11. Chapter 11
- Chapter 11 -
Running his trembling hands through his already dishevelled hair, Elladan rose from his seat. The night had been a long and dreary one, the minutes trickling by with unnatural slowness as Elladan had sat, forgotten and tortured by worry, in the antechamber of his brother's apartments. No-one had come out to tell him what had happened, no-one had remembered his presence… Until now.
Elladan brushed past the red-eyed elleth in the door. If a tomb had a smell, he thought, it would be this one: the unmoving, suffocating air filled with the last gasps of someone's agony. Even the lights were dim, the morning sunshine filtering through the curtains. Light had been denied entrance: light meant life, and life had no place in the chamber.
He glanced to the corner of the room, where Sidguil was leaning over the crib, his face tired but determined; Elladan did not spare him a second glance and came closer to the bed. There lay Wyn, her deformed body only partially covered by the blood-stained sheets, and Elladan understood that something had gone terribly wrong during the darkest hours of the night. He averted his gaze, feeling once again like an intruder despite having been called. He should not have seen her like this, he thought; but then again, no one could have foreseen that something like this would come to pass. His gaze came to rest on his brother, kneeling beside the bed and cradling his wife's hand against his face, kissing it cautiously as if those kisses could bind Wyn to this world, trace a path for her to retrace her steps to the living. Elrohir's face was blank, void of despair, and his twin's calm frightened Elladan more than his sorrow could ever have.
Elladan understood what had happened, though his mind refused to register it. Only hours earlier they had been talking, laughing together; now it seemed that he had walked into another's life, and witnessed the surrounding grief with a stranger's eyes. Elladan also understood that he came too late. The whole room was unnaturally quiet: no newborn's cry, the eerie silence smothered all desire to speak. Then he heard a breath, laboured and weak: the last gasp of a dying woman. Elladan saw Wyn's eyelids flutter and close, her thin hand relaxing against Elrohir's cheek. Without a word or a frown, his brother lay it down lovingly and covered it with his own. Then he closed his eyes and rested his head on the bed.
Pushing down the wave of sorrow and regret, Elladan came closer, waiting for his brother's permission to intrude into his mourning; but the minutes passed, and Elrohir gave no sign of grief. He remained motionless, breathing softly into the covers. Then Elladan took the liberty to kneel beside Elrohir. He had not had the time to know Wyn as well as he could have, and he regretted it now. She had been a kind woman; she had deserved more than the scarce signs of friendship he had given her.
His voice hoarse with emotion, he murmured a prayer to Elbereth for those who needed her: the one who needed a guide on her road, the one who needed her strength to catch a first breath, and the one who needed relief for his breaking heart. Like two guardian statues, they remained side by side.
'Come on, breathe!' Sidguil hissed through clenched teeth. 'Breathe!'
Elladan glanced to the healer. Sidguil looked up, and shook his head, his ancient eyes sad. 'Try again!' snapped Elladan, wincing inwardly at how loud and crude his voice had sounded in the silence of the room. Then he turned his attention to his brother. 'Elrohir...' He searched for words that would be worth listening to; words that could bring his brother back from the shadows he had consciously wandered into. Elladan had heard enough stories of broken-hearted death, seen enough of those shadows in the eyes of his own father: he did not know whether it was still possible, given Elrohir's choice, but in doubt he had to act fast. 'Elrohir, your child needs you,' he murmured. 'He needs you now, you, his father. Your child is dying, Elrohir! You have no right to give in to despair. Not now!'
'It is over,' Sidguil whispered.
Elladan dared not look away from his brother, towards the crib where had lain what was left of their hopes. It was too grievous, too heartbreaking to envision, and he pushed the thought away, concentrating on the living.
But what would he say now? Once again, they were left alone, with only each other for friends and family. Their dreams had died in this very room, swallowed by the mortality they now both belonged to. Cautiously, he reached out to lay a hand on his brother's shoulder. 'Come, brother. You must come with me...'
