1. Something Between
Come, gather round. Come and see the story: of a boy that grows to a man, and deeds done fair and unfair. Gather close, lest you lose the thread and have to stumble on alone. Seat yourself comfortably, and then I shall begin.
The man and boys stand in speckled light, circlets of pure gold warming their faces and flickering over the river's surface. The trees, huge and dark and scented of soft damp, surround them in safe hold. The shadows change so quietly as to go unnoticed, and the sounds of the forest rise in a quiet hum of satisfaction.
The man points to the river, at the many silver-mailed fish lipping at the surface. It has rained, you see: the pock-marked soil beside the stream not belying the warm security of growth in the heavy air. One of the boys laughs in delight to see the fish leap, flinging rainbow-hued droplets to the sky.
The other boy tugs at the hand of the man, and we see the man recoil so naturally; almost imperceptibly. The man looks down at the boy, and the few lines that sit in his face deepen.
'A golden fish, my lord!' we hear the boy say, his high voice straining in devotion.
The man shakes his head, angry beyond any reason which we see. 'Nay, no such fish swims in this river. Have you not sense to judge what you see by your mind?'
The boy looks as one slapped, and turns his face away. After a while, the man bids the boys farewell and leaves them, so that he might attend to more important matters.
The boy remains, his face turned down, looking not at the river nor yet at the forest floor, but at some point far away. His brother places a hand on his arm, and speaks to him in a voice so soft we can make out no words. If we lean forward and read his lips and strain our ears and eyes, we may yet hear.
'He would protect you, Elrohir.'
'Would that he could protect you, Elrohir.'
Or some words like that. Likely it matters not.
The boy shakes off his brother's hand, and leans forward to dip his hand in the river, and the fish scatter.
It may be called a gift or a curse to see things that others do not. What would you call it? What would your father call it?
'Would you sing for me a song?'
'Nay, I would not sing today, Elrohir. Find your cloak, though, and wrap yourself and I will set you a fire and tell you a tale.
A long, long time ago, there was a young princess.'
'Was she of my age?'
'No, older than you she was by years. She lived in the deep forest with her beloved mother and her wise and powerful father.'
'A forest like that which surrounds Imladris?'
'Like, and unlike. Cease your questions, my son, or the tale will never be told.
The princess was happy in her home, but always she wondered of the world outside. Her days she spent in wander through the forest, watching the forest creatures and sitting by the river.
No, nor yet the river Bruinen. A river unlike any river you have seen.
One day a handsome prince was journeying in the forest, and saw the princess walking. He rode to her and begged she give him her name, so that he might know upon whom he looked. When she told him he was surprised, for he knew her mother and her father, and in fact was journeying to speak with them. He asked the princess if she would walk with him to the house of her father, and that very night he spoke to her father of bride-gifts.'
'Her father would allow them to marry?'
'He knew the prince to be noble and good. So the princess married the prince, and they went to live together, on the other side of the forest. And the princess was happy, because she dwelled in beauty. And still she wandered in the forest by day.'
'And did they have children?'
'Yes, they had five sons and five daughters. And all of the sons had one eye blue and one eye dark.'
'And did the prince hate his changeling sons?'
'No, he loved them very much.
The princess wandered in the forest every day, but each day it seemed that the forest grew colder, and she herself along with it. Soon, she felt, her blood would run with ice. And she grew silent and grey, and she understood why she had become unhappy.
She did not love her husband. Oh, he was gentle and kind with her, but every day more she missed her true home and she longed to be free. She began to feel nothing, for it was as if all feeling inside her slowly slipped away.
Until one day, when she was walking beside the river and saw something gleaming that caught her eye. Beside the riverbank there lay a stone, and it shone like the sun over the sea. The princess picked up the stone and put it in her pocket, and soon she imagined she felt better just by its comforting weight.
Some later time she went to visit her parents--her husband permitted her to journey home at times--and showed to her father the shining stone.
