A robin flew amid the branches of the trees that gave Rivendell its rare beauty, welcoming with its chirps the rise of a new day. The little bird was aware that the inhabitants of the great house, which dominated in the fair realm, would be having breakfast now. Thus it was more than eager to land on the balcony nearest to the dining table: it was quite certain that at least one of the Firstborn would place a few crumbs for it. That was always a welcome meal, for the summer was over and autumn bore its last fruits before nature slept for the three months of winter. If nothing else, the feathered creature knew that it wouldn’t get hungry just yet.
The robin waited by the edge of the balcony for a few moments, chirping and hopping happily, until its patience was finally rewarded. The gentle rustling of a dress and soft footsteps were soon followed by the graceful form of a black-haired beauty, holding in her elegant hand her own treat for the meek guest.
“Mae govannen, tithen mellon,”* said Arwen softly, noticing instantly the robin. “Aníral mado, thenid?”** Without expecting the obvious answer, she let the crumbs fall from her hand onto the stone floor of the balcony. Smiling at the robin’s happy chirp of gratitude, she went back to the dining hall to finish her own meal.
Her father and brothers were already there, still having breakfast. Strangely enough, though Elrond Half-elven and the twins were eating, there didn’t seem to be much cheer at the table. In fact, a keen eye would have been able to observe the quick, yet full of regret glances that all three cast towards another chair, which was empty. It was Estel’s chair, the Man whom they had fostered and was destined to become known in the years to come as Isildur’s heir and thus reclaim the throne of Gondor.
The Lord of Imladris caught his sons looking at the empty chair again through the corner of his eye and sighed. He put his fork down and faced both Elladan and Elrohir, clearing his throat to make sure he got their undivided attention.
“I miss him as well, you know,” he stated, cutting into, what he guessed, their train of thought. “Nevertheless, he made a choice and we must respect it, despite the heartbreak we have to suffer.”
“Must he wander all Middle-earth like some wildman though?” asked Elladan, unable to hide his bitterness. “Denying his right to the throne of his ancestors is one thing, but this seems unnecessary!”
“He is not alone out there, Elladan,” corrected Elrond. “He is with the other Dúnedain, learning the ways of his people.”
“But, father,” jumped Elrohir at the conversation, “we are his family. He has grown amongst us, not them! I will not deny that the Rangers are an honourable folk, the blood of Númenor still flowing strong in their veins; but his home is in Rivendell.”
“Perhaps for Estel, Elrohir, but certainly not for Aragorn, son of Arathorn. Now that he knows his true heritage, he must learn the ways of the people whose bloodline is much closer to him than ours. Only then can he decide what is he to do next with his life.”
“Was that what he said?” asked Elladan curiously.
“It was something that we both agreed to on the last discussion we had before he left,” said Elrond.
“But we could have helped him in that decision, father! We know how important this is to him!” argued Elrohir.
“And that was out of the question,” said the wise Half-elf, shaking his head solemnly. “He is an adult by Men’s standards and more mature than many out there. He needs to test his strengths on his own; he is the best judge for that, not us.”
Both Elladan and Elrohir fell silent, seeing their father’s point in this. Arwen’s eyes darkened, however, as another thought lingered in her mind during the conversation.
“This was not the only reason Estel left and you all know it,” she said quietly. “He went away because of me.”
Elrond and the twins looked at her in sympathy. The day they had discovered that Aragorn and Arwen not only had met, but the Man even started having feelings for her, had proved a most embarrassing one. It was true that a part of them was glad about the chance meeting of the two, for they knew they could make a beautiful couple and share the joys of the world together. Nevertheless, logic warned them that a Man marrying an Elven-woman could bring a lot of pain and suffering as well. After all, Lúthien Tinúviel was a maiden who fell in love and married a mortal man, and she died, the only one of the Firstborn to share the fate of Men. This was a fate that none of the three wished for Arwen.
“Yes, I will not deny that,” admitted Elrond after a few, long moments of silence. “But, Arwen, trust me when I say that the Ranger’s life will prove a most instructing one for Estel. If anything else, it will offer him the opportunity to sort out his thoughts and feelings for what came to pass between you two. So do not fret, daughter: it is probably for the best that things turned out the way they did.”
Arwen nodded slightly, acknowledging her father’s opinion on this, yet not feeling all that comforted.
Sensing that everyone’s spirits needed cheering up, Elrohir turned to his father.
