Chapter Three – The Unexpected Moment
However certain our expectation, the moment foreseen may be unexpected when it arrives.
T S Eliot
The door opened with an alacrity that suggested that Elrond must have been standing very near it. His gaze swept over both his sons, before coming back to rest on Elrohir again. He closed his eyes briefly, then with a wordless gesture beckoned them both into the study.
Wearily, Elrohir dropped into a chair near the fire. Usually, Elladan would then perch on the arm of the same chair – but not tonight. Although his hand brushed Elrohir's shoulder briefly as he passed, Elladan took a seat on the opposite side of the hearth, eyeing his brother warily. Despite his words of support, he was clearly still uneasy – but Elrohir hoped he was at least prepared to listen. Would his father also listen? He knew, with bitter regret, there was nothing he could say in his own defence, but if he could at least warn others of the Ring's danger, all may not be lost.
He looked up to see his father watching him, grave concern in his eyes. "I sensed immense evil in the valley tonight," Elrond said quietly. "There was great danger, and I also felt Vilya stirring. My fears were centred on you, Elrohir – are you all right? What happened?"
Elrohir knew he had been foolish to think that his father would not have been aware that something was amiss, even if Elrond did not know – yet – exactly what had transpired. "The Ring," he said simply. "It tried to lure me to attack Frodo – and it very nearly succeeded." He looked away as he spoke, not wanting to see his father's expression of horror and disgust, acutely aware of just how badly he had let him down. Groping through the clouds of uncertainty the Ring had left in its wake, he began to speak in a low voice. "I was restless and uneasy tonight – I have been since we returned from Lórien. I needed peace, and solitude, and found myself drawn up to the hills above the pine woods. I found Frodo there." Haltingly he explained events as they had occurred – to the best of his recollection. "And yet at the end, something stopped me, and I knew I would not do it." He paused. "I could not." He stopped again, shaking his head. "The Ring is dangerous," he concluded. "Deadly dangerous – I had no idea just how deadly it is. We have to warn them – Aragorn, Legolas and the others."
"I will," Elrond told him flatly. "Have no fear there. My concerns now are for you." He moved to Elrohir's side, kneeling next to the chair so that Elrohir had no choice but to meet his intense gaze. "Elrohir, I have to know one thing. I know you did not do this. You said saw the lies the Ring told you; that something stopped you. What? Was that before or after Sam arrived?"
Elrohir looked back at his father, aware of a sudden tension in the room, of the strain in Elrond's voice, and Elladan's anxiety. For some reason his response was vitally important to them both. He frowned, trying to recall events clearly. The Ring had created such confusion and chaos in his mind that it was difficult to remember with certainty what had happened. "There was one moment when I suddenly saw clearly what the Ring was doing. It was – it was like a cleansing breeze blowing away the fog that surrounded me, or when a curtain of rain suddenly lifts. In that moment I knew I had a choice – to take the Ring, or to refuse it." He shrugged slightly. "So I said 'no' – I knew I would not do it."
Elrond began to smile. "And Sam? Was he there then?"
Again, Elrohir shook his head. "No," he said slowly. "He came along later. I told Frodo to go back down to the house, and to hurry, for it was getting dark. I thought he would be safer that way," he added bleakly. "Yet he seemed unsure. He was so concerned for me! Then … I heard Sam calling. We waited. When he arrived he told Frodo it was time for supper, and they left together." He paused, trying to remember if there was anything else to report.
Across the fireplace, Elladan gave a sudden smile, and a nod of satisfaction. "Good!" he muttered.
Elrohir glanced at him in surprise. "Why? Why the interest in Sam?" he asked, puzzled. Curiosity at this unexpected response broke through his haze of misery and desolation.
"Why?" Elrond echoed. "Because it makes a difference. Did you reject the Ring of your own accord, because you came to your senses – or did Sam interrupt you before you could act? Did he prevent this deed?" He smiled again. "Do you see the distinction?
Slowly, Elrohir nodded. There was a difference, an obvious difference; and it disturbed him that he had not seen it for himself. The residual fog of doubt and despair still held him in its grip, but for the first time he began to allow himself to hope. "You mean – you do not condemn me? Yet I so nearly succumbed to it …"
"But you did not. You stood firm against its evil." Elrond extended one arm around Elrohir's shoulders, drawing him close. "There are many who could not – like Isildur. But your integrity and honour would not allow it."
