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Unto the ending of the world: 13. Alarm
April 1 - 3, 3019
Elrohir reined in his horse and dismounted. They were no more than fifty yards from the Lórien Elves. The others followed his lead, and they walked on, leading their horses. Elladan moved forward to walk by his side.
"They are still on their guard," Elrohir observed as he looked at those waiting for them.
"Not surprising. The fighting must have been fierce," Elladan replied.
As Elrohir looked around, he could only agree. While the only bodies he could see were those of Orcs and Wargs, charred trees and burned stumps told their own story, and the ground was littered with broken spear shafts and arrows from both sides, many of them burned.
Elladan called out a greeting as he recognised the Elf who led the group of defenders. Rather than being welcomed in return, they were told to stand where they were and place their weapons on the ground.
"Celegir! What is the meaning of this?" Elladan asked even as he complied with the order. As Celegir's command had been given in the Silvan speech, Elrohir quickly translated into Westron for the Rohirrim and Gimli.
"No questions. You will be brought before the Lord and Lady," the other replied curtly. "And do not talk among yourselves," he snapped as he turned towards Elrohir.
"Celegir, be reasonable. Not all our companions understand your speech," Elrohir replied, irritated by the Elf's brusque manner.
Celegir did not answer him, but he did speak Westron, albeit slowly and hesitantly, when next he ordered them to stand apart from each other to have their hands bound and be blindfolded. Gimli snorted indignantly at something Legolas said to him, but obeyed without argument, as did Wídfara and Erkenbrand, though Elrohir could see that even Erkenbrand was more than a bit anxious. He could only admit to sharing their concern. Being careful was one thing, but this suggested more than simple precaution, and he repressed a shiver as he recalled his fear that Galadriel might have been subverted through her Ring.
As Elrohir stood waiting in the darkness of his blindfold, he heard Elladan ask about their horses.
"They will be brought in by another path," Celegir replied, before instructing them to follow all commands they were given by the ones leading them. He added that any who attempted to remove his blindfold would be slain.
Elrohir wondered again at the reason for their unfriendly reception. Was it precaution, was it because they had led strangers to Lothlórien, or...? What if Galadriel was under Sauron's influence and they had walked into a trap? He hoped they had not made a mistake in coming here.
Await what happens, Elladan spoke in his mind. It may just be that they are being careful.
Perhaps, Elrohir thought. But if not... what then? Elladan remained silent.
It was already late in the afternoon, and Elrohir doubted that they would reach Caras Galadhon that day. He attempted to keep some idea of where they were, but found himself lost before they reached Celebrant. On the other side of the river they were handed over to a different group of Elves and quickly led further into Lothlórien. He tried to sense what was happening around him, but felt nothing beyond Elladan's wary tension.
It was not long before they stopped. Forcing himself to seem at least outwardly patient, Elrohir awaited what was going to happen as his blindfold was removed and his bonds undone. His brother and the others remained bound and blindfolded. Two Elves led him up to a nearby flet, and stayed with him until the Lord and Lady themselves arrived, both clad in mail. He stood long under their silent scrutiny.
"Open your mind to me," Galadriel said finally, barely waiting until he did before she entered his thoughts. Despite her urgency, Elrohir hesitated before he assented. What if his grandmother was indeed under the control of the Enemy through her Ring? Though he could still not be sure, and his questions about their reception remained, Elrohir did not now think that was the case. Her manner, while abrupt and slightly distant, was not as alarming as Gandalf's had been. He cast a quick look at her hand. She was not wearing Nenya; that was a good sign. Also, now that he thought about it, he doubted that Lothlórien would still be standing if she had been overwhelmed by Sauron. He hoped he was right. Not only would his own life and those of his companions be forfeit, he doubted the defence of the West could take the loss of Lothlórien. But how could he be certain?
