6. Rider's Reckoning
Elladan and Elrohir, returned from Lórien, stood in their father’s study, dread tight around their hearts. They knew what their father would ask of them that night, and that their reply would disappoint him. Elrohir glanced at his twin, who was telling the tale of their scouting to Lothlórien with less than his usual smooth assurance. It was not like Elladan’s mouth to be unsteady, and he should know. His brother’s kiss had been firm against his lips but the night before. As ever, Elrond was so pleased that his sons were back alive that relief swamped his keenness, and he sensed nothing amiss about them. Even one who perceived hearts clearly could have a blind spot, thought Elrohir.
“Galadriel did not come forth to meet you at the border? Unusual. Were there any messages as to why not?” Elrond asked.
Elladan tilted his hands upwards. “Nobody knew. But you and I, Father,” he turned to his brother, “and you, of course, know that she strives at times against Sauron. Since she was not there, we gave sealed messages to the guards, that she and our grandfather know of Frodo’s errand.”
Elrond smiled and said, "It is well that you were discreet. The Company of the Ring shall be of varied folk, but if you will walk with them, the borders of Lothlórien will surely be opened."
Elrohir started. This was their chance. But Elladan said nothing. After their pause had stretched out a moment too long, Elrohir took a deep breath and spoke. “We thought about it already…”
“Excellent!” said Elrond.
“No, father, wait. We shouldn’t go.” Elladan remained drawn in, so Elrohir, acutely conscious, stammered on. “It’s, well, we talked about it. This errand needs a certain kind of people, and we – “ He heard Elladan breathe, and felt a soft touch on his arm.
“Spare yourself, my brother. Do not say ‘we’; it is not your fall that bars us.” Elladan turned his harrowed face direct to Elrond, speaking cold and clear. “It is not that I should not go with Aragorn, no – nor that I fear the gates of Mordor. It is that I should not go with the Ring.”
Elladan clenched the fingers of his left hand, as if missing a ring he had once worn, as he confessed, “It has called to me, and calls me still.” Elrohir stared at him sharply. They had put their temptation behind them on their ride to and from Lórien, or so it had seemed. Elladan had not told his brother that he felt it anew on their return.
Elrond looked at his grim-faced son for a moment, then reached out and touched Elladan’s cheek. “It is well that you told me the truth of it yourself; yes, that is well. Had Saruman been so honest, our leaguer might yet be unbroken.” Shadow fell deeper on Elladan at their father’s mercy, but Elrond had turned to his other son.
“And you, Elrohir? Will you go?”
“If he does not go, I do not go, either,” Elrohir said, bluntly.
Elrond fiddled with the ring on his own hand. The jewel of Vilya was gleaming, and some of its light sparked in his eyes. “If you will not be riven, there may be other errands that call for you,” he muttered. “I will not say yet that my sons are spared from the Black Gate.” Elrohir bowed, feeling exposed that his father had been swept by foreseeing to look on him. He quailed at what else his father might perceive, the falseness in one of a hundred small lies about their errantry, or the deep unspoken truth that he and his twin were lovers. But the moment passed.
When they had said good night, the sons of Elrond left their father. Elrohir walked close by his brother; their paths would go together for a time, before they separated to go to their different chambers. “That went all right,” said Elrohir. Elladan walked ahead, not replying. “Elladan?”
Elladan turned to him. His voice was still cold. “Why did you refuse to go? What was your thought?”
“When we discussed this, we didn’t think he’d ask only one of us – everyone knows better than that! You want me to leave you?” Elrohir spluttered.
Elladan said, “I want one of us to have some honour.”
“I keep telling you, that cursed Ring called to me, too,” said Elrohir, forcefully. “What is the problem? You were not troubled on our ride.”
“Called, you say; so it calls no more. Whereas I still feel its lure. It would never have touched you had I not thought about it, I am certain.” He glanced up and down the corridor; it was empty. Nonetheless, he whispered his next words. “The same way that you might never have touched me, had I not said we ought to ride out together to avenge our mother. In seeking to foil evil I have fallen afoul of it; in seeking to honour our kinship, I have dragged it down.”
“We said we did not want this to come between us. If desire of the Ring is gone from me, surely it will cease to trouble you soon.”
Elrohir shrugged and said something that had soothed his brother once before. “We are twins; how different are we, really?”
Elladan was silent as he pulled his cloak about him. When he did speak, all that he said was, “More than anyone understands. Even you, I fear. Until the morrow.” He walked away briskly, leaving Elrohir standing.
Elrohir flushed with anger. First withholding, then placing him on the spot before their father, and now the final insult of those patronising words. “Superior wretch,” he growled, throwing his own cloak back, ready to follow after him and pick a fight. Then he stopped, remembering the last time such anger at his brother had flooded him, in the hour when the Ring called to them both.
