Disclaimer: The Lord of the Rings and all its characters, races, and creatures, as well as our beloved Middle Earth, belongs to JRR Tolkien.

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The Elf lord sat up sluggishly, frowning as he swung his feet to the floor. He was in his bedchamber in Imladris, but couldn't for the life of him remember when—or how—he got here.

He glanced toward the veranda, trying to decide how much time had elapsed. From the position of the sun, he thought either he'd slept through until the afternoon of the next day, or he'd only been asleep for a few hours. The sun was westering, but it was not quite in its final descent. Were he the betting sort, he would believe that it was yet the same day.

He was still wearing the clothes he'd had on when he'd met with Jeren and Elrohir, but that did not answer the question of exactly how long he'd slept. Someone might have brought him in here yesterday for all he knew, putting him to bed and leaving without stripping him. If it was still the day he thought it was, he didn't know whether to thank them or not—he might have slept longer if he'd been more comfortable. And from the way he was feeling, he certainly wished he had.

He hated sleeping. As an Elf, sleeping was similar to being drugged. Instead of feeling refreshed upon wakening, as Humans appeared to be after a night's sleep, he always felt lethargic and foggy when he awoke, no matter the amount of time that he'd slept. It felt as if every year of the many millennia he'd lived were weighing on him. There were myriad things that made him glad he'd chosen to be Elfkind, and walking the dream paths of a night instead of falling asleep was definitely one of them.

Being none the wiser as to what day it was, he yawned hugely, wincing from the spear of pain in his temple brought on by the headache he just realized he had. His condition was much worse than usual. He shouldn't be surprised by that, since it hadn't been simple mind healing he'd accomplished at all.

He'd been in a dream...

He closed his eyes again as the pain in his head reached fever pitch. After the ache had dulled somewhat, he got to his feet and went into his bathing chamber. In less than an hour, he was out again, even after soaking for quite a long while. His hair was wet, since he'd dunked his head, giving it a good drenching, in the vain hope that it might wake him up completely. Actually, it was a wonder he'd not drowned, because, while he probably would have thoroughly soaked his head in due time, the fact was that he'd fallen asleep and had woken up gasping and sputtering when his face had slid beneath the water's surface.

He wished that someone might happen along to check on him now, because he longed dearly for a cup of tea, but hadn't the strength or the will to go to the kitchen himself to make it. He had no intention of leaving his room tonight and had not even dressed to go out again at all. His hair hung damp and unbraided about his shoulders. He wore pale doeskin leggings with a long sleeved shirt of blue lawn, and he walked about in his bare feet. He felt somewhat like he had when he'd practiced his mind healing on Jeren all those years ago, so instead of hunger for an evening meal gnawing his middle, nausea skulked about his gut. However, the intensity of his symptoms was tenfold to what it had been back in those days. It was exactly this sort of 'sickness' that had kept him from perfecting his skills at mind-to-mind speaking for so long. He endured it when Galadriel insisted on communicating that way, but he truly dreaded it when he could feel her knocking upon the door in his consciousness. He shrugged his shoulders and went to the table near his bed to pour himself a bracing glass of Miruvor.

As he headed for his sitting room, he noticed that the door adjoining the two rooms was ajar. Ah, so he had had help in making it here after all... That door was never left open when he came into his bedchamber, if he was alone and under his own power.

He placed his glass on the table beside the sofa and sank into the depths of the cushions, closing his eyes and leaning his head against its back. He sucked in a deep breath of air and let it out slowly.

Later—although Elrond didn't know exactly how much later, since he'd fallen asleep again—a brief knock at the sitting room door made him open his eyes. Before he had a chance to acknowledge the visitor, the door opened a crack. Elladan then widened the opening more. "May I come in, Father?"

"Only after you take yourself back to the kitchen and make me some tea. Bring an entire pot. And put a little feverfew in it."

Elladan started to close the door, but Elrond added, "And some lemon balm."

The younger Elf nodded, pulling the door to again, when his father concluded, "And make it strong. I'd rather wait a little longer for it, than have it be weak."

Elladan raised an eyebrow and a smirk curved his lips. "Anything else, Father?" he asked drolly.

"Please, Elladan… have a little pity here," Elrond added. "I refuse to beg and I'm not in the mood to order you to do it."

Elladan let out a quiet chuckle and receded into the hallway, and Elrond resumed resting his eyes, as he burrowed even deeper into the soft cushions of the sofa.

The Elf lord woke to the sound of the tray Elladan had been carrying being set upon the table beside his chair. He wanted to kiss his son when he spied the large teapot and two cups, but decided that such a gesture would be lost on the younger Elf. He sat up as Elladan poured.

"I know you had a mind healing session with Elrohir and Jeren this afternoon," Elladan said as he handed a cup of the dark, steaming liquid to his father. He'd made it to his father's order, with plenty of feverfew and lemon balm added. But he hadn't bothered putting any honey or cream in it, since his father's earlier cryptic demand had made him think that the Elf lord craved its healing properties, as well as its warmth, more than he'd wanted a mere drink to quench his thirst. But he'd brought along all the extra ingredients anyway, in case his father wanted them after he'd downed his first cup, as was his usual habit.

After taking two big swallows of tea—as much as he could manage without truly burning a hole in the roof of his mouth—Elrond set his cup on the tray beside him. "Yes, I did." He poured himself a little more tea, this time putting both honey and cream into it. Looking back at his son, who had sat down beside him, he added, "That is why I am in this state now." He took another large swallow of his tea. "Was it you who brought me to my chambers?"

"Yes, it was. I went seeking Elrohir, and found you alone in the room you use for mind healing. You were dead asleep." He made a bowl with his fingers, holding his teacup cradled in his hands. "I practically had to carry you here."

"My apologies if I didn't bear my own weight," Elrond said, "but I do not even remember getting up, much less walking. Thank you, Elladan."

"Are you well enough to answer some questions for me?" Elladan asked.

"I would prefer to put it off till another time..." he said hopefully.

"It won't take long, Father," Elladan promised. "I'll be out of here in mere moments."

Elrond gazed at him for a few seconds, trying to gauge Elladan's mood. It didn't appear as if he was merely being facetious, only wanting to bother him and for no good reason. He saw the intensity in his son's eyes and recognized the slight line between his brows as the one that showed itself when he had something of import on his mind; something that he judged, if not an emergency, then pressing at least.

"Perhaps I might answer a few," he said, hoping it would indeed be a few. While the Miruvor had helped his headache some, it had done nothing to abate his bone-numbing weariness, nor the roiling in his guts.

Elladan got up from the sofa, suddenly looking unsure of himself. Elrond frowned, wondering just what this could be about, but he stayed silent, giving Elladan a chance to speak his mind.

"I'm very worried about Elrohir, Father," he finally said, placing his half empty cup on the tray. "He hasn't been himself since he was wounded by the poisoned arrow."

"In what way, Elladan?" Elrond asked.

Elladan sat back down beside his father, and if anything, the urgency in his expression had only increased. "You know about the bond Elrohir and I share…" he started.

Elrond smiled. "I know of it, son. And I also know of a language the two of you share that is all your own, as well." The older Elf shook his head slightly. "When you were small, your mother and I despaired that either of you would ever speak in a language any of us could understand."

Elladan grinned for a moment, but soon grew serious once more. "The hallucinations Elrohir had when he was under the poison's influence were horrific. My twin's subconscious mind was hard at work, forced by the poison's properties to imagine all the possible tortures Jeren might endure at the hands of Orcs. He couldn't control his end our bond, and I felt most of what he was feeling. I could have shut myself off from him and blocked a good deal of what he was projecting toward me, but my conscience wouldn't allow for that. He was suffering and I couldn't stand aside and protect myself while he was in such distress. So I continually sent back as much calming influence as I could, but I fear it did little good, until the poisons had finally left his system." He seemed to pause uncertainly, before he finished. "…if they have left his system…"

Elrond's eyebrows shot up at his son's last remark, but he kept quiet. Elladan looked at his hands as he paused, as if he were again reliving the nightmares he'd felt from his brother through their bond.

"Go on," Elrond said softly after a few moments, wanting to break the spell Elladan seemed to be under. He wanted to help this son, who most people had labeled as 'the selfish twin'. The one who charged full-bore into anything he wanted, never thinking of those he might be stepping on in the process. But Elrond knew him differently. Yes, Elladan had a forceful nature; but he had a kind heart beneath all his brashness. Elrond smiled, as he thought about how Elladan had come by it honestly. He was ever amazed at how very alike this son was to him. Elrond had, over the millennia, been successful in curbing most of this tendency in himself. But when things of import sometimes reared their ugly heads, he would react instinctively, in the very way his son did in most of his doings. But Elladan was very young yet, and in the scheme of things, there was still plenty of time for him to curb this impulse in himself as well.

Elladan looked at his father's face carefully, seeming to try and judge whether he should bring this next subject up at all. But he appeared to decide that whatever it was that was bothering him was of too much importance to keep to himself, so he forged on. "He also must have had some hallucinations of… Mother…"

He waited several seconds to see how his father might react to hearing about his wife. As a rule, those in the family didn't ordinarily speak overmuch about Celebrian—it made them all miss her that much more keenly.

But Elrond kept his emotions in check, even though hearing his wife's name suddenly had him remembering what he'd experienced this afternoon—the dream or whatever it was that he'd shared with Jeren and Elrohir. Up until now, his physical misery had kept it all at bay.

"And?" Elrond finally prompted, trying not to influence Elladan's words by showing how much it hurt to hear his wife's name spoken out loud. He'd seen her with his own eyes this afternoon—held her in his arms; kissed her.

"That hallucination must've been beautiful, Father, at least until the end. The joy in his heart was indescribable. But it was quite brief, and at the end of it all, he was very sorrowful—at least until he woke up. He has seemed fine to me these past few days; almost back to himself, both mentally and physically.

"But this afternoon, when he and Jeren went with you into the mind healing room—I truly didn't think to feel anything. I never even knew it when he'd had mind healing sessions with you in the past. So I expected more of the same. But that isn't what I got…"

He rose from the couch again and walked slowly toward the table where the teapot sat. He ran a finger around the rim of the cup he'd placed beside it. "I cannot even explain what happened this afternoon, Father. I wasn't in trance or asleep or even walking the dream paths, but I was suddenly transported into a dream with Elrohir and our mother. It was just the two of us with her, Father, even though they acted as if I wasn't there—they apparently couldn't see me." He paused, and Elrond watched the transformation of his son's face, his expression going from one of concern to one of wonder—and wistfulness.

Then Elladan looked into Elrond's eyes and said, "I shouldn't be surprised by this, but Elrohir's subconscious mind had her looking like she did before—" He broke off abruptly, unwilling to mention his mother's ordeal at the hands of Orcs. "Before." He'd said the word with finality, ending the statement. He cleared his throat; his voice had started to quaver. "Even with a portrait of her in my room, I'd somehow forgotten how very beautiful she was…"

Elladan turned away for a moment, but not before Elrond saw the pain on his face. When he turned back to his father again that emotion was gone, and it had been replaced by one that appeared to be acceptance. "There wasn't much to the dream, really. She greeted him, he hugged her; he held her close for a few moments, and that was it. And then suddenly I was no longer in the dream, even though I could feel it through our bond. I could tell that it must have been the same as before, because I could feel the same emotions coming from him. He was overjoyed at first—filled with love and hope—only to be despondent in the end. And the sad part is, I do not know how it ended—either time.

