3. Four Rings 3
When Elrohir returned to consciousness, his head spun and throbbed with such a pain that he thought he might vomit. His vision was cloudy and unfocused, and his thoughts reeled. All he could remember was Sauron, the confrontation, and a descent into blackness. As he blinked his eyes to slowly ease his way back into consciousness, all he could discern with his hands was that he was in a building made of smooth, cool stone. It was no primitive Elven construct.
He sat on a high stool with his upper body collapsed onto a window ledge, as if he had fainted. His arms were folded beneath his head. Groggily, he tried to sit upright, but the pain and dizziness were overwhelming. The best he could do was lift his head a little and squint hazily at the room. It was small, a ten-pace square at best, and sparsely furnished. Apart from the stool that Elrohir occupied, he saw only a bare table and bench in one corner. A series of pegs lined the far wall, and on these pegs hung sacks that likely held food. There were two doors opposite each other on the walls to Elrohir's left and right.
As he looked at the doors, the one to his left opened and a tall Elf dressed in green entered. The Elf scowled before crossing to Elrohir and hauling him off the stool by his collar.
"It is luck on your part that this is your last day," the Elf snarled, "else I would recommend you for scout duty!"
"I am sorry..." Elrohir managed. He was pulled roughly to his feet, struggling to remain standing despite his spinning, throbbing head. A cold sweat passed over his face and for a moment he feared he might faint again. But he did his best to steel and steady himself enough to glance up at the Elf's face, which looked familiar even through the haze that still lingered in his eyes. Haldir. This Elf was Haldir, whom he had met once in Lórien. The strange phrase "Warden of Nivrim" came to his mind.
"Now come!" said Haldir, pulling Elrohir forward. He seemed to snarl again before muttering, half to himself, "The Stars only know why Galdhil sends you useless princelings out here! More glory to his own line? Ha! Should content himself with your brother!"
Elrohir felt his stomach lurch. "My... my brother..."
Haldir continued pulling him forward, out the left door and onto the walkway. "Have no worry; you may see him before you run back to your parents at Menegroth." The words mocked him, but Elrohir hardly cared. Elladan was alive.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
By the time Haldir finally released him, after pulling and pushing him a half-mile along the Fence from the storehouse to the nearest watchtower, Elrohir had started to feel more alert. He could stand by himself without tottering, and his vision had restored. The pounding pain in his head had subsided to a dull ache. The clearer his mind grew, the more aware he became of his surroundings. He was on a high stone wall, and it was night. The stars shone brightly overhead. To his left, on the battlement side of the wall, was a dull, flat plain. To his right, rich forestland spread as far as he could see. He began to realise, to a growing sense of fear, that he had no idea where he was. Or when he was.
The plain and the forest and most of all the wall were frighteningly unfamiliar. The very land itself was strange, and the stars. He looked up to the sky in hope for the sight of any constellation he had known in Imladris, but saw only cause for further despair. There was no moon. The sky, just as it had been at Cuiviénen, was lit only by stars. The present world was entirely different from what Elrohir had known. Had he changed it so much? As he stared out over the vastness of the wall, a bitter sickness began to creep into his stomach. What he had done at Cuiviénen had changed the course of history so drastically that this was the new reality. Everything, from the land to the Elves and even the moon, had been altered somehow.
The language was different, Elrohir realised with a sudden jolt. When Haldir had spoken to him, it had not been in Sindarin, nor the primitive speech of Cuiviénen, nor any other Elvish tongue that Elrohir had ever heard, though still he understood it perfectly and was able to speak it back. He knew somehow that the name "Haldir" was the same in this language as it was in Sindarin. He was less sure of his own name. He also knew, in the back of his mind, that Haldir was his superior and demanded respect.
A thousand questions flooded his head. First, and perhaps most important of all, what was this place? What was it called? Why was the wall here? Why was he here? He turned to ask Haldir, not caring how foolish he would seem, but stopped himself as he opened his mouth to speak. The answers came to him one by one, as if being recalled from a dream.
