Now, on to Chapter 12, Part C.
Chapter 12, Part C
Elrohir rubbed at this face, still feeling the grit of sea salt and road dust sticking to his skin. He had only done a quick wash and allowed himself an hour of drowsing before seeking out his father. Cirdan had charged him with a message and Elrohir was eager to seek out Erestor for his own reasons. Erestor, for all his faults, had always been the one Elrohir went to when he needed an honest opinion. He was aware there might be a disagreement in the next few minutes, since his father had recalled him home for the safety of Estel, but he was prepared to use any and all of his skills and tactics in gaining his compliance.
He threw a quick glance to the looking glass his mother ordered placed in his room ages ago. He did not appear to be the youthful and carefree elf he often took pains to project. He looked as wrought out as he felt, with tangles in his loose hair and stubble on his chin. He rubbed at his face again and sighed. There would be time enough to clean up his appearance on the road.
Elrohir left his room and hurried down the hallway, up a stairway, and through another wing of the house to one of his father’s personal studies. It was the one he often went to after the midday council was over.
Baineth stood guard at the door, looking uncomfortable being inside the royal quarters. Elrohir plastered a smile on his face for her.
“Is he receiving guests?” he asked.
She shrugged and tightened the grip on her spear. “He did not say if he was or not, just that he was very confused why I was being stationed outside his door bearing arms and that if one of his children should wander by, to let them in.”
“Why are you standing guard outside his door?” he asked.
Baineth shook her head and gave him an aggrieved look. “Because Thandrog had the combined fear of Glorfindel and Erestor put in him and is worried that if Elrond so much as gets a paper cut while our Seneschal and Chief Councilor are out wandering the world that Thandrog’s life will be forfeit,” she said.
“He must know Glorfindel would never actually kill him,” Elrohir scoffed.
“The Captain might not,” she said, “but Erestor is a whole other matter.”
Elrohir laughed. “This is unfortunately true. Be off, Baineth, I am certain you have better things to do and my father is more than capable of taking care of himself. Besides that, he can bellow if needs be. He bellows loudly.”
“I well recall,” she said. “The story of your desecration of that statue of Varda is known throughout the lands. I hear the mortals in the village have a cautionary tale based off the loud bellows of Elrond that day.”
Elrohir narrowed his eyes. “We do not speak of that near his presence,” he said gesturing to the door. “If Thandrog gives you trouble, just say it was be royal decree that you were ordered to go practice for the Autumnal Tournaments. We can’t be losing to those Dunedain again this year,” he said.
“Noted,” Baineth agreed. She left with a nod and a mock salute.
He shook his head. Too many patrols with Baineth had left her distinctly lacking in respect to his station. Then again, that was always Glorfindel’s intention. He did not care what station you were born to, any and every person was dear to someone else and they were all warriors. It was difficult for Elladan and Elrohir on that first march out, going from a warm home where everyone deferred to their wishes and turned a blind eye to their antics, to becoming just another soldier on the march. It was even more difficult having their Glorfindel, their constant teacher and minder, turned into their Captain who would not indulge their tomfoolery if it put anyone else at risk. It was the lesson their father had tried to teach them every time he made them do the work of the stable hands or the laundry maids and which was finally, effectively, taught by Glorfindel. They would always be the Sons of Elrond, Lord Elrond’s Sons, Grandsons of Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn, of Elwing the White and Earendil the Mariner, but Glorfindel made certain when it came time to fight they would be respected based on their own skills and reputations.
Despite all that preparation, it still took a mustering of Elrohir’s courage to approach his father with a possible unpopular decision.
Elrohir knocked once and opened the door when he was bid.
Elrond still wore his robes of state, those his hair fell loose down his back. He held a stack of papers in one hand, while the other held a book, and stood in front of one of his numerous bookshelves.
“Father,” Elrohir said by way of greeting.
Elrond looked up and smiled. The movement caused the slight lines of his face to crinkle. He placed down his papers and book and came over to him, pulling him in a brief embrace. Moving back he said, “Elrohir, it is always good to see you, my son. Rested are you?”
Elrohir smiled back, watching his father move over to his desk and picking another stack of papers up. “Well enough by way of a brief rest,” he answered. Taking a deep breath he said, “Father, I fear…”
“Your presence will be required to aid Thranduil’s forces in the healing of their injured,” Elrond interrupted before he could get any further. “I need you and your brother to set out with the dawn and not let up for any matter. You will use two of the five new horses we recently acquired from Rohan in a trade for our fabrics and medicines. You may or may not need to feed the horses something extra though, as I promised Thandrog, I would never openly encourage you to do such. You must take the safest and quickest paths there. In fact, if you set out this evening I would not protest.” Elrond looked up from his correspondence. “Was there anything you needed to tell me?”
