7. Detours of the Unforeseen Variety
Strange are the ways of men, Legolas! Here they have one of the marvels of the northern world, and what do they say of it? Caves, they say! Caves! Holes to fly to in times of war, to store fodder in! My good Legolas, do you know that the caverns of Helm’s Deep are vast and beautiful? There would be an endless pilgrimage of dwarves merely to gaze at them, if such things were known to be. Aye, indeed, they would pay pure gold for a brief glance!
And I would give gold to be excused. And double to be let out, if I strayed in.
Gimli and Legolas—The Two Towers (The Road to Isengard)
The vast kitchen in the king’s palace was as silent and empty as it had been earlier in the morning. It was…wrong. A kitchen should not be so still. It was disconcerting. Eerie. It held not the creeping chill one might feel around the forces of Sauron, nor did it inspire the confusion and fear that a dark mystery might provoke. But to Meriadoc Brandybuck—a hobbit that had been raised in Brandy Hall and had lived with the ever-bustling, ever-busy kitchen facilities of constantly ravenous hobbit families—the silent, empty kitchen was almost frightening.
But that means my job is easier, Merry told himself firmly, moving toward the doorway that led into the wine cellar and the pantries below the kitchen. This is a good thing. A good situation. I should appreciate the empty kitchen.
Unfortunately, twisting one’s view of reality did not fall within Merry’s area of expertise. Such things were usually left to Pippin, who seemed to have a unique talent for completely altering his outlook on life at the drop of a hat. But Merry was not wholly unskilled in changing his perception. Indeed, all hobbits were blessed—or cursed—with an ability to think of a worst-case scenario that might be used as a contrast with their current situation. Merry put this gift into practice now and reminded himself that he could have stayed with Pippin. Almost immediately, the eerily silent kitchen became a cheerful, welcoming place. After all, the alternative called for following a hopelessly optimistic Took into certain disaster while enduring an insidious bombardment of bad jests.
Feeling somewhat more confident now that he was armed with the right perspective, Merry found the lamp they’d used when leaving the cellars and lit it before pushing open the door to the stairs that would take him to the storage rooms. While moving down the uneven steps, he also picked up a torch that was probably used to light the oil in the wall sconces. This would come in quite handy. Since he was no longer a part of Pippin’s plans—and he thanked the Valar fervently for that—Merry had decided to go ahead with his own ideas of how to get into the locked pantries.
He couldn’t quite understand why Pippin had been so against his plan. After all, burning down the door was such a simple solution! It would have been understandable if Sam had been the one doing the protesting. But not Pippin. Pippin was a Took! And Tooks understood the need for risk and adventure. At least, they were supposed to. Granted that they didn’t have the love for boats and water that the Brandybucks did. And perhaps they didn’t experiment as much with fire as they should. But there had been instances of controlled burns around Tuckborough before, and that was essentially what Merry planned to do here, though on a much smaller scale. And so long as the fire was kept small, it could certainly be managed.
Rounding the last turn on the twisting stairs, Merry quickly moved to the table by the entryway and went to work on lighting the other lanterns and lamps. He would have lit the wall sconces, too, if he had been able to reach them. He was normally not so squeamish about dark places, but nine days ago had witnessed the anniversary of the Pelennor Fields. Nine days ago, an old ache in his arm had started to throb. Nine days ago, he’d endured nightmares of the Witch-king.
Nine days ago, he’d remembered the horror of a Nazgûl’s scream.
He’d been on the road when it happened. The group from Rivendell had been nearing Edoras when he felt the first pricks of pain in his arm. It had gotten worse as the day wore on, and the night was nearly unbearable. He’d been reasonably successful at hiding his pain from Pippin, but Elladan and Elrohir had not been fooled in the least. They had not pressed him for details, but whenever he woke during that long night, one or both of them were near, keeping watch over his sleep. Sometimes they roused him when he cried out with fell dreams, and afterwards they lulled him back into slumber with quiet songs. When dawn came and Merry recovered somewhat, they said no word to anyone, but they rode beside him all day, occupying his mind with light conversation and jests. So well did they seem to understand what he was enduring that Merry now wondered if the twins ever experienced anything similar. Surely they had encountered many terrible things during their lives. Merry knew that there was a day set aside in Rivendell to mourn the capture of the Lady Celebrían. There was now a week that honored the departure of those who had borne the Three Rings. Perhaps there existed other days or moments, not officially recognized, during which the sons of Elrond suffered.
With a weary shake of his head, Merry lit the last of the lanterns and sternly refocused his thoughts. He was not here to reminisce and ponder such things but rather to overcome the heinous duplicity of Gondor’s queen. And with the lanterns now holding the darkness at bay, Merry was ready to go to work.
The first order of business was to clear the area around the locked door. There was enough wine in this room to start a fire big enough to destroy the entire Citadel. The flames would bear careful watching, but Merry was not too concerned. He’d managed fires before. In fact, controlling the fire once it was lit was usually the easy part. It was setting things up that often proved to be the most difficult part about a fire. And that seemed to be the case here.
