Epilogue – Revelations (Part Two)
Elrohir paused briefly outside the study and turned to Elladan. "Do you think anything did happen?" he asked. He found he was oddly unsettled by the possibility.
Elladan shrugged. "Who knows?" He gave a wicked grin. "Perhaps Father dropped you on your head as you were born! It would certainly explain a lot."
"What do you mean?" Elrohir demanded hotly. "Explain what?"
"Why no one ever mentioned anything, of course," Elladan responded smoothly. "He would be embarrassed. What did you think I meant?" His twin wore an expression of pure innocence.
Elrohir scowled, wondering why he still let Elladan rile him. Ignoring his brother, he knocked at the study door and pushed it open, glancing around to be sure their father was not already busy with a visitor. "Father? Can we talk to you?"
Elrond looked up with a smile, seeming slightly surprised. "Of course you can. Come, sit with me." He stood, moving around his desk and crossing to the fire. They sat, Elrond in a high backed chair, Elladan on a long couch, and Elrohir in his favoured spot on the rug by the fire. "What is it?"
"It was about something that Firienë said," Elladan began.
"Firienë?" Elrond looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded. "Firienë. I remember." He smiled. "Is this something I should tell you to ask your mother about?"
Elrohir shook his head. "We would have asked her, but she was rather busy with some of the guests. Besides, you should know as well," he pointed out.
Elrohir began speaking, but then Elladan took up the thread, the conversation switching seamlessly between them. It was a habit they still fell into, especially when preoccupied. "Firienë told us a story – "
"A rather interesting story –"
"About something that happened when we were elflings." Elrohir could have sworn that his father tensed at that comment.
"She said that the bracelets we wore – ""
" – So you could tell us apart – "
"She took them off."
Elrohir, now watching his father closely, was certain that he relaxed. A quick glance at Elladan revealed that his twin had also noticed, and they each knew what the other was thinking. What had their father been expecting them to ask? "So is it true?" he finished.
With a slight smile, Elrond nodded. "Yes. It is true," he agreed. "She took the bracelets off to bath you, then realised that she had no idea which of you was which."
"So what happened then?" Elladan continued.
"We forgave her, of course," Elrond told them. "She was absolutely horrified at the mistake, and thought no one would ever be able to solve the mystery. There was a very tearful confession, but it was not really her fault." He sighed. "Somehow, it never was. She was just a young ellyth, a mere apprentice, and it was no more than a foolish lapse."
"No, we meant how did you sort it out? Sort us out?" Elladan elucidated.
Elrond spread his hands vaguely. "We just knew. There was an unmistakeable sense of identity about you both. You felt different."
"Good." Elrohir nodded, satisfied. "El was wondering if he was me. I told him I was."
Elrond blinked, looking a little bemused, and interrupted before the conversation could become any more convoluted. "There is absolutely no doubt. Elladan was born first, and you, Elrohir, arrived a matter of minutes later. I was there, you know."
"Yes, and that was something else we wanted to ask you about." Elrohir seized on the query that had burned in his mind since Firienë's negligent remark. "Firienë mentioned that there had been a great deal of panic and confusion when we were born – or more precisely, when I was born. What did she mean? She was being most mysterious, and vanished when we questioned her. Did anything unusual happen?"
There was a long moment of silence, and Elrond went very still, his face curiously expressionless. Elrohir sat up straighter, and glanced at Elladan, who had leaned forward in his seat. The question had provoked an unexpected response. Quite clearly, something untoward had happened, something rather more serious than Elladan's teasing comment about being dropped.
"Yes," Elrond said finally. "Something did happen." He stopped, but made no move to continue.
"Well?" Elrohir asked impatiently. "What was it? Father, you have to tell us!"
Elrond nodded. "I will. Forgive me, this is … rather difficult. It is something I have not thought about for very many years now." He sighed, and left his chair to sit cross-legged on the fireside rug, facing his sons. Slowly, he began to explain. "Your mother and I had already decided that whichever of you was born first would be called Elladan. When I first held you, I placed the bracelet on your wrist, and named you." He glanced at his son, smiling at the sweet memory, then hesitated again.
"But then – Elrohir, you nearly died when you were born." He stopped again. "No, it was worse than that. You deserve to know the truth, all of it. The truth is that I still think of this at times. I can never forget it." He spoke with difficulty, his voice tight. "It became apparent that there was something wrong with the other baby. We could feel you fading and leaving us." He stopped again, reaching out with one hand, his finger gently tracing a line around Elrohir's neck. "The birth cord had become tightly twisted around your neck, choking you. You were stillborn, Elrohir." There were tears in his eyes as he recalled the horror of that moment, and his words fell like stones into utter silence.
Elrohir simply stared at his father, stunned into silence. He suddenly felt stone cold sober, and was vaguely aware that Elladan had moved closer and was gripping his shoulder tightly. His brother's voice came as if from a great distance. "He was stillborn? What do you mean? What happened?"
"You know what it means. And I – I panicked. Nindamos, the healer who assisted in your birth could do nothing. We tried everything; but we despaired, all of us. It seemed that there was no hope of the future we had dreamed of. There was just you, Elladan."
"But – " Elladan prompted.
Elrohir finally found his voice. "So what did you do?" he asked softly. "You clearly did something – I am still here! How did I survive?"
"I prayed," Elrond said very simply. "To Elbereth, to any who might be listening, to spare you. And suddenly I knew what I had to do."
