Paradox of the Fourth Age
25. Chapter 24~Choices
Thanks once again to Ms. Viv for the beta
Laurëanna stuck her aching finger in her mouth, worrying the tiny needle prick on it as she listened closely in the hallway outside Elrond's study. Leaving Airemír's room where they had spent most of the day putting the finishing touches on the dresses for Airemír and Elladan's wedding in a few weeks, she had heard her husband's raised voice as she passed by his father's library. It was not commonplace for her to eavesdrop, but when she realized what Elrohir was saying to his brother, father, and Glorfindel, she stood rooted to the spot.
"Elrohir, you have married an Elda, as will Elladan in a few weeks. Why is it so hard for you to voice your decision to me?" Elrond said, and Laurëanna heard the frustration in his voice.
"It is my decision is it not?" Elrohir retorted. "Perhaps I am not ready. My sister has chosen to remain Mortal, my twin Eldar. How am I to choose to abandon either of them?"
"Elrohir, we know what will happen to Arwen when Estel dies. Do you wish that on Laurëanna?" Glorfindel asked, sounding surprisingly calm to her.
"Of course I do not wish that, but I will not have my decision rushed," Elrohir muttered. Laurëanna did not need to see his face to know exactly how he would look at this moment: his scowl of determination, his eyes hard to read, his brows furrowed in frustration.
"Rushed? Over 3,000 years is rushing?" Elrond exclaimed.
They were silent, and she wondered if she was soon to be discovered. Just as she planned to move, she heard Elladan speak finally, "Brother, I know your heart and your fëa as if it were my own. My decision was not easily made, but I will not abandon Airemír or our children, nor will I cause her the pain of my loss. My choice was made for me by my heart. I know you love Arwen and Estel, but your love is not enough to keep them here with you. One day they will…well, you know. And then I will sail west with my family."
"Arwen will have a child, and then her children will have children. Her line will not end and we will not be here to see that," Elrohir answered.
"And Laurëanna? Will you send her from these shores without you or allow her to fade when you die?" Laurëanna heard the anger and bitterness in Glorfindel's voice. "If you intended to become mortal, you never should have bound her to you. You will seal her fate and your children's. Even if she does not fade when you die, she certainly will, watching her children die as mortals because you made a choice for them without any regard for her wishes."
"Laurëanna, what are you doing?" Airemír asked, startling her and making her jump and drop the tunic and dress she had been carrying.
As the two of them knelt down to pick up the clothing, the other elleth touched her arm. "Are you well? You look distressed."
"Laurëanna, how long have you been in the hall?" Elrohir said from behind her.
"I walked by and, seeing you were with your father, I decided to go…and Airemír startled me and I…" Laurëanna tried to swallow the lump in her throat. Unable to finish, she shoved the rest of the material into Airemír's arms and ran down the hall and onto the pathway.
As soon as she was outside, her tears fell on her cheeks as she walked swiftly away from Elrond's hall. She did not want to talk to anyone now so she retreated to a place she often came when she needed time to think. It had never occurred to her that Elrohir would even consider choosing to be mortal. She could not imagine how Arwen had made that choice but knew that she too would die once she lost her husband. And mortal children? The thought made her cry even harder. Perhaps that was the warning behind what she saw in Lady Galadriel's mirror. Her children and her husband would all be mortal and she would have to either watch them die or die along with them.
Sitting down hard on the ground at the base of a tree, Laurëanna leaned forward and wrapped her arms around her knees. The sun was setting and as the wind blew the sunlight would dance along the thick green grass. She stared at it without really seeing it as her mind played over what she had heard. In the distance, she heard Elrohir calling for her, but could not bring herself to answer him. Her sadness was touched also with anger that he would even consider this, and she did not wish to say words she could not take back.
Not being able to find Laurëanna, Elrohir returned to their house, assuming she would come home. Night fell and he sat in the darkened room worrying about what had happened. He knew he should have talked to Laurëanna about this, and he had attempted to do so many times. The other night when they talked, once again about having children soon after the excitement from the weddings settled down, his guilt had nagged at him.