Her father touched the princess's arm and looked in her eyes, and his face was grave. "This is a forgetting stone," he told her, and said that if she were to look long on the stone, her whole life and memory would fall away from her as pebbles swept into the river. And her father told her she should take the stone and throw it away, as far away as she could. Throw it deep in the river, or in a dark hole, or over a cliff that it might break. And the princess promised to think on this, and wrapped up the stone again, and hid it away whilst she stayed there. And when she gathered her possessions to return again to her husband, she took the wrapped stone, intending to do as her father bade and destroy it.
But as she travelled in the forest, she would at night look up at the stars, and think. And when she returned to the house of her husband, still she carried the stone.
She wrapped up the stone in many cloths, so that none would stumble across it unknowingly, and surrounded it last with a cloth of gold, and put the stone away in one of the rooms. And when things were at their worst, she would think on the stone, and feel lighter, as if she could float away.'
'And did she never unwrap the stone again?'
'She may. Go and find Elladan and play. I would rest by your fire a while.'
Firstly I would set this down: I was always cold in my youth.
Imladris's ice-wood pillars and carved stone ushered in the chill rather than warding it out. I was trapped in a palace of frozen carvings and I dressed in heavy grey, while others looked on perplexed. I would see my mother's eyes grave upon me, and the lines on Elrond's face would deepen as he turned his head toward me. He would not look in my eyes.
They talked about me warily, behind half-closed doors. Foolish, really, their fear. Who would harm them less than I? I with my pigeon-thin hands and my two-colored eyes?
Also I would set this down: I was not treated badly, as it were. I would not have anyone look at the man I am now, and the child I was, and think 'like translates to like', think the beaten boy grows into a beating man.
He beat me only once, and my mother and Elladan shrieked at him to let me be, and he did. It was my fires that set him off. My strangeness burned into his eyes when he looked at me. He looked at me and could see how I differed, but not how nimble my hands were or how else I was like to him. Fire scars, he tried to explain, but I know more of scars than he. I have the scars. Something, then, to prove that I exist.
Rarely I saw softness in him, unless he was looking at Arwen or my mother. Arwen softened everyone, to the point of unnerving me at times. She was not soft or friendly herself. She was all hard angles and white lips, and her teeth were sharper than I could have imagined.
'A change is coming to all of us,' my father said, 'And we will change to greet it.'
Not all of us, I thought.
But ever it pleased me to look on her. Some of us take our solace in certainty. My dear. The coming of the Evenstar frightened me no more than the snap of a twig.
Wait. I fear I do not understand. What manner of tale is this you tell?
I cannot tell you this now. It may be you can answer yourself at the end.
Look you on this man now, working so hard. See, he drags the headless bodies for miles. Six of them: quite a feat, for one whip-thin with bones like bird's bones. He leaves a snail's trail of a valley in the soil of the forest floor, of the boots dragging behind him.
He knows that orcs do not abandon their dead, and thus will come to this place as soon as they know where their kin lie.
It has been rather harder to manage than he thought it would be. He has had to lame his mother's horse with a stone to ensure he had enough time to set his plan in motion.
(Blood drip-drips like love on the soft dark soul.
Soil. I meant to say soil.)
Difficulty also arose for him in being there and not being there. He planned his excursion with Elladan to the last detail, so they might be there
(If difficulty arose)
and yet not there, that they might not entirely prevent the goblins from coming.
(It did not go exactly according to plan. He would have you know that.)
He sees her after they hit her; after they cut her; her perfection marred; her clear face spattered with dirt; the terror in her eyes; that lost white moment when she was sure she would die. If someone is hit hard enough, what comes out of them?
(Blood like love)
Accusation in her eyes that she would never dare voice for fear of what she would learn.
(Ladies take these things so seriously.)
'You are healed, Celebrían,' Elrond said softly. 'Would you not remain?'
'There are wounds and there are wounds,' she told him, and no more words passed between them for a long time.
Would you not remain with us?
They talk about him behind half-closed doors. If he hears, he does not react. When Elladan comes to sit with him, he looks straight past his brother as though blinded. He sits in his mother's chambers for a day and a night, in something between sleeping and waking, as if waiting, or perhaps searching.
