Till Death Us Do Part
The end had come with a terrifying suddenness. A patrol to eradicate a nest of orcs that still infested the passes of the mountains had gone horribly wrong, when the orcs had proved far more numerous than anyone had suspected. The battle had been both bitter and protracted – and more desperate, more vicious than feared. One of the orcs had stared at Elladan, its yellow eyes widening in recognition. It had given a shrill, high ululation of triumph, and even more of the creatures had come boiling out of the cave mouth.
The orc's mailed fist slammed into his head, sending Elladan to his knees. Dazed, his head ringing, he knelt on hands and knees on the damp ground, clinging doggedly to consciousness, only vaguely aware of the sounds of battle which seemed to fade and crescendo at random. Dimly, he could sense others standing over him protectively, hacking and slashing at the attacking hordes, preventing them from reaching him while he was so vulnerable, so incapable of defending himself.
At length, the battle sounds finally faded away as his head cleared, and he began to push himself upright. The warriors of Imladris were in the ascendancy, the orcs decreasing to ten; five; only two remaining. The fight moved away from him, and he watched as the two final orcs, desperate now, were surrounded by a small knot of elves.
He watched, only to fall to his knees again as a knife-thrust of agony stabbed through his chest. He gave a choked cry of pain, clamping his arm to his side, biting back a cry as he hunched over against the searing agony.
He could hear cries of despair and horror, coming from a great distance away, and wondered hazily what else was wrong. Biting back the pain, he once again pushed himself to his knees and drew his sword, determined not to die like this, huddled on the ground at the feet of the enemy. Then Glorfindel was beside him, one arm placed possessively and protectively around his shoulders, helping him to stand.
"Elladan? Elladan, can you hear me? You must come, now." His voice was urgent, yet curiously gentle.
Instinctively, Elladan began to stand, but he doubled over again, stifling a cry of pain as a fresh wave of agony washed over him.
Glorfindel's voice came again, sharp now, sounding frantic. "Elladan? Are you injured? Tell me!" he demanded.
Elladan nodded jerkily, and drew a shuddering breath. "My side," he gasped. He glanced downwards at his arm, which was still pressed hard against his side to combat the pain. He drew it aside a little to reveal the deep stab wound.
To his amazement, there was nothing there. His clothing was intact, apart from minor tears and rips, and there was no sign of the blood which he had felt seeping between his fingers. Confused, he lifted his gaze to Glorfindel. "I – I don't understand," he whispered. The expression of intense sadness on Glorfindel's face deepened, and suddenly Elladan knew. Glorfindel's fear and compassion; the cries he had heard; the hideous pain he felt from a wound which seemed not to exist – all made sense. That, and his own awareness.
"El," he breathed. "Elrohir!" He span around, his eyes going unerringly to a single point between the trees, where a small cluster of warriors bent over something on the ground. "Elrohir!" He ran, staggering a little, ignoring the pain – which he knew now was not his own – and the clustered warriors parted before him.
Elrohir lay on the damp, leaf-deep ground, one hand pressed to his side, his fingers wet with blood. A spreading crimson stain soaked through his tunic and seeped into the leaves below. His eyes were closed and his face grey, and his breathing sounded rough and ragged. However, as Elladan dropped to his knees beside his twin, Elrohir's eyes flickered open, and a grimace that could have been a smile crossed his face. "Elladan," he said soundlessly.
One bloodstained hand groped upwards, seeking contact, and Elladan seized it tightly. Carefully, he pulled Elrohir towards him, resting him against his knees, holding his brother as if he would never let him go. "Hold on, little brother," he said desperately. "Hold on. Glorfindel is here, we can send someone to Imladris to get help. Someone will be here soon. Elrohir, it will be all right!" He could feel Elrohir's warm blood soaking into his leg, but spoke in frantic denial, unable to accept the truth he knew – the truth they all knew.