“Did you get any recent news from him, by the way? I was hoping he would send a letter telling of his whereabouts from time to time.”
“Indeed, I have news,” answered the Lord of Imladris with a small smile. “Your grandmother has informed me that Estel is, for the time being, enjoying the hospitality of the Elves in Lothlórien and he intends to stay there for a month or so.”
“No injuries?” Elladan ventured to ask.
“No injuries,” answered Elrond mirthfully.
“That is a welcome change,” noted Elrohir, unable to withhold a tinge of wonder from his voice. It was true that Aragorn was a lad full of curiosity for the world around him, driven by an undying thirst to see and know everything. It was a trait that made the Man different from the rest of the Secondborn that the Elves of Rivendell had encountered. On the other hand, it was also a trait that got him into trouble too often.
“Any news concerning his return?” asked then the oldest of the pair, unable to hide how much in fact he missed his foster kin. After all, the Man had lived for many years with them, and Elladan didn’t wish for their ties to be broken.
“Nothing, I fear to say, my son,” replied Elrond, saddened to see the disappointment written on Elladan’s face. Elrohir draped an arm over his brother’s shoulder in comfort.
“But that does not mean that he is not thinking of returning, is it not so?” said Arwen then, looking hopefully to their father; a look that the twins shared as well.
“Yes, quite right,” the Lord of the Last Homely House reassured them all. “Who knows, he might be back when we least expect it,” he added, his eyes shining a bit at the notion.
“That will be hard to believe,” sighed Elladan. “It is so different here without his presence, father. To be perfectly honest, there is hardly a day passing which I do not think he will come at any moment through that door, rubbing the slumber off his eyes and excusing himself for oversleeping again.”
It was in that moment that the door opened slightly. However, it wasn’t Aragorn as everybody half-expected: it was Glorfindel, fully armed and clothed for a long ride.
“Elrond?” he said, standing proudly in front of the Lord of Imladris, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. “The patrol and I are ready to set out. Do you want me to keep something under consideration before we leave?”
“Nothing, except that you all return safe,” said the Peredhel, smiling a bit at the ancient Elf before him. The seneschal was considered by everyone as part of the family after many long years of service, but Elrond especially had a soft spot for him. After all, Glorfindel was the Elf that had literally given his life for the safety of Elrond’s ancestors, facing one of the Balrogs that razed the fair city of Gondolin to the ground. And when he was resurrected by the grace of the Valar to yet again protect Elrond and his family, the Lord of Imladris was forever grateful, because he knew he could always find unrelenting support and trust in the face of this old friend.
“That goes without saying,” noted the Elf-lord with a smile. He was about to walk out again, when Elrohir spoke.
“Elladan, we have not gone hunting for some time. What say we ride out for some tasty game?”
Elladan’s face actually beamed at this, just as his youngest brother intended to.
“May we go, father? Please? We will only hunt within the borders of Imladris!” said the eldest of the pair quickly, facing Elrond with a look full of pleading.
Elrond, however, wasn’t certain about that idea: the Orcs from the neighbouring mountain had become bolder and they were seen even in the nearby area of the Trollshaws. How could he deny his sons’ wish though? They were accomplished warriors, able to defend themselves against any danger. Besides, a hunt would put aside their sad thoughts about Estel.
“All right… As long as you are careful!” he said in the end, trying to make himself heard over the twins’ cries of joy. After all, he was still a parent, and it was his right to worry about his children even if they acquired beards as long as Círdan’s!
The twins, however, were far too happy to notice that.
“Last one to the stables is an Orc!” cried out Elladan, jumping off his seat and heading for the door. Such was his haste and eagerness that Glorfindel had to quickly step aside before he was knocked over. “Sorry, Glorfindel!”
The seneschal shook his head in amusement, then swiftly side-stepped again before the other young Peredhel ran over him as he shot after his brother.
“Sorry too, Glorfindel!” cried Elrohir and then shouted to Elladan as he still ran: “And the first one has to kiss him!”
Glorfindel turned to Elrond and Arwen, sighing and dropping his arms in melodramatic defeat; then, after hearing their slight laughter, he graciously followed the twins at the stables.
With a small smile still tugging on his lips, Elrond called one of the Elves in the household to clear the table and then arose to take up his usual work in his study. Arwen accompanied him gladly, wishing to talk with her father a little while longer.
