There is Always Hope: The Firstborn at Helm's Deep
Chapter One: The Arrival and The Loss
Tall rocks clipped the skyline in the distance as the dark cliffs came into view over sweeping plains. The lone rider smiled gently as he thought of his little brother, waiting there with that grin on his face that had charmed his foster father from age five. Although knowing the situation he was in at the moment, he probably wouldn't be smiling. Hopefully he wasn't getting into as much trouble as he did at that age...
The thought was momentarily blown away by a blast of pain from his temple, made worse by the pounding of his white mare's hooves against the resilience of the grass.
A frightened murmur sounded in his head.
Elrohir... they are coming... I can hear them, it cried.
The rider's eyes darkened, pain constricting his chest. "Dartho, gwanur-nin. Hold on, my twin brother," he murmured back, wind sweeping his dark hair from warm cerulean eyes. "Estelio nin. Estelio... Estel. Trust me. Trust... Estel." He felt his brother catch the sliver of humor despite their situation and smiled, forcing his energy to return.
"I will be there soon, Elladan. Please, hold on." The flawless Sindarin spilled from his lips to his brother's ears through the great, dark void.
He received an unseen but perceived nod in return. Each brother silently promised the other that they would have the full reserve of their strength. Elrohir urged the horse on, into the sloping hills that framed their destination. The white mare knew that something was dreadfully wrong with her Elven master and she was growing increasingly skittish as they rushed on through the waving tan blades.
His grey-green cape swirled in the strong gusts from the precipices looming ahead, mixing with the dark streak of his long tresses. The edge of the drop brought them to a momentary stop as the white mare looked for a path to the rocky cliffs. Elrohir felt his grip weakening on the mare's mane, his slumped position against her neck growing more and more tenuous, and he was beginning to fear what would happen should he lose consciousness.
I will hold for him, he thought grimly. I will not fail him now! Not again.
Elrohir whispered another soft encouragement to the young mare and they sped away down the incline toward the the black stone walls shadowed within the deep.
"How many did you say we have?" The dark-haired man demanded, piercing, bright blue eyes settling on a heavily-armored sentry in the centre of the throne room.
"Three-hundred, sir. At most."
His blood froze.
The ranger's expression was practically unchanged but for the clenching of his jaw, the hard, tight set of his brow and high cheekbones giving his face a sharper edge. The legions of Uruk-hai he had seen crossing the plains were at least in the thousands. There was no way they would hold against them, not without reinforcements.
Lots of reinforcements.
As far as he knew there were none to be had. They would have to hold out until Gandalf returned, but Saruman's army would be here long before him.
It was inevitable: for now, for tonight, they would be fighting alone.
A silence overtook the large room, but not even the thundering of an oliphaunt could have penetrated the thick feeling of dread and grim realization that now filled every corner. Legolas and Gimli exchanged a meaningful look, not daring to speak. They didn't have to, as the silence was shattered abruptly when Aragorn made his way to the doors, the booted footfalls echoing across the stone. Legolas caught a quick glimpse of his expression before he was gone in a whirl of cape with the sound of his quick pace lingering down the hallway.
The guards didn't move for a few moments, then left for their assignments and preparations for battle at a sharp command from the lead sentry. Their air was one of obvious shock and Legolas saw the signs of fear and panic that were surely and quickly setting in.
"Well, I must say," Gimli remarked offhandedly, his gruff, heavily-accented tone directed at the elven prince, "this could be a bit difficult. Not that I don't think you and I will make some good sport of half of them, but the other half might prove a problem."
Legolas returned his friend's dark grin. Yes, this could prove to be a problem.
The Mirkwood elf left the dwarf's side, striding to the large double doors and heading down the hall toward the keep in search of Aragorn.
A few minutes of searching brought him to the top of the wall overlooking the sweeping, tawny plains of Rohan. Legolas' green suede tunic and fair hair stood out slightly from the brown, grey and dirty gold of armoured men and rock walls that filled the sturdy keep, and the soldiers moving everywhere couldn't help but stare as he passed them, the embodiment of all the grace and beauty of his people.