Elrohir shook his head weakly, and gave another faint smile. He licked his lips, leaving a slight taint of red behind. "Sorry, El," he breathed. "Not this time. I think this may be more than just a scratch." He turned slightly, moving fractionally closer to Elladan, and stifled a gasp of pain. With the hand that did not cling desperately to Elrohir's, Elladan groped for the neck of his cloak, tearing it open and ripping out the pin that held it fastened. He wadded the cloak up into a pad, pressing it tightly to the deep, gaping hole in Elrohir's side, ignoring his brother's weak cry of pain.
"I am sorry, El," he murmured. "We need to stop the bleeding. Please, Elrohir – it will be all right! Stay with me, El," he pleaded desperately.
Elrohir's eyes had drifted closed again. "Leave it, El – please," he murmured, pushing the wadded cloak away. "Leave it. Just – hold me?"
Elladan nodded helplessly. He cradled Elrohir more closely, his free hand caressing his brother's head. His hand was soaked with Elrohir's blood, and left a smear of red on his face and hair. Elladan knew that he had little healing skill – and knew that this injury would be beyond even his father's ability to heal – but there was one thing he could do.
Elrohir relaxed into Elladan's embrace with a sigh, the lines of pain on his face easing as Elladan used their bond to find and lock the agony away. Even the faint echo of his twin's pain made Elladan gasp and shudder, but he resolutely continued to block it off, freeing Elrohir from the torment. Elrohir's eyes opened one last time, clear now and once more free from pain. He gave a very faint smile. "Thank you, El. Love you – forgive me?"
The grip on Elladan's hand tightened momentarily, then slackened, as Elrohir's fingers slipped lifelessly from his brother's hold. Elladan bent over his twin's body, cradling him, weeping softly. "I love you too, little brother," he whispered through tears. "El, what am I to do without you? I will miss you so much."
Around them, the warriors of Imladris knelt; their heads bowed, right hand to left breast; in homage at the passing of one of the twin lords of Imladris.
Elladan awoke with a gasp, fighting the persistent, clinging tendrils of sleep. The dream – the nightmare – had again seemed so real, so horribly vivid. He took a deep breath, brushing away the lingering tears from the horror of the dream. Throwing back the covers, he crossed to the window, then stepped out onto the terrace and gazed out over the valley, fighting to calm himself. Over the last few years, the dream had come with a relentless regularity, the details ever unchanging. Try as he might he could not stop the dreams, could not escape the horror they brought. Night after night he awoke, shaking and crying from terror, sorrow and grief, until he feared to sleep at all. Helping himself to bottles from the extensive wine cellars beneath Imladris he had even tried drinking himself into oblivion, or drugging himself using supplies from the infirmary – supplies that he and Elrohir had inventoried together, in happier times. Nothing helped, and he had quickly abandoned that idea, for it solved nothing – and the nightmares had in any case continued.
He sighed as a knock at the door sounded. Turning, he called, "Come in!" and waited. As he had suspected, it was Glorfindel.
"Elladan? I heard you call out. Were you dreaming again, elfling?"
Elladan nodded curtly. "Yes. You know I was."
Glorfindel came into the room and joined Elladan on the terrace. "Still? Even after so long?"
Elladan shrugged. "Time has changed nothing – you know that. I still miss El just as much as the day he died. More, if anything; for I know now that it is real, and he will not return." He paused, gazing bleakly out of the window. "It still surprises me that I survived his death." He glanced at Glorfindel. "I never sought to take my own life, you know that – but there were many times when I wished I had died with him." He fell silent, then added softly, "There still are. And next week – above all else, I dread next week."
Glorfindel remained infuriatingly quiet, waiting expectantly. Elladan sighed. "You know very well that it is our conception day. The one hundredth since he died. And just as before, I will try very hard to pretend that it is just another day, that I am not thinking of him all the time; remembering."
"Then think of him. Remember. Celebrate his life; everything that made Elrohir who he was." Glorfindel sighed. "Elladan, you have grieved for long enough. If you are truly to survive his death, you must begin to live again. You are not the only one who loved him, who misses him." He raised a hand in defence against Elladan's unvoiced protest. "I know that our grief, our loss, is not the same. But we loved him as well."