“There are times like these that make me wonder if I am truly the youngest of us three,” she said with some tease, her eyes shining brightly at recalling her brothers’ antics. “They act as though they are still children!”
“Indeed,” agreed Elrond, just as light-hearted; but his face darkened at once as black thoughts entered his mind. “To be honest though, I prefer it to the almost mindless hate they show at any Orc they come across. Especially after what happened to your mother.”
Arwen’s eyes saddened at the memory, for she recalled well how her mother was never the same after Orcs had taken her captive. The torture Celebrían had been through was so terrible that, by the time Elladan and Elrohir had freed her, her soul was completely broken and her only chance to find peace was to sail to the Undying Lands. When she was gone, Arwen went to Lothlórien, finding comfort in her grandmother’s care. As for Elladan and Elrohir, they let themselves be consumed by loathing for the Orcs, hunting down and slaying every such foul creature that was unfortunate enough to cross their path.
“I am glad that it is over,” she murmured, her hand clasped around her father’s arm. “I still remember your letter regarding their behaviour. It sounded as though you spoke of different persons.”
“I was,” said Elrond with a sigh. “In fact, this is one of the reasons that I thank the Valar for bringing Estel into our lives. Through him they reclaimed the kindness of their hearts and have managed to turn their hatred into wisdom and compassion.”
“We have all grown through that sad event,” noted Arwen, her eyes resting on the lines on her father’s face. Though it was true that during that time Elrond proved the most stoic, the fair maiden was aware how much Celebrían’s predicament truly cost him.
“Father,” Evenstar asked then shyly, “had you known about mother’s fate, would you still choose her as your wife?”
A ghost of a smile appeared on Elrond’s lips.
“I loved her. That should be enough answer.”
Arwen, however, remained silent, making the Half-elf stop in his tracks and face her.
“Should I ask what thoughts triggered that question? Or is the answer that clear?”
All that Arwen could do was blush embarrassingly. Sighing heavily, Elrond decided to address the matter first.
“I already know Aragorn’s feelings and, despite what I have said back there, I doubt they will ever change. Where lies the problem is: what are your feelings towards him?”
Arwen hesitated for a few moments; then finally spoke:
“I have not encountered many of the Secondborn, nevertheless he seems noble-hearted and kind. You have raised him well.”
Elrond’s lips tugged to a smirk.
“That was not what I asked and you know it.”
Arwen’s head bowed, realising she couldn’t evade her father’s question as easily as she wished.
“Then I am forced to say, father, that I cannot give you any clear answer when I have none to give.”
The wise Half-elf cupped his daughter’s chin, prodding her gently to look at him.
“I am certain you will find the answer in time. And then you will do as your heart bids you to - like I will,” he added, a bit more harshly than he wished.
Arwen looked at her father, puzzled and unaware of the glimpse that he had already cast into her future. For Elrond, having the gift of foresight, had indeed seen part of her fate and he didn’t like what he had seen. It was only his belief that nothing was ever certain that kept him from speaking his mind more clearly for the present and declaring that he was against a potential marriage between Aragorn and Arwen. He would only do such a thing when there was no other choice left in him.
Evenstar’s inquisitive look made Elrond remember himself. Caressing her cheek lightly in affection, he smiled in a calming manner to assuage her apprehensiveness.
“Do not heed me when there is no need,” he said. “I must go to my work. Will you be in your room?”
“Either there or at the library,” answered Undómiel.
“Then I will send word to you when it is time for luncheon. Till then, Arwen.”
“Till then, father,” said the maiden with a small bow; and with no other word, they parted.
Sadron and Malthen’s ears pricked when they heard familiar footsteps rushing to the stables, where the two horses resided. The black stallion quickly reared on its hind legs, while the pale-haired mare stomped her front leg on the ground, for they were unable to hide their excitement at such welcomed sounds. They had grown tired of staying indoors and, now that they sensed their masters running towards them, the prospect of a ride seemed finally certain.
Meanwhile Asfaloth, Glorfindel’s horse, looked at the young horses from his own stall a few feet away and snorted loudly, as though disapproving such antics for dignified Elven-horses who served Master Elrond’s sons. Nevertheless, he too went close to the door of his stall and awaited his master, his own eagerness shining through his black orbs.
None of the horses had to wait long. The stable doors burst open and a very amused Glorfindel walked in, followed by a pair of bantering twins.
