Only a Game
15. The Orocarni
I woke from the sound of my weeping. I was shivering violently, and my cheeks were hot with tears. Suddenly strong arms were turning me around, tender hands caressing my wet cheeks and drying my tears, and I was pulled into a tight embrace, away from the nightmares.
I felt the warmth of his body, inhaling the spicy scent of his skin, the strange fragrance of his silky hair, which always smelled subtly of herbs. Only very gradually I relaxed in Elrohir's embrace, allowing myself to be soothed by his love. I felt the soft sigh of his breath against my neck, feeling the iron strength of muscles underneath the litheness of his slender arms – how could this be only an illusion?
The forgotten mountains day by day stripped their cloak of clouds, turning from barely discernible hints of shadows on the horizon into rugged mountain ranges with great white peaks of glaciers. They were at least as tall as the Misty Mountains, if not taller, their summits reaching to touch the sky itself, often veiled by clouds.
As we rode on, vast forests slowly grew visible at the feet of the mountains. Soon we would leave the freedom of the Eastern plains for the unknown depths of the Eastern jungles.
We reached the edge of the forest in the evening of the ninth day after we had turned away from the Sea of Rhûn. This was not the light mixture of leave trees and needle trees I had encountered in Eryn Lasgalen, though I could see that there were oaks and firs and other kinds of trees I recognized. But the wood felt – breathed – differently. There was an ancient, feral feel to this forest. These were wild woods, which had never been tamed by men, with no paths and roads carved through their thickets for travel and trade.
I recalled the descriptions of Fangorn in the books, and I thought that these dark forests at the feet of the Forgotten Mountains felt similar – wild and dark and untamed. But there was no sense of enmity. These woods had been as forgotten as the mountains looming above them by the peoples of Middle-earth, and the wild tribes of the plains did not come here.
I had gathered fallen, dead branches for our fire, keeping in mind that these trees would not like me to cut off their living limbs any more than the trees of Fangorn had liked that… and the orcs had not live to tell the tale, when the trees had had enough back then. Respect your fellow men, elves and trees… I thought, grinning slightly. A trip to Middle-earth to open your mind, a new method to teach and improve soft skills. "Experience the fellowship – train your team skills with Gandalf, Gimli and Frodo" – now that was a good slogan, wasn't it?
When I returned to the place we had chosen to stay for the night, Elrohir was leaning against a tall oak tree, embracing the wide trunk, touching the tree with the full length of his body.
What was he doing?
I put down the dead grey branches and silently started to build a fire. I had cleared a spot of earth and put some rocks around it, to keep the fire from spreading. Then I put twigs and dried moss and a bit of dry grass in its centre. I struck the flint and a bright spark jumped o the tinder, creating a small flickering flame and a bit of dark smoke. I blew softly at the flame, watching it take hold. When the twigs were burning steadily, I added one or two slender branches. The wood was dry and caught fire easily. Soon I had a fire going, which would last into the wee hours.
Elrohir was still communing with the tree. Yes, of course, the thought struck me. That had to be the explanation. The Elf tried to literally talk to the tree.
Somehow I felt drawn to Elrohir and the tree. Hesitantly I stepped up behind him. His body seemed to vibrate in tune with the wind in the leaves. Ready to draw back at the slightest shake of his head, I leaned against Elrohir's back and put my arms around his waist. Instead of stiffening and sending me away, he covered my arms with his and put my palms against the rough bark of the tree. "Lasto!" He whispered, and I closed my eyes.
A few minutes I sunk into the feeling of the Elf's slender, but muscular body pressed against me, feeling our blood course through our bodies to a shared rhythm of slowly beating hearts. Then I grew aware of the uneven texture of the bark under my hands, and a different rhythm started to spread through my palms into my body. It was not like the slowing or quickening pulse of life I knew from my body and from the Elf's body. It was more like a current, reminding me of the waves rushing to the shores of the Sea of Rhûn, a vibration, an incessant, barely noticeable rustle and groan of drinking and growing and swaying with the winds.
As I lost hold of my thoughts, I felt how this feeling of aliveness, of rhythm, spread out from this single tree. These woods were as vast as the plains of the East. If I had to put figures to the feeling of this ocean of trees I was sailing, I would say they stretched at least for eight hundred miles into the East, with a width of probably another two hundred miles.