Despite the tight knot of fear and doubt in his stomach, Elrohir tried to keep a calm stance while his grandmother searched his thoughts and memories. She stood in front of him, Celeborn behind. Elrohir knew that Celeborn's hand was on his dagger, and that if Galadriel commanded it, his grandfather would slay him without hesitation. He felt his fear rise even more. Was it a trick of the Enemy after all? But no, Celeborn would not be party to this if he thought there was anything amiss with Galadriel.
"You are free of the Enemy's influence," Galadriel said after some time, relief and fatigue both clear in her voice. "But before we can welcome you and your party to Lothlórien, I will need to speak to your brother as well."
Elrohir spoke before she could continue. "Has it been bad here?"
Celeborn was the one to reply. "Yes, and it will no doubt become worse."
"How much of what has happened in the south is known to you?" Elrohir asked him.
"Much, though not all," Celeborn said. "We know of the One Ring, and of the fall of Isildur's Heir."
Before Elrohir could respond, Galadriel spoke again, "Elrohir, we will speak further on this later, but first I must know that your brother is also free of the Shadow. Please, wait below."
Elrohir climbed down from the flet just as his brother, looking very uneasy, was brought up by some of their guards, who looked equally ill at ease. Elladan tried to catch his eye, but Elrohir could not bring himself to meet his brother's gaze. They had both been in direct contact with Sauron. What if Elladan was in some way under the Enemy's influence? He could not believe it was so, but Galadriel clearly thought it was possible. What if she were to find some hidden compulsion or command? Elrohir knew that he might well have looked on his brother for the last time. He almost panicked at the thought that he was still not fully certain either that Galadriel herself was not under the Enemy's control through her Ring. If she was, he had let Elladan walk to his death without even warning him. Elladan's mind was fully closed to him now. Why was this taking so long?
Elrohir paced nervously, trying not to listen for any sudden noise or disturbance from above, not to let his thoughts run away with him. He started as Galadriel came down the ladder, followed by Celeborn. Elladan was last, and Elrohir breathed a sigh of relief as his brother stepped down to the ground. Elladan met his gaze briefly, then looked away.
Galadriel came over to Elrohir, Elladan following her. "I saw what you fear, but rest assured. I am not under the influence of the Dark One."
Elrohir glanced at his brother. He wanted to believe her, but could they be sure? Elladan appeared more settled now, so perhaps all was indeed well.
"Through the Mirror, I saw as soon as the Ringbearer was captured," Galadriel added. "This too we shall talk about later."
"Now tell me about the two Rohirrim," Celeborn commanded Elrohir and Elladan, as Galadriel walked towards where the others were still kept under guard. "Legolas of Mirkwood and Gimli son of Glóin are known and welcome in Lothlórien. The two Men of Rohan are strangers to us, and before I decide on their fate, I would know why you have brought them here."
Elladan answered, "The Queen of Rohan seeks an alliance with Lothlórien, to stand together in opposition to Sauron. The elder of these two men, Erkenbrand, lord of the Westfold, has come here as her envoy, and his companion is Wídfara, a man of the Wold."
Celeborn looked at him in surprise. "That is unexpected. The Rohirrim are not known for being great Elf-friends."
"These are unusual times, and the Lady Éowyn is bold, close to reckless some would say. Had I not supported her intention, I would not have brought her men here," Elladan said, adding, "I have also spoken for Imladris in promising Rohan what support we may be able to give."
Celeborn looked pensive, then turned to Elrohir. "And what do you say? You have been quiet so far."
Elrohir did not have to think long about his answer. "I agree with Elladan, and would remind you that, even though it is not remembered in Meduseld, Lórien has aided the Men of the Mark before."
"That is true," Celeborn agreed. "And an alliance would be wise. I shall hear what the lord of the Westfold has to say."
They waited in silence, until Galadriel returned with the other members of their party. Erkenbrand and Wídfara, though still not fully at ease, were looking round in wonder. Gimli only had eyes for Galadriel, while Legolas waited quietly.