"I do live – " Elladan began in half-hearted protest.
Glorfindel shook his head. "No. You do not live – you merely exist. You do what you must; you function and run Imladris. You do all that is necessary – and you do it well. But you take no pleasure in anything now. You rarely smile, or laugh, or take joy in life. When was the last time you spent a night beneath the stars? When was the last time you walked in the rain for the sheer pleasure of feeling the drops on your face? When was the last time you took joy in the first snowdrop; a rainbow; the dew on a spider's web; or the sight of fox cubs playing in the leaves? When was the last time you laughed? This is not living, Elladan – it is merely existing. Elrohir would not want this!"
Elladan turned away. He could not deny Glorfindel's words, for every one was true. "I try," he whispered. "I try – but it is hard, Glorfindel."
Glorfindel nodded, and placed one hand on his shoulder in gentle, sympathetic support. "I know," he said softly. "But if you cannot move on …" he hesitated. "Perhaps it is time you again considered sailing West, for your own peace of mind. Your parents will be there, and you may find healing there."
"No," Elladan replied flatly. "I promised my father that I would continue to care for Imladris for as long as I could – and I promised to stay until Aragorn, and especially Arwen, passed. I will hold to those vows, no matter what the cost. I will not sail. Not yet."
Glorfindel nodded again. "Then share your grief with Arwen and Aragorn – for they also loved Elrohir as a brother. Share your memories. Speak of him with love, and laughter." As Elladan turned to him in puzzlement, he added: "I sent for them. I do not think you should brood alone – not at this time. They should arrive in a day or two."
"You presume much, Glorfindel!" Elladan snapped. "I do not need them, or anyone. Just leave me. I need no-one else!"
"No?" The scepticism in Glorfindel's voice was clear. "Then I will leave you, elfling. Goodnight." He left, closing the door silently.
Elladan cursed softly, already regretting his harsh words. Glorfindel meant well, he knew. But enduring the well-meaning sympathy of others was yet another burden he faced daily, and he tired of it.
With a sigh he returned to his bed, realising he should at least attempt to rest, even if he could not face sleep again that night. He lay, wakeful and sleepless – and mercifully dreamless – until the sky lightened with dawn, and the soft twitter of birds heralded yet another day.
Aragorn, Arwen, and their entourage arrived on the day of the twins' conception day, delayed by floods that prevented them crossing the river Glanduin. With them came Legolas. They greeted Elladan warmly, and Arwen first kissed him, then hugged him tightly. "Oh, Elladan," she sighed. "I cannot get used to you greeting us alone. It seems so wrong that Elrohir is not here as well." She drew back a little, gazing at Elladan intently. "You look terrible – far too tired," she told him, with a sister's affectionate bluntness. "Are you sleeping properly? Eating? Elladan, you must look after yourself!"
He brushed a tear from her cheek, and smiled. "Do not worry, Ar – I will be fine. It will just take time. Things can be … difficult, sometimes."
"Are you still dreaming about it?" she demanded.
He nodded. "But not every night; not now. Do not worry about me, Ar. It is wonderful to see you again – truly. I was annoyed with Glorfindel for his interference, but now that you are all here, I am glad." He gestured with one hand, including both Aragorn and Legolas in the welcome. "I have been alone for too long, I think. I am glad to see you, today of all days."
Leaving Erestor to deal with matters, Elladan walked slowly to the banks of the river. Here, Elrohir's funeral pyre had burned. Here, a willow tree had been planted amongst the ashes. Here, a stone bore a simple inscription.
'In memory of Elrohir. Son of Elrond and Celebrían, beloved brother and friend. Sleep, until we meet again beyond the sundering seas.'
He sat beneath the tree, one hand resting on the stone, watching the sunlight dancing on the water and the wind stirring the long, trailing branches as they drifted on the ripples. For the first time in many years he gave in to the searing emptiness that consumed him, and wept for all that he had lost.
