Author's Note: I have never been bitten by a plot bunny quite so hard as I was bitten today... thanks to the MC group for giving me these ideas!
Disclaimer: Tolkien's, not mine. Unfortunately.
Two and One
"No, 'Dan," said the little elf. "You have to put your fingers like this, and hold your arm up straight."
Another elf, identical in all but subtle ways to the first, frowned and adjusted his hands on the child's bow he held. His face, just losing the chubbiness of childhood, was furrowed in concentration, and just the tip of his tongue showed between his lips. His brother, who stood next to him, demonstrating, wore the same expression as he watched.
Elladan concentrated, eyes on the target, and slowly, he pulled the bowstring back, held it there, and then let go. His twin brother Elrohir, as he watched, mimed Elladan's actions, as though demonstrating. When the arrow flew towards the target, and stuck near its center--a respectable shot for an elf so young--it might have been either one of them who had released the arrow, save that only one actually held a bow.
Up in the balcony, his arm around his wife's waist, Elrond watched. A fond smile touched his lips. "Quite the little warriors, aren't they?" he said.
Celebrian was watching her sons intently. "It's as though they don't even realize there are two of them," she said thoughtfully.
"One soul... two bodies..." murmured Elrond. Just as he and Elros had been. That memory did not bring him grief now; he had long ago ceased to mourn his brother, and now remembered him with fondness.
"Hmm, yes," she said, smiling. "Just that."
Down in the courtyard, the twins had finished their supply of arrows and were running to collect those they had shot. Most of them had stuck firmly in the target; but some had sailed on beyond. They made a game of finding these, shouting to each other, competing to see who got the most. Finally, Elladan won--by one arrow--and the two elflings made their way back, intending to shoot some more.
"Elladan! Elrohir!" called Celebrian. Two identical faces swiveled up to look at her. "Come in; it's nearly time to eat!"
"Please, Nana, just one more time?" Elladan asked.
"Yes, we're getting lots better," said Elrohir. "We'll be great warriors some day, and we need to practice."
"Ah, then," Elrond said, "Your mother and I will just have to eat all the honey-cakes ourselves."
The twins dashed for the door, talking over each other's words in their eagerness.
After making the twins go back for their bows and arrows ("Good warriors do not leave their weapons behind," he sternly admonished them), Elrond followed them to the small dining room they used when there were no important guests to entertain in the Great Hall.
Dinner was a noisy affair, with the young elves recounting tales of their skill with their bows, and their elders nodding, smiling, and now and again keeping an elbow out of a bowl of vegetables or a strand of hair out of a tureen of gravy. The promised honey-cakes, however, quieted the twins' chatter a good deal; and it was a sticky, contented pair of elflings whom Celebrian ushered from the table.
There was a knock at the door. "Yes?" Elrond said.
The door opened, and a tall elf entered. As all the guards of Rivendell did, she wore light armor, and the scabbard belted around her waist held a sword. She nodded his respect to Elrond and said, "There's a woman at the gates, of the race of Men. She says she wants a meal and a bed; and she's offered to work for them, if we want."
"Let her in," Elrond replied. "I'll not refuse anyone aid. Is she strong enough to do the work she offers to do?"
"Yes, Lord Elrond," the guard said. She knew Elrond was not attempting to take advantage of the woman. Humans were often a proud race; many of them, no matter how poor, would not take anything they had not earned--while others, pretending to be poor, tried to live on the charity of others. In either case, Elrond knew, it was best to let the woman earn her keep, and keep her pride.
"Have one of the guest rooms made ready," Elrond said, "and tomorrow, she may help the cooks with breakfast."
The guard had expected this response; but she had wanted to be sure nevertheless. Humans were a mixed lot; some good, some evil; and any dealings with them had to be conducted with caution.
Mara took up her small bundle of belongings and followed the guard to the room she had mentioned. "This is such a beautiful place," she said. "Who rules here?"
"The Lord Elrond," replied the guard proudly. She did not see Mara's small smile of triumph.
The human followed the elf to a room with a large window and simple, elegant furniture--pine, Mara thought to herself, and well-made, too...
"Ring this bell if you need anything," the guard replied, showing her a small brass instrument. "I will be just down the hall; and you had best get some sleep; the cooks start early."
"When do you want me to work, then?" she inquired.
"They'll have someone call you, I think," the guard said. "Do you have need of anything else?"
