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Awaiting the Thaw
‘You really do not want to!’ Maidhiel told her, shaking her head to reinforce her point. ‘Believe me – you are not the first – or even the fiftieth or the hundredth – to look that way, and you will only get hurt! They do not care. My cousin tells me that they both used to be dreadful flirts, but they are not even that any more – they do not even notice the looks sent their way.’
Miriwen blushed. ‘I am not looking in that way,’ she objected. ‘I know better than to take that sort of interest in Lord Elrond’s sons. It is just – they are injured, Maidhiel. Just as much as from a sword wound or a poisoned arrow, and it is festering in them.’
Her friend fixed her gaze on the two tall half-elves who stood, shoulder to shoulder across the broad expanse of the green, their dark hair gleaming in the firelight, their faces masked: two who were isolated even in the middle of the crowd of elves enjoying the spring festival.
‘I imagine their adar insisted that they should attend,’ she said critically, ‘and that he is now rather wishing that he had not – and that they are determining that he will not get the opportunity to do so again.’
Miriwen threw her a reproachful glance.
‘We have tried, Miriwen,’ Maidhiel sighed. ‘We have tried for years. Lord Elrond has tried; Lord Glorfindel has tried; Lady Arwen has tried – even Lady Galadriel has tried. And no-one has made any impression on them at all. Lord Elrond is hoping that time will open a chink that he can use to bring them back to us, but as long as they have each other, there is nothing that anyone can do to turn their sight outwards.’ She turned her eyes to her friend. ‘And you would not be the first healer to set her sights on curing what ails them either – and you would get just as badly hurt that way, too.’ She took Miriwen’s arm and pulled her over to the laden tables. ‘Where is that ellon who came with you from Mirkwood? He was making sheep’s eyes at you – are you not interested in him?’
‘He is currently making sheep’s eyes at someone else,’ Miriwen said dryly. ‘And I am not interested in anyone that way – I have come here to learn, not to find a husband.’
‘But if the right one for you just happens to come along, you are not going to send him off with a flea in his ear, are you?’ Maidhiel grinned impishly. ‘That would be wasteful and a good healer is never wasteful.’ She reached over and snagged a couple of pieces of cake thickly studded with dried berries and offered one to the younger elleth. ‘Try that – it is one of my favourites – and then we will seek out our fellow students and dance the night away.’
With a final uncertain glance at the two rigid figures, frozen in the midst of the waves of dancing elves, Miriwen conceded and turned her attention to her friend.
The door into the healer’s corridor crashed open and the usual serenity was shattered.
With the ease of long practice, the experienced healers directed their apprentices and glided to attend to the half-dozen bloodstained arrivals.
Miriwen had gathered salves and bandages and headed with her bowl of warm water to the bedside of one of the injured before she realised that the victim was not an elf. She gaped slightly at the bearded face and rounded ear poking out through the dirty hair.
‘The first requirements are the same,’ Sennuion lectured precisely. ‘Look for foreign bodies in the wound, stop the bleeding and cleanse properly.’
‘A dirty wound is a dangerous wound.’ The man’s gruff voice was clearly attempting to imitate the healer’s.
‘At least you have learned something.’ Sennuion frowned at him. ‘Now, if only you could learn to avoid orcs’ blades, we might be able to move forward. I have seen you here far too frequently, Ranger.’
‘We would not have irritated you by our presence, Healer,’ the man winced as the astringent herb in the cleansing water smarted, ‘had Elladan not required rather more aid than we could offer. We could not let Elrohir ride off with him unguarded with so many orcs on the prowl.’
Sennuion raised his eyebrows, but decided to leave the obvious query. ‘You are not an irritation, Ranger. We have students here who need the practice – and at least you are good for that.’ He finished his inspection of the wound. ‘You need stitching, Brassendol,’ he announced. ‘I will leave you to Miriwen’s tender care. If you are very fortunate, she will manage to repair you without a scar.’
The man eyed her nervously as the healer moved away. ‘You don’t look old enough,’ he said. ‘Although I suppose that’s a foolish thing to say to an elf.’
‘I daresay I have been stitching wounds longer than you have been alive,’ Miriwen agreed. ‘You need not worry. Do you need salve to numb the pain?’
The Ranger, filthy everywhere other than the injured arm, glanced at her, clearly wanting to announce that he needed no such thing, but only too aware of the discomfort he could expect from having the wound stitched.
Miriwen concealed her smile and applied a liberal layer of salve without waiting for an answer. ‘Once your wound is bound,’ she said pleasantly, ‘we will see to stripping you of these clothes and bathing you. You will be much less likely to suffer infection if you are clean.’
‘I am not being bathed by a girl!’ he protested with horror, scarcely noticing the prick of the fine needle as she drew together the sliced flesh. ‘It wouldn’t be right!’
The elleth smiled. ‘You are in a poor position to prevent it, Brassendol,’ she shrugged, ‘but if you behave yourself, I will ask a male healer to help you – simply to spare your blushes, of course.’
He was less tall, she noted, than an elf – and broader. Well-muscled – he was clearly used to wielding weapons – and he looked as if he should be strong. And, she thought as she steadied his arm, he was heavy. The beard clearly identified him as a man, even had she been unable to see his ears, but the most distinctive thing about him was his smell. Beneath the odour of leaf litter and mud, wood smoke and damp clothing, horse and leather, there was a hotter, more animal fragrance to him. It was not unpleasant, but it was different and she found it made her slightly uneasy. She was glad she had enough seniority – just – to pass on the task of washing him to one of the junior trainees. She was, she found, a little wary about coming quite that close to him.
Sennuion collared her again as soon as she had sent Nathron to deal with the man and washed her hands. He looked sober, she thought. Worrying – he had absorbed at Elrond’s shoulder the need to look serenely unconcerned by whatever disaster confronted him and it would take more than she had observed to put that bleak look in his eyes. A flick of his fingers sent her into one of the small private rooms where the more severely injured were treated.
On the high narrow bed, one of Lord Elrond’s sons rested half-naked, his pale flesh darkened with dried blood and his skin bleached of all colour, while his twin slumped against the wall, eyes shut, utter misery in his face.
Elrond glanced up. ‘We need to get some fluid into him,’ he said. ‘Add the salts – and trickle it in as fast as you can without choking him. He has lost a lot of blood.’
