Invictus: 4. Chapter Three: Driven

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4. Chapter Three: Driven

Author's Notes: So, apparently, that little glimpse of normality was just a cruel jest played by Real Life. Still, a belated Happy New Year to you all! Very belated as some of you were kind enough to remind me. And, as always, happy reading!

Chapter Three: Driven

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing

-Percy Shelley, "Ode to the West Wind"

There was the scent and dimness of thunder in the room. A white bed and rumpled sheets, a woman, her colorless hair tangled about her face, swallowed up in it. She reached out to him as if to a lover. But he knew with the peculiar certainty of dreams, she did not want him. No more than he wanted her.

Elrohir woke with morning light laying open his face with its edge, despite the drawn curtains. Squeezing his eyelids shut, he rolled his face into the pillow. But that only made him more aware of the foul taste of barnacles and salt in his mouth to echo the waves pounding against his skull and a still more urgent pressure lower down.

Slowly, slowly, he dragged his creaking body upright, attending his usual ablutions with a little more difficulty than usual. He stripped the bandage from his forearm, the linen matted with dried blood. A few days more would see it reduced to little more than yet another blemish on his skin to mark the memory of his foolishness.

Discarding the soiled linen on his dresser, Elrohir picked up the half-full pitcher left from his wash and let himself into his brother's rooms.

He stepped over a pair of boots crumpled on the threshold like sentries exhausted by a long vigil.  

Elladan lay on his back in his blessedly south-facing bedroom. By the looks of it, he still slept the sleep of the dead though the gusty breath issuing forth from his wide-open mouth suggested more a sleep of the utterly dissolute. The sheets bunched up around and under him lay nearly unruffled, so sweetly bewitching must have been the spell woven by their silken threads. 

Threads which darkened to the color of raindrops as Elrohir unceremoniously emptied the pitcher's contents over the dreamer's pillow.

Elladan came awake with a yelp, coughing out a curse around the water in his throat. The watermark spread in an oval circle halfway down his shirt, slicking his hair all along one side of his face.

"What was that for?" he demanded, mopping at his face and neck with a damp corner of his sheets.

"You are fortunate it was not the chamberpot." Elrohir slammed the pitcher down onto the dresser table, watching the flinch tear itself across his brother's face with satisfaction despite it mirroring his own.

"Ai, Elrohir! Gently."

"You have only yourself to blame if your head aches," Elrohir said though the black beat behind his own eyes throbbed with self-recrimination. "And it is a small price to pay for my humiliation. Were you not my brother, I would demand satisfaction from your hide."

"Last night—"

"Will be all over the barracks by now!" Elrohir overrode him. "My men respect—had respected—me because I do not make spectacle of myself in such a fashion. Reduced to brawling like some baseborn knave! Bad enough when malcontents like Aear see fit to preempt me on the field; this will give them all the more reason to mistrust me."

Elladan pushed his wet hair off his face. "Elrohir, you make too much of this. Gildor's men are discreet to a fault, and Aragorn for certes is no gossip. No one will speak of it."

"Lalaith has a washer woman's tongue and a washer woman's discretion when he has a tale to tell," Elrohir snarled back. "I have worked for years—for centuries—to earn the respect of my men. You know that."

"You have their respect still," Elladan said. "One fit of temper is not going to change that."

Elrohir stared at his brother, incredulity striking anger a hard enough blow to stun it. "You call last night 'a fit of temper?'"

"What else would it be?"

"I want him gone, Elladan." He prowled the length of his brother's room, residual anger and fresh indignation pulsing worse than the ache in his blood with every step. "And I have more than half a mind to eject him past the borders forthwith with my own hands."

"You will do no such thing."

Elrohir rounded on him. "You think not?"

"I dare say, you are upset enough to try," Elladan said, glancing ruefully down at his sheets. "But think, Elrohir, how will that look to your men, to Father, if you haul a guest and officer of Lórien out of his rooms by his collar? Think you that will silence their tongues or merely lend credence to their speculations? Now, still yourself. You're making me dizzy and wearing out my carpet."

Elrohir threw himself grudgingly into a chair.