When elves drank wine, they tended to do so in copious amounts. At least, that was how the elves of Greenwood did it, if Legolas was any example. And as a result, when they made casks to hold their wine, they made very large and very heavy casks. Essentially, they made casks large enough to hold an adult dwarf. That had been advantageous for Bilbo during his stay in Mirkwood, but it was now working against Merry. He was not strong enough to move these large barrels by himself. But he couldn’t seek help in moving them. To whom would he go? Pippin? The Took was already carrying out his own inane plans. And everyone else was either caught up in a strange war of pranks or would be firmly against the idea of starting a fire in the basement.
With a sigh, Merry slowly walked around some of the casks that rested beside the locked pantry door. Perhaps if he pulled them down onto their sides, they could be rolled away. It sounded like a workable plan. It would take considerable effort, but it might be possible.
"Well then, I’d better get to it," Merry said aloud, rubbing his hands together. "No sense wasting time when there’s a room filled with food just waiting to be opened!" And putting actions to words, he reached up and seized the rim around the top of one of the barrels. Gathering his strength and planting his feet firmly, Merry closed his eyes, took a deep breath, leaned back, and pulled.
The cask did not move.
Merry opened his eyes and frowned, panting slightly from exertion. Shifting about as though looking for something upon which to brace his feet, he pulled again, angling downward so that his weight factored into the equation.
This time, the cask shifted slightly, but then it settled again and did not stir.
With a grunt of frustration, Merry released the rim and stepped back, examining the barrel. Clearly it was too heavy for him to overturn by simple means. But perhaps…perhaps if he rocked it back and forth, it would build up enough speed and momentum to overturn on its own. A certain amount of timing would be required, but it would not be unlike tipping a boat. Merry had some experience in that.
Once more gripping the rim, he lifted his legs and let himself dangle for a moment before planting his feet against the sides of the wooden cask. Then he began to shift his weight back and forth, arching away from the barrel and then swinging back toward it. Initially, he felt no change and despair crept into his heart. But as he stubbornly continued, he felt the cask begin to shift, and after a minute or so, it began to rock in time to his movements. Elation swept the hobbit, and he summoned more energy as he continued to swing. He had it now! He could feel it!
Then the barrel was suddenly falling on top of him.
With a startled yelp, the hobbit released his grip and twisted away, barely managing to role clear. The barrel landed on its side with a resounding boom and the wood split asunder. An explosion of wine caught Merry full in the face, and he shouted with surprise, his voice echoing loud off the walls of the cellar. The rich liquid drenched his clothes and soaked his hair, trickling down his face.
And of course it is red wine, he thought bitterly as he struggled to his feet. I must look as though I have just come from a battle! Cursing quietly, Merry rubbed at his eyes and licked his lips, not noticing the wine’s sweet flavor as leaked into his mouth. This had not been part of the plan. His stomach rumbled its agreement and clamored loudly for food, reminding him that it was well past the time when he should have fed it. Almost of its own accord, his tongue against traced the contours of his lips, and the taste of the elven drink set his stomach off once more.
Struggling to ignore the incessant demands of his belly, Merry shook his head sharply and winced at the shower of liquor that subsequently rained down around him. This wasn’t working out at all, and he was actually beginning to think that he might have been better off staying with Pippin. The rational part of his mind recoiled in horror at that thought, but the desperate part of his mind—the part that was slowly being driven to the ragged edge of sanity by the screams of his stomach—was almost willing to consider the idea. He was still hungry, he was still locked out of the main pantry, and now he was thirsty from his exertions and as well as covered in red wine.
Yet again, his tongue flicked out, craving the sweet nectar that ran down his cheeks, and Merry suddenly felt a strong desire for more of the intoxicating drink. His first impulse was to reject the idea outright, for he knew well that he could not hold elven liquor. But the more he thought about it and the more he thought about the day in general, the more he found himself drawn to the wine that stained the floor. Elven wine had the power to comfort and to calm. The dull ache in his right arm had died away after tasting the drops that had collected around his lips. Would one more sip—taken only to quench his thirst—really hurt? In addition to soothing his throat, it would also calm his nerves, and perhaps with a clearer head, he would be able to think of another way to move the casks away from the door. He certainly wasn’t making any progress now.
One sip, then, he told himself firmly after debating the matter a moment longer. Only one. No more! And after that, it’s back to work. Confident that he could control himself, he moved toward a nearby cask, and seized the rim. Pulling himself up, he clambered on top and then reached toward another cask, tracing the seal of its lid before finding a place to grip. Then he began to pull. It took a concerted amount of strength and twisting on his part, but after a long minute, the lid gave a popping sound and flew backward. It happened so suddenly that Merry nearly toppled off his own barrel, catching himself just in time to prevent a fall.
So far, so good, he assured himself, turning back toward the cask. The rising fragrance drew him forward, and cupping his hand, he reached into the barrel and submerged it before raising it to his lips. He hesitated once again but only briefly, and then he drank.
At that point, he suddenly remembered why he could never seem to limit himself to just one drink.
