Only a Game
22. What is Real?
And who was I trying to fool here?
Elrohir raised an amused eyebrow. "If you think it will help…"
His grief had settled into a permanent faint shadow in his silvery gaze. But he had subdued his desperation. Now he was sitting at the fire of our camp site, preparing our morning tea.
I knew it would not help.
But I – we – would have to decide soon.
Time was running out.
Winter was not far away, and with it the deadline of Elrohir's choice.
I blew on the surface of the hot tea in my beaker. Steam wallowed up from the tea, hot and fragrant in the cool air of this fall morning.
The wood was warm and incredibly smooth in my hands. The tea was wonderfully hot and sweet with honey.
My skin still echoed with the soft touches of the night. I glanced at Elrohir, who had curled his long slender fingers around his own beaker of tea and was gazing out to the sea.
My heart skipped a beat, as the wind parted his hair and revealed his clear-cut profile, from the delicately pointed ear to the pronounced lines of jaw and chin. The dark tendrils of hair settled around his shoulders like a silken cloak.
I shivered slightly. The wind was cold, and I was grateful for the warmth of the fire and the internal heat of the tea. The water had been high in the night, the sand of the beach was wet up high. There were many bits and pieces of flotsam and shells, which had been swept ashore during night, scattered above the line of water. The air tasted of salt and seaweed and the acrid smoke of the burnt drift-wood of our camp fire.
Was this real?
I set down the beaker and looked at my hands.
They were different.
They were still my hands, of course. Large hands for a woman, and though my fingers are long and slender, not really female and delicate. I have strong hands, capable hands. I have always liked that about my hands, although I did never have much opportunity in the – other world, of really using my hands. That's what was different about them, I realized suddenly. My hands looked used. The nails were really short, and some were broken. There were calluses from sword practice and carrying logs. There were scratches and there were spots of dirt, which had not rubbed off entirely during the quick wash in the icy water of the ocean the night before.
Actually, my hands looked more real to me than they had before.
"About this day on the beach," Elrohir asked. "Could you explain that concept to this poor, confused Elf?"
I smiled at him. I felt like going over to him and curling up next to him, and remaining like that for the rest of my life.
How can I know what is real?
"A day on the beach is intended to be fun and relaxing," I explained. "It's about walking hand in hand along the sand, looking for sea shells. Or running up into the dunes, getting covered in sand. Swimming and splashing each other. Well, perhaps not in October." I cast a dubious look at the grey and green waves. The water was icy, I knew from trying to clean myself up in it last night. "Wading, perhaps. A fire in the evening. Songs and stories. Star-gazing." I elaborated. Then I caught a twinkle in his eyes.
This treacherous Elf had been having me on!
I tried to look offended. The grin, which kept sliding across my face, defeated this purpose, however.
"Well, what do you think, is there time for a day on the beach?"
A-chen lû annatha. For you there will always be time.
My heart quickened, and I swallowed hard.
For a moment I felt an echoing heart beat.
I evaded his silver gaze.
God help me!
"How about a walk on the beach?" I asked after we had finished breakfast and securely banked the fire. Elrohir smiled at me, returning to his earlier joke. "If that is how it is properly done… Let's go!"
He offered me his right hand.
I put a blanket and some food for a picnic in my pack, and then took his hand, smiling up at the tall Elf.
Bare-footed we ran and slid down the soft powdery slopes of the dunes to the cool hard sand of the wet beach. I gasped at the cold of the water, as the first wavelet touched my toes and jumped back, causing Elrohir to stumble.
We steadied each other, laughing like loons.
"One would think, with your hot mortal blood that you could stand the cold of the water easier than I do," Elrohir commented.
"And I think it is perfectly annoying that you Elves are completely impervious to the small discomforts of existence!" I quipped back.
The Elf grinned at me, tightening his hold on my hand.
We walked along the beach for a long time in silence, skipping waves, now and then stopping to pick up a pretty shell or a colourful pebble.
Had I ever felt happier?
Had I ever felt more real?
At noon the clouds parted suddenly, and the sun appeared, bathing us in unexpectedly warm golden sunshine. The rays glittered on the waves and gleamed in Elrohir's dark hair, adding silvery reflections to the darkness of his long tresses.