Why was this decision so hard for him to make? Everyone expected him to choose the same path as his brother, which made sense since he was married to one of the First Born. But something held him back. He had to know what it was before he could decide. And he knew where he needed to go to resolve this, and it would not make his wife happy when he told her. But he must do this – for himself and for her.
When Laurëanna did not return, Elrohir went looking for her again. Elladan called his name as he headed down another path.
"I need to find Laurëanna," Elrohir said and kept walking.
"You do not need to look for her anymore," Elladan replied as he caught up to his brother. "She is with Indil, and, according to Airemír, she refuses to see you right now."
Elrohir stopped suddenly and looked at his twin in surprise. "She refuses to see me? Does she think that will resolve our problem?"
"No offense brother, but it is not her problem. You married her without discussing the fact you had not made your choice, and since marrying her you have not mentioned it. It seems to me that you had no intention of telling her until you made your choice even if that was after it was too late. The two of you have discussed children, and you know your choice affects them as well. How you could even think to have children without discussing with their mother the possibility of making them mortal? It is not only completely unfair; it is completely mad." Elladan glared at his brother.
"Elladan, you would not understand. Besides, it is none of your business," Elrohir said before turning to walk to Indil's house.
Grabbing his arm to stop him, Elladan replied, "I would not understand? Was I not faced with the same choice as you? You know what the problem is? You are frightened by making the choice. I have never known you to be a coward, but you stand before me now a coward."
Shaking off Elladan's hand, Elrohir shoved him away. "A coward? I am not a coward nor am I afraid…"
Neither twin heard Glorfindel come up behind him before he spoke. "You are afraid, Elrohir. You know that if you make the choice, it is final. You have always held that desire to remain Mortal, to stand with Aragorn and Arwen as they work to rebuild Middle-earth. You want to see what this place will become, and you want to be part of it. You want to know that you made a difference, that you mattered. You want to be remembered by your people."
Elrohir did not speak, his eyes flitting back and forth between his brother and his mentor. He did not want to admit it, but he knew that they were right, both of them. He wanted to see Middle-earth rebuilt. The Undying Lands were formed by the gods, but Middle-earth would be rebuilt by Men, Hobbits, Elves, and Dwarves. And he wanted to be one of the ones to help form these lands, to lead his people when his father sailed. He was part of Middle-earth, not Aman.
"Elrohir, you must make a decision soon. Until you do, allow Laurëanna to seek solace where she wishes. Do not make her more saddened by forcing her to face how strongly you are drawn to your mortality," Glorfindel said, placing his hand on Elrohir's shoulders. "Go. Spend time with your thoughts, and when you are ready, return to her."
Nodding, Elrohir asked, "Will you explain that I have gone? I need to go into the wild, by myself. I will return before the wedding."
"I will explain to her, and we will watch over her, but know that only you can take this pain from her. Do not stay away too long and hurt her more." Glorfindel was watching him closely. Elrohir knew Glorfindel might not be happy about his poor decision about not talking with Laurëanna about it, but he also knew that Glorfindel understood having to make a hard decision. Glorfindel had been forced to make the choice to come to Middle-earth twice.
Elrohir returned to their house, and lighting a lamp, sat down and wrote his wife a letter. He hated leaving without explaining, but knew that Glorfindel was right – Laurëanna would see how torn he was and it would only upset her more. After he wrote the letter, he packed a bag with needed supplies then lay down. The bed seemed empty without her, and he could smell the scent of her soap on their bedding. He would leave at morning light and hopefully when he returned, he would not have to sleep alone anymore.
"Come in Glorfindel," Elrond said, without looking up from his book.
The elf lord walked in quietly and sat down beside Elrond's desk. After a moment, Elrond looked up and studied his friend's concerned face.
"It has been five weeks…"
"He will return on time. He is no longer alone; Arwen is with him," Elrond replied. He knew Glorfindel was concerned about Elrohir's return.
"Arwen?" Glorfindel queried.
"Yes. He called for her and she came to meet him in Tharbad. But they have closed their minds to me as they always do there," Elrond smiled slightly. He knew that his children frequently had secretly met there and a few other locations ever since they were children. Each time, they shut him out of their minds. He never mentioned it, knowing they needed this bond between them.