It was as if an immense weight had been lifted from Elrohir. The shadow and darkness that had pressed so heavily on him lessened, and he felt the balm of his father's unconditional love surround him once again. It had never been absent, he realised, but he had been too lost in his own despair to notice. "I thought you would hate me for what I had done – that I had let you all down so badly. I thought – no, I knew – that you would never trust me again, never forgive me. I never expected this understanding and forgiveness."
Elladan got to his feet, and crossed to Elrohir's chair as well. He perched on the arm and leaned back, one hand resting on his brother's shoulder. "Do you think so little of us? Of me? You are still Elrohir, my little brother. Nothing will change that." He gripped Elrohir's shoulder lightly, and Elrohir drew strength from the surge of love enfolding him.
He smiled at last. "No."
Elrond sighed. "There is nothing to forgive. The Ring is an enemy. An enemy you have never encountered before, one that is far more cunning and clever than any others you have faced. It is far more dangerous and subtle. It laid a trap – for it was no coincidence that led both you and Frodo to such a high, remote place, I am sure of it!"
Startled, Elrohir glanced at his father. He had not questioned why he had been drawn to the lonely hills, though usually he sought the sanctuary of the stables when troubled. He shivered. The Ring's influence was frighteningly subtle.
"The enemy baited its trap, set an ambush, then attacked you," Elrond continued. "It has happened before, and will undoubtedly happen again. You saw the danger, and you fought back. After a battle – from which you did not escape unscathed," – here Elrond touched Elrohir's cheek gently – "You were victorious. You confronted the enemy, and won. You showed great strength and determination in overcoming its temptations. You defeated its attempts to lure you into action you knew was wrong. Make no mistake, this was a battle – unlike any other battle you have ever fought, but a battle nonetheless."
Elrohir looked at his father in surprise as he considered his words. It had not occurred to him to view the events as a battle, but the struggle to maintain control over his thoughts had been every bit as taxing as any more conventional battle he had fought. He felt totally drained, as if he had just fought long and hard against a battalion of orcs. "A battle?" he repeated in confusion.
Elrond sighed. "You are intelligent – you know you are one of the best strategists I have. Think, Elrohir! How did the Ring try to subvert you? What strategies did it use?"
As Elrohir considered the tactics the Ring had used, the last tendrils of its malign influence still clouding his mind faded away. He rose to his feet and began to pace the room as he started to analyse the plan of attack the Ring had used. It was a tactic he would use after any battle, and he saw the way it had lured him; how it had targeted his own weaknesses; and how he had been able to fight against it.
"Its main danger is the way it can read into one's soul," he explained incisively. "It began by finding dreams and desires I know are impossible – and showing me how easy it would be to achieve them. It offered me everything I have ever wanted, and more. But it does more than that – it found vague insecurities I never even knew I had; and petty resentments I had thought long since forgiven and forgotten. It showed me such a mixture of truth and lies that I no longer knew what was real."
Elrond nodded. "What truths did it show you? What dreams and desires?"
"Dreams? Elrohir echoed. He gave a bitter laugh. "I want nothing more than for Aragorn to fulfil his destiny and be crowned King, but I know that it is more than likely that our hope – our Hope – will end with an orc's sword at the side of some lonely path."
"That is my hope – and dread – as well," Elladan commented quietly.
"Yes, but with the Ring I could have made it happen," Elrohir explained "I could have swept him to victory, and cleared all enemies from his path." He made a broad sweeping gesture with his arm in emphasis. "The battles and deaths we know will come would have been prevented." He stopped pacing, and turned to face Elladan and Elrond again. "Oh, it was very persuasive."
Elladan nodded. "That is an understandable temptation, little brother. No wonder you found it hard to resist."
"There was more," Elrohir continued. "There was Arwen as well – she could have retained her immortality, so we would never lose her."
Elrond closed his eyes, as if in pain. "If I was given that chance …" he did not continue the thought, but bowed his head in thought. Finally he spoke again. "I can see why the truth was so hard to face, to fight. What of the lies it told you?"
