3. Three Black Keys
“Later, then,” said Elladan, as his brother turned to go.
“Here?” asked Elrohir. They stood in Elladan’s chamber, a loremaster’s study where the bed seemed a mere afterthought.
“As always,” Elladan replied. “I am meeting him here soon.” Elrohir nodded and lifted a hand in parting, then walked into the halls and the summer evening beyond. When he was gone, Elladan opened a small coffer and took out a black key on a silver chain. He put the coffer back in its place carefully, and dusted the shelf around it with his hand. The dust was deep enough to darken his palm. He had spent little time in Rivendell over past four hundred years.
While waiting, Elladan straightened the stand that held his mail and armour, newly repaired by the smiths. It was ready for him to don when he and Elrohir rode out again on their endless quest to avenge their mother’s torment and dishonour at the hands of the orcs, and to keep the passage between Rivendell and Lórien safe. There was little orc-hunting to be had in midsummer. The evil creatures could find food without troubling good folk, and they hid in their holes against the bright sun and the brilliant summer stars. So he and his twin brother took a respite from their questing at this time of year, staying for a few weeks in Rivendell, enjoying the summer festivals and returning briefly to their old work. In this season of safer, easier travel, the White Council met, and Elladan, loremaster and son of Elrond, was one of those with a voice there.
Elladan was about to succumb to the temptation of finishing a piece of writing when a series of hard raps rang at the door, as if someone knocked it with a wooden staff. “A moment, Mithrandir,” he said, and joined the wizard in the hall. Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, had also been combining rest and work in Rivendell. In a rare concession to the summer heat, he had taken off his hat and cloak, and he wore a silver sash about a slate-blue robe. “You look well,” Elladan said, politely.
“And you look like you’ve had a quarrel with your inkpot, good loremaster,” said Mithrandir, wrinkling like the last apple in a store-barrel as he smiled. “I hope you came out the winner!”
Elladan did not laugh at the teasing, smoothing his grey tunic, marked with black ink and traces of red paint. Its short sleeves were taut around his swordsman’s arms. He wore it with the same tight dignity that he carried in formal robes, not a strand of his chestnut hair loose from its single plait. “What use are fine clothes when I am hardly ever here? I would not be wasteful. Come, and I will give you the books you seek.” Elladan looked back at the wizard carrying a briar pipe, and his own handsome, clean-cut face was severe. “And remember you ought not to light your pipe in the library.”
“You’re the fourth elf to say that to me today,” Mithrandir laughed. As they walked, Elladan contemplated correcting him; the sons of Elrond the Half-Elven were not Elves. Nor, with their mingled kinship, were they mortal. But to correct Mithrandir in this would be to say yet again that he and Elrohir were the sons of Elrond, and isolated in that, a truth keen as a blade to him every day. Elladan let the comment stand for the nonce, deciding he would say something if the error was made again, wishing that Elrohir was there. He would have liked the wizard’s banter. Everything, he thought, came back to Elrohir.
Mithrandir watched the straight back of Elrond’s son as they walked into Rivendell’s main library, the room’s graceful lines lit only with a few blue elf-lanterns before arcing into shadow. He was curious that Elrond, kind as summer, had a son who always managed to be as cool and forbidding as winter. Elladan was always distant to Mithrandir, yet was one of his staunchest allies on the White Council of Elves and wizards, along with his grandmother, Galadriel.
It struck him as odd that this ally was not his friend, especially when they had a good deal in common. Cantankerous himself, Mithrandir liked Elladan, seeing that Elladan was sharp-tempered because he was not inclined to suffer fools. Elladan was also the only elf-lord on the White Council who roved the world like he did. The wizard did not really need to review the lore of Sauron tonight; indeed, it was better to think of such things in the light of day. He had asked Elladan to help him with some volumes so that he might try and unpick some of Elladan’s mystery.
