5. Chapter Four: The Road to the Angle
Author's Notes: Thank you to all of you who have continued to review and send me little inquiring messages—they have helped more than you know. Special thanks to Karen Wynn Fonstrad, the author of the Atlas of Middle-Earth, without whose thorough research I could not have inserted a bunch of nit-picky, gritty but crucial details you hopefully will not notice. And very special thanks to my two glorious betas whose relentlessness keeps me on my toes.
Chapter Four: The Road to the Angle
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go - so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, 'There is no memory of him here!'
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay
The alarum of nine bells jarred Elrohir from sleep like the blaring of battle horns, chiding him for lying abed while the valley had stirred long before. He had not slept most of the night, only allowing himself to drift a moment before dawn…Half in, half out of confused dreams, he lay there, blinking until the angle of sunlight and the sudden, urgent knock on his door sent him from the bed in a flurry. Dressing hurriedly, he fetched up sword and packs and nearly knocked the manservant come to fetch him off his feet at the threshold. He snatched the tea thrust into his hand by way of apology and took the stairs two at a time.
"Ah, the sluggard joins us at last," Elladan said when Elrohir strode into the stables, striving for calm against the pounding of blood in his temples and the sting of a scalded tongue.
Elladan tugged the packs briskly from his hands and strode off down the center aisle. "At least you had the sense to pack aforetime."
Elrohir followed him, noting as he did so, that the stables were largely empty but for a few grooms tending the garrons who would bear the heavier baggage.
His own bay courser was already tacked, much to his chagrin. He preferred to tend such things himself. He checked the girth and throatlatch.
"I have tacked a horse before, you know," Elladan said from somewhere over Faron's hindquarters. "In fact, I have tacked your horse before."
"Yes, I know."
"You need not fear for your vaunted reputation," Elladan said tersely. "Aear has the men well in hand, and I told Isiel you were closeted with Father in close discussion about recent scout reports. Which, by the way, should be heeded. There is snow down the shoulders of the mountains already and signs of Dunlending activity on the borders of Eregion."
"My thanks. Since when do you rise at the crack of dawn to attend to my affairs?"
"Since when do you sleep until the crack of doom, leaving others to handle your affairs? The Sun must have had her head turned by a handsome star, and the Moon is taking her watch." *
The attempt at levity would have fallen short even had the movements with which Elladan tended the surcingles not betrayed him. Something was wrong.
"If you have something to say, say it. I would not have us part like this," Elrohir said when the silence grew too thick.
Elladan looked up at him over Faron's back. "What could I have to say?"
"You are still angry with me about the other night."
Elladan's fingers paused on the buckles. "I'm not angry at you. By the look of you, you have suffered enough."
The arnica had not helped as much as he'd hoped. "Then what?"
"Elrohir, I know your mind well enough by now where Haldir is concerned. You are right. I thought a push might send you in the right direction, and instead, it brought you to harm. The fault is mine there, and I will claim it. I should not have tried to force your hand with him."
Of all things, Elrohir had not expected an apology, and he remained silent, afraid to break whatever strange enchantment had fallen over his brother.
"This is something between the two of you, and it will take the two of you to remedy and no others," Elladan continued. "I cannot say that your not telling me of your imminent departure did not hurt though. We have never parted before with hard feelings between us. And I would not have us start now."
"Leave it, Elladan," Elrohir said with a shake of his head. "It is past."
"Good. Because I would not have us parted at all. I'm going with you and Aragorn too. Fortunately, for you, Gildor is handier with information than you are, and he is willing to divulge it freely for a good cause—or a good bottle of tonic."
"Your offer is most generous," Elrohir said slowly. "I had thought you wished to remain here a while."
"I did at first, but…circumstances change."
Apologies were not Elladan's strong suit, evasiveness even less so. "I knew Aragorn wished to return to the Angle, and you will be an unlooked-for bounty, of course. But surely, others will think ill of you for abandoning them. You cannot think Haldir will stay here with you and Aragorn both gone. Even with Gildor's company here."