‘He is unconscious?’ Miriwen asked.
‘And likely to remain so for a while.’ How Elrond managed to sound so calm and impersonal, Miriwen could not understand. ‘The bleeding has stopped and the wound is beginning to heal – you will find that the men heal much more slowly – but he lost too much blood and needs fluids to begin to repair that. The head injury could be serious, but we will not know until he wakes.’ He gazed at his son with an impassive face that did nothing, Miriwen realised, to conceal the anguish in his eyes. ‘I can do nothing more for him at the moment.’ He flicked his eyes to the elleth. ‘I will leave him in your care, if I may, while I deal with Elrohir.’
‘I need nothing.’ Elrohir’s voice was toneless. ‘Leave me here until my brother wakes.’
‘You need a bath,’ his adar told him flatly. ‘You need food – and then you need to sleep in your own bed. And you are going to have these things before you return to this room. Elladan does not need you at the moment – but he will want you here when he wakes.’
Elrohir’s lips thinned and drew back from his teeth in a look that was almost wolfish, Miriwen thought. ‘I do not need to be cosseted!’ he snapped.
‘You are here for the moment,’ Elrond stood firm, ‘and while you are here you might as well remind yourself that there are other ways to live. You will join me in the dining hall in time for this evening’s meal – then we will return here briefly before you get some sleep.’
Miriwen averted her eyes from the raw anger in Elrohir’s face and concentrated on coaxing a trickle of water down Elladan’s throat. There must, she thought dispassionately, be a better way to do this. It was virtually impossible to keep unconscious patients adequately hydrated and she sometimes felt sure that they lost through lack of fluids some whom time would have restored.
In a single movement that more resembled a wildcat targeting its prey than an elven lord in his brother’s sick room, Elrohir leapt to his feet in a single push, pausing a mere few inches from his adar’s face. Elrond refused to retreat. He stared at his son, his jaw set, and, just for a moment, the potential for violence in the room held Miriwen breathless.
Elrohir broke away from his adar’s eyes and turned briefly to look at his brother before sweeping out, a mere inch or two from the valley’s lord.
A faint breath escaped Elrond as his son’s angry footsteps stamped down the corridor and he bowed his head.
It was not fair, Miriwen decided. The twins had each other and their sister had taken refuge with her grandparents, but who was left to offer support to the Lord of Imladris in his great sorrow? It was surprising that he still endured here in these airy halls – most elves would have sailed long ago and no-one would have blamed them.
‘Send for me if he shows any sign of returning consciousness,’ Elrond commanded, ‘or if there are any indications that worry you.’
‘Yes, my lord,’ she said calmly. She would indeed send for him – straight after she had called in Sennuion and any other skilled healer who happened to be nearer.
Elrond stepped closer to the bed and rested his hand gently on his son’s head, smoothing back the dark hair and brushing his fingers down the cheekbone. Almost without volition he bent and kissed the pale brow gently. ‘I will be back once I have dealt with your brother,’ he said and sighed. ‘I have never been able to decide which is more difficult – coping with the one who is injured or supporting the one who feels it should have been him.’ He gave his son a lingering look, then nodded briefly at Miriwen before making his way from the room.
The young healer concentrated on the still figure on the bed. It looked as if Elladan had been injured by more than one opponent – or perhaps the force of the blow on his left arm had thrust him back to strike his head on some projection. The long shallow slice across his chest and down towards his hip seemed to have been an earlier wound – by at least a few minutes, as the spiked club that had shattered and gouged his arm had also left its mark over the gash. She hovered her hand over the head injury, where the long dark hair had been cut away to reveal a ragged wound. Swollen, but it did not seem to conceal a worrying depression of the skull. She sighed. It was what was going on inside that would be Elrond’s chief concern, though.
Miriwen trickled another teaspoon of water into Elladan’s mouth, watching intently to see him swallow before repeating the action. It would probably be wasted, she thought with resignation, since he would almost undoubtedly vomit as soon as he began to come round.
The frantic activity that had accompanied the arrival of the injured slowed down as the room grew darker in the short winter afternoon. Sennuion slipped in briefly to check on both patient and healer before leaving her to get on with her task. ‘He is less deeply unconscious,’ he considered. ‘I doubt he will awake yet awhile – but they are an obstinate pair. They frequently recover long before anyone would expect it of them.’
Miriwen smiled. ‘Lord Elrond said he would return after dinner and I would think that his timing will be about right.’
Sennuion nodded. ‘Send a message.’ He rested his fingers on Elladan’s wrist. ‘Leave him now to rouse in his own time,’ he recommended. ‘He can drink then. Just watch him.’
Precisely the opposite of Maidhiel’s recommendation, Miriwen thought fleetingly, as Sennuion left, and she was beginning to think that Maidhiel had the right of it. What was it about this one that stirred her interest? Half the elves who met them still could not tell one from the other – and yet she knew without even looking at them which one was Elladan. Whereas he could not see her even if she was standing in front of him. Not that it mattered. Whether he ever saw her or not, she was of the opinion that she was unlikely to find another who could make a similar impression on her.
Her patient stirred and his face contracted with pain. She rose and went to the door to speak to the messenger. It was time to send for his adar and brother.
‘If you want to help me, then give me my clothes,’ Elladan snarled in his most offensive manner.
‘That,’ Miriwen said firmly, ‘would not help you at all.’
A pair of hard grey eyes scorched her. ‘I think I should be the judge of that.’
‘When Lord Elrond says you may, I will be happy to discharge you to your own rooms, my lord,’ the young healer told him. ‘But I do not have the authority to let you leave.’
‘Neither do you have the power to make me stay!’
Elladan used his undamaged arm to elbow himself up from his pillows and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He paused briefly as the room span around him, closing his eyes and swallowing in an attempt to steady his stomach, but as Miriwen hurried over to help him back into bed, he thrust down and forced himself to his feet. He had asked for clothes – and if the chit of an elleth refused to give him any, then it was not his fault.
He gathered himself and took a step towards the door.
‘You cannot seriously mean to walk around Imladris naked!’ Miriwen protested.
‘Give me my clothes then.’ The look he gave her brimmed with a malicious amusement. ‘Or I will.’