The rich wine filled his mouth and washed over his tongue. It tickled his throat and warmed his chest as he swallowed. A tingling sensation began to spread outward from his belly, and as it did so, he suddenly found himself pulled inward. The wine seemed to summon strange thoughts, and he was flooded by a wealth of memories containing laughter and cheer. Days of innocence flashed by, and he remembered when he had been untouched by the stain of fear or the grip of shadow. His senses reeled with nostalgia, and once again he walked the fields of Buckland in the early spring, knowing nothing of Mordor or rings.
How could he have forgotten? How could he have forgotten the wonders of elven wine, particularly wine brewed in Greenwood? Legolas had once explained that his people made their wine with the idea of temporarily escaping the creeping darkness that surrounded their lands. And this desire for escape now swept Merry far into the past, banishing both the pain in his arm and the memory of the Witch-king. Gone were the days he had spent as a captive of the Orcs. Gone was the grief he’d felt at Boromir’s passing. Gone were the shadows of Moria and the flames of the Balrog. Gone was all the horror and all the heartache he’d ever known, and he walked for a time in younger days. Unaware of what he was doing, he reached into the cask for yet another drink, and as the wine filled his mouth once more, he felt himself fly further afield in his quest for innocence. For naiveté. For a return to the way things used to be. He took another drink and then another as the years rolled back and the hardships faded behind him. His cupped hand splashed into the barrel over and over again until—
What am I doing?!
Merry stiffened and drew back in confusion, shaking his hand as he pulled it up out of the wine. This was most certainly not part of his plans! He had intended to take one and only one sip of wine. But judging from the feeling of complacency that now crept over him, he had taken quite a few drinks. Quite a few more than was good for him.
Steadying himself atop the barrel upon which he perched, Merry rubbed his brow and tried to remember exactly how one sip of wine had turned into so many. But then, this was elven wine. There was no accounting for what effects it might have on mortals. He had probably been doomed the moment it erupted in his face.
A strange wave of fatalism swept the hobbit, and he sat back as he considered the options now set before him. He could continue to indulge his taste for elven wine, knowing full well that he would pay for it later with a headache the size of Caradhras. He could attempt to continue moving barrels about and hope that the wine he’d already drunk would not inhibit his movements and reactions too much when he set about controlling a fire. Or he could attempt to catch up with Pippin and help his cousin in the foolish quest to enlist the aid of an elf and a dwarf.
He immediately discarded the last option. Dragging Legolas and Gimli into this was an open invitation for certain disaster. Even his rapidly blurring mind could see that much. As a result, he was left with the two options. The first was very enticing, and the wine already coursing through his system encouraged him along this path. But Merry had not forgotten Arwen’s betrayal. He needed to get behind that locked door if only to spite her! Food had almost become a secondary concern. And yet… Looking at the large barrels and forcing himself to evaluate the situation honestly, Merry realized that he would never be able to move the casks by himself. At best, he could knock them over and spill their contents onto the floor, creating a fire hazard that would be almost impossible to clean up.
He had been outmaneuvered. There was no reason not to admit it. Arwen, Pippin, the wine casks…they had all played a part in a vicious game of manipulation. And since greater forces had conspired against him, why not give in? Why not wait out the day in a blissful, drunken stupor? It made as much sense as what Pippin was planning to do.
"Oh, Sauron take all," Merry muttered to himself, and with a shake of his head, he abandoned the last of his hobbit sensibilities and plunged his cupped hand back into the cask for another drink.
"I pray that your nimble elven mind has devised another plan for further and more successful searching. Your current plans have come to naught."
His eyes narrowing, Legolas shot a dark glare at his shorter companion. "We would not even be in this mess had it not been for your plans. If I remember correctly, you were the one who instigated a game of hide-and-seek with Eldarion."
"And if I remember correctly, you were the one who watched him climb over the wall and said nothing!"
"Had you been observant, you would have also seen him leave the gardens!"
"Had you been considerate, we could have stopped him before he had a chance to hide himself so well!" Gimli returned angrily.
Legolas closed his eyes and tried to calm himself. He and Gimli had met up with one another shortly after Legolas had parted company with Elrohir. It had been a rather disappointing reunion. Neither had seen any sign of Eldarion, and none of the servants—what few there were in the palace on this holiday—could give them any information. It was maddening, and had Legolas not possessed a good measure of restraint, he would have long ago impaled his knife in the wall out of sheer frustration.
"If it gives you peace of mind, Elladan and Elrohir have not found Eldarion, either," Gimli offered after an uncomfortable silence had settled. "One of them stopped me not long ago and inquired after his whereabouts."
"Elrohir was the one that stopped you." Legolas murmured, still trying to quell his frustration.
The dwarf frowned, his eyes betraying confusion. "How do you know?"
"He had no signet ring upon his right hand. Therefore, it was Elrohir. Elladan wears the signet of Imladris as he is technically its ruler, and the seal is a symbol of his authority. Elrohir does not exactly recognize this authority, but that is another matter entirely."
Gimli shook his head. "This is well and good, but you were not there when I was stopped. How do you know it was Elrohir?"
