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Comfort  by Bodkin


The hilt of the dagger spun on his finger-tip, the bright blade catching the light and fracturing it.  He watched it, blank-faced, as the watery sun gleamed through one of Imladris’s long windows, warming his dark head with apparent geniality.

‘Not the most sensible of activities,’ his brother commented as he sank on the window seat next to him, sitting close enough that his shoulder brushed against the stiffened leather of Elrohir’s jerkin.

‘Sensible is over-rated.’

Elladan’s eyebrow shot up in unconscious imitation of their father.  ‘I have always said so,’ he congratulated himself, grinning smugly in an attempt to exact some reaction from his twin, but Elrohir would not lift his eyes from the knife.  ‘I have often mentioned that cleanliness is over-rated, too,’ he added.  ‘There is nothing wrong with the smell of horses and mud.’

A faint memory of endless – and ultimately futile – debates with their determined mother nudged at Elrohir, distracting him from his brooding, but he pushed it away, refusing to be manipulated into abandoning his desolate mood. 

‘Of course,’ Elladan mused, ‘not everyone agrees …’  He leaned back, resting his head against the window frame, and inspected his brother through eyes that appeared to be closed.  ‘There are those who insist on visiting their baths within moments of arriving home, those who prefer to be rid of the stench of weeks in the saddle, of sweat and dirt and smoke and blood – but in all likelihood that is nothing but unnecessary self-indulgence.’

A spot between Elrohir’s shoulder-blades began a niggling and incessant itch.

His brother continued to observe him.  ‘Then,’ he added, ‘there are those who relish the delight of a draught of good red wine … one of Adar’s best vintages – drunk from a fine glass goblet – who enjoy food that has been prepared in a kitchen and presented on a plate … food that does not contain bits of leaf and twig, does not smell of wood-smoke … food not wolfed as you huddle under a cloak watching for danger …’

‘Shut up, Elladan!’  Elrohir’s eyes, storm-dark, accused his brother of insensitivity – of heartlessness – of not wanting to acknowledge his twin’s feeling of responsibility for the disaster that was still sending ripples out to affect them all. 

‘Brooding will not help anyone, my brother.’  Elladan abandoned his teasing tone and spoke so softly that his words made more impression than had he shouted them.  ‘You did not intend any harm – you did all you could to protect him and keep him safe.  We are not infallible.’

‘He is still dead.’

‘And he would have been just as dead had you not been there.  The patrol was ambushed, my brother. You cannot blame yourself for failing to observe the trap – half a dozen highly experienced Rangers also missed it.  You cannot blame yourself for fighting like a madman to give the rest of the Dúnedain enough time to draw back.  You cannot blame yourself for pulling out before you, too, were taken.’  Elladan looked down briefly before recapturing his brother’s eyes.  ‘At least he died quickly,’ he said.  ‘Had you been taken alive, your fate would have been worse.’

‘I doubt it felt swift.’ 

‘I have spoken to Orndil,’ Elladan remarked.  ‘It was swift enough – and there was nothing you could have done to prevent it.’  He sighed and shifted slightly to lean against the wall so that he could look at his twin head on.  ‘If we start to believe that we are all-powerful beings destined by the Valar to step in and save all those beside whom we fight,’ he said seriously, ‘we are creating problems for ourselves.  We are but a small part of this, Elrohir.  We offer what help we can and fight with the Dúnedain as kin – different, but neither more nor less than they are.  We cannot shield them from all harm … simply offer the hand of friendship and stand by them.’

‘I had to take his sword home,’ Elrohir said bleakly, ‘and tell his wife and son that he died bravely – tell them that we buried his body to rest beneath a cairn in the wild.’

‘They would not want to know more than that.’

Elrohir snorted.  ‘They both knew that I was providing them with a … a sanitised tale, designed to offer a cleaner image of war and death.’

‘It never gets any easier, does it?’

‘Never.’  Elrohir closed his eyes.  ‘And the bad memories come back to haunt you so much more readily than the good ones.’

They sat together as the angle of the light shifted round, and took comfort from each other’s silence, while the tranquillity of Imladris seeped in to ease Elrohir’s distress.

‘You really do smell dreadful, you know,’ Elladan commented eventually. ‘Even an orc-maiden would turn her nose up at you and run screaming if you looked her way.’

‘That is a technique we have not yet tried,’ his brother said dryly.  ‘Although, judging from the stench of most orc-pits, I doubt you are right.   I would have thought that my current state of personal hygiene would increase my attractiveness considerably.’ 

‘Not something I would want to test.’  Elladan rolled his shoulders.  ‘Come, my brother – let us get you immersed in warm, soapy water and dispose of those clothes before I am forced to overcome my natural courtesy and plug my nose.’

Elrohir sighed.  ‘Only if you also fetch the wine,’ he bargained.  ‘A glass of red will not solve any problems or make me feel less accountable, but …’

‘It will remind you that there is more to life,’ his brother nodded, ‘and that you need to embrace more than the bad if we are to be of any use in the fight.  And that, after all, is the best we can do.’



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