3. Chapter 3
- Chapter 3 -
Elladan crept through the forest, his senses on alert; the village was so very near now that he could hear voices over the wind that whistled between the trees, coming from the houses closest to the woods. He could smell the food cooking for the evening meal, listen to the children's laughter; and for an instant, his heart constricted in his chest at the memories brought by those sensations. He remembered the times he and Elrohir would ride back home from a hunt, and see, down in the valley, the smoking chimneys and the roofs glittering in the setting sun. And they would smile, for they were home again. Now, whenever Elladan left the valley, shadows bade him farewell, and welcomed him back when he returned.
How the world has changed! he mused. How long the years we have spent away… But their restless slumber would soon come to an end. The idle waiting, only punctuated by snows and summers would suddenly tumble into action, and then… Elladan shook his head free of those happy thoughts, concentrating on the task at hand.
Elrohir, who was following, suddenly stopped. "Here," he whispered. "The path begins here." He bent and carefully placed the ball in the grass, in full view of passers-by.
Elladan turned around, unsure of what to do next. Reason told him to return to Imladris, to go back into hiding until their time came; but his heart longed for the company of Men. There was a time when their races lived in peace, he remembered. They fought and died side by side, laughed and celebrated victories at the same table. And now… How he desired that company once again! He took a step towards the village. It seemed so peaceful, so welcoming… So close! Through the canvas of trees, Elladan could see the nearest houses, huddling together in the shadow of the forest.
"Elladan!" Elrohir hissed warningly; yet Elladan ignored him, and took another hesitant step towards the edge of the forest.
"Elladan! Stop!" In a heartbeat, Elrohir was by his side, his hand heavy on Elladan's arm. "Do not go there," he warned. "It is not time yet."
Ignoring his brother's warning, Elladan crouched in the shadow of a tree. He leaned against the rough bark and studied the small settlement. The village was quiet. It seemed that the women had gone inside in preparation of dinner, dragging their children along for help; men were still in the fields, or busy with their trades. The streets were empty… Elladan squinted as movement caught his eye.
On the porch of one of the houses sat a little girl. Fair-haired and frail-looking, she could not have been older than ten or eleven. Elladan recognised her as the child who had lost her ball near the ruins of what once was the entrance to Imladris. She was staring right towards where he was hiding, and for an instant Elladan froze, afraid to be seen. But the child made no movement to indicate that his presence had been discovered, and he willed himself to remain still and watch. The wind died and, or an instant, a slightly off-key tune reached his ears. The girl was singing to herself. Her untrained voice struggled with the melody, but still the song seemed strangely familiar…
Is that…? Elladan frowned and turned around in confusion, seeking out his brother's eyes. for the child sang a song that no mortal had uttered since the fall of the kingdoms. A song of old lore, and of elven language, once sung by their foster brother to his future queen, their sister.
Elleth alfirin edhelhael
O hon ring finnil fuinui
A renc gelebrin thiliol...
Elrohir blanched. "The Song to Lúthien!" he exclaimed. "But how…"
He was interrupted by a gasp. Elladan spun around in dread to see the girl jump to her feet, eyes wide with fright. She remained frozen for an instant, trembling like a doe before a hunter; her eyes were on them. Then she whipped around to disappear in the house.
"Shadows!" Elladan swore. "We must leave."
He rose and made to follow Elrohir, who had already disappeared behind the trees. But he found himself stumbling; his legs refused to obey him, the forest swam before his eyes. He gasped as he fell to his knees. His eyes were open wide, yet he did not see the woods anymore. The sight before him was the village; but the season had changed to autumn. The golden leaves carried by the wind swirled and spun around a young woman, who laughed as she danced down the path, a babe in her arms. Fair-haired and small-boned she was… And Elladan recognised her face. She was the girl with the ball, the girl who had seen them in the woods. She smiled down at her child, kissed its forehead and danced on, drunk on happiness. She sang, elven words pouring from her lips as the babe giggled in her arms.
And then the vision changed. Flames erupted all around her, devouring the village. A fiery inferno lay where once was a peaceful settlement. Smoke rose towards the cold, winter sky, along with the shrieks of agony of the villagers. And with the fire came the armed men. They marched amongst the burning homes, torching those yet spared and thrusting the survivors back into the flames. They stepped confidently through the carnage, kicked aside the darkened bodies. Their swords shone red in the light of their deeds, tainted with blood and hate. Elladan felt bile rise in his throat as the stench of burnt flesh reached him. And amongst the victims, her golden hair reflecting the flames, lay the nameless girl, her ball still clutched in her small hands. Her empty eyes stared into the open sky, her lips sealed.
"Elladan! By the stars, awaken! We cannot stay!"
Elladan blinked. The sensations returned brutally: the ground beneath him, the wind sweeping through the forest, the sounds of the village and Elrohir's worried face as his brother peered into his eyes. "What happened?"
"I saw… I saw her." Elladan struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on Elrohir. "I saw that girl…" He gripped his brother's tunic, pulling Elrohir closer. "You were right!" he whispered urgently, "You were right! We cannot leave."
He tried to walk; but his legs were still numb. And as Elrohir dragged him back to their dwelling, he tried to look back once more. "We cannot leave… Not while she is in danger."