"Because he chanced upon me, as well, and mentioned speaking with you," Legolas explained, his face twisting into a scowl. "And thanks to your vaunted powers of subtle deception—or lack thereof—he learned that we have also failed to find Eldarion."
Gimli bristled, his eyes flashing with indignation and his chin jutting out in honor of his bruised pride. That does interesting things to his beard, Legolas mused as he regarded his friend. Almost it seems…fuzzy. I wonder if I should tell him that…
"I have already proven to you that dwarves are quite gifted in the art of subtle deception, and if you cannot appreciate that, it is no fault of mine," Gimli said heatedly.
"I would never think to fault you," Legolas answered, deciding that telling Gimli about his fuzzy beard could wait for another day. "I willingly take full responsibility for the ability to resist the lure of your delusions." The dwarf sputtered angrily at this, but Legolas continued before his friend could find a suitable retort. "Enough. We waste time here. We should either split apart and once again continue the search separately, or we should find a place where we may discuss our options undisturbed."
A hint of rage was still lurking in Gimli’s eyes, but to his credit, he did not pursue the argument. Nodding slowly, he glanced around the hallways and then started off. "As our current strategy has failed—a strategy that you endorsed, I may remind you—we would be well-advised to seek another plan. Let us move this conversation to the nursery. Once there, we should be able to speak without fear of listening ears."
It was Legolas’s turn to be confused, and his brow furrowed as he mulled over the dwarf’s suggestion. "Why the nursery?" he finally asked.
Gimli blinked. "Is your head intended only for displaying that fair face of yours? The nursery is the last place that Eldarion would go. It is a room set aside for sleeping and rest. On a day filled with excitement and things to do, Eldarion would do everything in his power to stay away from the nursery. Therefore, everyone will assume it stands empty because no one will have a use for it. If anyone looks for us, they will certainly not look there. Now come!" the dwarf commanded even as he turned away and began moving down the hall. "In one thing at least you are correct: We should not be seen together without the crown-prince. We must get out of sight!"
Quickly falling into step with the dwarf, Legolas decided that there was a certain amount of skewed logic to Gimli’s line of reasoning. It was not a conclusion that he would have drawn himself, but then, he was not a dwarf.
And I thank Elbereth every day for that.
It did not take them long to reach the nursery, and surprisingly enough, they reached it without seeing a servant or a guard. But then, the time was drawing close to lunch, and most of the household would either be heading for the Pelennor Fields or for the soldier’s butteries in the Tower of Ecthelion. The upper levels of the palace were essentially deserted.
Slipping through the nursery’s door after Gimli, Legolas quickly shut it behind him and then sighed as the fires of frustration began to rise again. As the youngest prince of Mirkwood, he’d been saddled with some very strange requests during his years, but this current search for Eldarion was, without a doubt, the most ridiculous and inane task he’d ever undertaken. The fact that neither he nor Gimli could find Eldarion only added to the problem.
"I cannot believe this is happening," Gimli growled, apparently sharing the elf’s thoughts on the matter. "Surely between the two of us we should be able to locate one small crown-prince!"
"I believe we both underestimated this small crown-prince," Legolas said reluctantly. "And we also underestimated Aragorn’s training. It seems our friend has been giving his son lessons that might benefit a Ranger."
"I would think that your vaunted elven senses would be able to find him regardless."
"What of dwarven senses?" Legolas asked somewhat defensively. "Are we not in a city of stone? Should not you be able to feel things that others cannot?"
Elf and dwarf glared at one another for a moment or so before exchanging mutual sighs of resignation and turning away. Silence reigned while each became lost in his own thoughts. After the passage of several minutes, Gimli stirred and rubbed his brow. "What do you believe Aragorn shall do to us if we fail to find his son?"
Legolas grimaced and shook his head darkly. "I would prefer not to dwell on that."
"Perhaps—rather than searching for a child that cannot be found—we should be searching for credible explanations," Gimli said. "Noon is nearly upon us, and Aragorn requested that we take Eldarion down to the Pelennor for lunch. He will know something is amiss when we do not come."
"Credible explanations will be hard to come by," Legolas murmured. "But there is always the option of running. Hiding works well, too, as Eldarion has clearly shown us."
Gimli grunted and shook his head. "Maybe there is a conspiracy among the guards," he offered, though he did not seem to believe his own theory. "Maybe they are hiding him from us."
"They would have had to plan this with the foreknowledge that we would let Eldarion out of our sight," Legolas pointed out. "It is highly improbable. Too much would have been left to chance."
"Then by Durin’s beard, where could he have gone?!" Gimli demanded. "You cannot find him. I cannot find him. Elrohir cannot find him. Elladan cannot find him. Together, I would be willing to bet that we constitute the greatest team of hunters in all of Arda. And yet we are foiled by a simple child!"
"Sauron was foiled by simple hobbits."
"We are not Sauron and Eldarion is not a hobbit!"