His skill as a warrior had been seen on the plains during the warg attack, and the stunning display was not soon to be forgotten by the surviving Rohirrim. Now that talent was hidden beneath smooth muscle and quiet poise, waiting only for the chance to be unleashed on an unwary Uruk-hai.
Or perhaps a wary one.
The prince caught sight of his objective immediately. Aragorn was standing on the pathway over the wall, his ragged leather coat floating around his knees, his dark hair flowing in the breeze, two guards posted on either side of him some meters away to keep an eye open for the Uruk-hai. Legolas closed his eyes briefly while ascending the keep as the sweet wind caressed his face, pulling his mane of light gold behind him into its current. The grassy countryside was truly beautiful, even with grey clouds slowly darkening on the horizon, polluting its glory.
However, the ranger's broad back was turned to that beauty and the yet-hidden chaos it would soon sport.
The stairways leading down both sides of the keep were filled to the brim with ragged Rohirrim men and lads carrying swords, shields, armour and bows, each man hurrying to wherever he needed to be at the moment. Theoden was making his rounds on the far side of the wall, the perfect picture of royal leadership in his tunic of rich red, deep green and bright gold, giving curt orders for women and children to be taken to caves and different supplies to be gathered. Gamling was tall and attentive at his side as they assessed where and what would be coming upon them, and what arrangements needed to be made.
Aragorn's eyes were not, however, fixed on the king, nor on any of his soldiers. They were settled lightly on a small boy, no more than ten years old perhaps, standing rigidly next to a very tall, very shaggy Rohirrim sentry. In his hands was a large sword, probably three-fourths of his height if held vertically, and his impossibly small arms were shaking with the weight.
But it was the look on the boy's dirty face that told Legolas Thranduilion why the Dunadan was watching him. The huge blue eyes were wide and bright with unshed tears, his pale cheeks and quivering chin telling all. His shoulders were straight and his head held high, pride refusing to let him cry in front of all these battle-hardened grown-ups. The fear on his face was so overwhelming that the Mirkwood elf almost had to look away. It was obvious how tragic and futile it would be if they used the lad as one of their numbers.
That boy wouldn't be able to lift the sword in his own defence, let alone slay a seven or eight-foot-tall, two-hundred-pound Uruk-hai warrior.
He would surely be killed.
Aragorn didn't turn, but Legolas knew that the ranger sensed him standing behind him.
"...Why do they have to do this?"
The elf looked at Aragorn. His tone was a soft; a slow, confused inquiry, almost to himself. "Why must they be forced to die for such meaningless battle? Why does Saruman think that this will benefit him in any way...?" He paused, his voice dropping to a barely audible whisper. "How could he be so heartless, so cruel, as to do this to one so small as he? What has he done to deserve such a fate?"
Legolas' answer was just as soft. "Evil has no reasons but selfishness and control. Saruman does not feel love or understand beauty any longer. If he were still capable of such feelings, he would never have done anything to harm anyone in Middle-earth. Nor would he have created such armies to begin with. Greed and a lust for power has taken his heart, blinding him to all else."
Aragorn stood silently for a few moments, taking in their surroundings, the panic, the fear, the grim, resigned preparation. Legolas stayed with him, giving his friend the quiet comfort he needed, waiting. Then the Dunadan's resolve came steadily.
"I will not watch them die."
"Nor will I," the prince agreed. "I could not let these edain (humans) go into such peril without aid. The guilt alone would be enough to end immortality for one of my people."
Aragorn turned and faced his friend, pain glittering in deep, blue eyes. "You could not simply have left for the White Shores," he said. It was half statement, half question. His tone was almost rhetorical. "Could you not have left for a land in which such evil does not exist?"
"The knowledge that evil such as his does exist in other lands would have followed me there unending," Legolas said firmly. "My father could not have convinced me to do anything other than stay and aid my allies."
The ranger grinned. "I am glad that you and Gimli are here with us." His smile faltered. "However... though I would miss you if you left, I would also see you safe in Valinor, rather than in the midst of all this despair and hatred. And grief," he added, almost as an afterthought. "It would be comforting to know that you and-" Aragorn cut himself off.