"You need not concern yourself with that," Elladan said with a stiffness that surprised Elrohir. "He left."
"Oh?" By the chagrin in Elladan's voice, Haldir had neither made his intentions known nor had Elladan been aware of his going until someone else made him aware of it.
"Sometime in the grey hours."
If that were so, then Haldir had departed shortly after his visit to Elrohir's rooms. A fact that Elladan, judging by his silence on the matter, did not know. Elrohir did not see the need to enlighten him just now—nothing had passed between him and the captain that would cause so swift a departure.
Somehow, being rid of the burr under his skin did not comfort Elrohir as much as he would have thought. It was less than sensible to travel any great distance in the wild, alone, even if the weather were fair and warm; to go on the cusp of winter usually indicated the kind of arrogance that flirted with madness or desperation. At least Elrohir had companions with him, few and inexperienced though they were.
Understanding of Elladan's sudden desire to take to the saddle again washed over him, echoing an old pain.
"You wish to find him." His voice sounded distant even to his own ears.
"I wish to go with you," Elladan said. "If we find him, so much the better."
"If he does not wish to be found, he will not be. You don't even know if he was going to Lórien. Or that he would take our same road. Likely, he has gone for the High Pass, and you shall miss him entirely."
"Then there is nothing we can do." Elrohir slid the Môrgyl into its saddle-sheath and gathered up the length of reins in his fist. "Come. We are already late."
The caravan followed the roar of the Bruinen closely along its southward course through woodlands burning bright with crimsons and fallow gold with here and there a stubborn, paling green. Elrohir rode in the vanguard alongside the colors, watching the Silmaril banner of Eärendil flutter beneath the blazon of Gil-galad: white stars upon an azure field. Was it an ill-omen to carry the emblem of a fallen king from a line of kings known more for their glorious deaths in battle than long lives of peace and prosperity? Perhaps that was why his father had never sought the higher office, despite the insistence of many, including, it was rumored, the High King himself.
At least the inherent dangers in their journey were known and, unlike fate, could be prepared for if never quite expected. But not until the second day or so when the minstrel broke out his harp and engaged more than half the company in a lusty marching song to keep up their pace did Elrohir realize what was unsettling him. This was not a war party he rode with, a band whose chief duty lay in secrecy and silence. All, apart from the soldiers set to guard and guide them, were friends and family, anticipating a wedding, not grim warriors seeking battle with the Enemy. It was strange, but not unpleasant.
However, the journey proved less pleasant as it wore on.
Soreness plagued his muscles constantly, unrelieved by nights on the damp, hard ground. It became a luxury not to stink of horse and leather. The bread hardened; the meat grew tougher and saltier and less.
With the exception of Gildor's men, Elladan, Aragorn and Elrohir himself, few of the others had traveled abroad and some of their traveling companions had no compunction against letting their complaints be known, often and at great length. Elrohir held his own tongue. He would not waste his breath chastising such fools. If cold feet and hard bread were their greatest travails, they could stand to suffer a little.
But their speed chafed him more than saddle leather and annoyance. Even with the aid of their hardy little ponies, the party seldom traveled faster than trained soldiers would have on foot, burdened as they were. As they entered Eregion little more than a sennight on the way, the roads narrowed steadily, winding through bleak moorlands, until they had to go nearly single-file with Elrohir and Gildor's men leading, Elladan and Aragorn bringing up the rear to make sure none of the party strayed.
Away on their left, too far and yet too close for Elrohir's liking, white crept steadily down the shoulders of the Hithaeglir and the mornings crackled with frost. A chill wind blew unrelentingly out of the east that even the thickest-lined cloak could not keep out, and fog rolled out of the riverbed despite the feeble attempts of the sun to disperse it. Unfortunately, any insistence on his part to quicken their pace was met with resistance and more delay: from exhausted travelers and harried soldiers alike.