Miriwen laughed. ‘It is not I who will spend a century living it down, my lord. If you wish to ignore your adar’s instructions, you can do it without my aid. I am sure that most of those who live in Lord Elrond’s house will find the exhibition most entertaining.’ She folded her arms resolutely, whilst watching him carefully.
Elladan flushed slightly as he swayed. ‘You are not supposed to stare,’ he objected. ‘It is improper behaviour in an elleth.’
‘I am a healer,’ she smiled. ‘I have seen everything there is to see – you are no surprise to me, my lord. I am sure you will prove much more disconcerting to others beyond this wing.’
As Elladan took an unsteady step and his balance wavered, she caught his good arm and supported his collapse as he sat heavily in a chair, holding him to ensure that the cage on his left arm did not jolt the limb.
‘Your hair is in my mouth,’ Elladan complained.
‘Count yourself lucky,’ she retaliated. ‘You came close to having the floor make contact with your nose. I really would recommend that you follow your healers’ advice, Lord Elladan. You are not sufficiently recovered yet to walk out of here.’ She looked at him thoughtfully and grabbed a blanket from the bed to cast over his lap. ‘You may stay there for a while. I will have to get someone to assist me to get you back to bed safely.’
‘Just leave me alone,’ he snapped. ‘I am fine where I am. If I want help, I will ask for it.’
‘As you wish,’ she said neutrally. ‘If only he would,’ she muttered as she left the room, holding the door for Elrohir to enter. She acknowledged his curt nod with an inclination of her head. ‘It only they both would.’
‘You have not changed, lady.’ The grey hair straggled over the pillow, but the grey eyes looked at her with pleased recognition. ‘Unlike me.’
Miriwen’s slender hands opened the inflamed wound and the stinking pus began to flow sluggishly into the basin. ‘We have met before?’ she asked, gazing intently at the lines of red that stretched out from the injury to bury themselves in his flesh.
‘Aye,’ he told her. ‘It seems long ago enough to me, but I can never understand how you elves see time.’
She looked at him and frowned. ‘Brassendol?’ she asked.
‘That’s me,’ he smiled, gasping and pushing his head back against the head of the bed against the pain. ‘I’m glad to be memorable.’
‘You were the first man I ever treated,’ she confided.
‘And you’re likely to be the last elf ever to treat me,’ he responded.
Looking at the extent of the infection, she was inclined to agree that this was a possibility. ‘You have forgotten to pay attention to Sennuion’s words,’ she reproved him.
‘Aye, I know – ‘a dirty wound is a dangerous wound’. But when you have a rabble of orcs on your tail and the only way out is to ride hard, you don’t worry too much about that. Surviving the day seems an important prelude to surviving the week.’ He closed his eyes and concentrated for a few minutes on drawing breath. Still, if I have to die, Imladris isn’t a bad place to go – and I know my grandsons won’t have to number me among the lost. They’ll know where my grave is.’
‘Drink this.’ Miriwen measured out a dose of medicine. ‘It will ease the pain.’
‘We’d never have got clear if it hadn’t been for the Elrondionnath,’ the elderly Ranger murmured as his awareness dimmed. ‘They fought like mad dogs. I’m only surprised they don’t foam at the mouth.’
‘You wish to return to Mirkwood?’ Elrond asked in some surprise.
‘Yes, my lord,’ Miriwen said with determination.
She was looking pale, Elrond thought, and tired, as if she had endured too many sleepless nights.
‘It is not that I have not been happy here,’ she added. ‘I have learned a great deal and I am grateful to you for the opportunity to study here – but I want to return home.’ She paused. ‘There is no rush,’ she said apologetically. ‘I can wait until a courier travels east, or for a party to cross the mountains, if you prefer, but I wanted to let you know that I intend to leave.’
‘I will be sorry to lose you,’ Elrond said slowly, ‘but I can see that your talents are needed in the Woodland Realm.’
‘Thank you, my lord.’ Miriwen hesitated, then turned and left, closing the door gently behind her.
Elrond raised a curious eyebrow at Glorfindel who stood idly at the window admiring the fresh green of the new leaves. ‘Why do you think that is?’ he asked. ‘She is one of the best of the young healers – and I thought she intended to travel next to Lothlórien to learn some of Hathel’s techniques.’
Glorfindel watched twin elves mount their horses and turn out of the gateway to ride towards the ford. ‘I could not tell you,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘Perhaps she feels that she is needed at home. Orcs are breeding like maggots in summer – and the pressure on Thranduil grows steadily. Healers are undoubtedly needed in the shadows of Mirkwood.’
‘What happened to that elleth?’ Elladan asked as he leant forward, his forearms on his knees as Sennuion cleaned out the wound. ‘The one who used to be here?’
‘She went back to Mirkwood,’ Sennuion told him. ‘I think her family wanted her to return home.’
Unnoticed, Glorfindel lifted an eyebrow.
‘I remember her,’ Elrohir remarked. ‘She had the nerve to laugh at you.’
Elladan lifted his shoulders carefully.
‘Keep still, my lord,’ Sennuion instructed him. ‘You must stop coming home wounded like this,’ he sighed. ‘Elves heal quickly, it is true, but even elven healing cannot work miracles. You take too many risks, my lords.’
‘We cannot rest while orcs infest the land,’ Elladan said tightly. ‘We do not intend to sit here and sing and dance – and pretend nothing is happening.’
Elrohir’s lip curled as he looked out at the fragrant gardens and beyond to the woods and golden fields. ‘Adar may sit here in his little piece of Valinor and ignore the outside world,’ he said scathingly, ‘but we will do what we can to make a difference.’
‘You have no idea what you are saying,’ Glorfindel pronounced. ‘If you were not speaking out of youthful arrogance and ignorance, I would be forced to take those words out of your hides.’
‘No?’ Elrohir asked. ‘When did he last leave these borders? When did he last do anything to clean up the mess that exists in the outside world?’
With a strange noise like a warg’s growl, Glorfindel swung him round and slammed the younger elf against the wall, holding him with his forearm against his throat. ‘He has made more difference than you ever will,’ he said through clenched teeth. ‘One orc less or one hundred – what does that do in the scheme of things? If you or your brother were prepared to look beyond your own noses, you would see that – and you might start to play a real role in the fate of Middle Earth.’