Glorfindel nodded. Rising, he walked over to the window and watched the leaves blowing in the light wind. "She is hurting, Elrond. It is almost unbearable for me to watch her suffer so. Even Indil grows impatient with Elrohir and feels that Laurëanna is inconsolable. I do not understand why Laurëanna's pain cuts me so deeply but…it does."
Elrond said nothing for a few moments. He knew there was nothing he could say to explain their connection. "Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn will be arriving with Airemír's family soon. That should distract her thoughts a bit. Hopefully then, Elrohir will return."
"If he does not return soon, he might lose her forever. Her pain will grow into bitterness and anger if given more time." Glorfindel sighed. "I am already angry with him although it was my suggestion for him to go. I did not know he would stay away so long."
"Soon, Glorfindel. His return will be soon."
Even though her boots made the slightest sound as she walked on the leaves, he knew she was there before he even heard them.
"You are late," Elrohir said gruffly.
"It is good to see you as well, brother," Arwen said as she came to his side and wrapped her arms around him. They held each other tightly for awhile before speaking.
"He is here, but he knew you wished to speak to me alone, so he will wait until we come to him. His guard was rather unhappy about allowing their queen out of their sight," Arwen chuckled. "They still think of me as fragile and incapable of defending myself if needed."
"Perhaps you should leave them in the dark. It is best that they underestimate you until necessary," Elrohir replied with a smirk.
Arwen sat down on a large rock and studied her older brother before bluntly asking, "Why are you here Elrohir? How could you leave Laurëanna as you did? Do you not know the suffering you have caused her?"
"Do not judge me. I needed some time to gather my thoughts, and I needed to see you. Unlike some people, I will not make my decision on a whim or some flight of fancy with no thoughts to the affect on others."
"Is that still what you think I did?" she stared at him in surprise. "Did you think it was easy for me to sacrifice what I have? Elrohir, you should know best how difficult it was to decide. Until I met Estel, I had always assumed I would continue life as an Elda."
"The three of us made a pact centuries ago on this very spot that we would not make the decision without talking to each other," he retorted. "There was no talking to you. You decided on your own and told us when it was too late to do anything."
"Yes, and you did not speak to me for years because of it. I did not break our pact to hurt you or Elladan. I fell in love. I love Estel, and there is no way I could leave him. I knew the sacrifices I would make to be with him, but I also knew what he would have to accomplish so we could be together. We have both sacrificed and earned our right to be together," Arwen replied. "And you know that I would have sacrificed more, as would he. We would sacrifice everything to be together, and that was more important than mortality to me. But that does not mean I love you or my family any less."
Elrohir sighed as he leaned back against a large tree. The sun shone through the leaves, making light dance across his face.
"So do you not love Laurëanna?"
"With everything that I am and everything that I have."
"Then the decision is made for you. There can be no other option for you Elrohir. Do you not see it?" When he did not answer, she rose and walked toward him. Reaching up, she pulled his chin to face her. "If you choose to remain mortal, it will not prevent my death, nor Estel's. It will not change the sacrifice I made, but your sacrifice will be for naught. Your children will be mortal. You will die, your children will die, and Laurëanna will be left behind to watch everyone she loves die. Do you want to cause her that pain?"
Shaking his head, tears filled his eyes. "But will you forgive me, Arwen?"
"For leaving you behind, for leaving Estel behind, for not being there for your children," Elrohir whispered, taking her into his arms. Holding her tightly, he rested his head on hers. He had always protected Arwen. Even as children when Elladan teased her or she got hurt trying to keep up with her older brothers, it was he that protected her. He had been furious when she fell in love with Estel because he did not want to lose his little sister. But he could not protect her from this.
"Yes brother. I want you to choose to remain an Elda. It is what your heart chose for you and I want you to always follow your heart." Arwen sobbed into his tunic. "It is time for you to stop protecting me." After a moment she said, "You need to go back to Imladris. You have kept Laurëanna waiting long enough."