As they stood together, Galadriel addressed them, "Though I make no apology for your cold welcome, now at last I can welcome you to Lothlórien, both those who are already known here and those who visit here for the first time."
Celeborn now spoke, addressing the two Rohirrim. "I have heard of the reason for your journey. As it is already late in the day, we shall speak further tomorrow. You may take your rest on the flet above, and in the morning you will be guided to Caras Galadhon."
"Thank you, lord," Erkenbrand replied. "If I may ask, where are our horses?"
"They have been taken to a safe place near the river: they are well looked after," said Celeborn, before he and Galadriel turned away and headed into the dark forest.
Elrohir's gaze lingered where the Lord and Lady had disappeared from view. Before, he had not noticed, but now that he could put his full attention on it, there was a difference in how Lothlórien felt to him. It was not just the heightened sense of watchfulness that hung among the trees, but there was something else as well, something much more subtle. Perhaps it was the effect of Galadriel not using her Ring that he felt. Lórien was still protected, not yet wholly open to the world, that he also knew, but there had been a change in its defences.
"I feel it too," Elladan, who had come up to him unnoticed, said softly.
"What do you think? Is she safe?" Elrohir asked his brother.
"It would seem so," Elladan replied.
"At least she was not wearing her Ring," Elrohir said.
Elladan nodded, then suddenly asked, "Could you not have given me some warning?"
Elrohir looked down as he replied, "Perhaps, but I suddenly doubted... we had after all both been in contact with the Enemy's mind... I doubted even myself."
Elladan looked at him long, but said nothing.
Some time later, on the flet, as they ate a cold meal brought them by their former guards, Erkenbrand asked Elladan, "I understand that you are kin to the Lord and Lady of this land?"
Elladan replied, "Yes, indeed. They are our grandparents."
Erkenbrand merely nodded, while Wídfara stared at them both in amazement. "The Lady is your grandmother? She looks no older than you yourselves."
"Thus is the life of the Eldar," said Elladan, adding, "The Lady Galadriel has seen three Ages in Middle-earth and is over eight thousand years old."
Wídfara looked at him in disbelief, and even Erkenbrand, who so far mostly seemed to be taking Lothlórien and Elves in his stride, looked amazed. Elrohir waited for the question that would now inevitably follow.
"Then how old are you?" Wídfara asked.
"Close to three thousand years," Elladan replied with a faint, half-embarrassed shrug. As Elrohir had expected, this ended the conversation for the evening.
Rather than falling asleep immediately once their lantern was turned down, Elrohir lay thinking for a while. Wídfara's reaction to the revelation of their kinship to Galadriel and Celeborn had served to remind him once more that he was neither Elf nor Man. While he felt much in common with both kinds, the time would unavoidably come that he would have to Choose. Not yet though, even if he knew that with the War, the moment might be upon him sooner than he would have wished.
Elrohir cast a glance to where his brother slept, careful to keep his thoughts to himself. The two of them had talked about it often enough over the years, yet they had always put the decision aside, to be considered later. It was only with Arwen's Choice that they had given it serious thought again. Elrohir was as good as certain of his own mind now, yet in the end it would depend on Elladan, as he would not be parted from his twin, even if their preferred Choices should differ.
The next morning, they were woken just after dawn by the Elf who would take them to Caras Galadhon. She was in a hurry to have them on their way, and barely gave them time to break their fast before setting off.
Elrohir noticed that the forest bore signs of war as they got nearer the city. He asked their guide and she replied that this was where they had stopped the Orcs that had broken through across the river in the most recent attack. Elrohir was worried that the attack had penetrated this far into the forest, no more than four miles from Caras Galadhon, and thought he now understood even more of their unfriendly reception. If this was what they had just been through, it was no wonder people were on edge. It also made him wonder again how long Lothlórien would stand.
At the gate of Caras Galadhon, they were handed over to another Elf who would take them to the great flet at the centre of the city.