They met no one else upon the road during the day, and their encampments at night were quiet, spent largely huddled close to the peat fires save for the unfortunate sentries. Sometimes, though, when even the most restless sleepers had surrendered, Elrohir stepped beyond the firelight and there, staring into the darkness, he sensed or thought he sensed something, lingering, just beyond the edge of his vision. He had the strangest impression there was someone out there though he could not have said who or to what purpose. He called out, wondering if it was one of their people who had slipped out of camp without alerting the sentries.
He took up a lantern and the Môrgyl and walked through the darkness.
He found nothing.
"Probably just an animal," Elladan offered when Elrohir spoke to him of it the next morning. "Or a bird. This country is rife with them."
"It was no bird," Elrohir said. "I cannot explain it to you. But I shall feel all the better when you reach the Ridge. At least there you shall have the vantage of height. If you push, you should make it a little after nightfall."
"You mean 'we,' yes?" Elladan said, arching a brow.
Now it came to it. Elrohir took a long draught of his tea and tossed another billet on the breakfast fire. "Aragorn is going to the Angle."
"I wish to go with him," Elrohir said, his eyes on the curling smoke. "After Gildor's report of Orcs, I would hear what news the Dúnedain have of the Enemy in the area. I would have you go ahead with the caravan, and I shall meet you in a day or so, two at most."
Elladan gazed at him for a long time until Elrohir met his eye.
"What? Why do you look at me so?"
A knowing smile curled Elladan's lip. "It is not like you to abandon your charge so readily. Father gave the leadership of the caravan to you, not me. Which makes me wonder what—or who—at the Angle could drag you away from your duty, and so easily."
Elrohir stiffened. "I am doing my duty. The Dúnedain patrol this area regularly. It would be foolishness to pass the Angle without gathering what news we can."
"Ah. So there is no one you would see. No fair daughter of Dírhael—"
"Go in my stead then." Elrohir held his eye, but Elladan demurred.
"I would not deprive you."
"You are mistaken. Likely, I will not even see her."
Elladan grinned outright. "So, I am right. There is no shame in it, Elrohir. Goodness knows, you have pined after her long enough, and she is—"
"She is still Arathorn's widow."
Elladan's face sobered. "Elrohir—"
Elrohir dashed the rest of his tea into the fire and rose. "Aragorn wishes to leave soon. I must prepare."
Their intent to reach the Angle by late morning shattered when Aragorn's horse bruised a hoof on the stone, forcing him to dismount. The afternoon had worn away with twilight settling under the trees before they reached the riverbank of the Bruinen. No bridge or ford spanned it or the Mitheithel this far south. The Angle, long disputed and bordered on all sides by bleak, open or enemy country, could only be reached by ferry or risked by a perilous swim, doubled by the archers usually stationed on the other side. Aragorn flashed a lantern, twice, rapidly, then twice again.
"How long will you remain?" Elrohir asked as they waited for answer.
"As long as I am able." Aragorn's face was yellow and thoughtful in the dimming light. "Which is to say, not nearly long enough."
"Is it strange for you after being so long abroad?"
"It has not been so long," Aragorn replied after a moment. "And even when it was, I never felt about the Angle as I do of Rivendell. That is the home of my heart, in truth. Though a part of me yearns to share in their lives and their hardships here, I find I cannot abide long. There is too much I must do. Too much that must be done."
A dim spark sprang up from amidst the trees on the other side, and Aragorn set his lantern upon the ground near the water where it glimmered off the ripples against the rocks.
"What of you? Do you find it strange?" he asked, turning Elrohir's question on him. "You knew this land when it belonged to Arnor, then Angmar. You knew my people when they first settled here, when there was aught else but sheep on the hillsides."
Elrohir was momentarily at a loss for words.