"We will come see you soon," Elrohir said, grabbing her hand. "Let Estel know…"
"He will understand. You need to hurry Elrohir, before she loses hope," Arwen urged him as the two of them walked quickly toward Estel and his guards.
After a hasty farewell to his foster brother and one more hug from his sister, Elrohir left for Rivendell. He knew he had little time to make it back there before Elladan's wedding festivities would begin.
Laurëanna withdrew into the shadows as she saw more guests from Lothlorien heading down the path. She had forced herself to smile so much today that her face ached, but it was better than telling anyone the truth. Enough people knew and if one more person gave her a look of pity, she might go mad. Rushing down the steps, she burst into her house and shut the door quickly.
Glancing around, she noticed right away that someone was here. The lanterns had been lit, and she noticed Elrohir's pack on the floor beside the table. Taking a deep breath, she paused, trying to collect her thoughts. She wanted to run to him and throw herself into his arms, but she also wanted to throttle him.
Before she decided which method of welcome she should proceed with, Elrohir walked out of their bedroom. The sight of him made her decision, and she walked over to the table, grabbed an iron pitcher, and threw it across the room, narrowly missing his head.
"Laurëanna!" he exclaimed rushing forward to grab her arms before she found another weapon.
"Let me go! You…you…orc," she seethed as she tried to push away from him. Unable to break free from his grip, she hit him on his chest until he crushed her in his embrace.
"Forgive me, my love. I am sorry," he said over her yelling. When he did not release her, her struggling grew half-hearted and she began sobbing.
"How could you leave me? How could you even think of choosing mortality over me? I refuse to have mortal children. I will not watch my children die," Laurëanna sobbed loudly.
Elrohir walked them over to the chair, and, sitting down, pulled her onto his lap, still holding her tightly.
Pulling her face up to look at him, he kissed her tears away. "Forgive me for hurting you and making you wait. I had to know for sure that it was the right decision, and now I realize that once I loved you, it was the only choice I could make. I choose to remain with you, to remain with the First Born. I wish to remain here as long as Arwen lives, but then I will sail to Aman with you. If, of course, this is what you wish."
Laurëanna sniffled and nodded. "I do not wish to leave Arwen either, and I know Elladan and Airemír will leave then as well." Rising from his lap, she walked away, and before turning back she said, "But Elladan must love Airemír more than you love me if the choice was so easy for him and not for you."
"No Laurëanna. I was just a fool. I did not want to leave my sister, nor my wife. It was Arwen who reminded me that for us, we could not have both and had to make a choice. I wish it were not so, and I foolishly resisted in hopes that if I did not choose, I would never have to say goodbye to either of you. I was being a coward." Rising, he pulled her back into his arms. "But I cannot live without you, Laurëanna. You are my future. Our family together is my future. Can you ever forgive me for being such a fool and a coward?"
Choked with emotion, Laurëanna was unable to speak and just nodded. Elrohir kissed her softly, his lips lingering on hers as his fingers caressed her face. When she wrapped her arms around his neck, he lifted her into his arms and carried her into the bedroom.
"I need to bathe. I have been riding for three days straight, only taking breaks for my horse," he chuckled.
Wrinkling her nose, Laurëanna giggled. "I did not want to spoil the moment, but yes, let us get you bathed. Perhaps I can help?"
"Please do. Or you can join me," Elrohir whispered in her ear.
"I have a better idea. It has been a long time since we took a moonlit swim by the falls."
"That is something we need to rectify tonight, then."
Elrohir grasped her hand and the two left the house, walking down the lesser used paths to a secluded area where the waterfalls poured crystal clear, cool water into a lake below. The moon was still low enough in the sky that it appeared to melt into the water. They hastily undressed one another in between heated kisses before he lifted her into his arms, carrying her into the water.
As he began kissing her, Laurëanna remembered his choice and pulled away. "Should you not speak to your father about your choice now that you have returned? He has been worried and I know he would feel…"
"It can wait until tomorrow. I am trying to make love to my wife," Elrohir said with a mischievous grin. "All I want to discuss is how beautiful she looks in the moonlight, with no distractions. And bringing my father into this discussion is not helping matters."