"What do you think?" I said, pointing to the high, rounded summit of a dune ahead. "Is that a suitable place for a picnic? Not that we have much left in the way of picnic goodies…"
We had some fruit and cakes left by the Avari, that was about it, apart from lembas. And you did not eat lembas for a lazy day on the beach.
"Eminently suitable." Elrohir replied.
It proved to be quite a hike to get up on the dune. There was no trail, and the sand was soft and slippery. When we were finally up on its top, I was out of breath and sweaty.
I looked around.
From up on the dune, you had the loveliest view of the beach to the North and the South, the ocean to the East and the hills of heather to the West.
"You are right, melethril-nîn." Elrohir said softly, looking around. "It is indeed lovely."
I spread out the blanket and we shared a lunch of fruit and slightly stale cakes, which I had brought with us, washing the food down with sparkly clear water from the spring, which flowed out of the heathery hills close to our camp site. Afterwards Elrohir lay down on the blanket, his eyes glazing over as he drifted to the strange realms of Elvish dreams. But he was relaxed, so the dreams probably were good ones.
I sat down at the edge of the blanket, facing towards the sea.
I loved the sea. I could look out across the waves forever and let me be soothed by there endless motion.
I dug my hand into the sand in front of me. It was cool, but dry to the touch. The finely grained sand trickled easily through my fingers. Only a few grains remained stuck to my slightly sweaty skin, glittering in the tiny creases of my palms. I looked at the lines of my palms and tried to recall what I knew about palmistry, but nothing much came to mind. And I did not believe in that, anyway. The horizontal lines at the edge of your hand, just below the smallest finger delineate how many children you will bear, I remembered and turned my hand. Three lines. I raised my eyebrows. Really? I had not thought about having even one child up until now. The large arc around the thumb is supposed to be the line of my life, I recalled. I squinted my eyes, looking at the line. It was broken in places, and there seemed to be second line arching across my palm, paralleling the first.
I had no clue what this could mean.
What could I do?
What could help me to decide?
Unconsciously I played around with my pack. The pack looked worn and weathered by now, its colour had faded into an undistinguishable shade of greyish green. The cloth was fraying at the top, and the front was stained with sweat.
I felt two square shapes in its depth and pulled them out.
The first was a simple wooden box, quite scratched and worn, from being carried at the bottom of the pack all over Middle-earth. I set it down in the sand in front of me and shuddered. I knew what it contained.
The second was the intricately carved wooden box Mínuíal had given me as a gift of farewell.
With trembling fingers I opened it.
My heart seemed to stop.
My breath caught in my throat in a low moan.
I almost let go of the box, and only just in time managed to set it carefully down on the sand next to the other box.
I stared at the contents of the box, my heartbeat echoing in my ears like a drum.
Securely stuck in blue velvet there were two rings of delicately interwoven strands of silver.
They seemed to be braided of silver hair, but when I touched them gingerly, I felt the cool touch of precious metal.
Elvish betrothal rings.
I started shivering all over.
I had to admit to myself what I was feeling.
Real. More real than anything I had ever felt before.
Suddenly I knew that it was time.
I could not escape from this decision anymore than Elrohir could escape from his choice.
But it was not a decision I could make alone.
A slow smile dawned on my face and I felt hope grow in my soul.
I was not alone in this decision.
"Elrohir?" I called out softly.
He blinked. Then he slowly sat up, looking at me, his silver gaze intense.
"What is it?" His voice was deep and tender, like a caress in the moonlight.
"I had a look at the parting gift Mínuíal gave me. I thought that perhaps you wanted to see it, too." I hesitated, and then continued with a slight tremble to my voice. "I think, maybe the gift was meant for both of us."
With a lithe crawl he came over to me and sat down behind me, looking across my shoulder at the wooden box and the rings. I felt his sharp intake of breath as if it was my own, and as his heart sped up, I felt my own heart beat quicken, too.
I turned around to face him and my cold, cold fingers wrapped around his arms.
"Do you have to… will you go to Aman?"
His silver gaze seemed to drown me.
"Do you have to… will you go back to your world?"
He asked, his voice husky with emotion.
"If you want me to stay…" I whispered, my voice shaking.
"If you want me to stay," he gave back, his voice firm and full of warmth.
There was a moment of silence.