Elladan and Elrohir watched, mesmerised, as their father – lost in memory – closed his eyes. He held up one hand, the fingers spread wide. "I put my hand on your chest, and forced every scrap of healing energy I ever possessed into you. And you began to breathe. Your heart started beating. And you cried; it was the most wonderful sound I had ever heard. You were alive. And I still believe I was part of a miracle that night."
Elrohir leaned back against Elladan's chair, aware that his heart now was racing. Suddenly he surged to his feet and began pacing the room, his mind a swirling turmoil of bewildered questions. He turned to his father. "You did not think to tell me this?" he snapped, then stopped. That was not what he had intended to say at all. But before he could take back the words, Elrond stared at him pleadingly.
"Forgive me. The time never seemed right, somehow. But I should have told you before," he admitted.
Elrohir stopped pacing, his sudden anger – a result, he knew, of his confusion – gone as quickly as it had come. He knelt next to his father and hugged him tightly, feeling the familiar childhood sense of security as Elrond returned the embrace. "Thank you, father," he murmured, unconsciously echoing the words spoken so long ago. "Thank you. Goodnight." He turned to his brother. " 'Night, El." He left, closing the door quietly behind him.
Elladan gave a brief wave. "Goodnight, brother." His gaze remained focused on the door for some time, but he made no move to go after his brother. He knew Elrohir would want a little time alone to think about the night's revelations. They would talk later. The news had come as a shock to him, and despite their closeness, it was difficult to imagine how Elrohir would feel.
He cast his mind back over their life together; their fights and arguments, the bickering and teasing, the simple pleasures of always having someone there, to talk to, to share secrets and the discoveries of childhood with. He had always known that Elrohir would understand, would not judge him, and would take his side, a staunch defender come what may. Elrohir had given him a security; the confidence to tackle life head on, safe in the knowledge that no matter what, his twin would always be at his side, supporting him. It was strange – no, impossible – to think how unimaginably different his life would have been without Elrohir.
He came out of his reverie to find his father watching him. "I should have told you before," Elrond confessed. "But at first you were too young, then as you grew it became more and more difficult to broach the subject. The opportunity was lost. But you deserved to know, especially Elrohir."
Elladan nodded. Yes, his brother deserved to know of such a momentous event in his life – in their lives – but equally, he could understand why their parents had found it difficult to speak of. They would have been distraught, and it was scarcely the sort of thing one mentioned in casual conversation. He sighed. "Do you have any more surprises? Are there any more dramatic secrets we should know about?"
His father smiled. "There have been one or two other occasions that have terrified me nearly as much, times when I feared for your lives. But you are both well aware of all those incidents. There are no more dark secrets."
"Good." He stood, and bent to kiss his father. "Goodnight, Adar. I will go and talk to El, I think – he has had long enough to brood."
Elrohir's bedroom lay at the near end of the corridor that housed the twins' rooms. Elladan did not bother to knock, but pushed the door open slightly and peered in. Elrohir lay on the bed, hands clasped behind his head, staring meditatively at the ceiling. Crossing to the bed, Elladan stood gazing down at his brother. "El? Can I come in?"
Elrohir turned his head slightly, and smiled. "You are in," he pointed out. He moved sideways a little, and patted the bed. "Sit down."
Elladan sat as instructed. "I wanted to talk to you. And if you tell me that I am already talking to you, I shall hit you!" He smiled, then frowned. "Are you all right?" he asked.
His brother nodded slowly. "Yes, of course. I was just thinking. It is an odd sensation," he mused. "By rights I think I should be dead; should never have lived. If Father was not the healer he is, I would be. Then what would have happened? What would have happened to you?" He looked at Elladan. "Do you think you would have known? If I had died? If no one said anything?" Elrohir's tone was very serious.
Elladan was about to make an automatic protest, that of course he would have known; when he paused, giving the matter the careful consideration Elrohir both expected and deserved; and wondering about it himself. "Yes," he said at last. "I would have known that something was amiss. I may not have understood why, perhaps, but would have known that something was wrong, some part of me forever missing. Yes."
"So there are no regrets? No sneaking thoughts that you could have been rid of your irritating little brother?"
"Never!" Elladan exclaimed. "Never," he repeated, his voice slightly husky. "El, never say that again. You know I would never change anything."
"I know." Elrohir sat up unexpectedly, and ruffled Elladan's hair. "Come, I have had enough of these morbid thoughts. I think there is a bottle of a rather good red in the sitting room – unless you have already found it!" He led the way into the sitting room they shared, linking the two bedrooms. It was comfortably furnished with tables and chairs, a place where they could entertain friends or simply relax together. Elladan watched while Elrohir retrieved the bottle, unsurprised at his brother's mercurial change of mood – it was typical of Elrohir, who never remained melancholy for long.
Collecting two glasses, he followed Elrohir in unspoken consent out onto the long veranda that linked the three rooms, and sat on the stone balustrade. Elrohir filled both glasses, then raised his in salute.
"To Adar," he suggested. "He proved he really is a very great healer."
"To Naneth," Elladan countered. "I think she had a great deal to put up with, with us." He sipped the wine slowly, savouring the richness on his tongue, and shivered a little in the cool night air. Sounds of music and song drifted up from the hall, and he found himself thinking of the night's astounding disclosures, albeit inadvertent. He glanced at Elrohir.
"To Firienë," they declared together, and raised their glasses again. "May she never stop enriching life," Elladan added.
Elrohir smiled in reply, and moved closer, draping his arm across Elladan's shoulders. "To us," he declared. "We have had some good times together, El. I am glad I did not miss them."
"To us." Silently, they drank.