Truly an ocean of trees. You can travel between thirty and forty miles a day, with a good horse and roads in a reasonably good condition. Even then you would need about three weeks to reach the Eastern edge of these woods. "Yes", I heard Elrohir sigh against the tree. "At least three weeks. And there are no roads."
Suddenly I felt the Elf turn away from the tree and would have stumbled and fallen, had he not caught me in his embrace again. But I stepped back from him, inhaling a shaky breath, trying to regain a sense of myself after this extraordinary experience.
"You talked to the tree, didn't you?" I asked him.
He lid down to the ground, leaning his back against the tree. "It was not really talking… I was trying to get a feeling from the tree, the woods; I tried to find out if Elves have been here."
"And what did you find out? Have Elves been living here?" I asked, feeling excitement surge up and quicken my heart-beat.
"Yes and no", Elrohir answered. "The tree – although it had no real voice of its own, was not awake, if you will – it knew the touch of the firstborn. Once Elves have been here and have sung to the trees. But that was long ago. We will have to go deep into the woods to find any real traces of them, if we find any at all."
But there was a bright light of hope in his eyes. Elves had been here! And whatever they were, as firstborn they were his kin.
I had to clear my throat to ask another question. "How long have you been alone, you and your brother?"
Elrohir looked at me with dark eyes lost in memories. "Since shortly after Aragorn's death. Celeborn led the last group of Elves living in Rivendell to the Grey Havens. I think it was the year 130 of the Fourth age, a few years after Legolas and Gimli sailed for Aman. Almost two hundred years."
He paused, obviously retracing the years in his mind.
"Usually, centuries have little meaning for Elves. Time feels different for us, more like this sensation of ebbing and flowing you felt from the trees." He sighed, and a shadow of weariness passed over his face. "But I have to admit, waiting those two hundred years for our moment of choice, the years grew long for me. And never have I known days, weeks and months to pass so agonizingly as those five months waiting for my brother back in Rivendell."
"We will find him. We are already really close." I tried to cheer him up.
But his eyes remained dark. The Valar's choice promised doom and not blessing to him.
Elrohir's keen eyes discovered a path into the forest. It was a deer trail, not a real path, and we could not ride, but had to lead our horses behind us. The path was also winding, going back and forth between thickets and little clearings. We did not cover more than fifteen miles that first day in the forest, and I quickly lost any sense of direction. If things did not improve, we would spend months in this primordial jungle, not merely weeks.
The first night in the woods was uneasy. I had the feeling that the trees did not like our fire, even though we had again only used dead branches and twigs I had gathered from the ground and been careful to choose a spot without any roots directly underneath the earth. The night was not the silence I had grown accustomed to on the plains. There the only sound had been the sigh of the wind in the grass and only now and then the shock of a wild animal's cry.
In the depth of the forest there was whispering and rustling all around us, and from underneath the thick canopy of leaves and branches no stars were visible. I felt uncomfortably imprisoned by the walls of trunks and bushes gathering around us, the nightly sounds of animals hunting in the darkness all around us. I knew that there had probably been just as much "night life" out on the steppes, but everything was so much closer in here, and no room to run off.
When the sun shone in golden and green rays through the leaves the next morning, I felt stiff and my head was aching. My eyes were bleary and for the first time I felt like choking when I bit down on my piece of lembas. Elrohir was preoccupied with his thoughts, too, so breakfast was a silent affair, and when we resumed our twisted way through the forgotten jungles of the East, I longed for the freedom of the plains.
But around noon things improved.
Elrohir found a real path. It was completely overgrown at times, but it was a real path, not a deer trail. "Elves made this road", he told me. "Long ago, and it has not been used for centuries, but it was made by Elves."
We were getting closer. Every day we were getting a little bit closer to the solution of the riddle. But would the solution be the solution for Elrohir's problem – or only turn him back to the point where he had started out from?
Even if we did find those mysterious Elves of the East between the Forgotten Mountains and the Forgotten Forests, there was a very good chance that they had never seen Elladan. Since the morning I had woken under that tree some miles north of Bree, I had gotten some idea of how vast this Middle-earth was. I had realized by now that even the swiftest Elf and the most keen-eyed ranger could spend years tracking someone down in all those leagues of wilderness.