It comes into his mind much later that her chamber seemed to him at the time to be mantled in silver; in grey. It may have been, then, he was waiting for a glint of warm colour.
He wanders by himself or with Elladan, around the towers and the buildings, the rotting-down artifacts of an empire. He barely sees the carved white stones crumbling before his eyes, focusing instead on the flat straw-ground and the butcher birds shrieking in the trees and the cold sky that reaches, blue cold sky. You could scream forever and no-one would hear.
This I would say now: I would not have done it, had I known the outcome. I would make that perfectly clear. I have no desire to harm man or beast except those that I must, and though I assuage my guilt with the necks of a thousand goblins, still my actions sit heavy on my breast. This above all: I would not hurt her for any profit.
Or mayhap I would. Mayhap I would have lain long awake in the dell of the Redhorn Pass, crumbling leaves covering me in a cloak, staring up at the sky and the sun would fall on me in a column and I would listen to the birds shriek. And I would wait, quietly, until she came. And then I would reach up, as if out of the earth itself, and take her by her neck and throttle her, my strong hands encircling her fine white throat and closing tight until her eyes went wide and realisation was upon her and the scent of her own death was on the air and she would stop. Stop moving. Stop breathing. Stop and stay with me for one forsaken minute; one breath. One instant that would be mine.
Mayhap still I would have done this as she left the House of Elrond, to go into the west. These woods are dark and fathomless, and she could lay in them forever without being seen, the only sign that she ever was here a few bright hairs hanging from a branch.
But what's that? My impulse surprises you? Makes your blood run with ice, just for a moment? Makes you think, for a moment, that my control might snap, that I might turn to you and do to you that which I see in the eye of my mind? Or that you might do the same? That any of us might do the same?
Mayhap you should turn your head and look away. Mayhap, when you look back, everything will be as it was.
Elrohir wrapped his cloak closer around him, and smiled his faint smile as he watched her descend the staircase into the chamber.
'Need you a fire, brother?' she asked by way of greeting.
'I am warmer now I see you, my dear,' he told her, and kissed her cheek, moving slowly and stiffly. 'Will you sit with me a while?'
'Of course,' she said, moving another cloak so that she could sit beside him. 'I have not seen much of you, since my return. I feared that you did not wish to see me.'
She could feel his eyes on her face, but she watched in return the floor, as though something might grow from it.
'Why would you fear so?'
'Because of Estel.'
'Estel? Estel, with his soft little fleshy hands and his bad poetry? Our Estel, that would take you from us? Now, why would that bother me?'
'Elrohir, it pains me to hear you speak like that,' she replied softly, and she suddenly felt very tired. 'I know well that you love Estel as a brother, and I would think you, of all, would be able to wish me well.'
He looked on her, and his eyes softened. Some grace, then, is learned in years and misdeeds. He said: 'Listen not to my foolish words. Your heart is your own, and I am not fit to change it. It is my grief that he would take you from me that warps my tongue.'
'I would not be taken, brother,' she said. 'But I would leave.'
A little later he said to her: 'Therein lies the pain, my dear.'
He shivered, and she reached behind her seat for the cloak she had moved and handed it to him with the air of one searching for distraction.
'May I ask what you've been doing of late? Elladan tells me you have been unable to ride with him, and have remained here in Imladris.'
'I fear my health has not been strong. Fear not, though, I will be riding again and Elladan may have again his straw man.'
His attempt at humor did not amuse her, and she looked at him severely. 'You know you speak untruths. Elladan would do anything for you.'
'That may be true enough.'
'So,' she said, looking around. 'Have you been catching up on your reading? Tales of the times of old?'
'Some,' he told her. 'And some just tales.'
'Would you share with me one? I am still weary from my journey, and would sit quietly a while.'
He looked at her and sighed, running his hand over his face. He looked very like Elrond, in that moment: a smaller, paper-thin Elrond.
'Very well. A long, long time ago....
