Chapter Three – The Dark Before The Dawn
Arwen opened the door to Elrohir's room silently, and slid through the gap. Ghost-like, she crossed to the bed and looked down at him for a moment. She hesitated fractionally, then with a nod of sudden resolve, stepped closer, raising her hand. Reflected moonlight glinted off the scissors she held.
Elrohir lay face down, sprawled untidily across his bed. His hair, loose now, spilled over the pillow and his shoulders. Very carefully, her hand shaking a little, Arwen lifted a small section and cut.
The solution seemed so obvious, she could not understand why she had not thought of it before. She had fallen asleep pondering the problem others seemed to have in telling her brothers apart – even their parents occasionally got it wrong – and had awoken in the middle of the night with a blinding revelation. Deciding to act immediately – she could not bear the thought of another day of mistaken identities, and further arguments between her beloved brothers – she found a small pair of scissors in her sewing box, and slipped from her room.
Cautiously, fearful of waking her brother, she continued her task. The scissors were old, and not particularly sharp, and she had to admit that the result was a little – uneven. She had nearly finished when her hand brushed against Elrohir's bare shoulder. He twitched and moved slightly, muttering something in his sleep. Arwen froze, holding her breath. To her immense relief, he stilled again without rousing.
When she was certain that he was not awakening, she resumed work, rushing now to finish before Elrohir stirred again. Finally it was done. Satisfied, she stepped back and examined the result critically. Yes, it would do. For now – at least until his hair grew again – there would be no possibility of him being confused with Elladan. She hoped he would not be too cross with her – but surely, when she explained why she had done it, he would understand. After all, he was the one bemoaning the fact that he and Elladan looked so alike.
She still held a handful of cut-off hair. Throwing it into the dying embers of the fire, it flared briefly and was gone. As silently as she had come, she slipped from the room and returned to bed.
As dawn broke, the rising sun and growing birdsong roused Elrohir. He blinked, and as his eyes cleared, gazed in puzzlement at what seemed to be several fine strands of black thread scattered across the pillow and sheets. He blinked again to clear his vision, but the strands were still there. Sitting up, he ran a hand across the strands, fingering them thoughtfully, then frowned. Something felt wrong.
He turned his head again, a sudden realisation dawning on him. The sensation of hair brushing against his bare skin – so familiar it was noticeable only in its absence – was missing. In utter disbelief, he ran a hand over his head. "Ai!"
There was a thud, and the crash of a door being thrust open. Then the door from the study was flung back on its hinges, and Elladan stood there, looking dishevelled and worried. "El! I heard you cry out – what ha …" He broke off in mid sentence, gaping at his brother in amazement, then burst into laughter.
"Arwen happened!" Elrohir growled. "Look at me – look at my hair! She must have crept in here during the night, and cut it!" He snatched up a mirror from a side table, and stared into it with a deep groan. It looked even worse than he had feared. His hair had been hacked at roughly, and hung – ragged and uneven – just touching his shoulder on one side, level with his ear on the other. "Balrog's balls! What has she done?" He sent a glare of pure hatred towards his twin. "I am glad you find it so amusing, Elladan!" he added venomously.
"I am sorry, El," Elladan managed to gasp, joining Elrohir. "Now, how can you be so sure it was Arwen? It could be anyone – Lindella, even – you said how angry she was! Why Arwen?"
Elrohir wondered how his brother could be so dense. "How could anyone else get into this part of the house without being seen, and challenged?" he pointed out. "And only one of the family could get that close to me when I was asleep without me knowing." His own words penetrated his fury, and he stared at Elladan thoughtfully. "One of the family …" he repeated softly.
"El, I swear to you that I did not do this!" Elladan exclaimed, backing away hastily. "But Arwen? Would she dare?"
Elrohir dropped to his knees, and began searching the floor. He pounced on something eagerly. "A clue!" he declared with a triumphant cry. "Look – one of her hair ribbons!"
"Elrohir, wait!" Elladan exclaimed. "What are you going to do?"
"First," Elrohir snarled, "I am going to kill Arwen – you can watch if you like. Then I am going to lock myself into my room for a month, until my hair has regrown to a sensible length. And Arwen can wait on me, hand and foot, in atonement."
"Can she do that if you kill her?" Elladan asked reasonably.
"Of course!" Elrohir snapped. "Glorfindel will be able to show her." He made for the door, and wrenched it open.
Elladan followed him, then dodged in front, standing in the doorway and blocking his path. "El, please wait," he begged. "Calm down. At least put some clothes on first!"
Elrohir glared at his twin, but Elladan met his gaze unflinchingly. At last, Elrohir looked away with a sigh. "Very well," he muttered. "I suppose I should not kill her. Mother and Father might object." He looked back at Elladan. " But she will pay for this!"
"Of course she will," Elladan promised soothingly.
Elrohir scowled at him, then sat on the bed dejectedly. He picked up the mirror again and gazed into it morosely. "Just look at it," he sighed in despair. "It looks ridiculous – I will be a laughing stock. I will not be able to show my face for weeks!"
"We will think of something," Elladan reassured him. "Here, put this on!" He threw trousers, a tunic and an undershirt at Elrohir. "Then we will go and see Arwen."
Elrohir opened the door to Arwen's room without bothering to knock – she no longer deserved such courtesies. Her room was empty, but he could hear her bright chatter from their parent's room next door. He knocked and went in, Elladan close behind him.