Suddenly Laurëanna felt confused. She felt like this had all happened before and could not remember when. As much as she searched her memories, she could not recall when Elrohir had spoken those words before but knew that at one time he had.
"What did you say?" she asked, pulling away from him so he would not sense her tension.
"When? What is it, my love?" Elrohir reached for her and she turned around.
"Please. Repeat what you just said," Laurëanna replied.
"I said I wanted to make love to my beautiful wife, not discuss my father."
Shaking her head, Laurëanna tried to swallow the panic that was rising in her throat. When at last she was able to speak, she whispered, "Elrohir, I have forgotten something I must take care of now. I will be back in a little while."
Elrohir watched in surprise while she walked to the banks and began to dress. Following her, he asked again what was wrong but she merely shook her head. She turned and kissed him quickly, promising to return home shortly then ran up the path before he could stop her.
Laurëanna burst into Elrond's study without knocking. Once she was sure they were alone, she blurted out, "Lord Elrond, my memories are fading!"
Before he could answer, she continued as she paced back and forth in front of his desk, "We were swimming, by the falls, Elrohir and I. He has come back and…"
"Elrohir has returned?" Elrond asked calmly. "No one had told me. Has he made his…"
"Yes he has, but he will come to tell you himself. My memories are fading. We were swimming and he said something that I have heard him say before: the exact same words. I kept trying to remember when he had said them only to realize that there are now huge gaps in my memories – sometimes even whole years I cannot remember."
Stopping, she turning and examined his face and did not see the shock she expected him to feel. Laurëanna took a deep breath and held it for a moment. The reality sunk in slowly as the two of them stared at each other.
"You knew. You knew I would lose my memories?" she asked, wishing with all her might that he would deny it. "How could you not tell me?"
"Laurëanna…I…I know this seems confusing and horrible for you, but the wisdom of the Valar should not be questioned," Elrond replied quietly.
"The Valar? They sent me back. They made me promise to never tell those I loved who I was. I have done all that they have asked of me. Why am I now being punished this way?"
"I know it feels like punishment, but it is for your protection. How many times have you slipped about your past? What will happen when I sail and am not here to help you?" Elrond pointed out and rose to stand by her. Before he could reach her side, she stepped back.
"This is not protection. It is a violation of the worst kind. To take from me all that I value, my past memories, treasured memories of my family and friends then forcing upon me this altered past of my life in Mirkwood. Can you even understand how it feels to remember things that never happened? I now have childhood memories of my days in Thranduil's halls mixed in with my real childhood in Valinor," Laurëanna exclaimed as tears flowed down her cheeks. "I remember parents I never had and am losing memories of my real parents. How can that be for my protection?"
Elrond looked at her with pity but no words of wisdom came.
"When you said goodbye to Arwen, knowing it was forever, did you ever wish that you could give up all memories of her to protect yourself from the pain of losing her?" she asked him. Elrond still did not answer, looking away guiltily. She did not need his answer for she knew what it would be. Feeling the stabbing pain of betrayal, Laurëanna shook her head and walked out of his study.
She walked down the paths numb and afraid. If she lost her memories, would she still be who she was? Was she also losing herself? She felt lost and empty.
"Laurëanna, where have you been?" Elrohir asked running up to her. One look at her face and he grabbed her arm. "What has happened? You look as if you have seen a ghost."
"Or become one." Laurëanna whispered. Elrohir's face grew more concerned as her tears continued to flow. "Please, just hold me and do not ask questions. Hold me and tell me that everything will be all right."
"I do not know what is wrong but it will be all right. I will take care of you," Elrohir promised. Taking her in his arms, he held her tightly as she wept into his tunic. After a few moments he led her to their home where he held her until she felt asleep.
Over the next few days, the final days before the Elladan and Airemír's wedding, Laurëanna resolved to let go of her anger to the Valar for taking her memories and Lord Elrond for his part in this secret. She spent as much time as she could with her parents, knowing that soon she would not remember them from her past and wanting their connection in the present to be strong.