"But I fear he is losing his grip on reality, Father. He is dreaming, when there is no true reason for doing so. Dreaming—as… as a Human might…"

His eyes searched his father's face, as if looking for a truth he desperately needed. "He hasn't chosen, has he, Father?"

Elladan started pacing, his agitation—and yes, fear—clearly visible in every movement he made. Words began pouring out of him, as if some dam had broken and they were flowing in currents and eddies that he could not control.

"I'm not ready to make such a vital decision. I didn't think he was, either. And I would think I would be the first to know about something like this—if he had chosen. But he's dreaming—and unless this round of poisons he was exposed to has damaged something in his mind, what else could it be?"

He glanced at his father, but kept on speaking, his words coming rapidly, his voice sounding almost as if emotion had overwhelmed him. "He may be trying to keep it from me, afraid of how I will respond to the news, but knowing Elrohir, he would have told you immediately, because he would have felt that responsibility keenly.

"I realize I am not the most important person to him anymore, Jeren is. That does hurt—badly—yet I think I've been up to the task of not letting him know that. But I never dreamed he would choose without even consulting me…"

Elrond had risen, as difficult as that was, and had taken hold of his son's arms at the shoulders, stopping him where he stood. "Elladan…"

When the younger Elf didn't stop speaking, Elrond said his name louder, giving him a small shake, trying to get his full attention.

And he received it in a way he'd never expected. Elladan fell into his arms, and all Elrond could do was hold his son. Elladan's fingers were twined stiffly in the fabric of his father's shirt, and he was trembling with the effort it took to keep control.

It was obvious to Elrond that this distress his son was feeling had been building over time. His arms tightened on Elladan, hoping to convey his love and care, and also his sincerest empathy, but after only seconds ticked by, the younger Elf took hold of himself and pushed slightly away.

"I am sorry, Father…" he said without looking at Elrond. "I know this is the last thing you need to deal with when you are feeling so ill."

The Elf lord smiled and pulled a reluctant Elladan back into his arms. He stood there, holding his grown son for a minute or so, and then released the younger Elf to stand on his own.

"Ease your mind, Elladan," Elrond said with a subtle smile, and he gave a tiny pat to this twin's face. "As far as I know, your brother has not chosen Humanity. You would have heard my roar throughout the halls of Imladris had he informed me of such a tragedy." As he put his arm around Elladan's shoulders and led him back to the sofa, he had no qualms about the wording of his comment. He'd meant only to give comfort, but had been unable to keep himself from sneaking in a warning to his son. The Choice was ever a fret and a bother to Elrond.

He invited Elladan to sit and then did so himself. "Yet it is time you were told of what has transpired," he said, expecting—and receiving—an affronted glare from the younger Elf. He held up his hand for peace, saying, "Your brother has not informed you of this, because it is something that, as you said, happened first when he was in the throes of hallucination, and he truly did not remember it.

"However, Jeren did…"

Elladan's glare turned somewhat quizzical and Elrond admitted, "Something rather remarkable has happened, yet I don't know quite how to tell you about it without sounding as if I've taken a sharp turn around the bend."

"Just tell me this—is it good or bad?" Elladan asked, his face showing worry again.

"Rest assured, it is good," Elrond said, allowing himself to smile, even though his heart was breaking with every thought he had of Celebrian—who was alive, well, vibrant—but across the sea in Valinor.

Elrond started at the beginning, telling Elladan about the first dream that Elrohir and Jeren had had together, his conversation with Jeren about it—including the fact that she described to him a pendent that no one else besides him and Celebrian knew of—and continued on until he reached the events of this afternoon. Elladan was in turns confused and in need of clarification, and then seemingly irritated by the slowness with which the story unfolded. But Elrond kept plodding on, telling Elladan about what he and his twin and Jeren had experienced today. He told him how real it had been; how he'd felt as if he'd been physically transported to Valinor, and how, when he'd touched his wife, she'd been as real and solid as Elladan was, sitting here beside him now. He left out the details of what he and Celebrian had discussed, not having the heart to speak of it yet; not knowing if he'd ever be able to share it with anyone…

"You were right—that does seem a fantastical tale, and if anyone else had told it to me, I probably would not have believed it," Elladan said when Elrond finally paused.

"I cannot explain how this 'dream' came about once, much less twice, and I can only speculate on how you were caught up in this afternoon's venture."

"It must have something to do with my bond with Elrohir, but this is indeed the first time I've ever experienced anything of this sort." He looked at his hands, his fingers entwined between his knees. "I wish I could have been there for the entire thing; in the dream or vision—whatever it was—but in Valinor, along with you and Elrohir and—with mother. I do miss her…"

"As do we all, son," Elrond said softly. "But put joy into your heart, because she is well. She said she was cured in Valinor, although she did not say how or by whom."

Elrond went to pour another cup of tea, but alas, the pot was empty.

"Would you like more, Father? I will be happy to go fetch you some; and some food as well. I think we probably have missed the evening meal by now."

"I think you are most certainly right, son," Elrond replied. "But, no. I require no more tea; and my appetite is nil. I couldn't choke down food, even if Bellasiel was tempting me with some of her berry tarts."

Elladan smiled. "That would be some serious nausea, if you could not find it in yourself to eat some of Bellasiel's sweets." But he quickly grew thoughtful again.

Elrond started to rise, but the look on his son's face made him pause. His fatigue had increased, to an almost unbearable intensity. He'd thought that if he got to his feet, Elladan might take the hint and make himself scarce. But the younger Elf's expression was so stricken that Elrond couldn't move. Then Elladan began to speak.

"There's something that I've often wished I had apologized to you for," he said, his eyes sad.

Elrond could see that the talk of Celebrian had made Elladan think back, probably to a time when she was still with them. He very much did not want to reminisce. Not tonight...

"Whatever it is," he said, "there's no need. I'm sure you told me in your own way, without words."

"No, not this, Father," he asserted. "I'm talking about my behavior since Mother left for Valinor."

At his father's smile, he quickly added, a small grin on his lips, "Not that my behavior before she left was stellar at all times, but—" He sobered again. "It's been since she's been gone that I've been at my worst, especially right after she left. I treated you as no son should ever treat his father." He glanced up into Elrond's eyes. "I thought when I left on that first Orc hunt that I probably wouldn't be welcomed back into your home. I never asked your forgiveness. But I'm asking it now."

Sudden tears stung the Elf lord's eyes at this son's move to humble himself. Elladan was never humble, so this blatant show of remorse was almost more than Elrond could bear. Unsurprisingly, the events of the day, as well as his weariness, had his usual defenses down. He smiled at his son. "All is forgiven, Elladan," he said softly.

They looked into each other's eyes for several seconds, seeming to want to say more, but both stayed quiet, until finally Elladan got up from his chair.

"Father, thank you for taking the time to speak with me this evening. I knew you were feeling poorly, but I persisted. I am sorry I am so insistent all the time…"

"I am not, son," Elrond said, rising too. "Being insistent and persistent gets things done, and we are coming to a period in our lives when time will always seem short."

"Are you speaking now about the mysterious message that Mother gave to Elrohir and Jeren?"

"I think I must be," Elrond said, his brow furled with what looked to be puzzlement, "although my thoughts are growing cloudy with all this fatigue. But let me just say for now that I have 'seen' things. And when your mother mentioned war and strife, I felt a tremor in my soul. That is all I can say at present…"

"Then let me leave you to rest," Elladan said. "You look exhausted. Do you need help getting to bed?"

Elrond frowned, although he was truly trying to lighten the mood. "Do I look old and frail of a sudden?" he asked, but quickly added, "On second thought, do not answer that… But no, I need no assistance. Go and find Elrohir, if he's awake, and let him tell you of the dream himself. I know he regrets that you could not have been there with him when he saw your mother, and he will probably try and make up for that by giving you copious details."

"I look forward to it," Elladan said. "Have a good night."

Elrond's hand shot out, belying Elladan's previous comments about his seeming frailty, and he grabbed his son's arm and pulled him close. Elladan embraced his father, holding him tightly for several seconds, before he finally let go.

"Good night, Father…"

He walked out the door, closing it softly.

"Good night, son…" Elrond said to the empty space. He blew out the lamp beside the sofa and went into his bedchamber. He stripped his clothes off, leaving them in an uncharacteristic heap on the floor, and climbed into bed.

He lay there thinking of his wife, whom he loved more than any other soul, wishing to walk the dream paths with her tonight.

But against his wishes he dropped off to sleep again within minutes.

A dreamless sleep…

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Elladan walked down the hallway to the stairs, but instead of going down them and to the kitchen for something to eat—since he'd missed evening meal—he paused, thinking about what his father had suggested to him. He could go to Elrohir now and see if he would discuss the dream they'd all had, but still he hesitated.

Since his twin had bonded with Jeren, Elladan mostly steered clear of them when they might be in their rooms. There was always the chance that Jeren would be there alone, and he wanted there to be no misunderstandings between him and his brother, if Elrohir were to chance upon him and his wife alone together. Yes, they'd discussed this—Elladan had even allowed Elrohir complete access to his thoughts through their bond, so that Elrohir could see for himself how Elladan felt about Jeren. But still, the situation was uncomfortable for him. No, Elladan always waited for an invitation; he never showed up at their door without one.

He knew he could reach inward and learn what he wanted to know—exactly where Elrohir was at the moment—but chances were that Elrohir and Jeren were in bed by now—or still were—since they'd been the victims of their father's healing sleep today. He didn't want to know about it if Elrohir and Jeren were otherwise occupied.

Now that was a ludicrous thought. As exhausted as their father was, Elrohir was bound to be in the same condition. And Jeren would surely still be asleep. But…

He shook his head, stopping this mental debate and descended the stairs, walking the rest of the way to the kitchen. He could talk to Elrohir tomorrow. For now, he was ravenous!

Before he pushed through the swinging door, he heard noise coming from within. That was a good thing… If Bellasiel was in there, she would be happy to be of service. And she always brought out things she'd hidden for a later time when it was either of the twins that had come for food between meals. And she always fed them as if they were poor, starving waifs, seemingly saving her best for them.

But when he entered the room, it wasn't the head cook that he found, it was Elrohir, about to bite into a sandwich he'd obviously just fixed for himself. He finished taking the bite and slowly put his sandwich down on the plate before him.

Elladan couldn't help but chuckle, because Elrohir looked very much like the proverbial child caught in an act of extreme mischief.

"It's only me, Elrohir," Elladan said, even though he understood why his brother had had such a reaction. His twin had seen their mother this afternoon—and Elladan hadn't. He could clearly feel Elrohir's guilt about that through their bond, even though Elrohir didn't know that Elladan had already learned of the dream. "I promise I will not tell Bellasiel that you have pilfered the squab she was saving for a pie on the morrow."

Elrohir started to smile, but then his face fell into a look of disgust. "Squab pie? I think I'd rather eat eel."

"And when have you ever eaten eel?" Elladan asked with a laugh. "That might be a delicacy the Easterlings prefer, but I can't say that I've ever heard of anyone I know eating eel."

