4. The Burden
The grass in the scrublands between Rivendell and Eregion was still green, waiting to dry brown in the first winds of winter. Through the ragged sward, two riders trotted along; then one turned back, calling to a third horse that followed them. It had been very fine, for November, with bright sun and no breeze. The warmth of noon lingered through the day. The hindmost rider, Elrohir, shouted to his brother, “Another fine day like this, and our errand is ruined.”
Elladan turned his own horse back and joined his twin, looking at the long bundle slung and tied over the third horse. “Not so much ruined, but ill done. If carrying a friend’s corpse home can be a good errand at all.” He gazed up at the evening sky, trying to read the weather. “No sign of clouds. But the night will not stay warm, and it will be dry. Let us ride as far as we can, and camp on high ground. Come along, girl,” he said, urging his mare forwards with a gentle touch. Elrohir whistled again to the third horse, following without halter or lead.
They rode slowly out of kindness to the third horse. The steed was restive under its perished rider, finding the dead weight harder to bear than its living, guiding master. They had journeyed with the corpse a day, and were still seven days hard riding from Rivendell. At this pace, it would be nine or ten days before they arrived.
It seemed a fitting penance for allowing the chieftain of the Dúnedain to be slain in their company.
When the last glint of sun had gone, the brothers camped under some scruffy pine trees in the lee of a stony hill. Their first task was to relieve the suffering horse. Elrohir spread a blanket out on a large, flat stone, then went to help Elladan haul down the corpse. “I hope Arathorn’s kin do not mind that we gutted him,” said Elrohir, for the thirtieth time.
Elladan, trying to be patient, still sounded irritated as he said, “What else could we do? Let him rot from his stomach out? At least this way we have a chance of bringing him home with a face his folk will recognize.” They had not had this dread task after elvish battles. Elves did not cherish corpses, burying the dead without any marker in the woods, or with only a green mound amidst fields. The twins had used their huntsmen’s skills to bear Arathorn home resembling himself, bleeding and gutting him. Done with that, they had then given the body every honour they could, even binding his wounded right eye, taking out every shard of the fatal orc-arrow. The heavy, smooth-woven cloaks off their own backs cocooned Arathorn’s corpse.
Their work of preservation made the corpse more fragile, and time was having its effects, for all their attempts. “Careful now, he has gone lax again,” said Elladan. They laid Arathorn on the draped stone as gently as they might. The mortal man had been tall and strong, in the prime of his years, and he was a heavy burden in death.
With the body laid down, the twin brothers made camp, dully following their routine of centuries. Elladan unloaded the horses of their remaining gear while Elrohir scoured his hands in a cold, sandy stream nearby. Elrohir tended them while Elladan washed his own hands. Afterwards, Elladan held a packet of waybread out towards his brother, offering, but Elrohir shook his head. He put the packet away unopened. Both stripped off their travel armour. Elrohir unrolled a blanket, without his usual flourish, and sat on one side of it, leaving the other half clear for Elladan to join him. Both seated, they embraced, tense at first, then sagging into each other.
Elrohir spoke first. “I am so weary of it all. Do we do any good on our endless ride?” he asked. He lowered his arm to ring Elladan’s waist, turning and leaning his body against his brother. The shifts changed their touching into that of lovers. “Or is it just our excuse?”
“I do not know myself, any more,” said Elladan. “I used to think it was worth it if our oath and travail saved but one maid or man from suffering at the orcs’ hands. Now someone has died because of our oath – died because he was brave, and had a care for his folk, and for his long friendship with us.”
The brethren had gradually spent more time with the Dúnedain than with the Elves as the years went on. For the Dúnedain also ranged forth from the wrecks of their ancestors’ fortresses on errantry against evil. Besides, if the Dúnedain thought the twins strange, or overly close, they ascribed it to their being of elf-kind. Of late, mortals of the Dúnedain had ridden against evil with them. Arathorn had joined them early in the hunting season, for he had wished, like most Dúnedain, to be home for Yule.
Elrohir said, “At first, I was so angry. Slaying the orcs was the only right thing to do.” Elladan nodded in agreement, and the glint in their eyes was the same. “Then you let me love you…The orcs got a respite that first year, eh? We spent more time in each other’s arms.”