Elvish mirth had fallen flat with Elladan, so Mithrandir tried another gambit. “Tell me, Elladan, I know all you elvish loremasters have your specialties. How did it come about that you are the keeper of Rivendell’s darkest lore? I suppose, being Elrond’s son, and of the Eldar, you have many arts.”
“I would not say I was purely of the Eldar. Elrohir and I are kin to both Elves and Men; we have one foot in each.” Elladan said, with a long-suffering air.
“Apologies, my friend. But that does not answer my question,” Mithrandir said.
Elladan shrugged. “I did not sit down one day and say I would master all the lore of our enemies. It happened little by little. I read one book of the darker lore when I was finishing my apprenticeship; then I read two. I noticed that one of those old books about the collapse of Númenor needed rebinding, and I took care of it. Nobody else cared to. For the evil of their contents, they are still books, and deserve the same care as the brightest tales of Valinor,” he said. “And we need their lore more than that of pretty old legends at times. The books of dark lore used to be scattered about, some on low shelves where a child might find them. So I collated them and ordered them.” Elladan took the key from around his neck and unlocked a cupboard. “This is a better way to keep them by far. Under control.”
Mithrandir wondered why a young apprentice would have been reading such a book in the first place. “Only you have the key,” he noted.
“I leave it here when I travel out, but yes. Now, here is what you wanted; everything we could glean about the Necromancer of Dol Guldur.” He handed Mithrandir a scroll and two slim folios.
Mithrandir let Elladan lay them out at a table in front of him, beneath one of the blue lanterns, and took a seat. He did not open the books just then. “Your father is quite strong-minded, as well. Are you a healer like he?”
“No, not like he is. I have forfeited that gift for the sake of vengeance.” Elladan did not sit down. “You know, of course, the gift of healing is lost to those who hunt and fight. There would have to be long years of peace before it returned to my hands.”
“And your brother?” Mithrandir asked.
“We ride together. But he keeps more of it than I do, I dare say, and he has much lore of healing and herbs. Every creature is gentle to his hand.” Elladan smiled a little as he spoke.
“So that is his gift, then,” Mithrandir muttered.
Elladan hardened. “You do not know him well. Just because he is not of a will to sit on the White Council does not mean he is foolish. He is my twin, not only as sharp-minded as me, but better than I am in many ways, healing gifts least among them.”
Mithrandir lifted a placating hand. "Don’t be so hasty! I meant nothing against your brother. Only that I have seen that you have a way with lore of power, and now you tell me that beasts like your brother. Creatures were like that to Lúthien, as well, and she too was a loremistress. Her name means 'enchantress.'"
“I know that,” snapped Elladan.
The wizard sailed on. “Your gifts show that you two are not so far sundered from her. Some of her blood is in your veins.” For a moment something seemed to shine through Mithrandir. Neither of them spoke of what they both knew; that Mithrandir was a Maia, as Lúthien’s mother had been. But Elladan understood when the wizard added, “That makes you my kinsmen, in a way.”
“Elrohir and I are either kinsmen to all or to none,” Elladan said, dismissively. “The noble past is done and gone, and we live in diminished days.” He gave Mithrandir an approving look. “At least you wander about and help as you might, instead of staying fast in a safe place, like Curunír does. And others.”
After that tart statement, Mithrandir waited, expecting Elladan to unburden himself of some grievance. But Elladan said no more, and the wizard was troubled. The most taciturn Dwarf would spill his troubles to him, the close eagles talk, but there was a wall to Elladan that never came down. He let the matter drop, and tried a third tactic to win Elladan’s trust.
“It might seem odd to you that I wish to look at these scrolls now.” Elladan still said nothing. Mithrandir was reminded of Galadriel, who often used such leading silences, and he spoke on. “I have had counsel with Galadriel and Curunír. The rest of the White Council does not know yet; not even Elrond. In two years or three, we will move against both Dol Guldur and the Worm of Esgaroth. They are readying lore to use against the Necromancer, and I have a few tricks up my sleeve for the Worm,” he said, with a wry smile.
