History Lesson 2
They were together when it happened, the three of them, and there was no denying that it happened, no means of pretending ignorance or misunderstanding. It was such a shock that none of them could speak, nor move, nor even form thought for several seconds. They simply froze and aeons of time might have passed without anyone reckoning it for in that instant it was made irrefutably clear that everything had changed. From that point forward, for all of eternity, nothing could ever undo this or alter the new order of things.
Such defining moments, the destruction of one's entire universe, the birth of a new reality, are commonplace, as regular as breathing, as mundane as rain, yet few of these pivotal events are given even cursory acknowledgement. Every thought, every choice, every decision is such a moment, but who notices the subtle uplift in the ground from which a mountain grows? Even when climbing the mountain one seldom questions its existence, too concerned with surmounting it to care. Of course, this change was not ordinary or simple or commonplace to any of them because this one thing happened to all three at once, somehow. The mountain instantly sprang to life beneath their feet and there they stood, gaping stupidly at one another, unable to account for it.
Ever after, Erestor wondered which of his choices had spawned the new reality, or whether it had been someone else's decision entirely. Thranduil's, perhaps? Elrond's?
The war had been dragging on for years with no end in sight when it happened. This was a small war according to Erestor's evaluation though few would agree with him, but then few of those fighting it had been alive to draw sword at the Battle Beneath the Stars when Sauron's master first engaged the elves in organised combat. Erestor knew that a mere two day's ride in any compass direction, save east, carried him into peace or at least beyond open conflict. The others surely knew it, too, or had once, but fighting the war caused it to grow, nourished it, made it so fat it eclipsed the whole of Arda, reducing the world to this detestable plot of accursed and barren wasteland, a paltry valley not a hundred leagues across. Its scale was insignificant, its scope minor, and the energy poured into it conversely monumental. Whose idea had it been, Erestor wondered, to lay siege to Barad Dur?
He stood upon a nondescript and nameless peak in a spur of Ered Lithui gazing north across Gorgoroth, wondering at the label assigned to it on maps and whether it had ever been called something different. Had it ever been a green land, a clean place? He had not been this way before and thought no other elf ever had, either. Why was that? Ah yes, the Valar and the call to the Undying Lands back in the Time before Time. Almost all the elves followed the call away from Cuivíenen; those that hadn't faded into obscurity, lost in anonymity, all but extinct. Now here were the renegades of the Calaquendi and the bulk of the Moriquendi, come back to reclaim this abandoned place from its dark overlord, allied with Men and Dwarves to see it done.
It should be a simple task, would be a simple task for any of the folk of Beleriand in the First Age. Maedhros' weakest captain would have dispatched such a meagre foe with ease, yet now the combined forces of all the free peoples could not budge the badger from his den. Why were the First-born diminishing just when the last of Melkor's twisted lieutenants was poised to fall?
It's those Rings. Just as Sauron poured his might into the One, so Celebrimbor funnelled some part of the Music of the First-born into the Three. We are all lesser now than once we were.
Erestor sniffed in disdain, as much at himself and these pointless musings as those who had sent him on this hopeless task. He was charged with locating another way into Mordor, a secret way, and this was utterly absurd. For all the war was small and Mordor minute compared to Dor Daedeloth, the armies of the free people were simply not going to successfully manoeuvre the open plains below.
It had taken him more than a month to make his way through, seeking out a new pass over the peaks or an underground tunnel beneath them. He'd found both but none that were unguarded. Choking fumes convinced him the heights were preferable to the depths and now here he was peering down into the enemy's terrain. There were no encampments on the broad plain for no attack from the rear was expected. The reason was obvious: steaming vents and pools of boiling mud dotted the expanse; jagged crevasses criss-crossed the valley and dripping from a gash in the side of Oroduin could be seen a thin ribbon of vivid orange lava. The land itself would defeat almost any armed force. One or two might slip past the sentries, over the plateau, and into the Dark Tower, but only if they were very skilful, very brave, and nearly indestructible.
Only if they were Assassins, in fact.
Oropher will agree, of course, and has already suggested this strategy, but Gil-galad and Amdir will oppose it, while the Men fear Assassins only slightly less than they do Sauron. Fools!