Watching him, Elladan slid out of bed and bundled up the damp sheets, dumping them in a corner. "Believe me, Elrohir, I do not gainsay you. His behavior was insupportable. But, you must understand, Haldir was not his own master. He was in thrall to drink and a hard journey. It had nothing to do with—"

Elrohir's fist crashed on the chair's arm so hard he hurt his hand. "Still! You would defend him in my ears? What must he do to anger you, brother? Kill me? Even then I wonder if you would mourn overmuch. At least Estel had the courage to take him to task." He shoved himself from the chair, ignoring the new sting of splinters. Why had he even bothered to broach the subject when he knew perfectly well his brother would not hear it?

"Estel is as worried as I."

The soft words froze his hand to the doorknob, but he did not turn. "Worried? Why?"

"You know his cares, and they have not lightened with the years," Elladan said. "Nor are they eased when two he loves dearly are at each other's throats. Haldir is…He is not well, to own the truth of it, Elrohir. Not since Fornost. But he would not have sought our aid at all if Estel had not managed to persuade him." Hurt colored Elladan's voice.

"Speak not to me of his wounds. I care little enough for them," Elrohir said, brandishing his anger like a torch in his brother's face to ward away the sting of an emotion he did not wish to name.

"Then care for your own!" Elladan snapped back with such vehemence, Elrohir turned, surprised. "This hatred of yours, Elrohir will only destroy you if you feed it like this. It is not only Estel who worries for you. I love you and Haldir both. Do not ask me to choose between you for it is beyond my strength."

Elrohir did not pull away when his brother settled a hand on his shoulder, but he did not lean into it either. "You know what I do to those I hate, Elladan. He is not worth that sacrifice. He is but a thorn in my side, nothing more."

"Then, why can you not let this lie? What happened…was not Haldir's fault. He could no more have foreseen it than we could."

"Oh, sweet fool. That does not absolve him any more than it does you or I," But Elrohir felt no more heat, only weariness. His brother's touch had drained the anger from him. Only a poor knight could not protect those he loved. And only one who was no knight at all would not.

As if guessing the charge of Elrohir's thoughts, Elladan said nothing nor did he try to recall him when Elrohir let himself out.

The air smelled sharp as a blade, razor-edged with dead leaves and silt and fish. Beneath him, the Bruinen unfurled its silver banners, wending through a passing-out parade of maples and oaks and larches. Adorned in their finest, they stood, rank and file, a great army awaiting the horns to summon them to battle. The outriders, slender pines sheathed in green, galloped apace and spread out towards the mountains. Rearing up before them, proud peaks surveyed their domain from a far-distant height. White gleamed like an untarnished medal of valor on the breast of one. An enemy worth conquering.

Elrohir's keen eye alighted on the road that wound its way under the colors. To ride within their company would be no shame. But he had given his word, and that word kept him bound here for as long as his father had need of him. Still, there was solace to be had in the company of the mighty, of beings older and stronger than he, who thought nothing of the petty tales men told to amuse themselves.

The old watch-post upon which he now stood was one of only a handful still on this side of the river. A scattering on the opposite side and more near the falls were all that remained of Imladris' marches. And most stood empty. With fewer and fewer taking the blue and white with every passing yén, there was no one to man the others. Most of those officers from the First and Second Ages—those who had seen the shining walls of Gondolin, had fought at Ost-in-Edhil and on the slaughter-fields of the Dagorlad—if not slain, had sailed or forsaken the battlefield, leaving only green boys born in the summer of peace to replace them.

Secrecy, cunning geography, and other things even more powerful served to shield the last bastion of the Elves east of the Sea better than any array of Elder Day panoply.

Yet the shortage was keenly felt by those who still manned the borders. Watches were long and often dull. In the later months, they were cold and comfortless as well. The platform upon which Elrohir now stood was even now bereft of its guard, who had seen fit to take themselves down to the stream to fish before discarding the bones of their catch to sport below with one another.

Two scouts were sparring with blunted practice blades and a third leaned his shoulders against the bole of a maple, observing them with a critical eye. Elrohir recognized all three though Aear drew the eye directly for he wore an officer's full dress uniform in bright blues and whites, and his hair was woven in the old style of Noldorin warriors out of Beleriand.