Elrohir was silent for a moment. It shamed him to admit that he had believed – even for a moment – some of these things. He sighed. "I wanted you to use Vilya to protect the valley, to keep Imladris safe for all time. And more. And I decided that the reason you did not was …"
"Was what?" Elrond prompted gently.
"Was because you were afraid to use it properly; afraid of its power," he said in a low voice.
"Ah," Elrond said on a long sigh. "'Twas not wholly a lie. I could have used Vilya more – could have used it to heal hurts and the ravages of time. And I could have used it – to heal – to heal – "
"To heal mother?" Elrohir asked. He realised that his tentative question was echoed by Elladan, and smiled faintly. They were of one mind again, at last.
"Aye," Elrond whispered. "But would it have been healing – true healing – if I had forced her mind to acceptance and peace? Vilya's power lies in its quiet strength, not in brutal force demanding acquiescence."
Elrohir had a brief, sickening vision of his mother – apparently healed, smiling demurely and at peace; but an empty shell lacking the joy of life, the wit and sparkle that had been Celebrían. From the shudder that racked him, he knew that Elladan saw the same thing. "No," he whispered.
"No," Elrond agreed quietly. He smiled. "You did well, Elrohir, to fight this. You showed immense courage and strength. I felt a faint echo of the Ring's power long ago, and I know how hard it was to resist its lure then. It called me to take it; to rise to glory and rule over Middle Earth. The Ring had been greatly weakened by Sauron's fall, yet it still called to me, and Isildur still fell prey to it. Since then, it has had many long years in which to recover its strength; feeding off that poor wretch Gollum. It has grown in power and malice. I fear for the fellowship. If the Ring can attack even you, still in the heart of Imladris – what of them? Aragorn I trust, as I do you. The hobbits – I think their simple loyalty and devotion to one another will protect them. But Gimli? I do not know him. Boromir? He is Denethor's son, and Denethor will not take kindly to relinquishing his stewardship. And Legolas – I know and trust him, but he faces unique dangers we cannot understand."
"If the Ring offered him a way to overthrow the Shadow over Lasgalen, he would listen," Elrohir stated sombrely. "Make no mistake, he would listen. It is that persuasive and convincing. He may not obey it – I do not think he would – but he would listen."
"He cannot fail to be aware that Thranduil is alone among the elven rulers in not possessing a Ring of power," Elladan added.
"I think all we can do is alert them – all of them – so that they are forewarned," Elrond decided. "If they know of the dangers of the Ring, they may be a little more cautious, and also aware of its influence on others. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. In the morning, I will talk to them – without betraying you, Elrohir." He glanced at his son and smiled. "Go to bed – you look exhausted. You have faced a great trial, and triumphed. I think you will emerge from this ordeal tempered and strengthened, like a steel blade, but this had taken its toll. You need rest." He embraced Elrohir, and kissed his brow. "Now good night."
Elrohir found himself outside his father's study with Elladan, unsure how they had got there. Elladan gazed at him uncertainly, then dropped his eyes. "Forgive me for my initial reaction – for ever doubting you. I know you would not have done this. I am sorry – forgive me?"
"As father said – there is nothing to forgive. I can hardly blame you for your shock and doubt when I doubted myself so badly."
Elladan smiled. "Father was right about something else – you do look tired. Go to bed, El."
Elrohir shook his head. "Not yet – I do not think I will be able to rest. I still feel … unclean. As if I have been defiled in some way. Perhaps I will walk beneath the stars." He turned to Elladan and grinned. "Do not worry – if I encounter Frodo again, I will not do anything foolish!"
"I have an even better idea," Elladan announced. "Go and find Arwen and Aragorn – they are probably snug in some intimate corner somewhere. Drag them away from their canoodling, and meet me in our sitting room while I find Legolas and a few bottles of Dorwinion."
Much, much later, Elrohir stood by the windows of his bedroom. The evening had been full of laughter and teasing, and not a little sadness – this would likely be the last time the five of them would ever be gathered together, at least in Imladris. But Elladan's plan had worked, and had driven the last shadows from his heart. The memory of what had happened would never leave him – nor should it – but it had made him aware, as never before, of the power of the shadow. Though in the times to come he might walk on dark paths, and face overwhelming odds, he knew now that he could confront that evil; that there were strengths he could draw on, both his own and that of the fierce love of his family.
He would not fail again.