“I have to note, brother, that it was unfair of you to pull my cloak like that, trying to slow me down,” said Elladan in mock annoyance.
“While making me stumble was so much fairer!” noted Elrohir in the same tone.
“I did no such thing!” exclaimed the eldest of the pair, opening the door for Sadron to come out. The stallion quickly buried his head on his master’s chest in greeting.
“Oh? May I ask then how that branch got tangled on my feet?” asked Elrohir, raising an eyebrow of curiosity, making him look very much like their father. Meanwhile, Malthen whinnied a bit softly, happy to see her own master, and rested her head on his shoulder.
“Perhaps because you are clumsy?” said Elladan in a mischievous grin.
“Glorfindel!” cried then the youngest of the pair towards the seneschal, who was busy brushing Asfaloth before the long ride. “You saw what happened, did you not?”
“Oh, I did,” said the Balrogslayer, smiling broadly. “I saw two Elves falling in a big heap on the ground, while I walked graciously past them to reach the stables first. Not quite what either of you intended, was it?”
Elladan and Elrohir blinked in realisation.
“Remind me not to ask your opinion again,” finally said Elrohir, leading Malthen outside.
“The same goes for me,” seconded Elladan. “You are worse than father when you rationalise things.”
“I take that as a compliment,” said Glorfindel with a chuckle, his midnight eyes shining teasingly as he walked out of the stables as well.
“Elrohir,” said then Elladan, pretending that he didn’t notice the seneschal close behind them, “do you have that bucket of icy-cold water ready to throw it on his face when he returns from his patrol?”
“You only have to give the word, brother.”
“You would not dare!” exclaimed the ancient Elf-lord, agape.
“I do not know… Would we?” grinned Elladan, finally facing Glorfindel. Elrohir laughed out loud, but the seneschal simply cuffed them both on their arms.
“You two are impossible,” he declared. “Come, the rest of the party is waiting for us.”
Arien was half way to the highest place of the sky-dome when the party of the Elves reached at their first stop. Glorfindel skilfully guided Asfaloth close to the twins’ horses, his eyes fixed on the wooded area before him.
“Are you quite sure this is where you want to venture?” he asked the twins. “This is not any of your usual haunts.”
“That is why there is bound to be more game to catch,” said Elladan with confidence.
“It is still too near the Trollshaws though,” noted the seneschal.
“Glorfindel, you can be assured that we will not stray from the borders of Imladris,” said Elrohir.
“Do not get me wrong, my young friend,” smirked the ancient Elf-lord. “You know I can trust you. It is in any trespassing Orcs that you will find my faith lacking.”
“Ah, but we can always have faith on your vigilance,” said Elladan with a broad smile, patting Glorfindel’s shoulder.
“Not to mention we have been taught how to fight by the Balrogslayer himself!” seconded Elrohir, grinning.
“I take that as a compliment, too,” said Glorfindel softly, a rare blush colouring his cheeks.
It was at that moment that the horses shook their manes, eager to move on. While Elrohir patted Malthen’s neck reassuringly, Elladan faced the seneschal and waited for his final answer.
The Balrogslayer’s dark-blue gaze drifted on the oldest of the twins and held him under it for many long moments before replying: “Well, I suppose you can go. When you return to the Last Homely House, tell your father--”
“That you and the rest of the men will be back in two weeks’ time. You already told us three times!” laughed both Elrond’s sons.
“Just making certain,” replied Glorfindel, smiling. “Till our next meeting, young ones!”
“May the stars shine upon you, old tutor,” answered Elladan and Elrohir.
And with that, Glorfindel and the rest of the party rode off, leaving the twins to their hunting. The young Half-elves prodded their horses forward and soon they were marvelling at the vast vegetation and small life they discovered. They both smiled, for that meant that they would surely find whatever they fancied to hunt.
They had been riding for some time, when an idea formed into Elladan’s mind.
“Brother,” he said, turning to Elrohir. “What say we separate?”
Elrohir actually frowned at this.
“Do you think it wise? We are not familiar with the grounds.”
“One hunting area is not all that different from another,” argued Elladan, “except maybe on the amount of birds or four-legged creatures one comes across to.”
Elrohir had to admit to himself that his brother was right in this. Yet something within him kept telling him that they should stay together, at least on this first venture.
“What if we come across anything else?” he asked, hoping to dissuade his brother. “And do not tell me I now sound like Glorfindel, you realise that his worry is not unjustified – at least this time.”