How to explain the changes wrought by a thousand years when he was still struggling over the ones he read in his foster brother's face after a mere twenty? The Eregion that he had ridden through as a child and young man had weathered away: the softness of grass and downs hardening into rock and moor. This place was no longer the one he had explored with Elladan, even less so the one his mother had spoken so avidly of, the Eregion of her girlhood, when Ost-in-Edhil, the bright city, still stood in the south of the region. Now it was less than a ruin and filled with long shadows, the land silent and watchful. How could he tell Aragorn that in returning to mortal lands, he felt his immortal years in a way he never had before?
"It is…strange," he said at last.
The silence was broken at last by the swish of oars, and in the dim twilight, two figures appeared, one at the stern guiding a slender boat through the waters, the other at the prow. It curved slightly before turning towards them, grinding up the bank with a soft crunch of sediment. The figure at the prow leapt lightly out. He was young and dark-haired, new to Elrohir, but Aragorn smiled to see him.
"Ho, there, son of Aranlaith."
"Chief," the young man clasped Aragorn's hand. "We did not look for you so soon. You have heard the news then?"
"Hoi, lad, do you mind awfully grabbing the rope before I decide to take a little trip down Tharbad way!" his companion barked, fighting to hold the boat steady in the current. The Bruinen was still very swift even close to the bank.
That voice, at least, was familiar, and Elrohir smiled himself as the young ranger hauled the boat up a few degrees, and Halbarad scrambled ashore to embrace Aragorn with a hearty clap on the back. The ranger looked greyer than Elrohir remembered, but his lopsided smile shone as he gripped Elrohir's forearm in greeting. "My lord. Welcome, as always. And unlooked-for…as always."
"What news were you speaking of?" Aragorn prompted. "What has happened?"
"Let's not speak of it here," Halbarad interjected with a sharp look at the young man. "Never know whose ears are open in this wild country."
Elrohir nodded once and turned to Tathariel at his shoulder. "Stay here with the horses."
"I shall as well," the young man said, glancing at the elf-woman with unvarnished curiosity.
"Two are better than one. Come then." Halbarad held the boat steady as Aragorn and Elrohir climbed in. With a shove of his heel and a brief splash, Halbarad pushed them free of the clinging bank and out across the dark water. There was silence for a few minutes other than the stirring of the water as Halbarad rowed them across.
"Where's your less pleasant half?" Halbarad asked.
For a moment, Elrohir thought the question referred to Elladan, but Aragorn replied first, sounding oddly terse and distant.
"Odd, that. He seemed your shadow for a while there."
"Or I his. But I make no claims to answer for the mind of an Elf. I am not his keeper."
Such bitterness was unusual for Aragorn, but his expression was too difficult to read in the gloaming.
None of them spoke again until they reached the other side of the Bruinen and pulled the boat up out of reach of the water.
Halbarad set off up the slope at a rapid pace along what might have been taken for a mere deer track had its flattened path not betrayed more hobnailed boot than hoof. "We have had some trouble of late though I'm not quite sure what to make of it."
"With all your disclaimers and hintings, neither do we," Aragorn grumbled.
"Dunland," Halbarad answered. "They have been crossing into Eregion more often than usual of late. Two, three, a dozen at a time. Sickness down the river, they say. But for every family of nomads or pair of travelers we see, there are others. Sometimes on horseback, sometimes on foot, rough and furtive men, who take pains to make sure their presence goes as little noticed as possible. Some are armed with Rhûnic steel. Our enemies have made powerful friends in recent years, it seems."
In the days of Angmar the hill-men had ruled Rhudaur from the easternmost part of Eriador beneath the Hithaeglir even to the Angle itself. Even centuries after Angmar's fall, some amongst the Dunland tribes insisted, in accordance with their custom, that the Dúnedain had never reclaimed Rhudaur, leaving it abandoned and largely empty, so by rights, the land belonged still to the hill-men who had conquered it. Those with long memories and longer grudges resented the encroachment of the Dúnedain 'interlopers.'
"Some of our outposts have suffered an ambush, the theft of horses or cattle, or worse a wife who strayed outside her garth and vanished. Still, they are not so bold as to attack the Angle outright. I have been sending patrols out as I can, but our numbers are thinly spread."