"My horse could do as much with a sword," barked Aear. "Get under her guard, Lalaith!"

Both taunt and suggestion fell on deaf ears as the unfortunate scout focused all of his attention and energy on turning back his smaller opponent's dogged assault. The young woman compensated for her weak left side with a staunch offense that had her comrade backing round and round their patch of bank in an effort to evade her. In his haste to retreat, Lalaith stumbled over a tree root and lost his footing entirely when a fierce downswing set his sword spinning into the shallows.

He landed with an audible exhale, his opponent's blade hovering over his breast with not a little triumph.

"Yield," she growled, her hair sticking to her face.

"Yes, yes, by Valar, Tathariel, yes! I yield!" Lalaith laughed and groaned, squirming slightly under the prick of her blade.

She lifted her sword but not before chastening him with a light smack on the calf. "Rise then, o vanquished one. You have recompense to make me for last night."

Lalaith sat up and plucked at his soiled tunic mournfully. "Did I not just pay a weregild? This was a fair shirt."

Aear shook his head and sauntered over to the tree. "You should have had her in two strokes, my friend. Her left side is weak, her attacks all offense."

He spoke in Quenya, which sounded strange in Elrohir's ear though he understood it well enough. It was a tongue preferred for history books and wedding ceremonies, not daily speech.

"Apologies, sir," Lalaith replied, swiping at his brow. "Not my best this morning."

"Well, perhaps, that shall teach you to keep the company of better men than exiled vagabonds in tatters of chivalry and Silvan reprobates."

"I think you are a little unjust, there, my friend," Lalaith said. "The captain of Lórien is a knight sworn, and Gildor's men are hardly—"

"They are not our people," Aear insisted. "And must I needs remind you I hold rank over you, scout? You grow too familiar."

Lalaith's easy smile slipped. "Apologies, Lieutenant."

Tathariel snorted and stabbed her practice blade into the earth. "Yet they fought valiantly enough on the Dagorlad. My father says the Silvan Elves slew twice their number before they fell despite boiled leather and scarce steel between them."

"Still, they fell." Aear sniffed. "Tales of old, done battles. You should have taken up the harp instead of the sword, maiden. It would, mayhap, have pleased your father better to have a minstrel instead of a warrior for a daughter."

Tathariel flushed.

Elrohir's mouth thinned.

The prejudices of the high-bred houses of the Noldor were not new to him, but that such drivel spouted from the mouths of his own soldiers was not a thing he would gladly countenance. During his fosterage in Lórien, he had broken bread with Silvans and Exiles alike, had shared their fires and their stories, fought beside them and honored their dead on the niphredil-sheathed fields of Cerin Amroth.

And if the Silvan Elves had no liking for strangers, they were utterly devoted to their families and fierce in their allegiances to friends. As capable of generosity as suspicion, they refused no one a meal or a bed at need. Their warriors took to the trees because that was their strongest defense and the wood they served yielded ample dead growth for staves, shafts, and lances whereas steel came at a high cost, usually bartered or bought from those few merchants who ventured into the hidden lands over the mountains. Yes, they could be ignorant but no more so than such Noldor who had dwelt all their lives within Imladris' sheltered arms.

Yet the wrongs of one particular Silvan were still too fresh both in his mind and in the bandage about his forearm for him to leap immediately to their defense even if revealing himself to the younglings would not have caused him some embarrassment at being found out watching them.

"Our lord should have turned them back at the borders," Aear continued, fingering the hilt of his greatsword as he scanned either side of the banks. "Instead, they will winter here, drain our stores, and corrupt our men with their loose, undisciplined ways."

"For a loose, undisciplined reprobate, the Silvan put you on your back quick enough at the borders," Tathariel said. "Though, to be fair, he did have a knife."

"And I am told all that is needed to get you on your back is a smile," Aear returned with a knife-edged one of his own.

Lalaith stood up. "Now, Lieutenant, she is a lady and my friend. I will thank you to treat her with courtesy."

"Careful, lad. One might think you meant to threaten me," Aear said, his eyes darting to Lalaith's hand poised on the hilt of his tourney blade.

Lalaith licked his lips and loosened his fingers. "Not at all."

