelight flickers, casting light and shadow on a face that seems at once ageless and of the ages, one that has known many things both joyous and deeply woeful. He chooses not to answer what Elrohir has not asked.
“I know this because I know it for myself. Vengeance is like the warmth of wine. Its heat is swift and short, but leaves one only the colder in its wake. The fëa and hröa both suffer. It takes energy to hold so much anger in your heart. Energy you need for healing. Your hurts linger longer than your brother’s do they not? Though you are two halves of the same fëa?”
Elrohir looks up in shock. Was this so? Did he take more ill than his brother? It must be so for Elladan’s mouth is twisted sadly, head nodding. Nienna, he had thought it that he threw himself into battle. Heedless of the hurt. Not that the weight of anger clawed him down.
Feredir continues. “Now all the year dims and we wait ‘til Anor rises once more again. You must rest for what will come. All your strength is needed to hold against the gathering of the dark. The Shadow grows.”
Elladan sits up, storm-grey eyes flashing gold in the firelight. “You see it?”
“Aye, I do. My own sport has been too easy of late. Battle must be soon. Tillion is ever wayward at the solstice. Thus night is darkest and he gathers strength and plots, while we must rest and wait.” A most satisfied smile blossoms on Feredir’s lips. “The Eye roves, but he does not see that underneath the snow Middle-Earth sleeps and heals, and readies for what must come.”
Elrohir shivers at the words. A log on the fast-burning pile tumbles down in a spray of shooting sparks. Outside, in the rising wind, the ice-crusted branches tinkle against the glass and make a bell-like music. It is growing late: the wood burns fast, the last faggot has been thrown in. He wants to ask more of what Feredir knows but his head feels heavy; aches from sitting far too long.
Feredir eyes him a longer moment and then sets his mug gently on the floor. “You must take the bed. I will roll up in my cloak and your brother may watch over you if you are still unconvinced I mean you no harm.”
Elrohir starts to protest but be it the wine, or willowbark, or sheer fatigue, he suddenly no longer feels on edge. He can sleep, but will not turn a man from his comfort. He carefully shakes his head. “Nay. I cannot take your bed.”
“You can. And you will.”
The patient frowns. Elladan, mouth twitching, is enjoying these commands at his expense too much. Feredir helps him up, holding all his weight with a single hand about his hip, and suddenly Elrohir is in the box bed. Rough-spun linen covers the bows of evergreen. The smell, so like other nights underneath the stars in Arnor, makes him wistful for a moment. But then he turns his head toward the frosted window pane.
Out beyond the stout roof of slate, the waxing moon and stars shine betwixt the scudding clouds
He pulls up the quilt and turns to settle his ankle in a kinder spot. Their host kneels beside, so close that his face is perfect in the pale moonlight. Another rich woven blanket is laid across and Feredir looks on him searchingly.
There is compassion and a little of wonderment in his fathomless dark eyes.
“Sleep Perelda,” Feredir breathes, “Sleep and be healed.”
The words fall, soft and somehow warm. At the briefest touch of a callused hand upon his brow, Elrohir’s lashes become too heavy to hold up.
He lets himself sink deeper. There is no ache, just a fading heaviness to his wounds.
All is still. And silent.
Snowflakes, fine and light and white, fall down to kiss his cheeks and coverlet.
The morning dawns.
The hut is quiet and peaceful: an expectant hush of waiting lies over all, and Elladan sits up in his cloak, stretching out a few lingering kinks, casting a glance toward the bed below the window. Elrohir is still slumbering. One hand lies tucked below his cheek, the other splayed upon the blanket. That is well, he thinks before turning to the door, finding it is as he expected. Feredir’s cloak is gone. The man has been long up: there is a warmed cereal and sweet syrup set on the table to break their fast. The grate has been been re-laid and all the crockery is set tidily back on the shelf.
He peers through the delicate lace of frost upon the window to see bales of fodder broken open, three horses munching eagerly.
Time they also rose and began their journey.
In the lingering of the ashes’ warmth they break their fast, tidy their packs and few possessions. Elladan is vastly relieved to see the tired shadows beneath Elrohir’s eyes are gone. As is his limp.
“Like new!” his brother declares, amazed, taking a turn about the floor, pressing up on his toes and stepping side to side with care. “’Twas your binding.”
Elladan doubts this very much but he leaves it be. It is enough that Elrohir is free of pain and can ride. Valar, he hopes Belan has fared as well.
Together they don mail and cloaks and gloves, step out to into an entirely new world. If the muffled stillness of day before felt like the turning of the year—a man, growing old and feeble, grumbling in his blanket—today it feels quite new, hale and fresh, waking soft and warm from dreaming, hushed with promise. The snow is piled thick and deep on each branch and roof; the meadow and forest gleam white next to the shadows of cool and blue.
“What is that scent?”
Elrohir smiles and nudges him in the ribs. Beneath the window there is a flower bed. He had not noted it the night before, but now its sweet smell reminds him of Imladris’s sculpted space. Winter rose blooming beside a holly bush. And the cherry red fruit of a hawthorn tree frosted by caps of snow.