"You have done what you could," Aragorn muttered, his face troubled.
Halbarad's face betrayed no expression in the gloom. "Malvorn's patrol went out to scout the Ridge. It offers a wide view of the land, and moving things can be seen for miles. They were to report back two days ago. Only this afternoon did we finally have word. He and his company had been set upon and scattered. Barely a third made it back to the Angle. Whether the others are dead or…taken, I do not know."
"The Men of Dunland seldom take captives other than women," Elrohir ventured.
"It's not unheard of," Aragorn said. "They might think we'd ransom our own."
"Aye, we'll ransom them," Halbarad said through clenched teeth. "With cold steel, if need be."
"I would hear what Malvorn has to say before I do anything," Aragorn said.
Halbarad paused. "He took a grievous wound. Gilraen says he may not live. We took him there straightaway, and Sarndil is helping her as best he can, but…"
Elrohir did not know who Sarndil was, but he had other, more immediate concerns. "We left most of our company heading towards the Ridge. They would have reached it by now or nearly so. Halbarad, go back to where you left Aranlaith's son and tell Tathariel, the elf-woman, what you told us. Tell her to make haste for the Ridge. They must be warned if the Enemy are still about."
Halbarad glanced mildly at Aragorn before he nodded. "I will do that. You know where the house is."
At the edge of the trees the deer track turned onto a dirt path, rutted by carts and pocked with horse hooves. Behind a low wall of sod lay leaning wooden makeshifts and shelters with here and there a house built of pale grey stone, smoke winding out of the chimney. The old days of the Angle's prosperousness were gone to dust, and the Dúnedain lived little better than wild men of the hills. But they lived.
Their destination was one such small, stone house on the very edge of the settlement. In fact, it lay outside the sod garth on a lane of its own that dwindled in the last league to flattened patches where the grass had been brushed aside. A line of willows betrayed the presence of a stream behind it. Elrohir's heart lurched at the sight. A niggling sensation that he'd forgotten something important washed over him, made his insides writhe and his palms sweat.
Aragorn, noticing him lingering, cast a sharp glance back at him. "Elrohir. Go up to the house. Your skills will be needed more there. Aid Gilraen as best you can. I must speak to those who were with Malvorn." With that, he disappeared around the side of the house whence the softness of voices came, leaving Elrohir to mount the steps alone.
The three wooden steps bled dampness as he mounted them, and he paused before the door like a murderer returning to the place wherein he had committed his crime. He thought of knocking. But of what earthly good was such a courtesy when already you had done the worst wrong to the person within?
His knuckles sounded hollow on the wood. A voice called for him to enter. A man's voice.
"If you're looking for doctoring, and you're not missing a limb, I'll beg you to—"
The Man checked at the sight of Elrohir on the threshold. He was grey and powerfully built with shoulders that stooped slightly from a life of long labor. He had a broad, not unpleasant face and rough hands with the kind of dirt so honestly ingrained under the fingernails no amount of scrubbing would wholly cleanse them.
He looked Elrohir up and down. "You don't look much in need of doctoring."
"No. Rather, I hope to give you aid in such. I am Elrohir of the House of Elrond."
"Sarndil son of Sarndor at your service," the Man said with a rustily courteous bow, slightly at odds with the way he stood, bow-legged in his stocking feet.
The Dúnedain were not usually so abrupt in his presence nor so open in their staring. From the nervous fluttering of his gaze from Elrohir's face to swordbelt and back again as well as the slightly paler hue of skin and hair, Elrohir gathered this Sarndil was not wholly Dúnedain but of mixed blood.
Elrohir cast a glance about the neat little home. The Man's boots stood beneath a workbench under the window, and his cloak and hood had been hung up on a peg beside the door. There were other, smaller signs of a Man's habitation as well: a shaving razor beside a basin, thick leather gloves on the table.
"I understood that the Lady Gilraen lived here."