The stool on which Elladan was sitting clattered to the floor as he surged forward to pull Glorfindel away from his brother.
‘My lord,’ Sennuion cried, ‘you have opened the wound again.’
‘Enough.’ Elrohir’s eyes slid to his brother. ‘Once Elladan is treated, we will be gone again.’
Glorfindel moved back, blinking back the sting of tears. ‘You are destroying yourselves,’ he said, as he recalled the joyful elflings he had loved as a second father and the gallant young elves he had trained.
‘Our choice,’ Elladan said coldly.
‘And I hope one day you choose life,’ Glorfindel said sadly, leaving them to Sennuion’s care.
The healers’ halls were overcrowded, Miriwen thought impatiently, stepping carefully between two of the walking wounded. It seemed it was always feast or famine these days. Only a few hours ago their only patient had been a young elf who had been kicked by a horse – and now they were in the position of having to decide who to treat first.
She settled before a young warrior, whose first skirmish had ended in an arrow wound to his thigh. He was still keyed up, she realised, on an emotional journey that was likely to end with her sitting patiently by his bedside as he came to terms with the deaths he had seen and those he had caused. Some, she sighed, felt that talking to their fellow warriors was a sign of weakness, that they would lose respect if they admitted to the welter of conflicting emotions of the aftermath of battle, little realising that those who had fought the Shadow over centuries still went through much the same process each time. Or, at least, they did if they wanted to heal.
A pain, no less sharp for its brevity, caught her breath. A warrior who wallowed in blood became what he hated. She had spent far too much time thinking about how some survived battle, like Elrond, to become those whose chief aim was to heal – both physically, in his case, and politically, while others descended into the pit of their own despair, as his sons had done, but she had found no great wisdom in her musings.
‘You did well.’ Mirkwood’s prince crouched beside the pallet on which the young warrior rested, patting the youngster approvingly on the shoulder. ‘How is your wound?’ He looked appraisingly at the injury as she cleaned it and applied the salve, before smiling warmly at the lad. ‘None can call you green any more, Habad,’ he said. ‘You have seen battle and stood bravely with your fellows.’ He grasped the ellon’s hand in the familiar gesture of a warrior’s handclasp before leaving.
Miriwen glanced at Legolas as he stopped and spoke to each of the injured. Where was the difference between him and the sons of Elrond? All had been robbed of their beloved naneth. Was it Legolas’s youth that had saved him? Or the fact that he had no brother with whom to isolate himself from the world?
It did no good to think about it, she told herself firmly. Nothing she could do could change the fate they had chosen for themselves. She could hope that, one day, they would wake to see a world to which the colour had returned – but neither she nor anyone else could make that happen.
Maidhiel had been right. The only thing she had achieved by her concern for Elrond’s sons was to hurt herself – but there was nothing she could do about that, either, except continue to follow the path that was right for her and hope that healing would come to them.
She might never see them again, but she wished them well.
The silence in the aftermath of battle was deafening.
The sudden warning song of a bird made Elladan spin, sword raised defensively, but nothing larger than the thrush survived to threaten them.
Elrohir looked at the dismembered bodies of their frenzied attackers and the stink of the black blood caught in the back of his throat. It should not be like this, he thought. This was no way to live. A wave of longing swept over him, strong enough to make him shake.
‘I want to go home, my brother,’ he said helplessly.
‘You, too?’ Elladan swallowed.
‘I have had enough of this.’
A hint of a smile touched Elladan’s face. ‘Then let us go and make our peace with Adar,’ he suggested.
As they lowered their weapons to meet each other’s uncertain gaze, a shaft of sunlight broke through the oppressive cloud to reveal the fresh green haze of new leaf on the trees and a fitful breeze blew away the stench of death, offering instead a tantalising hint of the fragrance of spring blossom.
Elladan drew a deep shuddering breath. ‘It is like finding a chink of light that offers escape from a dark cave.’
‘It will be a long climb,’ Elrohir said thoughtfully, ‘we are not there yet. But we will make it. And together we can seek a different path.’
Some eight centuries later, in another place . . . .
They stood shoulder to shoulder beneath the great tree, so that they looked shadowed among the bright elves flocking on the wide lawns before Elrond’s house.
‘Lord Elrohir,’ the elleth paused to greet them, inclining her head, before she turned to inspect his brother. ‘Lord Elladan. You are looking better.’
She left them then to continue their observation of the dance of courtesy among those who had been summoned to greet the twin sons of Elrond and Celebrían.
Elrohir tilted his head, his eyes sparking with interest. ‘She knew us,’ he said.
‘No, orc-brain. She knew us. She called me Elrohir – and you Elladan.’
‘It is the name to which I have been answering for a long time now.’
‘And it is still common for most we meet to stare somewhere between us and address the air.’ He grimaced. ‘Even those who should know better. How many would you say could glance our way and know instantly which of us was which?’
‘No more than a double handful,’ Elladan guessed. His gaze followed the slender elleth in her gown of soft green, her long dark hair braided with fine golden ribbons that matched the fringed sash at her waist. He liked the way she refused to look back, even though she must have been aware that they were watching her. ‘Do we know her?’ he asked.
‘I think not,’ Elrohir considered. ‘Although there is something familiar about her.’
A tall blond form detached himself from the clutch of an elleth whose long ebony hair was banded with a circlet of mithril wrought to resemble a wreath of twined orchids with each flower head flaunting a gleaming ruby that trembled on the end of the pseudo-stamen. ‘There you are!’ he exclaimed.
‘I do believe you are right,’ Elladan agreed.
Legolas inspected them. ‘You look less than your best,’ he said candidly. ‘I’ve seen better things dragged in by the cats.’ He looked from Elrohir to his twin. ‘Have you avoided sleep altogether since Gimli and I sailed?’
‘Your adar appeared more than a little moth-eaten last time I saw him,’ Elrohir told him sharply. ‘I do not see that we are any worse.’
‘Can we not get away from this gathering?’ Legolas appeared rather harried. ‘You could do with sitting down – and taking a glass or two of your adar’s best red – and I could do with escaping the hunt.’
‘What hunt is that?’ Elladan’s interest was stirred.