"Exactly my point," Elrohir said, taking a few steps toward his brother. "No one with any sense of taste would ever let such an animal past his lips—cooked or no. I've seen an eel—a street vendor in Gondor was hawking it with the rest of his catch; very disgusting creatures that will never make the sojourn into my mouth for a meal. And they look as if they might taste almost as bad as squab does, which, if you will take a look, isn't what I'm eating at all." Elrohir had spread the bread apart, showing the sandwich was made of chicken.

"Well, whatever it is, why do you not make one of those for me? I'm starving."

"You didn't eat at evening meal?" Elrohir asked him. "Why not? I thought that Jeren and Father and me would be the only ones not eating this evening."

"That's where I've been, Elrohirwith Father," Elladan said, as if he were explaining it to someone who was obviously less than intelligent. Feeling badly for using such a condescending tone with his twin, and not liking that the emotion had come from his jealousy, he said, this time his voice much more even and kind, "Father and I both missed the evening meal, although truthfully, he didn't miss it very much."

Elrohir's faltering smile fell away, even in the face of Elladan's weak jest. "He told you about the dream?"

"Yes," Elladan said, trying hard not to look as hurt as he felt. "He said you all had some sort of dream, which somehow transported you to Valinor, where Mother is, and that she had a message for you and Jeren." He stopped for a moment, his eyes growing intense. "Did she mention me? Am I wrong in supposing that when she told you this message, she was including me as well?"

"I thought that all along," Elrohir admitted, although truthfully, Elladan could feel through their bond that his brother was plainly revealing he'd thought no such thing. He didn't have time to wonder at Elrohir's sudden laxity where their link was concerned, as his twin plowed on. "It never occurred to me that she was not meaning for you to be involved in it. She knows you and I are always together, so she could not have meant anything different."

"That was certainly true when she left," Elladan said thoughtfully, mulling the situation over in his mind. "We were always together back then." He didn't know what to think about Elrohir's barefaced lie, but decided not to pursue it for the moment. It probably had to do with Elrohir's newfound bond with Jeren and his guilt over his wife replacing his brother in his priorities.

"I asked Father if he knew anything about this mysterious message that Mother had for you and Jeren, and he was very vague in his answer." Elladan then explained to his brother the conversation he'd had with their father. "In conclusion, he said he has 'seen' some things, yet hasn't thus far been able to make sense of them."

They stood there looking at each other for several seconds. Elrohir's guilt was a palpable thing, so, trying to be kind, Elladan broke the spell they seemed bound by. But first he schooled his voice into a tone that held no hint of resentment. "I'm eager to hear more about it all from your viewpoint, but not until I have something to eat."

Elrohir tore his sandwich in two, giving Elladan the side that did not have the bite taken out of it. He then took two apples from a bowl on one of the three large work tables that graced the room. "Come along to my chambers, and I'll try to tell you what you seek to know."

Elladan eyed the loaf of bread that Elrohir had cut the slices from for his sandwich, and, picking up the plate it was on, as well as the knife and a dish of butter, he followed his brother out of the kitchen. They made it back upstairs quickly, and were just as quickly settled in the sitting room outside Elrohir's bedchamber, Elladan on the large leather chair and Elrohir on the sofa.

"Jeren?" Elladan asked inquiringly, as he poured wine for them both from the bottle on one of the tables there.

"Slumbering away, as you would expect. Father's healing sleep plays havoc with a Human's ability to stay awake after."

"I would say it plays havoc with an Elf's ability to stay awake, too," Elladan said sensibly. He'd not commented on Elrohir's appearance; his twin must know he looked as if he'd not rested in several days.

And Elrohir didn't comment; he just took another mouthful of his sandwich, which he'd now eaten to one final bite. He chewed, looking thoughtful, so Elladan took the opportunity to tell him what their father had explained to him about the dreams.

He paused to finish his half of the sandwich, and then sliced himself a piece of bread, even taking the time to butter it. He then let drop the amazing revelation that he'd been in Elrohir's latest dream, too, albeit briefly.

Elrohir swallowed, almost choking on the last bite of his sandwich. He took a quick gulp of wine. "What? What did you say, Elladan?" He was almost accusing; almost disbelieving.

Elladan's lips curved up into a sardonic half-smile. "Really, Elrohir?" he said, trying not to sound quite as sarcastic as he was feeling. "I am asked to believe that you, Father and Jeren had a dream together, but I am not allowed to ask you to believe that I might have been in one of them, too?"

Elrohir's raised brows and slight smile admitted without words that his twin's point had been made—and taken. "You are right, Brother," he said. "If you say it is so, I believe you. As you've just alluded, we've all been assailed by strange happenings of late."

"Thank you," he said with a small dip of his head. "I am assuming that our bond was at work in this phenomenon. There is no other explanation."

"True…"

"Now give me details, Elrohir," Elladan said, and then he sat back, taking a bite out of his piece of bread.

Elrohir looked thoughtful again, as if he didn't quite know where to start, so Elladan spoke even with his mouth half full. "Tell me about Mother."

"If I repeat what Father has already told you, please don't let me ramble on," Elrohir said at first, as if he were stalling. Elladan didn't much know what to make of his twin's hesitancy at filling in the blanks he needed filled.

Elladan waited for his twin to start, but Elrohir suddenly seemed to take an unusual interest in the wine in his glass, swirling the claret liquid around and watching its wave-like movement inside the vessel.

As Elladan waited, Elrohir still seemed strangely hesitant, and Elladan couldn't figure out why. His twin had been there directly, able to touch their mother—speak to her. And now he was hedging? Surely he could understand Elladan's interest—feel his heartache through their bond at not being able to be there. If that was so, then he could also feel his growing frustration. It was as if he didn't know Elladan at all—didn't know that much more of this evading would have his twin up in his face and demanding the details in a very loud voice.

Elladan swallowed and took a drink of his wine, calming himself and reaffirming his hold on the bond he had with his brother. "When I was in the dream with you both, I saw her greet you and embrace you. She was wearing a green dress and she looked beautiful. Tell me about that."

"You want me to expound on her wardrobe?" Elrohir asked in a dubious tone.

"Of course I don't want you to tell me about her wardrobe!" Elladan said, finally exploding. "I want to know what she said to you after she greeted you. I saw that—I need more, Elrohir!"

"I am sorry, Brother," Elrohir said in an uncertain voice.

It was then that Elladan realized why Elrohir was being so slow. He remembered the emotions he'd felt through their bond before and during the dream, and the last feeling he'd gotten from Elrohir had been sadness; utter sadness.

Elladan got up from the chair and sat beside his brother on the sofa. Now he knew why Elrohir had been stalling. The thought of remembering their mother was too much for him at the moment.

But where did that leave Elladan? Out in the cold, that's where. With no comfort to be had. He'd been reminded of his mother in an unintentionally brutal way today. He'd seen her before him, seeming as real as if he could reach out and touch her, but it had been Elrohir she'd touched; it had been his twin that she'd spoken to. His father had said it was real—and he'd been excluded for whatever the reason. It made him so angry he wanted to strike someone. But he knew that that someone could not be his brother. Elrohir was doing the best that he could.

He would just have to wait…

But before he could apologize, Elrohir began to speak.

"At first I thought I was seeing a ghost…" he said, and though he was talking to Elladan, his voice sounded disembodied, like he was trying to distance himself from this remembrance, and his eyes stared at nothing across the room. "But when I touched her, she was all too real. She was beautiful, Elladan, just as you saw in the dream. Alive, energetic and, for the most part—happy. She was soft—just as I recalled her being when we were younger—and having her hold me made me feel like an Elfling again."

"I'm sorry, Elrohir…" Elladan started, completely ashamed at his outburst.

"She acted just as she always did, before she was stolen from us. It seemed as if there was nothing she did not know; no problem she couldn't solve. She had no doubt about herself or us or anything at all... So confident. So sure… You remember how she was…" Elrohir's sorrowful eyes then sought his twin's.

"Yes…"

Elrohir fell quiet then, his face a mask of grief. Elladan leaned toward him, engulfing his twin into his embrace.

"Thank you, Brother," he said hesitantly. "I know that was hard for you, remembering it and telling me about it so soon. My appreciation is boundless." He released his brother enough so that he could look into his eyes.

Ilúvatar, he wanted so much more than these few meager words his brother had been able to force himself to say! He wanted to hold his mother, speak to her; hear her voice as she spoke only to him! Hear her laughter… but it was not Elrohir's fault that he had been excluded…

"I wasn't there and that pains me. I know I seem hard and thoughtless—as if I have no feelings for others sometimes…" He gave a huff of a laugh. "You've just had proof of it—I grew angry when I couldn't have my way—right at the minute I wanted it. But you know I would have given whatever it took to have been there in the dream with you all today—been a full participant, I mean, and not just a momentary bystander. What I would have given to hold our mother close…"

"Yes, Brother, I do know that; our bond gives me tastes of your true feelings and motives. I know you do not mean ill." Elrohir pushed his twin gently away and stood. "I deeply regret that you could not have been there with us, but it was out of my control. For now," he said, his voice flat, "if you don't mind, I'm extremely tired. I think I'll go to bed."

Elladan didn't say anything else, he just nodded his agreement. Elrohir opened the door to his bedchamber and slipped inside, closing it gently. Elladan sat where he was, thinking of all that had transpired this day.

He'd learned a lot this evening, that was for sure: that his mother was well in Valinor, and that Elrohir had actually touched her! And he himself had seen her, looking as if she were a few feet away and not leagues and leagues across the sea from him. But he'd trodden over two people he loved very much in order to get what he wanted—again. Would he ever change?

And the longer he sat there and thought—about so many things—the sadder he became. He leaned his head against the back of the sofa and tears fell silently down his cheeks.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

It was the next evening and Elrond still hadn't emerged from his rooms. He'd remained behind closed doors for the entire day, and when evening meal had come and gone, one of his oldest friends couldn't leave him alone for a moment longer. Glorfindel had gone first to Elrohir, knowing they'd had a mind healing session the day before, and he'd asked the younger Elf if his father had been made ill by the strain of it all.

Elrohir had told Glorfindel what he knew, from the first dream he'd had with Jeren all the way through the second. While the remembrance of the dreams was heartbreaking and still painful, Elrohir told him everything, because he was concerned about his father as well. The only thing he did not tell the ancient Elf lord was what had transpired between his parents during the dream—because that he did not know.

So Glorfindel had gone to the kitchen and had requested that Bellasiel prepare a tray for Elrond, and when she had it filled to his satisfaction, he carried the tray through the hallways and up the stairs to Elrond's chambers with Bellasiel trailing behind him, protesting all the while that it was her job to carry it. She'd knocked on the sitting room door, and when they received no answer they entered. Glorfindel had then placed the tray on the table beside the sofa, and when Bellasiel had departed, he'd opened the bedchamber door and had carried the tray further inside.

The room was dim; no lamps had been lit, and Elrond was standing on his veranda, both hands on the railing, looking out into the dark of the valley at nightfall. He was much as he'd been the night before, again wearing plain leggings with no boots, his shirt loose and billowing in the evening breeze. His hair was in one plain braid, trailing down his back. He turned when Glorfindel came inside, a frown planted firmly on his face as if he were ready to slay whoever was disturbing his tormented peace.