Even Elladan had to laugh a little at that, before he said, “And then we truly began our work.” Their long vengeance had settled into a measured campaign. It was not a simple thing to be venturers, and it grew harder every year. Evil’s creatures multiplied. Besides orcs, the brothers found themselves striving against corrupted wolves and mortal brigands. Even the weather had become harsher. Elladan muttered, “Our work of endless war. It seems as if the world has grown darker to spite us.”
Elrohir nodded, looking very like Elladan had; they had picked up more of each other’s mannerisms through the years. “It has been like this our whole lives, you know? Elves leaving. The kingdoms of Men going to pieces from plague and war. Remember when the tower stood tall at Weathertop?”
Elladan gazed beyond their camp, seeing memory. “Amon Sûl. The mortals built it tall and fair. The Elves used to climb out of Rivendell’s valley to see its beacon shine over the foothills. It has fallen like the kingdom of Arnor. I used to ride from Rivendell to Lindon through ordered lands.”
“Yes. Mama took us to Lórien as children along the path we ride today, and through the halls of Khazad-dûm. I would not take a boy through these wilds now. For even a doughty man like Arathorn can find his death here.” He glanced at the still body mummified in grey, and his voice grew hard in anger. “It has been worse since Sauron took the south of Mirkwood. If these wizards are so mighty, why do they skulk in fear of Sauron? Did you hear any more about a strike against Dol Guldur?”
“The last Mithrandir said was that Curunír still wishes to delay somewhat.”
“Why listen to Curunír? Why is he their leader, if he is such a craven?”
“His power is the greatest, both for deeds and persuasion. He keeps his own counsel behind his reasons. I shall have some curt words for Curunír when the White Council meets again.” He paused. “Say nothing of that to Father, will you? He and I will differ on this.”
“I will not.” Elrohir tightened his arm around his brother’s waist. “Look. Eärendil’s star has come out.” He pointed; a star with a sharp-edged, changing twinkle pierced the sky. “The star of war shines on your words, as it shone for the fall of Morgoth. A sign of luck for that.”
Elladan leaned into him. “I hope so. But…” He looked up at the distant star. “All the good I - we - strive to do would be counted as naught if others knew our sin.”
Elrohir took his brother in both arms and kissed him. “That would only be because they do not understand us.”
“You always say that,” said Elladan, not returning the kiss. “Why does our incest not trouble you as much?”
Elrohir took a deep breath. They had had this conversation in a thousand different ways, whenever Elladan’s conscience pricked him, or their quest fared ill. Elrohir felt drained at having to endure it yet again. “Do you have to use that ugly word? I kept the secrets of a hundred other lovers before I gained ours. We are not so different from them.”
Elladan pulled away, calm but edgy. “Yes, we are. That ugly word describes us.”
“With the world the way it is, what does it matter if we have our secret? That you and I love each other is the smallest flaw of our broken times,” said Elrohir.
Elladan declared, “The law we break, the law of Elves and Men, has its purpose still, to save the vulnerable from ill-use. We weaken that law by breaking it.”
“Elves never force anyone to acts of lust,” said Elrohir.
“That is the tale of it, but is it the truth? I wonder. Besides, what of mortals?” Elladan stood up, angry now. “Are your eyes sealed shut, Elrohir? There are dark deeds hidden in some of the wood-hamlets we pass by; bitter women, silent men, children ill-gotten, foolish and weak. We had a choice. They did not.”
Elrohir winced, both at the cold truth and at the verve that showed Elladan was awake enough to debate for half the night. Trying to forefend that, he said the words this hard conversation always came to. “Well, we will stop, then, if that is your choice.” Then he braced himself for whatever Elladan would say next.
But Elladan did not rant about the philosophical meaning of choice, or anything else. He had crossed his arms around himself, and his glance fell where Elrohir’s had been drawn all day and night, to Arathorn’s corpse. He shook his head, speaking quiet. “You are right about this world being marred. Fate may part us at any moment.” He sat down where he had been before, folding himself against Elrohir. “If we are riven, it will not be my choice. It will be by…” He did not finish the sentence. There was no need.
Elrohir, relieved at this unwonted acquiescence, replaced his arm slowly around Elladan’s shoulders. He murmured, “Truly, it is different with us. I cannot think of you as the same as – the hapless ones.” Elladan let his brother’s arm remain as Elrohir spoke more. “We are both grieving. Do not let it drive us apart. Are you troubled by Arathorn’s passing?”