‘You do not want to know.’ Legolas scowled briefly before his face brightened. ‘Valar, it is good to see you again. I had not realised how much I have missed you.’
‘The hunt, Legolas?’
‘Did you not see her?’ The former prince of Lasgalen shuddered. ‘She is as dangerous as any orc.’
‘The elleth with the – er – creation on her head?’
‘You do not want to attract her notice,’ Legolas warned. ‘And I am being very kind in warning you, because as Finarfin’s great-grandsons you will be of great interest to her – and I could push her in your direction to save myself.’
A spurt of sudden laughter lightened Elladan’s expression. ‘You were not wont to avoid the attentions of ellyth,’ he grinned. ‘I remember your being chased round the noble houses of Gondor by some of the most flirtatious.’
‘That, my friend, was a game,’ Legolas protested. ‘With both sides understanding the rules. This is to the death.’
‘I think our parents are still delighted enough by our presence for us to get away with the discourtesy of sneaking away,’ Elrohir judged. ‘Come, my friend. Adar has secreted a decanter in the small library – and the chairs there are most comfortable. It will make a perfect refuge.’
Miriwen kept her head turned away from the twins. She was a fool, she scolded herself. She knew better than to pay them any attention. Unless they came to the healing rooms dripping copious amounts of blood, she amended. She had spent centuries convincing herself that her interest in Elladan had been no more than medical curiosity – and then she had allowed no more than a glimpse of the twins’ tall figures to lead her into speaking to them. And, in an instant, the walls behind which she kept his image had crumbled into dust. She would have to avoid them – perhaps even going so far as to leave Lord Elrond’s house again to maintain her peace of mind.
They did look better, though. Worn as they were, their hair flat and their faces grey with exhaustion, they still looked better. The pain had gone and there was a light in their eyes that then had been almost extinguished. They leaned on each other still – but the gates were open and they held their arms wide. It would not take long for the warmth and colour of these lands to enter them and provide a poultice to draw out their grief. They would soon be healed. At which point, she told herself, they would become the elves she had never even glimpsed.
Not that their parents would stop worrying about them, of course. Lady Celebrían – and, having met her, Miriwen could understand how her wounding had torn the heart from her sons – was pale and fretful in her anxiety. Lord Elrond had his hands full with reassuring her that healing would come and that their sons would overcome their trouble. He seemed unconcerned – but then he would, she knew, having weathered so much worse. And no-one who had not seen them then could really understand.
She drifted to the laden tables, where she could consider what she had seen without appearing to ignore her friends among the scatter of elves enjoying themselves, only to find herself beside another keeping in the shade. This one, though, stood like a rock about whom elves washed like the sea – too old, too powerful, too wise not to understand his own reactions to the bright splendour of these lands.
‘Yours is a face I know.’ Glorfindel’s voice was calm as she reached for a strawberry, as confident as she remembered him.
‘Possibly, my lord,’ she agreed, her swift healer’s inspection of him assuring her that this one, at least, was well on the way to recovery.
His smile twisted slightly in silent acknowledgement. ‘It has been some while since last we met,’ he said.
‘A few things have happened since then,’ she nodded.
Glorfindel looked around him with satisfaction. ‘Many of them good,’ he commented, ‘to counter those that are less joyful.’ He looked at her and nodded. ‘And happier times to come.’
‘I hope so, my lord,’ she replied.
‘I know so,’ he concluded.
‘So why have you dragged us away?’ Elrohir enquired as they settled comfortably in the shady library. ‘And do not repeat any nonsense about avoiding predatory ellyth – you have been doing that successfully for centuries.’
Legolas grinned wryly. ‘I can ask you questions that I would choose not to put to my adar,’ he admitted. ‘Not now, at any rate. And I know you well enough to be sure that I get some straight answers.’
A silent communion drew the brothers together.
‘No, you do not,’ Legolas told them. ‘This is not some secret union among survivors – I am not having my adar sink into depression for the want of a few words from you. And, come to that, I am not intending to let Aragorn or Arwen down by allowing you to mope.’
‘We are not moping,’ Elladan snapped.
Legolas stretched his long legs out before him and sipped his wine. ‘No?’ he asked. ‘I did. For some while. It was not until Gimli snarled at me for a selfish fool that I began to realise that I was wasting the time we had left. Although I do not believe he meant it that way,’ he added thoughtfully. ‘I felt – torn. As if I had lost a limb and could not learn to compensate.’
A sigh broke from Elrohir, but he said nothing.
‘Perhaps we could do with someone taking Gimli’s approach,’ Elladan admitted. ‘Everyone is being so careful around us – and striving not to cause us distress.’
‘Oh well,’ their friend shrugged. ‘They would probably prefer not to set you off again.’
Elrohir’s eyes narrowed. ‘Set us off again?’ he said incredulously.
‘Your sister told me that you might be difficult.’ He grinned. ‘And that I was to give you a hard time – in her name. I will be only too happy to oblige.’
‘All you can see, before you board, is what you have to gain,’ Elladan remarked suddenly, leaning forward and resting his forearms on his knees. He twisted the stem of his glass between his fingers, examining its contents, ‘and all you can see, when you land, is what you have lost.’
Legolas sobered. ‘Adar was certain, as he landed, that he could have done no more,’ he said. ‘But now he wonders – and fears that he betrayed the land committed to his care.’
‘He need not be,’ Elrohir spoke fiercely. ‘He did all that anyone could and more.’
‘You remember how it was before the gates of Mordor?’ Elladan asked. ‘The land was dumb – the air inert, weighing us down, silent. Ithilien came to life under your care, but –,’ he paused, studying the deep red wine, ‘the time of the elves is long past, my friend, and even the land rejects us. Even our sister’s grandchildren’s grandchildren know us not.’
‘It is not that we are not happy to be here,’ Elrohir explained. ‘But it is like,’ he waved a hand as he sought something comparable, ‘being taken from the aftermath of a particularly bloody battle and placed in a library, where the only knowledge those around you have of such matters is taken from books intended for elflings.’