Glorfindel ignored the icy stare of his friend. "You did not come to your evening meal, so I brought it to you." He placed the tray on the table that sat on the veranda. "Come, Elrond. It is time for you to eat."

Elrond turned back to face the darkened valley again. "Of all the people I'd hoped not to see…" His voice was a whisper and very weary, sounding as if the weight of the world was on him, but the Arms Master understood Elrond's reluctance to see him and did not take offense at his words.

"I'm not hungry, Glorfindel. Had I been, I would have attended the meal in the Dining Hall."

Glorfindel rolled his eyes, even though Elrond didn't see it. "Are you still ill from the mind healing you did yesterday?"

Elrond didn't answer; he merely shook his head.

"It is good I'm an Elf," Glorfindel quipped. "I have no need of light to see your gestures, and unless my hearing is failing me, I can barely hear the rocks in your head rolling around as you shake it at me."

Elrond couldn't help himself; he smiled as his chin dipped to his chest. He turned around to face his friend, leaning against the railing behind him.

"I truly want to be alone, Glorfindel. Why can you not just honor my wishes?"

"If I thought it was good for you to be by yourself so much, that is exactly how I would leave you—alone. I wouldn't be here." He paced slowly toward the railing to stand beside his friend. He, too, leaned his hips on the bannister, and then he crossed his arms over his chest. "I've spoken to Elrohir; he told me all he knew."

"Then you know I have reason to be grieving," Elrond said, his voice flat. "Now please—leave me."

Glorfindel didn't answer at first. He continued to stand with his back to the railing, but now he looked to be deep in thought. Elrond appeared as if he might throw his friend bodily from the room, but just as he seemed like he was about to take action, Glorfindel spoke.

"Tell me about her, Elrond," he said. "Was she well? Was she full of the fire that was always within her? Or was she still the ghostly shell she was when we watched her sail?" With every word he spoke, Glorfindel could see Elrond flinch, as if Glorfindel were physically assaulting him, instead of beating upon his heart with mere words.

Elrond said nothing then, but neither did he make any move to rid himself of the offending Elf in his room. His face was set in stony silence, his eyes so sad it was painful for Glorfindel to look upon him.

The Arms Master could see that he'd gotten through Elrond's defenses, but he could not guess whether the Lord of Imladris would give him any answers. And truthfully Glorfindel did not need the answers—he only wanted some sort of response; some reply from Elrond that would give him the chance to speak of his wife—so that the grief he was feeling might be eased a little.

"Elrond…" Glorfindel prodded. When his comment again went unanswered, he persisted. "Tell me, Elrond—"

"—she was beautiful and as full of life as she always has been!" Elrond spat. "She was soft and supple in my arms. Her voice was music in my ears. Her lips…" He broke off, not really weeping, but as close to it as he ever came. He looked down, trying to compose himself.

When he felt as if his voice would not tremble, he asked, "Why are you doing this to me, Glorfindel?"

"You know why, my friend," he answered softly. "I will not have this fester in you as it did after she sailed. It took this same sort of pushing then, only then I waited too long. Your recovery was too slow, and as a result much more painful than it had to be."

"So you will pierce me with words and make me recall a most beautiful dream—one that cuts my heart out when I think of it?" Elrond shook his head slowly. "You are cruel, Glorfindel. Very cruel."

"Cruel like a healer that amputates a leg without some sort of pain relief when none is at hand, but the wounded is bleeding to death? Because that is exactly what I am doing, only I am cutting grief from your heart, and there is no pain-relieving herb that can dull that sort of ache." Glorfindel reached a hand out toward his friend, but did not touch him; he simply let it drop after a second or two. He was again thoughtful…

"Elrond, why do you not just sail?"

There was another long silence when neither Elf spoke, but then Elrond's smile became bittersweet. "You know I cannot, Glorfindel," he answered, as if it were common knowledge that no one would question.

"Why?"

"I know you aren't dense, my friend. Why do you ask me questions that you already know the answer to?"

"If it's because of that blasted ring that you wear, hand it off to someone else already! Go be with your wife, where you belong."

One of Elrond's brows rose slowly in surprise. "And who would you have me hand it off to—you? Would you wear it and learn to wield its power? You are a warrior, Glorfindel, not a healer."*

"You were a warrior once, too, Elrond," Glorfindel answered.

"I was never the warrior that you are, friend," Elrond answered truthfully. "I could wield a sword, but my heart was never truly in it. And besides, that is only part of the ring's power. Its other qualities pertain to time, and the only way you deem the usage of time worthwhile is if you can forge forward ever more quickly. That is not the way the rhythm of time in Rivendell works. You know this…"

"I hate seeing you this way, Elrond!" Glorfindel said vehemently. "And I could no more wield that ring of power than—Erestor could. He is a scholar who turns green when confronted with even a drop of blood, and I have no compassion for anyone's whining." He looked at his friend and received the small smile he was hoping to prompt. Then he added, his voice much quieter, "It was given to you for a reason—because you are the one who must bear it. But I cannot help it if it pains me to see you grief-stricken!"

Elrond heaved a deep sigh, not wanting the burden of another's anguish. He was already grieved enough himself.

"Do not worry for me, Glorfindel. I will eat when I'm hungry; I will rest when I need to." He turned to face his friend then, making Glorfindel meet his eyes. "I will not waste away from want of Celebrian. I miss her—acutely, right now. But this will pass, just as it did when she first left."

"Bonded couples should not be parted," Glorfindel said sullenly.

Elrond chuckled softly, prompting a glare from his friend, so he held up a hand for peace. "I doubt that anyone would have ever thought to utter the word 'romantic' when describing you." He smiled widely.

"That is right! No one would!" Glorfindel said heatedly. "Least of all should you!"

They both stood now in companionable silence, something Glorfindel took as a good sign. At least he wasn't in imminent danger of being thrown out of Elrond's chambers.

"You speak of me paying too high a price for a duty that was given to me," Elrond said warily. "Yet you have lived longer than most—twice if my calculations are correct—and you have never bonded before—you've never even come close. Why is that Glorfindel?"

The Arms Master sighed, a sound someone who may have suddenly been caught up in the past might make. "I have had responsibilities, too, Elrond," he replied, and if one would have been listening intently, as Elrond was, one might have heard regret in the ancient Elf's voice.

"But to bypass personal happiness not once, but twice, because you were thinking of others, my friend. When is that going to stop, Glorfindel?"

Glorfindel looked Elrond in the eyes, but didn't say a word.

"So you do understand having responsibilities that just cannot be set aside for personal reasons," Elrond said pointedly.

Glorfindel continued to study his friend from the corners of his eyes. "I could hurt you, you know."

Elrond laughed out loud then, and walked toward the table where the tray rested. He picked up the cloth that covered the food on the different plates, bending over to catch the beguiling aroma of the berry tarts that were for dessert.

Glorfindel tried to hide the smile he wore at his small success. He sat at the table and reached for one of the plates, but Elrond slapped his hand away and sat down, too. Elrond saw the squab* pie and wrinkled his nose, handing the plate to Glorfindel. But the ancient Elf lord turned it away with an upraised palm and reached for the plate with the bread instead. Elrond grabbed it before Glorfindel could escape with it, taking the plate away from his friend and setting it out of his reach.

Elrond stopped what he was doing and looked into Glorfindel's eyes again, trying to convey his earnestness. "I am going to eat, which is what you came in here to ensure. Now I really do wish to be alone, Glorfindel."

"I know, Elrond," the ancient Elf replied as he chewed on a piece of roasted potato he'd filched from one of the plates. "And I will be here with you throughout the length of the time you wish to be alone. We will be alone together." He rose up out of his chair just enough so that he could reach the plate of bread that Elrond had confiscated moments before.

Elrond shook his head, his expression weary. "Forever have you vexed me, friend."

"And forever do I hope to continue to vex you," Glorfindel replied as he tore a piece of the bread off and slathered it with fig preserves. "But I am grateful for every day granted to me that you can vex me in return."

Elrond smiled and nodded his head. "I am grateful for that as well."

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Jeren traced the bone along Elrohir's jawline with her fingers as they lay together on the sofa in their bedchamber. She was sprawled atop him, covered in the sheet from their bed. They had made love earlier, and then had gotten up to lie on the couch. Even though the chair they were on was recessed back into the room, insuring their privacy, Jeren never felt at ease being naked in front of the open doorway. So she had pulled the sheet from the bed when she'd risen, and it now covered her back and legs.

The two of them were lazy and lethargic after having spent the whole of yesterday recuperating from being in one of Elrond's deep healing sleeps. Truthfully, Elrohir did not need such excessive recovery time, and Jeren could have pushed herself to be up and at work, but they were both still burdened by the revelations of the dream—or at least Elrohir was, and the closeness of their bond meant that Jeren was as well.

"I am sorry, Elrohir…" Jeren said softly, kissing the side of his mouth.

He smiled, his eyes telling her just how much he loved her. "And what are you sorry for, Jeren?" He lifted his hand and ran the backs of his fingers along her cheek.

"I am sorry your mother had to leave so soon when we were in Valinor," she replied, laying her face against his chest. "I know that was hard for you, and it was one of the reasons I didn't want to put you through experiencing the dream again." She raised her face to look into his eyes. "But that was the only reason. You agree you needed to hear what she told us, do you not?"

"I do agree," he admitted. "I never would have gotten the urgency of her message had I not heard it from her own lips. No wonder you would not let it be."

"Yes, now you understand," she said, sighing as she put her head down again, closing her eyes as the skin of her face came in contact with that of his chest. She could hear his heart beating…

"…but still…" she said wistfully. "I would not have you saddened in this way were it not necessary. You know that, don't you?" She didn't look at him this time, because in a way she was very regretful she'd insisted he experience the dream again, and a guilt lay upon her heart that she could not shake. When she'd insisted he remember the dream, she'd only been thinking about the message and how glad he'd been to see his mother—she'd forgotten how despondent he was when Celebrian had gone.

He lifted her chin so that his eyes could meet hers. "Do not have regrets about it, wife of mine," he said gently. "I wouldn't have missed the experience for anything, for I treasure the chance to know that my mother is well and waiting for us all in Valinor." Then his voice took on a tone of amazement. "I saw her, Jeren—I truly saw her; and I touched her as well! I don't know how it was possible, but it was. I have trouble believing it even now, but I wouldn't have missed it. For once, I am glad you were unrelenting."

She smiled as she laid her face back down on his chest. "I love you, Elrohir..."

She was quiet for several minutes, so quiet that Elrohir took a quick glance down into her face to see if she'd perhaps fallen asleep, but her eyes were open, and she appeared to be thinking. Her hair was loose and fell in dark ripples around them both. He ran his fingers through it, carefully working out knots as he did.