Elrohir told his father and the rest of his family of his decision. However, both of the twins resolved not to sail until Arwen departed this world, and Laurëanna and Airemír agreed. Elrohir suspected his grandfather would remain even after Galadriel departed. Laurëanna wondered what her parents would do. Part of her wanted to return to Valinor sooner rather than later so she could return to her life with her family and friends. But she did want to see more of Middle-earth, and she did not want to deny Elrohir the wish to remain with his sister and her heirs while he could.
Elrond and she had not spoken since the night in his library until the morning of the wedding. Laurëanna was on her way to help Airemír's get ready and met him in the corridor.
"It appears it will be a beautiful day for a wedding," Elrond said with a smile.
"Yes it is. My wedding day was beautiful as well," Laurëanna replied. Fixing her eyes on him, she continued, "At least I am still able to remember that."
"Laurëanna, I do not wish you to be upset with me. I know you feel this is a punishment and I too asked the Valar if it was fair. All of your deeds to undo the past might yet be thrown off course if somehow you say something that affects the future based on your knowledge of the past. I feel the Valar thought this knowledge was too much for one person to have: two lifetimes, two paths. You must live your life now as though your previous life had not happened," Elrond said, placing a gentle hand on her elbow. "You were in danger of being torn between the two pasts."
"Forgive me for such disrespect the other night. I do not blame you for what is happening, I just felt scared and lost. This history, this life that I am being forced to remember, is not mine. I do not wish to remember parents that did not even exist to love me, nor do I wish to have fond childhood memories of events that never happened. Half the time I remember things that are real, but other times, I cannot be certain if it was real. I feel like I am being ripped apart – everything that made me who I was is being altered. Will the elleth I was linger beside me like a houseless spirit until I return to Valinor?" Laurëanna asked, feeling lost and confused.
"There is nothing I can say to make this any easier other than to remind you that you will have your memories back eventually. I believe that it will make your remaining time in Middle-earth easier, even if it is confusing now. When I sail to the Undying Lands, all of your memories will be of your life here. You will no longer have to worry about your past affecting your future here." Elrond grasped her hand. "Trust me; it will be for the best. Your spirit and all the things that make you who you are will not change. Just your memories."
Laurëanna nodded and turned away. She knew she could never make him understand how she felt, nor could she change anything. She had even considered writing down everything she could remember then realized how dangerous that could be if someone found it and how confusing if she read it at a later point. Once again she must just trust in the Valar,
Elladan and Airemír's wedding was beautiful, and the celebration following cheered Laurëanna greatly. Between the wine and food, she was relaxed and happy, dancing and celebrating late into the night. Elrohir held her hands as the two sat curled up on a chaise outside, watched the fireworks provided by Gandalf.
"I think tonight would be the perfect night," Elrohir muttered to her.
"Would be?" She rolled on her side to face him.
"Yes, it would be the perfect night for us to create a new life," his voice was lowered almost to a whisper, but she heard him clearly.
Surprised, she thought about what he said. "Are you certain?"
"Are you not? If not…"
"No! I did not mean I was not, I was merely concerned that…" Laurëanna paused. "Is this the wine influencing your decision?"
Elrohir chuckled then kissed her. "I have not had as much wine as you think apparently. No, feeling the love of family and friends all around us, memories of the night we bound ourselves to one another, even the stars are perfect tonight. My heart no longer feels restless. I am happier than I thought I could be."
Laurëanna could not help but grin at him even as tears filled her eyes. After all of her emotional turmoil of losing her memories, thinking of the two of them having a child brought so much hope to her that she desperately needed. The day had already been so joyful; it made perfect sense to create a child on a day filled with love of family. "I love you more than ever before." Leaning forward she kissed him tenderly, her arms wrapping around his neck. "I love you so much. I know that your child, our child, will be such a blessing to both of us."
"Should we go home now or wait until the festivities ends?"
"Your brother and Airemír snuck off hours ago, as did Glorfindel and Indil. I am certain that no one will miss us," Laurëanna giggled as she jumped up.
The whole way back to their cottage, they rushed in between short stops to kiss passionately before rushing down the path again. Laurëanna worried at one point that Elrohir was not going to wait as he tried to lead her into the trees. Laughing, she pulled his arm and they ran the rest of the way to the cottage..
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