Legolas rested a consoling hand on his friend’s arm. ‘It gets better,’ he insisted. He grinned. ‘You are still at the stage where everyone is wrapping you in swaddling. Once they let you out, you will see that there is a world of possibilities here.’ He glanced at the window, where the bright day was giving way to the silver of evening. ‘I am dragging Adar to the forest,’ he said abruptly. ‘He does not wish to go – I think he looks on it as an abandonment of the lands he ruled for so long – but I am in no mood to give way. Your daernaneth apparently decided that Lord Celeborn required time among trees and I am of the opinion that Thranduil is in even greater need.’
Elrohir nodded. ‘Trees and water,’ he suggested. ‘I would avoid anything too much like Lasgalen, if I were you.’ He rose and turned to a large table on which lay several maps. ‘North, perhaps,’ he said, tracing the line with a long finger. ‘Where the Alagduin passes through pine forest on its way to the sea.’
‘You have always been obsessed with maps.’ Elladan sprawled back, crossed his feet on the small table beside his chair, and allowed himself to be amused. ‘And now you are advising Legolas on where to go in a land you have never visited!’
‘It is not a bad idea,’ their friend protested. ‘Adar is not as tied to pines – he prefers oaks and beeches – but it would be different enough to be interesting. And getting him away from all this stone would help on its own.’
‘Not to mention the absence of Noldor,’ Elrohir added dryly. ‘He might be interested to see more of the Teleri.’
‘Why do you not come?’ Legolas asked easily. ‘You have spent enough of the last centuries with Adar that I believe he no longer counts you as sons of the Noldor.’
‘And more as foster sons to be kept in line,’ Elladan laughed.
‘No,’ Elrohir considered. ‘I think not – Naneth is concerned enough without having to worry about us as well as Daeradar.’
‘But do not stay away too long,’ Elladan added. ‘I begin to be intrigued by the potential you suggest.’
‘Good.’ Legolas looked at the twins as they lounged easily in the nest of their adar’s bookroom. ‘For I have plans.’
It had taken Miriwen some time to adjust to healing rooms where the majority of the work consisted of research into the obscure properties of plants. She had spent too many years, she had come to realise, in piecing together elves damaged by blade and arrow, poisoned by spiders and orc-potions and torn apart by grief and loss. The healer in her had needed her own healing when she arrived at a crowded dock with victims of war no longer able to endure the sorrows of Middle Earth – but that was long ago, and her fëa now sang in harmony with the music of these lands west of the sea.
It had taken rather longer for her – and others – to find their way to Elrond’s side, but it had seemed a natural development. He still was, as he had always been, one of the greatest healers the elves had produced and the work done here was as important as it had ever been.
But . . . She sighed. That had been when his sons remained in Imladris, upholding the last of his legacy to Arda.
Now her serene world was in turmoil again and she had to decide what to do. Her parents, she knew, would choose to join their King, wherever he might decide to settle. Should she go with them? Dwell near her sister and her children and concentrate on helping them grow? Abandon these halls and settle for caring for elflings’ scraped knees and occasional broken bones? Or should she be resolute and ignore this brief flurry of emotion, assuring herself that it would soon pass?
She examined the items before her and recorded meticulously her observations.
Why should she be driven away? Her reaction had been nothing more than the recollection of a long-past desire to help. Something she had outgrown – given up in her need to heal the many hundred elves and men who had passed through her care since. No more than that.
She returned the dishes to the tray and moved on to the next.
She would stay.
She would stay and she would pay no heed to the sons of Elrond. They were nothing to her.
The dishes rattled as her hands shook and she took a deep breath to steady herself.
She wished them joy in their reunited family, but she would do nothing to attempt to bring about their happiness.
In fact, she would go out of her way to avoid them.
‘It is more peaceful in here,’ Glorfindel’s clear tones echoed through the quiet rooms. ‘Although I see few beds ready to succour the wounded – how do you entertain yourself these days, my friend?’
‘There is little entertainment in watching your friends and warriors suffer,’ Elrond replied. ‘I find that I manage to cope in a land where injuries are few – and not inflicted vindictively.’ He smiled. ‘And the patients we treat heal, Glorfindel. Since I have been here, we have lost no elves at all to Námo’s Halls. No wives or parents have faded from a grief intolerable, no children have been left orphaned, no friends left bereft.’
Miriwen felt her mood lifting. It was true, she thought. It was no wonder that Elrond looked whole – as he had not when he sailed; a pale reflection of himself, torn by his separation from his children, bleached by the failure of his power, eroded by the incessant struggle to protect those who turned to him for aid. The Blessed Realm was a good place to be. Not perfect – nowhere was – but offering the chance to be useful and fulfilled.
‘We meet again.’ Glorfindel smiled, lighting the room. Deliberately, Miriwen thought. He was up to something, and she was not sure she wished to be its focus.
‘My lord,’ she said politely, keeping her attention on the dishes before her.
Elrond looked at her with a slight frown, as if trying to work out the reason behind his friend’s greeting. ‘The work goes well?’ he asked.
‘It is as we suspected, my lord,’ she said easily. ‘I will repeat the experiments a few more times to be sure, before I bring you the results.’
He nodded. ‘Thank you, Miriwen,’ he said with his gentle courtesy.
Yes, she decided as she watched him shepherd Glorfindel from the suite of rooms. She would not allow this – this nothing to drive her away. She would stay.
‘Miriwen!’ Legolas’s call was more demanding than he usually allowed himself. He was not one, she thought, for calling on his authority unless he had to do so. It must be serious.
She emerged from the side room to see him supporting a dark-haired elf, slightly broader in the shoulder than himself, but scarcely in a condition to be recognisable to his own naneth.
‘What have you done to him?’ she asked, indicating the couch and grabbing a supply of clean cloths and implements kept handy for such moments.
‘Why do you always blame me?’ Legolas complained. ‘I have done nothing. Well,’ he hedged, ‘not intentionally.’
She opened a stone jar of purified water laced with a mild astringent and began to remove the blood welling from the gash. ‘It is nothing serious,’ she said, peering in the grey eyes in front of her and examining the way they reacted to light. ‘Did you lose consciousness at all, Lord Elladan?’
Elladan blinked. ‘I do not believe so,’ he murmured.
‘The cut will be better for a stitch,’ she told him, ‘once I am certain there is nothing in the wound. How was the injury caused?’
The pair of them looked sheepish and ignored her question.
