The Missing Years
Chapter 11 – Filling the Box
Elladan and Elrohir moved slowly, reverently, as they pushed open the connecting door between Erestor's room and Athriel's. They hadn't been here since they returned, hadn't dared, and because they knew that it would be too much. It was exactly the same, exactly the same as it had always been. It was a mess. She was always like that when she left in a hurry, she left everything a mess. They almost expected her to come in through the front door or from the bedroom door towelling her long black hair dry before sitting by the fire. They could almost see her as she should be, could almost see her as she always had been when they returned from the wild.
Carrying a bottle of wine each Elladan and Elrohir approached Athriel's door. Finding it open they let themselves in and laughed. Athriel had obviously not finished with her bath. The room was still a mess, usually when she finished bathing she would tidy up a little, so that Erestor wouldn't nag her. But the room was still a mess. While Elladan found them some glasses Elrohir kicked Athriel's boot out of the way and moved her cloak from the long chair so that they could sit down. "Come on Ree, hurry up or there will be no wine left." Elladan called as he poured three glasses. They loved these moments, when the three of them newly returned from the wild were able to just relax by the fire with a glass of wine.
Athriel came in from the bedroom obviously fresh from the bath. She was wearing her usual dress split up both sides with leggings underneath, but her feet were bare and her hair was loose and still wet. She had a towel in one hand which she used to dry her hair as she walked. Sitting down on the rug in front of the fire she took the glass that Elladan handed her. Dropping the towel to the floor she sat by the fire running a hand through her hair to help it dry while she sipped her wine. And watching her in the firelight the brethren thought she had never been more beautiful.
But she wasn't there, she didn't come in through either door and they knew that she never would. Elladan moved forwards while Elrohir lingered by the door. They still had her laughter ringing through their ears as they looked around them. Every little thing they saw was like a knife to the chest. Every little thing was a reminder of what they had lost. Elladan stood in front of the fire place and looked at the gap where her portrait should be. This was it; this was the only sign that everything was not as it should be. This was the proof that she was not coming home. There should have been a portrait there, a portrait of Athriel in full armour smiling down at them. Athriel just approaching her majority and finally on her true path, finally doing what she was meant to do. But it wasn't there. It had been taken down and hung in the long gallery. It had been taken away from them, just as she had.
Elrohir looked to his right. There was a small side table there, cluttered with meaningless objects. Almost meaningless. He picked up a cork sitting there on the table. It had a coin stuck into it and he recognised it immediately. It was a silly little trinket that they passed between them from time to time, Depending on who won.
Elrohir pulled the cork out of his pocket and put it down on the coffee table as a challenge. Athriel laughed. They didn't play the game very often now; they were much older and apparently wiser, far too old for drinking games. But the challenge had been made. Athriel grabbed the wine bottle and lining the three glasses up she made sure they were all at the same level. Then without a word they each took their glass and held it ready to start. "One, Two, Three. Go!" Elrohir counted and then they were drinking. It was more difficult than it used to be but each tried their hardest to finish the glass first. Within moments though Athriel cheered triumphantly and grabbed the cork from the table.
Elrohir took the cork and put it in the box that they had brought with a sigh. It was stupid, a childish game that they had played throughout their adulthood, but they wouldn't play it again. Meanwhile Elladan had felt his brother's thoughts, and instead of pushing them away as he usually did with painful memories he relived it with him. That was why they were here, they were here to remember. He moved across the room. He saw the pipe that sat there, her pipe and smiled. It was sitting there beside a pouch of tobacco and a tinder box.
Elladan pulled on the pipe and sighed happily while Athriel looked at him strangely from across the fire. It was a look of confusion and disgust and it made him laugh. It was a fairly new habit that he had picked up. One night while they had been travelling with the dunedain he and Elrohir had been offered a pipe and discovered that it was actually very relaxing. It was one of the only times they had gone without Athriel, as she had been escorting her brother to Lothlorien at the time for diplomatic discussions, but now the three of them were together again. They were out in the wild alone and Elladan could see the curiosity beneath her disgust. He passed it to her and laughed as she sniffed the bowl, her nose wrinkling before she gave an experimental pull and coughed.
By the time they reached the next mannish settlement Athriel was picking out her own pipe. So the twins gifted her with a silver tinderbox and a velvet pouch to keep everything in.
Walking over to his brother Elrohir removed the tinderbox from Elladan's fingers and placed it in the box beside the cork. Then together they walked through her rooms and tried not to let the memories overwhelm them completely. Eventually they made their way through to the bedroom and discovered it was so much worse in there. The memories were thicker here, more potent. They could see her jumping on the bed as a child, sitting at the dressing table brushing her hair, standing on the balcony smoking her pipe, sitting laughing on her bed or laying on the bed her leg in a splint.