The flat plain beyond the battlements was Argador, the Outside Land, while everything within was called Doriath, the Land of the Fence. Within Doriath was the chief city Elgarth, and at Elgarth's centre was the great cave palace Menegroth, home of Dior the King. The wall, the Fence, had been built in the distant past to mark the borders of Doriath. It had been divided into two sections: Nivrost the Westvale and Radhrost the Eastvale. Haldir was a warden of Nivrim, the Westmarch, and Elrohir had been sent to him for guard duty.
As these answers came to Elrohir, a shrill whistle sounded from atop the watchtower. "Captain approaches!" came a cry from above. Almost immediately, green-clad Elves began to filter out through the tower's doors to line up in ranks behind Haldir. Their garb was simple and functional, like Elrohir's own. Forty or so came, followed by five in the more regal uniform that Haldir wore. These were the wardens, and the forty were conscripts. All stood together to await the arrival of the captain, who marched with a small group along a forest path.
Who is the captain? Elrohir asked himself. The answer came in an instant. Beleg was the captain of Nivrim, and all the wardens at all the towers in Nivrim were under his command. He came leading new conscripts from Elgarth, just as he had four years earlier come leading Elrohir's company. Beleg's coming meant that now, having served his required term in the guard, it was time for Elrohir to go home. He had completed his training and was free to leave, unless he chose to stay on permanently as a warden. And though he knew somehow that Elladan had chosen the latter option, in the back of his mind he had an undeniable longing to return to Elgarth. Return, he sensed, to a life that was beginning to come to him in fragments and shards. With each passing minute, he remembered more, and more detailed, elements of his life in this altered world.
Elladan was here somewhere, he knew. Like Haldir, Elladan was a Warden of Nivrim, and served at this tower. A year ago he had left for Elgarth on leave, but now he returned with Beleg and the new conscripts to retake his position. Elrohir eagerly stared out over the parade of approaching soldiers. It seemed a terrible length of time since he had last seen his brother. Twenty or more long years, if he guessed correctly, had passed since the Ring took him from the time of Elladan's death in Imladris to the shifting of history with Sauron's defeat at Cuiviénen. Twenty or more years had passed since he had last seen Elladan alive.
His body tensed like a taut spring, watching and waiting as the last of the new conscripts took their places behind Beleg. They were a collection of unfamiliar faces. Elladan was not one of them. The tall warden at Beleg's side was not Elladan, nor was the guard standing at the rear. Something was wrong. This entire place, in unnumbered ways, was wrong. Elrohir began to grow even sicker. It was his fault. He had done this, and he had to be the one to undo it. Of all the Elves on this Fence, and all the Elves in the entire great realm of Doreldin, only Elrohir knew that they were living in the wrong reality.
Even as the heavy feeling of despair fell on his shoulders, a name shouted out on the roll-call caught his attention.
Elrohir looked at Haldir, who frowned back at him contemptuously. "Forget your own name?" Haldir asked. "Go!" He pushed Elrohir forward into the line of dismissed conscripts, who made their way down slowly from the Fence and to the road where Beleg stood. Each paused to bow to the captain and receive a token of merit for the time served: a black stone arrowhead pendant.
When it came Elrohir's turn to bow, Beleg asked, "Will you be returning to the Guard, or do you plan on taking a trade back in Elgarth?"
Before Elrohir could reply, the warden at Beleg's side gave a mischievous smirk and answered for him. "No, this one is in for the soft life of Menegroth! No doubt he will end up a poet or minstrel. Or worse, a counsellor!"
Elrohir's cheeks and ears reddened and he stared down at the ground to hide his face. "Shut your mouth," he muttered, then immediately gasped at himself for having the stupidity to say such a thing to one of his superiors. But the warden only laughed, and Beleg with him.
"Whatever the case," Beleg said, "I wish you only the best on the path you choose to take. Eldimir iond-Elrodha, you are hereby dismissed from the King's Guard."
Elrohir bowed again, and Beleg placed the arrowhead pendant around his neck. He was free. He moved aside quickly, taking care not to look up at the warden's smirking face. Of all the overwhelming emotions he felt at that moment, silly happiness was not one of them. He needed time alone to think and sort out what he did feel, and untangle all the worried thoughts spinning through his head. Elladan was missing. The place and time were unknown. History had changed radically. Everything was wrong and getting worse the more Elrohir learned.