Elladan said, drily, “Of course I am. There will be political chaos when we return. The Elves may lose the swords of the Dúnedain against Dol Guldur by this. I know Arathorn would have brought them to our aid.” He looked at the stars again. “Alas for our friend! Bereaved of his father at the cudgels of the Trolls; our brother when it came to avenging his kin. Now we have another lost kinsman to avenge…If he had had his rights as the king of Arnor in a realm at peace, he and I might have had more time for lore. He liked to learn of the stars.”
“I thought you seemed woeful. Let me console you.” Elrohir knelt behind his twin and began massaging his shoulders. The firm, digging touch made Elladan roll his head back with a groan. He said no word of assent, but he leaned into Elrohir, relaxed at first, then listening to his brother with alarmed awareness. “You are as stiff as a dead man yourself,” said Elrohir. “I could not sleep last night, after we prepared him. Our friend, you say, and I gutted his body with my hunting-knife, and slit his throat as if I bled a boar. Foul work to bring him home fair. I saw it before me all the ride today.”
Elladan felt his brother’s grip shaking as he murmured on. “He was such a good man. And his wife, and his tiny child, clever as an elf-bairn…” Elrohir clasped the hand Elladan lifted back to him. “I feel so guilty. For his death makes us free on this journey again. Free for this.” He kissed his brother’s hand.
Elladan knelt up and, turning, put his hands on Elrohir’s bent shoulders. “We have both been hit by orc-arrows, too. This death was an ill chance, an ill fate. Nothing we can do now makes any difference. We can only go on ourselves.” Elladan pressed Elrohir’s shoulders downwards. “You look haggard. Lay down with me for a time. Then I will take the first watch.”
Elrohir pulled him closer, roughly, and they embraced kneeling. They started at the sound of a night-bird, and Elladan saw his brother smile for the first time that night. “A good sign. Nightjars do not sing if orcs are nigh. I never finished with your back.” He ran his hands down the length of Elladan’s spine, the balls of his fists pressing out more tension, his spread hands working back up to soothe and separate tight muscles. Elladan closed his eyes so that there was nothing but darkness and his brother’s touch. Blind, he started at his brother’s first kiss; not on his lips, but on his right eye. He blinked and looked full at his brother, their shared grief piercing him like an arrow. It was with his eyes open that he leaned up and kissed Elrohir.
Elrohir leaned gratefully into the kiss, not breaking it even as they slid down to lie diagonal across the blanket. He was so exhausted that the hard ground felt as good as Elladan’s hands. Lying back, he let Elladan’s mouth explore his, weariness and desire mingling to dull his grief. The repeated kisses soothed him like draughts of poppy-syrup, helping him still his flashing thoughts. “I am too tired to please you,” he said, when his mouth was freed. “But we might ease ourselves. Anything is good, with you.” Elladan slid away from half-mounting his twin to lie beside him. Their near-quarrel and the corpse close by shook him out of his complacency. Elladan’s hands sweated as he realized what a routine this was become for them.
“Rest a moment,” Elladan said, reaching to undo his brother’s garments. Elrohir sank back, smiling, clearly thinking him kind. That was not why Elladan unbuttoned breeches and shifted linen. He scraped to feel some flicker of the wrongness he knew in this deed, testing himself to see if their passion was still worth the deceit for him. He set aside caresses for the hard evidence of lust, taking Elrohir’s cock in his fist. The chamois softness of that flesh turned stiff and satiny as he touched. He reached lower and stroked the heavy sac, furred like his own. As he leaned close, Elrohir’s scent came to him, salty from the sweat of the day, with a tang like the living sea.
These tired, raw touches with his sibling inflamed him more than any artful lover. Knowing himself seduced and downed, he knelt and tongued his brother at the root. Elrohir reached down with a groan, stroking his brother’s hair. “Not tonight, I cannot match it. I’ll please you like that in the morning if you wish.” said Elrohir. “Might I watch you?”
Elladan drew back to lie beside Elrohir and take what he could. Soon, his own cock and hand were hot with friction as he watched and was seen. Lying on his side, he realized that he was off the blanket, in the loam and dirt beside. Elrohir’s eyes were locked to his, so he did not shift save to press the side of his face against the soil. It was what he had come to, what he deserved, for the desire that compelled him beyond honour.