He felt her sigh and then she said, "When I think back over the past two years, how uncertain everything was for a time, it's hard to believe the way it all turned out. I've been happy and content for the first time in my life. I thought that I was happy; that things were going the way I had planned for them to go. And then… I met Haleth… and she did what she did. And then, when I was crippled by an Orc, everything changed. Try as I might, I could not pull myself out of the melancholy Haleth's death had plunged me into, and the injury to my arm made me feel as if my life was over. But you have been with me through it all—helping me, loving me… From the first time we met, even…

"I don't know where I would be right now, had it not been you who cared for me. After the Orcs attacked me at the cabin, I mean. You told me your mother's story… It made all the difference, Elrohir. And then, when I was so low after my arm was injured, you told me the story of the woman you met when Orcs had taken you the first time—Riann was her name. I felt as if I'd been asleep and you had woken me up—"

She raised herself, her elbows to either side of him, to gaze into his eyes. "And then you told me of your love for me, and I realized that it had always been you, from the very beginning. I hadn't recognized it for what it was at first—but then, neither had you. I was too young at the time. How we fought and bickered…"

He laughed at the scowl on her face and pulled her back down until her head rested on his chest again. "And look at us now. This is how we should always be—together, skin to skin." He smoothed her hair away from her face, his hand trailing along her neck and then down her back.

"Yes," Jeren said, her face as serious as it could be, "we should stay right here forever." But then her smile cracked and they both began laughing, which quickly dissolved into passionate kisses.

"I would willingly take you back to our bed to finish this properly," Elrohir said with a sensual gleam in his eye, "but something tells me that your heart just isn't in it at the moment." He brushed a stray tendril of hair from her brow and kissed her softly.

She smiled. "I am obviously not holding my part of our bond tightly enough," she said with a grimace. She looked down at his chest for a moment, and then sought his eyes again. "There's just so much to think about," she admitted. "And to do and to plan, as well," she continued, as if there had been no pause in her speech. "I just don't know where to start, and that's frustrating the fire out of me!"

She suddenly sat up, drawing the sheet around her as she stood. "I feel as if there is no time, but my mind turns circles when I try to think it all through—when I try to decide what I should do about your mother's message. 'Do not sit idly by…' What do we make of it, Elrohir, when we don't even know where to begin? All the while, I keep feeling as if we should make great haste."

"Perhaps it is the subject that has you feeling edgy. Impending war is nothing to just brush aside, but it could be that it is still years and years away, and we need not make terrible haste now, we merely need be attentive," he said reasonably. "Maybe it is something besides the message that has you uneasy. I have never discounted the fact that you are Dúnedain, though I believe you might forget it sometimes. Foresight is a well-documented trait of some of your people—perhaps it is manifesting itself in you now. Maybe Father could help you reach that part of yourself. After all, he has it, too."

She smiled but paced a few steps away, her head bowed as if she were thinking. "No thanks, Elrohir," she said, looking up at him then and shaking her head. "I am just now feeling like myself again, after my last dealings with him."

Elrohir chuckled and got up from the couch. Jeren blushed, but her eyes smoldered. "Husband, put on some clothes; in my present state of mind, I needs all my faculties about me, and your nakedness is very distracting."

He went to the bed and sat, pulling on his sheer sleeping trousers. He stood and walked toward her. She slowly closed the distance between them.

"That didn't help very much, Elrohir," she said, giving him a small kiss when she'd finally reached him. She then pulled the sheet she held a bit more tightly across her breasts and walked further out toward the veranda. She stopped well inside, still feeling naked, even though she was well covered.

"Mayhap you are right…" she said, her voice trailing off toward the end of her statement.

"Right about what?" he asked her, coming up behind her and dropping a kiss onto her bare shoulder.

"That I probably need to discuss this with your father. I, too, think this foresight 'thing' just might be coming alive in me. I've not mentioned this before because I have just been so overwhelmed with it all that I'd forgotten this part of the dream..."

She went on to explain the strange 'vision' she'd had as she'd stared into Celebrian's eyes—not once, but twice—and wondering just what it meant—all the different races meeting together for a common cause. "It could be that apart your father and I know nothing, but together we know much. Does that even make sense?"

He chuckled as he turned her around and ran his hands up and down her arms, as if to dispel a chill she was feeling. "It makes as much sense as anything else does!" She laughed and fell into his arms, and together they walked back into the center of the room.

"I'm hungry!" Jeren suddenly announced.

Elrohir shook his head as he smiled at her predictable stomach. "Well I'm certain we've missed morning meal by now," he said. "But perhaps we can persuade Bellasiel to feed us some crumbs in the kitchen." He looked at her from the corners of his eyes. "Unless you will leave it to me, and if that is the case, while you bathe, I can go fetch us a tray. We need not leave this room at all today, if you wish not to."

She smiled warmly at him. "As inviting as that is, I would like to speak to your father later; that is, if he has emerged from his rooms yet. But I will take you up on the bath and the tray. That does sound delightful!"

Elrohir was already dressing, and without bothering with boots of any kind, he opened the door, about to leave on his errand. "Then go get you busy—the sooner you are out of your bath, the sooner you can eat."

She laughed as he closed the door, but her smile quickly faded.

Yes… She must speak to Lord Elrond. She knew that he somehow held the key.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

After they'd eaten their late morning meal, Jeren and Elrohir made their way to Elrond's study. They had agreed beforehand that if he wasn't there, they would put off talking to him until he was. They would not seek him out, no matter how urgently they both might want to talk to him. He'd had quite a shock—seeing his wife, who he'd been parted from for so long—and then being forced to leave her in Valinor. He was very likely mourning her loss again, and neither of them was willing to approach him until he'd had a chance to make peace with those feelings.

But luck was with them and he was there. The study door was standing open, which was somewhat odd, and he wasn't in his usual place, hard at work at his desk with his nose in a book or a scroll. Instead he was at one of the windows, his hands clasped behind him, gazing out into the valley—the land that he'd founded millennia ago.

"Father, may we speak with you?" Elrohir asked quietly as he entered, and even before the Elf lord gave his permission, he'd closed the door behind them.

Elrond didn't turn at the sound of his son's voice, but he did answer him. "I don't know if that would be wise of me, Elrohir," he said, his tone ironic. "The last time the two of you asked such a thing, it did not turn out as I thought that it would."

Elrohir smiled at Jeren, but she glared at him, trying to get his attention. He ignored her when she tugged on his arm, attempting to stop their advance into the room, but he patted her hand in an effort to reassure her. She seemed baffled as to what his plan might be, because even from the few words Elrond had uttered so far, she seemed able to tell he was not his usual self. But even pulling on Elrohir's arm determinedly, she couldn't get him to turn around and leave. She gave him one final look—a look that plainly told him that she hoped he knew what he was doing, as they both approached the Elf lord's desk.

"No, it didn't turn out as either of us thought it might," Elrohir agreed. "It turned out much better than we'd ever dreamed it would, did it not?"

Elrond turned then, his expression an austere one, but after several long seconds passed, the corners of his mouth turned up so slightly it looked more like a grimace than a grin. "Yes, I suppose it did," he said, walking slowly toward the pair. "But it was heart wrenching, nonetheless."

The Elf lord was not in the best of moods; that was apparent to anyone who set eyes on his face. He appeared careworn, and sadness emanated from him. Pulling his chair away from his desk, he sat, indicating that the two of them should do likewise. Elrohir looked at Jeren then, his face revealing—finally—that he very well could have misjudged the situation; that perhaps it might have been a better idea to have walked away after all.

When everyone was seated, the Elf lord's bitter gaze settled on Jeren, and he asked, "What can I possibly help you with today?"

Jeren tried not to feel wounded by his sarcasm, for sarcasm it was. She knew he was hurting, and even though it was inadvertent, what he was going through now was because of her determination in seeking answers for Elrohir. She felt it was her fault that his heart lay bleeding…

She looked at her husband then, hoping to find some hint as to the direction they should take now, all the while struggling not to show that the Elf Lord had cut her to the quick. But she could see in Elrohir's eyes that he was aware of her pain, and he turned back to face his father.

"That was beneath you," he said as he rose, pulling Jeren to her feet as well. "If you are not of the humor to speak with us yet, a simple 'not now, Elrohir' would have sufficed."

Elrond got up then, too, immediately contrite. Closing his eyes for a moment, he said, "Please accept my apologies. I thought I was of the humor to face people today, but apparently I overestimated myself." He'd walked around his desk to Jeren, holding his arms out to her.

After looking hesitantly into his face—seemingly trying to judge if she should trust this show of peace—she relaxed into his embrace. He held her close for several minutes, stroking her braid. He then leaned back to look into her eyes. "Could you find it in your heart to forgive an old Elf his ill temper?"

She slowly smiled, trying very hard to keep the tears that stung her lids from falling. "Of course I can, Father." She looked into his eyes, her heart sore. "I am sorry…"

Elrohir interrupted then, his words earnest, "Are you not glad you had the experience, Father? I certainly am. To know that Mother is well? To see her happy as she once was?"

Elrond nodded, as if he didn't trust himself to speak of it yet, and then he pulled Jeren close again, and in a slightly admonishing voice said, "You have nothing to be sorry for."

He let her go with a sad smile, which she returned. Jeren and Elrohir then resumed their seats. Elrond went back behind his desk, but before he sat, he leaned over, supporting his weight with his fingertips on the top of the desk. His head fell forward, his shoulders slumping as if under great weight, and he cleared his throat, but when he glanced back up at the pair, they could tell from his expression that he was trying very hard to steel his heart against the pain he was in.

Gazing at Jeren, he said, "You did exactly the right thing in forcing this issue. Yes, my heart aches for want of my wife, but that will ease with a little more time. As Elrohir has said, I am very grateful for having seen her at all. The joy at finding her happy and well is winning out over the sorrow of having to leave her there. However, I am much more at fault for being here prematurely than you are for not reading my mood a little better." His slight smile was genuine then. "I knew I was not ready to face the world, but I had the feeling that I did not have anymore time for such self-indulgence right now."

He stood up straight again, as if he were determined to put his feelings out of his mind and focus on the task at hand. "Elrohir needed to know of the message, and I also needed to know about all of this. Exactly what I needed to know—and why—escapes me as yet, but that does not negate the feeling I have that know it I must."

He sat then and clasped his hands together, letting them lay atop his desk. "Now, how may I help you?" Gone was the sarcasm, and in its place was his usual interest when someone had come to him seeking his advice.

Elrohir looked at Jeren as if he wondered which of them should speak, so she took it upon herself to explain what they'd come for.

"I hate asking you about this, but…" Her discomfiture had her stammering. "We probably should have waited a few more days to speak to you about this, but—I am not giving Elrohir much peace when it comes to this subject, nor am I giving myself any peace over it, for that matter."

Elrond nodded in understanding. "You are speaking of the message that—Celebrian—gave to you." He'd said his wife's name as if it were blessed; a sacred word that one did not use carelessly. His brows rose as he continued, "I have been wondering about it as well."

"There's something I haven't told you about the dream," she admitted. "Something happened during both of them, but I had forgotten about it until just a little while ago, when Elrohir and I were discussing the message."

He scowled, but in puzzlement rather than in any sort of anger.

Jeren hurried on, telling the Elf lord what she'd told her husband earlier—about the strange vision she'd had in the dreams; the one in which every race she had ever known of was present—meeting for a common purpose.

"There were men—and Elves, of course, and—even Dwarves," she said.