Aear suddenly laughed and waved a hand. "Oh, do stop scowling, the both of you. I but jest. My father was wont to tell me, my tongue ran afore my thought, and so it proves even now. I hope you are not angry, lady. I meant nothing by it, truly."

A ghost of a frown still marred Tathariel's features, but Lalaith heaved a sigh of relief and settled back on his haunches.

"Truth be told," Aear said, settling himself comfortably at the base of the tree. "I must admit to a little jealousy. After all, some of us had to stand watch while you slipped away to celebrate. I have heard tales already of some of our comrades' exploits. Is it true our good lord-commander actually drew a blade on the Galadhel?"

Lalaith must have felt his lord's hard stare on the back of his neck for he shifted and locked his eyes on the grass blades twisting between his fingers. He mumbled something Elrohir didn't quite catch.

"It matters not whither you would say or no. I can guess well enough," Aear said, resting his elbows on his knees. "I know of this particular Galadhel. He attracts trouble as corpses do crows, and other and darker tales have been spun of him before. He should never have been allowed passage beyond the Bruinen. How does it look for such a one to share our meat and mead?"

"He is a friend of the Dúnadan," Lalaith said with a shrug. "It would be discourteous to turn him away." 

"If we open our doors to all and sundry, we might as well let the Enemy himself through our gates," Aear said, his eyes glowing. "A stronger marshal would set limits, boundaries…not allow himself to be intimidated by an interloper who believes himself above the laws and conventions of the Eldar."

"Someone like you, perhaps?" Tathariel tossed at him.

Aear inclined his head though with less humility than such a gesture usually deserved. "You are gracious to say so. And why not? My father was marshal of the barracks in his time. The post is mine by rights."

"The Lord Elrohir—"

"I do not doubt his capability as a warrior, but from childhood, he was raised among the Silvan Elves, and that is not well. He knows our traditions, but he was not born to them." Aear's voice dropped until Elrohir could scarce hear him over the Bruinen.  "Besides, you are aware, are you not, of what they say of a woman who bears two sons at once?"

The sound of hooves cut off Lalaith's reply even if it did not slow the tide of blood in Elrohir's ears. A rider dressed in a courier's greens reined up hard beside them. 

"I am in haste. Has your lord passed this way?"

Elrohir took a deep breath through his nostrils, realizing he could no longer conceal himself, and descended the spiral stairs wrapped about the trunk. 

Lalaith scrambled to his feet as if a bear trap had closed around his leg, and Tathariel straightened to attention. But Aear only tilted his head, touching the very tips of his fingers to his brow.

Elrohir ignored all three and turned to the messenger. "You sought me?"

"Aye, my lord. Your father requests your presence."

Though the messenger's face gave nothing away, the slightly rueful quirk of his mouth suggested his thoughts well enough. He might as well have come out and said, "Your father knows. Best prepare yourself."

Too late, Elrohir heard the bell's sonorous voice, faint at this distance, excusing his father's councilors and captains to attend the meat and drink set on the board in the small hall. Elrohir should have been among them, sitting at his father's right hand.

Thanking the messenger, Elrohir dismissed him and turned to the three, who were still standing at attention, watching him uneasily. "Return to your post."

He held Aear's eye the longest before he turned away. 

"Long has it been since I have had to excuse your absence at council."

The solarium was empty but for they two and a stack of parchment lying on the polished mahogany table that commanded most of the room. The Master of Rivendell sat in his accustomed seat at the head facing the door, his fingers laced together.

Elrohir stood so straight he was nearly standing at attention. "My apologies, Father, I…"

Elrond's upraised hand cut off his fumbling explanation like a knife shearing through a thread of gossamer. "I have no desire to hear excuses. You are my heir, Elrohir, and when I leave these shores, those who remain in Imladris will be yours to care for, not mine. You have responsibilities to them, regardless of your own discomforts."

"Yes, Father." Even though his majority was long since passed and with it the necessity of heeding paternal injunction, Elrohir hated that note of disappointment in his father's voice, and his talk of leaving pricked. He had been thinking of Mother again.

"I do not expect to have to send messengers all over the realm to summon you next time."

"No, Father."