Sworn to serve the High King's House, Erestor would not be able to join forces with the Sindarin King. Whatever plot was hatched, coming in through the back door would not be part of it. Erestor finished his reconnoitre, came down from the heights, and started across the plain, a black shadow slipping unseen through a darkened land, passing right beneath the windows of the tower. He attempted Barad Dur; no Assassin could resist the enticement of bringing down Sauron, but the vile Maia was too well guarded, the halls lacking in places to hide and shadows through which to creep. It could be done, though, with planning and more intelligence on the tower itself; an easy enough thing to obtain. He could do it with help, but not alone. Reluctantly, Erestor left the fortress and exited Mordor through the front gate.
Behind him lay a trail of death, the occasional orc or goblin gutted or garrotted as he made his way over Gorgoroth, but it was not one a mere Uruk could ever track. How he'd got in and out would never be discovered, because the fact that he had done so would never be discovered. His emergence into the midst of a minor skirmish led by one of the Dwarf Lords created a mild disturbance as he hacked a path from behind enemy lines.
A Naugrim chieftain confronted him, furious over Erestor's swift slaughter of the orcs barring his way, bellowing something about spoiling a wager with a kinsman over who could slay the most orcs in a single foray from the trenches. Erestor gazed upon him coldly, permitting the weight of his might and the realisation of whence he had come supply his introduction, then answered by wiping his dripping blade clean upon the dwarf's long beard. The venerable chieftain paled and stepped aside, shaking as he bowed low. The Assassin of Sirion sheathed his sword and went on his way, smiling in grim amusement.
Searching for Gil-galad to make his report, he made for the standard of the Swan's Wing flying in the breeze and found instead his cousin in the tent. Elrond was not alone. In his arms was a tall, lanky Sindarin elf with hair golden like the sun and eyes that put the azure hue of the Wind Lord's domain to shame. Weapons and armour lay scattered on the ground. They weren't naked yet but that was definitely the goal and Elrond was aggressively pursuing it; the golden ellon was not fighting him. Erestor made a loud cough to get their attention, fully intending to make a ribald comment and embarrass his kinsman, only to find the Sindarin warrior's startled gaze trained upon him. That was the moment when everything changed, a moment of recognition, astonishment, of relief and hope and fear all combined.
The couple parted and the Sinda moved a pace away from Elrond and toward Erestor. There he froze, looked back to Elrond in confusion and regret, half raised a hand to him, dropped it, opened his lips to speak and found no words upon them. His sight travelled back to Erestor and his whole being brightened with joy, an indescribably beautiful smile spreading from his eyes across his countenance. It seemed to Erestor that the ellon's soul filled the space between them and must soon engulf him. He was eager to be swept away in that deluge.
Simultaneously, Elrond visibly deflated almost as if some of the energy fuelling the spark between his lover and his kinsman was drawn from him. His aura diminished to a faint glow and his eyes surveyed the scene with raw astonishment underlain by complete comprehension. His vision tracked from Erestor to Thranduil. He recognised at once what he had lost, or rather what he'd never had, and it was not Thranduil himself so much as it was the bond of love for which he now despaired. The moment for him was brutal, the pain sharp; he would never have the Sindarin prince for his own, and Erestor would.
Like all moments, this one passed and in its wake Elrond sought to regain control. He peered at the Assassin of Sirion in cold, dispassionate indifference. His patrician features assumed that bland and haughty caste of aloof detachment, an expression he'd never focused upon Erestor before. Yet within the grey irises a new fire kindled, its flame ignited by envious jealousy, fostered by abraded dignity, and enhanced by humiliated outrage. He decided to defy fate and win the ellon back. Even a Sindarin Prince was too noble for the bloody hands of an assassin to touch. He recovered from the shared fugue first and set a possessive hand on Thranduil's arm.
"Erestor, allow me to introduce Oropher's youngest son, Thranduil, and now would you please leave us cousin? We are a bit preoccupied at the moment," he said with feigned mirth.
"Nay," said Thranduil and drew away. "Elrond, we must speak of this now."
"Speak of what?" Elrond laughed, coming close and gripping both Thranduil's arms. "We have little need of speech for what we planned to do."
"Elrond, you can't ignore…"
"Take you hands off my mate," growled Erestor. His sword was in his fist before he was even aware of drawing it from the scabbard.