Then her expression changed to one of surprise and bewilderment, as if she were shocked by what she was thinking, even before she'd had the chance to voice it. "And there were also Hobbits…" She looked at Elrond as she'd slowly said the last few words. "This is the first I've thought about the small ones." Wonder had crept into her voice. "I think the vision just clarified itself to me." Her eyes tracked to Elrohir's and then back to the Elf lord's. "Do you think I could be losing mind?"

Elrond smiled. "I doubt it. You're one of the most sensible people I've ever known. But I've been telling you that you must be one of the chosen ones of the Dúnedain, and this all but proves it. Foresight is creeping up on you. This is exactly how it made itself known to Estel."

Jeren's brows drew together as she wondered exactly what he meant, but he answered her before she could question him further. "Estel would be speaking of something, and as the words were leaving his mouth, you could tell that he was saying things he'd had no prior knowledge of—because he had not known of them before they came to him as he was talking the subject through. That happens to everyone, at one time or another, but this is a different thing—it comes as a vision, not just a thought. And that is what happened to you just now, is it not?"

Jeren's eyes widened with that last detail, acknowledging that what Elrond had said was exactly what had just occurred. "Well I wish it would hurry and hit me full force!" Jeren said heatedly. "There is so much that I need to know—so much I wonder about. But when I try to compel myself to make sense of this nonsense, all I get is more confused."

"As one who suffers this 'gift' myself, I can say that you are destined to stay that way," he told her bluntly. "You will continue to be confused. It picks and chooses its own time to reveal fragments of things, most of which do not make sense until after the fact."

"Then how is this 'gift' even useful?" Jeren asked, angry now—angry at this situation that was so frustrating to her.

He looked at her intently for mere seconds before saying, "Along with the baffling knowledge you suddenly become aware of, there is also a feeling in your gut that guides you—do not fight it, as most are wont to do. That is where its usefulness lies." He paused again, but then continued, "And do not be surprised when others notice your insight before you do." He'd finished his speech with a whimsical tone, eyebrows raised and a wry grin gradually forming on his lips.

A meaningful smile spread across Jeren's face when she said, "As Lord Glorfindel does with you." The Elf Lord chuckled as she stood.

"This 'foresight' barely seems helpful," she said, her scowl deepening, and a plaintive note stealing into her voice. She walked toward the windows behind his desk, looking out on the valley, but truly not seeing it. "And it seems as if it might be apt to drive one to madness!"

"There are times…" Elrond said knowingly.

She turned back to the two Elves sitting at the desk. "So, Father, what do we do with this information? Where does this assembly of races I envisioned take place? And when? And why?"

His smile was a little melancholy. "I cannot tell you. But it will become clear with time."

Jeren shook her head in annoyance, but it didn't take long before she squared her shoulders, as if she readied herself for a long campaign. "Then in the meantime, what do we do? We cannot just sit here knowing that war is at hand. Doing nothing seems exactly the wrong thing to do. And it's my gut that is telling me this, Father. I am more unsettled now—after the second dream—than I was after the first, if that's possible. It's why I cannot let any of this be. And I'm driving not only myself insane, but your son as well."

The Elves both laughed, leaving Jeren to sulk in her momentary pique, but everyone came to attention when there was a brief knock at the door. Before Elrond had a chance to respond, Elladan came in breathlessly, giving an order over his shoulder to an unseen warrior of the Imladris force.

"Is Glorfindel in here with you father?" he'd asked, before he'd even glanced inside the study.

Elrond stood, his brows already drawing together in confusion. "No. What is it, Elladan?"

"He sent for me—I was told to meet him in here—and to be ready to ride."

Jeren suddenly bent over, covering her face with her hands, but as the silent seconds ticked by with everyone present watching her in horror, she fell from her chair onto her knees, curling into a ball at Elrohir's feet, her arms thrown over her head as if she were warding off some sort of attack.

Elrohir reached for her, kneeling beside her, but the minute he touched her she suddenly relaxed, coming back to herself. She sat up with her husband's aid, but she was so pale, Elrond was at her side with a glass of Miruvor before anyone had even seen him get up to go fetch it.

"Jeren," Elrohir said, concern dripping from his voice, "what is it? What happened?"

She got up from the floor with Elrohir's help to steady her, and with shaking hands accepted the glass that Elrond handed to her. She took a deep swallow without even thinking about what she was drinking. She hated Miruvor with all the passion she possessed, but that didn't even occur to her at this moment.

She looked at Elrond, fear in her eyes. "It's happened again, Father—one of those visions." She took another swallow of the hated liquid, and this time grimaced at the taste, although she didn't acknowledge it.

Elrond took her by the arms and looked into her eyes, as if he searched for some answer he knew he wouldn't find. "What was it, Jeren?" he asked her seriously.

"I do not know what I saw," she said, her voice quaking. "But it was horrible and black. And its very presence shook me to the core. It was as if I were facing everything I've ever feared, all of it wrapped in one black robe."

Elrond stepped back like he'd momentarily lost his balance, but he quickly righted himself again, although the pallor of his skin told all.

"Ứlairi…" he whispered. The look on his face was of someone far away, seeing something from the past, of which he held deep and unshakable hatred—or fear.

But it wasn't the past that had rocked him—Elrond had just had a vision alike to the one Jeren had endured.

Elladan had quickly gone to his father's side, and one arm now encircled the Elf lord's shoulders. "Are you all right, Father?" he asked.

Elrond suddenly looked at his son, as if he'd just become aware of the others around him again, and then nodded his head, taking a drink from the glass he'd just seconds ago been plying on Jeren. But before he had a chance to respond, or to tell the others exactly what had taken place, Glorfindel came through the door, his face like a storm cloud.

He was dressed for riding and he carried a map rolled up in one fist. "Elrond, I need to speak with you—now," he said, looking deliberately at the others, wanting them gone from the room.

Elrond took another sip of Miruvor, calming himself even more. "It is fine, Glorfindel. Whatever you need to say should be heard by us all." The Elf lord's voice was weak at first, making it sound as if he truly wasn't in command of the situation.

Glorfindel clearly did not agree with his friend. "Elrond…" he warned.

"Do it, Glorfindel!" Elrond's tone had taken on a more decisive note, like he'd not just been staggered to the bone moments earlier. "I'll have your report now. No stalling and no hedging. Your full report."

Clearly not liking it, he sighed, and spread his map out on Elrond's desk. He pointed to various spots on the chart as he said, "There have been sightings of late, riders draped in black robes."

Jeren gasped, which was so out of character for her the others quickly turned to see what had caused her to react so drastically. She was white as a sheet, but when she noted the others' perusal, color flooded her face. "Please, go on…" she said hesitantly.

"At first it was thought to be only one rider, but as the days have progressed, it is now very apparent that there are at least five of them."

"There are nine," Elrond said through clenched teeth, as if this truth angered him immensely.

"You are sure?" Glorfindel asked skeptically.

"I am sure," he replied, but he didn't elaborate. And no one doubted him…

Glorfindel cleared his throat before he said, "I am sending out scouts now, specifically to track them, though they have proved slippery so far. They seem to have wings at times, practically vanishing, only to turn up later in another location. That has been why our count is so spotty—along with the fact that they are very alike, although there is one who appears to be their leader."

"How many warriors of the force are you sending?" Elrond asked.

"Most of the border guard and all of the scouts," Glorfindel replied, purposely eyeing both Jeren and Elrohir.

"I will be ready shortly, my lord," Jeren said, and she started toward the door, but Elrohir quickly grabbed one of her arms, stopping her.

"Do not start with me, Elrohir," she said, her eyes so serious that everyone was confident she would be leaving soon, exactly when she wanted to. "This is what I've been waiting for—only I did not know it until now. I am going with the others scouts—with or without you."

He dropped her arm, but his expression was a challenging one, as if he were daring her to step foot out of the house without his blessing. She looked at him long, but then she stood up straighter, her gaze never leaving his, until she continued out of the room.

Glorfindel looked pointedly at Elrohir again. "Can I count on you, too? Or will you cower here in the house, trying to keep your wife safe? Because I know the only way she will remain is if you stay and make her do so."

Elrohir's eyes clouded over then, every bit as stormy now as Glorfindel's were. His face was set in stony anger and his voice was icy. "What I do or do not do with my wife is my business. Not yours."

Elrond stepped between them then, because it looked distinctly as if the two Elves were about to go after one another.

"Elladan," Elrond said then, even as he turned Elrohir away from Glorfindel. "Are you going with them as well?"

"Yes, Father," Elladan replied, and, reading the plea on his father's face, he offered a slight bow and exited the room.

Glorfindel stood down then, and, giving the younger Elf another glare, also nodded slightly to Elrond, before he, too, left the study.

Elrond still had a hold on Elrohir's arms, when his son gently disengaged himself. "I am sorry, Father," he said, "but sometimes Glorfindel pushes me too far." He walked to the window behind his father's desk and placed his palms on the sill. Leaning over, he took several deep breaths, trying to calm himself.

"I know he does, son; and he has his reasons," Elrond replied as evenly as he could. "But that doesn't nullify your responsibility to not only respect your elders, but to respect your commander."

Elrohir turned toward his father then, but his expression did not change; there was no sign he was other than still extremely angry.

"What are you going to do?" Elrond asked him then. "I hate to see you and Jeren at odds, before she rides away on what could prove to be a dangerous mission."

"You said 'Ứlairi', just before Glorfindel came into this room," Elrohir said. "We are dealing with the Nazgûl?"

"Riders in black; and Jeren said it was as if she were facing everything she'd ever feared. I would say that describes any of the Nine in very succinct terms." He looked deliberately into his son's eyes then. "And I have now seen them myself."

"Then it's as I thought—she cannot go! I will not allow it!"

Elrond approached Elrohir, stopping right in front of him. "Do not say something to her you will live to regret, son. Jeren is single-minded in this thing, and she will do as she will. Even if you try to forbid it, she will go." He turned his eyes toward the window then, the lines of his face falling into sadness again. "And you must let her…"

He glanced at the younger Elf to gauge his reaction, and it was exactly as he thought he would see—his son was even more livid than he'd been before. He took a deep breath and continued, before Elrohir had a chance to vent his spleen.

"Your mother warned me about this message she was giving to you, son." He glanced at Elrohir again, to see if he had his total attention.

Elrohir's eyes had narrowed, but his anger had not abated. "What did she say, Father?"

"She meant it literally when she said it was vital to both of you that you each be involved in this war of which she was speaking."

The remembrance of the dream was pushing Elrond back into the melancholy he'd been fighting since he'd woken in his room. But he knew he must push on—tell his son what he needed to know; what he needed to understand.

"It seems as if Jeren has taken your mother's message to heart—she has no intention of being left behind from this mission, and her foresight is telling her that this very thing is a part of the whole of what she must accomplish. If you are wise, son, you will help her all that you can. And the best way you can help her will be for you to accept that she must do this, and then allow her to do it. Help her do that which she must, because your lives depend on it."

"Did Mother tell you specifics, Father?" Elrohir asked, his anger gone now, with fear taking its place.

"No. No specifics. Nothing except that it will be Jeren's task to fulfill, but it will be to your extreme benefit if she succeeds. It will benefit us all.