Legolas turned his eyes toward the ceiling and murmured a quiet plea for patience. Gimli was never very appreciative of analogies and comparisons. When he was upset or frustrated, he tended to dismiss them outright, preferring that things be direct and candid. It almost reminded Legolas of his father. Thranduil did employ the use of symbolism to make a point, but his symbolism had a tendency to be just as blunt as whatever it was he was trying to say. In this way, at least, Thranduil’s version of diplomacy was very much like a dwarf’s version of diplomacy. "I only meant that—"
"Peace," Gimli interrupted gruffly. "I should not have lashed out at you." He shook his head and then sighed. "Let us concentrate on what we came here to do. Our previous methods of search have yielded nothing. I propose that we narrow our options." The dwarf began to pace as he spoke, absently fingering some of the toys lining the shelves. "Were you his age, Legolas, and did not wish to be found, where would you go?"
"I know not," Legolas said wearily. It was a question he had now been asking himself for some time, and he had yet to come up with an answer that seemed to work. "I would certainly have my favorite places in which to hide, but I know not where those would be in Eldarion’s case. I am unfamiliar with the areas in which he plays."
Gimli’s brow furrowed and he tugged at his beard with one hand. "Would these hiding places be inside or outside?"
"Either. Both," Legolas said with a helpless shrug, moving to the nursery window and looking out over the city. He had never been completely comfortable inside the walls of stone, and he was beginning to feel twinges of claustrophobia. "For myself, most would probably be outside. But I have always been one to take to the trees. I do not know Eldarion’s preference."
"But would there be a…a theme to these hiding places?"
Legolas arched an eyebrow and looked back at the dwarf. "A theme?"
"Something they all had in common. Something that attracted you to them," Gimli explained, once again glancing over the toys.
"They would all be places where I felt myself concealed from prying eyes," the elf said, not quite sure what his friend was looking for. "But other than that, I can think of nothing that might link them together." He turned again toward the window and cast his eyes southward, a sudden swell of longing overtaking him. He thought he had seen a pair of seagulls wing by…
"Concealed from prying eyes," Gimli murmured, oblivious to his friend’s sudden and unhealthy distraction. "Concealed…" He trailed off and became very silent. Too silent. Absolutely silent, actually, which succeeded in drawing Legolas’s thoughts away from the sea by virtue of sheer novelty. The dwarf was usually making some kind of noise or another. In fact, Legolas had once entertained the theory that dwarven custom required continual sound. But now…now there was nothing whatsoever.
Wondering if something ill had befallen his companion, Legolas turned around and studied Gimli. He was quick to decide that something had indeed happened to the dwarf, but what that something was, he could not say. Gimli bore an extremely thoughtful look upon his face. He was motionless, not even rocking back and forth on his feet as was his wont when he had naught else to do. Yet for all his stillness, there was a graceful poise about him as though the slightest provocation could trigger swift reflexes and send him into motion. It was almost as if the dwarf had been transformed into a short, stocky, bearded elf.
"Gimli?" Legolas questioned hesitantly, uncertain as to what he should make of this. "Master Dwarf, are you well?"
"You say you would go to a place where you would be concealed?" Gimli asked, abruptly breaking with his brief stint of elvishness and resuming his dwarven traits so suddenly that it was disorienting.
"Yes," the elf answered, blinking his eyes and wondering if the last few minutes had been the product of an extremely vivid imagination.
Legolas frowned, still attempting to account for what he’d seen. "That is the point of a hiding place, is it not?"
Gimli nodded and then moved toward the nursery’s back wall with an air of discovery and importance. Legolas could not see anything worth discovering about the back wall that had not been discovered already, but then, Gimli was a dwarf. Dwarves did strange things from time to time. Perhaps examining a back wall was a new method of relieving stress. Gimli had never done it before, but the dwarf was always surprising Legolas with odd habits and traditions. Maybe this was one of them. Still, they could not afford to waste time on frivolous gestures of frustration.
"Gimli, perhaps it is best if we—"
"I believe that we have one more area to search," the dwarf interrupted, running his hands over the wall.
"You wish to search between the stones in the wall?" Legolas asked, wondering if perhaps Gimli had broken under the fear of what Aragorn was going to do to them. "Elves are very adept at finding places of concealment, but even we cannot—"
"No, you fool! Behind the stones. Blessed Mahal, are there not hidden passages within your father’s halls? If not, you should advise him to build some. They provide endless entertainment as well as security should the stronghold need to be evacuated."
"Hidden passages?" Legolas echoed. His former home in Greenwood was actually riddled with secret tunnels, but that had nothing to do with the likelihood of such things existing in Minas Tirith. "Gimli, Aragorn has said nothing of—"
"If Aragorn spoke of them, they would cease to be hidden," Gimli said, sounding rather annoyed. "Surely you are not as naïve as you appear to be!"
The elf scowled, noting that he had just been blatantly interrupted three times in less than a minute, and searched his mind for something truly scathing to say in response. But ere he could sufficiently muster his wit and his ire, a sudden click echoed through the room and then the back wall slid away, revealing a dark passage of black stone.
Gimli stepped back and beamed, looking for all the world as though he had just unearthed the seven lost stones and the three Silmarils. Legolas, on the other hand, was not impressed. Moving closer so as to get a better view, he could not help an involuntary shudder. There was no light in the corridors, and what little he could see revealed them to be very narrow. The air that now flowed out of them felt dank and stale. Legolas was reminded very much of a tomb, and the last tomb he’d entered had been on the Paths of the Dead. It was not a pleasant memory.
