This story is set three years after my first story "Answers and Questions" and reading that story first may help you to understand the relationships between Elladan, Elrohir and Estel in this story.
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It was the first day of March and winter fought to keep its hold on the land. However, the season had been mild this year. While a thin layer of snow still covered the ground in patches, on this day the sun shone and the slight warmth in the air held the promise of an early spring as an elven patrol traveled through the rocky terrain east of Imladris.
Reports had reached the elven haven that several hill-trolls had recently taken up residence near the western entrance of the High Pass and were plaguing those journeying along the well-traveled route. The patrol had been dispatched in the hopes of eliminating this threat. So far, though, they had found no sign of the malevolent creatures as they continued their thorough search of the area.
The scouts remained ever vigilant, their keen senses fully trained on detecting any small sign of the beasts. This was not a mission that they took lightly. Even the most skilled and experienced of elven warriors were reluctant to engage in battle with the mighty creatures if it could be avoided. While trolls were generally quite dim-witted, they were enormous, mighty, ferocious, and single-minded in battle, and their bodies were covered in an armour of thick, hard scales that was almost impenetrable by most weapons.
The warriors rode two abreast as the path now narrowed and the terrain became more difficult to traverse. The two who took the lead both carried themselves with an air of authority and a noble bearing, and each was elven fair, but they were as different in appearance and manner as day and night.
The patrol's leader was covered in a mantle of gold; from the long blond hair that hung freely down his back to the bright warmth of his elven light, he shone with an intensity that seemed to rival the sun. He was tall, even by the standards of the Eldar, and while lean and lithe, there was a controlled power beneath his slim form that when released would unleash a most fearsome and formidable warrior. Though his ageless golden-brown eyes missed nothing, and he was well aware of all that went on around him, he seemed at ease, almost relaxed, as the warriors made their way along the trail.
The second-in-command was as dark as his commander was light. He wore a raiment of deep blue, and his long hair, black as midnight, was pulled tightly back in warrior's braids. His body was illuminated by a soft and silvery glow, like the stars and the moon of the night sky. Though he was extremely tall in the eyes of men, he was shorter than his commander, and broader in the shoulders and chest with greater musculature. A cloak of tension seemed to surround him and he wore a somber expression as his silver-grey eyes warily surveyed the terrain. Always vigilant, he guided his horse with his left hand while his right remained ever on the hilt of his sword.
The two spoke not a word and their heads were turned from one another. The tension between them was not lost on those who followed. The lone human in the elven patrol cast a quick glance at the one who rode by his side. The one beside him was identical in appearance to the rather morose dark-haired one who traveled in front, and, unusually, his mood seemed identical as well.
Deciding he could no longer bear the tension he felt around him, Estel whispered to Elrohir in jest. "Are those two always like this when they travel together? If so, then perhaps I should have heeded Elladan's entreaty to remain at home."
Keeping his eyes fixed firmly on the trail ahead, Elrohir responded somberly. "Truly do I wish you had." Before Estel could respond, Elrohir continued: "In answer to your question, well do you know that Elladan and Glorfindel do not always see eye to eye, but their disagreements are not usually this heated." Elrohir then turned his head to look intently at the young man. "Fear for you is at the root of Elladan's dour mood."
Not wishing to be drawn into a somber discussion, Estel made another attempt to lighten the conversation. "Why does it seem to me that I am always at the root of Elladan's dour moods?"
Elrohir's expression grew even graver. "I do not jest, Estel. There are many evil tidings in this dark time and the Shadow is ever growing. Now word has reached our ears from Mirkwood that but a decade after the White Council rid Dol Guldur of Sauron's evil, there are once again signs of a malevolent presence in the fortress. There is talk that Sauron has sent several of his dark agents, the Nazgul, to reoccupy Dol Guldur and amass his forces." Elrohir could not stifle the shiver that ran down his spine at the mention of these beings of utter darkness. "I do not think it a coincidence that hill-trolls have picked this time to migrate further south and begin plaguing travelers journeying through the high-pass."
Elrohir paused for a moment and considered his next words carefully. "Elladan is concerned for your safety on this mission, and well have I learned to trust my brother on these matters. Many times have I seen in him some degree of the foresight of our father and rarely has his intuition proven incorrect. This is not a matter to be taken lightly, Estel."