"And keep in mind that your mother is in Valinor, and for some unknown reason she was sent to us in a dream. She was not sent merely to ease our minds, son; she was sent for this purpose. I do not know why our family was granted this favor, but your mother was very adamant about that being the case. Now we must do as we've been advised. You and Jeren must do as you've been advised."

"But Father," Elrohir said, as if pleading, "we don't know what to do! We know nothing! Am I to let Jeren risk her life—continually—to follow this 'foresight' of hers that even she cannot control or understand?"

"I know it is much to ask, Elrohir," Elrond said. "But I think that you must do as you've been directed, by whomever in Valinor it was that has taken this interest. Why else would we have been granted the gift of seeing your mother, if not for some profound reason? Think of your history. Think long, Elrohir, before you do something you might regret."

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Elrohir raced up the steps two at a time, hurrying to get to his chambers to speak to Jeren. Contrary to his father's advice, he had no time to think right now; he had to get to Jeren before she left with the rest of the scouts. He didn't think she would actually leave without telling him goodbye, but in her present state of mind, he couldn't predict exactly what she might do. She was bound to hurry her preparations for the scouting mission, not only because of the urgency she felt over the dream, but also because of the disagreement they'd had in his father's study. She might make haste to be out of the house, just so that she would not have to face him—and more than likely fight with him—before she left.

But still—she wouldn't leave without any farewell… Would she?

Confrontation wasn't Jeren's strongest suit, and if she could avoid it, he knew that she would. Of course, if he pushed it, she would meet the conflict with him head on, but that really wasn't what he wanted, either. He wanted to talk to her—settle things between them in a peaceful manner and impress upon her the danger she faced in trying to find the black riders that Glorfindel had mentioned. He knew he had little chance of talking her out of this mission, but he aimed to try. He had no intention of letting her go easily, if that was what she was determined to do, so if he could dissuade her from her current mindset, he was certainly going to give it his all.

He paused on the landing at the top of the stairs just a few feet from his door, as thoughts of what his father had told him after Jeren left the study stopped his progress. He knew his father was right—the dream had been orchestrated by someone in Valinor—someone very powerful—and it hadn't been gifted to them just so that Elrond's family could set their minds at ease as to Celebrian's health. No, his mother had been sent with a message—an urgent one; one of significance to all. Just because he didn't know its worth at present, didn't negate the fact that he knew it was crucial. But was it crucial enough to risk Jeren's life over?

When he'd first seen her in his dream, his mother had acted like her old self again. She was confident and happy. But when it was time for her to leave them, she became troubled and had insisted that she speak only to Elrohir and Jeren. She wanted to make sure that they understood the burning nature of the message she bore. There was no doubting that, as much as Elrohir wished for it not to be true. And despite the falsehood he'd told Elladan, he'd known right away that his mother's frantic plea had not been meant for his twin. No, the more he thought about everything that happened in the dream—his mother's determination—the fact that she'd been sent to them at all—the more he believed that his father was right: the message his mother had spoken of was ultimately Jeren's task to complete.

He heaved a frustrated sigh. This was tearing him apart. He knew the stories and legends of the Nazgûl. He seriously didn't want Jeren to be a warrior in the first place, and here he was expected to not only give his blessing to this obscure task of his mother's, he was supposed to ride out with Jeren in search of the Nine? He was loath to do it himself, yet he would, because it was his duty to do so. But allow his wife to go up against such evil? He thought not…

If he set aside the current problem, he still couldn't get past the one they'd had since before they'd been bonded. He'd been distracted by her in battle well before that, watching her back, making sure she was holding her own. Now he was expected to fight beside her—not do battle for her, as his nature would naturally want to bend him toward. He was supposed help her in this; watch as she put herself into dangerous situations—like the one that faced them now.

If he did this he'd be forced to stand aside and not fight for her, because that was how Jeren wanted it. She had been complaining to him for a very long time that he did not trust her skills. He wanted to, but he knew she was right—he couldn't leave her to fend for herself. He was simply unable to come to terms with it. He didn't feel as if he mistrusted her skills, but when he was faced with a battle situation, in which she too fought, he could not seem to let her be on her own, without any interference from him. So how was he to be expected to do this thing now?

He inhaled deeply, trying to slow his breathing, and as he walked toward his door, he forced himself to calm. It would do no good to go into their room shouting demands. That was the surest way to make Jeren stand firmer and send her on her way even faster than she was of a mind to go already. It didn't help that his heart was so torn—knowing he needed to listen to his mother's direction, but at the same time, also needing to hold onto his wife with both hands…

He opened the door to the sitting room, finding the inner door open as well. He walked inside their bedchamber, and Jeren was rolling up a pair of leggings to put into her pack. His Elven eyes saw the muscles in her shoulders and neck tense as she heard his approach, and he watched as her teeth clenched together, thinning her lips. He felt regret that she was preparing herself for what she thought would most assuredly be a heated argument, even though that was not in his plans at all.

"Jeren…" he said as he closed the door.

When she didn't respond, but kept on with what she was doing, he called out to her again. "Jeren—look at me…"

In a split second her gaze darted to his. "Is that an order, my lord?"

Elrohir closed his eyes momentarily, trying to tamp down the instant anger he felt at her stinging reply. When he had his emotions under control again, he said, "No, it isn't an order, Jeren. It is a simple request."

She stopped rolling the leggings and looked at him, and his heart melted just a little. She was so beautiful—so precious to him. He loved every inch of her. How could he allow her to put herself in danger this way? It was going against everything he believed in if he permitted her to imperil her life by going off on this mission—the first of many, he would guess...

Not really knowing what he was going to say, he drew near her, stopping just in front of her. He took the leggings out of her hands and placed them on the bed beside her pack, and then took hold of her fingers, caressing them while looking into her eyes.

"Can we at least talk about this?" he asked.

"There's really nothing to talk about Elrohir—I'm going on this scouting mission whether you go or not; whether you approve of it or not," she said, her tone straightforward. "And we've talked about this ongoing problem several times. You do not trust my ability as a warrior, even though I've trained and passed all of Glorfindel's tests. We talked about it extensively when we were scouting together—before we found the children—and the 'solution' we came up with was not working well for me. You were miserable all the time, and you'd barely allowed me to do my part. Even though you were trying very hard, it just wasn't enough."

He dropped her hands, trying not to show his frustration so much. "Then give me another chance."

"You've had chance after chance," she said, her voice still calm. "This last time, you very nearly got yourself killed. What would my life be like if you were no longer in it—all because you do not trust me?"

"I do trust you," he replied, seeming offended by her comment, as if he'd not really heard the meat of it.

"Not in this," she insisted. "You know you do not. You cannot allow me to engage with Orcs if you are anywhere near. And if you fell, I would cease caring about life at all."

He stepped closer to her, finally allowing his anger free reign, and his voice was neither calm nor kind. "That is exactly the point of all this, Jeren! I feel the same way about you! And while the pain of loss would be the same for both of us, you know that should anything happen to you, it goes deeper for me. Because it is my nature—I'm Elfkind!"

"So I must pay for that for the rest of my life?" Jeren asked heatedly. "Pay for it with my life—forget that I am a warrior? Forsake my own heart?" Her eyes searched his, wanting to see understanding. Not finding it, she said, "You knew what I was well before you declared your love for me, Elrohir. How is any of this fair?"

"None of it is fair—not to you or to me!" he shouted. "It wasn't meant to be like this!" He walked toward the veranda, but then turned around again. In a much quieter voice, he said, "Yes, I knew what you were before I fell in love with you, but the heart does not take such things into consideration—it gives one no choice. And I hoped that with time, I'd be able to persuade you to hang up your bow, sheathe your sword. Then after your arm was crippled, I thought you wouldn't be able to fight again! I hoped you'd quit being a warrior after you were injured."

"Yet you went to great lengths to help me achieve my goals, Elrohir! How does that even make any sense?"

"I don't know!" he said loudly, his face a mask of annoyance. He paced back to her, placing his hands on her arms. "I don't know," he said more calmly and at a much lower volume. "I want you to be happy—more than anything, that's what I want.

"But this… This message thing is tearing me apart inside. I am expected to help you achieve some intangible goal, while fighting beside you! How will I stand by while you are in battle and not keep at least one eye on you? How will I be able to stay on the task of keeping myself alive? Just tell me how…" His voice had trailed off to almost a whisper, and his hands now cupped her face. "Your safety consumes me. And now our bond seals our hearts together. As if we are one… Just tell me how to do this…"

He watched her face soften with his entreaty, and he felt a smidgen of hope, but just as quickly, her jaw hardened again with resolve. She pulled away from him, determination taking firm root in her expression once more.

"I don't know the answer to that, Elrohir," she replied. She picked up the pair of leggings and shoved them into her pack. He could see the tears starting in her eyes, and then the slight widening of her lids that showed she was trying very hard to hold them back. He desperately didn't want her to cry; she hated it and so did he. And that hadn't been his aim at all.

But he didn't let her small show of emotion deter him from his objective. "You haven't trained in months," he said, starting in on her again, in spite of feeling disloyal at causing her pain.

"It's been only one month, Elrohir," she retorted, the fire returning to her spirit. "And you know yourself that while one might get rusty from not wielding weapons, the remembrance of using them is ingrained deep in your mind—your very limbs and muscles have distinct memories of all of the movements. Glorfindel's drills see to that. I am well enough prepared to go out again."

"Glorfindel…" Elrohir said with contempt. "Do not mention his name to me right now."

He let his seething anger at the Arms Master go as he realized he was getting nowhere again. He moved closer to her. He took her right hand in his, threading his fingers with hers. "This hand doesn't even work, and this arm—" His fingers had moved up to her elbow, and he tightened them around the limb, giving it a little shake. She was too late in contracting the muscles she could use in it, so it moved a little bonelessly at first.

She looked into his eyes as she pulled her arm out of his grasp. "It works well enough. And besides, I use my other hand and arm," she replied. "You know that. Your attack is losing strength, husband of mine." A mocking half-smile pulled at her lips.

"I grow desperate at this late hour," he replied honestly, answering with a slight grin of his own. But he didn't let her distract him again. "I do not want you to go, Jeren. I want you safe, here in my arms. It's the only way I can truly be happy."

Her jaw dropped as comprehension of his words dawned. "I hope you are exaggerating, Elrohir. If you are not, then we truly have very big problems. We should never have bonded, if what you are saying is indeed the truth. Again, you knew who I was—what I was—before you ever declared love of me."

He walked away, seemingly dejected, but he was not yet beaten. If worse came to worst, he would simply ride out with her as he always did and try very hard not to coddle her.

"You knew who I was, Elrohir…" she repeated. "And now we have this message from your mother that I cannot release to someone else's care." She walked toward him, but stopped well out of his reach. "I know in my bones that it is something I must do—for us. I do not know exactly what it is as yet, but it involves a conflict of some sort, conflict that I must participate in. I must Elrohir. There is no choice, not if I want life as I've grown to know it to continue. Deep in my gut I know this—and quite frankly it hurts me deeply that you do not truly trust me to decide what is best for our future."

She turned her back on him then, returning to the bed to finish her packing. But she was not done telling him exactly what she thought, so she faced him again.

"Your mother was very persuasive; she convinced me—twice—that it was truly my task to carry out. I will see it done, and yes, I might die trying, but I will go down fighting. It is what I do. I am my father's daughter—Anardil's daughter. He taught me well, but he also gave me this heart—this stubborn heart that will not quit."