“So there will be war.” Elladan’s eyes flickered and deepened. “Then the rest of you join my brother and I.”
“I suppose we do,” said Mithrandir, mildly.
“I am glad to hear it. It is about time Curunír ceased this endless delay. Let us know what we might do to aid in this.”
“Us?” asked Mithrandir, though he knew the answer.
“Elrohir and I.” Elladan locked the cupboard, more slowly than he had to. He half-turned about before leaving the wizard to study, again giving Mithrandir an odd look, reserved yet approving. From a desk, he took a small bowl, meant to hold clips for loose papers, and placed it on the table. “It is our rule not to light anything in here, but nobody is around. I suppose it won’t hurt those books, if you smoke – have that for your ashes. Return these books to me on the morrow, and I will lock them away again.”
Mithrandir, surprised, said, “I would not have you break your rules for me, Elladan.”
Elladan smiled again. “Such a little rule. Think of it as but a kindness to a kinsman.” Mithrandir looked at the bowl for a moment, but when he turned back to Elladan, the loremaster was gone, melted away swift as a huntsman. Or a fugitive.
Mithrandir, alone, sighed with compassion for the man of strange fate, ever at war and ever on the defence. A strange gesture of friendship Elladan had chosen, one that broke the laws of the Elves. A kindness to a kinsman, he had said. Mithrandir put his pipe down unlit, resting it in the elegant little bowl. Although Elladan’s words had made him crave a few mouthfuls of smoke, it would have to wait. The rules of Elrond’s house were still the rules, and good ones. One wayward ember would be a doom of fire to all the wisdom of the Eldar treasured in the library.
Mithrandir thought about this, and the ordered books locked away, the yearning to war, the hints of grudges that were very personal indeed. The only thing about their conversation that had not been shadowed in some way was Elladan’s fondness for his brother – and thanks to that fondness and his own clumsy words, Elladan remained wary of him. He turned to the books, so that Elladan’s help would not be wasted.
The horse-doctoring stable at Rivendell was set well away from the main stable, appropriate for a place of quarantine and death. Elf-horses were healthy and strong, so the separate stable building was often a quiet place. Two people and one grey horse were there tonight, and the small building was merry, for Elrohir was bantering with one of his friends.
Glorfindel leaned on the edge of the stall where his horse, Mithrim, was peering out, the horse quiet and tired. He had mentioned at the evening’s meal that Mithrim was itchy and restless, and nothing would do for Elrohir but that he look over the mare that night. Glorfindel approved, for this was his way as well; to do the right thing, and do it right away. Still, aware he was setting Elrohir to work, he said, “I do not mean to keep you inside on a fine night like this, Elrohir. It could wait until the morrow, I am sure.”
Elrohir shook his head, laughing, half his chestnut hair about to fall out of its one loose plait. “No fear! I wouldn’t make you nor Mithrim wait. It’s the work of a moment, and I’m used to it. It is nothing, for a friend.” Glorfindel relaxed as Elrohir said that. He had seen so little of Elrohir in the past four hundred years, even when he was in Rivendell, that he had begun to think Elrohir had set him aside. Their friendship had been a simple one, of a sort to be found between men of all kinds, based on a shared fondness for horses, sword-play, and good wine. But free hours for riding and sparring had ended when Elrohir took up his quest for vengeance with Elladan.
Elrohir went up to Mithrim, looking at her teeth and eyes. “Eleven hundredweights, is my thought, and in good fettle otherwise. I’ll have to half-poison her to cure her of worms.” He took a black key from around his neck and used it to open a cupboard fixed to the wall, full of glass bottles and stoneware jars. He reached up to the highest shelf and took down a bottle of blue glass.