“I need to deliver a message to Erestor from Cirdan,” Elrohir said, utterly bewildered.
Elrond clapped his hands. “Oh, that works out splendidly,” he said. “You may take a detour through your Grandmother’s realm first. It will also give you a chance to gain some additional supplies. They will have much fresher elanor for your stores.” He pulled out a map from one of the piles of his desk. “ I suggest you stop off at Thranduil’s palace before proceeding to the battlefield though. It is much more proper to offer your aid first than show up to a fight uninvited.” Elrond shifted through another stack of parchment and vellum. He plucked out a letter and brought it over to Elrohir. “Do give this to your sister for me. It is from one of her former suitors and I fear I can no longer delay its distribution as it has been five years past and he has just departed for the Blessed Realm.”
Elrohir accepted the letter with narrowed eyes. He twirled it in his fingers. “Did Mother have any idea how devious you can be before she married you?” he asked.
“If not, she certainly found out afterwards,” he answered, clasping Elrohir on his shoulder.
“Where is Elladan?” Elrohir asked. “I have not seen him yet.”
“If I was to venture I guess I would say debating over what to put in his pack and deciding just want to raid out of the healing stores,” Elrond said.
Elrohir closed his eyes and sighed. Elladan had a good enough grasp of battlefield healing but he was an absolute menace to the organization of the healing stores. “I should go stop him,” he said.
“I would be very appreciative if you did so,” Elrond agreed. He pulled Elrohir into another embrace. “I would not ask this of you if I did not think it necessary. I know you are tired and that something weighs on your mind you cannot or will not share with me. I respect your need to keep it to yourself, but do not let it fester, Elrohir. Out of all the things I have helped create in this world, you children are my proudest achievement and I would have none of you in despair,” he whispered fiercely, grasping Elrohir’s head in a strong hold.
Elrohir leaned into his father’s touch, letting his strength ease the burden for just this moment, he shuddered. “We know you are always behind us, Father, and with that we find great strength. Outside of Glorfindel, Elladan and I are your fastest riders and certainly your fastest riding healers. We cannot let our allies suffer when we have aid to offer,” he said.
Elrohir felt his body tighten as they passed through the Misty Mountains, skirting the area of their mother’s attack. He spared a glance to his brother, noting Elladan’s hunched posture and clenched jaw. He wore riding gloves on his hand, Rian’s influence showing, but Elrohir knew under them his knuckles were as white as Elrohir’s own.
“Elladan?” he asked.
“Please let us not speak as we ride through this horrid place. If we keep on and don’t waste our breath or time with poor platitudes, we should clear it by night,” he replied.
Elrohir nodded. “As you wish,” he murmured. He turned his gaze straight ahead, staring only at the road in front of them and not the winding and wary mountain paths to the side. One, he knew, led further and further down to a cave once filled with orcs. A cave he, his brother, and his father had razed to the ground. A cave whose entrance was forever blocked by stones, put in place by Mithrandir at their father’s request. A cave which had changed his family forever.
This path through the mountains never grew easier in its passing. He much preferred taking the way farther to the north or south than this route. Still, it remained the fastest way to Lothlorien and they were riding against time.
Elrohir let his other senses guard and guide him. He would not lose himself or his brother to this path, but he still forced his eyes ahead, lest any straggling temptation of an orc forced him to chase after his never abating revenge just one more time.
“Never again,” Elladan muttered from his side.
“Pardon?” Elrohir asked.
Elladan kept his gaze steady to the horizon. “Never again will these mountains try to take my family or the ones I love. We’ve paid enough of a blood price to this rock.”
Elrohir nodded. “Never again,” he agreed.
They rode on in silence.
“If we took the High Pass we’d be a day away from Thranduil’s Halls by now,” Elladan gripped from his bedroll.
“You know as well as I that if we passed over these mountains and did not pay our respects to our grandparents and sister that we would never hear the end of it,” Elrohir said. He watched the horses in the distance as they took their own rest near a small pool. “Besides which, I need to see Erestor.”
“Can your visit to Erestor not wait until after we offer our aid to the Woodland elves?”
“No,” Elrohir answered. He flung out his own roll over the sounds of his twin’s gripping.
“How will you feel if this little detour of hours means that lives our lost during Mirkwood’s battle? Will your visit to Erestor be so pressing then?” Elladan asked. He twiddled a knife between his fingers, his movements becoming shorter and jerkier with each new turn.