The forest is alive.
Aeve sat on the porch, her elbows resting on her knees and her chin in her hands. She watched, fascinated, as the wall of trees at the edge of the forest swayed with each gust of wind. It seemed that each tree had a rhythm of its own. And each time the wind blew, the leaves would shimmer in the setting sun like a trickle of water on the scales of a sleeping green dragon. Aeve imagined the giant beast, stretched out to rest just next to her small village; now that would be a great story to tell! And Sveyn would be so jealous…
Aeve began to sing softly. She did not understand the words, but they seemed… fitting, somehow, to the tales of dragons and other magical folk. She wished she could have a voice as beautiful as her mother's, whose singing was greatly appreciated during feasts and celebrations. No-one had a clearer, softer voice.
The leaves rustled on in the breeze, oblivious to her singing. Their whispers almost covered her voice at moments, and sometimes they would only chorus to her words. But as the wind suddenly died, Aeve heard another voice echo her own. She looked up.
There was someone, in the woods. She squinted to see a young man, dark-haired and dressed in green, hiding at the very border of the forest, almost completely hidden by the trees. And yet, she knew he was not a hunter, or a game keeper. His face was too fair, his hair too long; he did not seem to belong in the world she knew.
Aeve jumped to her feet, her heart beating wildly in her chest. Elf! He is an elf! her mind screamed. An elf from the woods, one of those Sveyn had warned her about. Why is he here? she thought frantically. And then: Has he come for me? She opened her mouth to scream, but her tongue seemed glued to her palate. So she stumbled up the stairs, and into the house, into its familiar safety and comfort, where no elf would dare find her.
Elladan shifted in his seat, trying to find a more comfortable position. But the cushioned chair felt like marble, tonight; and Elladan himself felt worn out, tired beyond measure. His head was aching, and not even the willow-bark tea Elrohir had brought him had relieved the pain.
"What have you seen?"
Elrohir's soft whisper echoed through the room like a shout, and Elladan winced. He rubbed his forehead, willing the ache to go away. Beside the discomfort, the pain clouded his judgement and jumbled his thoughts when he tried to see clearly. The sound of his brother's footsteps scorched his ears, and Elladan wished his twin would stop pacing.
"I am not certain," he replied quietly, trying to concentrate. "I saw the mortal girl, but she was older, with a babe in her arms." The visions were slowly coming back, but their meaning remained as obscure as before. "It was her child, that much I knew… But how could I?" He frowned and looked at his brother. "Then I saw her death… And again, I can only ask why?"
He saw Elrohir bite the inside of his cheek and recognised it as a sign that his brother's patience, worn out by the long wait, was nearing its end. And yet Elrohir needed it more than any of them. Elladan pushed the pain away, diving deeper into his memories. There they were, the images of fire and slaughter, obscenely entwined with those of happiness and motherhood. For Elrohir's sake and for his own, they had to understand the message.
Elrohir paused in his pacing and turned to Elladan. "Who is she?" he asked. "She is a peasant girl. Her father is a smith, her mother but a mortal woman. And yet, somehow, she knows an elven song that we thought long lost but in our memories."
Elladan raised an eyebrow. "No elf has taught her this."
"No." His brother nodded, staring into space with his arms folded. "I wish Father had shared more of his knowledge about visions," he whispered eventually. "I wish I knew how to read them…" He looked up to meet Elladan's eyes. "I tried… I tried for years now, but still I am lost."
Elladan frowned at his brother's words. "You have seen this?" he asked, rising from his seat. "When? And why did you not tell me?"
"And what would you have me say?" Elrohir retorted bitterly. "That I have visions I do not understand? That I know not what is expected of me, that I just know that I am – that we are – not done here?"
"I could have helped!" Elladan cried, immediately wincing as the pain in his temples exploded. "I could have tried…"
Elrohir only smiled bitterly, as though challenging him to live up to that affirmation, to decipher the meaning of their visions and justify all those years of waiting and longing. Elladan looked away, pushing down the frustration and the resentment at having been left out of such a secret. All this time, his brother had carried this burden; carried it alone out of his own choice. He had not trusted Elladan to help… Maybe he had been right; he was no more capable than Elrohir of solving this macabre riddle.
He closed his eyes and rubbed his face. Why us? Beside the gift of foresight that ran in their blood, there was no apparent reason for them to have received the visions. No link… He turned away, following Elrohir's footsteps down the length of the room. Night had long since fallen outside, and the single candle that burned was reflected in the mirror in the corner. The image sent back to him was that of a pale, haunted being, a ghost – and yet Elladan felt feverish, very much alive… Two contradictory images.
Elladan almost stumbled as the images swirled again and assembled into a scene.
"Two futures," he whispered. "Two different outcomes… Depending on what?" He looked at Elrohir. "You were right… We are not done. That girl's future is linked to ours. Somehow, we are to save her or condemn her and her child."
His brother seemed sceptical. "And why her in particular? There have been many wars, brother. Many have died… What difference if another innocent's blood is spilled?"
A familiar tune seemed to float in the air for an instant; Elladan smiled sadly. "And if the blood is that of a King?"
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.