That night, a feast was held to mark and honour the twins' conception day – a day that Elladan had steadfastly ignored and refused to acknowledge since Elrohir's death. At the end, Glorfindel stood. "We are gathered on this night to commemorate Elrohir, known and loved by all of us, and that we may ease the pain of loss of Elladan. Speak of your memories of Elrohir; that we may all share in them."
In the silence that followed, Aragorn stood first. He fingered the ring of Barahir briefly and spoke slowly. "I was just two when my father – Arathorn, my blood father – died. I did not understand, did not understand where he had gone or why my mother was so – remote. Elrohir took me on his horse, and cared for a frightened, lost little boy on the journey to Imladris. Later I came to know him as far more than just a kind stranger; came to love him as a brother. He was infinitely kind and patient with my endless questions, in helping me to learn Sindarin, and in teaching me the ways of the elves." He paused, and added softly, "I remember Elrohir my brother."
As Aragorn sat, another elf stood. Elladan glanced at him curiously – Finglor, whom he and Elrohir had disliked intensely as elflings. What would he have to say? "I remember when we were elflings I would tease Elrohir that he was just a mirror image, never an individual; merely a shadow of his brother." He glanced apologetically at Elladan. "I know I was jealous; jealous of their friendship and their twin bond. I was jealous of their utter trust in one another. I had no brothers or sisters, and resented their closeness. I know my comments hurt him at times – children can be very cruel. I regret that I never took the time to apologise, not even after we had grown. It is too late now, but for what it is worth – Elrohir, I am sorry." He sat, his eyes lowered, and avoided Elladan's gaze.
Erestor took his turn. "I have many memories of Elrohir. As a mischievous elfling, peering at me from the top of the wall of the kitchen garden. When I demanded that he get down from the wall at once, he asked me innocently, 'What wall, Erestor?' " He paused, smiling. "I remember one of the best students of history it was ever my pleasure to teach, devouring every fact, every snippet of information, every tale I could tell him. I remember the time I found him being 'tortured' in one of the storerooms, as Elladan demonstrated how Morgoth extracted information from Maeglin by tickling him. I remember Elrohir."
Elladan smiled. He remembered that game as well, when they had re-enacted every event that surrounded the fall of Gondolin.
One of the warriors from the border patrol stood. "My brother Bereth once journeyed with Elrohir to bring aid to a town stricken with plague. They became separated, and Bereth – Bereth was killed. I made an unjust, unwarranted accusation of Elrohir, blaming him. He could have demanded retribution, he could have had me exiled for what I said. Yet he forgave me. He said," – Beregar's voice shook a little – "he said he understood. He said he knew what it was to love a brother, although he prayed he would never know my grief. Forgive me," he added in a whisper, glancing at Elladan. "I remember Elrohir's compassion," he concluded.
Many others spoke, recalling Elrohir's love of horses, his flirtatiousness, his sheer joy of life. Elladan did not speak, but listened in silence, marvelling again at the complex person his brother had been. He smiled slightly at some of the tales, and realised that for the first time thoughts of Elrohir did not cause the familiar aching loneliness, but brought instead a sense of peace. Perhaps Glorfindel had been right after all.
As the meal ended, many led the way out into the gardens, where they would sing and dance beneath the stars until dawn. Elladan did not yet feel ready for that kind of merriment, and turned quietly away to seek his own rooms. Perhaps tonight he would not dream.
Aragorn intercepted him at the foot of the stairs, a bottle of wine in one hand, a cluster of goblets held carefully in the other. "Come with me," he said firmly. "Arwen says you are not to start brooding again tonight. She has plans." He herded Elladan before him.
"Where are we going?" Elladan asked with resignation.
For the first time, Aragorn hesitated slightly. "Your sitting room," he explained.
Elladan stopped in mid-stride. The sitting room he had shared with Elrohir lay between their two bedrooms. Over the years it had been in turn a playroom, a study, and a place where they could entertain friends away from the main house. Although others kept the room clean, he had not set foot in there since Elrohir had died.