"Perhaps Eldarion has discovered these passages and is in them now," Gimli suggested, seemingly unaware of his friend’s lack of enthusiasm. "He is an observant child. It would certainly not be beyond his abilities. What think you, Legolas?"
"Perhaps," Legolas allowed reluctantly. He kept reminding himself that while Eldarion carried elven blood, he was a mortal child. He might actually enjoy tight spaces. Certainly they could give him a sense of adventure.
Sharing none of his companion’s compunctions about entering these secret halls, Gimli strode confidently into the darkness and disappeared from view. "I can think of nowhere else to look," the dwarf said at length, his voice ghosting back to the elf. "And if I am any judge, these passages will snake all over the palace. Even if Eldarion is not in here, we might be able to hear him in a hallway and find an exit that leads us directly to him. Perhaps fortune shall grace us in this endeavor."
Legolas shivered and eyed the shadowed walls, trying to ignore the sudden knots that were twisting about in his stomach. He was of the opinion that fortune would go nowhere near such a terrible place and would probably leave them stumbling blindly in the shadows.
"Legolas?" Gimli moved back into the light and frowned. "Legolas, is aught wrong?"
"It is very dark," Legolas managed to say, though his voice trembled slightly.
"If the lack of light concerns you, then you will be pleased to learn that there are a few torches lying on the floor in here. They are not lit, but I can remedy that quickly."
Legolas groaned and turned away. Gimli was right. The hidden passages would probably make an excellent hiding place for Eldarion, and yet… How could any child with even a hint of elven blood in his veins endure those dark corridors? The little that Legolas could see of them was almost sending him into claustrophobic fits. More light was not going to help this! It dispelled the darkness, yes, but it did nothing to expand the space between the walls.
"Legolas?" Now holding two burning torches, the dwarf came forward and studied his elven friend. An unreadable expression passed over his face and then he grimaced slightly. "Legolas, my apologies. I am not thinking clearly. If you wish it, I will search these ways alone. Perhaps you should—"
"Nay," Legolas interrupted quickly. He didn’t want to be caught anywhere in the Citadel without Gimli and Eldarion, especially since they were nearing lunch and Aragorn might send someone to look for them. He would never be able to explain what had happened, and he wasn’t about to be the first to confess that they had somehow managed to misplace the crown-prince of Gondor. "Nay, I am coming with you. You will undoubtedly lose your way in the darkness."
The dwarf cocked his head to the side, studied the elf, and then shrugged, moving forward to hand Legolas a torch. "Then let us go. But do not blame me for whatever pains you endure along the way. I am not forcing you to come." And with this, Gimli ducked back into the dark passages.
You shall pay for this, son of Glóin, Legolas vowed, steeling himself before plunging into the darkness after the dwarf. Gimli then pressed his hand against a protruding stone, and the nursery wall slid shut on its hidden axis, cutting off the light of day and plunging the pair into a world of shadows and torchlight.
Elladan sighed and reminded himself that he was supposed to be the patient one in the family. "Nay, not yet," he murmured, tightening his grip on his nephew. "We must wait a little longer. Elrohir seems to be taking his time in coming."
Eldarion wiggled around in Elladan’s arms until he could watch the palace’s main entryway without craning his neck. His young face was set in a glare of extreme frustration, and Elladan was immediately reminded of several glares that Estel had employed when he was that age. The likeness was eerie, and almost it seemed as though he was back in Rivendell helping Gilraen corner her son long enough to get him to eat. The memories brought a smile to his face and he allowed his mind to revel briefly in nostalgia before returning to the present as Eldarion began to squirm.
"Peace!" Elladan cried, readjusting his grip. "Peace, where are you going, young one?"
Eldarion gave his uncle a look that somehow managed to combine both a command and a plea. "Down."
"I am afraid not," Elladan said, shaking his head. "We have spent too long seeking you out already. Patience. I promise you that we will soon be on our way!"
Eldarion’s face twisted into an imploring pout, mirroring yet another classic expression from Estel’s younger days. His eyes grew wide, his lower lip began to quiver, and his hands balled into fists as they clenched at Elladan’s tunic.
"Nay!" Elladan said firmly, well aware of what was happening. He had been a victim of this look in the past, but over the years, he had learned to guard against it. Or rather, to endure it for a greater period of time before ultimately caving to whatever demands had been issued. And if he could hold out long enough, Elrohir would arrive and help him. Elrohir was better at being firm.