Elrohir's shoulder was completely limp. 'Elrohir?' His heart freezing in his chest, Elladan dug his fingers into his brother's arm. How long had they remained still? 'Elrohir!' His brother's body was still warm beneath his touch; a fading trace of the life it once held, and Elladan drew back in horror. Slowly he stood up, overcome by the irrepressible urge to get away from what Elrohir had become, looking over the scene with haggard despair. He had not anticipated this, not even imagined the risk still existed. Elrohir is gone. Gone, certainly the very instant his heart had truly perceived that Wyn was dead. And no brotherly love could fill the gap she had left. Elladan had not stood a chance.
'What do you want me to do now?' he whispered. 'I have nothing more left...'
His brother's body slipped to the floor, Elrohir's grey eyes now empty, fixed on something Elladan could not see; his lips were smiling. And suddenly the silence of the room was broken by a keening wail. In his crib, the little orphan was breathing, defying the healer's sentence and death itself; his tiny fists clenched, he protested against his harsh arrival into the world.
A cold autumn rain poured down from the night sky, soaking the late traveller to the bone and making him hurry into the welcoming warmth of the nearest tavern. The streets of Aston were dark and narrow, justifying the town's reputation as one of the smaller and less recommendable settlements by the Great East Road. Faingil stepped uncertainly down the slippery cobble-stoned alley, and Elladan pulled his precious burden closer. He was trying to avoid any jolts that could wake the newborn, clutching it with the terrified caution of those not used to holding children. But the baby slept soundly now, a small blessing in the surrounding darkness: Elladan knew not how much more of his cries he could stand before going insane with pain.
Naerind: a sad memory indeed and a hard name to bear. Even now, all red and wrinkled and so frighteningly fragile, Elrohir's son looked just like his father. Cursed resemblance, it twisted the knife of grief in Elladan's breast each time he looked at his nephew. Why me? he wanted to scream as he rode through the gloomy town. Why am I the one left alone?
Elladan shivered as a trickle of cold water ran down his neck. The journey was folly, he realized it now; now matter how short, even during better weather it was dangerous for a newborn. But he could not remain in Imladris any longer. All the good memories of warmth and safety had vanished, replaced by a sensation of dread. The empty home did not remind him of the life that used to inhabit it anymore. Now it stood cold and dark; a tomb.
Besides, the child could not stay in Imladris either. It needed human milk; and the home's only goat was going dry. It was now up to Elladan to find food for his nephew.
Grief had to be put aside before this imperative, though Elladan longed to shake off this new obligation. But he was trapped, trapped by his sense of duty. He had to endure the sorrow and take care of a child that reminded him each second that his brother was gone. There was no honourable escape, no relief to be found. Elladan looked at the sleeping infant: he knew that he was supposed to feel something: love, endearment… But his heart was numb, bleeding out its strength; soon it would be completely empty, Elladan mused, and then what would he become? A wraith, mayhap, condemned to dwell on this earth until his time was spent? No, that was not an option. He had to live, to remain strong for this child, even though the task seemed impossibly hard and torturous. He had to succeed, if only for the love of Elrohir.
Trapped. He was doomed to the loneliness of a last survivor, with no satisfaction in revenge or retribution; for how does one best fate? Even the name he had given his nephew now taunted him. It had seemed at the time a small revenge against life; now it was one more reminder of his grief.
Elladan pulled on the reins in front of the Greasy Squeal, one of the cleaner taverns of Aston. The owner was known to Elladan as an honest and loyal man, though not very brave nor smart. He was also well-informed of the town's gossip, which made him the best person Elladan could turn to with his question.
The stableboy did not hurry to come out into the rain to take Faingil's reins; Elladan waited under the downpour, shoulders hunched against the icy water and held Naerind close under the protection of his cloak until the lad deigned to come out. Then he entered the tavern, cursing under his breath.
The small room was crowded because of the rain, local farmers and travelling merchants alike seeking shelter and a good pint of ale to warm them up. Elladan walked to the counter and waited until the tavern owner turned around to serve him. He felt uncomfortable, wary; so burdened he was vulnerable, a most unpleasant sensation for a warrior. His free hand naturally came to rest on the hilt of his sword, and he forced himself to pull it away. It would not do, after all, if his intentions were misinterpreted.