He sat with his back to a sturdy tree and his eyes closed in hope that it would help calm his mind. He could sort through each thought and worry one at a time. First, the problem of Elladan. Haldir had said that Elladan would be here, therefore, he must be somewhere. He would ask Haldir next chance he had. Second, the place and time. This place was called Doriath, but it was far from the Doriath of Beleriand Elrohir had studied in his history lessons. From the stars overhead, Elrohir guessed that this Doriath was at Cuiviénen. The Elves had never left to go West. Since there were no orcs, there was no danger, and they had no reason to leave. Since they did not leave, there was no Elvish civilisation in Valinor, Fëanor never made the Silmarilli, Morgoth never killed the Two Trees, and the Sun and Moon never rose. But that did not explain the Fence. From his memories, he only knew that it had been built in ancient times, and that it was under constant guard. He would have to ask about its origins in more detail when he returned to Elgarth.
As for the time, Elrohir knew by asking himself that he was 412 years old. What that meant in terms of this new history, he was unsure. He had, though, begun to understand the working of the Ring. He had been 412 years old when Elladan died in Imladris, and when he had used the Ring to travel back to the first encounter between Elves of Cuiviénen and Sauron. The Ring had abandoned him there until he had managed to significantly change the course of history. Then, when the new future had been secured, it shot him forward through time to a specific point: the point he would be at had he lived his life in the altered history. He was still the same person, at the same age. Only the world had changed entirely to suit him.
But if Elrohir had succeeded in his quest, and there were truly no orcs, had history changed for the worse? Elladan was alive. He would have been told otherwise. And Haldir had said "parents", which meant his mother must be alive as well. There was no sun and no moon, but Elbereth's stars were bright overhead. All Elves lived together in peace in one kingdom. It was different, not necessarily worse. Only shockingly different. But Elrohir reasoned that once he saw Elladan and Arwen and Elrond and Celebrían, once he was at home and had time to adjust himself, it would not be so bad. If he had his family with him, he could learn to live in a different world. It was only worse when he was alone.
At the sound of someone approaching and sitting next to him, Elrohir opened his eyes. The smirking warden, now wearing a friendly smile, looked back at him.
"Do you think I would let you leave without a proper farewell?" the warden asked. He draped his arm across Elrohir's shoulders and pulled him into a loose embrace.
Elrohir pulled back with a startled shout. He had expected a further joke, not such an intimate gesture.
"Now hey," said the warden, "you cannot be still upset because I teased you in front of Beleg. Teasing is my prerogative! It is what brothers do!"
Elrohir choked on his breath. "You are..." Elladan. The warden was Elladan, though he did not look like Elladan. His face and voice both held notes of familiarity, but still were entirely different. This Elladan's hair was straighter, his eyes paler, his nose thinner, his mouth smaller, and his cheeks and jaw line sharper. He looked more Elvish, Elrohir thought, and a troubling though occurred to him. There were no Men at Cuiviénen. Of course Elladan would look different, if there were no Men and therefore no Halfelven. Elrond, too, would wear a different face. Their ancestry had been altered.
"Ah, I only play with you," said Elladan. "You take everything too seriously. In truth, your face looks like you just saw a balraug."
"Balrog?" Elrohir asked quietly. So there were balrogs in this reality.
"Mm," said Elladan. "Did they ever show you the burnt place where Thingol killed one in the Great War?"
A thin memory of such a place crossed Elrohir's mind. "Yes, I think so..."
"Over five thousand years and still the grass will not grow there!" said Elladan. "I wager it is some sort of curse, though Haldir reckons the balraug's filthy carcass poisoned the land.."
Elrohir gave no answer. He stared hard at Elladan, trying to reconcile the stranger he saw with the brother he remembered.
Elladan laughed. "I suppose I am even more handsome than you remember, are I not? Or maybe you couldn't find a mirror out here?"
"No, it..." Elrohir shook his head. "I have not seen you in such a long time."
"I know," said Elladan. He squeezed Elrohir's arm before pulling him into a tight embrace. "And it is not fair you must go right away when I only arrived. I thought we could have some good fun now that you have clearance to use all the weapons. But I shall have another leave period in three more years, and I promise when that time comes I will spend every minute of it getting you into trouble with Dairon."