Estel looked at Elrohir directly, a hint of defiance entering his posture. "I do not take the matter lightly, Elrohir, but neither do I take my duty lightly. I have traveled with the elves of this patrol for well nigh on three years now. I have fought alongside them and we have faced many a peril together. While I understand that you and Elladan are concerned for my safety, I could not in good conscience remain safely at home while my brothers in arms face danger without my aid."
Elrohir felt his blood run cold and true fear course through his body at Estel's words. Though Estel knew not of his lineage, his words were hauntingly familiar, for Estel's father and his grandfather before him each had made very similar arguments concerning their duty when faced with Elladan's earnest warnings of dire consequences if they continued to engage the enemy. A mere twenty-one years ago Estel's grandfather had been slain by hill-trolls, and now, the still vivid memory of his tragic death hung around the twin sons of Elrond like a shroud of doom. Elrohir could not escape the terrible sense that he was inevitably leading Estel to face a similar destiny.
As was ever his nature, Elladan had not been compliant in allowing Estel the possibility of meeting his fate in a battle with hill trolls. At first, he asked and then implored and finally ordered Estel to remain behind. However, Glorfindel decided that he would lead the mission himself and as the commanding officer, he overturned Elladan's order, allowing Estel his rightful place in the patrol. Then, Elladan resorted to pleading with their father to prevent the young man from accompanying them, and nearly had he convinced Lord Elrond when once again Glorfindel intervened on Estel's behalf, arguing that he was part of the patrol and should be included on the expedition.
Elrohir frowned as he thought over the events that had led to a heated debate and, now, tension between the patrol's leader and the second in command. As always, Elladan's behaviour he could understand. It was motivated in no small part by fear for the safety of the boy Elladan had sworn to protect and grown to love.
Glorfindel's behaviour, on the other hand, remained an enigma to him, as often it did. There were times such as this when Elrohir realized that despite having been raised as an elf, even he did not always understand the actions of the Eldar, his mother's people. For so many centuries now he and his twin had chosen to spend so much of their time amongst the Dunedain, the human descendants of their father's brother. They were a noble and honourable people, but also did they possess a more earthy quality. They spoke their minds directly and never did their words need to be second guessed, nor were their actions ever shrouded in mystery. Over the years, Elrohir found that he had grown to appreciate their open manner and frank honesty.
Elrohir shook himself from his thoughts with the realization that Estel was still watching him intently, as if waiting for some answer. What more could he say? He had warned Estel as best he could of his concerns. All that was now in his power to do was to remain as vigilant as his twin and to keep his mind focused wholly on the task in an effort to protect, to the best of his ability, his beloved foster brother.
Elrohir's response was therefore resigned, but still tinged with worry. "There is little purpose in pursuing this line of conversation now, Estel, for the decision has been made; you are with the patrol and you have not shirked your duty. However, mark you now my words. You must remain ever vigilant, and remember well all that we have taught you."
Estel, somewhat bemused by this earnest entreaty, gave Elrohir a small smile in an effort to reassure him. "Of course, my brother. You can expect nothing less of me."
The brothers then spoke no more, and fell into an uneasy silence like Glorfindel and Elladan before them. Each of the four, the elf, the man, and the twin sons of Elrond, kept their thoughts close, for each had much to think on, but all remained wary and alert as the party continued the uneventful search until the shadows lengthened and the sun began to sink below the horizon.
As darkness began to descend, the elves who had been scouting the surrounding terrain reported back to their commander. These scouts were the swiftest, stealthiest and most experienced elves under Glorfindel's command, and they moved on foot through the trees of the surrounding forest to speed their search. Upon hearing their reports, Glorfindel spoke to the rest of the party. "The scouts detect no sign of troll activity anywhere within a league of our current position. We will make camp here for the night as the area is relatively secure and there is a creek nearby for fresh water."
Glorfindel saw to the assigning of duties and most importantly to the setting of the watch. As the other elves began to make the camp, he turned then to Elladan with a slight smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. "My young Lord Elladan, you will see to the making of our evening meal. We will not risk a fire this night, so I trust that you will not find the preparation of cold rations too taxing?" Well did Glorfindel know how little Elladan cared for the making of camp meals.
With an exaggerated bow of deference and a flourish did Elladan respond. "As you command, my Lord." Elladan well knew how greatly Glorfindel loathed being called "my Lord."
With a nod, Glorfindel, now smiling outright, turned to Elrohir and Estel, who had been watching the scene with amusement. "Will you two see to the care of the horses?"
Elrohir readily returned his smile. "It would be our pleasure, Glorfindel."