Elrohir threw a twig at his head, ignoring his squawk. “If the healers of Mirkwood cannot keep their wounded alive for the two days it will take us to travel from Lothlorien’s borders to Thranduil’s Halls than those wounded were not meant to survive. Besides which, we do not know when or where the battle will officially start, news which might be easier to gain from Grandmother than Thranduil’s elves who still largely distrust the members of a foreign royal family.”
“You know, we are their distant relatives through Grandfather. And their King comes from Doriath. You would think they would feel more akin to us,” Elladan said.
“They let us into their realm this past Age without threatening imprisonment or death, I would say that is as close to akin as they come. The wounds of the Last Alliance fester on.”
Elladan put his knife down. He said, "And it all is coming up again. Do you think it has anything to do with-"
“Elladan, you know better than to speak such things here where bird and stone and mountain have ears. The heir to Isildur was lost long ago. There is no need to speak of the possibility of his existence in this long forsaken land.”
Elladan huffed and tried to squeeze his pack in to a more comfortable position for his head. “I do not know why you have to see Erestor nor why you refuse to tell me.”
“Perhaps for the same reason you neglected to tell me you had Arwen fashioning a very particular garment for you? One that is reported to be used only in the proposal of a formal engagement for marriage,” he said.
“How did you know about that?” Elladan asked, incredulous, sitting up in a quick fashion.
Elrohir glanced at him with a blank face. “I have my ways,” he said. “You also should have told Morwen. She’s yet to figure out the meaning behind the design, but with the elven libraries of Arda at hand I assure you she will figure it out soon.”
“I am sorry you are offended I did not consult you on the wish to propose to my beloved,” Elladan sneered.
Elrohir shook his head. He cursed the mountains they took their rest beside, knowing their own anger and anxiety of this place fed their argument. “I do not wish you ill, my brother, and in all honesty am delighted you have finally decided to take this step with Rian, but I am hurt you told our sister before telling me. I am your twin, Elladan, and though we have started down divergent paths we still take the same road home. It would have been nice to know you have already made your choice while I still ponder over mine. Such things should not be revealed second-hand and through a trifle of a letter from Arwen.”
Elladan stood up and rested his chin on Elrohir’s shoulder. “I did not mean for you to learn that way. Arwen must have assumed you already knew. You were off in the Havens and I did not want to tell you in a letter.”
“You’ve been thinking about it for years though. Why the sudden need for its conformation now?” Elrohir asked.
“I do not know,” Elladan answered. “Something in the air just tells me a change is coming and that it is best if I do this now. I think as our charge gets older we will spend more time away from home and that I want Rian to know I leave her behind because of necessity and duty, but I leave her behind with my promise and my love.”
“She already knows that,” Elrohir admonished.
“But soon everyone in Imladris, and every elf, man, and dwarf who pays attention to the movements of elven society will know.” Elladan grew quiet. “Are you honestly still contemplating a mortal life?” he asked in a whisper.
Elrohir nodded. “I have my moments where it seems the more desirable of the two and yet I feel such a pull towards our family and such a desire to meet our ancestors that I also lean to our immortal side. I too feel the change and know the choice must be made soon. I do not want to fall in battle and die, not knowing if my indecision has left me with a mortal death or the chance for an elven re-birth,” he responded. “As father always tells us, it never does to dawdle. I’ve spent so many centuries of my live here and I do not know if I can so easily cast all the rest of my years aside for something that may or may not come on Arda.”
“That is why you wish to speak with Erestor, is it not?”
“Yes. Out of all the wise people we know, he will give me the most truthful and unbiased opinion. Glorfindel’s advice will be clouded with the experiences of his own death and re-birth, our father will most assuredly push for an elven life, as will our grandparents. I’m hard pressed to believe that Cirdan is not one of the Maiar and am certain he will also call for an elven life. I need someone who will present both sides of the decision clearly and without the trappings of sentimentality. Erestor knows how to do that, and will do that, despite what his own heart might tell him. There is a reason he is father’s Chief Councilor after all.”
“I swore once I would stand by any choice you make and to that I still hold,” Elladan said, embracing his brother. “Now, let us drowse for a few hours in this place. I fear we will not truly sleep for some time.”
“Not until we are out of the mountains’ side, at least,” Elrohir agreed. He squeezed his brother’s shoulders and Elladan moved back to his own pack. Elrohir went back to his own pack, removing a few precious silver and crystal needles that were wrapped up in one of his shirts. They were instruments of elven healers only used in the most extreme cases. They were not often seen on battlefields as they were so easy to lose or break and a prime item for a thief. He mentally took an inventory of their herbs and salves.