Miriwen laughed. ‘The sort of injury that causes the parents of elflings to cast up their eyes and hope they soon outgrow such foolishness?’ she enquired. ‘Juggling knives, perhaps?’
‘Of course not.’ Legolas managed to sound shocked. ‘That would be really irresponsible.’
‘And you have refrained from doing that, at least, since your adar put you in mittens for a week,’ Miriwen agreed. ‘What then?’
Elladan looked from one to the other. ‘You knew each other as elflings?’ he asked.
‘We are much of an age,’ Miriwen conceded. ‘But I am far more sensible.’
‘But I,’ Legolas insisted, ‘am far more dangerous.’
‘And this would appear to be a case of proof positive,’ the elleth informed him smugly. ‘How was the damage done? I promise I will not tell your parents.’
‘Please, fair maiden,’ Elladan grinned suddenly. ‘Be kind enough to keep our secret. I have no wish to be sent to my room.’
‘It was nothing much,’ Legolas said. ‘If the Peredhel could only catch.’
‘If the Wood Elf could only throw,’ Elladan mocked him.
‘The cut appears to have been caused by a sharp metal edge,’ Miriwen abandoned hope of a sensible reply. ‘It has sliced to the bone – but caused no greater damage. It has bled freely – you had better go and bathe if you do not wish people to think you have been butchering pigs – but the bleeding has stopped now. I will clean it and suture it, whereupon you will be free to go and continue your games. Only a little more gently, please.’
‘Thank you, naneth,’ Legolas sniped at her.
‘That is all right, elfling,’ she retaliated before turning to her patient. ‘If you lie down, Lord Elladan,’ she said. ‘It will keep your head still while I deal with the wound.’
‘Just Elladan,’ he insisted. ‘There is no need for all that ‘my lording’. It makes me feel an even bigger fool to be stretched out, covered in blood and have my healer talking to me as if I were my adar.’
‘Oh, I think not, my – Elladan,’ she said. ‘I think there are few who would mistake you for Lord Elrond.’
He closed his eyes and waited for her to finish treating his cut. ‘I think I might have been insulted,’ he muttered. ‘It is just as well I do not take offence easily.’
Finally, Miriwen moistened a cloth and cleaned his forehead around the now barely visible slice. ‘It will do,’ she announced. ‘You had better wash before you leave.’
Lifting himself up of his elbow, Elladan grasped her wrist with a hand crusted in his own blood. ‘Thank you,’ he said, and she stopped breathing as his warm grey eyes gazed into hers.
She looked away with difficulty. ‘Go then,’ she instructed them. ‘I will leave it to you to see that the patient is bathed, Legolas.’ She grinned. ‘But no throwing him in the river until that has a chance to heal!’
With a wave they were gone – and she was left with nothing but the debris of blood-stained cloths and a room that felt – different.
‘Oh, drat them both,’ she complained.
‘What is it about this elleth?’ Elrohir said with exasperation.
Elladan’s jaw tightened, but he refused to react. ‘Try it,’ he said. ‘See if she knows you at sight for who you are.’
‘If she knows you, she will know him,’ Legolas leaned back against the corner of the stable, one foot on the rail. ‘It stands to reason.’
‘I do not know,’ Elrohir considered. ‘She might call both of us Elladan – on the principle that she will be right half the time.’
‘What will you risk on that theory?’ Elladan’s smile took on a dangerous edge.
Elrohir met the challenge in his brother’s eyes. ‘What do you want me to do?’ he asked with resignation.
‘Just speak to her.’ Elladan shrugged. ‘See what she says.’
‘Shall I simply walk up to her and say ‘who am I’?’ his twin spoke sarcastically. ‘Or do you think the matter requires slightly more subtlety?’
‘There is no need to be such an ass!’ Elladan sounded irritable. ‘Can you just not pass her in a corridor or something? Lean across her when serving yourself with porridge? Tread on her toe when there is dancing? Do I have to think of everything?’
Elrohir exchanged a speaking glance with Legolas. ‘Why do you just not talk to her?’
‘I . . . ,’ Elladan hunched his shoulders. ‘I do not want to make anything of it, do you understand?’
Legolas took pity on the twins. ‘Come with me, Elrohir,’ he commanded. ‘I will talk to her – all you need to do is accompany me.’
‘Why do you need to visit a healer?’ Elrohir objected.
His friend shrugged. ‘I will ask after her parents,’ he said dismissively. ‘Or speak to her about my adar. It matters little. I have known her since she was an elfling – her expectations of me are not high.’
Elrohir grinned wickedly. ‘She might begin to think that you are interested in her and seeking some way to pursue her.’
A crack of laughter dismissed a concern that his brother’s words stirred in Elladan. ‘I think not!’ Legolas shook his head. ‘She knows far too much about me to suspect that.’ The Wood Elf raised an eyebrow at Elrond’s sons. ‘It will take you a while to pick up on everything that has been happening here over the last few hundred years, my friends.’ He detached himself from the stable wall. ‘Well?’ he said. ‘Are you coming?’
Elladan looked uneasy. ‘There is no rush,’ he objected.
‘There is,’ Legolas contradicted him. ‘You have been unable to remark on anything more interesting in weeks. The sooner we get this out of the way, the sooner we will be able to get you out among the trees and blow away the trailing cobwebs of old sorrows.’
With a nod, Elrohir joined him. ‘Stay here,’ he ordered his brother, ‘until we return. We do not need you peering round the corner to check up on what she says.’
She was not there.
The room was as neat as if it had never been occupied and there was no indication of the work that was carried out there.
‘She cannot have left,’ Legolas remarked. ‘Can she?’ He turned and studied the neatly closed drawers and scrubbed surfaces. ‘Miriwen is not like that.’
Elrohir frowned. ‘Did she train in Imladris at one time?’ he asked. ‘There is someone I recall – a young healer who came from Mirkwood for a while.’
‘I believe she did.’ Legolas stepped back and closed the door, leading the way to the larger rooms of the healing wing. ‘I spent most of my time back then with the patrols, but I seem to remember that she left the wood for a time.’
‘I do not recall those years clearly,’ Elrond’s son admitted cautiously. ‘Much happened that is still no more than a series of sharp-edged pictures in a fog of desolation.’