Elrohir turned and leaned his forehead against the cold stone of an archway, breathing deep to calm himself. Not that way, he thought. Not that way, ever again. As he cooled, he reviewed everything his brother had said to their father and himself. The chill of December pierced him when he realized his brother’s parting had not been the most hurtful words of the night. No, it had been worse when Elladan said: Do not say “we.”
Elrohir tried to ground himself amidst the chaos of the month that followed. The strange Company of the Ring had gone forth three days after the twins’ return to Rivendell. The scouts kept up their comings and goings. The valley’s guard was doubled. There was a sensation when the proud Dúnedain refused the offer of the shelter of Rivendell, accepting the risk and defence of their fortress-remnants, which also sheltered Men of other kindreds. The counsels around this preoccupied Elladan, just as the extra riding in icy winter kept Elrohir busy doctoring horses. They would have been granted an hour, even three or four, away from their work, but each claimed duty to keep them separate.
Then came the summons from the South, calling the Dúnedain to Aragorn’s aid: Now is the hour when the Lost shall come forth/And the Grey Company ride from the North. It seemed sent by the Valar for Elrohir’s relief. As soon as he heard, he declared that he would ride to the war and to Aragorn. Elrond had smiled on him again. “You and Elladan agree, as ever. Two more grey cloaks for the Grey Company.”
“Yes,” said Elrohir, smiling with an empty heart. Elladan had not come to him with this news. He had thought to speak to Elladan after gaining Elrond’s blessing, and urge him to ride as well. It had seemed a safe path to reconcile them. A good idea, useless now.
He trudged off to the stables, doubting both his anger and his yearning towards Elladan. Every night, alone, he had struggled with how to clear the air and heal the gap Elladan placed between them, without using force of anger, nor the persuasive words he had used in the past – words that might have been half-lies. He did not know, anymore.
What he did know was horses. He went to choose the steed that would bear him to war even before seeing to his weapons and armour. As he drew near the stable, he heard the nickering and shifting of the horses; a person was there before him. Arriving, he saw that, with unconscious consonance, his twin was intent on the same errand. Elladan stood before the stalls of the two horses he rode, but he looked towards the door at Elrohir’s entry.
“Elladan, well met; I wished to speak with you, anyway.”
Elladan said, “Regarding?’
Elrohir’s heart churned. “Father said you ride with the Dúnedain. I ride as well. Which horse are you taking?”
Elladan looked down the row of horse-stalls. “Starfoot, I think. He is come to the fullness of his strength. And you?”
“I was thinking of riding Forty-Three.” A grey mare looked up brightly at hearing her name, and seeing her favourite person attending to her.
“Old grey Forty-Three? Is she not come to the end of her time?” said Elladan.
“Not yet, I wager, and I reckon she is the horse for this. This ride will bring many strange things. She has seen much and fears little - she is even bored here, I think. Wise as one of the guards, smarter than me sometimes. And she and I, you know how it is, when you care…for the one you ride.” Elrohir flushed, abashed at his double meaning. He might as well speak his mind after that slip. “If you wouldn’t ride before, why do you ride now? And why did you not tell me?”
“We are summoned, Elrohir. Now is the hour when the Lost shall come forth. Who is more lost than we? I knew you would come; and I needed to speak with you, too. Father has given me messages for Aragorn. Will you take them, and speak for Father, instead? I will be busy enough on this ride. If we are to meet with Aragorn in Rohan, I will be scrying for the place and time of it. You know what that means, do you not?”
“Yes,” Elrohir muttered. His brother meant that he wished to be celibate, before and during the ride, so that the scrying would be unclouded. He crossed his arms. “You know I am clumsy at things like messages. It’s not like I shall not have a thousand tasks myself.”
“Still, will you?”
Elrohir said, “I will, if you tell me why.”
“I am not one to speak for the good of Rivendell anymore,” said Elladan, voice dull and sad.
“This is still about that, isn’t it? About the Ring.” Elladan nodded as his brother snapped, “Father forgave you – even Saruman the White was tempted, and Father said you did better than the wizard in this. It was more than two months ago. Can you not put it aside?”
Elladan recoiled, shoulders shrinking. “You do not understand. I knew you would not. This is why you have stayed far from me, is it not? So that I would not taint you again with my weakness.”
“It’s not that at all! You were avoiding me. For the sake of your precious lore, I suppose.”
Elladan raised his hand, as if to say something, and then closed his mouth tightly, shaking his head. “I suppose,” he muttered, and said no more.
Elrohir waited, suddenly anguished. “I’ll get Starfoot ready for you. You might as well go, get the messages, whatever.” He flinched a bit, hearing his words ring harsh, and added, “Starfoot needs winter horseshoes, and that takes a while.”