They crept quietly into the room. It was dark in the sitting room, but they could see a light in the bedroom. They glanced towards the connecting door anxiously, hoping Erestor wouldn't come through until they reached their destination. They wanted to see Athriel, to make sure she was ok, it was their fault. They had been teasing her, stealing her doll and hiding it up trees. She had chased them as she always did, and climbed swiftly behind them. They had reached the top of a very large tree where the branches were thin and brittle. The three of them were young and still growing into their grace and balance, and the winter frost had covered the entire valley. Their hearts had stopped when it happened, the branch under Athriel's feet had snapped with a sharp sound as she had leant towards them to retrieve the doll and suddenly she was on the cold hard ground moaning in pain. Instantly the game had ended and the twins descended quickly rushing to her side. Elladan had stayed while Elrohir rushed to get Glorfindel and their father. Glorfindel had carried her to the healing rooms and their father had ushered them away so that he could look after her. Ever since they had been kept away, prevented from seeing her and they were worried.
Creeping towards the light they pried the door open enough for them to pass through and then closed it behind themselves. Athriel was lying in bed, her splinted leg showing beneath the blankets. She had a book in her hands and had been reading intently until the door had opened. They walked towards her with their heads down in shame, reaching her side together they stood side by side. "Are you ok Athriel?" Elladan asked quietly, his eyes drawn to the stark white of the splint. "We're really sorry" Elrohir said but he couldn't look her in the eye, until she grabbed his arm. "I'm fine." She said "It's just a broken leg and your Ada says it will heal fine. "We brought you something." Elladan said presenting her with the doll. She smiled and held the doll to her chest. Then without a word she tugged them towards the bed and gestured for them to climb up beside her and together the three of them fell asleep on her bed.
Elladan wanted to climb onto that bed now and fall asleep, but he didn't. He knew that if he curled up there he would never want to leave. Instead he walked to the dressing table, while Elrohir looked at the bedside table. The drawer was open a little; he pulled it open, feeling a little guilty as if he were invading their friend's privacy. But then he saw it and smiled. There was a broken arrow in there, a broken arrow he recognised. Once she had finally started her training Athriel was unstoppable it had not taken her long to surpass the other recruits. The arrow was the one that she had used to beat them for the first time in an Archery contest. Smiling softly Elrohir put the arrow in the box.
Elrohir's thoughts were interrupted when he felt a surge of grief from his brother. He turned to see Elladan holding a dried flower and crying openly. Elladan looked at the flower and couldn't believe what he was seeing. He couldn't believe she had kept it.
They had been sitting together enjoying a treetop picnic when Elrohir had remembered something. He was supposed to be picking up a book from the library that afternoon. Promising to be back soon he had jumped down on the ground and strode off towards the house. Elladan had sat there for a while alone before Athriel had turned up agreeing to join him for lunch.
Now she was looking around for something. "What are you looking for?" Elladan asked laughing. "A flower for my hair" he answered as if it were obvious. "You're such an Elleth sometimes Riel" It didn't happen very often, but sometimes Athriel's feminine side would come through and it always surprised them when it did. Yes she still wore dresses and jewellery, but she was a warrior. The dresses he presumed were mainly to keep Erestor happy. "Well I hate to tell you this Elladan, but technically I am."
"Isn't one flower as good as another?" he asked as she scanned the blossoms. She rolled her eyes ignoring him. Until she found the one she wanted. "There!" He was taller than her so with an exaggerated sigh Elladan stood to retrieve the flower. It was a perfect bloom he had to admit. As he sat he reached over and put the flower into her hair between her braids. "Thanks"
Their eyes caught and Elladan didn't want to look away. Just this morning he and Elrohir had been talking about how beautiful Athriel was. How she was such an important part of their life. He leant in and kissed her. She pulled back. "What are you doing?" she looked furious. He reached out and touched her face willing away her anger. "Do you have any idea how beautiful you are Athriel? We've always thought so."
Athriel flinched and moved further away. "Stop it Elladan1 I am not one of those maidens who follow you around like a lost puppy. I am not here for you to toy with" With that she jumped down from the branches and ran off.
Elrohir was at his brother's side in an instant. He hadn't recognised the flower but he recognised the memory, the feelings that it brought.
Elrohir rushed back towards the tree. He had felt Elladan's confusion and heard his thoughts. He could see Athriel running towards the house and grabbed her. "Athriel? What's wrong?" But she wouldn't stop. She shrugged him off. "Don't touch me Elrohir" And ran as fast as she could towards the house.
The flower went in the box along with the rest and they turned to leave. But there was something else they wanted; something they hadn't seen but knew would be there somewhere. Finally they found it in the bathroom, sitting on a shelf all to itself. It was the mithril hair slide they had gotten her for her 100th Birthday. They had commissioned it specifically for her and had seen her wear it at every celebration since then. So many memories were attached to the single piece of decoration, but the one that it brought to mind was that of her Birthday celebration. Seeing her wear it for the first time, her eyes sparkling and her smile wide, the image stayed with them as they put it in the box and left her rooms.