Wídfara had been silent all morning, but after their first guide disappeared into the forest, he came up to Elrohir and asked, "Tell me not that she is also eight thousand years old?"
Elrohir answered, "No, hardly. She is practically a child, less than two centuries old."
Wídfara first looked confused, then replied with a quick grin, "Indeed, a mere child."
At a gesture from Galadriel, Erkenbrand spoke first. "I am here on behalf of the Queen of Rohan, to seek an alliance against the Darkness that threatens us all."
Galadriel inclined her head at his words, but did not speak. Beside her, Celeborn leant his chin on his steepled fingers, holding Erkenbrand's gaze. "An alliance? Why does Rohan now seek an alliance with the Golden Wood? Is it that we are feared less than the Shadow in the East? Or are the times so dire that even those out of half-forgotten and wholly-unbelieved children's tales suddenly seem good allies?"
The lord of the Westfold briefly looked away from Celeborn's gaze, but then met his eyes again and replied, "I cannot deny there are some... many in Rohan who feel that way, but both our defences will gain strength if we work together. We will each benefit if we can keep control over the western shore of Anduin, but the lands between Rohan and Lórien are largely empty, and the Wold is vulnerable to attack from across the river."
Do not be too harsh on him, husband, Galadriel spoke in mind to Celeborn. It means much that he has even come here, and that the Queen of Rohan is inclined to an alliance.
"That is true," Celeborn responded to Erkenbrand after nodding at Galadriel in acknowledgement of her words, "But if Rohan does not have the numbers to protect the whole of the river between Lórien and Emyn Muil, neither do we. It would still be doubtful whether we could hold the River against the Enemy."
Now Elrohir spoke. "Do not forget Fangorn. Treebeard seems more than willing to extend his defence and the Ents have already done much to our benefit. I doubt Rohan would still be standing without their help." Erkenbrand agreed as Celeborn looked pensive.
Galadriel had seen some of what the Ents had done; what might they yet do, should Treebeard take an active role in the battles ahead? The Ents did have vulnerabilities, most notably fire – though they were not as vulnerable to it as the trees of Lothlórien –, yet they and their Huorns were a formidable force when roused. She doubted the Ents would turn the tide in their favour, but together with an alliance with Rohan, they might be enough to keep the Enemy back for much longer than any of them could do alone. Lothlórien's defences had ultimately held against the Enemy, but Galadriel was not sure how they would fare against the attacks that were certain to come, as she could no longer draw upon her Ring for strength. Without Nenya to support her, other support must be found. Yes, Treebeard, but how to make use of him? She had to shake herself out of this speculation when she heard Gimli's voice.
"All I can do is to speak to King Dáin when I return to the Mountain," Gimli now said. "All must stand together, even if Forest and Mountain will find it hard to do so."
Galadriel nodded as she looked at the Dwarf. It would be hard indeed. Thranduil could be as stubborn as any Dwarf, and both Dwarves and Elves remembered the ancient conflicts between their two kinds, no matter who had originally been at fault in any of them. Yet, seeing the friendship between Thranduil's son and Gimli, son of Glóin, she had some hope that Mirkwood and the Lonely Mountain could work together in the face of this common threat.
"I cannot commit Mirkwood to action or alliance without my father's knowledge, but it would be well if we can combine our strength where possible," Legolas added. "Dol Guldur is as dangerous to us as to Lothlórien, if not more so, and I believe cooperation would be welcome."
"Dol Guldur is our greatest danger," Galadriel agreed. "Five of the eight surviving Nazgûl are there now, led by the Witch-king, and their power is greater than I had thought possible. They are not invincible, but even among the Elves many would now be outmatched by these shades of Men."
She was interrupted by Elrohir who started to ask, "Do you know..."
"... which of the Ringwraiths it was on the Pelennor? Khamûl, the Witch-king's lieutenant." She saw her grandsons look at each other with narrowed eyes. Yes, they would want to know the name of the one who had killed Aragorn, even though that Wraith had already been slain by Mithrandir.