Legolas put an understanding hand on his friend’s arm.
‘But there was an elleth among the healers . . .’ Elrohir stopped and shook himself, before resuming more briskly. ‘Where is she, then?’
‘Miriwen!’ Legolas called, tiring of the search.
‘She is in a meeting with Lord Elrond.’ A healer put his head through the door at the end of the corridor. ‘And there is no need to shout! There are those here in need of quiet.’
‘My apologies.’ Legolas tried to look chastened. ‘Will she be long?’
‘As long as it takes,’ the healer replied waspishly. ‘I do not believe my lord will find it necessary to hurry so that you might speak with her.’
‘Sorry, Sennuion,’ Elrohir added. ‘We will return later.’
‘Very well, Elrondion.’ With a brief nod, the healer drew back. ‘I will tell her you were seeking her.’
‘Do not bother,’ Legolas said hastily. ‘I will find her some other time.’ As the doors to the healing wing closed behind them, he sighed. ‘Well, that was not particularly successful.’
‘If she is in a meeting with Adar, she will be easy to find,’ Elrohir shrugged.
‘But we can hardly disturb them to discover if Miriwen can tell you from your brother.’
‘Ahh.’ Elrohir held up a finger. ‘But Adar would never be so inconsiderate as to continue a meeting through lunch.’ He smiled and seemed to relax as the familiarity of life in his adar’s house brought comfort. ‘If we pass the door of his room as the gong is rung to signify the readiness of the meal, she will step straight out into our arms – and we will have our answer.’
They waited in the light of a wide window, enjoying the breeze that stirred the filmy curtains until, just as the household began to stir and seek the dining hall, the door of Elrond’s office opened. Elrohir muttered a few words in Khuzdul that made Legolas grin, even as he wondered if his friend knew what they really meant, and he pulled the Wood Elf with him to collide with the elleth ushered courteously out of the room in front of the elf lord.
‘I am sorry.’ Elrohir smiled charmingly at the healer, who shot a suspicious look at the two elves. ‘I hope I did not hurt you.’
‘No, Lord Elrohir,’ she said. ‘I am undamaged.’
He inclined his head and stepped to one side. ‘Might I escort you to lunch?’ he asked, offering his arm. ‘It is the least I can do after being so careless.’
Miriwen hesitated, then placed her hand delicately on his sleeve, glancing narrowly at Legolas before allowing Elrohir to guide her along the corridor.
‘No, you do not!’ Elrond stopped the Wood Elf as he moved to follow the pair. ‘What is going on? Elrohir has not been that clumsy since he was an elfling. What are he and his brother planning?’
‘Never mind.’ Glorfindel remarked, his eyes knowing. ‘You keep an eye on them, Thranduilion – while I explain the birds and the bees to this one here.’
Miriwen stood in the gathering dusk beyond the lawns, where the broad shapes of the trees spread out before the silver waters, her voice raised in harmony with the clear song of evening. She closed her eyes, inhaling the fragrance of leaves and sun-warmed bark. The grounds of Elrond’s home were remarkably calm, she always thought. Rather too controlled for her taste, but they hummed with contentment, and, at times like this, when night concealed the proximity of other dwellings, she relished the tranquillity.
She felt his arrival rather than heard it. He waited – somewhat nervously, she thought – just far enough away that she could, if she wished, pretend that he was not there. For a moment, she considered doing just that. They had been painful, those long years when his image had been clear in her mind, and she had known that he was scarcely aware that she existed. There was no guarantee that this would be any different. He was still hurt – not in the same way, but still less than whole. He might feed on her quite unintentionally as he healed and then leave her lonely and abandoned. He might. But that was no reason to close herself away. Then, in her wish to guard herself, she would be the one causing harm. Some chances had to be taken.
‘Elladan?’ she said.
‘Are you sure you wish to know me?’ he asked, a deprecating humour in his voice. ‘After I set my brother and Legolas on you?’
She tilted her head. ‘They did me no harm,’ she told him.
‘Glorfindel rebuked me for being an insensitive fool,’ he admitted. ‘He said we should be mature enough to be able to talk to ellyth rather than setting up juvenile traps for them.’
‘He has a point,’ Miriwen allowed.
‘But you passed the test,’ he offered. ‘With flying colours.’
‘I think I do not wish to be put through any more tests.’
‘And I have remembered why you feel so familiar to me.’
‘You have seen more of me than is proper,’ he said reproachfully.
The healer smiled. ‘I could hardly help it,’ she replied.
‘I missed you when you left.’ Elladan averted his eyes and spoke quietly, reluctant to part with the words. ‘Not much – I was capable of little but rage at that time – but I noticed your absence.’
Miriwen inhaled past a lump in her throat that felt big enough to choke her.
‘You were the only person who laughed at us,’ Celebrían’s son continued. ‘At a time when we frightened Arwen out of Imladris altogether and drove Adar and Glorfindel to despair, you refused to let our – obsession – cow you.’
‘You over-estimate my courage,’ Miriwen murmured. She turned and inspected his face, pale in the moonlight.
‘But I did not realise until now,’ Elladan said seriously, ‘that there is more to this than your ability to tell me from my brother.’ He came closer. ‘It is that I, too, recognise you.’ He paused. ‘Miriwen, I would like to come to know you better.’
She could feel his sincerity beneath the simple words he spoke. This was no suggestion of a casual flirtation, but an admission of a deeper link between two fëar. ‘There is no need for haste,’ she warned.
‘No need at all,’ he sighed and there was a bemused contentment in his tone as he looked around him. ‘Here we have time in plenty. But I have no patience with pretence and concealment – I would rather have things in the open, for all to understand.’
‘We can be friends,’ Miriwen suggested. ‘You are not yet ready for more.’
‘Friends,’ he amended, ‘who intend to get to know each other at a deeper level. I will not have you left in doubt. Or me,’ he added after a moment.
She raised her eyebrows. ‘And I will not be badgered,’ she informed him.
He grinned. ‘Legolas said you were bossy,’ he remarked. ‘Would you do me the very great honour of walking with me beneath the stars on this fine evening, Miriwen, my healer?’
She inspected him for a long moment. ‘Why, yes, my lord,’ she concluded finally, blinking back a sudden sting of tears, ‘I think I will.’
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