At last, Elrond released him from his piercing stare and regarded the papers strewn across the table, his fingers shifting them a little aimlessly as if he were not quite sure what he was looking for.

"I hear the celebration of Elladan's homecoming was quite an event," Elrond said, not quite a question. "And Sadron noted that my crystal was missing from the sideboard this morn."

It took all of Elrohir's considerable self-control not to squirm. "I shall pay for its replacement."

"Elladan has already seen to it. Your brother wished to spare you, I think, and took some of the blame upon his own shoulders," Elrond said without looking up. 

"He should," Elrohir muttered though the gesture mollified him somewhat against his brother. "I hope the council had something more important to discuss than barracks' room gossip."

"They did. It was Gildor who brought me the news of your exploits." Elrond looked up, and as always, Elrohir felt himself measured and found wanting in that stare. "Why I must hear of this from Inglorion and not you is what displeases me most." 

Leave it to Gildor's well-meaning sense of responsibility to bring his father's wrath down on him.

"I did not see the need to disturb my lord with my…petty squabbles," Elrohir muttered at the floor.

"And as your lord, I do not give you council one way or the other though a sterner might frown on such behavior from his most respected subjects. You are grown now and must answer to your own conscience. But, I would be a poor father if I did not urge you to find some other means of settling your accounts than engaging in drunken quarrels and overturning tables."

"Yes, Father."

"Whatever else he may be, Haldir is a guest and a representative of Lórien. And your actions say as little of you as they do of him. I expect better of you than that."

Elrohir merely murmured his acquiescence again. It had been a long time since his father had dressed him down in such an excruciating fashion, and the hot sting of shame turned all other words in his throat to dust. He was and had always been very conscious of how his actions reflected upon his father. Even in his wildness after Celebrían's departure, he had striven to make sure the worst of his deeds had not reached his father's ears. And now, even when he tried to wrest himself back into some semblance of order, he failed.

Elrond sighed and sifted again through the parchments. His voice when he spoke was that of a lord to his captain, not a reproving father to an errant son. "Gildor's reports are disquieting, and our scouts have returned with no better news. One has not returned at all. Maegil is far overdue. I fear he may have met with some mischance upon the East Road through Eregion. But the Lady Isiel will not delay. Her daughter's betrothal has stood a year and a day, and they are expected in Lórien before the new moon."

Elrohir accepted the glass of lemon water his father handed him and drank deeply, composing himself before venturing. "I was not informed." 

"I had hoped that Glorfindel might yet dissuade her. To no avail," Elrond said in a chagrined tone that showed just how formidable the Lady Isiel was if she could resist even Glorfindel's charms. "Gildor has offered some of his own folk, who wish to attend the winter festivities in Lórien and Mirkwood, in addition to our own to accompany her. But still, they are few and young, and Gildor's men have spent more time wandering the Emyn Uial than Hithaeglir's passes."

The mention of the mountains made Elrohir's skin prickle. He thought he knew the unspoken command behind the words. "You would have me go with them."

"As far as Lórien, at least. To Mirkwood, if you wish."

"I have no wish to leave Imladris," he said, setting the glass on the table. "I have duties here that will not wait a season or two for me to go to Lórien and back."

"Your duties will be seen to. I happen to have more than one capable councilor who has written a trade agreement or two in their time," Elrond said with a slight smile that appeased Elrohir not at all.

"You would send me away because you cannot in good conscience ask a guest to leave. Have I so disgraced you?"

"That is not what I said at all," Elrond said. "Though I do not deny, it would be wise to keep you and Haldir apart from each other. Nay, I do not send you away for punishment. I know you, Elrohir, and I know that you would do your duty by me as you have sworn. But a sword is no use at table, any more than a knight is in a council seat. You will linger here until your duty becomes your bitterness, and I would be no father at all if I allowed that to happen. There is much yet in Arda that you must do before you take up my mantle. You have given me a year. And it is more than I could have asked."

Elrohir was silent for a little, feeling all at loose ends. Had he not just stood above the Bruinen this morning and felt the echo of what it would be like to feel a horse beneath him again, the weight of pack and sword, the freedom and hardship of the road that would hone softness into steel?

"I had not known you were so dissatisfied with my work," he quipped at last.