“You’re quiet. All right?” asked Elrohir. He nodded, and let Elrohir draw his head and shoulders closer. They lay together like two matched lines of a rune. “Be close to me when I spend.”
“You’re going to come?” asked Elladan. His cock grew harder in his hand.
“Yes, I’m going to come, watching you stroke yourself. Ai, Elladan, my – mine –“
Elladan’s eyes were narrowed in shadow, his voice a burning rasp. “Go on and say it, Elrohir. Your brother.” Admit it, he thought, remind me, don’t let me be alone in this.
“You, my brother, and I yours…” breathed Elrohir, even as he came. The sight of the white shot of seed, the heady scent of desire, and the lawlessness of it all smote Elladan, and he spent as well, turning his face down to stifle a growling groan.
Elladan recovered quickly. Pleasing himself never took Elladan down as far as Elrohir’s ministrations. Ever fastidious, he pulled a square of cloth from a pocket and scraped the wool beneath them clean. Then he rolled beside Elrohir to hold him, saying, “Shift over; you’re angled like a fallen tree.” After a moment, he realized Elrohir was nigh asleep after spending. He shook Elrohir’s shoulder lightly. “Elrohir. I will take the first watch, as I said.”
Elrohir roused partway at that, opening his heavy-lidded eyes to speak. “Wait. Are you and I all right? It is bad fortune for lovers to sleep upon a quarrel.”
“After what we just did, you have to ask?” said Elladan.
Tired and dogged, Elrohir said, “You might have just done it to please me. What you said before…maybe you feel ill-used. I do not mean to do that to you.” He half-leaned up, rearranging his clothes. “Do you want to talk more?”
Elladan saw that Elrohir fought against exhaustion to try and set things right as he could, in his way. “We are all right. Go on and rest.”
Soon, Elrohir had sunk into the sleep of mortals, eyes fully closed. In mortals’ songs, bards spoke about the beauty of a dreamer’s face, but Elrohir was not a lovely sleeper. His eyes were twisted tight shut; he breathed hard and muttered. This restlessness reassured Elladan greatly. If Elrohir had lain calm, he would have thought even more about what it would be like to see his brother a corpse like Arathorn. Given the choice of losing him or having him too close, he chose the latter, every time.
Elrohir’s swift fall into sleep made Elladan rue that he had talked on so long, keeping his sibling awake. He decided the first watch would be the only watch that night. It was his turn to be guilty and wakeful. He paced the glen of their camp, forcing down a piece of waybread in dry bites. He would make sure Elrohir ate something in the morning; would speak to him, distract him, be loving to him to drive the fell images from his mind. Picturing what had haunted Elrohir ruined his faint appetite.
Done eating, he stood by the stone where Arathorn lay. Their burden required constant watching, lest beasts or insects trouble Arathorn’s body more. It would have been easier far to build a stone cairn for the body, bringing home Arathorn’s empty armour and the news, but the twins knew how much store the Dúnedain set by burying their dead in state and honour. It was one of the few traditions they kept from the Númenoreans of old. Elladan looked up bitterly at Eärendil’s light in the distant heavens, wondering that the Valar and the one who created them could let the world fall so far, for so many thousands of years.
Elladan heard that the horses were restless and peered around, listening sharply. Nothing was in sight, but the howl of wolves echoed among far hills. He cursed softly. If the wolves smelled the spoor of the corpse, they would think the party of travellers was weakened, fit prey. Elladan loosened his sword in its sheath and stood vigilant, waiting to prove the wolves wrong.
* Set in the Third Age, November 2933.
* Arathorn – Aragorn’s father, noted in the Tale of Years, ROTK to have been slain while hunting Orcs with Elladan and Elrohir, “an orc-arrow pierced his eye…”
Amon Sûl – The watchtower of the realm of Arnor on the hill of Weathertop. Destroyed in 1409 as part of a war against the Witch-King.
* Since Sauron took south Mirkwood – Noted around 2060. At one time South Mirkwood was part of Thranduil's realm (Unfinished Tales.)
* Arathorn’s father - Arador, Arathor's father and Aragorn's grandfather, was "slain by Trolls" in 2930. Vengeance for this might well have been Arathorn's motivation for joining Elladan and Elrohir upon errantry when he had a wife and child at home.
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.