Celebrían looked up with a smile which rapidly turned to shock. "Elrohir! Oh, my dear – whatever happened to you?" she exclaimed.
Elrohir said nothing, but stared at Arwen expectantly. The expression of guilt on her face would have been incriminating enough, even without the strands of black that still clung to the front of her nightgown. She looked at him in horror, and turned very red. "Oh no – I didn't think it would look that bad," she whispered. "I'm sorry, El." She turned to Celebrían. "Mother – I cut Elrohir's hair last night," she admitted in a very low voice. "When he was asleep. It was because everyone keeps getting them mixed up." She turned back to Elrohir. "But El, you said yourself that you wished you and El looked different. Now you do!" she pointed out.
"Different?" he exploded. "We certainly do! Look at what you did to me! My hair – it has been hacked at – chopped – slashed – mutilated!"
"Sheared," Elladan supplied helpfully.
Celebrían turned away quickly, her shoulders shaking slightly. Elrohir stared at her in disbelief. Was she laughing? Her back still turned, she slowly gathered up a comb, brush and scissors. Finally she turned. "Arwen, go to your room," she instructed. "Now. I will talk to you later. What you did was wrong – and you know it. Now go."
With a nod and a final stare at Elrohir, Arwen scurried out. Then Celebrían turned to her sons. "Elrohir, you cannot go around the house looking like that," she pointed out. "Let me trim it, and tidy it a little."
Elrohir shook his head. "No-one is coming near me with scissors again," he protested defensively. "And I am not planning to go around like this – I will stay in my room!"
Celebrían pointed to a chair. "Sit!" she commanded.
Elrohir sat. His mother moved around him, trimming and snipping, and he winced as his hair was cut even shorter. At last she stepped back, and gave him a mirror. "There," she announced. "That is the best I can do. Does it look better?"
He peered at the reflection glumly. His hair did look marginally better, but that was not saying much, he felt. Slightly more even now, it was very short at the sides, tapering to a longer point at the back. But it was short – no elf had such short hair. It would take weeks before it grew to its normal length. "I suppose so," he muttered ungraciously. "Thank you, mother."
"Elrohir, do not think to threaten or punish Arwen over this. Your father and I will deal with her. Do you understand? Leave her alone," Celebrían explained sternly. "And you, Elladan. Do not seek retribution for your brother. We will deal with this."
Elrohir glanced at Elladan, then gazed at his mother, judging her mood. "Very well," he agreed curtly.
"Good. Then we will see you both at breakfast," Celebrían smiled. "Until later."
"Breakfast? No! I am not going into the dining hall. I will not be seen like this! I told you – I will be staying in my room," Elrohir reminded his mother.
Celebrían stared at him. "You have a choice – you can hide in your room, or you can walk into the hall with your head held high. Which is it to be?"
Elrohir was silent as Elladan led the way back to their rooms. At the door, his brother paused. "Well? What are you going to do?" he asked.
Elrohir drew a deep breath. "I will see you at breakfast – downstairs," he announced.
After washing, and selecting his clothes more carefully, Elrohir made his way down to the main dining hall. He tried hard to ignore the stares and muttered comments of those he passed, but it was not easy. As he opened the door, he hesitated, and would have retreated – but Elladan appeared at his side, a hand pressed firmly to the middle of his back. "Keep going, little brother," Elladan urged in a whisper. "You can do this."
Together they walked into the hall. Elrohir was painfully aware of the stares being cast his way as they sat at one of the long tables. As they pulled dishes of bread, honey and butter closer, Elladan looked across the room and swore softly. "Oh no – Glorfindel! The duty rosters! Wait here, El – I will be back." He slid from the bench, and left Elrohir alone.
A group of chattering ellyth came in and passed him. "Oh!" exclaimed one. She sat at his side, and waved her friends on. "Good morning, erm …" she hesitated.
Elrohir's heart sank. Why, of all people, did Lindella have to be the first he encountered? He felt himself growing hot. "Elladan," he said quickly. "I am Elladan."
To his surprise, she looked disappointed. "Oh. Oh, I see," she began awkwardly. "Well, good morning, Elladan." She began to edge away.
"No, wait!" he exclaimed. "I mean …" he sighed. "I am Elrohir. Not Elladan. I am sorry, Lindella."
Her eyes flashed. "More games?" she asked dangerously.
"No! Forgive me. I just – I do not want to admit to this." He gestured at his head.
She smiled unexpectedly – not mockingly, but gently. "Are you sure? That you are Elrohir? Because I wanted to apologise for last night. I thought about what happened – and I realised that your brother actually never said he was you. I just assumed. In fact, he seemed a little startled when I sat with him. But later – why did you come after me again?"
Elrohir shook his head. "I didn't. I just wanted to get away from everyone – but then I heard crying, and wondered what was wrong. That was all."
"Oh." She gazed at him with her dark eyes. "Well, I am sorry that I accused you of playing silly games. I should have realised." Tilting her head to one side, she smiled again. "No one is going to confuse you and Elladan at the moment, though, are they? What happened?"
"Arwen," Elrohir explained simply.
She nodded. "I see." She brushed her hand across the back of his neck. "I like it. It looks different, but I like it – it suits you. And here," – she touched the shortest part, by his ears – "it curls slightly, did you know that?"
They were still staring at each other when Elladan returned. "Well, Glorfindel is finally satisfied," he announced. "And I think …" he trailed off as he realised Elrohir was not listening.
"Go away, El," Elrohir suggested.