Closing the cupboard, he went to a bench at the side, chatting away as he mixed a draught. “Quiet a moment, I must figure the measure; enough to kill the parasites but not the horse. There. Now, some water, and a few more herbs. It is especially important in the summer to keep your steed free of worms and such. The woodmen are good folk, but I’m fair certain Mithrim picked up these worms in their stables when you took shelter there. If you ride through the eastern mountains, have a care, we’ve seen…” Elrohir went on, in a light tone. Glorfindel realized that between fond natter about animals he span together a web of knowledge, from his own questing and the facts he had gleaned from the riders who had passed through Rivendell in the past several weeks.
“I will take your advice, for your words are as sound as Mithrim will be when she is healed,” Glorfindel said, heartily. “You know, it is a worthy task to care for our good beasts. But I think more than they would benefit from your healing, and your knowledge of the lands about. We have been friends for a long time. I always wondered: why do you not sit on the White Council?”
Elrohir laughed merrily. “Who, me? Surely you jest. You speak to the wrong twin. I am not the sharpest sword in the rack, compared to Elladan. He’s the wise one.”
“A sword may be sharp, and it may also be well-balanced. I would rather wield the latter. Promise me that you will think about it,” said Glorfindel. A fresh voice would be good with how contentious the White Council had been lately.
“Father has asked me many times, every time the White Council sits. Really, I don’t think my opinion is needed. What would I do but agree with Elladan all the time? His voice on the council speaks for me.”
“Not necessarily,” Glorfindel said.
Elrohir gave him a suspicious look. “What, you want me to disagree with my brother?”
“Not at all. But this is not about your brother, it is about you. You may come to your own ideas, and it would be easier to defend your own interests.”
Elrohir snorted as he swirled the cup of healing poison he mixed. “My interests are few. Dogs, horses, hunting out, and the oath my brother and I have sworn. I asked you to ride with us to the fighting at Calendharon a long time ago, and you refused that, just as I refuse you now. So let us let bygones be bygones, eh?”
"I am here to defend Rivendell and aid Elrond, not to fight the battles of strange mortals –"
Elrohir interrupted. “Truly, I cannot bear to quarrel with anyone I like. Another reason I’d be no good at your council. Let me treat Mithrim, now, so the good lady can rest. Come and hold her head, will you?” Glorfindel held his horse stable as Elrohir poured the black draught down the animal’s throat, risking his hand in the horse’s jaws. Then they both fussed over the mare as she quivered.
Elrohir rubbed the horse’s shoulders and then, as she shied away, took a piece of birch-sugar out of a pocket. Mithrim came back and took the sugar from Elrohir’s palm. “She’ll be pure as the Brunien once she’s dunged out those worms,” said Elrohir, satisfied. “I will check her straw tomorrow – she may not need a second dose. And I shall ask Elladan to say a few charms over this harness of yours, for keeping and good luck.”
“You favour me greatly, my friend,” said Glorfindel. “First you heal my horse, and then you offer me fair fortune.”
Elrohir cocked a brow, amused. “I doubt it will do much good, but it does no harm, certainly. Anyhow, Elladan likes doing it; he has a mind for superstition.”
“Does he? I do not count it as little to have my horse healed by one of the sons of Elrond, and blessed by the other. It brings me some of the fortunes of legend.” Glorfindel saw Elrohir look down at that. He clapped Elrohir roughly on the shoulder. “You do me more honour than you know. I thank you.”
Elrohir laughed anew, and there was a bitter note to it. “Honour! Do not speak to me of honour. I scrape up what I can, after the dishonour my house has suffered.”
Glorfindel said, “Sad fortune is not dishonour, and all your actions following it have been meet.” Glorfindel saw Elrohir look away again, and spoke to praise and reassure him. “I remember you a thousand years ago; light-hearted, bent on a hundred pleasures. Did I ask you then to join the White Council? No. But you are changed. I see you grown dutiful and continent. And you are modest, too, where you used to boast your prowess. You do much good.”
“I could not do so without Elladan. And I want nothing to come between him and me. So I will not risk it,” Elrohir said, firmly.