In a small village, there lived a beggar boy. One day it came to him through the villagers that was born a fourteenth daughter of a fourteenth daughter. As all educated peoples know, such a child has the power to call the stars from the sky, and the villagers discussed long how they would prevent this. Some suggested killing the child, but the wise old men counselled against this, for great good fortune would be bestowed on a town in which such a child lived. Thus, the decision was made to extend to the child every kindness and support the village could offer, in the hopes ensuring her happiness.
The townspeople watched the house of the child carefully, fearing any harm to come to her, but the child never ventured out. For years the beggar boy watched the child's house, waiting and willing her to come out that he might speak with her. But she never did, and over time he tired of waiting.
It happened that every afternoon all the people of the village would rest for a time, and the child's house would go unwatched. So one afternoon the beggar boy waited until the lanes were quiet, and stole into the house undetected.
He found the child in the house, and though her clothes were all of rags, he thought her fair and genteel in her bearing. Her hair burned bright in the gloom, and her face was fine and sharp. He kneeled down before her and touched his hand to his brow.
'Why do you come here?' she asked him, and her voice was strangely accented and more deep than he expected, from such a young child. It had the effect on him of making him feel much younger than his years; much younger, in fact, than the tiny child before him.
'I would ask of you something,' he told her. 'I have heard in the village that you are the fourteenth daughter of a fourteenth daughter.'
She tilted her chin, giving him the impression of some curious woodland creature. 'I am,' she said simply.
'Then I would ask of you something. You have the power to pull down the stars, do you not? Would you do this for me?'
And the child looked long at him, and it seemed to him that there was pity in her eyes. 'I would not deny you this, friend,' she said, 'For I see it is something you greatly desire. But I am not yet ready. Return in a thousand years, and I will pull down the stars for you then.'
So the beggar boy went away, and over time his fortunes improved so he no longer begged on the streets, but worked in the village in return for his board. And a thousand years passed, and again he waited until the villagers rested, and stole back into the house.
He found in there still the child he had seen so long ago, although he himself had aged and become careworn, the child appeared as though not a day had passed. And again he kneeled before her, touched his hand to his brow, and requested that she pull down the stars.
It was some long time before she replied, this time. It may have been an hour, or perhaps more. But eventually she drew herself up to her small height, and said to him that still she was not ready to pull down the stars, although she would not refuse him something for which he so devoutly waited. And she bade him come back in another thousand years, so she might grant his wish.
And the man went away again, into the village. And over time he fell in love and married, and had children, and grew prosperous. And again a thousand years passed. And again he went to the house, found the child there, and kneeled and touched his brow. And he asked her once more to pull the stars from the sky for him.
The sun fell and rose again before the child spoke. 'Two thousand years it has been since you put to me this task, friend. In this time you have grown from a child to have children of your own. Tell me, would you not abandon your desire to see the world cloaked in darkness, for the protection of these children?'
'My lady,' he said to her, although she was of course still no more than a tiny child, 'it was for the protection of my children that I came here so many years ago.'
And so the child granted his wish, and pulled the stars from the sky, and the night sky grew dark and the waters of the land bubbled red and foul. And the man was comforted.
'That is not a cheerful tale, Elrohir.'
'You heard worse in your youth, my dear, had you but known it.'
She looked back at him, a challenge in her eyes. 'You know, of course, that the tale is flawed.'
'Not all of us fear the end of all things, Arwen. You are the Evenstar. You, of all, should know that some of us would embrace the darkness.'
'You misunderstand me, brother. I mean that pulling the stars from the sky yet would not destroy the world. The world lives on, although it shifts and changes in ways that may seem like an end to us.'
'I should be glad of an end, myself,' he said.
Look, one last time. A man, or a boy--it likely matters not. He sits so quietly; his decisions made. A kind of peace may be found in the end, and enough time has passed that he is sure that all the leaving is ended here. It is cold, and no part of the world may any more be called his; but he keeps the stars to warm him.
And he lies back and stares at the sky above, and the world has shifted but the stars still stud the sky and it reaches on endlessly; endlessly. And he is comforted.
Are you a teller of tales?
Then, where is the truth in this tale? Is it all truth, or none of it, or something between?
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.