His father smiled ruefully. "Sometimes, I wonder if your mother held you too long in Lórien. You and your brother are so accustomed to the freedom of wood and field and march. I see so much of her in you. Your restlessness."

"By which you would say I am willful and ought to do as I am bid instead of what I would." Elrohir snorted. "I had hoped enough of my father remained in me to do my duty by Imladris, which I love."

It seemed to Elrohir then that a shadow darted across Elrond's eyes: brief and unaccountably sad.

"There is much of your father in you too."

Elrohir inclined his head. "If you wish it then, I shall go."

"Good. I would have you write when you arrive there, and give me news of my youngest as well." Arwen's long absence tempered Elrond's smile. She had wished to see the land her brothers had regaled her with tales of since before she could walk. In her womanhood, she had come to love it even as they had as children. Though there was no safer realm than Lórien, even Imladris, Arwen's long abiding there was a small point of discontent between Elrond and their grandparents. The thought of seeing her again lifted Elrohir's heart and hope for the journey. It had been too long.

"I shall."

Elrond rose.

For a moment, the father shone through the mantle of the elf-lord as he took his son's chin in his hand: strong and soft from all his centuries of lore and herb-practice. Little of its touch had Elrohir ever known as a child, even less as an adult grown, and he was stunned to speechlessness by the paternal gesture.

"Go safely, my son." Then the elf-lord drew himself up and withdrew his hand. "The caravan departs early on the morrow, and Lady Isiel is not one to be kept waiting. You have much to do."

A pale glow ringed the oil lamp, and Elrohir's eyes itched with the lateness of the hour, but haste had never served well, especially in the wilds. Methodically, he looked over his belongings laid out on the bed, hoping he'd forgotten nothing.

Leather, wool, and metal cuirass felt strange and cold against his skin after more than a year of heavy velvet, silks, and samite. New boots of crisp black buckskin reminded him with every pinch that he could not break them in in a day. He touched the breast of his surcoat, the seven-pointed star of his father's house glinting between his fingers. It still fit well as he slipped it over his shoulders.

Last of all, he donned the worn leather baldric, the longsword nestling at his hip with the familiarity of a hand. No common armory-borrowed iron was this such as he used on patrols, but his own, presented to him at his knighting now centuries past.

Glancing surreptitiously into the looking glass, he almost did not know the man who looked back at him. The name no longer came readily to his lips. But something loosened inside him as he drew the blade. Straight as the ice cliffs of Fordwaith, it was a meter of reforged mithril steel and wholly without adornment save for a deep-etched bloodchannel and the pommel engraved with the totemic symbol of his father's house. The Silmaril taken from the Great Enemy's crown by Beren surmounted by Vingilot, his grandfather's ship that even now sailed across the skies to guide travelers and souls through the darkness. It had borne other names throughout its rich and storied history, but it had earned every one.

It was Môrgyl now. The Nightbearer.

For where the knight rides, Night follows to drink the blood of the Enemy.

Elladan's words to him long ago amidst their shared darkness whispered in his ears as he held Môrgyl aloft in hands already trembling though mithril steel was perilously light. It wanted sharpening, and he fished in the corners of the chest until he found a sliver of oilstone.

Perhaps…perhaps… The steel seemed to whisper under the stone's rasping edge, and for the first time in a long while, the thought did not fill his very soul with fatigue for now it would be used for protection, not vengeance.

Your courage has not flown so far as I thought.

He did not know how long he sat upon the edge of his bed, swarf burrowing into his knuckles and under his fingernails. By the time he had finished, the blade was too sharp to touch, and the lamp had nearly guttered out.

He stuffed the rest of his things haphazardly into his waiting satchel then stripped out of his clothes and cuirass and unbound his hair. Ruffling the errant locks, he allowed himself a breath. In a few short hours, he would ride out. He would snatch a little sleep then go down to the stables to ready his charger.

A pleasant chill rippled over his bared skin like a lover's kiss and awakened gooseflesh along his arms and chest as he walked out into his outer apartments. The dark pulsed in little waves against his eyes as he groped towards the garderobe.