He heard his brother’s footsteps over the stable’s boards. At the safe distance of the door, Elladan turned back, face pale, brows drawn. “Elrohir. Thank you. For – all of it.”
Elrohir did not reply, watching him go. Why did he have to do that? Why be so cold, and then give him a look that made his heart wheel, a word that praised everything between them? A reason came to him. His rider’s bones ached with the same feeling as when he looked on a wounded horse and knew that the horse’s death was nigh. This was the break he had ever feared, at last; words that sent him away; not as he had expected it at all. He ought to have seen it coming. It was as clever of Elladan as always, the timing, the way. Elrohir leaned over the half-door of Forty-Three’s stall as this change sank through him, like a weight into water.
He looked up to see Forty-Three’s long-faced regard before him, her dark grey nose flecked with white hairs. “Ready to go to war?” he asked. “One last time; the last time that pays for all.”
Elrohir drew strength to go on, despite his heart’s dismay, from the muster and ride of the Grey Company. There were rough-haired horses to tend, and the appreciative company of the goodly Dúnedain. Aragorn’s horse Roheryn, drawn along riderless, came under his guidance and care. And there was the endless rhythm of riding a favorite horse, feeling the ground flying smoothly beneath them both, his pleasure from boyhood.
It was easy to let thoughts go blank while riding, to lose the mind in the moment. Elrohir let this happen on the first week of the ride, as they picked their way down the foothills of the Misty Mountains. Once they hit the gently sloped lands of Hollin, the ride eased. Forty-Three was surefooted on the paths she had taken for years. The sight of the holly trees made him think of when he and Elladan first joined as lovers. The memories made his eyes sting, but they all rode face on into the winter wind, and Elladan did not look back to see his brother’s eyes narrowed.
“Hai, Elrohir!” Elrohir started. The leader of the Dúnedain of the ride, Halbarad, had drawn his horse up companionably.
“Hai yourself! How does it go?” he replied, in Westron.
“Speak to me like an Elf would, my friend. I want to practice my Sindarin in case our riding brings us to Gondor. I would not have them say we of the North are unlettered.”
“All right,” Elrohir called, in the Elvish language. “Of what shall we speak?”
“Why did you name your horse Forty – I mean, Forty-Three?” Halbarad had caught his own mistake pronouncing the number-word rascanod, saying it first with a hard s, then changing it to the correct Sindarin softness.
Elrohir laughed freely. “Everyone always asks! She’s the forty-third horse I have had for my own in my life – what could be simpler?”
“Is that all? I thought it might be some elvish spell, some number of magic.”
“It’s not always so complicated. Not with me, anyway.”
Another rider drew up to Halbarad with a question, freeing Elrohir, and he urged Forty-Three ahead a touch. Complicated? No, he thought, there was little good in that. Fate had brought him enough complications, and he tried to keep the rest of life simple.
Forty-Three’s stride staggered for a moment over a sudden dip in the ground. “Ai, ai. Easy, girl. All right?” He patted her neck, and let her find her own pace again, a step or two slower than before. He stroked her mane a little as they jogged along. It was a privilege to have such a fine horse. The affection and trust of animals was delight and refuge for him; creatures never judged as speaking folk did. While animals had their laws amongst their kinds, they did not have a word or thought for incest. It was no sin to them, thought Elrohir; and he sighed, and looked to where Elladan rode.
At the beginning of the ride, he and Elladan, considered hearty among the Elves, had blended in with the Dúnedain. A week later, the Dúnedain were roughened by the wilds, once-shaved cheeks bristling, shoulder-cropped hair flying lank and dusty. The two elf-kin stood out in contrast, faces still smooth, longer hair braided beneath their silver-grey hoods, neat if no longer clean. At the head of the riding, Elladan’s expression set the seal on his elvish air, keen glance cast far, remote with mingled knowledge and intuition in navigation.
Before they had become lovers, Elrohir had desired Elladan long; it had been the one secret of his life. Elrohir had once had a pattern of winning over remote, severe lovers. Inevitably, he had parted from them when he realized that yet another could never take the place of Elladan, the most remote and severe of all, and yet the closest, being his twin. He had persuaded himself that approaching Elladan would scour the desire from him, even as knowledge beyond thought came to him that the confession might bring all his hopes. He had not trusted his intuition in that - but it had been correct. Since that unexpected joy, he had let himself be steered by his instincts.
Thinking too much had made Elladan cold, thought Elrohir, precise to near-obsession, unable to feel any real pleasure. He, Elrohir, had always been the one who sought to smooth their questing and their love; always following Elladan’s lead, never seeking to quarrel, always trying to say the right thing even when he felt sapped, weary of the endless debating. What hadn’t he done, he mulled, for the sake of that ice-hearted wretch?
