Only a Game
16. The Shores of the Eastern Seas
I could see that he not only believed we would catch up with these strange Elves, but that they would know about Elladan, that his brother would, perhaps, be with them.
But we found no clue to explain their departure, and no real tracks of their movements, only whispers among the trees, echoes of their presence fading from earth and plants day by day.
On a cold October morning – the sky was grey and hung with low clouds promising rain later on –, we reached the Eastern end of the Forgotten Forests; without having met anyone at all since we had left the wild tribe of the Eastern plains.
I halted Cloud and stared at the far Eastern horizon, lost in the dim light of this autumn day.
The country east of the forest seemed to be softly sloping towards the East. It reminded me of the Scottish Highlands, although the hills were much gentler, softly undulating hillocks, which grew more level towards the East. But it was moor land, and the heather was still blooming, its blossoms colouring the hills in a deep violet colour, they glowed almost like amethysts in the sudden sunshine.
The road left the wood and led in a straight line towards the East. The road goes ever on and on, I mused, and if you don't watch your step you end up at the end of the world. It could not be far to the farthest shores now.
"How far is it to the sea, what do you think?" I turned to Elrohir.
Elrohir narrowed his eyes, looking to the East. "About four hundred miles. Perhaps less."
Four hundred miles. Ten or elven day's worth of riding.
"Do you think Elladan was here?" I asked. A stupid question, of course. How should he know? Wind, rain and weather had destroyed the traces of the Eastern Elves travelling this way only twelve weeks before us. How could there be any trace of his brother left – if he had been here at all?
"This is about as straight a road as you can take to the Eastern shores", Elrohir answered wryly. "He always told me about travelling to the distant shores of the East. If he indeed came as far, he took this road, going straight for his aim, of that there is no doubt in my mind."
But about whether he ever came here, and why the Eastern Elves left when they did, I thought, there is doubt about all of this. However, as these thoughts were not very constructive, I kept them to myself.
Elrohir urged Lightning forwards. The spirited stallion did not need any urging, but gladly leaped out of the shadows of the trees, galloping off into the East. Cloud only snorted somewhat huffily and followed much more sedately.
But I enjoyed being out in the open again, too. The wildness and depth of these Eastern woods had always made me feel uneasy; to stray but a little from the path had been dangerous in the labyrinthine darkness of trees and underbrush. I preferred the open, with the sky big and wide above me.
That first evening out of the woods of the Orocarni, Elrohir caught a rabbit. Roasting it slowly over the fire, stuffed with herbs, wild carrots and the shoots of wild onions, it was a treat, and I felt almost happy, as if I had left some of my dark thoughts in the twilight of the woods.
Later, as I lay huddled into my cloak and the sleeping bag, spooned against the exhilarating warmth of Elrohir behind me, I considered beds. I arrived at the conclusion that I had absolutely overestimated the importance of beds.
Although I had lost track of the time I had already spent in Middle-earth (it had surely been two or three months), I did remember the nights I had spent in beds. Two nights at Bree, two nights at Rivendell, three nights at Esgaroth. One week of beds, and many, many more on grass, heather, sandy beaches or the bare earth. And what nights they had been! I could not suppress a smile.
Against the back of my neck I felt an answering smile on Elrohir's lips.
"Caught that, did you?"
As an answer I felt the smile grow even broader, turning into a soft, lingering kiss. "Memorable nights indeed, thurín en-índ nîn, secret of my heart."
It turned out this night would be one of them.
The road to the East remained easy to travel on, in good condition, leading straight ahead. There were no buildings, no ruins, no signs of anyone ever having lived here whatsoever, only the dusty road taking us even further into the East. Our supplies were dwindling. On the return trip we would have – Elrohir would have – to go by lembas and any rabbits, birds or fish he managed to catch.
My hair had grown almost an inch, tickling my shoulders and delighting the Elf. But more had changed about me than only my hair. I thought that I had changed, too. I felt more at home within myself than I had ever felt before. A part of the change was this strange, intense connection of love – yes, it was, by now I could admit that to myself – between Elrohir and me, but it was even more than that. Somehow this extraordinary journey had brought me closer to who I really was than all my previous years of living, learning, studying and working ever had. Here and back again, to discover who you really are.
Riding along behind Elrohir I wondered if this journey had brought him any closer to discovering who he was going to be, Elf or man.