“If we find some coltsfoot on the way we should harvest it. Mortal battlefields in autumn seem to breed coughs for some reason,” he called out to Elladan. “We should also collect more horsetail and some stinging nettle just in case.”
“You know stinging nettle can be hard to find this time of year, but I shall stay on the lookout,” he answered. “Get some rest, Elrohir, we have a hard ride ahead of us.”
Elrohir shrugged and laid down, doing his best to ignore the hard rock under him. So was there lot in life. In times like these you could not give into the stiffness of your body, the weariness of your bones, or the less than homely feeling of your surroundings. There were things much more important than your own comfort out there and Elrohir, at least, was proud that he learned such a lesson and could pass it on to their little Estel. He wondered how long it would be before Estel would take such a journey on his own, as was the way of the Dunedain.
Passing into Caras Galadhon was always an interesting task, especially when they had to navigate horses up the narrow and winding paths. There were many ways to enter, many paths to take depending on the size and members of a traveling party, but each way was full of its own narrow footpaths and treacherous problems. There was a good reason most of the march wardens ran through the trees instead.
Elrohir huffed, “I do not know why they insist on us marching all the way to Caras Galadhon when the know we have horses with us.”
“Grandmother is sadistic,” Elladan answered, “as you may recall I have been telling you this for years.”
“If you are so worried about time, perhaps you should walk quicker, Sons of Elrond,” Orophin called from the tree above them.
“What are you doing? Taking Haldir’s place in the field of sneering comments for tired visitors?” Elrohir asked.
“By all rights, I could order you to come down here and pull these horses,” Elladan reminded him. “However, considering how slight of a wood elf you are, I am afraid the horses would pull you.”
“Sadly, we cannot all be one of the broad-shouldered Noldor,” Orophin replied. “Shall I escort you to the Lord and Lady.”
“We know well the way,” Elladan said with a glare.
“Please return to your duty and give Galueth our greetings. We are passing through and I doubt we will even spend the night here,” Elrohir said.
“Fair enough,” Orophin called. “I wish the speed of the winds to you on this journey and that your tasks go well and with little heartache.” He gave them a final nod and then disappeared into the treetops.
“I eagerly await the day when he has children so we can mock him as Erestor bully’s him over the child’s future education,” Elladan said.
“As long as you are not in the birthing room to faint,” Elrohir agreed. He looked up from the base of the massive mallorn in front of them. Turning to his brother he said, “As the eldest child of our father, I do believe it is your duty to seek out our grandparents and offer them good tidings and news from the West.”
“And while I am earning our grandparent’s wrath by explaining that we are only passing through, what will you be doing?” Elladan asked.
“Speaking with Erestor, of course.”
“I heartily dislike you sometimes,” Elladan cursed.
“Ah,” Elrohir said, tapping a finger on his brother’s nose, “Until you remember I am one of the few people who truly understands you.”
“This is true,” Elladan agreed. He took a deep breath and held out his closed fist to his brother. “For bravery,” he said.
“And fortification,” Elrohir continued, echoing his twin’s action and knocking their knuckles together.
He watched Elladan make the march to their grandparent’s talan with a proud and strong back. He tied patted the horses and let them know they were free to graze. Turning to the page that had appeared behind him, Elrohir said, “Do you happen to know where Chief Councilor Erestor is taking his respite?”
“Yes, Your Highness, I can take you there if you like?” he asked.
He followed the page down into the meadows, spying Erestor with a book in one hand and a ledger by his side.
“Never one for rest, that one,” the page said.
“You are quite correct,” he agreed, patting the page on the shoulder as he approached Erestor.
“Out of all the elves I thought I’d see in my rest here, I did not think you would be one of them, Elrohir,” Erestor said while he continued with his notations.
“My brother and I ever seek to surprise the Peoples of Arda,” he said.
“And to that you succeed,” Erestor said. “What brings you here?”
Elrohir crossed an arm over his chest. He glanced down at Erestor. “We are to aid in the healing of Thranduil’s injured,” he replied.
Erestor raised a brow. “A tad out of your way, aren’t you?” he asked.
Elrohir smirked. “I also seek your advice,” he admitted.
Erestor sighed. “And I assume it could not wait?”
He nodded. “I felt it could not. I also bring a message from Cirdan and we need to gather some elanor for the stores.”
Erestor huffed, “It amazes me people say that I do not know to be idle when elves like you exist in this world.”
“I have a travelers’ heart and a wander’s soul,” Elrohir agreed with just a hint of mocking. He pulled a small letter from his pack. “From Cirdan,” he said, holding the letter out to Erestor.