“What do you think of that, Elrohir?” said Halbarad, beside him.
“Think of what? Apologies – I was not listening,” he said. Halbarad waved and fell back again to talk to the two riders behind. And Elrohir’s failing crashed down on him at his own words. Forty-Three slowed her canter to a trot, and even looked behind, as she felt Elrohir sag upon her back.
Yes, most of his other lovers had been more pleasant than Elladan. But none had been truer or more honest. Elladan had never told him any of the half-lies of lovers in their long years of solid partnership. Nor had the long years made it less thrilling when Elladan said yes to Elrohir’s desires, time and again. It was still a heart-wrenching marvel, like a stag in the forest coming tame and trusting to his hand. More, Elladan had trusted him beyond their incest, trusted him as friend and advisor, being honest about his temptation. No, he had not listened.
Elrohir sat up again, resolute; some of the clear grimness of Elladan’s glance was in his face. He pressed his knees lightly against Forty-Three’s flanks, for they were now last. They caught up, then cantered along past the other riders, up to where Elladan took the point of the ride. Starfoot whickered and slowed to meet them.
“How are you holding up?” Elrohir called.
“All right. The difficult part will begin soon, as we draw near the gap of Rohan.”
“You were troubled, before we rode out. D’you want to talk tonight?” Elrohir asked.
Elladan turned his face to the sere wilds ahead of them. “I decided to take your advice in that matter, and put it aside.”
“Maybe I was wrong,” said Elrohir.
Elladan shook his head. “I will not speak of it more. I would that you would let it be, as well. It is too distracting.”
Elrohir read his failure in this chiding of his lateness. “As you wish it. But maybe when this ride, and your scrying, is done?” Elrohir saw Elladan nod at that, and let Forty-Three find her own pace again. They fell back next to Roheryn.
When camping that night, Forty-Three lay down on the ground to sleep, and the other horses followed her lead. She let Elrohir lay close along her back for warmth. This had been yet another way in which Elladan matched him better than other lovers, how they lay together peacefully for sleep. There was little hope in him that they would be so entwined again, for all his yearning; his deep intuition had fallen dumb in this matter.
Halbarad, being the leader of the ride, was doing the rounds. “Last watch for you tonight,” he said, looking down at Elrohir beside the mare. “Cold, are you?”
“Yes. Yes, I am cold.” He saw Halbarad’s friendly regard, and thought how it would curdle if the man had known his mind. “But who isn’t on this ride? My hay-burner here shall keep me warm, won’t you, girl?” The mare whickered to him with the same call she had used for her colts, and turned her head to give him a nudge. Again, his eyes stung, and he had to force a smile to match Halbarad’s amusement.
Elrohir kept his word for the rest of the ride. Elf-kin and Dúnedain grew more anxious together, day by day, as they entered rarely traversed lands. Two weeks later, as they pounded through the Gap of Rohan, all saw the smoke of war spiral into the sky, from north, south, and east. Elladan pointed to the greatest, whitest plume of smoke, towards the north. In a voice possessed he cried, “The banks of the river Isen will lead us to him. Tonight, tonight we shall meet!”
“That takes us towards Isengard, and the message was that we meet Aragorn in Rohan,” said Halbarad.
Elrohir shouted, “That path is still in Rohan’s borders! I say we should hearken and ride as he bids.”
Halbarad eyed him shrewdly, then cried for all to hear, “I will give the paths of the Isen a day. Ride north!”
Elrohir, amongst the Dúnedain for that foretold meeting, saw their amazement that Elladan had been correct. As Halbarad embraced Aragorn, Elladan swayed on Starfoot’s back, the passion of his foreseeing faded. Elrohir paused. He might be able to persuade Elladan to talk, now. But that was not the hour’s need, nor the best way to honour the promises he had made to Elladan. When the riders set out again, the Dúnedain joining the company of Rohan, he turned to Aragorn.
Aragorn said, “Elrohir, my brother, well met! What news do you have from Rivendell?”
“Strange tidings. One thing is most important. If you do not understand, I will tell you more by the light of day.” Elrohir’s voice was clear and confident as it cut through the night. “I bring word to you from my father: The days are short. If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead.”
* Story is set between December 22nd (opening scene) and March 6th ,(closing scene) 3018 – 3019, in the Lord of the Rings timeline.
* Horse names are in reverse translation this time. The twins are speaking in Sindarin, so the Sindar names would have their original meaning in their conversation. Starfoot = Brindel. Forty-Three = Rascanod. This is structured from the prefixes of the following numbers: twelve (rasta) three (canad) seven (odog). The meaning is intended as “twelve threes and seven”, to communicate the value of “forty-three” using the Elves’ numerical system, which is based on values of 12 (duodecimal) not values of ten (decimal).
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.