Hardly had he taken two steps when a very different chill crackled up his spine. The curtains were drawn across the oriel windows, drowning the room in shadow. Even so, he could feel eyes on him, almost hear breath that was not his own though his heart was thumping too loud in his ears to be sure. 

"Who's there?" he challenged.

When he received no reply, he groped towards his secretary. It greeted him by smacking his fingers with its hard edge. Smothering a curse, he wrenched open the second drawer.

A match cracked and frothed between his fingers, birthing a pale yellow flame and the pungent odor of sulphur as he touched it to the beeswax taper on the corner of his desk. The sudden light made Elrohir's eyes water. When he had blinked his vision clear, he glared at his impromptu visitor.

"These rooms were locked." Trying to speak around his still guttering heart brought his voice out rasping harsher than oilstone against steel.

"The pallet in the lodge is lumpier than I recall."

Haldir had stretched his intrusive hide out full-length on the divan where Elrohir liked to read in the afternoons. Its pillows were caved in, and the thin, tasseled blanket, like a slain sentry, had been flung to the floor with galling carelessness in favor of the captain's grey cloak.

Elrohir strode to his wardrobe and wrenched out his sleeping robe. "Take yourself off to Elladan's quarters then. He'll accommodate you readily enough." He pulled the soft wool over his nakedness and knotted the cord tight. 

Haldir had produced a little blue book from between two cushions and flicked a few pages idly, his eyebrow arching. "Why are you reading Quenyan love poetry?"

Elrohir snatched it from his hands, slamming it into a drawer. "Go. And I'll thank you to remove your boots from my cushions while you do so."

"I would, but neither brother of yours of fostering or of blood would give me peace until I agreed to speak with you," Haldir said.

"To what purpose?"

Haldir frowned at the shadows on the ceiling as if he found them distasteful. "They both are under the impression that I owe you an apology for my behavior the night before."

"And you are…here to deliver such?" Elrohir said, arching a disbelieving brow.

"No. It was just easier to come here than endure their nagging." Haldir crossed his ankles one over the other and tucked one arm comfortably behind his head. "If you'd rather, I can play the penitent well enough, wring my hands in distress and plead forgiveness on bended knee. But you and I both know there is nothing I can say that will change the way you feel and nothing you can forgive for which I have not already atoned a hundred times over. So, in the interest of sparing both of us a few hundred years in speech, which we could better spend otherwise, I would rather say nothing."

"That was you saying nothing?" Elrohir could not say he was surprised. "Very well. If you are quite finished, I have something of yours that begs to be returned, and then I would liefer you leave. I do not sleep well with strange bedfellows."

It was but the work of a moment to snatch the golden leaf from where it lay on his dresser, displaced by earlier efforts to unearth things from his bedchest. 

The grey eyes flicked from Elrohir's face to the medal in his outstretched palm and lingered there for a long minute. When the captain made no gesture to take it, Elrohir thrust it at him.

"It is yours."

Haldir did not move. His eyes left the medal to fix on a point on the wall. "It was not my choice to come here."

The leavings of his overindulgence still showed even in the dim light. His eyes haggard, skin sallow with too much drink and too little water and sleep. The cut of his own knife still showed under his jaw, raw and angry. Elrohir didn't look long at it.

"Elladan tells me you are unwell." Where the words, framed almost as a question, came from Elrohir did not know, but his tenuous control of the conversation had already fled well past his ability to steer.  

"In the South, they cut out a man's tongue for carrying idle gossip through the streets." Haldir swung his legs off the cushions and plucked the medal neatly out of Elrohir's fingers. "How did this come into your keeping?"

"She had no more use for it." And had left it on her windowsill for him to find: the last thing she had touched on this side of the sea other than the faces of her children and her husband's lips.

"Ah." Long, calloused fingers turned the leaf over and over, the familiar letters graven on the face of the mallorn leaf flashing up with each turn. Ever faithful. "How fares your arm?"

"I thought you were determined not to apologize."

"I'm not apologizing. I'm inquiring."

The new dressing itched. "It's fine."

"Good." Haldir closed his fingers over the medal. "You are a fool. Caradhras will be snow-bound by now."

Elrohir fought to keep the surprise from his face and failed. "You have been listening at keyholes again. How do you know that? I have not even told Elladan of my plans."