"No," Mara replied. "Thank you."
The guard nodded as she closed the door on her way out.
Mara took a cautious step forward into the room, placed her bundle down on a chair, and sank carefully onto the bed.
Alone again, she thought to herself. Always, always alone...
She stopped those thoughts with great exertion, and forced herself to summon a burst of anger and think instead of the snobbish elf-woman who had conducted her to her room.
It had been such an effort not to slap the pretentious guard across the face! They thought nothing of humans; never had, never would. The elves took pleasure in the humans' pain, and most likely, tomorrow they would make a laughing-stock of her, the scullery-drudge, the dirty, stupid human.
Well, that was as it had to be. She would endure their taunts, yes; and she would put on the face of the innocent, trusting woman who had no inkling of the elves' true evil!--but then, ah, yes, then she would show them.
She found herself too angry to sleep. That was good; in sleep were the nightmares she could never shake, could never be rid of. She sprang from the bed and began pacing the room, her booted feet crushing the fibers of the rugs as she walked over them. She would have to know the layout of this place, and of the people who lived here. Especially, she would have to find out all she could about the one called Elrond.
Elrond... that name sent a fresh surge of rage through her. If it were not for him, her family... little Callie--
'No. Do not think about that,' she ordered herself, shutting that part of her mind with practiced firmness. She turned her thoughts once again to her plans.
Closing the book softly, Celebrian looked down at the two sleeping elflings. Their faces had relaxed into the peace of sleep, their eyelids half-closed. They were beautiful, she thought; the best sons in all of Arda.
The twins were identical in appearance, but their mother had no trouble telling them apart. Elladan, the oldest, was an intelligent youngster with a gentle heart and a love of learning, healing, and the stories of the old days. He had appointed himself his brother's protector; and though Elrohir sometimes chafed at the idea of his minutes-older brother as a guide, both of them seemed to regard the arrangement as something that was the way it ought to be. In Elladan, Celebrian could see the beginnings of Elrond's wisdom, strength, intelligence, and compassion.
Elrohir was different. He, too, had received the heritage of his father; but the younger twin had been given the traits of Elrond the warrior. He far outmatched any other elfling his age in swordplay, archery, and riding; only Elladan, with his twin as private tutor, could hope to match him. Already, Elrohir's young mind showed a grasp of strategy and tactics that amazed his teachers. And, though the youngster was untried and untested, Celebrian could see in the young elf the courage of a budding warrior.
They complemented each other, like two halves of a whole, like two pieces of the same puzzle. They each knew what the other was thinking and feeling; they completed each other's sentences; and each intuitively knew, in mock battles or games, what the other would do next. Elladan's insight perfectly complemented Elrohir's zest for life; Elladan protected his brother emotionally, even as Elrohir tutored him in the arts of warfare.
'One soul in two bodies,' Celebrian thought to herself, as she softly closed the door to the twins' bedchamber. Yes; that was so.
During the next day, the elves assigned to kitchen duty that day came to appreciate Mara's competent, cheerful help. Though they were a bit worried about the dark circles under her eyes, and inquired whether she had slept well, she assured them that, yes, she had never had a better bed.
The human woman seemed to be everywhere; carrying and fetching, scouring pots and pans, carefully turning newly-baked cakes out of their pans and onto clean plates. She seemed fascinated with elves, and asked many questions, especially about Elrond and his family.
Of the twins, they had plenty to tell her; the youngsters' antics had amused and exasperated every inhabitant of Rivendell by turns, and it wasn't long before Mara had heard a dozen accounts of elfling pranks and babyish escapades. Over boiling applesauce, simmering stew, and lumps of rising bread dough, she learned that Elrond's young sons were the darlings of everyone in Rivendell. They were even, it seemed, loved by the cook who had been splattered with green paint, and by the maiden whose squirrel-chewed dress would never be quite the same.
Mara stored their accounts in her mind, careful to analyze each one for every bit of information it contained. Slowly, with that information and the camouflage a cook's apron provided, she built up a mental map of Rivendell--its guard rooms, its libraries, its gardens, and, most importantly, its sleeping chambers. And, by the end of the day, she knew exactly what she had to do.
Daeomae: Yep, a cliffie. Evil, aren't I? :)
Tinkerbell: I shall continue the story as long as people review (or until it's finished).