Mithrandir... She had tried to think of any explanation of his behaviour in Minas Tirith that led somewhere save the answer she did not want to imagine, but was forced to conclude that he had been at least partly under Sauron's influence. Worse, she feared the influence would grow as long as he held Narya. Could the Enemy's hold still be broken or was Mithrandir as lost as Curunír?
"On our way here we saw that one of the Nazgûl's flying beasts had been brought down," Legolas now said, "But if you say that eight survive, that means its rider escaped? And where are the other three?"
"Alas, he did," Celeborn confirmed. "Though had he been less quick to flee, he would have been overcome. And the remaining three are likely to be still at Minas Morgul," he added, before addressing Erkenbrand again, "But to return to the original matter at hand, I will say that Lothlórien welcomes an alliance with the Riddermark, and we will do all that is in our power to keep our combined lands safe."
"Then, on behalf of the Lady Éowyn and the people of Rohan, I thank you, and long may we stand together against our enemy," Erkenbrand replied.
The next day, Galadriel sat in conversation with Elrohir and Elladan, while Celeborn spoke with Legolas, Gimli and the two Rohirrim on the details of their agreement. Legolas and Gimli intended to continue homeward as soon as the scouts who had been sent north returned with news of what lay ahead. Erkenbrand and Wídfara would also leave within a few days, travelling with an escort of Elves, who would not only go to Edoras for further talks, but would also try to meet with Treebeard.
Elladan and Elrohir were eager to go home as well, but there had been much snow in the last months of winter, and spring was slow to come to the mountains. It would still be several weeks before the passes would be safe to take, so her grandsons had no choice but to wait.
"But what will we find in Imladris?" Elrohir asked. "Our father has no Mirror to warn him. What if the Enemy has overwhelmed him?"
"Then our home will already have fallen," Elladan said softly, looking at the ground.
"Unless I risk using Nenya, I have no way to know for certain," Galadriel said, "But I might be able to give you some hope at least." She paused to gather her thoughts, then quickly went on at their expectant looks. "As I understand this, only if Elrond was using Vilya at the moment Sauron took the One, will he have been overwhelmed without a chance. Otherwise, he must have had at least a brief warning, and some short time to take off his Ring." Though Elrond had never held Vilya while the Enemy had the One Ring in his grasp, he must have suspected as soon as Sauron had It again. Even the old hobbit who had borne the One might have been able to give warning. Worst would be if Elrond had not been immediately overcome, and believed himself able to master Vilya while Sauron held the One.
Galadriel thought back to seeing in the Mirror that Elladan and Elrohir had confronted Sauron, and the confirmation in Elrohir's memories that he and Elladan had touched the Enemy's mind. The lurch of fear she had felt then that they might have fallen under Sauron's influence was enough to make her shiver even in hindsight. Mithrandir being under the Enemy's influence was bad enough, but her own kin...
Turning to Elladan, she said, "I would know more of what you did in Minas Tirith, especially your confrontation with Sauron." At her grandsons' questioning looks, she reminded them, "I did see some of what you did in your minds. Now tell me."
"We merely reinforced the strength of Aragorn's own will to resist the Enemy's attacks," Elladan said, "That was all."
Her fear for Elrond grew at the account of her grandsons' recklessness. "That was all? Merely? Have you any idea of the danger you were in? Had any one of you three faltered, you would all have been lost to Sauron."
Elladan first bowed his head at her stern glance, but then looked up again to meet her gaze. "Yes, I knew the risk, but we could do no other."
"No?" She knew the answer, nor could she fault their actions, but they had to understand fully the danger they had been in. "What you did was brave, but also foolhardy. It only worked because you are twins and had a strong affinity with Aragorn as well. Minds that were not as familiar to each other would have been overwhelmed."
"We could not let the Enemy take him. How could we not stand by our brother?" Elladan replied indignantly.