Glorfindel recognized his stubborn look. Any more attempts to persuade Elrohir would make him resist even further. He sighed. “Well, if you change your mind, seek me out. What else does Mithrim need this night?” Their talk never recovered its earlier ease, even when Glorfindel tried to engage Elrohir in a conversation about which studhorse might be best to sire a foal on Mithrim. Glorfindel offered to close up the stable so that Elrohir might enjoy the evening, a rare respite from his endless riding. Elrohir accepted the offer, but declined to say if he would meet his friend later among the revellers, where they might share a cup. Then Elrohir left.
Glorfindel watched him go, sad but resigned. Elrohir’s questing had changed him, not all for the better, despite Glorfindel’s words. It was troubling to see him abdicating from the influence that was his right, setting himself below his brother. More, there was a false note to his good humour, his averted glances; a wrongness that Glorfindel could not fathom. It was not the first time Glorfindel had felt a friend slipping away amidst the vicissitudes of time and fate.
Elrohir went to the bathing pavilion and scoured himself quickly, then took the path back to the Last Homely House, carrying his tunic. The summer evening was still warm, alive with song and with dancers down by the river. He passed them by, hearing his father laughing among them, glimpsing his sister Arwen dancing all in white beneath the blue dome of the night. As he walked, he looked up to the stars shining through the chestnut boughs. One star shone brighter than the rest, and he paused. Eärendil’s star. Glorfindel had spoken of the old legends, but that did not make them seem any more real or close to Elrohir. How could one absorb the strange tale that a star was one’s grandfather?
Walking uphill, he came to the House and saw one room lit: Elladan’s room. He whistled. His brother appeared at the window and nodded, and then the window went dark as a curtain was drawn. Elrohir went there.
Like all the library rooms, Elladan’s study faced south. The rooms were warmer in winter without fires that way, but they could be stuffy in the summer. In the airless room, Elladan had taken off his stained work-clothes, exchanging them for a black robe of dull, lightweight silk.
“You are early,” said Elladan, quietly. “The key is in the lock.”
Elrohir locked the door where he had just entered, then handed its intricate black key to Elladan. The two looked at each other. There was no mirror in the room, and they did not need it, each with an identical grave expression and the same anxious crease along their brow.
“Glorfindel said he’d watch over his horse, so I came,” said Elrohir.
Elladan nodded and said, “Mithrandir had some news. Important news.” He moved to sit on the bed against one wall. Elrohir joined him, and listened sombrely to the news of war.
When Elladan was done speaking, Elrohir said, “That is good to know. Two or three years. Little enough warning, and they shall ask much of the hostlers. I should start to prepare.”
Elladan touched his brother’s shoulder, cautious. His robe bowed open over his lightly furred chest; he too wore no tunic. “Be subtle. Few know, as yet.”
Elrohir sighed and leaned forward, the crease in his brow deepening. “Can we talk about it more in the morn? Glorfindel would do nothing but talk of politics, and your news explains why. But I’m not in the mood for any more of that tonight. It is very fair outside.” He glanced sidelong at his brother. “Hardly anyone is indoors.”
“Is that so?” said Elladan, turning to face him.
“Yes,” said Elrohir.
And together, they sank into an incestuous kiss.
* Set in The Third Age, July 2933, 8 years before The Hobbit.
* Mithrandir – The Elves’ name for Gandalf, which Elladan and Elrohir would have used. Curunír is the Elves' name for Saruman.
* The collapse of Arnor – Kingdom of the Dúnedain in the north of Middle-Earth, in Eriador, the region around Rivendell. This kingdom ended in 1974 T.A.
* Curunír’s endless delay – Further delay took place due to Saruman and the battle against Dol Guldur was in the autumn of 2941.
* The herb – A variety of wormwood, levant wormseed.
* A star was one’s grandfather - Elladan and Elrohir are the sons of Elrond. Elrond's father, Eärendil, is mentioned in The Silmarillion and in "Many Meetings" in FOTR, via Bilbo's poem "Eärendil was a mariner..." He had the unusual fate of carrying a light-bearing jewel called a Silmaril through the night skies as a star.
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.