"Thank you," said Elrohir. He leaned against Elladan's shoulder, letting himself imagine that it was the same, familiar Elladan sitting beside him.
"And speaking of Dairon," Elladan continued, "he is planned some grand surprise party for you, so make certain you wear clean clothes and have your hair combed when you arrive home. Go see Nani and Ada first, because they plan to distract you while he readies everything. And under no circumstances are you to tell anyone I said anything."
"I will not."
Elladan smiled and kissed Elrohir's forehead before releasing him. "Good. And now..." He sighed, looking up at the watch tower. "I know Haldir is aching to leave this place, so I had best go meet with him before taking up my duties."
"Of course," said Elrohir. As he stood, he was careful to look at the ground rather than the stranger who was Elladan.
"If you go to the storehouse there should be somebody giving out food for the walk back to Elgarth. But you ought to go soon so you are not stuck with old apples and crumbly bread."
Elrohir nodded. "I will."
"You are quiet," Elladan said with a frown. "Is something wrong?"
"No," Elrohir lied. "I am just tired and... sad that I have no time to spend with you. But I am sure I should be better when I get back... home and see everyone."
"If you say," said Elladan. He gave Elrohir's arm another squeeze. "I will write you this time, I promise. I shall get Beleg to pester me relentlessly until I do. And if you wish to write me back, he is in Elgarth or Goldarost at least four times a year, so you can send a letter with him."
"I will," said Elrohir. A long line had already started to form at the entrance to the storehouse, and he looked from the line to Elladan and then back to the line again. "I had better go. So should you."
"Yes. But three years is nothing. It will be up before you realise, and I will see you then. Goodbye!"
Elladan waved as he ran to the Fence and up the stairs that led into the watch tower. Elrohir watched him go. From the back he looked almost like Elladan, long black hair swaying as he ran. It made Elrohir wish for a mirror so that he could see the changes in his own face, and see if that strange reflection looked back at him. He lifted his hands to feel his eyes, nose, cheeks, and chin, but could tell only slight differences from touch alone. But, he supposed, a mirror could wait until he got to Elgarth. He headed toward the storehouse and turned his thoughts to how he was going to find his way home.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
There were two principal cities in Doreldin: Elgarth and Goldarost. While Goldarost was thought to be the grander of the two cities, carved into the side of a hill and built with intricate stonework, Elgarth was larger and more densely populated. And at the centre of Elgarth was the underground cave-maze Menegroth, home not only to King Dior and his large extended family, but also a large number of counsellors, servants, and others employed by the King.
Elrohir knew his family lived at Menegroth. He knew that his father, as Dior's grandson, was a respected counsellor. His mother and grandparents, as kin of Thingol, also had high standings. On the long walk back from his guard post, he began to remember the details of this life.
His name was no longer Elrohir, but Eldimir. He attributed this to the fact that he had seen no horses so far in Doriath. Elladan, likewise, could no longer be Elladan if the Halfelven race did not exist. His name here was Eldon. The names of the rest of his family were the same, though most had been altered slightly to suit the language of this place: Elroth, Celbrían, Celborn, Galdriel, Galdhon, Dairon. Dairon, he realised, had married Lúthien in place of Beren. Lúthien in this history was not half Maia, and had no special destiny. Here, she was simply the daughter of a King, who married a minstrel.
When Elrohir reached the gates of Menegroth, the guards bowed and let him pass, and a page ran ahead down the warmly lamp-lit corridors to announce his arrival. Elrohir followed behind. The passageways and grand rooms that flanked them all held a sense of comfortable familiarity, and as Elrohir passed on his way to his family's private quarters, he could attach a wispy memory to each place. He and Eldon had once built a blanket fort under the table in that room. The room to his left was where Dairon taught him how to play the harp. To his right and down three doors was where he met Beleg for the first time. Dior held counsel in the great hall down those steps.
He turned down a narrower side corridor, one with a high, vaulted ceiling and ornate hanging lamps, and paused briefly in front of the door to the room he knew was his. But a door further down was open, prompting him to reconsider. The page must have gone in there. Someone would be waiting for him. He continued on ahead and glanced through the doorway before entering. Inside, the page bowed to a silver-haired woman seated at a desk. Elrohir cleared his throat, and Celbrían looked up at him with a broad smile. He grinned back at her.