"...I am sorry."
Legolas could not help but smile as he placed a hand on the man's shoulder. It was unusual for Aragorn to speak of this, but not an impossible occurance.
"She will not leave. You know she will not, not while she can still be here with you in the world of her birth. I can only hope she made her decision, as I did." He would have liked to say he knew, but it was unclear as of yet whether Arwen Undomiel had left for the Grey Havens. Her father had been very adamant of her departure, and one did not refuse Lord Elrond Peredhil lightly.
But then, this was not so light a matter.
"Heed me, Estel," the elf told him, a slight smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. "I do not dread pain, nor even death, come what may from my choice to remain here. I do not wish to die, to leave my companions, to experience the bitterness of mortality... But if I should die, then I will simply find my way to the white shores by a different route, as all do one way or another. There is no fear when you remember that." He grinned. "Most of the time, anyway."
Aragorn returned the grin, but his heart ached for his lifelong friend. To see him suffer and die at the hands of those dark creatures in the hills would have broken him; he would never have been able to recover from that.
And Arwen... If she were to be harmed-
He shook his head mentally. 'No. Arwen is even now sailing on the grey ships for the Havens,' he told himself. 'She will never be hurt. She will never be murdered by brutal creatures howling for her blood. She will remain in the green lands of Valinor, with her father.'
Even now the ranger couldn't really accept that Elrond would be leaving them. His brothers... his childhood friends... Many of the elves had already sailed across the sea. And while he would never wish his meeting with Arwen away, he longed for an end to the rift that had grown between him and his foster father since that day, the day they had declared their love. It wasn't a complete end to the Elrond's relation as his father; he knew he loved him as much as he did the elf-lord. But still, any weakness in that bond unsettled him, and he wished it could disappear.
A sudden movement from Legolas brought a sharp twitch from his fingers resting on the Dunadan's shoulder, making him look up at the elf. He had stiffened, straightening up with a stern expression of concentration.
"...Something draws near."
The Mirkwood prince released Aragorn and jumped to a higher vantage point atop the raised railing of the wall, causing the two human guards to jump in their posts. His face was intense, vibrant blue eyes searching quickly for anything in the wide, empty canvas of grass and rock. His bow had appeared in his hands reflexively from its place on his back, the smooth handle clenched in white knuckles.
Aragorn followed suit, leaning over the edge to see what had drawn the elf's attention. Visions of bloodthirsty beasts and towering trolls flitted across his memory, and he strained to see what dark scout had travelled across the plains to assess them.
It was not what he expected.
A single horse and rider were becoming visible over the top of the hill. The figure had a cape and its hood was back, but it was just far away enough as to obscure any colours. As it came closer, he realized the horse was white, and for a split second his heart filled with hope. Could it be Gandalf returned so soon?
Yes, the cape was grey, but the hair was dark, almost black...
It couldn't be...?
More soldiers had gathered to see what was approaching, attracted instantly by the elf's alertness and their lord's seeming worry. The hooves of the creature could be heard plainly now, growing louder. Who could be coming? A messenger of Gondor perhaps?
Legolas squinted slightly and, through a break in the rider's whipping hair, caught sight of his face as he straightened from leaning forward on the horse's neck. "Estel," he called behind him.
The soldiers looked at each other blankly at the curt use of Elvish.
Aragorn leaned forward even further, so far that the guard next to him had to restrain himself from grabbing the back of his lord's tunic to keep him from falling to his death. Finally the ranger saw the rider clearly and had to stop himself from crying aloud with surprise and joy, sucking in a quick breath.
Legolas and Aragorn exchanged a brief look of happiness before rushing away toward the staircase.
"Open the gates!" The elf yelled, skidding down the stairs and leaping off to the ground fifteen feet before he reached the bottom. Aragorn was flying behind him in a mad dash, nearly tripping on the last step in his rush to meet his elven brother at the gate.