Elrohir and Estel led the horses to the creek to water, and as they brushed them down, Elrohir spoke, his voice light and teasing. "Have you forgotten what day it is today, Estel?"
Estel looked to Elrohir, his expression confused and just a little concerned. "I suppose I have lost track of the days. Why? Is today somehow significant?"
"Are you truly unaware that today is the first day of March and you are now twenty years old? I understand that it is quite a significant year of age in the eyes of men."
Estel was honestly surprised. "Truly, I had lost count of the days and forgotten that today marked the day of my birth." Estel thought for a moment, and then turned earnest eyes to his foster brother. "We need not mention this to anyone else. I do not wish for everyone to make something of it. It is not important. Elves do not celebrate the date of their birth, so I need not either. "
Elrohir could remember a time not so long ago when a very excited Estel would eagerly wake everyone at the first light of dawn on the date of his birth in anticipation of the celebration. The cooks would prepare for him a meal of his favourite foods and he would receive small gifts from all the members of the household. While the date of birth was not usually celebrated by the elves, it was important to Estel and his mother, so the peredhil family had made it their tradition as well. With more than a little sadness did Elrohir realize that Estel had grown too old to be interested in the sweet pastries and small tokens of a birth day celebration. Truly he was a man now.
After they had finished tending the horses and began their walk back to camp, Elrohir responded. "You are right Estel, the date of your birth is not important and we would not want anyone to make anything of it. I will say nothing of it when we return to camp." There was a twinkle in his eye and a tone in his voice that gave Estel cause for concern.
They found the others seated in a circle, clearly ready to began their meal of cold rations. Glorfindel seemed to be good-naturedly goading Elladan about the quality of the food. Elladan was wisely not rising to the bait.
Glorfindel warmly greeted the late-comers. "Welcome back! Come join us in a meal fit for kings!" He said this with a wink in Elladan's direction.
As some of the elves shifted to make room for them, Estel saw in the middle of the circle one of his favourite apple pastries with a small lit candle stuck in the middle of it. Estel turned to Elrohir with a look of accusation, though Elrohir simply responded with a shrug of his shoulders and a mischievous smile. True to his word, he said nothing.
With a smile, Glorfindel explained: "I thought we could risk this small amount of light in order to properly celebrate the day of your birth. Did you truly think that we would forget such an important event? We all know how much your birth day celebrations have always mattered to you."
Estel felt his face flush red, and he lowered his head, whispering under his breath: "Curse elven memory." As the quiet laughter around him grew in intensity at that softly spoken comment, however, he could not help but be swept up in the mirth as he raised his head and exclaimed: "And elven hearing!"
For a moment Glorfindel seemed deeply pensive. "Ah, Estel, we elves will ever be as we are." Then the smile returned to his face. "Please do try the pastry. I know it is your favourite and your mother is no where to be seen, so I will permit you to eat dessert first! It may not be as fresh as the day it was baked, but it has been well preserved in baker's cloth, so hopefully it will be at least edible."
Deciding to join in the fun, Estel grabbed up the pastry and blew out the candle, making a wish as his mother had taught him to do as a child. Also, as she had taught him, he told no one of his wish. He ate the delicious pastry down quickly, for truly it was still quite fresh, without offering a share to those around him.
Glorfindel could not let that slight go by without remarking. "Ai Estel! Have we taught you no manners?"
Smiling broadly now, Estel responded: "If this is to be my birth day celebration, then I shall do as I please."
Another round of merry elvish laughter followed that comment and truly did they make a joyous celebration of his twentieth birth day, with each elf taking a turn recalling a humourous event from the young man's childhood, much to Estel's chagrin. Estel had to admit to himself though that he was deeply touched by their kindness. He felt the warmth of love and acceptance radiating from the elves around him and for this moment, he was completely happy and content.
Amidst the merry conversation, Elladan slipped away, unnoticed by all save his twin. He somberly joined the watch, though it was not his duty. There was a shadow growing in his mind, a pulling on his awareness, a sign that he had learned to identify as a warning of a tragedy to come. At this moment Elladan truly cursed his gift of foreknowledge, for little did it tell him other than that an ill event would befall them and soon, though he knew not what, or when, or where, or how. As he vigilantly strained his keen senses, searching for any small sign that something was amiss, he vowed to himself that he would not let his guard down, not for an instant. He would not fail Estel as he had failed Estel's father and his grandfather before him. Nor as he had failed his own mother.