"Eldimir!" She stood, taking a step forward.
Elrohir ran to her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders as she hugged his waist. "I missed you, Nani." It had been years since he had last seen his twin, but even longer since he had last seen his mother. She was exactly as he remembered. Her face had not changed, nor the feel of her embrace and the scent of her skin. She was the first solidly comforting presence in the altered history, and Elrohir held her close until she laughed joyfully.
"I suppose this is to make up for four years' worth of lost hugs, isn't it?" she asked.
"Yes," said Elrohir. He gave one final squeeze before releasing her and stepping back.
Celbrían lifted a hand to her son's cheek. "You look as handsome as ever," she said, "though somewhat on the thin side. I do not think they feed you very well out at that wall. I remember thinking the same thing of Eldon when he first arrived on his leave."
"It is hard to feed so many soldiers," Elrohir explained, but Celbrían wanted no excuses. She took his arm and led him back to the doorway.
"Come with me," she said, "we will go find your father and Arwen, and we will all have supper together, where I can watch and make certain you eat well."
Elrohir grinned. "You worry too much, Nani."
Celbrían smirked back at him. "What sort of mother would I be if I did not?"
They met Elroth and Arwen coming down the corridor. The faces of his father and sister were strange, but not as shocking to Elrohir as Eldon had been. He had seen them before, in his mind's eye. He recognised them as family, even if they were a different family from the one he had previously known. They were still his family.
"You are home!" Arwen cried. She threw her arms around Elrohir's neck just as Elroth pulled the both of them into a smothering embrace. "It seems forever since I saw you last!"
"It seems the same for me," said Elrohir.
"It is good to have you home again," said Elroth.
Elrohir nodded. "I am glad to be."
"Are you hungry at all?" asked Arwen. "Supper is all ready; we were just waiting for you."
"Yes, right this way, we will get you something to eat." Celbrían nudged at his arm, steering him toward a pair of doors at the far end of the corridor.
"Ought I not change first?" he asked. "I am still in my travelling clothes."
Celbrían shook her head. "Not a worry. Supper comes first."
Elrohir had no choice but to let himself be pushed and pulled along to the doors, which Elroth threw open grandly to mark his arrival. A roaring cheer came from the room beyond. Two hundred or more people, family and courtiers, had crowded around heartily decked banquet tables to celebrate Elrohir's return to Menegroth. Even with Eldon's warning, Elrohir had no need to act surprised and stare in wonder at the sheer number of guests Dairon had managed to conjure. Some of them he recognised, but most he did not, though he could not be sure whether that was because he had not yet remembered them or because he truly saw them for the first time.
At the front of the crowd stood Dior himself, clad in Doriath's regal silver. He nodded warmly to Elrohir, who in turn bowed low. Then, as if on cue, the crowd's noise subsided and Dior began to speak.
"Eldimir, prince of Menegroth and third-son of the King," he said in a voice both kind and commanding. "Having now completed your required term of service on the marches, you are relieved of duty by the laws of this land. Your obligation is met, and you are henceforth free to pursue the calling most fitting to you, lest only war call you back to arms. I release you." From the draping sleeve of his mantle he pulled a scroll. Elrohir took it, to a tremendous cheer from the guests, and kissed the signet ring on Dior's right hand.
"Thank you, my lord."
Dior smiled at him. "Welcome home," he said, his voice dropping to more familial tones. "Now I think we should eat, before all this glorious food goes cold."
The King's place had been set at the head of the first table, but Elrohir was free to choose his own seat. He situated himself between his mother and Dairon. His table filled quickly with family, and the other two with friends, and still some thirty or so guest were left to stand with plates in their hands, circulating along the walls. A buzz of happy conversation filled the room.
Dairon spoke to Elrohir as soon as they sat. "I suppose you have not quite made up your mind yet," he said. "But now that you are past your turn of duty, you are entitled to start a full apprenticeship. You were always a good student, with a mind for music. And if you considered that... I would be more than happy to take you on."