I felt I could hear my heart beat, rolling like thunder around us.
Real. I thought, as Elrohir's hands slid around my waist, holding me tightly.
Suddenly I found my voice, and it was firm and full of joy.
"Yes." I said. "I will stay. Here. With you. Where ever you go. Forever."
His eyes blazed like silver stars, and his hands held me almost painfully tight.
He bent forwards and touched his lips to mine with a kiss of singular sweetness.
He drew back a little and inhaled a shuddering breath.
"Then forever I will stay, too. To live with you, to die with you. Melethril-nîn."
There was a moment of heaviness in the air, when he had spoken, as if the wheel of fate halted for a moment. Then the wind blew again across our skin and the sound of the waves rushing to the shore was back in our ears.
The choice of the Half-Elven had been made.
The choice had been registered with the fates and Eru Ilúvatar, and the Valar Themselves, far away in golden Aman, the Blessed Realm, which this son of Elrond now would never see.
Now there was no ship in all of this world, which could bear Elrohir away from Arda to the Undying Lands of the West.
I exhaled shakily.
But Elrohir smiled at me, a smile of youth and happiness, and reached around me with his right hand, taking up the small wooden box with the silver rings.
He looked me deep into the eye, smiling softly, as he took my right hand.
"Will you, Jarro, ranger from beyond the void, marry me and be the light of my life beyond the circles of this world?" He asked, picking up the smaller ring with his left.
Feeling shivery with excitement and happiness, I picked up the larger ring, my hand shaking slightly and replied.
"Yes, I gladly will." I paused, and then added. "And will you, Elrohir, son of Elrond, marry me and be the light of my life beyond the circles of this world, too?"
"Yes, I will." He answered, a smile of absolute joy spreading over his face. I thought my heart would burst with that same joy, as a smile of equal happiness, which seemed to be too big for my face tugged at my lips.
He carefully slid the ring onto my right ring finger.
I felt his hand tremble in my left, as I in turn slid the other ring onto his right ring finger.
Clasping our hands together, we fell into each other's arms, the embrace turning into lingering kisses, the kisses turning into heated touches of desire, until the world faded around us, and there was nothing left but passion, a white fire erupting from our hearts, souls, minds and bodies.
A long time later I picked up the remains of our picnic. I shook out the blanket and stuffed it back into my pack. Elrohir slung the bag across his shoulder and held out his hand to me.
Laughing and kissing at the same time we slid down the dune towards the beach.
We walked down to the water with our hearts light and full never known joy.
"Back to the camp?" He asked, raising his eyebrows meaningfully.
"Definitely," I agreed, grinning broadly. "I need some lembas to regain my stamina."
He chuckled at that. "You? Never!"
And he dropped a delightful kiss into the palm of my right hand, a ray of sunshine sparkling on the silver of the ring.
When we had walked a yard or two back into the direction of our camp I remembered something.
"Wait a moment, meleth-nîn. I have forgotten to do something."
He stopped and looked at me questioningly. But I shook my head and ran back to the spot at the shore, where we had come down from the dune. The coast started to get rocky here, and the water seemed to be very deep even close to the shore.
I felt for the scratched wooden box in the pocket of my trousers. There it was.
I took it out and looked at it one last time.
Then I drew back my right arm as far as I could.
I put all my power into the throw.
With a mighty heave I cast the box into the air.
At that moment, the sunlight hitting the Elvish ring made it blaze like a star.
The box flew in a perfect wide arc towards the dark green and blue waves, breaking in white foam against the rocks.
It hit the water with a splash and was gone instantly.
I turned and ran across the cool, wet sands towards Elrohir, who swept me up into a tight embrace, swinging me round and round. When he finally set me down, my head was swirling, and his lips finding my mouth kindled a low moan of desire.
A moment later I smiled up at him, feeling deliriously happy and relieved, as if a heavy weight, a weight I had not even realized, had forever been lifted from my heart.
"Where shall we go?" I asked.
Elrohir grinned down at me and clasped my hand tightly.
"I rather liked Esgaroth." He told me. "With those dwarves around, I would not be too strange, I guess."
He considered the idea, his grin growing broader with confident anticipation.
"I could become a teacher. Or a fisher. Or a hunter. Or – what do you think?"
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.