In a few days we would reach the farthest shores of Middle-earth, and I had a feeling that whatever we would find there, it would decide his future. I could see it in the shadows passing swiftly in his eyes.
The Eastern shores, I mused. As I had never been a real fan girl, I did not own any of those additional gimmicks a LOTR-fan simply had to have – such as an atlas of Middle-earth. I knew there was more than one because I had seen those books in my brother's flat and had even leaved through them. But I remembered only the maps of the paperbacks; and there was nothing on those maps further to the East than Rhûn. I remembered that very clearly, because I had wondered if Tolkien had ever thought about what was beyond the edge of this map. But in the end I had never been curious enough to borrow the books from my brother.
We travelled uncharted lands, and had, for weeks – woods, mountains and plains, which had faded into legends in a legendary realm, a myth within a myth. Who could say what we would find at the end of the road?
A few days later I noticed a change in the air. The air was softer, more humid and tasting faintly of salt. We were getting close to the sea now.
And indeed, in the evening we rode up a hill and I could the Eastern Seas at the horizon.
I turned to Elrohir and smiled. "We are almost there!"
But he could not smile.
On the morning of the eleventh day after we had left the woods of the Orocarni we reached the shores of the Eastern Ocean. The road turned sharply, and then climbed a steep hill.
We rode up to the hill's summit side by side and reined in the horses.
My mouth dropped open in wonder and amazement.
We were looking down at white beaches and the silver and blue waves of an endless ocean.
But just down the hill, on the beach closest to us, there were many colourful tents and people walking about, and on the waves close to the shore were many tall white ships and small rowing boats going back and forth between the ships and the shore.
We had finally caught up with the Elves of the East.
I looked from the busy coming and going on the beach down below to Elrohir. His face was full of amazement to have finally found the elusive Elves of the Orocarni and full of a desperate hope. Would his brother be here?
"Let's go!" I called out to him and nudged Cloud into a trot. We were only a few feet down the path, when Elrohir was at my side. As we rode down the slope of the hill towards the beach, the Elves down there had seen us, too, and a crowd of people had gathered at the end of the trail.
They were Elves. Their hair was dark, tinged in different shades of brown, their eyes green or brown and flecked with gold, like sun shining through the leaves of a forest. Their ears were very pointy, their faces angular and with a feral cast to their looks. They were no quite as tall as Elrohir, but more slender than he was and their movements had the liquid gracefulness of cats.
They were Elves, and without doubt they were silvan Elves, Wood-Elves, and their home were the depths of the forest, the suppleness of their movements' belonged to great trees to climb up on and live in. What had brought them to the sea? To build such tall ships? Were they going to sail for Aman after all?
We slid off our horses and walked up to the Elves.
The tallest and most commanding of the gathered Elves stepped forward and held up his hands in greeting. "Mae govannen, muíndor en-dûn! Welcome, brother from the West! Mae govannen, díneth en-edaín! Welcome, bride of men! My name is Doron. Well met, my friends, only a few days later and we would have been gone."
Elrohir touched the other Elf's palms with his own. "Mae govannen, Doron. I am Elrohir, son of Elrond-Peredhil. My companion is Jarro, ranger from the North."
Doron stared at him for a moment with a strange expression in his eyes.
Then Doron turned to me and I repeated the gesture of greeting Elrohir had used.
With a fluid movement Dorn turned back to Elrohir a smile at him. I frowned. For a moment I had thought Doron would put his arm around Elrohir's shoulder. His body-language spoke of a familiarity, which was impossible, because I knew they had only just met. Impossible, unless, unless – he did know him, or at least someone who looked exactly like him – fooling his body to react with tiny, instinctive gestures of a familiarity, which were meant for someone else. Or had I only imagined anything stranger than strange about this extraordinary meeting?
I came back out of my thoughts to hear the end of an invitation. "Come to my tent and allow me to offer you some refreshments! You have travelled far, you have to be tired and hungry, and I guess there are many questions you will want to have answered. A long time has passed, since we met any of our Western kin." Again – was that a slight hesitation?
"Thank you, Doron." Elrohir said, his excitement only ill concealed. "We have travelled many days, and we do have many questions." Had Elrohir noticed anything, or was he too excited to see that something was strange here?
"Thôn, would you take the horses?"
A young looking Elf with very light hair and almost blue eyes hurried forward and bowed to us. Doron turned to us. "He will take good care of your horses."