"Thank you," said Elrohir. "I will think on it. Truthfully, I have given little consideration to the future, but I suppose I ought to start." He had given no consideration, he thought to himself, being completely unaware of what would be required of him in this world. Now he was expected to make a life-altering decision. He needed more time to think, and to remember. Had he planned anything? What had his goals been? If Dairon thought him a talented musician, did he have other worthy skills?
Dairon's next words halfway answered that worry for him. "Also," Dairon said, reluctant as he pulled three scrolls from the folds of his cloak, "I have some letters. These arrived for you recently, and I must admit I fear to deliver them, in case they contain offers far more interesting than mine. This one-" he held up the first scroll; "is from the lore masters. It seems they have been waiting a very long time for you to finish your conscription and are eager for you to join their ranks. You will want to ignore this second invitation, from the palace guard. They send it to everyone in hope that some poor boy will be foolish enough to subject himself to a life of extreme boredom, standing at the gates of Menegroth all day. But the third looks very interesting, coming all the way from Fainaur in Goldarost. Had you considered becoming a smith?"
"I... I do not..." He honestly could not remember. Curiously, he took the scroll bearing the mark of Fainaur, a single, eight-pointed star, and turned it over in his hand. He moved to open it, but a disapproving tut from his mother cut his action short.
"Stars, Dairon, do not force that upon him now!" said Celbrían. "Let him eat in peace and enjoy one day at home before he has to decide such things."
"Of course you are right," said Dairon, deferring to her. He nudged Elrohir, who stuck the unopened scrolls into his belt. "We shall eat first."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The meal and subsequent celebration went well, if a bit overlong. Elrohir found himself being introduced or reintroduced to what seemed like the entire population of Menegroth and more. The guest list read like a chapter from one of the history books he had studied in his youth in Imladris. In the space of an hour, he spoke with Dairon, Lúthien, Elúrin, Dior, Nimloth, Galdhon, Elwing, and one named Orthinel, whom he suspected to be the history's equivalent to Eärendil, though the man's hair was dark and he had always heard Eärendil described as golden. By the time the evening ended, Elrohir was so exhausted he felt as if he could fall asleep if he stood still too long. But he forced himself to stay awake and alert as he kissed his mother and father and Arwen goodnight and retreated to his bedroom. He needed to look at the scrolls.
Dior's scroll was nothing more than an official seal of release, the same as was given to all conscripts who chose to return to the cities rather than stay at the Fence as wardens. The letter from the lore masters was pompous and overly wordy, and Elrohir only opened the letter from the palace guard as a matter of respect, even if he chose not to read it. It was Fainaur's letter that interested him most. He edged it open, and read the elegantly written, sparsely worded script
It has been some time since you were last in Goldarost, but I do not easily forget such dedication and subtlety of skill as you showed in your youth. The talent grows otherwise thin in our noble family. Now having completed your service on the Fence, I trust you are eligible to be apprenticed. I accept few to my teaching, but if your skills still hold, I would have you come to my workshop to begin your training as soon as you may.
It was more of a demand than a question, and Fainor was clearly not one accustomed to being refused. Elrohir read the letter several times over. Only on the fourth reading did he realise Fainor's letter, along with the other three, was written in an alphabet entirely different from what he previously knew. He scarcely cared. He held in his hands an invitation to study metalcraft with the greatest smith ever known. The though of it made him light-headed. Not only for the sake of learning, but also for more selfish, darker reasons.
The new history he had created was so far liveable. The differences could be shocking, but the longer he faced them, the more comfortable they became. He could learn to adapt; he was sure of it. But, he had only lived in his new world for a handful of days. After a longer stretch of time, what imperfect secrets would he uncover? Eldon had mentioned balrogs. Dior had spoken of the possibility of war. The dangers in this land were so far unknown, and Elrohir was left with no way of reversing what he had done should things once again go wrong.
He needed the Ring of Time. On his walk back from the Fence, he had run over the possibility, however slim, of locating Celebrimbor and somehow forging another. The thought that Celebrimbor, like Eldonand Celbrían, might be alive kept his hope burning. He had so far heard nothing of Celebrimbor, but now the letter from Fainaur offered a very possible new avenue.
And, Elrohir decided, he would explore it to whatever end.
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.