"Your mate?" Elrond obeyed, stunned and stung by the command, and launched the first of many verbal assaults upon Thranduil's character. "Your mate has been my lover for the last two months. If there is an understanding between you he neglected to tell me. Be that as it may, I see no reason we can't arrive at a reasonable and pleasurable arrangement."
"No!" Erestor pointed the sword at his kinsman, but Thranduil stepped between them and placed his back to the blade.
"What you hope cannot be," said Thranduil, eyes imploring Elrond to relent. "This is your cousin and I would have no enmity between you. I have not kept anything from you, Elrond, nor have I been anyone's lover before, yet even so Erestor speaks truth. I am not yet his mate, but our souls demand that it will be so. We must end this, you and I."
"End it? Aye, so we shall, but I am not a fool," spat Elrond, "nor will I suffer myself to be made to look one by you. It is clear to me what has happened and I will expound upon it should any wonder at our parting. Be assured, it is no light matter, making me trespass upon my kinsman's heart unaware, for never would I do so intentionally."
"Nay! It was not like that! I swear to you I never saw him before this day," Thranduil insisted.
"You know this is true," added Erestor darkly, "and all who know me will confirm this truth. If you take this road, it will lead only to your own debasement and place a barrier between the armies of Gil-galad and Oropher. Do not do this thing, for it will neither win you what you seek nor avenge your injured pride."
Elrond did not answer him, gathering his things and departing the tent in great wrath. Within hours he had made good his promise, taking his complaint to Gil-galad, and division arose between the two Kings, never staunch allies to begin with. Suspicion and discord grew; dissension and confrontations arose; the tension and strife began to wear on the already exhausted warriors on both sides of the contention. There could be no doubt that this trouble underpinned the disastrous falling out that came in the months ahead, until at last Oropher would not heed the orders of the High King, nor would Gil-galad abet the Sinda's plans. In the aftermath of the Wood Elves' charge against Morannon, both sides felt wronged and bitterness deepened when the sylvans departed with what was left of their warriors. Only then did Elrond understand what he had done and realised his jealousy had laid him open to manipulation by that black and putrid wizard so near at hand.
"Erestor? Are you ill, too?" Elladan called, waving his hand before the seneschal's eyes while Elrohir snapped his fingers in the assassin's ears. He returned from his memories in high annoyance and snatched both hands away from his face.
"Stop that!" he hissed. "Have you lost what little reason you possess?" They were in the Hall of Fire, Erestor having decided the Twins should take over the preparations for the Ball since Lindir was indisposed.
"Sorry, but you were in a stupor and we began to wonder if you'd been poisoned, too."
"Valar! I have not been poisoned and neither has Lindir. Can you not get it through your heads that Legolas is not here for revenge but for love?"
"Love? He said he looks upon you like a father, Erestor."
"Then would he kill his second father?" demanded Erestor. Then he huffed an aggrieved breath and rubbed his forehead; sometimes Elrond's sons were a tad slow. "It is not me he loves. Legolas is in love with Elrond; I'm the one in love with Thranduil."
The brothers remained quiet, digesting this idea of Legolas and their father, and shared a look of intense distaste.
"You cannot be serious; he's younger than Arwen by almost an Age," said Elladan tersely.
"Don't exaggerate," snapped Erestor, "and age doesn't matter where the heart is concerned. They have much in common, though the past stands in their way. Legolas, however, is a most determined suitor." He sighed; it was time to tell them everything and so he did. It took a little while and the decorations were nearly finished when he stopped.
"Wait a minute, just hold on." Elladan shook his head in denial. "You're saying Thranduil thinks Ada will break his little prince darling's heart?"
"Yes," said Erestor.
"What gall! What effrontery!" snapped Elrohir, forgetting this was exactly what they'd imagined Thranduil hoped to do to Erestor.
"Ada would never be so cruel," added Elladan, "and you should know it even if this idiot of a King doesn't."
"Be careful; that's my beloved soul-mate you're maligning," warned Erestor. "Thranduil has reason to worry, as I explained. Your father did not take the break-up easily and it caused a nasty scandal that ultimately resulted in Oropher's death and the deaths of too many sylvans to count."