“Nevertheless, I will give you the same answer we gave him,” said Elladan and he pushed aside his cloak to reveal his sword, buckled on his side. “He did teach us well, brother. Why this restlessness all of a sudden?”
Elrohir checked himself. That was actually a good question. The hunting trip was his idea after all, and he was quite unburdened in mind when Glorfindel expressed the same fears only too recently.
“You did not like the idea that we should separate, did you?” he heard Elladan’s voice cutting into his train of thought.
The youngest of the pair nodded a bit on the affirmative without realising it. Yes, that was probably one of the reasons; but it wasn’t the only one, that much he knew. On the other hand, how could he tell that to Elladan without sounding insane? He bowed his head, uncertain as to what to say or do. At the next moment though, Sadron’s clopping showed plainly that Elladan was coming close. Truly enough, his brother’s hand clasped on his shoulder, making Elrohir look up to see his kin smile.
“I am aware of the love you have for me, brother. After all, I have it for you as well. It is a rare thing for the two of us to go anywhere without the other following. However, there are some times that one wishes to be alone. Do you not feel this way on occasion?”
Elrohir’s look was enough answer to that question.
“Then let us make it one of these times,” said Elladan. “If anything, it will be interesting to see what we will be able to catch without the other’s help,” he added with a wink, earning thus a smile from his brother.
“Are you proposing a wager then?” asked Elrohir, his eyes shining brightly.
“I am indeed,” grinned Elladan. “The one who brings home the best prize will hand over his chores to the… less fortunate one.”
“I do not suppose that means the ‘less unfortunate one’, as you eloquently placed it, will be freed from his own chores?” said Elrohir, raising an eyebrow.
“No,” chuckled the eldest of the pair.
“Then I take your wager,” came the grinning answer.
“Excellent! We will meet again after five hours to see what each one has accomplished. Prepare to accept defeat, brother!”
“How odd, I was going to say the same thing to you!” laughed Elrohir. “Five hours it is, then.”
And each rode on his way, not knowing what awaited them.
Elladan walked cautiously through the woods, his bow ready at hand in case he located anything edible. He had already dismounted Sadron, leaving him to graze some grass a few feet away. And though he did his best not to disturb much the quiet of the forest, that didn’t seem to help matters much. The Elf frowned, not pleased with himself. Soon he would have to return to his and Elrohir’s meeting point and he hadn’t caught anything so far. He cringed, thinking what would happen if he appeared before his brother empty-handed.
Just then, the sound of a twig snapping made his ears prick up and put his sharp hearing to work. He smiled as he recognised the soft footfalls some distance away from him and, making sure he stayed against the wind, he approached as quietly as possible to some thickets. Moving carefully several branches away, he found what he had been looking for.
The three deer were still eating contently, unaware that they were being watched. As for the females of the group, they were partly hidden by a great male that was now walking past them. Elladan marvelled at the magnificent animal for many moments; then raised carefully his bow to aim. He had found his prize.
To Elladan’s misfortune, things went awry at that very instant. A flock of birds took off from the densest part of the forest, their squawks of panic startling the deer and making them run off. Letting out a cry of dismay, Elladan jumped out from the bushes and ran after them, for he didn’t intend to allow such a tasty game escape. Still running, he shot an arrow against the male, but the projectile missed the creature by a mere inch: the proud beast had turned swiftly aside before it got hit.
Still, Elladan didn’t give up on the chase. If anything, it made him even more determined to catch the deer. With his eyes always on the animal, he got ready to shoot another arrow. At that moment, all the deer jumped over a big log and vanished out of the Half-elf’s sight. Gritting his teeth in stubbornness, Elladan instinctively jumped over the log too.
That proved one of the greatest mistakes in his long life: when he landed, he found himself sliding on a rough slope. He desperately tried to keep his balance, but it turned out that it was impossible. The next thing Elladan knew he was losing his footing and tumbling down at great speed, while getting knocked about in every rock he encountered as helpless as a puppet. He cried out when a sharp pain that started from his leg surged through his whole body; his heart, however, called out for his brother even louder. Just when it seemed that his fall would never end, he felt himself crashing on another, larger rock - and then there was nothingness.
*Mae govannen, tithen mellon: Well met, small friend. (Sindarin)
** Aníral mado, thenid?: You wish to eat, true? (Sindarin)