Both brothers turn. Whilst they have been sluggards, Feredir, has been at work. The horses have been fed, saddled and bridled, and now frisky with excitement, they blow great cloudy gusts of breath in the chill morning air. Elladan watches Beldan closely, looking for any signs of pain or weakness. She tosses her head, playfully nipping at the rival stallion when he comes too close and kicking up her heels in the fresh light powder.
Well then. She looks as if nothing untoward has ever happened.
Feredir raises a brow, at the amazement on his face. “Did you doubt it possible?”
“Yea!” he admits, grinning and unabashed. This is beyond his wildest hopes. Surely they would be days yet, resting and waiting while the wounded healed
Feredir takes the reins, swings up into the saddle and waits for them to load saddlebags and mount, his stallion stamping, eager to set off. “If we depart now you shall be down the mountain’s foot by dusk.” One eye looks to the sky. To westward, a first patch of blue hovers amidst the grey of cloud. “The weather will hold now and the travelling will be swift.”
The brethren exchange a look. So they can hope. And there shall be no more hunting save for rabbits.
The party sets out. Feredir leads, Elrohir follows and Elladan, blade loosened as a precaution, brings up the rear. Suldal, playful as a colt, jingles his bridle, skips now and again into a trot and his master laughs at his antics. “Wind is indeed beneath your feet today!” His brother looks back and grins, but Elladan merely shakes his head.
By the spreading arms of a great ash tree they stop. The stream has grown. It is now a merrily rushing course, frozen only on the slow twirling eddies. Through the trees, Sirannon can be seen, glistening silver and grey-blue. There are miles yet to go but the way is clear. Where Sirannon meets her sister Glanduin, at the ruins of Ost-in-Edhil, their grandparents’ ancient home, they will ride north. Back to meet the Bruinen, now settled in her bed.
“This is where we part.”
Feredir’s words surprise, although why they should Elladan does not know. The little hut was left readied to be alone, sleeping in its hidden bowl, til needed some other time.
“Join us,” Elrohir offers, impuslively, but even as he speaks the dark head shakes.
“Nay. I have a much farther journey than you to I reach my home. And there is good hunting yet to do.”
A gentle gust of wind ruffles the edges of Elladan’s hood. His raises his hand to shield his eyes. “How may we repay you?”
Feredir’s frowns in thought, so long Elladan is certain he will refuse but then he raises one gloved finger. ”A boon?”
The man’s eyes shine bright. “Tell your father it is right to not look too far ahead. To trust to the strength of Men. And the Periandi. There is much that is great inside small, stout hearts.”
Of what does he speak? Estel? And the little folk? “Ú-chenion.”
“Do not fret. Your father will understand.”
Feredir whistles low and his stallion wheels. The sun chooses then to crest Hithlaegir’s snowy peaks, spilling golden down their slopes with a flash of green and gold. Emerald upon a leaf-linked belt. Gilt upon a hoof. He sits transformed, face turned up to the rising sun, growing in dignity and power even as his stallion’s coat whitens, its silver flecks melting to pure white.
The great dark head looks back once more.
“Fare you well, sons of Elrond. May this rhîwîdh give you strength for the trial to come. And know that I watch Eru’s children. Always.” With that benediction he raises the great horn and gives a mighty blast. “Come Nahar, let us see what good sport awaits.”
The stallion leaps to a canter. Where the golden hooves touch the ground the winter world dissolves. For just the barest instant the slope fades away and they see an opulent tide of green and brown painting all, dappled shadows resting beneath leaves of gold and horns ringing upon the air.
Elladan turns at his brother’s exclamation, and his eyes, like his own, are filled with wonderment. “Can it be? Did you see…..”
But then like a dream, it fades. The wood is white and still again. The last silver notes wane and then there is only the rustle of wind in a few clinging, withered leaves.
His brother rubs at his eyes, as if even now he misbelieves the sight. Elladan sighs with longing. “Aye Tôren, I believe I did,”
He did. And perhaps understands a little.
Succor. And healing. And a grace beyond any vale in Middle-Earth..
“Let us go home,” he says. “Let us go home and bring his words. We are not entirely too late.”
Notes: Pls excuse my Sindarin and Quenya. I tried to work w Hisweloke and Parth but I suspect the grammar isn't right...
Golug: Orcish for elf
Ai goheo, :: Forgive me
Hû úgaun: Cowardly dog.
Le hannon nín : My thanks
Utulië óni, melima quen: Come with me, join me, fair one
Lle ume quell. Áva estë. You did well. Go rest.
Perehdhil, -el: Sindarin half-elven
Perelda half-elven, singular in Quenya
Ú-chenion: I do not understand.
Rhîwîdh: Winter rest
Huge thanks to ArizonaPoppy and Wheelrider for their comments and critters...It was a wonderful help from the two best betas anyone could want.
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