Brothers... Her brother had given his life to save Beren, and her grandsons would have done the same for Aragorn. Cold fear gripped her heart as she thought of Lúthien, and Arwen. What would be Arwen's fate now that her love had been taken from her? The Mirror refused to show her. It had likely been unwise to try to find out, it hurt less to let some things happen as they would without knowing in advance. And, though she had no explanation for it, for she had not drawn on Nenya in making it, the Mirror was slow to respond, nor would it show her anything beyond the summer. Much was confused and obscured by the Enemy's machinations, and had been since he held the Ring. The Mirror still showed her enough that they had been prepared for Sauron's attacks on Lothlórien, but it was a constant struggle to use it.
She realised Elladan was still watching her. "You did well," she told him. Galadriel now looked closely at both Elladan and Elrohir. "However, I am also much concerned with what you described happened after Aragorn's death. While we seem to have gained an unexpected ally, there is yet much that remains unknown about this person. What are his or her reasons for helping? Was there anything you saw or felt that can throw a light on this?" Both remained silent for some time, and she waited, letting them gather their thoughts.
Elrohir was the first to speak. "It is difficult to say. I was watching the Enemy, and did not notice the other until he shoved Sauron aside, away from Aragorn. Mostly there was anger at Sauron, but also protectiveness towards Aragorn. It happened too fast for me to see more."
Elladan added, "I also had a feeling that he was, or perhaps should be, familiar to me."
Galadriel thought deeply. She suspected the answer was obvious, but it eluded her. She was still weary from her work in defending Lórien against the last attack; maybe she would see clearer when she was rested. She pushed away her wish that she could dare use Nenya. "Has this stranger tried to speak to either of you two, then or later?" she asked. Both Elladan and Elrohir shook their heads in denial. "If... when he does, you should of course be wary, certainly until you know who he is, but I think he can be trusted."
Elrohir gave her a sharp look then. "You know who he is?"
"Not yet," she answered. No one spoke for some time, as they were all three deep in thought.
"I wonder..." Galadriel broke the silence again, speaking softly, "The Ringbearer offered to give me the One of his own free will when the Fellowship passed through here."
As she sadly shook her head, she noticed Elrohir and Elladan glancing at each other in alarm, but they met her gaze as she spoke again. "Alas, while it is true that we would not be in this predicament had I taken the One then, It would have overcome me, sooner or later." She continued, "I know Frodo offered It to Mithrandir as well. And on the Fellowship's journey, and before then as well, there must have been opportunities, moments of temptation, that Mithrandir could have taken the One Ring, and he resisted. Why did he not realise that he was opening himself to as great a danger when he continued to wear, even use, Narya, once the Enemy held the One again? If I knew when Sauron retook the Ring, he too must have felt it."
Elladan suggested, "Perhaps he thought he had the strength to resist Sauron?"
"If that is what he thought, then Gandalf the White is one thing Gandalf the Grey never was," Galadriel said.
"What?" Elladan asked.
"A fool," she replied coldly. "Even so, he may not yet be irretrievably lost, though what you showed me of his actions before he left Minas Tirith is deeply worrying. We can only wait and see if and when he returns, and the manner of that return."
"Wait?" Elrohir asked. "It seems that is all we can do." His brother raised his hand to stop him, but Elrohir plunged on. "We have to wait until the passes are open. You must wait for the Enemy to attack, because you do not have the strength to take the war to him. Gondor and Rohan also wait to be attacked. The North can only wait until all other realms have fallen, until it is our turn. I am sick of waiting." He stood up, seemingly about to walk out of the room, then looked at his brother, shook his head and sat down again.
"I am sorry, grandmother," he said. "It is just..."
"I do understand," Galadriel said firmly, smiling at his surprised look, "I may speak of patience, and waiting, and wisdom, but I, too, would rather act than sit here waiting. Alas, all I can offer you is that it cannot be very long before the Enemy makes his next move." And that was hardly consolation.
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