'What can I get you, kind sir?' the owner smiled finally, wiping his hands on his vast apron. 'Some ale, perhaps, to warm your bones?'
Elladan shook his head and, glancing around to ensure that no-one was looking too closely, leaned forward to lay a golden coin on the counter. 'It is information I seek,' he murmured.
The man's eyes widened briefly before he snatched the coin away with a dexterity surprising for one his age and build. 'Whatever you wish to know?' he said, his voice just as low.
Elladan examined the small house with a critical eye. Shabby and dilapidated, it seemed to lean against the neighbouring home for support; the thatched roof was in dire need of more straw, the tiny windows barred with only a few rays of light filtering through the old, ill-fitted blinds. The person living here was in a dire situation, Elladan could tell; he hoped this would play in his favour.
He knocked and heard the shuffling of feet; then the door opened. 'Yes?' asked the young woman warily, her eyes examining him briefly before glancing to the darkness of the street behind him. 'What do you want?'
She could not be much older than twenty, Elladan realised. Tall and unnaturally thin, the young woman looked ill; there were shadows under her dark eyes, but he knew they had not been caused by hunger and poverty. He pulled his hood from his face with his free hand. 'My name is Elladan,' he said, bowing slightly. 'I need your help.' And he lifted the baby into the light.
Naerind grimaced, displeased to be awoken. His small nose wrinkled in protest and he inhaled deeply before starting to cry. The plaintive wail echoing down the empty alley. The young woman paled, her eyes widened in shock. 'What do you... No! No, I can't. I can't!' She backed up, her face twisted in a mask of agony. 'Take it away!'
'Please!' Elladan took a step forward, stopping as she grabbed the edge of the door, obviously intent on slamming it shut to his face. 'Please, this child needs your help! He is hungry; without milk he will die!'
'How dare you bring him here?' hissed the young woman. 'After what... After I...' In the dim light from inside, Elladan saw that tears were streaming down her face. 'I cannot!' she sobbed. 'It is too painful... I am sorry.'
'Please! I beg you, help him!' cried Elladan, but it was too late. The door slammed shut before him and he was left in the rain and the dark, Naerind screaming in hunger in his arms. He pulled the struggling baby closer, swallowing the lump of despair that had formed in his throat. 'Shush, little one,' he whispered, 'stop crying.'
As his nephew only wailed harder, Elladan felt his heart breaking. 'Please, little one, don't cry. I feel your pain.' He reached out to caress the soft skin of Naerind's cheek, his hand trembling at the fragility of the newborn. So small, so vulnerable was the child, unable to speak for itself, entirely dependent on him, Elladan. And just like him, alone in the whole world.
'I miss them too,' he murmured. 'I miss them too.' He pulled the sheets closer around the tiny body, afraid that his charge would catch a cold. 'But it is you and I, now. I will take care of you.'
At his back, the door opened again. 'He... He seems really hungry...' whispered the young woman. Her cheeks glistened with tears in the dim light coming from inside, and her eyes were haunted. But still she took a tentative step towards them. 'Maybe I can... help.'
Elladan sighed in relief and turned around. 'Thank you,' he said. 'I am forever in your debt if you do.'
She nodded uncertainly. 'I can try,' she muttered, glancing briefly at Naerind. Again, the ghost of grief passed on her face. She shifted on her feet, looking unsure about what to do next. 'You might as well come in,' she offered finally, gesturing to the small house.
Elladan smiled in gratitude, relieved to take the child out of the rain; he had to bend over in order to walk through the door. Inside, the house was clean and warm, although poverty-stricken. The child's cries died out as the baby opened its eyes, intrigued by the light.
'What is his name?' The young woman approached, her steps wary. She seemed to want to reach out and hold back at the same time, like a hungry man before a baker's stall.
'Naerind,' muttered Elladan.
'Naerind.' She smiled sadly. Elladan saw that her pretty face was creased with worry lines. 'I am Gaid.'
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.