Bewildered, the men pulled away the large beams sealing the door and strained at them 'till they opened with a loud groan. In clattered a pure white mare, on whose back was a regal figure clad in a grey cloak.
The horse rushed in shining with sweat; it was obvious she had worked hard to get here swiftly, and she skittered back and forth nervously, fear rolling her eyes. A soft command in Elvish quieted the beast, and Elrohir Elrondion swung a leg down to the ground, soft leather boots making no sound as they touched stone. His dark brown hair flowed smoothly about his face, still strangely perfect with two simple braids, his complexion pale with a slight flush on his cheeks.
However, Aragorn could see as he approached a weariness in his brother's gaze that he had only seen in the most dire of straits, a hidden truth that only he knew. The ranger ran up to meet his beloved elder brother, a smile lighting up his face as none the Rohirrim had seen.
The elf saw his little brother immediately, and his identical smile followed. The armoured men closest to him stood in wonder of this new elf and the light that he emitted, muddying the flow of men that came rushing in and out of the passageways. The women and children huddled against the walls spoke in whispers, awe playing across every face, and they watched as Lord Aragorn came to meet the new arrival.
"Mae govanen, well-met Elrohir," the ranger greeted him, clasping his elbows before enveloping him in a tight bear hug. Releasing the elf to arm's length, he gazed happily into his eyes. "What brings you here so late?"
Elrohir's grin widened despite the obvious tension. "I was trying to drive you skittish," he said with forced nonchalance. "The look on your face would have been priceless if I had come just before the battle started. I hope you've been keeping out of trouble?" He was speaking in Westron, probably to embarrass him in front of the other humans and lighten the situation. Valar knew he had no desire to speak of what had happened on the plains...
"Please tell me you at least managed to stay away from any cliffs this time?" Elrohir continued.
"Actually, no," Legolas interjected lightly, ignoring the ranger's glare. "He went clean over into a river. On the back of a warg no less."
"On the back of a warg?" His tone was incredulous despite himself.
"No," Aragorn corrected in a low voice, staring angrily at Legolas, who was grinning. "My arm was caught in the saddle and it dragged me with it; I couldn't help it. I did not purposefully attempt to fall!"
"Oh come now, Estel," Legolas teased, "you would have probably done it anyway without the help of that beast. Just like old times, hmm?" he commented, slapping him on the arm.
The murderous look on the ranger's face was enough to get a snort of laughter from the Mirkwood elf, who was trying to look as stoic as possible. Elrohir looked as though he would laugh as well and his mouth opened to allow it, but then a twinge went through the muscles of his face and he cut off, seriousness replacing his mirth. His eyes were dark, clouded. His grip on his sibling's forearms was strong now, and his brow furrowed in concentration.
Aragorn sobered instantly, knowing now that something was definitely wrong.
"Did you have any trouble with the orcs?" he questioned quietly, his left hand moving up to his brother's shoulder before checking his forehead for any signs of fever. "You aren't wounded?"
"No," he assured him, shaking his head, "nothing serious." Strangely the negative answer seemed to make the elf even more upset. Elrohir met Aragorn's gaze steadily. "I must speak with you. Ada sent us to..." He trailed off, his eyes flickering.
Wait a moment. Us? The ranger realized just what seemed so wrong as the words rang through his head. Of course! How could he have missed the lack of the elder twin with his brother's arrival?
"Elrohir," Aragorn said slowly, "Where is Elladan?"
The elf didn't answer and the Dunadan's heart sank. The younger twin was looking down at the ground now, his features half-hidden once more by his hair.
"Elrohir?" Legolas stepped closer to the Noldor elf, blue eyes intense and stern with apprehension.
He still didn't look up, and Estel was stricken with a deep fear. "Gwador-nin," he pleaded. "Please." The few humans who had continued to stare at them were drawn by the sudden change in manner of the three men. Elrohir finally tilted his head up just enough to let his eyes catch his little brother's.
Aragorn was shocked to see tears welling within them like drops of dew. "...Elrohir..."
The elf swallowed, trying to get his vocal chords to work as he choked on his emotions. Despair came into his words at last. "Aragorn, I... we were attacked by Orcs. He..." A choking sob made him pause.