Haldir gave him a withering look that said quite plainly he squandered entirely too much of his time answering stupid questions. "A good thing or a greater number of people would be aware of them. Better to take the High Pass."

"The High Pass will take us leagues out of our way. The Gate is the quickest path over the mountains and the most direct to Lórien and Mirkwood," Elrohir retorted.

"And some exalted somebody or other in your company has no desire to pay the Beornings' tariffs, fine. Would you also rather shatter an axle or a horse's leg on the Dimrill Stairs? You cannot handle wains that far."

"Arrangements have been made," Elrohir said.

"How many are accompanying you?"

Elrohir had a suspicion the captain already knew the answer but gave it anyway. "There are a score in the party, including the Lady Isiel and her two daughters, a harpist from—"

"Spare me a list of those dangling at your tail. The names of those halfway decent with a sword or bow will suffice."

"Twelve for Imladris," Elrohir admitted grudgingly, hoping that quick answers would invite a similar departure. "Tîrion, Lalaith, Tathariel, a few others of my choosing. And several of Gildor's chosen. Well-trained, all."

"And green as summer grass, the lot of them."

That Elrohir had thought the very same thing himself as he made up the roster only nettled him further. "If I wished for your opinion on the matter, I would have asked for it. They are what I have." He rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly. "I suppose it is too much to ask that you do not speak of this to Elladan or Aragorn. I would rather they not know till I am away."

"I think even with their dubious observational skills, they might notice a caravan departing with you at its head," Haldir said. "Particularly if these 'well-trained' warriors of yours share your plans as they do gossip."

"They have both earned their rest, and they will wish to come with me if they come to know of it. I would simply rather they had no forewarning."

Haldir shrugged. "As you will."

Elrohir had not expected such easy capitulation. "Why are you so interested in my affairs all of a sudden?"

"I'm not interested."

"The roads are more hazardous this time of year, and as you say, we are hard-pressed for experienced men," Elrohir said, not knowing why he was defending himself.

"So have Glorfindel go. He could use a good and lengthy ride."

Elrohir ignored the undertones of that. "My father asked it of me, and as his son, I am bound to obey his will in this."

"And above all else, you have always been a dutiful son," Haldir said.

Elrohir was not sure whether to make insult or issue of the strange tone behind those words, so he said nothing, waiting for the other's eerie woolgathering to come round to sense again. 

Haldir raised his eyes to Elrohir's face. "So the Môrgyl will ride abroad. That is a dark road to venture down again."

"I am equal to the task of an escort," Elrohir said, drawing himself up straight, "and I do not fear Caradhras."

"I said your courage had not fled. Though, perhaps, your good sense has." Haldir opened his fingers to regard the medal again. "This was a gift."

"A presumptuous one."

"Even so. Better bestowed where it is." The leaf clattered on the edge of the tall secretary, and without another word, he left.

The latch of the outer door clicking shut bestirred Elrohir from the fugue the conversation had left on him. Slowly, he retrieved the gold leaf from the corner of the desk and returned to his bedroom. The metal was warm in his palm. Without thinking too deeply on it, he shoved it into the bottom of his satchel and blew out the lamp.



yén—see below

Môrgyl—lit. "Night-bearer." Also, by extension, Elrohir's epessë or honorific bestowed by others for his skill in battle 

End Notes

"Not since Fornost." That tale is recounted in Dwimmerlaik, where Haldir was taken captive by the Witch-king of Angmar and put to torment before Aragorn could rescue him.

"You have given me a year"—a year among immortal Elves is actually 144 years to mortal men and is called a yén. Seeing as how Elrohir and Elrond are both Elves, they'd understood what is meant by "year," but just so my mortal readers know, Elrohir has remained in the Last Homely House since 2849.

"You are aware…of what they say of a woman who bears two sons at once?"—an idea borrowed from Marie de France's lai "Le Fresne," a story where a woman is pregnant with twins, and her jealous neighbor accuses her of adultery, saying that it's impossible to have two children if two men have not had her. Aear is a punk, isn't he? 

Author's Notes: Reviews, comments, a word are always welcome.

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.

Story Information

Author: Marchwriter

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 05/19/12

Original Post: 05/16/10

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