I inclined my head and smiled. "I don't doubt that. But be careful with the stallion, it's an irritable beast even with Elves." I relinquished the reins to Thôn, and Elrohir did the same. Lightning did not like the proceedings and tried to bite Thôn. But the Elf had grabbed the stallion's muzzle before Lightning had time to strike and whispered a few words in an Elvish tongue I did not understand – probably insults or a magic spell. Lightning finally snorted with disgust, but allowed him to be led away.
Doron was grinning broadly, but quickly grew serious again. "Please, follow me."
He led us down to the beach towards the largest tent, which was the size of a small cabin, the cloth died to a deep blue hue. Inside the tent several chairs and couches were arranged around a low table made of dark wood with an exceptionally beautiful grain, which made the surface of the table look almost like a landscape seen from somewhere above.
"Sit down, please. Be comfortable! May I offer you some wine? Wine from Dorwinion, white or red." Doron asked. We sat down on two of the comfortable blue chairs. Soft stuffed cushions, not sitting cross-legged on the ground, what a treat!
And wine! I nodded to myself. Then those rumours we had followed from Esgaroth really were true, and these mysterious Eastern Elves had now and then done some trading with other peoples of the East.
"A glass of red wine would be lovely, thank you. Hantale." I said. Doron put two crystal goblets on the table in front of us, carefully pouring ruby red wine from crystal decanter. He was glancing at the Elf out of the corners of his eyes, and was there a hint of a smile around his lips?
"Hantale." Elrohir said, lifting his glass.
Hadn't he noticed anything odd in the wood-elf's behaviour? There was a certain tension around his eyes. He had noticed something. I looked across the table at Doron, who had been watching Elrohir. When he realized I had been watching him, he raised one of his thin, slanted eyebrows and nodded at me. I raised my eyebrows right back at him. Only because I was human I did not necessarily have to be unobservant of my surroundings and people's behaviour, didn't I?
"Just a moment", Doron rose in a graceful movement from his chair. "There is something I have to see to." Something or someone? I rather hoped for the latter.
When he had left, I turned to Elrohir, to ask if he had noticed the same thing I had, but when I saw the desperate gleam of hope in his eyes, I bit my lip and remained silent.
Moments later the cloth of the tent's opening was tossed aside and a tall figure strode into the tent. It was a tall Elf with dark hair and grey eyes, and he stopped dead in his tracks just in front of Elrohir, who had risen from his seat, a tall Elf with dark hair and grey eyes, proud and noble features, the exact image of the newcomer. Without a word they fell into each other's arms, a tight embrace, clutching at each other as if they were drowning.
Tearing my eyes from the meeting of the brothers I noticed a second someone, who had inched her way into the tent.
An Elvish woman was standing close to the opening of the tent. Her face reminded me of Doron, but her hair was black as a raven's wing and her eyes blue as the summer's sky. She was very petite for an Elf, even for a silvan Elf, who apparently tended to be smaller than the Noldor as a rule. This woman was positively small, and so delicately boned to look fragile. But one look at the steel in her eyes told me she was anything but that. Here was strength, and an iron power of will. Love, too, to last beyond the end of the world, if I was not very much mistaken.
I don't know how I realized all this in just one glance; in the real world I was never the most perceptive person, always the last to realize that someone was gay or in love, sort of clumsy, really. But when I looked at her, I knew. I can't explain how I knew, I just did.
At last Elrohir and Elladan broke apart. Elladan turned to the small Elvish woman waiting in the corner, and Elrohir – at the same time and with exactly the same kind of momentum – turned towards me. "May I introduce –"
Both spoke as one, their voices carrying the same kind of inflection, although Elrohir's was slightly darker. They broke off, looked at each other and started laughing like loons. Elrohir's eyes shone like silver. Apart from when we made love I had never seen them so bright. A weight lifted from my heart I had not even realized to be there. For the first time in weeks I breathed easily. He had found his brother. And there was enough time to get to Dol Amroth yet; the brothers could choose together and remain together for all eternity.
I walked over to the black haired Elvish lady. I bowed to her and smiled. "My name is Jarro. I am a ranger from the North. I accompanied Elrohir on this journey." The Elf-lady smiled and inclined her head in turn, her right hand resting on her stomach. "My name is Mínuíal. I am betrothed to Elladan."
"Nice to meet you." I said.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.