Erestor broke the first seal only to shake his head when a second seal was revealed. “Cirdan, ever the watchful,” he muttered, unfolding the letter. “Of course, of course he wrote it in special ink,” he said, waving what appeared to be a blank letter about. “Do you remember how we identify the special inks, Elrohir?”
Elrohir dropped his pack and sat down. “Father always tries different light sources first. Glorfindel is a fan of dabbing the page and tasting the possible ink below. You, as I recall, were always more of a fan of sniffing.”
“Yes,” Erestor agreed, “Glorfindel is not familiar enough with all the different ink smells to discern one from the other. Your father certainly is, but he is much more interested in runes. This smells like what?” Erestor asked, holding out the letter.
Elrohir took a brief whiff and sneezed. “It smells like a root cellar,” he said.
“Onions, to be exact,” Erestor replied. “I’ll have to find a flame to hold it over later.” He put the letter inside his book. “Now, what is it you wish to discuss with me?”
Elrohir sighed. He worried his lower lip between his teeth and tapped his fingers against his leg.
“You’re fidgeting, Elrohir,” Erestor admonished.
“I know,” he replied. “I think I am ready to make my choice, but I am having some doubts as to whether or not it is the right choice.”
Erestor nodded. “Whatever choice you make there will be some regret for the one you decided not to take. I cannot tell you which one is best or right, for that is only for you to decide. There will be consequences and rewards either way.” He paused. “Is there a reason why you feel this choice must be made soon?”
“I just feel like I must,” Elrohir said. “I know what you speak is the truth, and quite obvious to be sure, but it still feels better coming from the mouth of another. We will talk more on this, I hope, when there is more time and not so many eager ears about.”
“My door is forever open to you,” Erestor said. . He stood and patted Elrohir’s head. “You will be safe out there. No giving Glorfindel any more reason to worry.”
“Glorfindel lives for the worry,” he replied. “I must go gather my twin. I would not have us linger here any longer than necessary.”
“It’s quite a detour you took for a few words of reassurance,” Erestor said.
“Worth every bit of road dust and horse burn,” he said, grabbing up his pack. “Please keep Arwen entertained, she becomes dangerous when bored.”
“I well remember being left alone with her and her ribbons,” Erestor muttered. “I will be on my best watch. Safe passage on your travels, Elrohir.”
“May a light shine on our next meeting,” he said in reply.
There was a clacking of clay and pewter bottles as Elladan swung his pack onto his shoulders. They were both weighed down with various salve and unguents from the Lothlorien healers. Galadriel and Celeborn had not given their direct approval of their actions, but that knew that when it came to the arts and duties of a healer, no one had a higher say than Elrond Halfelven. If he declared that Mirkwood needed healers of Imladris, then healers of Imladris were to go to Mirkwood.
“Grandmother is going to hold this over all our heads for centuries to come,” Elladan said. He settled on his horse. “She’s planning something and whatever it is I feel it will be in direct contradiction to Father’s wishes.”
“Each thinks the other knows better and we have often come between their power squabbles, but I think they are both starting to realize that sometimes it really is not about them,” Elrohir agreed. “For once a battle involving elves is being fought and it has nothing to do with Grandmother or Father’s forces. This far out they are nothing but myth.” He mounted his own mare, patting her mane and breathing in the crisp air. “I think we shall soon become irrelevant in these lands. Nothing but the characters told in tales to children with wild imaginations. Already the people out here thinks us magical and strange folk. I do wonder what this wood will be like an age or two ages from now.”
“Though now it is not the time to ponder. We have at least another day’s hard ride before reaching Thranduil’s halls. They’ve moved their camp more than once, so we really must speak with Berenon or Tangwen to find out just where Thranduil planted the healing tents.”
“Then we should be off,” Elrohir agreed. He gave his twin a sly smile. “Did you get your tunic from Arwen?” he asked.
“I did,” Elladan huffed. “I do not wish for it to be damaged so she is sending it back to Imladris with Erestor.”
“A winter engagement then?”
Elladan nodded. “If this war does not last too long and Rian is agreeable, I am certainly hopeful there will be much to celebrate at the winter festival.”
Elrohir took the reins in his hand. “The wind is with us, we have a clear sky, I think all will turn out well for us,” he said.
“It can be as contrary as it wants to be,” Elladan said, “as long as it ends well.” He kicked his horse into a fast pace and rode off in the direction of the Elven Path of Mirkwood.
Elrohir shook his head in amusement and followed his twin’s lead. They had soldiers to heal and no time to waste.