Elrohir drew closer to her again, stopping only when they were separated by a mere inch. He lifted a hand to trail his fingers down her cheek. His smile was bittersweet. "I love you, Jeren. If this is what you want—then it is what I want as well. I don't know how I will keep from fighting your battles, and chances are I will fail at it again. But since I have the burden of watching you when you are in peril, I suppose it is only fair that you experience the same kind of feelings that I will. If I go down protecting you, then so be it—because that is what I do."

Jeren looked at him long, her face unreadable. He truly didn't have an inkling as to what she was thinking or feeling, and finally she drew away, fastened the ties on her pack and reached for her sword.

She buckled it on, adjusting it until it hung in exactly the right place, within easy reach of her left hand, and then she picked up her pack as well as her bow and quiver. She headed for the door.

"Jeren?" Elrohir said uncertainly. "Have you nothing else to say?"

She turned back toward him just as she reached for the knob on the door. "Yes, I have two more things to say. First, I love you, too, Elrohir—with my entire being. I always will. And second, I'm going down to the stables now to ready Two, and to find Glorfindel so that he can give me my assigned partner."

"What—?" Elrohir started, his face alight with surprise. He was almost rendered speechless from what he'd just heard her say.

"I'll not be your partner in this, Elrohir," she stated evenly. "Not in this scouting mission; at least not at first. I will go with whomever Glorfindel chooses for me—with the possible exception of Bandorian—I won't ride with him.

"But you will not be my partner. Perhaps I will be able to prove my worth as a scout without your constant smothering. Otherwise, I might as well stay here, and let whatever your mother was hinting at go on without me, because I cannot do what I must with your hovering at every turn."

Elrohir stood there listening to her speech, anger and frustration building with every word she spoke. He longed to interrupt her, tell her she was wrong to be doing this, but it had been he who'd all but demanded a response from her, so he held his tongue for now.

"I'm sorry, Elrohir," she continued, her face softening for the tiniest few seconds, before she forced her jaw into a hard edge once again. "I truly am. But I, too, am torn. I want to be your wife—the best wife I can be for you. But I will not try to change my basic nature just in order to please you. For one thing, I don't know if I'm even capable of doing such a thing, and for another, I would end up hating myself and resenting you."

She paused as if making sure he was weighing the words she was hurling at him, for it seemed as if she was finally telling him everything that was on her mind. He watched her intently, trying to read her thoughts, even though he knew that was an impossibility. He wondered how much more she would dare to say.

"I am a warrior—it's what I will probably always be. I didn't mean to keep that fact a secret from you—I always thought that you knew it. But it seems to surprise you now, so mayhap I wasn't as forthcoming as I thought I was."

She turned the doorknob, but he was beside her before she could open the door fully, slamming it shut with a palm flat on the wood.

"You're beginning to make me really angry, Jeren. Don't do it this way. We will ride together, as we have been doing. Those are my conditions; take them or leave them."

Her incredulous expression gradually transformed to one of anger. She raised her brows, as she said, "I care not about your conditions. I am deciding my own fate from now on—not you. Now move, before I move you myself."

He took hold of her arms, wanting to shake her until her teeth rattled, but her chin rose defiantly. He would like to see her try to move him. She wouldn't gain an inch, even if she put every ounce of her meager weight into the struggle, but what gave him pause was that she knew this fact well. Yet knowing this wouldn't keep her from trying; trying until she had no strength left.

They stood there looking at each other, anger blazing from them both, and then he remembered what his father had said when he'd been in his study:

Think long, Elrohir, before you do something you might regret.

He'd been unable to think of anything other than Jeren going into danger since Glorfindel had entered his father's study and had told them what they'd be scouting for. It had left him shaken when his father confirmed what it was that they hunted—Nazgûl.

Why were they here? Why had they been seen on the borders of Imladris? What did they want? But more significantly, what could a Human—a woman—do to protect herself from even one of the Nine?

He shuddered and let out a shaky breath as he loosened his hold on Jeren's arms, which, he suddenly realized, had been tight enough to bruise. He had to cease this struggle of power between them, because in the scheme of things it was insignificant. Right now he needed to really impress upon her the danger into which she was riding. He knew he needed to do some very persuasive talking, in order to dissuade her once and for all.

"Jeren listen to me," he commanded, not caring how overbearing it made him sound. He needed to reach her, and if scaring her would do it, then he would fall that low. "You do not know what you hunt."

She drew her brows together, as if she were totally bewildered by his sudden change in subject.

As he stood there with scant seconds to think, he decided that commanding her would never reach her. He'd have to attempt something different. Scare her, yes, but in another manner entirely.

"I have tried everything I know of to keep you from going on this scouting mission, so it seems I must resort to begging you now. You cannot go in search of the Nine. They are fell and terrible beyond enduring—even for an Elf at times. For a Human—" He let his voice die away, hoping to impress her with anything he could think of.

"Who are they?" she asked, still confused.

"I cannot do justice to a detailed explanation right now, Jeren; Glorfindel waits for our answer, and the story is long. You must trust me—they are the worst foes you could ever face. Before you are even able to set eyes on them, their evil touches the air around you, seeping into your mind, then taking over your heart and soul. They can kill without even touching you."

She looked at him warily for several seconds, and he was sure he'd gotten to her with this. But just as soon as he began to breathe a wee bit easier, he saw her jaw square once again.

"This is only a scouting mission, Elrohir. I do not know what Glorfindel's instructions will be, but I would assume we will be told not brave them with an approach. My partner and I will report back when—and if—we find them. Thank you for the warning, but I must still go. Now unhand me, please."

He'd taken hold of her arms again, when he'd made this final appeal, and, as if his fingers had been glued to her skin, he slowly let go of her, feeling as if he was forsaking his very life when he did.

"Then there is nothing I can say that will keep you here? Keep you safe?" he asked a little breathlessly.

She shook her head. "There is nothing you can say or do. Come with me or stay here, Elrohir—that is a decision you must make for yourself. I think I will still have time when I return from this mission to impress upon you the importance of your mother's message. I do not think you are truly grasping it yet…"

"I do understand it, Jeren," he said, "more than you know. I just do not agree that you need to risk your life for it. My mother gave us the message—from someone in Valinor. Why? Why are you meant to do this thing? Have you asked yourself that question? I certainly have, and whatever the answer to it is, I think the price you might pay is too high. We've been given vague bits of information, such as 'our lives depend on it'. I've always lived my life in the present. I'm living my life now, not a decade from now, not a century from now, and I can tell you, I am not willing to lose you for some 'mystical' thing we might wish to have in our lives in the future. Do not do this, Jeren—not for me or for us."

Jeren's expression softened at last—and stayed that way. She let her pack and her weapons slide to the floor. "Elrohir…" She said his name as if it brought her sadness instead of joy. "I wish I could stay and do as you want me to do, but I cannot. I have something spurring me forward that will not allow me to rest. If I stay here now, I will drive the both of us insane—you will be glad to be rid of me, in any way possible. So I may as well go." One side of her mouth quirked up in a slight grin.

She reached up and touched his face. "There is nothing I would like to do more than to stay here—in this safe haven—cradled in your arms, loving you always. But you know that is no life for a warrior. A warrior fights. And now I've been called. Yes, it is an ambiguous calling, but it is a quest I must make nonetheless."

She kissed his lips as he watched her face, his mind filled with not only fear and frustration, but desire and love, although he hoped he was allowing neither of the latter to show in his expression. He would not let her feel easy about any of this. He'd not changed his mind, he'd simply acquiesced the point—for the time being.

"I will tell you goodbye now, Elrohir, just in case I do not see you down at the stables before we leave," she said. "Otherwise, my advice is to hurry and pack—time is of the essence." She smiled at him then, a sad smile, as if she, too, knew that all was definitely not settled between them. She looked at him longingly for several seconds, seeming as if she truly did want to do his bidding, she was just unable to. Picking up her gear, she went back to the door and opened it, letting herself out and closing it with a quiet click.

Elrohir paced to the veranda, and when he reached the railing, he leaned on it, his knuckles pale from gripping it so forcefully. He took several deep breaths, feeling as though he were drowning—sinking into a pool of misery he couldn't escape.

He knew the wisdom of following his mother's order. He knew it had something to do with their future, and if it had not been something of significance, then a miracle such as the dream would have never occurred in the first place. But what was the message for? Why is it so vital? He had his speculations about it, but he didn't have any proof that what he was thinking was indeed the truth. Who in their sane mind would allow his wife to risk her very life over something that wasn't even a sure thing?

He heaved one last deep sigh and stood up straight. He'd lost this battle, but he'd not forfeited the war. Not by a long shot. He would shadow her every move, whether she liked it or not—no matter what Glorfindel said or did. After all, he was expected to support his wife in this endeavor was he not? His mother told him not to sit idly by—

And he didn't intend to…

He made his way back into the room, going to his wardrobe to gather some of his things. He packed hurriedly, all the while thinking about his argument with Jeren. He shook his head in disgust as he thought about her perhaps confronting one of the Nine. Surely she would do exactly as she said she would, and simply report her findings—not try and bring any of those evil beasts down.

He mentally shook himself then. He knew she was always sensible, and was in fact a very capable warrior. He knew it—even though he kept denying it to her face. But knowing something and being able to have enough faith that she would triumph were two totally different things.

If she just weren't so stubborn!

Even as he thought this, he had to smile. If he were to choose what he most loved about his wife, he would have to say that it was her mulish determination that he cherished above all. While she was a trial at times, if not for her stubborn heart, she would have died at sixteen, and he'd never have even gotten to know her, much less love her.

He picked up his pack and took a moment to look about the room. He wanted to drink in the serenity he usually felt here in this place. Here with Jeren. Loving her; holding her in his arms. His gaze fell on her open wardrobe, and he spied her dagger sitting on the shelf right inside the door. He smiled to himself again—she'd been in such a hurry, she'd left without all of her weapons. He walked to the wardrobe and palmed the dagger, closing the door while he was at it. He shoved the knife into his pocket, and then he gathered his own weapons. Taking one final look around the room, he grasped the doorknob and let himself out.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

A/N: Well, there you have it, dear readers, the rest of the story. I hope you liked it and that it was worth the wait. I will continue this series sometime soon, I think. The story will NOT be a "9th and 10th" walker sort of story, although it will involve the quest. I would like to thank any and all who reviewed my story. It always helps immensely to know what people are thinking, and whether they like or hate the story. Thanks from the bottom of my heart to those who took the time to review.

A/N2: About squab… I always thought of squab as a small chicken—with mostly white meat. But when I looked it up and saw that it was basically a pigeon with dark meat, it made me think of the wild doves that hunters shoot here in Texas where I live. Oh my GOSH, it's a nasty little bird to eat (in my opinion). It has very dark meat—blood red—and is "gamey" and "wild" tasting. Not to my liking at all. So that's what Bellasiel's squab pie is made of and why no one really likes it in my story…

A/N2: If you'd like the websites I used to make my determinations about the ring Vilya, private message me, since f f . net won't allow you to put websites in the Author's Notes apparently. I tried to list them, but it just wouldn't save.