Elladan had to feel the same pain at the Valar's choice as his brother, he had to have the same difficulties, if not more, when Elrohir was right and Elladan had been inclined to choose Middle-earth and a mortal life from the beginning. If he did not know how to tell his brother what he wanted to do, if he had decided to simply disappear until the deadline was over, all our searching would be in vain. Elladan must have been sure that Elrohir would not go looking for him. I could not believe that he would lure his brother into searching for him, risking trapping him in Middle-earth and dooming him unwillingly to a mortal life.
I frowned. And Elrohir had been doing just what his brother had expected him to do, patiently waiting at Rivendell, respecting his brother's wishes to reach his decision alone. As he would have accepted his brother's choice and would have gone away alone, come the day of their final choice.
Slowly a feeling of horror crept up inside of me. Elrohir would have waited in Rivendell until it was time to leave for Dol Amroth. He would have left Rivendell only to go there, hoping to meet his brother there, or to receive his farewell.
But then I had appeared on the scene. "When do we leave?" My words echoed in my mind.
Without my impulsiveness to rouse Elrohir from his Elvish stoicism, he would be on his way to Dol Amroth now, not haring around forgotten jungles in the East. Without my bloody, damned, stupid, uncalled for human interference, Elladan's plan would have worked perfectly.
And now as autumn was drawing near and winter was not far off, time was running short.
If we did not find Elladan and we did not make it back to the other side of the continent in time, Elrohir would have to stay in Middle-earth, stay here and die here without meaning to, whereas I could return to a life not burdened with choices like that.
Oh, fuck what had I done!
Fuck, fuck, fuck!
Guilt rose like bile in my throat, choking me.
If this had indeed been Elladan's plan, and with every step that took us deeper into the twilight of the forest I felt surer that it was, how could I undo my mistake in time?
Each step was now heavy on my heart, my temples throbbing painfully with the movement. How much time was left to mid-winter's solstice? How far to the East had we gone? How much time would he need to reach Dol Amroth?
The questions repeated themselves in my mind, over and over again, keeping the rhythm of Lightning's tail swishing back and forth a few feet in front of me. The answers, however, failed to come up.
At night, when I rested on my left side staring into the glowing embers of our dying camp fire, guilt was still on my mind. Elrohir's right hand, which was touching my skin just under my left breast, kept me awake, his touch creating a shivery tingling sensation running all over my body. Only tonight I could not enjoy it. Why had I gone to Rivendell in the first place? And what had made me suggest this foolish search?
It would have been better I had never set a foot out of Bree.
"But you did." Elrohir whispered against my neck, his sweet, soft breath making the tiny hairs stand up. I shivered against him.
"But why?" I asked. "What if we don't find your brother? If you cannot return in time? If – " Elrohir's hand drifted up from my breast, to close my lips in a tender caress. "Why do you mortals always feel the need to understand everything? You came. That is the important thing. And I would never wish it to be any different. Even the Valar don't know the whole scheme of things. Indeed, there may be whole theme to the Ainulindalë not yet discovered by anyone safe the One. Who are we then, to try and understand the roads of destiny? What will be, will be. Now, hush, Jarro, melethríl-nîn. Sleep."
His hand left my mouth, trailing a lingering caress down between my breasts, and then drawing me closely against him. And as if he had cast a spell over me, my anxiety dissolved into drowsiness and I fell into a deep and dreamless slumber.
The path Elrohir had discovered improved as we moved on. Although it was still not broad enough to ride, we did not have many detours, fighting through dense thickets and thorn bushes, but steadily progressed, following the arc of the Orocarni in a north-eastern direction.
Elrohir's calm acceptance of whatever the future might hold had assuaged my feelings of guilt, even if I had not found an equivalent of his Elvish composure.
After a week I had become accustomed to the twilight of the woods and the whispering nights, ignoring the darkness of the forest with its thousand staring eyes as much as humanly possible. Elrohir knew many woodland songs from his mother, and he often sang for me in the evenings, the beautiful Sindarin words and his melodic dark voice lifting my heart.