Catching Elrohir's look, the Man called Sarndil glanced ruefully at the razor. "I live just inside the garth, come over now and again to see how she's getting on. Lift and fetch or fix what she needs. It's not good for a woman to be alone, so far away. Strange folk coming and going at odd hours. No man about the place."
"She has endured worse."
"That she has."
Their eyes met, each understanding the other. Elrohir relented. "Is she here?"
She must have heard their voices for she appeared in the opposite doorway almost before the Man had finished calling for her.
The sight of her alone set a rawness in his throat. She had gathered her mane into a leather thong at the nape of her neck. Here and there, pieces of it had escaped to rest along her temples like a silver tressure. The sleeves of a man's worn and stained tunic were rolled up to her elbows, and her palms were wet, freshly washed. No golden band shone on her right hand; presumably it lay in a box somewhere, safe from harm it might chance across in the course of her duties and labors.
"Your boots and blade," was all she said as she took his cloak and hung it up beside Sarndil's.
He removed them obediently and placed them under the workbench upon which lay a third pair of boots of soft, black leather. His eye was drawn to them for they had taken the place left by a Chieftain's old hobnails with a hole in one heel, and they certainly did not belong to Sarndil. The Angle had no deer with so fine a pelt. Indeed, a stag with such a skin would usually only be found on the other side of the mountains deep in the forests of Mirkwood or Lothlórien.
He followed her into a small, dark room where another Man was laid out on a pallet on the floor. A brazier glowed in the corner, sending out a dull, sulphurous heat that made the air swim with smoking coals and sweat.
"He was awake not long ago," Gilraen's quiet voice brought him over the threshold. "And has been off and on. I feared to give him anything for the pain. The scalp bled badly, you can see. I washed it with hot water and vinegar and sutured it. He said he does not remember how he was struck down nor who pulled him from the ground afterward…"
He let her words wash over him, as meaningless as the smells, as he rinsed his hands then carded them through the Man's hair, parting the clotted strands, prying loose their protective hold. The skin's agony was sharp and real under the sutures, crying out at its violation. Yet beneath it he sensed a deeper hurt like an echoing gong, low and troubling. It had been long since he had healed such wounds instead of caused them, and it took him longer than he would have liked to unravel the threads of superficial injury from its graver brethren.
"He was struck with something hard and blunt. The hilt of a sword or a club. It fractured the bone," he said, leaning forward until his nose was almost touching the dark hair. It was easier than looking at her. "I need more light."
He reached for his satchel and removed a small leather bundle, which contained, among other things, scissors, curved silver suture needles, plaster bandages, and the trephine: a surprisingly small instrument like a dinner bell, but instead of the clapper in the center, it had a sharpened-steel point, strong enough to pierce a man's skull at the temple if necessary.
He worked quickly and diligently, slitting and plucking out the kindly meant but misguided sutures, lifting part of the depressed skull back into place, removing pieces of bone fragment from the Man's scalp and hair. Malvorn woke once and groaned. Sarndil held him very still as Elrohir closed the membrane and the scalp laceration again, covered all with a plaster bandage soaked in garlic and vinegar to stave off infection and hoped that would be all. He stayed by the Man's side for a little after, aware as if from a great distance of the arching ache from his neck to his knees, of Sarndil gingerly placing the bone fragments in a small jar and even more gingerly laying a softened hand on Gilraen's hair, of Aragorn's step in the hall and low voices conversing.
The frail pungency of lavender wafted throughout the room like regret as Gilraen scooped handfuls of its dried sprigs into a small pouch.
She knelt on the other side of the Man, her fingers, very white against the roughspun pouch that permanently smelled of the herbs it housed even after any virtue of the plant had been used up.
"I had not dared to hold such hope that he would live," she said in a voice so low he almost did not hear her. She peered at the wounded Man's face as if looking for something.
With her eyes turned from him, he could glance at her. "You look tired. You ought to rest."
She only smiled.