"There is no point in arguing," Aragorn told him – although Elladan had said nothing – and after a moment he followed Aragorn along the hallway. "Arwen and Legolas are already there."
Elladan drew a deep breath as Aragorn pushed the door open. The door at the far end that led onto the terrace had been flung open to the night, and a fire crackled brightly in the hearth. Candles burned on tables and shelves. Arwen and Legolas already sat in chairs drawn closer to the fireplace, and after he had poured the wine he carried, Aragorn joined Arwen, perching on the arm of her chair, his arm around her shoulders.
Feeling tense, Elladan took one of the spare chairs. He was reminded of thousands of other evenings, when he and Elrohir had spent the time reading, or holding long, pointless, rambling discussions on everything and nothing, or arguing over some obscure point. At other times Arwen or Legolas had joined them, and more recently Aragorn. Sometimes, rarely, all five had been present – the last occasion being the night before the Fellowship's departure from Imladris.
Elladan raised his glass. "I am glad you are all here. I had forgotten your love and friendship – did not realise how much I missed it. Thank you."
Arwen began to tell him of her son Eldarion; of her daughters, and of their children. Soon, inevitably, the conversation turned again to Elrohir, as Legolas and Arwen shared some of the tales of him from their childhood with Aragorn.
"There was one time," Legolas explained with a laugh, "when Elladan and Elrohir came to Lasgalen. There was a rite of passage we all took – strictly forbidden, of course – that involved walking along one of the longest, darkest paths in the forest; alone and at night. Of course, as soon as they heard of it, they wanted to try it as well! So I decided to do something to ensure they remembered the experience."
"You certainly did," Elladan recalled. "We never forgot it!"
Aragorn looked at them both curiously. "What did you do?" he asked Legolas.
"I made a spider – from a bundle of old clothes, a water skin, and a black shawl that belonged to one of the maids. Then I waited in a tree along the path, made a few spider-like noises, and finally dropped the spider on the path behind them. You should have seen them run!"
Elladan smiled ruefully, remembering the blind panic he had felt. "We were terrified," he admitted. "For years we were both convinced it had chased us down that path! And then I found out that it was you all along."
Aragorn laughed. "I've never heard that tale! Are there any more you'd care to share?"
"Well – there was the time Elrohir fell in the Luithaduin," Legolas began.
"The Enchanted River," Elladan explained for Aragorn's benefit.
"He lost his memory of nearly everything that had happened since he had arrived. He even pretended he did not know who I was," Legolas continued. "I was worried about him. I wondered just how bad it was."
Elladan laughed. "Yes, but you got your revenge! He kept making up things we had not really done," he told Aragorn. "Poor El could not remember any of it of course – as it had never happened – and kept thinking his memory was worse than it really was!" At the time, he had been furious with Legolas on his brother's behalf, but Elrohir, surprisingly, had not minded. "El said it served him right for pretending he had forgotten Legolas."
"I remember a time when I decided it was not fair that other people could not tell the twins apart as easily as I could," Arwen added. "So I decided to do something about it. I crept into Elrohir's bedroom one night, and cut his hair while he was asleep."
Elladan laughed again. "Oh, that was funny," he agreed. "You should have heard the screech when he woke up and found what she had done! He was furious, and would not speak to her for days." He put the wine glass down, and surveyed the other three. "Thank you," he said simply. "For helping me to remember El with happiness instead of sorrow. For helping me to smile again. Thank you."
Arwen rose and knelt by his chair, hugging him. "Thank you," she said. "It is wonderful to hear you laugh again." She yawned. "It is late, and it has been a long day. And this old man," – she prodded Aragorn with her foot – "needs his sleep. Goodnight, Elladan, Legolas."
Elladan kissed her. "Goodnight, little sister. And thank you."
As Elladan readied for bed, he found that for the first time he did not dread going to sleep. He took a last look at the stars, gazing up at Menelvagor and Eärendil. "Goodnight, little brother," he whispered fondly. "Wherever you are." Turning to his bed, he slept, dreamlessly, until the morning.
To Be Continued