"So that's why there's bad blood between Mirkwood and Imladris," Elladan remarked. "I find it hard to think of Adar that way, young and sensitive, but maybe he really believed it, Erestor. Ada doesn't like being made to look a fool."
"It's Greenwood and perhaps, but who does? I can tell you Oropher did not appreciate having his son's character vilified and besmirched. As for me, I came as close to kin-slaying as I have ever done. Thranduil was only Legolas' age then; Elrond was his first. He tried to handle things maturely, but the pressure was too great. After the death of his father and brothers, Thranduil turned from me, too, feeling responsible for what happened. He punished himself for a very long time."
"Well, what's to be done about it?" queried Elrohir. "I can't honestly say I want an Assassin as Ada's mate."
"Nor do I like the idea of someone that young and attractive becoming my law-father," Elladan grimaced. "How can he possibly know what love is?"
"You state Thranduil's deepest fear, though I think what you really mean is that you feel guilty for lusting after Legolas and secretly hope he will tire of your father and turn to you two. He won't have you because he knows you only want to use him for your delight and pleasure and then cast him off as you have done every other lover."
"Nay! How can you accuse us of that?" they cried as one but their cheeks were stained crimson.
"Tough turds, it's the truth and you'd best own it," Erestor barked. "Like father, like son; Legolas knows his heart and now it is in Elrond's hands. If your father abuses that trust I think he may find himself in peril of his life." Yet Erestor was not thinking of his own wrath or even Thranduil's. His mind was focused instead on the subdued glint of Vilya on Legolas' finger.
While all that transpired, the fair sylvan Assassin and Elrond's mysterious though worthy assistant had returned to the laboratory in order to speak freely about the convoluted replay of past and present, the Twins place in it all, and what to do next. Legolas had some specific ideas.
"I told you they'd be trouble," said the assistant. "They've poisoned Elrond's mind against you. Guess we'd better go back to Greenwood before anything worse happens."
"I wouldn't say Elrond believes their foolish notions," Legolas smiled and blushed scarlet. "Besides, can't you see? They didn't know their father was covering up to spare their Nana. They don't really hate me; they're just confused. And Elrond never realised they heard anything at all. He's kept it to himself all these years and hasn't faded, so his pride was bruised but not his heart."
"Aye, so you've said frequently, Ernilen," remarked the assistant with a soft sigh. Seeing his prince in love was bittersweet; if only it had been someone else who'd captured Legolas' heart. "And before you say it, I know he didn't fade when Celebrian left, either. Your theory that his heart has never been claimed is well documented and these facts do support it. As I have always warned you, as your father has ever counselled, as Erestor has consistently cautioned: even if this is true it still does not mean he will give over his heart to you."
"Well, how can I help hoping?" shrugged Legolas. "He's shut himself away; don't you see? He doesn't think he's meant to be loved. Ada chose Erestor; Celebrian dissolved their bond and left just like my mother did. Elrond's amazingbut nobody appreciates him, just taking it for granted that he's doing what he's supposed to do, never considering how hard all of it is to face alone and unloved. Well, he isn't unloved any longer and I am going to tell him."
"Legolas!" the assistant gasped. "You said you would just let things take their natural course without declaring yourself. Isn't that what we all agreed upon? How will you bear it if he turns you down?"
"He won't," said Legolas, mouth set and eyes flashing.
"No, I don't suppose he would. Legolas, you look just like your Ada at this age. Elrond does not see you but Thranduil, the ellon who spurned him. He stepped aside, that's true, and he didn't fade, but he had Vilya to prevent it. I fear more of Elrond's heart was engaged than even he can admit. Please, Ernilen, just be patient a while longer."
"Nae! How can you tell me this? Vilya has nothing to do with it. Besides, Ada and Erestor knew at once they were soul-mates."
"It was war, Legolas. Such things are common when times are so perilous. In normal conditions it may take years for that kind of certainty to develop. You are young and really don't know Elrond. You need to give this time, Ernilen."
"My heart knows him and his will know me." Legolas left the lab but not before his friend's final words made their mark.
"What are you going to do, use Vilya to make him love you?"
SECOND NOTE: Sorry everyone; I forgot to run spell check on this chapter, as Mindirith kindly pointed out, so I have now fixed the misspellings.
This Update brought to you thanks to a kind and complimentary nudge by Justpassingby. Much thanks Mellon :D