"Estel... I lost him."
The ranger thought his heart would shatter from the pain. He cried out in disbelief and sorrow at the thought of Elladan being lost. It couldn't be! It just couldn't-
Elrohir realized what he had just said when he saw both man and elf's faces and immediately shook his head. "No! No, no he is not dead, Estel, I can feel him! But, he is wounded, and..." Aragorn's features relaxed in relief and he breathed deeply, but his next words did little to comfort him.
The quiet statement sent shivers down the Dunadan's spine as effectively as a freezing wind.
"The Uruk-hai have taken him."
King Theoden watched as the dark-haired man entered his gates and dismounted to speak with Aragorn, a great joy encompassing his features. The man seemed to know him, being obviously happy to see the ranger and vice versa, judging from their warm embrace. Perhaps he brings news of the assistance Lord Aragorn spoke of seeking, he mused, a tiny grain of hope taking root in his chest.
He turned to his aide. "Gamling, get all the men together. Make final rounds of the caves for any more recruits," he said heavily, a soft sigh issuing from his lips. "Inform me of their preparations."
Gamling bowed curtly and took his leave in the direction of the path to the glittering caves.
Looking closer at the man, Theoden realized that something was indeed different about him, but it was not until he approached them that he realized there were unmistakable similarities between him and the Prince of Mirkwood. Pointed ears poked up from under dark, smooth tresses, and a soft glow was coming from his skin and clothing alike. A strong light was kindled in his eyes.
This was no man, but one of the Firstborn: an elf, probably from the ranger's far havens of Rivendell or Lothlorien.
The king strode down the stone road leading to the gates which were being reinforced, waiting for Aragorn to acknowledge him. As he stood patiently, however, it was quite plain even from twenty or thirty-feet away that something was amiss. The Dunadan's expression was dark and he let out a small cry of dismay.
Theoden decided to move forward and see what was the matter, and in doing so he caught the last soft words of the elf:
"The Uruk-hai have taken him."
The king's heart went out to this new being. He knew what it meant to be taken by Orcs or Uruks, and it was not a pleasant end. Aragorn saw him coming and made a small bow, not releasing the dark-haired elf's arms. He was turned away to hide his face, but a small shaking of his shoulders told all. He was crying.
"My lord, this is Master Elrohir, son of Elrond of the house of Rivendell," he introduced swiftly.
King Theoden gave a nod. "Lord Aragorn, who is it of which he speaks?" he asked him, sympathy in his stern gaze.
"Our brother, my lord," he said quickly, his expression silencing the slight question in the king's eyes. "They were travelling here to meet us for battle, but they met with the Uruk-hai on the plains and Elladan, his twin, was taken captive."
Theoden was slightly taken aback. One of the sons of Elrond had been taken? This was not good. "How long ago?"
"A day and a half," was the soft, tortured reply.
Theoden glanced at Legolas and Aragorn and nodded at the keep. "Come, let us go to the throne room and discuss this there. It will provide a bit more seclusion," he offered. The ranger nodded, and putting an arm around Elrohir's shoulders he led him to follow behind the king, Legolas treading silently behind them.
Elrohir tried to compose himself as they ascended the stairs to the king's chambers, wanting to maintain at least some of his dignity. They would find Elladan, they'd have to! Estel and Legolas would help him find and rescue his twin, and all would be well again. He didn't think his spirit could bear any alternative. Elrohir stood before Theoden in the stone room, straightening to face him properly.
The king's look was one of pity and great weariness. "I am sorry for your loss, Master Elrohir. When was the last time you saw Master Elladan?"
"When the Orcs attacked, followed by the Uruks," he said dully. "We fought them off as best we could, but their numbers were great and they overtook Elladan. They dragged him off his horse and swarmed me, taking him toward their legions in the hills. He... he bade me to leave, to find help and return, just before they-"
The Noldor elf stopped involuntarily and drew back his shoulders, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. He faced the king with renewed determination. "He was struck across his temple after they took him, and I could not follow. Luthien carried me to safety."