The lamplight flickered through Elrohir's head. The room was full of long shadows as if the coals in the brazier had sunk into ash. The dimness turned Gilraen's still-fair mane to silver, and there were lines in her face that bespoke more than the toil of the night, beyond the toll of her few years.
She clutched the lavender pouch in her hand, but Malvorn was no longer at her knees. There was only grass and the darkness of a covered sky. She stood beside a windswept stone wall, staring out over the rain-darkened heath towards the willows as if their waving fronds were the waves of a mighty sea that might swallow her whole if she willed it enough.
"I cannot face the darkness of our time that gathers upon Middle-Earth. I shall leave it soon."
She seemed to look right at him, through him, her skin so white and clear, her eyes so full of grief.
"Ónen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim."
The words spoken in his own tongue rang a tocsin in his head, sharp and cutting, though her lips had not moved to utter them. He wanted to comfort her, still wanted to love her even in the winter of her widowhood and from the depths of his guilt. But the floor was sinking beneath his heels. His vision swam with raining darkness.
"My lord? Are you well?"
Elrohir came to himself with a start, disoriented and sweating in the heat of the small room. Gilraen was looking at him, and the light in her eyes smote him harder than any blow. Excusing himself with a need for air, he rose, almost stumbling over the injured Man in his haste and went out the door.
The privacy and darkness of the porch wrapped him in calm folds. He inhaled the clean, empty night air deep into his lungs, his breath smoking between his lips as if he could dispel demons with so simple an act, alone. He had not realized Aragorn had followed him until his foster brother pressed a cup of mulled wine into his trembling hands.
He sipped the warmth, heavily fragrant with mace and cloves, and the threads of his burdensome thought broke like gossamer. "It is a cold night."
"It is." The lamp-glow from the house traced Aragorn's features with kinder lines.
"Elladan should have come in my place."
Aragorn drew out his pipe and a small poke of sweet galenas. "He would not have done half so well. He has been long abroad, and I doubt healing was what so engaged him."
"You have done all you can."
"And your man may still die. Why do you think such words would comfort me?"
A hard red glow flared across Aragorn's palms and illuminated his jawline as he lit his pipe. It took what seemed a long time for the galenas to catch. "I know it is…difficult…for you here."
Elrohir said nothing.
"She does not blame you, Elrohir."
"She put lavender under his pillow—as she did for you when you were a boy. To sweeten your dreams."
"I remember." A dull, ashen red burned in the pipe bowl.
"You were sleeping when we brought your father home in his shroud. I hoped then that you dreamt sweetly."
Aragorn blew smoke from his mouth in a long stream. "I have sent one of Malvorn's men to carry the word round. At first light, I will ride out with as many as can come."
Looking at him in the darkness: decided, half-heeding, Elrohir knew that he did not remember what he had dreamt then. He did not remember the hurt bewilderment in a young boy's face when he was told his father was dead. He did not remember fleeing from the two, tall, grim specters, who shared the same face and stole away family members in the night. He did not remember that the first words he ever uttered to them came only when he had reached his sixth year and Arathorn was beginning to fade from his mind.
Men's memories were illusory things, readily influenced by the vagaries of suggestion, the ease of rationalization and the interpretation of time that swaddled formerly sharp perceptions in comforting mists. It could not—or would not—retain everything lest it destroy itself in the doing. Not for the first time, Elrohir wondered if the Gift of Men was not only death but peace of mind and memory.
"You will seek the Dunlendings," he said, realizing Aragorn was waiting for him to say something.
"I will seek the truth of this matter."
Elrohir nodded once as Aragorn knocked the dottle out on the rail. "I will go with you."
* An old Noldorin legend explaining a solar eclipse: they say the Sun has fallen in love, and the Moon takes her place for a little while she dashes off with her swain. It has also become a phrase like our "must be a full moon" when strange things happen.
Ónen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim.- Gilraen's linnod given to Aragorn the year before she died (about fourteen years after this scene with Elrohir). It means "I gave Hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept no hope for myself."
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