Apparently sensing that he was not going to escape his uncle’s hold in the near future, Eldarion loosed a sigh that sounded much too old for him and turned back to watch for Elrohir. Elladan whispered a silent prayer of thanks to any Valar that might be listening and bolstered his defenses for the next time that Eldarion chose to assail him with a pout. There seemed to be something about Isildur’s heirs that made them exceptionally good at pouting. Gilraen had once complained of Estel’s ability to get whatever he wanted through the use of a cunning pout to which Elrond had replied that if she thought Estel was difficult, she should have tried to raise Arahael, the second Chieftain of the Dúnedain. Arahael was the first of his line to be fostered in Rivendell—thus beginning a tradition that would endure until Estel’s birth—and the elves soon discovered that they were very unprepared for the simple yet confounding machinations of a mortal child. Arahael was able to charm anything out of anyone, and the moment a pout appeared on his face, even Erestor’s stern resolve would crumble before its power. After experiencing Arahael’s childhood, Rivendell’s inhabitants tried to school themselves against further manipulation, and they succeeded to an extent. But it could not be denied that Isildur’s heirs were unusually clever even as children, and some exasperated caretakers claimed that the Chieftains were born with a knowledge of how to manufacture the perfect pout and so achieve their desires. It appeared that Eldarion had inherited this infamous gift.
Elladan started slightly, jerked out of his musings by Eldarion’s excited call. Scanning the grounds, he soon caught sight of his brother entering the courtyard and moving toward the Queen’s Gardens. "Elbereth be praised," he muttered, glancing about once more to make certain that a certain elven prince and his dwarven companion were not in sight. When he assured himself that no unwanted eyes were present to see them, he hurried to greet his brother. "Did you find aught to distract you on your way?" he asked when he neared Elrohir. "Or did you decide that a leisurely stroll better suited your interests?"
Elrohir blinked. "I came when I received your message."
I am the patient one. I am the patient one. Elladan took a calming breath and tried to silence his emotions. The elder of the twins was a creature of habit and procedure, but he was usually able to adapt to changing situations quickly. However, Elladan had quickly discovered that the task of controlling an energetic four-year-old mortal was more difficult than he’d anticipated. He’d found himself wishing desperately for someone else to join him so as to help shoulder such a burden, and for every moment he’d been forced to wait for Elrohir, he’d felt his legendary calm and patience slip further and further away. Still, there was no need to take his frustrations out on his brother. "My apologies," he sighed. "I did not think it would take the messengers so long to find you."
Elrohir made a rather indistinct sound that was somewhere between a sniff and a grunt. Elladan didn’t know how his brother managed this as a sniff required inhalation while a grunt required the opposite, but however it was accomplished, the noise was made. And at that point, Elladan realized that his twin seemed to be…upset.
"What is wrong?" he asked, wondering how he had missed the signs of anxiety.
Elrohir pursed his lips and his brow furrowed, exhibiting two well-known trademarks of frustration within the House of Elrond. "How did you find him?" he finally demanded.
Realization swept through Elladan, and his own feelings of frustration vanished as a hint of glee overtook him. "You mean Eldarion?"
"Yes," Elrohir all but spat out. "I mean Eldarion. How did you find him?"
The smile simply could not be denied, and Elladan nearly laughed aloud when he saw his twin’s eyes darken in response. Any who knew the twins well could vouch for their brotherly bond of love and loyalty, but they could also vouch for a fierce streak of competitiveness. To a certain extent, Elladan and Elrohir accepted that they each had strengths and weaknesses that the other did not. But they were very much equals in many things, and it was in these gray areas that their drive to be first and best often set them against one another. "It was really quite simple," Elladan said, unable to hide the smug tone that colored his voice. "I merely remembered what Estel did on those rare occasions when we played this game and could not find him. He returned to his starting position. Eldarion has done the same. It took him longer to do so, for I believe he possesses more patience than Estel, but after a while, he indeed returned to the Queen’s Gardens. And when he did, I was waiting for him. Strange that your able mind did not think of this."
The expression on Elrohir’s face was priceless. In his younger days, Elladan had once absently wondered what a Balrog’s glare might look like and had asked Glorfindel to describe it. The response had either been an imitation of said glare or a warning against such questions in the future, Elladan could not tell which. But in any case, he felt that this idle question had now found a definite answer, for Elrohir’s face could easily be mistaken for the face of an enraged Balrog.
"After all, is not every child instructed to make for an established rendezvous location after a time?" Elladan continued, quite incapable of stopping himself. "Eldarion has obviously been trained to do so. Again, I am surprised that you did not remember this, Elrohir, for if memory serves, you spent many days trying to teach Estel that very lesson when he was younger. Surely you did not think that he would neglect such instruction for his own son."
Elrohir’s glare had now surpassed the level of a simple Balrog and was swiftly approaching the strength of a glare one might receive from Morgoth. Unfortunately, Elladan was unable to study and enjoy this new expression because Eldarion chose that moment to decide he was thoroughly bored and wished to do something else. To this end, he began to fidget and wiggle, struggling valiantly against his uncle’s hold and very nearly escaping. Cursing quietly, Elladan hastily readjusted his grip, but his quiet curse abruptly escalated into a loud oath as one of Eldarion’s kicking feet landed several inches below his belt.
Elladan immediately doubled over, completely taken by surprise. Never one to miss an opportunity for vengeance, Elrohir’s expression went from rage to mirth with a speed that would have impressed Oromë’s hounds, and his shoulders began to shake with silent laughter. "Having difficulty containing your quarry?" he inquired blandly even as hints of sniggers edged their way into his voice. "You really should take better measures to—"
"Hold this," Elladan interrupted hoarsely, and before any question or protest could be made, he shoved Eldarion’s squirming form into the surprised arms of his twin.