Aragorn would have smiled at the mare's name, but the situation was too tense for that as he listened to what had taken place. For some reason his brother's statement abruptly stuck out, echoing back at him.
...he was struck...and I could not follow...
Panic seized Aragorn and he looked at Legolas with wide eyes.
The Mirkwood elf looked puzzled for a moment, then it clicked, and his jaw dropped open slightly, his features taut with grim understanding. "Ai, Elbereth," he murmured, turning to Elrohir from his place at his left. His tone was understanding. "Elrohir, you were hurt in the skirmish, were you not?"
The guilt and grief on his face ran deep. "Yes," he admitted.
Theoden could understand why elf and ranger would be upset about either brother being injured, but it seemed that this one was not mortally wounded, and he hadn't seen why it would be overly surprising. What was unapparent to him was the sudden urgency and blame the Eldar bore for his wounding.
"Aragorn, what is going on?" he inquired, eyes flitting back and forth between Noldor elf and Dunedain ranger.
It was Legolas who answered.
"Elven twins are a very rare occurrence, and when two are born, they share a deep connection, as all brothers do. They are capable of sensing each other's emotions, using internal communication. And feeling each other's pain," he said quietly. The statement hung suspended for a moment, then he continued. "But in some cases, the bond is so strong that actual physical manifestations can appear on each of the twins to the other." He took a deep breath. "This is the case for Elladan and Elrohir."
"My lord," Aragorn addressed him, "if Elladan is not found, and rescued, then whatever happens to him will happen to Elrohir. And if the Uruk-hai kill him, then..." He could not finish. The pain on his face was clear as he looked upon his older brother's battered form.
The king was flabbergasted. He knew he shouldn't have been, seeing as he knew that elves could also die of grief. But still, if the implications of this were true-
Yes, surely enough, there was a dark bruise on the right side of Elrohir's head. He had said that Elladan had been struck, not he. The elf's pale pallor and slightly heavy breathing became more apparent and his doubts vanished.
"His twin was taken while distracted by an injury not his own?" Theoden asked softly. Elrohir's head was bowed low.
"Gwador, it was not your fault," Aragorn told him softly, his eyes imploring the elf to believe him. "It could not be helped."
Elrohir opened his mouth to reply but was stopped by a sharp pain in his abdomen. A scream echoed loudly in his head and realized it was his own-
No, not his own. Elladan's!
The elf's knees buckled as the sudden, excruciating pain in his stomach extended practically all the way through him into his back.
Aragorn called his brother's name frantically, reaching for him as he fell into a sitting position on the cold stone floor. Long, slender arms wrapped tightly around his midriff as he choked on the vacuum replacing his lungs. The burning agony stole all breath from his body; all he could manage were weak gasps.
Aragorn knelt at his side, grabbing his shoulders and forcing him to look at him. "Elrohir, please, what is happening?!" he cried. "Elrohir?!" His brother's face had gone white; his eyes were wide and unseeing and his mouth moved to form words that wouldn't come except in a rasping whisper, if that.
"El... Elladan... Dartho- dartho!"
"What is he saying?" Theoden demanded, beginning to grow alarmed.
"Hold on," Legolas translated, sharing a grim look with the king.
An abrupt scream shattered the quiet and resonated at ear-shattering volume around the room as Elrohir felt the blade the Uruk-hai had used on his sibling twist violently in the wound. Out in the hornburg it was heard, and the people stood still, silenced by the unearthly cry that pierced their already desperate souls. It echoed out over field and mountain, in cave and keep, through the very heart of the earth.
The ranger watched helplessly as Elrohir released his suffering with his voice, emitting a loud, long, keening wail until his lungs were emptied again. He opened watering eyes just long enough to see his little brother hovering over him, and then the pain took him completely.
"Legolas, get my bag of herbs and meet me in the glittering caves," the ranger ordered sharply, his tone rough and terse. "Now!"
Without another word he slipped one hand under Elrohir's legs and another around his shoulders and swept the elf up into his arms, rushing toward the doors.