About two weeks after we had entered the Forgotten Forests of the East, I was walking a few yards in front of Elrohir, who had had to slow down to soothe an irritated Lightning, the trees suddenly gave way and I stepped out into a sunlit meadow.
"Elrohir, will you look at this! A clearing! And a pool, a little stream!" I ran out into the sunshine towards the silvery surface of water I had glimpsed at the centre of the meadow.
To see the sky again, the sun, the drifting white clouds!
Belatedly I realized that an unexpected meadow might mean we had finally found the reclusive inhabitants of these jungles and started to look around, hoping to discover dwellings and perhaps, even people. But the grassy clearing lay quietly in the sunshine, the only noise the wind in the leaves and the burbling of the little stream.
Elrohir had reached the clearing in the meantime and turned his testy horse loose. Lightning had at once joined Cloud at the stream drinking deeply, his tail finally slowing down from his agitated motion. Elrohir, however, did not step out of the shadows from the trees, but was running swiftly from one of the huge trees lining the meadow to the next, peering up into the treetops.
"What is it, Elrohir? Is someone up there?" I ran over to him, silently cursing myself. If those mysterious Elves had lived in these woods, they had likely been silvan Elves, living not on the ground, where I had been looking, but up in the trees on flets or Talans, like the Elves of Lórien. And indeed, as I looked up the tree where Elrohir was standing just now, I found myself looking at several wooden platforms built between the trunk and the stout branches of the tree. Elrohir turned to me, his eyes full of wonder. "There is a whole city built up in those trees. Dwelling places for several hundred Elves. But they are empty, no one is here, they have left this place, and not very long ago. Three months perhaps, or four."
"But why would they leave their city?" I asked, staring at the platforms in the treetop. I walked to the next tree, and in its top, too, I discovered wooden Talans and there was even a bridge leading from one tree to the next.
Elrohir looked at me, and he was just as confused as I was. "I don't know. There is no smell of sickness, no hint of danger, no remembered fear. They left according to their plans, without hurry, taking all their things, leaving only the flets. This is a very strange riddle indeed." He moved from tree to tree, circling the clearing once, then climbing swiftly one of the trees.
After a moment I heard his voice call out to me from the top of a tree a few yards off. "I was right. They have not been gone for long, the Talans are still sound; not a winter has passed yet since they have moved on. And there is nothing left to tell us, who they were."
He lightly leaped to the ground, walking towards me and taking my hand, looking around the clearing with a mystified expression on his face. "They were silvan Elves, and their way of building is different from both the galadhrim and the silvan Elves of Eryn Lasgalen. They are Elves, firstborn and kin, but the designs they use are strange to me and I don't understand their meaning."
I frowned and tugged at my right earlobe, thinking about his words. "If they have lived here for a very long time, and had no contact with the Western Elves, their culture would be different. Could that explain the differences?"
Elrohir looked at me thoughtfully. "Only if they have been in the East for a very, very long time."
And what constituted a very, very long time with firstborn and immortals? Forever?
"Well, not quite forever", Elrohir had heard my stray thought and was grinning at me. "But almost forever. They must have been here before the world was changed, and the East was forgotten."
"When was that?" I asked.
"There is a legend among the Elves", Elrohir said slowly, as if he did not quite believe his own words. "There is a legend that in the first age, when Elves first woke at the shores of the lake of Cuiviénen, there were deep, wild woods at the northern edge of the lake, beautiful woods, which at once became dear to the Elves. But the lake was emptied in the first upheaval of the world, and all the lands were changed. And the Valar called the Elves into the West."
I waited for Elrohir to continue, holding my breath. He looked at the meadow, the trees with their homely platforms hidden by the leaves and back at me, his eyes still filled with wonder.
"But not all of the Elves, who had originally awoken at the Cuiviénen reached Aman. There are many stories about what happened to them. Some of them dark and evil. But there is one story, which was told by my mother's people… it said that there was a group of Elves, who never left the wild woods of the Cuiviénen, and who eventually lost their lives when the world was changed." He fell silent, and this time I could read his thoughts.
What if those Elves had not been killed?
What if they had been merely forgotten?
What if they had lived in these woods through all three ages of the world?
But if that was what had happened, where were they now?
Why had they left now, after four thousand years?
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This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.