Much to Elladan’s disgust, Elrohir proved quite adept at handling his nephew, tossing the child into the air and then catching him around the waist before flipping him upside down. Eldarion squealed with glee and clapped his hands, his hair flying wildly as Elrohir started to swing him back and forth by his feet. "You are as filled with energy now as you were this morning," Elrohir laughed, shooting Elladan a look as though to make certain that the older twin was watching this. "I fear you require special handling by those who are knowledgeable in such things. Otherwise, many might find themselves at great pains to restrain you."
"Nazgûl take you," Elladan hissed, groaning slightly as he willed the pain to pass.
"Do you not usually wear some sort of protective padding to shield such an area against injury?" Elrohir inquired, his voice far too casual for his own good.
"Only when I dress for battle," Elladan snapped, slowly righting himself. "And should you continue this, you will give me reason to do so!"
Elrohir laughed and flipped Eldarion over, catching him once more about the waist and then hoisting him up onto his shoulders. Eldarion squealed again and seized Elrohir by the ears. "If you have recovered, then it seems we are ready to go," Elrohir said, tipping his head back to wink at his nephew. "I suppose that your calculating mind has already decided where and how we shall depart the Citadel? Or has Eldarion managed to drive such things from your mind?"
Elladan hissed softly but refused to be baited, for he was now faced with yet another embarrassing problem. He had not gotten far enough in his thinking to consider leaving the Citadel. Once he found Eldarion, his thoughts had concentrated on keeping the boy still long enough to rendezvous with Elrohir. He should have considered their next few steps, but somehow, that had escaped him. Like so many other things. I swear, by Ilúvatar himself, there is something about Eldarion that drives one to distraction! "I would like to hear your suggestions, if you have any," he said after a moment. "And perhaps they will coincide with my own plans."
Elrohir gave his twin a rather knowing look as his smile widened marginally. "Perhaps they might. But then, it is easy to fill a void with imitation."
"Fear not! I will have pity upon one so injured," Elrohir laughed, bouncing his shoulders slightly to occupy his nephew. "The thought occurred to me that the roof of the stables down in the sixth circle is high and not too far from the top of the Citadel’s wall. The jump would be manageable, even with Eldarion, and the climb itself over the wall would be easy enough as there are vines growing on this side of if. Moreover, many of the guards are upon the Pelennor to aid in the preparations for tomorrow’s celebration. If we take care, we will not be seen."
Elladan nodded slowly. "And how shall we let ourselves down from the stable’s roof? Leaping onto the streets is certain to draw attention."
"There is a window set on the slanting side of the roof that looks in on the loft. I judge it would not be difficult to open from the outside, and we could enter through there. Then we could saddle our horses and take Eldarion for a ride. We will probably reach the Pelennor in time for lunch, and we could obtain food before taking Eldarion on a longer journey." Elrohir looked up at the crown-prince perched on his shoulders, who was currently waving at a pair of seagulls that had flown in from the Anduin. "Would you enjoy that?" he asked. "Would it please you go to for a ride?"
"Horses!" Eldarion cried, nodding enthusiastically as all interest in the birds was lost.
"It is a good plan," Elladan conceded. "Of course, it would have to be a good plan to match my own intentions."
"Of course," Elrohir murmured, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Well, let us be off. The longer we stand here, the greater the chance of discovery. Will you be able to handle our brother’s young terror?"
Elrohir grinned. "Naturally. Only a fool would falter in such a task."
Elladan sighed but decided that they had delayed long enough already. A response on his part would only make things worse. "Then come. And take care. Eldarion has attempted to pout once already."
Elrohir’s eyes widened and he angled his head so as to look up at his nephew. "You attempted to pout?" he said with mock horror. "For shame! You know well that Elladan has no defense against such a thing."
Eldarion giggled while Elladan scowled and shook his head. "Are you finished?"
"Lead on, oh wise one," Elrohir answered, gesturing for Elladan to precede him.
Firmly silencing the words that begged to be unleashed upon his impossible twin, Elladan started off, vowing that at some point in the near future he would wipe the smirk from Elrohir’s face. Seemingly oblivious to his brother’s dark thoughts, Elrohir followed smugly, wearing a broad smile at the thought that he had finally gotten the upper hand.
In a rather significant testament to their distracted states of mind, neither twin noticed Eldarion turning around and waving at a small figure that trailed after them.
Author’s Notes: During the last section of this chapter, Elrohir mentions saddling their horses, and I thought I’d take a minute to explain my views on elven equestrians. The Two Towers has Legolas riding Arod bareback, but The Fellowship of the Ring mentions that Glorfindel rides Asfaloth with a full compliment of tack (including bells, apparently). So like many other writers out there, I’ve gone with the assumption that this is a difference in culture between Mirkwood and Imladris. Elrond’s elves used tack. Thranduil’s didn’t.
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.